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“Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner” and Happier Stories + News of My Activities in Late April

I really want to focus on this blog about the late rush towards the top of my Columbia Lions in the Ivy League baseball race. And the Orioles’ fine start to their season.
But I have to get this off my chest first.

The headline of a Buster Olney story on espn.com this weekend read: “Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner”. If you haven’t heard, SF Giants’ star southpaw hurt his shoulder seriously in a dirt-bike accident incurred on the team’s day-off in Denver. He will be out until early summer.

Yet I am sick and tired of sportswriters and pundits referring to any millionaire ballplayer as “underpaid”. Bumgarner has the security of a long-term contract through 2019 even though his annual reported salary of $12 million is only a little more than one-third of the money than the Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw is reportedly making - $32=$33 million a year.

Even at a "paltry" $12 million a year Bumgarner is not going to the poor house any time soon.

Leaving aside the question of whether he should have been punished - it all depends on whether his contract prohibited such dangerous activity in season as well as out of season - Bumgarner’s action was dumb and reckless. It does not augur well for the Giants’ season to lose your ace until the early summer at best.

Now to happier baseball news. Let’s start with the late season surge of my Columbia Lions in the Gehrig Division of the Ivy League. They have won five league games in a row - six overall - including this past weekend’s two doubleheader sweep of defending Gehrig champion Princeton.

I had hoped to see a full doubleheader at Princeton’s sunken diamond Bill Clarke Field on Saturday, but unexpected rains limited the first game to only four innings plus one out in top of 5th. Columbia, behind solid pitching by junior co-captain Ty Wiest and surprising home run power from senior center fielder Shane Adams and sophomore shortstop Joe Engel, had a 8-2 lead when the day’s activities were suspended.

In much better weather on Sunday, Columbia was able to complete a sweep (without yours truly in attendance). They finished the first game with a resounding 15-2 victory and overcame an early 3-0 deficit to win the second game 21-5. Meanwhile in Ithaca, perennial contender Penn took three out of four from host Cornell.

With one weekend to go in regular season Penn leads Columbia by 2 games, Cornell by 3, and Princeton by 4. So the division title will be decided by two big doubleheaders between the Lions and the Quakers.

The first one starts Friday at 1pm at Columbia’s Satow Stadium just north of football’s Kraft Field in the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. The final two games of the regular season will start at 1pm Sat. at Penn’s Meiklejohn Field on the Philadelphia campus.

Those traveling to these games on New Jersey Transit or Amtrak should still expect delays. Train transit remains less than ideal on the north Jersey corridor.

Meanwhile, Yale took a giant step forward towards representing the Rolfe Division in the playoff by sweeping Dartmouth on Sunday and splitting on Monday. So the powerful Elis have clinched a tie for the half-pennant. They need only one victory over Brown or one Dartmouth loss to clinch their second straight Rolfe flag.
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If there is no Penn-Columbia playoff, the best-of-three championship series will start at historic Yale Field the first weekend in May.

As a Columbia alum, it has been great to see my young Lions coalesce into a winning outfit at the right time of the season. Shortstop Joe Engel has become steady in the field and is showing surprising pop - he had never hit a homer in his college career until last week when he belted his first at Fordham and his second at Princeton.

Two of the Columbia co-captains have become potent sluggers in the middle of the lineup: junior third baseman Randell Kanemaru and second baseman Kyle Bartelman are delivering big hits. So are the emerging sophomore first baseman Chandler Bengtson and freshman phenom DH-LF-IBman Liam McGill.

Those Penn games should provide stirring competition because the Quakers are real hot, too. They pounded Princeton four times in a row with their big bats and used their good moundsmen and timely hitting to win the series at Cornell.

On the pro front, I am happy with the Orioles’ 13-5 start. Despite the loss of semi-ace Chris Tillman to shoulder discomfort - he may return to the rotation in early May - they are getting surprisingly good starting pitching with Dylan Bundy looking like the ace-in-waiting they have dreamed of for years.

Their other former number one draft choice, Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has not stepped up as hoped but he tends to be a slow starter, this blogger says hopefully. And the Oriole bullpen has been outstanding even with star closer Zach Britton on the DL with forearm issues.

Brad Brach, from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, has filled in admirably. His four straight saves (through the 6-3 come-from-behind home victory overTB on Mon Apr 24) were achieved by a TOTAL of 44 pitches. The Birds make their first trip to Yankee Stadium in 2017 this coming weekend and I’ll be sure to share some thoughts on that series next time.

Before I go, I have two appearances ahead, one in print and one in person, to share with you, dear readers.

**Starting Wed Apr 26, check out the National Pastime Museum website - tnpmuseum.com - for a piece I wrote on silent film legend Buster Keaton’s love of baseball.

**On Sunday afternoon Apr 30, I will be on a panel discussing Josh Gibson and Negro league baseball after a performance of Richard Jones’ play “Josh: The Black Babe Ruth.” The play starts at 3p and the panel starts immediately thereafter around 445pm. Location: Theater for the New City, 1st Avenue and E. 10th Street in Manhattan’s East Village.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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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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