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Orioles and Mets Face An Early Winter After Losing Close Wild Card Games

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!
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Chautauqua A Wonderful Way of Dealing With The Dog Days

A little googling has turned up the origin of the phrase “dog days”. It comes from the ancient Greeks who coined the term for the period from early July to mid-August when Sirius, the so-called dog star, rose just before the sun.

Dog days in baseball are obvious because players are dragging from the effects of the long long season. My Orioles are a vivid example. They are stumbling along looking like no more than a .500 team. Now they will have to do without key reliever Darren O'Day for the rest of the month, his second trip to the DL this year, this time with an ominous shoulder issue.

Yet except for probably the Cubs there are no super-teams out there so the last weeks of the season should be "fun" to watch, if one calls it fun to agonize with every pitch and possible pitfall.

Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Bottomley, the first great product of Branch Rickey's St. Louis Cardinals farm system, once offered this sage advice on how to deal with baseball’s inevitable ups-and-downs: "Win three, lose one, win three, lose one," etc etc. That way, he argued, there is no pressure from streaks, losing or winning." Of course, that is too rational a view. Fans live by passion and hopefully they are rewarded now and then.

My solution to the dog days this year was taking my first journey to the Chautauqua Institution in far western New York State 70 miles from Buffalo and just 15 miles from Erie, Pennsylvania. I co-taught Baseball and American Culture with veteran American Studies/Amer. Literature professor Mark Altschuler during the first week of August to an impressive group of 20 adult students.

They came from as far away as Mississippi and northern California, Ohio and Texas, Maryland and Kentucky. They learned a lot about Branch Rickey's long career from me and something about the importance of comedian Joe E. Brown's remarkable baseball passion.

Mark Altschuler had the brilliant idea of discussing the great interview with Wahoo Sam Crawford in Larry Ritter's classic oral history "The Glory of Their Times." He also led an exciting class on Jim Shepard's 1996 short story, "Batting Against Castro," set in pre-revolutionary Cuba (before Castro formed his guerrilla band in the mountains.)

Never missing a chance to see a minor league baseball game, my adventure actually started the previous Saturday night at Coca-Cola Field, home to the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple A affiliate in the International League. The Syracuse Chiefs, the Washington Nats’ top farm club, provided the opposition.

As always in minor league games, there was an interesting mixture of old and new, vets trying to hang on and prospects looking to make or return to The Show, the vivid term players use to describe the Majors.

Rehabbing infielder Ryan Goins showed some flash for Buffalo and soon he was back in Toronto--though he clearly is a sub now as talented Devon Travis has cemented his hold on the second base job.

Chiefs outfielder Brian Goodwin showed off the speedy tools that has left him for years on the cusp of a callup. And sure enough the Nats brought him up just last week for the first time.

There is always a poignant moment or two at a minor league game, a flash of yesteryear that comes along when you least expect it. Tonight it was seeing a Bisons pitching coach trudging off to the bullpen before the game. He had a little paunch and a fringe of longish gray hair framing the bottom of a largely bald head.

It was Bob Stanley, the longtime Red Sox reliever, who threw the pitch in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that catcher Rich Gedman couldn’t handle before the infamous Mookie Wilson-Bill Buckner ground ball. Gedman’s passed ball tied the game but people only remember Buckner’s error that won it for the Mets who won the Series in Game 7.

I also saw stretching on the field before the game Chris Colabello, the disgraced ped user who was suspended for 80 games earlier this season. The first baseman-outfielder had been a feel-good story for last year's Blue Jays - rising from the independent leagues to become a productive major leaguer. But his success was tainted by the drug disclosure.
Toronto evidently has no plans to call him back to the majors.

On the Sunday before my classes began at Chautauqua, I paid a visit to the impressive Robert H. Jackson Center in nearby Jamestown, NY (home town of Lucille Ball where a Lucy and Desi museum stands - didn't have time to see it).

The Jackson Center is devoted to the life and work of the Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who served as chief prosecutor at the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Center director Greg Peterson was gracious enough to tape an interview with me about my love of baseball and my work on Branch Rickey. It can be accessed at YouTube.

It is remarkable that Rickey, one of the leading Methodist lay preachers, never spoke at Chautauqua, an institution founded by Methodists after the Civil War as a retreat for Sunday school teachers. It quickly evolved into a center for all kinds of inquiry into culture and the arts.

"Cultivate Curiosity and Wonder" reads the sign on the wall of the giant Amphitheater that can seat 5000 people (though you must walk carefully going down the ramps to your seat.)
How true that statement is! I got to hear David Simon, creator of the classic HBO series "The Wire," talk about the futile war on drugs in his home town of Baltimore.

Most of all, I got to sense the special feeling of community that Chautauqua engenders. Once you get your gate pass that allows you in and out of the little town, you feel like you are in Brigadoon, the fantastic creation of the 1940s Broadway musical. I compare it to Cooperstown and Key West with water nearby and quaint houses everywhere and flowers and flowers galore.

Just two example of Chautauquan community - I told some ardent softball players who are intense fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates that I was an Oriole fan. The next day one of them gifted me with two 1965 Topps cards, one of Brooks Robinson and one of "Boog Powell outfielder"!

Second item - after indulging my metrosexual tastes with a massage and pedi-manicure,
the owners of the St. Elmo's Spa gave me some cherry tomatoes and organic corn on the cob from their garden. How tasty they were after my return to NYC.

For information of the nine weeks of Chautauqua in 2017, check out www.ciweb.org
Am making plans that some form of "Baseball and American Culture" returns.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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