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It Helps To Love The Game When Your Team Goes Belly-Up in April

April 24, 2018

Tags: Orioles slow start despite improved starting pitching, Princeton takes 2 of 3 from Columbia, Sean Manaea

I didn’t have many hopes for the Orioles in 2018. Too many looming free agents on the field - Manny Machado, Adam Jones, reliever Brad Brach among the key ones. And off the field contracts of both manager Buck Showalter and gm Dan Duquette are also over at end of season.

But as a friend wisely noted as I went through a divorce back in the 1990s, “You can see a Mack truck coming but it still hurts when it hits you.” At 6-17 after a 2-1 loss to the Indians on Monday night April 23, the O’s may well never get to .500 in 2018.

In baseball’s confounding ways Orioles’ starting pitching has been better than expected. Dylan Bundy has emerged as a true ace, Kevin Gausman pitched confidently in the 2-1 loss last night, and newcomer Andrew Cashner has been reasonably effective (though he seems clearly a backend-of-rotation kind of guy, not able to get the really big outs when you need them).

The other newcomer highly-paid Alex Cobb has glaringly shown the rust of missing most of spring training. Erstwhile former semi-ace Chris Tillman is getting every chance to regain his form of two years ago with mixed results.

It is the hitting or lack of it that has done in the Orioles so far. Its once proud defense has also fallen apart. None of this is pleasant to watch and Baltimore fans are staying away in droves from Camden Yards.

The frigid weather has certainly played its part in the ultra-cold bats. MLB just broke a record for the most rainouts ever in April. But finally FINALLY it looks like spring has arrived in the Northeast and we can at last put away our winter clothes.

To add to my woes as a fan, I was counting on my Columbia Lions to make another Ivy League championship run in 2018. Losing two out of three at home to Princeton this past weekend makes that outcome more difficult though not impossible.

Except for a Lions pitching meltdown in the second game of the Saturday doubleheader, the games were exciting and well-played. Leaving 15 on base and blowing a 4-1 7th inning lead in the Sunday 7-6 loss was a bitter pill to swallow.

But if baseball teaches you anything, it is the importance of a short memory. Two three game series are still left for Columbia in Ivy League play - at home this Friday at 3p and Sat. doubleheader starting at 1130a against perennial contender Penn having a down year. And then after final exams, three more at Cornell during second weekend in May.

With rainouts having to be made up in the 21-game league season, the standings are:
Defending champion Yale 11-4, Columbia 9-6, Princeton 7-5, Dartmouth 6-5-1, Harvard 6-6, Penn 6-8-1, Cornell 4-8, Brown 4-11. Only two teams make the May 19-20 playoff for the right to go to NCAA tourney of regionals and super-regionals with Omaha’s College World Series the dream from June 15-26.

One last baseball note - The Red Sox were flying high with a 15-2 record when Saturday night they were no-hit by Oakland A’s lefty Sean Manaea definitely the first pitcher of Samoan ancestry to hurl a no-hitter. What better example of baseball’s glorious unpredictability!

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

A Shout-Out To Caleb Joseph As The River of Baseball Returns: updated post

April 9, 2018

Tags: Roger Angell, Caleb Joseph, Mychal Givens, Didi Gregorius, Brad Brach, Aaron Judge, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Gentry, Giancarlo Stanton, early returns from MLB season, Ivy League baseball's new format, Columbia baseball, Chandler Bengtson, Liam McGill

During the first huge baseball strike in 1981 Roger Angell - who still contributes his elegant prose to the newyorker.com's website - wrote a great lament about the absence of baseball and its "slowly fluctuous standings." He compared the course of a baseball season to a river that "is headed, in its own sweet time, toward a down summer broadening and debouchment and to its end in the estuary of October." (Reprinted in LATE INNINGS: A Baseball Companion: Simon & Schuster, 1982), p382.)

We are now barely ten days into the baseball season and already excitement and agony are overflowing. An Orioles fan like yours truly had no expectations for the four-game series at Yankee Stadium just concluded.

Lo and behold, the Birds took three out of four in the Bronx, winning both extra-inning marathons. Nobody made a bigger contribution than catcher Caleb Joseph in those two nail-biting wins. I doubt if anyone hitting under .100 ever made more of an impact on a series.

Friday night Joseph saved the tie in extras by corralling a wild pitch from Mychal Givens and flipping the ball backhanded to Givens who blocked home plate and applied the tag on sliding Didi Gregorius. Givens sure put his experience as a former shortstop to good use on that play.

