December 3, 2018
I love the refreshing piney smell of Christmas trees that are now piling up on the sidewalks of Broadway in my Upper West Side NYC neighborhood. For a few moments, it makes me love the changing of seasons and forget that spring training is still several weeks away.
An even better antidote for the No-Baseball Blues is to attend a gathering of players, coaches, scouts, and fans as I did last week. For the first time I attended the Annual Raymond E. Church Service to Youth Baseball Awards Dinner at Russo’s On The Bay restaurant on Cross Bay Boulevard in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens not far from JFK Airport.
The function was sponsored by the Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Association (GNYSAA). My appetite for this event was whetted when I learned that the GNYSAA grew out of the New York Journal American/Hearst newspapers high school all-star game that was an annual event in NYC from 1946 through 1965.
88 future major leaguers played in a game that was held most of the time at the Polo Grounds. Among the future MLB stars that played in this game were Tommy Davis, Al Kaline, Harvey Kuenn, Bill Skowron, and Joe Torre. Kuenn played in it during its first years from 1946-1950 when it was billed as a New York versus The World competition. (Thanks to fellow SABR member Alan Cohen for this info.)
More storied names from the past were brought up by Frank Del George, one of the evening’s coaching excellence award winners. A product of the Brooklyn housing projects, Del George is currently head coach of St. Francis Prep and once was a star shortstop for St. Francis College of Brooklyn.
Del George remembered warmly that he had played for Frank Tepedino Sr. - father of future Yankee outfielder-first baseman Frank Tepedino - for the American Legion Cummings Brothers team. His double play partner? Future Yankee second baseman and Met manager Willie Randolph.
Guest speaker Nelson Figueroa, former Mets pitcher and current Mets cable TV commentator, also spoke very movingly about his roots of his career. He pointed out in the audience Anthony Iapoce, newly appointed Cubs batting coach, and noted that he and Iapoce had played for a USA Baseball 12-and-under team in Japan 32 years ago.
Nelson was under five feet and less than 100 pounds. But he made the team, one of 16 chosen out of 600 competing. He paid tribute to his Abraham Lincoln HS coach Joe Malone who believed in him despite his small stature. He thanked Malone for having him throw only fastballs and change-ups at that tender age.
Figueroa also saluted the longtime Youth Service coach Mel Zitter, mentor of Manny Ramirez and Shawon Dunston among others. Before “tough love” was a cliche, Zitter epitomized the no-nonsense coach who drove his charges very hard in early a.m. practices. He also made sure, Figueroa noted, that the Parade Grounds field was properly maintained so no one got hurt.
Zitter was in the audience, having made the long drive from his home in North Carolina to show his devotion to NYC grass roots baseball. Figueroa thanked Zitter for taking him to a youth tournament in Waltham, Mass where he made contacts with Brandeis University coaches.
He listed himself as 6 3 and over 150 pounds. but he was barely 6 feet and much lighter. Figueroa quipped that people often asked, “Where’s the rest of you?” Yet he went on to an outstanding college career, capped in 2015 by his election to the Brandeis University Athletic Hall of Fame, a honor worthy of the school’s only major leaguer.
An elegiac moment near the end of the evening was provided by Brother Robert Kent who was honored for his 50 years of service at St. Francis Prep as baseball coach, athletic director, and history teacher. Bemoaning that on the site where Ebbets Field once stood there is now a sign, “No Ball Playing Allowed,” he urged that we work towards a time when “more Willies, Mickeys, and Dukes” are developed in our area.
Next up on the NYC baseball banquet circuit is the grand-daddy of them all, the 54th annual New York Pro Scouts Hot Stove League dinner at Leonard’s at Great Neck on Northern Boulevard.
It will be held Friday January 25 starting at 630p. No tickets will be sold at the door but information can be obtained by contacting longtime Chicago Cubs scout Billy Blitzer at BBSCOUT1@aol.com
I’m off to baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas from Dec. 9-13. I will be back here with tales from those days of wheeling and dealing. Am not exactly thrilled that Jeff McNeil, the surprise of late last season for the Mets, will now be reduced to utility status with the acquisition of aging Robinson Cano from Seattle.
