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Prize Fight Intensity On Display in Baseball Playoffs

After watching the Yankees-Minnesota first inning last Tuesday Oct 3 (Bobby Thomson Day BTW in 1951 and Dave Winfield's birthday), I couldn’t help thinking of the first round of the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns middleweight fight in April 1985.

More haymakers were thrown in the first round of that classic fight than in most entire bouts (Hagler won it by a third-round KO - I saw it on small theatre TV at Madison Square Garden’s long-gone Felt Forum.)

The Twins hit two HRs and knocked out Yankee ace Luis Severino in first inning. But Curacao’s pride Didi Gregorius smacked a three-run dinger to tie the game immediately, and Yanks won going away.

Nothing like playoff games to reveal intensity a la boxing’s concentrated mayhem. (I’m not an ardent boxing fan because the aim of the sport is really to concuss your rival. But I’m a flawed human being who does believe in a fair fight with no favor.)

And with the exception of LA Dodgers sweep of the Diamondbacks, the playoffs have been intense and gripping (despite the length of the games due to extra commercials and incessant meetings between catchers and pitchers).

We’ll see if Cleveland can continue in the playoffs by winning Game 5 at home tomorrow night (Wed Oct 11). “Momentum in baseball is the next day’s starting pitcher” will be truer than ever. Cleveland ace Corey Kluber will be matched against the former Indian CC Sabathia.

Kluber was treated rudely by the Yankees in the now-infamous Game 2 - you know the one where Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, the obsessive note-taker with the big thick looseleaf book, didn’t appeal a bad call on a hit-by-pitch. And moments later Indians leader Francisco Lindor hit a grand-slammer to bring the Indians back into a game they won in extra innings.

Just hope it is a good game like the classic Game 3 in which Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka won a gripping 1-0 shutout that proved again that nothing quite beats a low-scoring baseball game with plenty of base runners but stout pitching.
Revived Yankee first baseman Greg Bird homered deep into the upper right field stands off usually impregnable reliever Andrew Miller for the game's only run.

It would be nice for Cleveland if they can get injured slugger Edwin Encarnacion back into the lineup. And if their number three hitter Jose Ramirez finds his hitting stroke.
The playoffs, being so short compared to the long grind of the regular season where “tomorrow is your best friend,” intensify slumps. Hope J Ramirez snaps out of it.

Meanwhile Houston eliminated the Red Sox three games to one. The Astros embarrassed punchless Boston in the first two games in Texas by identical 8-2 scores.
The Red Sox salvaged some respect by winning the third game at home and leading the fourth one by one run into the 8th.

But the talented young Alex Bregman, a natural shortstop now playing third because of the emergence of Carlos Correa at short, homered to tie it. And then former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick hit an opposite field single to give the Astros the lead in their ultimate 5-4 win.

The only blemish on the Astros performance was center fielder George Springer’s botching balls in Fenway Park’s tricky deep center field. On Sunday he played a catchable ball into a double when he didn’t realize he had more room to catch it.

Yesterday (Monday Oct 9) Springer allowed an inside-the-park home run to talented Red Sox 20-year-old rookie third baseman Rafael Devers when the ball ricocheted wildly off the metal wall into Fenway’s vast right field.

For Houston’s sake I hope Springer plays better on the road in the upcoming ALCS either in Cleveland or New York. Or maybe Jake Marisnick returns to the lineup.

In the National League, the Cubs have taken a 2-1 lead over the Washington Nationals. The pitching has been great in this series - the defense not so great.
I was glad that the Nats at least won a game at home before heading to Wrigley Field for Games 3 and 4. They'll have to conquer Jake Arrieta to stay alive.

Washington has not won a playoff series since they returned to the majors in 2005 as the former Montreal Expos. It looks like they will have their work cut out for them to break that bad streak.

Before I close, I want to tip my cap to some of the insights of the Fox Sports One team covering Boston-Houston, Joe Davis and former players David Cone and AJ Pierzynski.

Cone, whose first team was the KC Royals, paid homage to the former Kansas City reliever the late great Dan Quisenberry who once noted that Fenway’s Green Monster Wall had a heartbeat and as the games got close, you felt it beating.

It was also Quisenberry that described the secret to his success: “Thirty ground balls, thirty strikeouts, thirty great plays.”