(BTW, it is hard to imagine both Cincinnati and Arizona giving up on Didi in trades - he has blossomed into a star on both sides of the ball with the Yankees, yet another of the great players from Curacao, a tiny country near Venezuela with barely a quarter of a million people.)

In Sunday’s 8-7 12-inning win, Caleb saved the one-run lead by being middle man in a very rare 1-2-5 DP. After closer Brad Brach walked two and botched a bunt, Aaron Judge bounced to the mound. Brach forced the runner at the plate and Joseph alertly threw to Tim Beckham at third to get that man Gregorius for out #2.

Brach then struck out Giancarlo Stanton to clinch the victory. Bronx newcomer Stanton had a miserable home stand striking out five times on Sunday and leading nine runners stranded. He had another five-strikeout game earlier in the week.

Coming to a new league is not a piece of cake and longtime Stanton watchers say he is likely to heat up soon. Has a chance to do so in Fenway Park this week. We shall see.

Hard not to root for a guy like Caleb Joseph a mid-round draft pick from unheralded Lipscomb U. in Nashville Tenn. He toiled for years in the minors without getting a callup to majors, once even living for a while in his Double-A clubhouse.

He made another great play defensively on Friday night, running Stanton back to third base on a grounder to the infield and then tagging the runner from second who had made third, and then Stanton. Unfortunately the umpires did not call a double play despite manager Buck Showalter's intense but polite protests.

Shoutouts also deserved for Pedro Alvarez, onetime Pirates #1 draft pick who grew up not far from Yankee Stadium. He hit the game-winning 14th inning grand slam on Friday and scored the winning run on Sunday.

Another journeyman Craig Gentry saved the game with a circus extra-inning catch on Sunday and then got the GWRBI with a 12th inning single. The Birds are still only 4-6 but they are beginning to play gritty come-from-behind baseball, a cautiously hopeful sign.

It is one of baseball’s great cliches that “a season is a marathon, not a sprint.” But it always helps to get off to a good start. Wins in April mean less pressure for wins in August and September.

On the other hand, I feel bad for the fans in Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Miami, and Oakland, and probably soon in Kansas City, Texas, and Philadelphia. A team can dig a hole in April that becomes almost impossible to climb out of, especially with daily inter-league play and constant travel.

I feel good for the hot starts of the Pirates and Braves and Angels. There is talented youth on all three teams and that certainly stokes the hope in fans, esp. us codgers who dream of what used to be (or in my case what I wished used to be in terms of on-field talent.)

I should also mention that one of the older teams in baseball, the Mets, are off to an impressive 8-1 start. They not only have beaten the Phillies and Marlins but so far have gone 5-1 against likely contenders Cardinals and Nats. If their vaunted pitching holds up, they may surprise a lot of people including yours truly.

We fans better enjoy the extra inning dramatics. Because if MLB hierarchy has its way, there won't be any more. The minor leagues are experimenting with all extra half-innings beginning with a runner on second and nobody out.

I'd prefer a home run derby - which was tried in the one year of the Israel Baseball League - to this strange concoction. More on misplaced ideas to speed up the game in future posts.

On the college front, my Columbia Lions are 5-4 with four more weekend three-game series ahead. Defending champion Yale is 6-2 with a makeup game still to play on Monday April 9 at Cornell. Dartmouth and Princeton also have only two losses.

It’s a new system in the Ivy League this year. Gone are the two doubleheaders on weekends, seven-inning first games, and two divisions in the eight-team league.

Every team now plays each other in a three-game series, all games nine innings.
The top two teams at end of regular season play a three-game series to earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid and a chance to make the coveted mid-June College World Series in Omaha.

Columbia’s starting pitching has been erratic all season. But the defense has improved. And in salvaging the final game against Dartmouth this past weekend, two big sophomore bats played a big role: first baseman Chandler Bengtson’s who hit two 3-run HRs in a 12-3 pasting of the Big Green and DH/left fielder Liam McGill who stroked the ball solidly all weekend.

There is no admission charge for Columbia baseball. It is sadly a very short season but I highly recommend a trip to Satow Stadium/Robertson Field just north of the football field NW of Broadway and 218th Street - accessible by either #1 train to 215th Street or A train to 207th Street - take second car and exit on 211th Street/Isham St.

There are only two weekends left of Ivy League baseball - Princeton Sat Apr 21 doubleheader at 11:30; Sun Apr 22 at 1p, and Penn F Apr 27 at 3p; Sa Apr 28 11:30 (2). There is also a non-league game against Fordham W Apr 25 at 330p.

On a very windy cold Wed. afternoon early this month, Columbia beat perennial power St. John’s for the 7th time in a row.

Next post more on college and high school baseball in the NYC area. For now: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

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