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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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Rousing End To Regular Season Sets Stage for October Playoffs

Monday October 5 will be a rare day off before playoff baseball begins with the AL Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday Oct 6 with the rambunctious Houston Astros invading Yankee Stadium for the right to meet the Kansas City Royals in the best-of-five American League Division Series (ALDS).

I must admit that I was rooting for the Yankees to go on the road for the Winner Take All game. They finished the season as losers of six out of seven games, three out of four to the Red Sox at home and a sweep in Baltimore at the hands of last year’s AL East champion Orioles.

The Astros played very well in Seattle and Arizona, winning both series but unable to sweep the Diamondbacks on Sunday that would have given them the home game in Houston. It was still a remarkable year for the young Astros who rose from seasons in the lower depths to lead the AL West for most of 2015 until the Texas Rangers, another horrible team in 2014, roared past them to win the title.

There is nothing like baseball when everything is on the line. Players who gather in Florida and Arizona in February, who live with each other more than with their own families, go on the field in late September and try to relax while playing games that will determine whether they make the playoffs or go home also-rans.

The Saturday October 3 game between the Angels and Rangers will go down as one of the most remarkable ones in baseball history. I have cited over the years in this blog “Lowenfish’s Law”: “No four-run lead in baseball is ever safe until the last man
Is out.”

It came true on Saturday when the Rangers entered the 9th inning at home in Arlington, Texas with a 10-6 lead. Rangers rookie manager Jeff Banister played with fire by bringing in his closer Shawn Tolleson for the FIFTH straight game. He immediately gave up two solo home runs to cut the lead to 10-8.

Infrequently used righthander Ross Olmerdorf came in and got a bad break immediately when Albert Pujols popped a ball down the right field that fell out of first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove when second baseman Roughned Odor collided with him. Four hits later, some with two strikes and two out, gave the lead to the Rangers who closed out a 11-10 victory.

The Rangers were already in the playoffs so it wasn’t a devastating loss. “Tomorrow is your best friend” remains one of the great adages in baseball, and on Sunday southpaw ace Cole Hamels, a trade deadline pickup from the Phillies, pitched a complete game 9-2 victory to give the Rangers the undisputed title of the AL West.

Attempting a sweep at Arizona, always hard to pull off on the road, Houston tied Arizona in the sixth inning but Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt belted a two-run home run that proved the difference in a 5-3 Arizona victory.

There should be exceptional drama ahead in the wild card games. Houston’s homegrown stellar southpaw Dallas Keuchel is matched against the Yankees high-salaried Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday the Pirates, winners of 96 games, could find their season end because of the deliveries of the Cubs star righty Jake Arrieta who has enjoyed statistically the greatest second half of a season in baseball history.

Powerhouses Kansas City and St. Louis will have home field advantages when they take on the wild card winners, starting Thursday and Friday in the best-of-five league division series (LDS). Division winners Texas and Toronto and New York and Los Angeles will square off in the other LDS.

Playoff baseball is not the same as the daily grind of the regular season. I am pleased that my Orioles surprised a lot of us by winning the last two games over Toronto after the Blue Jays clinched their title in Baltimore. Even more satisfying was sweeping the Yankees this past weekend, forcing them to back into the home wild card game with Houston’s Sunday loss.

The pending free agent losses of slugger Chris Davis and effective southpaw Wei-Yin Chen made the victories bittersweet. Davis sure went out with a bang hitting two home runs in the last game of the season at Camden Yards. But what baseball teaches us is to enjoy the moments of triumph fully because losses of games, and personnel, inevitably lie ahead.

That’s all for now – in the meantime always remember – “Take it easy but take it!”
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