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How 13-22 Might Be More Hopeful Than 22-10 & Columbia Returns to Ivy League Baseball Playoffs (slightly revised)

On the first Saturday night of May on Star Wars Night at Camden Yards, struggling Dylan Bundy threw the best game of his career.  He pitched into the 8th inning to lead the Orioles to a 3-0 victory over the first place Tampa Bay Rays.

 
Last night (Mon May 6) rookie southpaw John Means contributed a similarly deep outing in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox. Though my Birds seem consigned to permanent basement residence in  the AL East, they are now 13-22 and on a two-game winning streak.  Whoopee! and I am not being sarcastic.  

 
Two years ago harboring dreams of contention, the Orioles started 22-10 before reality set in.  They wound up 2017 under .500 setting the stage for the disastrous 47-115 of 2018.     

 
Allow me to note some cautiously hopeful signs for 2019.

 

**The overall defense is improved.

**Some decent offense has been provided (and good defense) by Blue Jays castoff outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and young veteran Trey Mancini (gamely playing right field these days though better suited for first base). 

**Chris Davis is no longer an automatic out but certainly not yet a consistent threat.

**Rookie manager Brandon Hyde has the team playing hard if not always well or smart. 


Any solid hope will depend on the pitching staff.  Much has been expected of Dylan Bundy once a top pick in the draft.  His latest efforts have been encouraging.

 

Nothing was expected of John Means.  "I was never a prospect," he says, but he developed four pitches during his five-year minor league apprenticeship. So far he is rising to the occasion at the major league level.

 

A third starter veteran Andrew Cashner looks like he can provide five or six innings most of the time. Don't ask about where other starters will come from or what the bullpen will look like. Converted shortstop Mychal Givens has closer potential but hasn't shown consistency.

 

Repeat after me class - "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Don't know who coined the phrase but you can quote me.

 
One thing I've learned in nearly 70 years of intense baseball watching is that won-lost records don't mean much until at least Memorial Day weekend. In the 24/7/365 frenzied mass media world we live in today, it is a good point to remember. 

 
Good examples:  The once high-flying Seattle Mariners now limp towards .500 or worse.

The early promise of the Mets has sunk along with a record now below .500.


Turning to the much shorter season of college baseball, Columbia on Saturday May 4th earned its ticket into the Ivy League Championship Series with a 4-0 shutout in Philadelphia over perennial power Penn. 

 
Needing just one victory to make the playoffs, the Lions had lost four in a row. Gone was the hope of hosting the championship series that will now open at Harvard on Sa May 18.

 
The Lions faced elimination in Saturday's second game after a tough 5-2 loss in the first game when Penn got four runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Quakers had won a similar Winner Take All game two years ago. 

 
Short memories are so essential for baseball success. So senior righthander Ethan Abrams pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning and junior southpaw Leo Pollack earned the save in a 4-0 win. Junior catcher Liam McGill delivered two RBI, a single in the first and a huge insurance HR in the eighth.  

 

It's been quite a run for the Lions under coach Brett Boretti now in his 14th season.  A win over Harvard in two weeks will mean the fifth Ivy League title in the last seven seasons for the native of the North Shore of Boston. Though he still roots for all New England pro teams, there is no doubt that proud alums and all fans of the Columbia Light Blue and White feel that he is the answer to the question posed in the great school fight song, "Who owns New York?" 

 
Harvard will provide stiff competition for Columbia as they seek to repeat their thrilling series win two weeks ago. They have a deep pitching staff and a formidable one-two punch  in senior first baseman Patrick McColl, in the running for the Golden Spikes award as college player of year, and junior right fielder Jake Suddleson.

 
In case of a split on Saturday May 18, there will be a winner take all game on May 19. Games can be seen on the paying service ESPN+ but this is a matchup I must see in person.

You'll read about it and other college baseball matchups in this area in future posts. 

 

There are at least two college tourneys in the NYC area before Memorial Day: Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx will host the Atlantic 10 tournament May 22-25. On the same days the MAAC will have their tourney at the Yankees' Staten Island ballpark.

 

Coming up in early June will be the PSAL high school championship game. More info on these matchups in the next post.

 

The NYC PSAL has been using wooden bats for several years now. Colleges still use composite bats. I don't like their ping sound any more than baseball purists do, but if you want to see baseball with plenty of hustle and stress on fundamentals, check out the college game.  


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

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A Shout-Out To Caleb Joseph As The River of Baseball Returns: updated post

During the first huge baseball strike in 1981 Roger Angell - who still contributes his elegant prose to the newyorker.com's website - wrote a great lament about the absence of baseball and its "slowly fluctuous standings." He compared the course of a baseball season to a river that "is headed, in its own sweet time, toward a down summer broadening and debouchment and to its end in the estuary of October." (Reprinted in LATE INNINGS: A Baseball Companion: Simon & Schuster, 1982), p382.)

We are now barely ten days into the baseball season and already excitement and agony are overflowing. An Orioles fan like yours truly had no expectations for the four-game series at Yankee Stadium just concluded.