Another new acquisition 24-year-old Edwin Diaz, who led all of baseball with 57 saves, should help. But one never knows what happens to players in a new environment, especially in a pressure-cooker environment like New York. (See under Gray, Sonny.)
It will really be hand-wringing time if the Mets trade Noah Syndergaard. Woe to any baseball organization that feels because the MLB TV network will be providing 24/7 coverage of the meetings you must do "something." But good advice is always not to get too distraught about things that haven’t happened yet and that we have no control over.
So the best advice always remains: Take it easy but take it!
November 11, 2018
It is not easy these months without daily baseball games. The silly season of free agent and trade rumors don’t do it for me (though I put in my two cents at the end of this blog.) Though I admire most of the other major sports, they don’t generally command my visceral attention.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last year’s 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.
In the fourth season under former outstanding Penn coach Al Bagnoli, my Lions in 2018 have been battered by multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. But they have persisted, to use a word in vogue by liberal women politicians who I generally support.
Coming-from-behind-ability is the key to any winning team. Columbia showed it on the road against tail-end Brown in Providence this past Saturday. Down early 14-0 on two long plays, it looked to the weak in heart like a repeat of the previous Saturday’s blowout loss at Harvard.
But Columbia came alive in the second half and won going away 42-20. Senior Kyle Castner, a former top HS quarterback in Indianapolis, ran for three touchdowns out of the “wildcat” formation and passed for two more. I’m always glad when a player ends his college career on a high point.
Fortunes for my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin Badgers have not been as kind. Except for one game-opening drive sparked by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor’s 71-yard TD run, the Badgers were no match on Saturday in University Park against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 22-10 loss was not as close as the score indicated.
The only blessing in disguise perhaps for me personally is that Wisconsin might be closer to a date in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Thursday Dec 27 at 515p.
Sure hope they salvage some pride with a win at Purdue next week and at home against Minnesota after Thanksgiving.
The concussion issues of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Penna. and the evident inexperience of his backup, redshirt freshman Jack Coan from Sayville, Long Island, means the Badgers will have to dig deep to end the season on a positive note.
I never bought into the ballyhoo that they were headed for the playoffs. Too much inexperience on defense and the departure of wide receiver Quintez Cephus on rape charges doomed them early.
I sure hope Badger basketball can recover some of its own lost glamor in the upcoming season. Their first Big Ten game is early this year against Iowa on Nov. 30.
On the local major league baseball front, the Yankees recently re-upped for one more year two of their aging core players and clubhouse leaders, left fielder Brett Gardner, 35, and erstwhile staff ace C. C. Sabathia, 38.
The Yankees still need more starting pitching. They are rumored to be targeting southpaw Patrick Corbin, who had a fine year with Arizona Diamondbacks and reportedly wants to play in New York.
For his sake and that of the Yankees, I hope his temperament is more suited to the demands of Gotham’s fandom than Sonny Gray showed during his season and a half in the Big Apple. It is likely that Gray will be traded to a team in a less pressurized city.
As for the Mets, it remains to be seen what the surprise hiring of former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager will be mean for the hopes of the Flushing Faithful. Never in baseball has an agent risen to a top chair on management’s side.
Van Wagenen has given up his role as agent representing such key Met pitchers as Jacob DeGrom, who should but not necessarily win the Cy Young award, and Noah Syndergaard. He also represented oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes and Tim Tebow, the great college football quarterback, pro QB washout, and aspiring Mets minor league outfielder.
I don’t know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.
But I sure hope for the sake of the Mets and their fans that Brodie has more up his sleeve and in his evaluating brain than suggesting Tebow could play in Queens later in 2018.
Well, we’ll know more soon. The winter meetings are in Las Vegas from Dec. 9 to 13 - I'm going for the first time in over a quarter-century and will have impressions to share in a later blog.
Also about where the top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will wind up here are my thoughts.
Machado’s intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isn’t for more than five years. I know he’s only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: “It’s never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.”
Possible destinations? Phillies with a lot of cash to spend? But they also have demanding blue collar fans without the large Hispanic population Machado supposedly craves.
The Yankees? Possibly with Didi Gregorius not due back from Tommy John surgery into late in 2019. The Angels if Manny is willing to play third base alongside the brilliant shortstop Andrelton Simmons?
