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INTER-LEAGUE PLAY RETURNS

[this post originally appeared at booktrib.com] Inter-league play returned to baseball this past weekend with the most attention given to the first meeting of the Red Sox and Chicago Cubs since the 1918 World Series. In that one the Bosox led by pitcher Babe Ruth won in six games, keeping alive the Chicagoans’s victory drought in the fall classic that now stretches 113 years. “Any team can have a bad century,” goes one heartless crack and even that one needs updating. To add to the Cub fans misery, the New York Times this past week featured prominently a story, although quite speculative, about how the 1918 Series might have been fixed as well as the infamous Black Sox one in 1919 involving Chicago’s South Side nine.

I have mixed feelings about inter-league play mainly because it screws up the symmetry of the baseball schedule. Because the powers that be insist that the natural two-team rivals meet in two series in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Cincinnati-Cleveland and Tampa-Miami, havoc is created with the rest of the season. Yet television ratings evidently remain high for inter-league play and that is always very important to MLB honchos.

I attended the very first Yankee-Met Subway Series regular season game in 1997 and you have to be an ace trivia person or have a vivid personal memory like yours truly to recall that Mets journeyman righthander Dave Mlicki shut out the Yankees 6-0 in a complete game victory at Yankee Stadium.

The first New York Subway Series of 2011 was a relatively uneventful affair. Knuckleballer (and budding writer and literature student) R. A. Dickey stymied the Yankees in a 2-1 Friday night win aided by a smooth save from the suddenly consistent Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez. But the Yankees evened the series with a Saturday night national Fox TV win, spotting the Mets a 2-run lead and then blasting four home runs to win 7-3. They proved again one of Joe Torre’s wisest adages that the second game of any three game series is the most important because you win it and you avoid a sweep. And contending teams almost always avoid long losing streaks.

The Yankees won the series on Sunday May 22 coming from behind again with a 8-run 7th inning using wildness by Mets starter and loser Mike Pelfrey and timely hits not the long ball. Derek Jeter drove in the tie-breaking runs with a bases-loaded single, proving to the nay-sayers that his highly reported demise has been exaggerated. Of course as he ages, he is losing his power and some of his range in the field but he still knows how to win and expects to win and that is the admirable way he carries himself on the field. As you well know by now dear readers I am far from a Yankee fan but I always give a worthy adversary his due. (It is best pronounced with a Brooklyn accent for “woithy”!)

The Red Sox Sunday night on national TV won the rubber match of their series against the Cubs, 5-1, as knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, 44 years young, pitched effectively into the 7th inning and the red-hot Adrian Gonzalez went 4-for-4 and Kevin Youkilis hit a big 2-run double. The series was marred by the serious injury Saturday night to Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd who suffered multiple facial fractures after being hit by a pitch by Red Sox starter Alfredo Aceves, who last season pitched for the Yankees. Here’s hoping that Byrd can resume his career soon though the early description of his injuries sounds foreboding.

At its best inter-league play rekindles old rivalries and the players now and then can wax eloquent about the innovation. Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena told Carrie Muskat of mlb.com over the weekend: “Sometimes we don’t realize how special it is to play in a place like this [Fenway Park]. Babe Ruth played here. The history of baseball, this is what it’s all about. I don’t want to forget I’m wearing a uniform and playing baseball in a place like this. That’s what dreams are made of.”

Pena, the former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman who had played many times against Tampa’s arch-rival Red Sox in Fenway, refused to share his experiences with his new teammates wanting them to judge for themselves. Though they lost the series and are in the N. L. Central basement, the Cubs are not buried yet. And let’s hope they keep themselves within sight of .500 as this very competitive season shortly heads into June.

I wish the same for my Orioles who won on Sunday at a home run by Vladimir Guerrero and stout pitching by Chris Tillman and three relievers. They remain three games under .500 after a week in which they suffered a brutal loss to the Red Sox on the road, blowing a 6-0 lead, and then lost a 15-inning game at home to the Yankees. In the latter one they forced Mariano Rivera to blow a save (thanks to a long sacrifice fly by the same Mr. Guerrero who brings such joy and talent to his game) but could not capitalize on multiple scoring chances in the extra innings. I was ready to call them the Woerioles yet again but now will bite my tongue and hope they can keep their heads above water while fighting to reach the shores of contention one of these days . . . I hope in my lifetime.

That’s all for now. Remember to take it easy but take it!

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