Cone, Davis, and Pierzinski also deserve kudos for praising Alex Bregman’s confident take of a pitch seconds before he hit his tying home over the Green Monster off Red Sox ace closer Craig Kimbrel.

Just remember as these games go on until the end of the month - “The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.” Next time I hope to say about my two alma maters currently undefeated on the gridiron - Columbia (4-0) and Wisconsin (5-0).
Both have tough games ahead so not feeling overconfident.

In the meantime, always remember: “take it easy but take it."
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Thoughts On The Eve of A Dream Cubs-Indians World Series

There was no drama this past Saturday night in the sixth game of the National League Championship Series. Kyle Hendricks, who has emerged as the number two starter on the 103-game-winning Cubs, shut down the Dodgers on two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, from the very first inning Chicago bats pecked away at LA ace Clayton Kershaw. He yielded five runs in five innings as the Cubs rolled to a convincing 5-0 victory that propelled the Windy City Nationals into their first World Series since 1945.

For Dartmouth alums who had to be forlorn when my alma mater Columbia earlier in the day beat the Big Green, 9-7 - for its first Homecoming football win since 2000 - Hendricks’ performance provided a great consolation. The onetime Texas Rangers farmhand became a Cub a few years ago in a trade for the now-retired right-hander Ryan Dempster.

Hendricks has been a revelation in 2016, moving into the second spot in the rotation behind southpaw ace Jon Lester and ahead of last year’s Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. With the experienced John Lackey in the fourth slot, you can see why the Cubs ran away with the NL Central this year. The trade deadline addition of Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman has also shored up the back end of the Chicago bullpen.

I haven’t even mentioned the Cubs’ versatile offense that was occasionally shut down by both the Giants and the Dodgers in the playoffs but not for very long. Second baseman Javier Baez is emerging as a star - he was co-MVP with Lester in the NLCS. He can play anywhere on the field, a trait that manager Joe Maddon finds especially useful.

Baez is too much of a hot dog for many people including me but if he delivers he will play and get plenty of airtime. But let’s not just yet crown the Cubs as World Series champions for the first time since 1908.

Cleveland has endured a drought almost as long as the North Side Chicagoans. The Tribe hasn't won a World Series since 1948. They came very close in the 1990s losing two close Series in that decade - to the Braves in 1995 and the Marlins in 1997.

They have looked very sharp in the post-season, sweeping the favored Red Sox in three games and beating the Blue Jays in five in a very close and gripping ALCS. They have the American League reigning Cy Young award-winner Corey Kluber looking very much like an ace. He attended Stetson University in Deland, Florida, as did Jacob DeGrom, the Mets star pitcher who appeared in last year’s World Series.

A major story in the Indians’ rise centers on the left arm of Andrew Miller, a tireless reliever who has appeared this post-season as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth in a save situation. I cannot recall a pitcher of this magnitude who has been traded so often.

A top draft pick of the Tigers about 10 years ago, Miller didn’t develop as a starter fast enough to suit Detroit. He was traded to the Marlins, then to the Red Sox where Bobby Valentine in 2013 during his one stormy year as Boston skipper converted him to a reliever.

He was traded to the Orioles at the 2014 deadline and helped my Birds to reach the ALCS where they swept away by the Royals. Miller then signed a four-year deal with the Yankees that obviously did not have a no-trade clause.

So late this July he wound up in Cleveland for four prospects, two of whom are considered future stars - outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield. It is a deal that the Indians are very happy with.

There are many likable players on both teams. Smiling Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor is a delight to watch on both sides of the ball. Earlier this season in response to the controversy surrounding Cleveland's longtime Chief Wahoo logo, he said, "I don't know much about it but he is smiling and I like to smile."

When asked after the Cubs' clinching 5-0 victory on Saturday what he planned to do with the double play ball that ended the game, first baseman Anthony Rizzo pulled it out of his pocket and said, "I'm gonna sleep with it."

It will be cold in Cleveland this week but hopefully not too wintry. I hope the elements remain playable when the Series shifts to Chicago for the weekend. Some fan base will be extremely happy come early November. Congrats to all of them in both cities and to the players and the management for getting this far.

I hope for a seven game series that Cleveland with the home field advantage just might win. But I don't know and neither do the know-it-all analytic people. That's why they play the games - to find out who is best.

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