His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I don’t think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.
As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I don’t believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. He’s too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.
Possible destinations? St. Louis needs a lefty bat to join Matt Carpenter who is too streaky for my taste. But maybe St. Louis not a big enough market for the media-lusting Harper who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16! Phillies and Yankees again?
OK I’ve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldn’t rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.
Still, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
June 17, 2018
The above headline is not a typo. By winning on Father's Day 10-4 over the Miami Marlins, the Baltimore Orioles "improved" to 20-50 on the season with 92 games left to play.
The last time they had won at home at Camden Yards was Mother's Day. So how do you enjoy the rest of the season with your team hopelessly out of the pennant race?
The short answer is: Believe in the process and not just the outcome.
Baseball is such a magical game that every game provides something you have never seen before. Case in point: On Wednesday night June 13 I saw the Washington Nationals beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 5-4. The key runs were driven up by two home runs by the 19-year-old rookie left fielder Juan Soto who because of injuries has been rushed to the majors.
What I'll most remember about this game is that the Nationals managed to get thrown out on the bases five times in the win. In the second inning, the first two batters got on base but Yankee starter Sonny Gray picked Soto off first base. (Soto did get even by hitting his first homer, a three-run job, off Gray in the fourth.)
Then Wilmer Difo lined to shortstop and Matt Adams was doubled off second base, a virtually unforgivable base running lapse on a play in front of the runner that too often occurs these days. As second man up in the third inning, Adam Eaton tried to stretch a single into a double but was thrown out by Brett Gardner.
So four outs were made on the bases in a span of FIVE batters. I never had seen that. For good measure Eaton was caught stealing in the eight inning. The Nats did win this game but they went up to Toronto and got swept over the weekend by the Blue Jays.
In one of the nicer stories of the MLB season so far, the Atlanta Braves are holding a narrow lead over the Nats in the NL East with the improved Phillies in striking distance. The Mets have hit such a skid that they even lost two games to the Orioles in the first week of June.
Without the oft-injured Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who evidently is out indefinitely, the Mets' offense has ground to a halt. The team is perilously close to falling over 10 games under .500.
There is a clamoring for them to trade their ace pitcher Jacob DeGrom, even to the Yankees, but I say: You build around him and perhaps another injury-prone talent, fellow right hander Noah Syndergaard.
What do the Mets and Orioles have in common? Aging rosters without speed and ownership by the Wilpon and Angelos families, respectively, whose increasingly involved sons don't have a good grasp of how to improve their teams' fortunes. Understatement of the year!
Yet miracles do happen in baseball! As I was finishing this post, the Mets pulled up a rally at Arizona that was reminiscent of their comeback in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Red Sox.
Down to their last out and trailing 3-1, Jose Reyes kept the game alive by a bunt single. A former Mets star now on the verge of being released (if only the farm system had an adequate replacement). Pinch-hitter Jose Bautista, another veteran on his last legs, then doubled to score Reyes.
And on the next pitch Brandon Nimmo, a rare bright light on this Mets team and a rarity in that he hails from Wyoming where there is no high school baseball, hit a long home run. For good measure Asdrubal Cabrera, the plucky second baseman playing hard despite nagging injuries, also homered to make it 5-3 and the Mets won the game.
To repeat: The game remains beautiful and surprising in so many ways. And here's a shout-out to Monroe HS from the Bronx who won the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) championship on Monday night June 11 at Yankee Stadium, dethroning Grand Street Campus from Brooklyn, 3-0.
And though the sound of the composite aluminum bat is jarring to baseball traditionalists, do give a look at the College World Series in Omaha through June 27 on ESPN. North Carolina and Mississippi State have moved into the winner's bracket with Arkansas leading Texas while waiting out a rain delay as I type this. Texas Tech and Florida are the last teams to get into action later tonight on Father's Day.
That's all for now. Back before the end of the month with a report on SABR's national conference in Pittsburgh. I'm chairing a panel on Branch Rickey's Years in Pittsburgh on Sat afternoon June 23 at 1p at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in the Steel City's downtown.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
October 10, 2016
If you are a pure baseball fan, the pitchers’ battles that punctuated each Wild Card game last week were your cup of tea. Nothing like an elimination game to focus the minds of players and fans alike.
