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From A to Z: The Tampa Bay Rays Are Making October Baseball Especially Rewarding

There is nothing like the drama of a close baseball game when all the chips are down.  

 

When undrafted, unheralded Tampa Bay infielder Mike Brosseau homered in the 8th inning off Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman this past Friday night Oct 9, it sent the Yankees towards another early October exit, their eleventh in a row since they last won the World Series in 2009.

 
There are some baseball laws that apply even to the outrageously entitled Yankees:  If you hit home runs and very little else and have a thin starting pitching rotation, you are bound to run into October trouble.  

 
The low-budget but multi-talented Rays will certainly be the sentimental favorite in their matchup against the unrepentant sign-stealing Houston Astros, the team everyone wants to hate (especially now that the Yankees are out).

 

They got off to a good start last night (Sunday Oct 11) with another come-from-behind nail-biting 2-1 victory. The RBIs came on a home run from sizzling Cuban defector Randy Arozarena and a rare single by catcher Mike Zunino.

 

From A to Z, the Rays are abundant with great baseball stories.  Arozarena, a mere 25, is in its first season as a Ray. He arrived in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for minor leaguers who have yet to reach the majors (though pitcher Matthew Liberatore is considered a good prospect). 

 

Zunino, 29, came two years ago in a trade with the Seattle Mariners who only have utility outfielder Mallex Smith to show for it so far.  Zunino was an All-American at the University of Florida and played on three College World Series teams.

 

In 2012 he ran the table of college baseball awards - winning the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser trophies and the Johnny Bench award. By 2013 he was in the majors.

 

Talk about having baseball in one's blood! His father Greg met his wife Paola in Italy when he was catching for a Bologna team and she was a catcher on the national softball team.  Greg has since become an area scout for the Marlins and more recently the Reds.

 

Yankee killer Mike Brosseau, 26, is another fascinating story about the vastness of the Rays' scouting net.

 

From Munster, indiana, Brosseau went undrafted out of Oakland University in Detroit, a weak team in the not-exactly-powerhouse Horizon League. He improved each season in the Rays farm system and also spent a winter playing in Perth, Australia. 

 

Kudos to Curtis Granderson, who working for TBS on a post-game panel after Brosseau's dramatic homer, noted Brosseau's lineage. Curtis, the former Tiger-Yankee-Met outfielder, played for the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle in the same conference.

 

Talk about the connection of baseball present to baseball past.  When I heard the name Brosseau, I immediately thought of Eddie Bressoud, the journeyman shortstop who played for my New York Giants after Alvin Dark left in the mid-1950s.  Last I checked, Bressoud

was still alive at 88.  Hope he felt a connection to Brosseau, too.  

 

There's still a lot of baseball left between dangerous and playoff-tested Houston and Tampa Bay. But let's give a salute to the gritty multi-talented Tampa Bay boys and their ability to make its whole far greater than the sum of its parts. 

 

More next time on the National League Championship Series featuring two unbeaten teams  in the playoffs:  Everyone's betting favorite, the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of eight straight NL West titles but still no World Series victory since 1988. And the Atlanta Braves

who haven't won it all since 1995 and have endured their share of playoff agony.

  

For now, let's be glad we have a heaping helping of October baseball in front of us.  Almost seems like normal which of course it isn't.  But to watch baseball is to dream so here's to more of it. 

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Tumultuous End to April for my Orioles and Columbia Lions

The Orioles' first visit to NYC in 2017 was certainly eventful. The Friday and Sunday games will be ones remembered forever.

The weekend could have been a total washout and a sweep by the insanely hot Yankees who rallied from 9-1 and 11-4 deficits on Friday night to win 14-11 in 10 innings. Facing another devastating late inning loss on Sunday, the O's managed to hold on and win in eleven innings, 7-4.

On Friday night Kevin Gausman pitched four shutout innings in his first sustained good outing of the year and the Birds roared to a 9-1 lead. Mark Trumbo, MLB"S home run leader last year, contributed a grand slam, his first HR since he won on Opening Day with an extra-inning blast.

Two homers by powerhouse Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge brought the Bronx Bombers closer at 9-4. The Orioles quickly responded to make it 11-4 as the game entered the bottom of the 7th.