Lo and behold, the Birds took three out of four in the Bronx, winning both extra-inning marathons. Nobody made a bigger contribution than catcher Caleb Joseph in those two nail-biting wins. I doubt if anyone hitting under .100 ever made more of an impact on a series.

Friday night Joseph saved the tie in extras by corralling a wild pitch from Mychal Givens and flipping the ball backhanded to Givens who blocked home plate and applied the tag on sliding Didi Gregorius. Givens sure put his experience as a former shortstop to good use on that play.

(BTW, it is hard to imagine both Cincinnati and Arizona giving up on Didi in trades - he has blossomed into a star on both sides of the ball with the Yankees, yet another of the great players from Curacao, a tiny country near Venezuela with barely a quarter of a million people.)

In Sunday’s 8-7 12-inning win, Caleb saved the one-run lead by being middle man in a very rare 1-2-5 DP. After closer Brad Brach walked two and botched a bunt, Aaron Judge bounced to the mound. Brach forced the runner at the plate and Joseph alertly threw to Tim Beckham at third to get that man Gregorius for out #2.

Brach then struck out Giancarlo Stanton to clinch the victory. Bronx newcomer Stanton had a miserable home stand striking out five times on Sunday and leading nine runners stranded. He had another five-strikeout game earlier in the week.

Coming to a new league is not a piece of cake and longtime Stanton watchers say he is likely to heat up soon. Has a chance to do so in Fenway Park this week. We shall see.

Hard not to root for a guy like Caleb Joseph a mid-round draft pick from unheralded Lipscomb U. in Nashville Tenn. He toiled for years in the minors without getting a callup to majors, once even living for a while in his Double-A clubhouse.

He made another great play defensively on Friday night, running Stanton back to third base on a grounder to the infield and then tagging the runner from second who had made third, and then Stanton. Unfortunately the umpires did not call a double play despite manager Buck Showalter's intense but polite protests.

Shoutouts also deserved for Pedro Alvarez, onetime Pirates #1 draft pick who grew up not far from Yankee Stadium. He hit the game-winning 14th inning grand slam on Friday and scored the winning run on Sunday.

Another journeyman Craig Gentry saved the game with a circus extra-inning catch on Sunday and then got the GWRBI with a 12th inning single. The Birds are still only 4-6 but they are beginning to play gritty come-from-behind baseball, a cautiously hopeful sign.

It is one of baseball’s great cliches that “a season is a marathon, not a sprint.” But it always helps to get off to a good start. Wins in April mean less pressure for wins in August and September.

On the other hand, I feel bad for the fans in Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, San Diego, Miami, and Oakland, and probably soon in Kansas City, Texas, and Philadelphia. A team can dig a hole in April that becomes almost impossible to climb out of, especially with daily inter-league play and constant travel.

I feel good for the hot starts of the Pirates and Braves and Angels. There is talented youth on all three teams and that certainly stokes the hope in fans, esp. us codgers who dream of what used to be (or in my case what I wished used to be in terms of on-field talent.)

I should also mention that one of the older teams in baseball, the Mets, are off to an impressive 8-1 start. They not only have beaten the Phillies and Marlins but so far have gone 5-1 against likely contenders Cardinals and Nats. If their vaunted pitching holds up, they may surprise a lot of people including yours truly.

We fans better enjoy the extra inning dramatics. Because if MLB hierarchy has its way, there won't be any more. The minor leagues are experimenting with all extra half-innings beginning with a runner on second and nobody out.

I'd prefer a home run derby - which was tried in the one year of the Israel Baseball League - to this strange concoction. More on misplaced ideas to speed up the game in future posts.

On the college front, my Columbia Lions are 5-4 with four more weekend three-game series ahead. Defending champion Yale is 6-2 with a makeup game still to play on Monday April 9 at Cornell. Dartmouth and Princeton also have only two losses.

It’s a new system in the Ivy League this year. Gone are the two doubleheaders on weekends, seven-inning first games, and two divisions in the eight-team league.

Every team now plays each other in a three-game series, all games nine innings.
The top two teams at end of regular season play a three-game series to earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid and a chance to make the coveted mid-June College World Series in Omaha.

Columbia’s starting pitching has been erratic all season. But the defense has improved. And in salvaging the final game against Dartmouth this past weekend, two big sophomore bats played a big role: first baseman Chandler Bengtson’s who hit two 3-run HRs in a 12-3 pasting of the Big Green and DH/left fielder Liam McGill who stroked the ball solidly all weekend.

There is no admission charge for Columbia baseball. It is sadly a very short season but I highly recommend a trip to Satow Stadium/Robertson Field just north of the football field NW of Broadway and 218th Street - accessible by either #1 train to 215th Street or A train to 207th Street - take second car and exit on 211th Street/Isham St.

There are only two weekends left of Ivy League baseball - Princeton Sat Apr 21 doubleheader at 11:30; Sun Apr 22 at 1p, and Penn F Apr 27 at 3p; Sa Apr 28 11:30 (2). There is also a non-league game against Fordham W Apr 25 at 330p.

On a very windy cold Wed. afternoon early this month, Columbia beat perennial power St. John’s for the 7th time in a row.

Next post more on college and high school baseball in the NYC area. For now: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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