If you are emotional fans of the Mets and the Orioles, the losses were harder to take.
They must now face winter in the early fall. Nobody can criticize the effort of either losing Wild Card team, but when bats grow silent and runs are not scored, there is no way to win, especially in the post-season when pitching and defense matter more than ever.
The Mets lost a classic pitcher's duel with Noah Syndergaard going seven shutout innings but playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner pitching a complete-game shutout. Journeyman third baseman Conor Gillapsie's 3-run 9th inning HR off Mets usually effective closer Jeurys Familia was the deciding blow.
Gillapsie's moment in the sun was touching for Giants fans because he came up in the San Francisco organization but made his major league debut with the White Sox where he performed for two years. He then bounced around for a while until he returned to the team that first signed him. You see in baseball, you can go home again.
The O's 11-inning 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays was one that will be harder to forget. Manager Buck Showalter is being crucified for not using his perfect closer Zach Britton - 47 for 47 in the regular season - in the game. Buck might have made matters easier for himself if he just said to the press, “I wasn’t gonna use him until we had a lead.”
That’s how it works in regular season but the playoffs are different. There’s no tomorrow, to coin a phrase. As it turned out, the excellent relievers in front of Britton did do a marvelous job - two of them, hard-throwing converted shortstop Mychal Givens and soft-tossing sidearmer Darren O’Day, each got one pitch double plays.
However, going to starter Ubaldo Jimenez with one out none on in bottom of 11th inning was the disastrous choice. Within five pitches, Jimenez gave up two singles and the game-winning three-run bomb to Edwin Encarnacion. It was the top of the order and the big boppers were coming up for Toronto. That was where Britton should have been used.
I know it is so easy to second-guess, and the bottom line is the Orioles didn’t get a hit after the sixth inning. We had seen the offense disappear so often in second half of season. The illusion that the playoffs would be different faded quickly.
I sure hope the O’s make a strong effort to re-sign Mark Trumbo who produced Baltimore’s only two-runs in the wild card game with a homer that unlike his usual mammoth shots just sneaked over the left field fence.
I wanted the O’s to offer Britton a two-year deal before the season and buy out one of his arbitration years. Alas, owner Peter Angelos and gm Dan Duquette don’t do business that way. So now Britton’s one-year salary will probably escalate into the 8 digit category.
By contrast, the Colorado Rockies saw the promise in second baseman D. J. LeMahieu and offered him a $6 million-plus two-year contract before the start of 2016. Mahieu wound up winning the National League batting title.
My praise for the budding star is tempered by the poor decision by Rockies management to bench Mathieu for four of the last five games of the regular season so he could win the title over the injured Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy.
It was not Mathieu’s choice to sit but evidently management dictated it with the support of field manager Walt Weiss. It did not help save Weiss’s job as the New York metropolitan area native from Suffern was not rehired after four years on the job.
I find the contrast quite striking between Mathieu’s sitting and Ted Williams’ insistence on going for a genuine .400 average on the last day of the 1941 season. Williams could have sit out and protected a .3996 average that would be increased to .400.
The proud Williams insisted on playing and went 6 for 8 in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s. He wound up with a .406 average, a revered number in baseball history that is not likely to be surpassed.
Without the Orioles, the post-season doesn’t provide me with a real outlet for my baseball passion. I do watch many of the games because as I’ve said many times on his blog, the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.
Before the games of Monday October 10, Toronto, riding a high ever since avoiding Zach Britton in the wild card game, is already in the AL division series after sweeping the Rangers. In hindsight, Texas’s poor run differential of only 8 runs over their regular season opponents doomed them.
Cleveland surprised Boston by routing Boston aces Rick Porcello and David Price, but they still have to contend with the Bosox in Fenway. If it comes to a game five in Cleveland, the Tribe should feel confident that their defending Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber can come through again with the kind of dominant performance he delivered in game 2.
In the National League, the Cubs convincingly dispatched the Giants in the first two games. Facing elimination, the Giants will throw the amazing playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner on Monday October 10 in an attempt to stay alive.
