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"Check Up From The Neck Up," "If You Hang It They'll Bang It," and Other Morsels Gleaned From Late Season Baseball Watching

September 18, 2013

Tags: David Cone, Tim McCarver, Koji Uehara, Orioles, Red Sox, Dodgers

It is no longer possible to turn down the sound on a disliked television broadcaster and choose a more informed radio voice. Too many digital delays and other technological innovations have ruined that alternative.

So this year I’ve been listening to TV with the sound on more often. I am glad to report that some of the ex-ballplayers as commentators have contributed some pithy observations. David Cone on a Yankee YES network broadcast the other day used a nifty phrase to describe the pitcher’s worst nightmare, the hanging breaking ball:
“If you hang it, they’ll bang it.”

And Tim McCarver on a recent Fox national broadcast of a Red Sox-Yankee game delivered this beaut about the purpose of catchers going out to the mound to give a break to a struggling pitcher: “It’s a check-up from the neck up.” You don’t talk mechanics in the heat of the game, McCarver advised.

In our age of overwhelming verbosity and even more overwhelming statistical information, it is nice to discover and applaud some terse analysis. It helps to be terse because there can also be “paralysis by analysis.”

AND NOW SOME PEEVES: One of my pet bugaboos is daily rankings of the 30 teams on innumerable websites. After all, what are league standings for but to indicate who is good and not so good?

Maybe more than most sports baseball is truly a game of inches, if not millimeters.
One case in point was the Tampa Bay Rays salvaging a game in a three-game series against the Red Sox in mid-September. The struggling Rays got the lead on a bloop double by
Will Myers that was inches fair down the right field line. In the top of the 9th with a runner on second Will Middlebrooks’ similar blow fell just inches foul and Fernando Rodney ultimately got him out and registered the save.

During their long losing streak, the reverse happened for the Rays. On this night though they caught the breaks and the Bosox didn't.

Streaks are something to watch carefully in baseball. Because for every action there is a reaction. Case in point for teams – The Los Angeles Dodgers 12 games under .500 before the start of summer went on an amazing roll to run away with the NL West this season. But on Friday the 13th of September they got crushed 19-3 by the arch-rival and defending world champion San Francisco Giants. The soon-to-be-dethroned Giants won 3 out of 4 in LA but if the Dodgers get back a healthy Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Matt Kemp in the outfield they will be a tough matchup in the NL playoffs.

Here's a streak example for players: Bosox closer Koji Uehara had an amazing personal streak going, 37 batters in a row retired. That’s a perfect game plus 10 outs. For the sake of the Red Sox, I wrote a few days ago that they should hope that streak ends before the playoffs because baseball is a game of imperfections and the evil eye of the baseball gods might just have a fall ahead for Uehara. He is, though, a very likable Japanese import who never wanted to leave the Orioles but they traded him to the Texas Rangers for Tommy Hunter and the newest home run king Chris Davis. He wanted to return to the Orioles before this season but the Red Sox outbid them and made a great bargain pickup.

Bulletin: On Tuesday night Sept 17 Uehara’s streak of 37 batters in a row ended, four short of Bobby Jenks’ reliever’s record of 41 and Mark Buehrle’s all-time 45 in a row mark. It was former Red Sox utility player Danny Valencia who tripled in the 9th inning and scored the eventual winning run in the Birds’ 3-2 victory.
The streak is now no longer a topic of conversation and thus not a distraction.

The O’s still have a chance to make the playoffs but they must win the vast majority of their games now. Building the long winning streak that has eluded them all year is of the essence. Not likely but still doable and the reason one becomes a fan and a player.
TO PLAY MEANINGFUL GAMES IN SEPTEMBER.

That’s all for now. Back with a review of the regular season next time. For now - Remember always – Take it easy but take it.

The Enduring Redemptive Quality in Baseball

September 10, 2013

Tags: Nick Markakis, CC Sabathia, Carlton Fisk, Alfonso Soriano

On Monday night September 9 in the bottom of the first inning with the Orioles trailing the Yankees 1-0 on an Alex Rodriguez home run off team ace Chris Tillman, Nick Markakis led off against CC Sabathia. It was a year and a day after Sabathia hit Markakis with a pitch in the first inning at Yankee Stadium, breaking his thumb and prematurely ending the Oriole right fielder’s season.

A lifelong Oriole Markakis had never come close to playing in a pennant race and Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s fierce consoling embrace of his veteran once the news was broken is etched in the memory of Oriole fans.

Redemption came to Markakis early on Monday night as he rocketed a ground-rule double to right center and ultimately scored the tying run on Adam Jones’ short sacrifice fly to center fielder Brett Gardner. In his second AB Markakis, no speedster, legged out an infield hit down the third base line, and in the fifth inning he stroked a single up the middle that gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead that they never lost in their 4-2 victory behind a great Tillman performance.

Markakis has had a perplexing season, recently going two months without an extra-base hit. One scout told me that he has power but doesn't like to use it. Yet he continues to play solid defense in right field on a team whose fielding prowess is virtually worth the price of admission. The less said about Oriole problems with RISP – Runners in Scoring Position – the better.

Today’s point, class, is the redemptive feature of baseball, one of its greatest attributes because it is built into the game. I believe it was Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk who once said that he felt for the fans in pennant races because they can do absolutely nothing about the fate of their teams. They can root, they can agonize, they can change locations in front of the TV set (and also increasingly at the newer ballparks where wide concourses allow fans to roam almost at will). But only the players and sometimes the managers with their moves can shape the fate of a game.

So I suggest look for redemption in every game. It happened for Yankee left fielder Alfonso Soriano last weekend against the Bosox at Yankee Stadium. He was picked off second as the potential tying run in the bottom of the 9th inning one night as the Yanks lost in extra-innings to the powerful ever-resilient Red Sox. But then the following night on his very first AB Soriano hit a long two-run HR.

Redemption doesn’t always come immediately in baseball and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. But it is a feature that makes the game ever so interesting and compelling.

We are in double-digit September, less than three weeks to go in the season and every game and every AB is important. Enjoy the agony if you can. And always remember:
Take it easy but take it.

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