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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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The Enduring Redemptive Quality in Baseball

On Monday night September 9 in the bottom of the first inning with the Orioles trailing the Yankees 1-0 on an Alex Rodriguez home run off team ace Chris Tillman, Nick Markakis led off against CC Sabathia. It was a year and a day after Sabathia hit Markakis with a pitch in the first inning at Yankee Stadium, breaking his thumb and prematurely ending the Oriole right fielder’s season.

A lifelong Oriole Markakis had never come close to playing in a pennant race and Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s fierce consoling embrace of his veteran once the news was broken is etched in the memory of Oriole fans.

Redemption came to Markakis early on Monday night as he rocketed a ground-rule double to right center and ultimately scored the tying run on Adam Jones’ short sacrifice fly to center fielder Brett Gardner. In his second AB Markakis, no speedster, legged out an infield hit down the third base line, and in the fifth inning he stroked a single up the middle that gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead that they never lost in their 4-2 victory behind a great Tillman performance.

Markakis has had a perplexing season, recently going two months without an extra-base hit. One scout told me that he has power but doesn't like to use it. Yet he continues to play solid defense in right field on a team whose fielding prowess is virtually worth the price of admission. The less said about Oriole problems with RISP – Runners in Scoring Position – the better.

Today’s point, class, is the redemptive feature of baseball, one of its greatest attributes because it is built into the game. I believe it was Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk who once said that he felt for the fans in pennant races because they can do absolutely nothing about the fate of their teams. They can root, they can agonize, they can change locations in front of the TV set (and also increasingly at the newer ballparks where wide concourses allow fans to roam almost at will). But only the players and sometimes the managers with their moves can shape the fate of a game.

So I suggest look for redemption in every game. It happened for Yankee left fielder Alfonso Soriano last weekend against the Bosox at Yankee Stadium. He was picked off second as the potential tying run in the bottom of the 9th inning one night as the Yanks lost in extra-innings to the powerful ever-resilient Red Sox. But then the following night on his very first AB Soriano hit a long two-run HR.

Redemption doesn’t always come immediately in baseball and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. But it is a feature that makes the game ever so interesting and compelling.

We are in double-digit September, less than three weeks to go in the season and every game and every AB is important. Enjoy the agony if you can. And always remember:
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