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There May Be No Place Like Home: On The Return of Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, and Yoenis Cespedes

Most Oriole fans had resigned themselves to the departure of slugger Chris Davis to free agency. To the credit of the sportswriters covering the drawn-out story in Baltimore and nationally, they always mentioned the possibility that Davis might stay.

After all, he likes living in Baltimore, he loves hitting in Camden Yards, and it was manager Buck Showalter who knew him in the Texas Rangers organization and was glad to obtain him in a trade in 2011.

When owner Peter Angelos removed the reported offer of seven years and over $150 million from the table late last year, it was made clear that lines of communications were still open between Davis, his super-agent Scott Boras, and the Orioles’ octogenarian often irascible owner.

I for one had no problem with how the Orioles handled the negotiations. Boras always likes teams to think there is a secret bidder salivating over a coveted free agent. In the past that strategy has worked – Alex Rodriguez got his huge $200 million-plus 10 year contract with the Rangers in 2001 when former owner Tom Hicks started bidding against himself.

Angelos called that bluff and when no mystery team emerged, Davis accepted the original offer that reportedly was only sweetened a little bit. The day before Davis signed, Showalter went public with his advice he had given to Davis some time before he became a free agent.

“Is there anything at a Target that you cannot afford?” Buck asked. Davis ultimately decided that the grass was not greener in other franchises.

When Boras was asked at the news conference welcoming Davis back to Baltimore if Chris had any other suitors, Boras did deliver one of his more humorous lines: “You don’t talk about ex-girl friends at a wedding.”

Left fielder Alex Gordon’s return to the Kansas City Royals, the only organization he has ever known, played out similarly. His local roots went even deeper than Chris Davis’s. He went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and was a number one draft choice of the team. Originally a third baseman, Gordon was billed as “the next George Brett.”

That was unfortunate, creating probably too much pressure. Gordon needed to return to the minors and learn the new position of left field. He has become a Gold Glover and a clutch player. The Royals’ chances of making a third straight appearance in the World Series in 2016 certainly weren’t hurt by his re-signing.

Yoenis Cespedes’ return to the Mets might be the most surprising. Reportedly he wanted six years in the $150 million total range. I stress “reportedly” because fans and writers outside the loop don’t really know what it is going on behind the closed negotiating tables. Numbers are thrown around loosely, usually by agents wishing for the highest number so they can get their cut immediately.

Cespedes came to realize that his streakiness at both the plate and in the field was costing him a long-term contract. So he signed for the reported $75 million for three years – not exactly chump change. He also has a buy-out of $27.5 million after one year if his value and consistency somehow increase in 2016.

Let me conclude this latest post with a nice baseball story that doesn’t involve money. Angels center fielder Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball today, has a passion for weather. The south New Jersey native discussed his passion in the media during the buildup to blizzard Jonas that brought the Northeast to its knees this past Saturday Jan 23.

That’s all for now – spring training is just a handful of weeks away. The college basketball season is heating up and both my alma maters Columbia and Wisconsin are showing signs of being contenders. A great time of year unfolds.

So more than ever always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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"The Ball Always Finds The Weakest Defender": Reflections on the Mets' World Series Loss

I attended Game 4 of the World Series on Halloween night. It was the second of three must-win home games in a row, and in all of them the Mets held the lead for much of the action. However, this year's surprise entry in the World Series could win only the Friday matchup.

I only get emotionally involved with the Orioles, my passion for over 40 years, but I feel for those who lived and breathed and died with the Mets. The old saying in baseball, "The ball always finds the weakest defender," proved true in the final games of the Mets season.

The Mets seemed in control of the Halloween game once standout rookie left fielder Michael Conforto hit the second of his two solo homers to give the Mets a 3-1 lead after 5 innings. Rookie southpaw Steven Matz, from nearby Stony Brook, showed great poise in
his first Series start (incidentally the only one by a left-hander).

However, the Royals narrowed the deficit to 3-2 entering the 8th inning. Inconsistent Tyler Clippard walked two Royals with one out. Jeurys Familia was called upon for a five-out save. In moments a defining moment of the Series arose.

The ball found the weakest defender as Eric Hosmer hit a spinning grounder towards second baseman Daniel Murphy. It went under his glove for an error that tied the game.

It felt almost inevitable when singles by Mike Moustaka and Salvador Perez gave the Royals a 5-3 lead that shutdown closer Wade Davis cemented with a two-inning save.

Yet there was more pain ahead for the Mets. It seemed unnecessarily cruel when the baseball gods determined that the game would end with Yoenis Cespedes doubled off first base on a weak liner by Lucas Duda to third baseman Moustakas.

A cardinal rule of baseball is: Never be doubled off first base on a ball hit in front of you. Of course, Cuban defector Cespedes listens to the sound of his own drummer. And that gaffe was yet another sharp blow to the Mets' chances.

In Game 5, the Mets held the lead even longer than in Game 4. Curtis Granderson, the Mets' most consistent player all season including the playoffs, gave Matt Harvey a 1-0 lead with a leadoff-home run in the bottom of the first inning.

You can never overestimate the importance of grabbing the lead in any game, especially a season-saving game.

Harvey protected the lead for eight shutout innings and the Mets' disappearing offense did scratch out a second run in the 6th on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.

Yet as we look back in hindsight, the Royals had the Mets where they wanted them. This year's deserving Kansas City champions broke all kinds of records for scoring runs in the late innings.

And sure enough after Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him pitch the 9th inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a full count walk. Collins left Harvey in and Eric Hosmer followed with a run-scoring opposite field double.

It was now 2-1 with the tying run on second with no one out. Hosmer was pumped because his error had contributed to the Mets' second run.

Collins brought in closer Jeurys Familia. He did get ground balls from the three batters he faced. But with Hosmer on third and one out, the final defining moment of this Series came.

Catcher Salvador Perez, the unanimous MVP for his solid hitting and handling of the pitching staff, hit a grounder between third and short. Either David Wright or shortstop Wilmer Flores could have handled the tricky hop.

Wright fielded it cleanly but turned his back on Hosmer, no speed merchant but a clever baserunner. Wright threw out Perez at first base, but Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda's throw was way off the mark. The game was now tied 2-2.

After leading since the first inning, it was a tremendous blow to the Mets. You could almost see the body language sag, maybe most in team captain Wright.

To quote Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again. The memory of Halloween night's loss had to be fresh.

They were two outs from victory in Game 1 in Kansas City when Alex Gordon homered off Familia. The pattern was becoming very apparent. Great teams have great mental toughness as well as great talent and the Mets were exposed as having neither.

Once the Royals tied Sunday night's game it seemed inevitable that they would win. And sure enough, they pushed 5 runs across in the 12th. The lead-gaining single was a pinch-hit by reserve infielder Christian Colon who hadn't swung a bat in a game for over 40 days.

Redemption came to the Royals and it was richly earned. They left the tying run on third base in Game 7 last year against Madison Bumgarner and the SF Giants. They dedicated this year to changing the Series outcome and they sure fulfilled their dream.

Now winter has come for those of us who dearly baseball. The Mets provided many great thrills for their fans. Their great young starting pitchers all performed well under the brightest lights. That should augur very well for their future.

But the Mets obviously need better defense and more consistent offense. Murphy and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes were thoroughly held in check by the Royals. Both may leave as free agents.

Much too early to handicap next season. Every year is always different.

For 2015 let us hail the Kansas City Royals who richly deserved their title.

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