November 4, 2018
"You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops." So wrote the late Bart Giamatti, baseball commissioner and onetime Yale professor and university president, in his classic essay "The Green Fields of the Mind."
How consoling are these words as Daylight Savings Time has ended for most of the country and we are faced with increased darkness until the arrival of the winter solstice around December 21. I watch my share of basketball and football and hockey on TV but it is no substitute for the drama and excitement of baseball.
Of course, we have our baseball memories, near and far, to sustain us. There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox are worthy World Series winners. They showed it was no fluke that they won the AL East with a team-record 108 victories.
They eliminated the Yankees and defending champion Astros to win the American League pennant, losing only one game in each series. They won a generally well-played often gripping World Series in five games over the Dodgers, a bridesmaid for the second year in a row.
Perhaps the mettle of this year's Bosox squad was best exemplified by its reaction to its only World Series loss, a record-breaking 18-inning seven-hour-plus 3-2 defeat on Max Muncy's home run off Nathan Eovaldi.
Immediately thereafter brilliant rookie manager Alex Cora called a rare team meeting in the clubhouse to congratulate the team's effort. The team applauded Eovaldi's great six-inning effort out of the bullpen when he was listed as the Game 4 starter.
Big run producer J.D. Martinez said it might have been a loss but it was a great experience to compete in such a historic game.
Journeyman outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce was voted the Series MVP for his batting heroics in the last two games. His solo homer tied Game 4 in 8th inning and his bases-clearing double provided the insurance runs in the 9th.
Pearce's two-run blast in the first inning the next night set the tone for the clincher.
It was a huge blow off losing pitcher Clayton Kershaw because it is hard to overestimate what scoring first means in any game, especially after the Dodgers had lost a four-run late lead in the prior game.
David Price won the final game with seven solid innings. A case could be made for Price to have won a co-MVP award although there were only five voters to assure that there was only one winner.
It was nice to see Price get the post-season monkey off his back because he had failed repeatedly in recent years to come up big in the playoffs. But this year he also won Game 2 with six solid innings and relieved effectively in the extra-inning classic third game.
Vanderbilt University baseball coach Tim Corbin has to be especially proud of his progeny because in addition to developing Price in college, another Commodore rookie Walker Buehler also pitched outstanding ball for the Dodgers.
Before I close, I want to remember Willie McCovey who passed away late last month from multiple ailments at the age of 80. He was one of many players who came up too late to help my first team the New York Giants who left New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season.
Imagine how McCovey and his teammates Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda would have fared with the short left and right field fences at the Polo Grounds. Certainly Willie Mays would have broken Babe Ruth's 714 home run record if he hadn't been consigned to the winds of Candlestick Park. At least he experienced five seasons in New York.
McCovey's debut in San Francisco was memorable. I happened to be listening to Les Keiter's recreating of Giant games on WINS radio on July 30, 1959. All Willie did was belt two triples and two singles off another future Hall of Famer Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts.
McCovey may be most remembered for a ball that became an out, the scalding line drive off Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry at Bobby Richardson that ended the seventh game of the 1962 World Series with the tying and winning runs in scoring position.
I prefer he be remembered for the body of his work on his field, including 521 career home runs, tying him with Ted Williams. He was a class guy on and off the field. He was always was accessible to fans and became a revered ambassador for the Giants who wisely named the water area beyond the right field fence at San Francisco's ATT Park "McCovey Cove."
There is a famous 100-year-old deli on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called "Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King." Though McCovey never ate there, he heard about the sturgeon and had it mail ordered to the West Coast.
There is a picture of Willie in Barney Greengrass's window. I think of Willie "Stretch" McCovey when I stop in at Barney's and always will.
That's all for now. Again remember to express your vote on November 6th if we want our democracy to recover its balance. And never forget: Take it easy but take it!
October 2, 2016
Baseball’s exciting, wildly unpredictable season came down to Game 162 with a real possibility that there would be play-in games before the wild-card Winner Take All playoffs. It didn’t happen because the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles won their final series on the road at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, respectively.