After a dinky infield single, Bird manager Buck Showalter lifted Gausman for journeyman lefty reliever and former Yankee Vidal Nuno. It says here that Gausman's pitch count wasn't enormous and I wouldn't have lifted him. Of course, then there wouldn't have such drama.

Nuno showed why he has bounced from many teams by giving up a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury - the first ever for the former Bosox center fielder and the 100th of his career. Ellsbury may have an untradeable bloated contract but he is off to a good start as a veteran presence on a team that trends young.

It was now 11-8. Reliable Oriole relievers Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day restored order until the bottom of the 9th. The Oriole farm system gets a lot of criticism for its failure to produce many major leaguers but Givens is a great success story and tribute to Oriole player developers.

A former high draft pick/shortstop who never mastered hitting, Givens was converted to a hard-throwing semi-sidearmer. He is extremely effective against righthanded hitters and getting better against lefty batters. He also fields his position with the aplomb of a former shortstop.

On Friday night temporary closer Brad Brach was not up to the occasion. A local boy from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, Brach committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter. Before long Yankee second baseman and former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro belted a long HR to tie the game at 11-11.

Once the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the 10th against Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, I knew the game was probably over.

Yet being a baseball addict, I watched on my TV as rookie Jayson Aquino (being groomed as a starter) walked two in a row. After a strikeout of Chase Headley, a new Yankee the veteran Matt Holliday homered deep into right center for the victory.

After the game, Nuno and Aquino were optioned to the minor leagues and might not be back for a while esp. Nuno. Aquino is still a possible fifth starter for an extremely thin Orioles starting staff.

Saturday's day game was the one I attended in person and it fulfilled my worst expectations. Amazingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez gave up two HRs to Yankee leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the first two innings and it was quickly 5-0.

The game then followed the pattern that imperious Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert loved. Score a bunch of runs in the first inning and pull slowly ahead. Final score was 12-4 and it was never really a contest.

To give you a sense of the bad omens for the Orioles on Saturday, Chase Headley pulled a Manny Machado on Machado. The Orioles hot corner master smoked a ball down the left field line with double written all over it. (A cliche but a nice one IMHO).
Headley dove to his right and speared it as Machado looked on in astonishment.

There was a brief moment of hope when it was only 7-2 in top of the sixth with two men in scoring position and two out. Birds backup catcher Caleb Joseph was facing Yankee reliever Adam Warren. A single could make it 7-4, so I dreamed.

It was a great competitive AB for Joseph who fouled off a couple of pitches while bringing the count to 3-2. Alas, he struck out. His quest for his first RBI since 2015 had to wait.

Once the Yankees immediately answered those runs with a two-run HR by Yankee backup catcher Austin Romine, it was time to beat the crowd and head home.

A tip of the cap to Romine. Like Joseph he is a longtime minor leaguer in the same organization for his whole career. He is performing wonderfully on both sides of the ball during starting catcher's Gary Sanchez stint on the DL.

And though I missed it, I was glad that the final two runs on this desultory day came on Joseph's HR in the 9th No longer must he answer questions about his RBI dearth.

I did not expect Sunday's 7-4 Oriole 11 inning win. Especially after they blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. It was a game that lasted over four and a half hours and featured an ejection of Showalter on a disputed 9th inning balk call.

When he brought in closer Chapman for the 10th inning, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi moved reliever Bryan Mitchell to first base from the mound. The strategy backfired when Mitchell returned to the mound to give up the 3 decisive 11th inning runs with Trumbo delivering the tie-breaking RBI.

How fitting that Logan Verrett in his first appearance as an Oriole won the game with two shutout innings of relief. The former Met reliever had just been called up from Triple A the night before.

By contrast with the bizarre weekend drama in the Bronx, the Columbia Lions put on almost a clinical display of baseball Saturday in Philadelphia. They needed to sweep the Quakers to force a playoff after splitting two games in New York on Friday.

Sweep they did, coming from behind in each game. There were heroes galore but special mention must be given to slugging senior second baseman Kyle Bartelman and sophomore righthander Ian Burns who earned the second game victory with nearly 5 innings of shutout relief.

The one-game playoff will be this Saturday May 6 at 1p at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium in the Baker Field complex west of Broadway on 218th Street. We'll see if the Lions can repeat their amazing success in elimination games.

Yale awaits the following weekend in New Haven in the best-of-three series that will determine the Ivy League participant in the NCAA baseball tournament beginning on May 30.

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