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Ain't Baseball Great? Appreciating The Game Despite Orioles' Deep Funk

May 28, 2017

Tags: MASNSports slogan, Orioles slide, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, Fidel Castro, Yasiel Puig

This phrase is used often in ads on Orioles broadcasts on its cable network MASNSports. I still find the sentiment true despite the current 7-game losing streak of the Birds.

What was a 22-10 record two weeks ago of my Birds has now plummeted to 25-23. Last place in the AL East is now closer than the soaring Yankees atop the division.

I try to console myself that the 1983 Orioles, their last World Series-winning team, lost 7 in a row TWICE that season. And this is just end of May, lots of baseball left to play.

But with a pitching rotation without a stopper (young Dylan Bundy is the closest to that needed position), Zach Britton star closer out indefinitely, and sluggers Manny Machado and Chris Davis in deep slumps, it is gloom time in Charm City.

Yet, ss I type away, I have the Dodgers-Cubs game on the MLB Extra Innings Package.
An expected pitchers’ duel between LA’s Clayton Kershaw and Chicago’s Jon Lester has turned into home run slugfest.

Both pitchers were knocked out early and six home runs have flown out of Chavez Ravine. Ain’t Baseball great indeed. Youneverknow, do you?

I leave Wednesday morning for the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. I will be talking at the Friday June 2 1p session on “Baseball Potpourri’.

My paper is “‘If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire’: An Exploration into Cuba’s and Fidel Castro’s Love of Baseball.”

As I sign off this posting, Yasiel Puig, the mercurial very talented Cuban defector and right fielder for LA, has just made a brilliant running catch. Unmistakably rare and brilliant talent has defected from Cuba in recent years, but it is widely feared that the cream has been taken out of the country.

I hope to live to see a day when Cubans can play in the greatest leagues in this country without having to leave their homeland.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Pre-Memorial Day Musings

May 22, 2017

Tags: MLB pennant race analyses at quarter-pole: Houston Astros' Dallas Keuchel and Brian McCann, Yankees' Aaron Judge, Mets' Noah Syndergaard, Rockies' Bud Black, Orioles' Jonathan Schoop and Zach Britton and iffy starters, PSAL baseball, Cesar Presbott's Scout Day

We are past the quarter pole of the baseball season. Unlike the NBA where it has seemed pre-ordained for months that the Durant-Curry-led Golden State juggernaut and LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the finals, I am happy to report that there are no clear favorites for the 2017 World Series.

The old cliche remains true - you cannot win a pennant in the spring but you sure can lose one. The odds look very long for post-season play for supposed contenders Kansas City and Toronto in the AL and the Mets and San Francisco in the NL - all are mired well below .500.

Yet for fans of those teams, please remember there are more than a hundred games yet to play with summery weather ahead. AND YOU SEE SOMETHING NEW IN EVERY BASEBALL GAME. Trust me.

Houston was rolling along in the AL West until a sweep at home this weekend by defending AL champs Cleveland. The Astros still have the best record in baseball before games on May 22, but they must hope that the DL stints of ace southpaw Dallas Keuchel and veteran catcher Brian McCann are brief ones.

A pleasant NL surprise is the Colorado Rockies under new manager Bud Black. They have developed some starting pitching to go with the potent offense they've had for a while. Before games of May 22, they were leading NL West 11 games over .500.

I'm not surprised that Bud Black is having early and I think lasting success. In 2002 he was the pitching coach for the California Angels world champions that had three future managers on the staff to go with Mike Scioscia who remains the senior skipper in terms of active longevity in MLB. (Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke were the others.)

Here in my home town of New York, the Yankees look poised to reclaim the mantle of Gotham’s best pro team. The huge young right fielder Aaron Judge leads MLB in HRs with 15. His circus catch against Tampa Bay on Sunday saved the game and more than made up for his 4 K’s at bat.

Meanwhile, the vaunted Mets pitching staff has been plagued with serious injuries. I don’t like saying, “I told you so,” but when I read that Noah “Thor" Syndergaard during the off-season had been building up muscles to throw even harder, I knew he would break down.

“Thor” is now out well into the summer (at least), Matt Harvey has been lit up regularly, Jacob DeGrom is continually plagued by throwing hand blisters, and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have yet to throw regular season pitches.

It says here that the Mets don’t have a consistent enough offense or defense to make up for these injuries. The Washington Nats look poised to remain on top for the rest of the year in the AL East. Again, though, many many games left to play.

As for my Orioles, they returned from a disappointing 1-6 road trip to win 2 out of 3 at home from Toronto. Their starting pitching bounced back from a disastrous trip away from home, but it is hard to possess great expectations with ace closer Zach Britton out until early summer (at best).

The O's less-than-imposing starting staff is headed by Chris Tillman, free agent-to-be just returned from nagging shoulder discomfort; Dylan Bundy (the most consistent so far but prone to the gopher ball lately); the one lefty Wade Miley (who does work with blessedly fast tempo a la the retired Mark Buehrle); Ubaldo Jimenez (another free agent-to-be who cannot repeat his delivery), and Kevin Gausman who was counted on as a possible ace but has gotten off to a very shaky start..