After taking advantage of Macy's "greatest sale of the year," I strolled the big blocks from 7th Avenue and 34th Street to Foley's bar not far from the Empire State Building where I took in the proceedings I knew that on a football Sunday there would be many TVs tuned to baseball.
Amazingly, Foley's is a big St Louis Cardinals outpost and many Redbird-clad fans gathered hoping against hope that the Giants would lose and the Cards would get in.
After the umpires on Thursday night shockingly didn't enforce a rule that a ball was a ground-rule double allowing the Cards to beat the Reds, I was glad the Cards were locked out of the 2016 playoffs. Like the Yankees, they are in there too much (but at least their manager Mike Matheny doesn't wear a number like Joe Girardi's 28 to tell the world about the inevitable next world championship.)
I was pleased when there was a family of Oriole fans from Towson, Maryland, where I started my teaching career way back then. We made appropriate noise when the O's took and kept the lead.
So now the O’s and Blue Jays will meet on Tuesday Oct 4 at 8:08 on TBS in Toronto for the right to play the Texas Rangers in the best-of-five AL Division Series. Boston, the AL East winner whose closer Craig Kimbrel is in a slump at the worst time, lost home field advantage to the Cleveland Indians who will host them in the other ALDS.
The Detroit Tigers, given up for dead a couple of months ago, made a valiant run at crashing the playoff party. But playing the role of spoiler to the utmost, the Atlanta Braves beat the Bengals on Sat. and Sun. to eliminate Detroit. The Braves in September also swept the Mets at Citi Field but the New Yorkers rebounded to win the first wild card.
It was unfortunate for Detroit that they couldn’t use their designated hitter Victor Martinez in the National League park but they had their chances to win each game. Just couldn’t come up with the big hit, a lament that is often heard when teams just miss out on the post-season.
A fascinating sidelight in the Tiger losses is that two former Oriole castoff relievers got huge outs for the Braves. Coming in with bases loaded and nobody out in the 8th on Sat night, Chaz Roe kept Atlanta's 5-2 lead by striking out fearsome Miguel Cabrera and getting stellar J.D.Martinez to hit into a double play. Former Oriole closer Jim Johnson got saves in each game.
Meanwhile the much-maligned Oriole starting pitching came up big in the last weeks of the season. Who would have thought that Ubaldo Jimenez would emerge as a consistent contributor?
Ramon Martinez, Pedro’s older brother and a special adviser to Oriole gm Dan Duquette, has become a confidant with fellow Dominican Ubaldo. Ramon has evidently helped to eliminate some extraneous movement from Ubaldo’s complicated delivery.
Things are going well in Ubaldo’s outside life that certainly hasn't hurt his performance.
**He recently became father for the first time.
**In early September he flew to Miami in between starts to attend a swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen.
At a time when the national media is making such a big deal about journeyman quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, most of the country doesn’t know about Ubaldo Jimenez’s unabashed affirmation of his adopted land.
He also has become the new spokesperson for the Cardboard to Leather philanthropic project of the Oriole Advocates, a longtime baseball-loving community service organization in Baltimore. Cardboard to Leather makes annual trips to Latin America bringing baseball equipment to the needy.
If the Orioles manage to beat Toronto in the wild card game, Jimenez will certainly get a start in the division series. The Orioles young veteran Chris Tillman is likely to get the wild card start with the finally healthy Dylan Bundy ready to aid in relief.
The Birds’ other young hard-throwing right-hander Kevin Gausman beat the Yankees in Game 162 to clinch the wild card bid. All of a sudden, with Bundy, Gausman, and Tillman, and one more year of revived Jimenez and maybe Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley, Oriole pitching doesn't look so foreboding.
One of the interesting sidebars in the upcoming Toronto-Baltimore wild card tussle is that two sluggers on each team might be playing their last game for their current franchises. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays and Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters of the Orioles are all free agents at the end of the post-season.