The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing the only series that looks like it could go the distance. A fan who loves baseball’s redemptive quality has to love Jose Lobaton’s game-changing 3-run HR on Sunday.
Only playing because his friend and Venezuelan countryman Wilson Ramos tore up his knee at the end of the regular season, Lobaton bounced into a bases loaded 1-2-3 DP in his prior AB. He was ready for a better showing next time around.
Redemption was the rule again when Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis started Toronto's winning rally against the Orioles. He had bounced into two double plays earlier in that game.
Because they are franchises that have long suffered, I’d like to see a Cubs-Indians World Series with the Cubs finally winning after an 108-year drought. Their loyal scout for 35-years Billy Blitzer - who brought Shawon Dunston and Jamie Moyer and others into their fold - deserves his ring. But I do want to see some memorable gut-wrenching baseball before winter comes prematurely to all of us ardent addicted fans.
That’s all for now - always remember: 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 19, 2015
I don’t have a real emotional interest in this year’s playoffs though as a New Yorker in the ABY club – Anybody But the Yankees – I am happy for the Mets and their always-agonizing fans. Every win for the Mets in the post-season brings them closer to retaking the city from the Yankees who always claim it as their birthright.
Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, formerly of Dartmouth College and the Texas Rangers, has the tall task Tuesday night of stopping the rolling Mets and bring the Cubs to a workable 2-1 deficit. No doubt the passionate Wrigley Field fans will be out in force but the Cubs will have to stop red-hot Daniel Murphy.
Murphy is proving the old adage yet again: When you're hot, you're hot. Sunday night his first-inning home run just made it inside the right field foul pole to give the Mets a 3-0 lead that was all they needed in a 4-1 victory.
Murphy has homered off four great pitchers in these playoffs - Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Arrieta. He has also gone from first-to-third on a walk when the Dodgers failed to cover third base because of an infield shift. It led to a game-tying run in the deciding fifth game of the Mets victory over the Dodgers. His homer won it two innings later.
Everything is going right for the Mets now. Curtis Granderson stole a home run away from Chris Coghlan with a leaping catch at the right-center field wall. Sunday night plate ump Tim Timmons gave rookie righty Noah Syndergaard the extra inch or two on the outside corner all night and the promising pitcher took full advantage.
Perhaps most pleasing to longtime Mets fans is the return of third baseman David Wright. Though he only has two hits so far in the playoffs, they have driven in three runs. And he did not look like a sufferer from spinal stenosis when he made a nice grab and whirling throw for a 5-3 putout Sunday night.
Closer Jeurys Familia has answered every one of manager Terry Collins’ calls. To me Familia is an "efforts" pitcher, who puts maximum exertion into every pitch. I hope Collins doesn’t go to the well too often with Familia but so far so good.
Over in the American League, the Kansas City Royals are on a similar roll. They are unbeaten since facing elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. They scored 5 runs in the 8th inning at Houston to tie the series, won it the next day, and then the first two games of the ALCS against Toronto.
The Jays will hope that their boisterous crowd at the Rogers Centre – formerly known as the Skydome – bring them back into contention. After being shut out in the first game in Kansas City, Toronto's late season acquisition David Price was working on a one-hit shutout into the 7th inning in Saturday’s Game 2.
Miscommunication on a high pop fly between second baseman Ryan Goins and right fielder Jose Bautista opened the doors. And like against Houston, Kansas City seized the opportunity with a 5-run rally en route to a 6-3 victory.
Kansas City is the one repeat team in this year’s version of baseball’s Final Four.
I look for the defending American League champion to get back into the World Series.
With starting pitching that has been more effective than I thought – notably Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto – and Wade Davis a rock at the back of the bullpen, the Royals look very formidable. Yet as a fan who hates to see the season end, I do hope that the Blue Jays and Cubs make these series closer.
Once the World Series does end, the parlor game of free agency begins. And this year many playoff stars are eligible for new employment of their choice. Current teams have five days to sign them before they are free to negotiate with any team.
The rather impressive list includes:
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon and second baseman Ben Zobrist
Blue Jays left-hander David Price
That’s all for now – Always remember: Take it easy but take it!