The Orioles do play spectacular defense most of the time, but it is needed most every day. When normally steady Jonathan Schoop booted an easy grounder in the loss to Toronto yesterday, it led to the three unearned runs in a 3-1 defeat.

Before I sign off, here is an update on baseball at the grass roots.

Weather permitting, the PSAL high school championships start on Wednesday May 26 at 3:30p at various locales around NYC. I have my eye on #3 seed Beacon in midtown Manhattan that seemingly has a deeper pitching staff than usual in 2017.

They tangle with my alma mater Bronx Science at the #3 North Diamond in Central Park, northeast of the 97th Street entrance to Central Park. Updates on the entire
tournament can be found at the psal.org website.

Perennial powers George Washington and James Monroe are seeded #1 and #2 but defending champion Midwood of Brooklyn is a contender as is Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville, runners-up for the title in the last three seasons.

Finally, on Thursday May 25 from 9p-2p, there will be a Scout Day at City Park Stadium in New Rochelle, N.Y - You enter on City Park Road off 20 5th Avenue.

Highly regarded college and junior college players from the New York area and INNER CITY PLAYERS WHO HAVE BEEN RARELY SCOUTED are invited to display their baseball wares to scouts from many major league organizations.

The event is sponsored by the Cesar Presbott Foundation run by the longtime Yankees area scout who signed Dellin Betances among many others. The Presbott Foundation does wonderful charitable work. For years, it has distributed more than 1000 Thanksgiving turkeys to needy areas in the Bronx.

That’s all this time - always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!

"Tomorrow Is Your Best Friend" and Other Tips On How To Deal With A Looooong Baseball Season

May 13, 2017

Tags: Bobby Valentine, Tug McGraw, Curt Motton, Ivy League baseball: Penn's Jake Cousins and Tim Graul, Mark Melancon, John Fuller

The drama of the major league baseball season is enfolding before us in all its glory and agony. And the best advice for dealing with the inevitable peaks and valleys remains: "Tomorrow is your best friend." I heard the phrase first when Bobby Valentine managed the Mets at the turn of the 21st century.

Of course, it helps to get off to good starts as the Orioles and Yankees have done in the AL East and the Astros in the AL West. On the other hand, the road will be very difficult for those who have stumbled mightily in the early going, esp. the Giants in the NL West and the Blue Jays in the AL East.

Yet unlike football and even basketball, baseball plays by far the most games. There are still well over 120 to play. In a very impatient society, the best advice is to chip away day-by-day, inning-by-inning, pitch-by-pitch and perhaps the winning feeling will return.

Remembering the late relief pitcher Tug McGraw's mantra, "You Gotta Believe," never hurts. Yet for most of us I'm afraid the late great Oriole reserve outfielder and scout Curt Motton said it more realistically: "You're never as good as you look when you are winning, but you could be as bad as you look when you are losing."

Inclement weather continues to plague the Northeast. I don't recall a spring that feels more like fall and even winter. Impressive Houston's Saturday afternoon game against the Yankees was postponed early, and Derek Jeter Retirement of Number Day will now actually be part of a single-admission Sunday doubleheader.

Weather has impacted the Ivy League baseball playoff between defending Rolfe division champion Yale and Penn champions of the Gehrig division. These games won't be played until Tues May 16 and if necessary Wed May 17.

Penn eliminated Columbia, 6-3 in a single play-in game last Sunday May 7. Senior right-hander Jake Cousins pitched six solid innings and slugging senior outfielder Tim Graul did what all visiting teams must do on the road, contribute to a first-inning lead by slugging a two-run homer.

If forecasters are right, almost summery weather will finally bless us during the week of May 15 and I hope beyond. It is a very exciting time for baseball followers.
College and high school tournaments are starting in about a week. More on that in next installment of this blog.

Before I close, a special tip of the cap to Mark Melancon, the SF Giants new closer who really cares about the history of his team. On Monday May 8 before the start of the Giants' 3-game series against the Mets, Mark treated over 30 members of the New York Giants Preservation Society to a pizza lunch on Monday May 8.

We gathered at the foot of the John Brush steps below Edgecombe Ave. in Harlem just above where the Polo Grounds stood. Mark and his agent, John Fuller, listened with obvious sincerity to all of our stories about how we fell in love with the Giants as youngsters and how we sustained those memories even though the team left for San Francisco after the 1957 season.

For now, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

A Tumultuous End to April for my Orioles and Columbia Lions

May 1, 2017

Tags: Orioles-Yankees Apr 28-30 series, Kevin Gausman, Mark Trumbo, Aaron Judge, Buck Showalter, Vidal Nuno, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mychal Givens, Jayson Aquino, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Brad Brach, Ubaldo Jimenez, Manny Machado, Caleb Joseph, Austin Romine, Jacob Ruppert, Joe Girardi, Aroldis Chapman, Bryan Mitchell, Logan Verrett, Kyle Bartelman, Ian Burns

The Orioles' first visit to NYC in 2017 was certainly eventful. The Friday and Sunday games will be ones remembered forever.