All year on this blog I have refused to speculate on where these run-producers might go and I’m not gonna start now. Wieters, a switch-hitter and an excellent defensive catcher, probably has the most value. It certainly went up when he smashed for the first time in his career home runs from both sides of the plate in the O's Game 162 5-2 victory over the Yanks.
We’ll cross that bridge of free agency speculation after the World Series.
For now I’m just glad that we have at least this extra game to look forward to.
Ditto the National League Wild Card game that will pit the defending NL champion Mets against the Giants who swept the Dodgers in San Francisco to earn a chance to go for their third straight even-year World Series title. The Wednesday matchup between the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and the Giants’ World Series hero Madison Bumgarner should be a beauty.
But it’s baseball - it could be a rout or a slugfest. We don’t know and neither do the stat heads. That’s why they play the games.
That’s all for now but always remember: Take it easy but take it.
October 6, 2014
I was blessed to have tickets in the upper deck at Camden Yards this past Thursday and Friday as the Orioles began their three-game sweep of the favored Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.
The first 2 innings of Game 1 reminded me of the Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns middleweight bout of 1985 – a classic battle that after fierce action saw champion Hagler knock out Hearns in the third round. That Hearns hailed from Detroit may have influenced my analogy.
Oriole starter Chris Tillman struck out the side on 14 pitches as the Sea of Orange-clad Baltimore fans went wild. Nick Markakis led off the bottom of the 1st with a single off defending Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. He went to second when Alejandro DeAza, a late July pickup who has boosted an Orioles lineup missing All-Stars Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters, was hit by a pitch.
Irrepressible Adam Jones, the team leader who can be very undisciplined at the plate, grounded into a double play to momentarily quiet the crowd. But Nelson Cruz, the greatest one-year free agent signing in recent memory, picked Jones up by homering to right center field.
But the Tigers answered back immediately when the unrelated Martinezes, Victor and J.D., belted back-to-back homers. However, Markakis singled home a run in the bottom of the 2nd to give the Orioles a lead they wouldn’t lose.
A pattern was set for the first 8 innings of the first 2 games – every time one team scored the other team answered back immediately. That’s the goal of every team, but only the good and possibly great teams actually execute it on the field.
A JJ Hardy home run gave the Orioles a huge insurance run in the bottom of the 7th. So Miguel Cabrera’s mighty two-out blast to right center in the top of the 8th
only brought the Tigers to within one run.
Then as advertised the Detroit bullpen imploded for 8 runs in the bottom of the 8th.
I don’t think Alejandro DeAza will ever forget hitting 2 doubles in the same inning, the last one driving in the last two runs of the outburst.
Yet the final score of 12-3 Orioles was very deceptive – it was a tight game until that last half-inning. And the power potential of the Detroit lineup 1 through 6 was positively frightening. By contrast the last three spots were very weak, an Achilles heel for Detroit almost as bad as the horrendous bullpen.
Friday’s day game saw the second of Detroit’s three Cy Young winners Justin Verlander match zeros with O’s Taiwanese southpaw Wei-Yin Chen until the bottom of the 3rd when Nick Markakis got his first HR off Verlander in 50 career ABs.
In keeping with the Hagler-Hearns theme, the Tigers answered with lightning quickness. In less than ten pitches, Chen gave up five runs, the last four coming on a
3-run HR by JD Martinez – a godsend for Detroit after unbelievably released last winter by the Houston Astros – and Nick Castellanos.
The Orioles answered in the bottom of the 4th when JJ Hardy singled home Adam Jones who had started the inning with a single up the middle. I had almost prayed that Jones would have a good post-season after his failures in the 2012 ALDS.
And his single up the middle was a good omen.
The Orioles knocked Verlander out of the box in the sixth inning - Hardly the dominating performance expected of a Cy Young winner. I chuckled at a sign in the crowd:
KATE UPTON IS HOT, VERLANDER IS NOT (with a circle and slash through “not”).
