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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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"Check Up From The Neck Up," "If You Hang It They'll Bang It," and Other Morsels Gleaned From Late Season Baseball Watching

It is no longer possible to turn down the sound on a disliked television broadcaster and choose a more informed radio voice. Too many digital delays and other technological innovations have ruined that alternative.

So this year I’ve been listening to TV with the sound on more often. I am glad to report that some of the ex-ballplayers as commentators have contributed some pithy observations. David Cone on a Yankee YES network broadcast the other day used a nifty phrase to describe the pitcher’s worst nightmare, the hanging breaking ball:
“If you hang it, they’ll bang it.”

And Tim McCarver on a recent Fox national broadcast of a Red Sox-Yankee game delivered this beaut about the purpose of catchers going out to the mound to give a break to a struggling pitcher: “It’s a check-up from the neck up.” You don’t talk mechanics in the heat of the game, McCarver advised.

In our age of overwhelming verbosity and even more overwhelming statistical information, it is nice to discover and applaud some terse analysis. It helps to be terse because there can also be “paralysis by analysis.”

AND NOW SOME PEEVES: One of my pet bugaboos is daily rankings of the 30 teams on innumerable websites. After all, what are league standings for but to indicate who is good and not so good?

Maybe more than most sports baseball is truly a game of inches, if not millimeters.
One case in point was the Tampa Bay Rays salvaging a game in a three-game series against the Red Sox in mid-September. The struggling Rays got the lead on a bloop double by
Will Myers that was inches fair down the right field line. In the top of the 9th with a runner on second Will Middlebrooks’ similar blow fell just inches foul and Fernando Rodney ultimately got him out and registered the save.

During their long losing streak, the reverse happened for the Rays. On this night though they caught the breaks and the Bosox didn't.

Streaks are something to watch carefully in baseball. Because for every action there is a reaction. Case in point for teams – The Los Angeles Dodgers 12 games under .500 before the start of summer went on an amazing roll to run away with the NL West this season. But on Friday the 13th of September they got crushed 19-3 by the arch-rival and defending world champion San Francisco Giants. The soon-to-be-dethroned Giants won 3 out of 4 in LA but if the Dodgers get back a healthy Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Matt Kemp in the outfield they will be a tough matchup in the NL playoffs.

Here's a streak example for players: Bosox closer Koji Uehara had an amazing personal streak going, 37 batters in a row retired. That’s a perfect game plus 10 outs. For the sake of the Red Sox, I wrote a few days ago that they should hope that streak ends before the playoffs because baseball is a game of imperfections and the evil eye of the baseball gods might just have a fall ahead for Uehara. He is, though, a very likable Japanese import who never wanted to leave the Orioles but they traded him to the Texas Rangers for Tommy Hunter and the newest home run king Chris Davis. He wanted to return to the Orioles before this season but the Red Sox outbid them and made a great bargain pickup.

Bulletin: On Tuesday night Sept 17 Uehara’s streak of 37 batters in a row ended, four short of Bobby Jenks’ reliever’s record of 41 and Mark Buehrle’s all-time 45 in a row mark. It was former Red Sox utility player Danny Valencia who tripled in the 9th inning and scored the eventual winning run in the Birds’ 3-2 victory.
The streak is now no longer a topic of conversation and thus not a distraction.

The O’s still have a chance to make the playoffs but they must win the vast majority of their games now. Building the long winning streak that has eluded them all year is of the essence. Not likely but still doable and the reason one becomes a fan and a player.
TO PLAY MEANINGFUL GAMES IN SEPTEMBER.

That’s all for now. Back with a review of the regular season next time. For now - Remember always – Take it easy but take it.  Read More 
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