The weekend could have been a total washout and a sweep by the insanely hot Yankees who rallied from 9-1 and 11-4 deficits on Friday night to win 14-11 in 10 innings. Facing another devastating late inning loss on Sunday, the O's managed to hold on and win in eleven innings, 7-4.

On Friday night Kevin Gausman pitched four shutout innings in his first sustained good outing of the year and the Birds roared to a 9-1 lead. Mark Trumbo, MLB"S home run leader last year, contributed a grand slam, his first HR since he won on Opening Day with an extra-inning blast.

Two homers by powerhouse Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge brought the Bronx Bombers closer at 9-4. The Orioles quickly responded to make it 11-4 as the game entered the bottom of the 7th.

After a dinky infield single, Bird manager Buck Showalter lifted Gausman for journeyman lefty reliever and former Yankee Vidal Nuno. It says here that Gausman's pitch count wasn't enormous and I wouldn't have lifted him. Of course, then there wouldn't have such drama.

Nuno showed why he has bounced from many teams by giving up a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury - the first ever for the former Bosox center fielder and the 100th of his career. Ellsbury may have an untradeable bloated contract but he is off to a good start as a veteran presence on a team that trends young.

It was now 11-8. Reliable Oriole relievers Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day restored order until the bottom of the 9th. The Oriole farm system gets a lot of criticism for its failure to produce many major leaguers but Givens is a great success story and tribute to Oriole player developers.

A former high draft pick/shortstop who never mastered hitting, Givens was converted to a hard-throwing semi-sidearmer. He is extremely effective against righthanded hitters and getting better against lefty batters. He also fields his position with the aplomb of a former shortstop.

On Friday night temporary closer Brad Brach was not up to the occasion. A local boy from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, Brach committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter. Before long Yankee second baseman and former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro belted a long HR to tie the game at 11-11.

Once the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the 10th against Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, I knew the game was probably over.

Yet being a baseball addict, I watched on my TV as rookie Jayson Aquino (being groomed as a starter) walked two in a row. After a strikeout of Chase Headley, a new Yankee the veteran Matt Holliday homered deep into right center for the victory.

After the game, Nuno and Aquino were optioned to the minor leagues and might not be back for a while esp. Nuno. Aquino is still a possible fifth starter for an extremely thin Orioles starting staff.

Saturday's day game was the one I attended in person and it fulfilled my worst expectations. Amazingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez gave up two HRs to Yankee leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the first two innings and it was quickly 5-0.

The game then followed the pattern that imperious Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert loved. Score a bunch of runs in the first inning and pull slowly ahead. Final score was 12-4 and it was never really a contest.

To give you a sense of the bad omens for the Orioles on Saturday, Chase Headley pulled a Manny Machado on Machado. The Orioles hot corner master smoked a ball down the left field line with double written all over it. (A cliche but a nice one IMHO).
Headley dove to his right and speared it as Machado looked on in astonishment.

There was a brief moment of hope when it was only 7-2 in top of the sixth with two men in scoring position and two out. Birds backup catcher Caleb Joseph was facing Yankee reliever Adam Warren. A single could make it 7-4, so I dreamed.

It was a great competitive AB for Joseph who fouled off a couple of pitches while bringing the count to 3-2. Alas, he struck out. His quest for his first RBI since 2015 had to wait.

Once the Yankees immediately answered those runs with a two-run HR by Yankee backup catcher Austin Romine, it was time to beat the crowd and head home.

A tip of the cap to Romine. Like Joseph he is a longtime minor leaguer in the same organization for his whole career. He is performing wonderfully on both sides of the ball during starting catcher's Gary Sanchez stint on the DL.

And though I missed it, I was glad that the final two runs on this desultory day came on Joseph's HR in the 9th No longer must he answer questions about his RBI dearth.

I did not expect Sunday's 7-4 Oriole 11 inning win. Especially after they blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. It was a game that lasted over four and a half hours and featured an ejection of Showalter on a disputed 9th inning balk call.

When he brought in closer Chapman for the 10th inning, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi moved reliever Bryan Mitchell to first base from the mound. The strategy backfired when Mitchell returned to the mound to give up the 3 decisive 11th inning runs with Trumbo delivering the tie-breaking RBI.

How fitting that Logan Verrett in his first appearance as an Oriole won the game with two shutout innings of relief. The former Met reliever had just been called up from Triple A the night before.

By contrast with the bizarre weekend drama in the Bronx, the Columbia Lions put on almost a clinical display of baseball Saturday in Philadelphia. They needed to sweep the Quakers to force a playoff after splitting two games in New York on Friday.

Sweep they did, coming from behind in each game. There were heroes galore but special mention must be given to slugging senior second baseman Kyle Bartelman and sophomore righthander Ian Burns who earned the second game victory with nearly 5 innings of shutout relief.

The one-game playoff will be this Saturday May 6 at 1p at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium in the Baker Field complex west of Broadway on 218th Street. We'll see if the Lions can repeat their amazing success in elimination games.

Yale awaits the following weekend in New Haven in the best-of-three series that will determine the Ivy League participant in the NCAA baseball tournament beginning on May 30.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.

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