However, Anibal Sanchez, only recently activated from the disabled list, came in to pitch two perfect innings of relief. And when the Tigers got an insurance run in the top of the 8th, it was 6-3 Detroit.
Yet another good omen appeared when a perfect relay from Jones to second baseman Jonathan Schoop to catcher Caleb Joseph nailed lumbering if mighty slugger Miguel Cabrera at the plate.
It was a HBP to Jones with one out in the bottom of the 8th that started the winning four-run rally. That a former Tiger Delmon Young stroked a bases-loaded pinch-hit lead-gaining double was ironic.
Perhaps even more ironic was that the hit came only two hours before sundown and the start of Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement in the Jewish religion.
As a member of the Tigers in 2012 an intoxicated Young had been arrested in New York in the wee hours one morning after spewing anti-Semitic epithets and knocking to the street a target for his rage.
He was sentenced to sensitivity training and reportedly has since developed a genuine relationship with a Detroit-area rabbi. Once the number one draft pick in the country of the Tampa Bay Rays, Young has been a model citizen in Baltimore and has become an extremely productive pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter.
And Delmon knows baseball and epitomizes the aggressive hitting philosophy explained by Adam Jones: "Tee it high, let it fly." When asked afterwards if he was hoping for a double, Young replied, "I wanted to hit a grand slam."
The crowd responded to Young's heroics with an outburst that veteran Baltimore fans
said was the loudest ever heard. I haven't been to many Oriole games in Baltimore recently but the chants of "We Won't Stop!" and "This Is Awesome" were quite impressive.
So was the outpouring of fan love for Nelson Cruz - "Cruuuuuuz!" - a regular chant since
he established himself as a consistent offensive force in the lineup. He is a free agent after the year and he has liked his time in Baltimore. But we'll see at age 35 next year how many suitors he will have. Probably a lot.
Added cheers were bestowed upon "Nick Mar-Ka-Kis!" and "J.J.Hardy!" two quiet leaders who could also be wearing other uniforms in 2015. My sense is that Markakis wants to stay with the only team he has ever played for and the Orioles will either pick up a $16-$17 million option or extend him at perhaps a slightly lower annual salary.
Hardy is an unrestricted free agent after the World Series. With the latest knee injury to Manny Machado, I would be very wary of letting Hardy walk away.
I returned home to New York to watch on TV on Sunday October 5 as the Orioles completed the sweep. Bud Norris, making his playoff debut, outpitched the third Cy Young winner in the Detroit arsenal David Price. It was Cruz’s two-run home run in the 6th after a Jones single that provided the necessary runs in a 2-1 victory.
Cruz’s home run just sneaked inside the right field foul pole. Impeccable five-out relief work from southpaw Andrew Miller - another free agent after the season - brought the game to closer Zach Britton who was shaky. He immediately gave up back-to-back doubles to the formidable Martinezes to cut the lead to 2-1.
But the bottom of the Detroit order was as wanting as their bullpen. A clever move by Oriole manager Buck Showalter to walk home run threat Nick Castellanos to set up a double play worked perfectly when inexperienced Hernan Perez grounded into a 5-4-3 DP that sent the Birds into their first AL Championship Series since 1997.
Looking ahead, beginning on Friday Oct 10, the Orioles will have home field advantage against the surprising Kansas City Royals who also dispatched the heavily favored Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three straight. Obviously this will be a more demanding series because after a few years of underachieving the Royals have arrived with their great bullpen and blinding speed and emerging left-handed power threats in first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
The battle of underdogs vying to become AL top dogs should be a very interesting one.
And I expect the Orioles will continue their fine tradition of excellent choices for Star Spangled Banner singers.
Shining particularly well before Friday's game was the operatic soprano from Richmond, Virginia, Chelsea Buyalos who delivered a stirring rendition in under 1 minute and 20 seconds. Her "God Bless America" was poised and beautiful, too.
Never forget, dear readers, that the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.
As always, I sign off YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever!) and urge you to
Take it easy, but take it!