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White Sox and Giants Not Ready For Prime Time and Other Pre-Memorial Day Musings

Memorial Day this year comes on May 31. It's fine with me because the original Decoration Day was May 30 - to honor African-American dead in the Civil War - and by end of 19th century all Civil War dead.  Memorial Day didn't become a national holiday until 1971. 

 

How well I remember MLB's practice of doubleheaders on every May 30, July 4, and Labor Day.  Twin-bills are now ancient relics or at most seven-inning games under the new pandemic rules. 

 

The end of May remains a good first guidepost on how baseball's pennant races are developing.  The White Sox came into Yankee Stadium riding high in a weak AL Central division and got swept by the revived Yankees.

 

The first and last games were tight pitchers' battles but the Yankees prevailed, not even needing to go to the bastardized extra-inning format starting with the unearned runner on second base.  

 

This is an innovation I will never get used to.  Ditto the allowing of a baserunner to use an oven mitt to enhance his sliding into bases.  

 

The Yankees have been getting extraordinary starting pitching, solid defense, and just enough offense. As the last week in May begins, the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Red Sox all have only 19 losses, the Yanks with one less win. 

 

At this juncture, they don't seem to miss Masahiro Tanaka who has returned to his former team the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese Pacific League.  

 

Thanks to info provided me by our Japanese correspondent Jun Ogawa, Tanaka is 2-3 in 6 starts with a 2.84 ERA.

He has an outstanding 5:31 walk:strikeout ratio, and has given up 4 HR and 32 H in 38 IN.  HIs team is only a 1/2 game behind the first place Nankai Hawks. 

 

The Yankees decision to gamble on the return to form of Corey Kluber, former Cy Young award-winner with Cleveland, is paying off.   He threw a no-hitter at Texas, one of seven so far in 2021.  

 

That's too many this early and a sad commentary on batters' inability to adjust to good pitching. If there is a blessing in disguise in all the no-hitters, it is that pitchers are at least going nine innings.  

 

I often think that pitchers today have been brainwashed into thinking that they can't go through a lineup three or God forbid four times. It becomes an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

The Orioles' only reliable pitcher, John Means, said after his no-hitter that just getting into the eighth inning for the first time in his career was a big thrill.  Means' inability to hold on to a five-run lead against the streaking Rays - 10 in a row as I post - started the O's latest descent into oblivion, 6 losses in a row as I post. 

 

In the National League West, the surprising Giants were riding high until the Dodgers came to town. Three losses later, the Giants find themselves in third behind both Padres and LA.

 

The only possible bright spot for SF is that they have an immediate rematch with the Dodgers in LA starting on

Thursday.  The White Sox don't meet the Yankees again until Th August 12 when they play the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa.  After a day off they finish the weekend in Chicago.

 

I still maintain that baseball and any sports and art event must be experienced in person.  Two weeks ago,  

I paid my first visit to CitiField since the 2019 season. 

 

I saw a fine pitcher's battle for six innings between the Mets' Marcus Stroman and John "No-Hit" Means.  

It was the game where Albert Almora of the Mets almost made a great catch at the left center field wall but a collision with the fence knocked the ball free.   

 

Almora is still on the IL as are unfortunately virtually half of the Mets.  They remain in first place in the mediocre NL East but have played fewer games than any of their rivals.  The division is still wide open for every team.

 

Outfielder Kevin Pillar was the unacknowledged hero of that Met game.  With the Mets trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Pillar led off with a screaming first-pitch liner close to the left field foul pole. 

 

It was called a home run by the third base umpire and he circled the bases only to find out that after an umpires' conference it was called foul.  I don't think I have ever seen a player trot the bases on a phantom home run.

 

Pillar showed me a lot by digging in for the rest of the at-bat against soft-tossing Oriole closer Cesar Valdez. He singled to start the eventual two-run game-winning rally. 

 

A few days later, Pillar was hit in the face by a fastball by young Braves reliever Jacob Webb.  He suffered multiple nasal fractures and won't be back for a while.

 

If anyone can beat the doctor's estimates, it wil be Pillar.  He was more than gracious to pitcher Webb who was

visibly distraught at his misplaced pitch.

 

I also saw the Liberty home opener at the Barclay's Center.  After going 2-20 last season, the Liberty are off to 4-1 start in 2021.  The return of the justly heralded Sabrina Ionescu has been a big factor. The entire roster remake is also paying off in the early going.   

 

ONE WORD TO THE WISE:  Make sure you carry proof of vaccination with you on the card and/or your cell phone. 

 

Here are two tips for Memorial Day weekend viewing on TCM:

Sat May 29 12M/repeated Su 10A:  "Act of Violence" 1949 with Robert Ryan out to avenge a POW betrayal by

Van Heflin; and Mon May 31 3:15p  "The Steel Helmet" 1951  Sam Fuller's searing view of early Korean War

 

Always remember:  Stay positive, test negative & take it easy but take it!

 

 

  

 

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John Means Finds Ways & Introducing YIBBA + TCM Tips

For those of us who get irritated if not downright incensed by the prevalence of new-fangled statistics in baseball today - launch angles, exit velocities, spin rates - the game itself still nourishes us.  

 

John Means' no-hitter against the Mariners last week is a case in point. Oriole fans like yours truly are looking for any rays of light these days. 

 

Means' 113-pitch gem against the Mariners last Wed afternoon May 5 sure provided it.  It was not a fluke even if the Mariners are not a good offensive team. 

 

Means has been pitching very well since the end of last season.  But he had never gone beyond the seventh inning in his career or thrown more than 101 pitches.  He even said after the game that getting into the eighth inning was a big thrill. 

 

Means makes his first start against the resurgent Mets at CitiField this coming Tues May 11.  I'll be there with an in-person report next time around.

 

Am crossing fingers that Means doesn't think he has to pitch a gem every time out.  So boo to Oriole broadcaster Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, the last Bird to throw a no-hitter back in 1969.

 

Palmer has been talking too much about how Means' life will be changed and he'll know that anytime he's out on the mound he can do it again.

 

Happily, Means seems like a refreshingly grounded young man. Raised in Olathe, Kansas near Kansas City, he was an eleventh-round draft choice out of West Viriginia U. He never expected this kind of success but I think he can handle it with firm humility.

 

Everything he has said publicly indicates he knows baseball is a game by game, batter by batter, and pitch by pitch operation.  Never get caught up in the big picture of the forest or else the trees will crash around you. 

 

Tyler Kepner had a lovely lede in discussing Means' achievement in the Friday May 7 New York Times. "Throwing a no-hitter, one could say, is like lassoing the moon."        

 

The thought stayed with me when watching "The Right Stuff" on TV on Saturday night.

"Punch a hole in the sky!" Barbara Hershey tells Sam Shepard just before he goes out to break the sound barrier.  

 

Hershey was playing the wife of Chuck Yaeger, played by Shepard. The film holds up well - Philip Kaufman's 1983 adaptation of Tom Wolfe's classic book about the first bunch of astronauts. Clips of Bill Dana as Jose Jiminez, the first Hispanic astronaut, are shown from Ed Sullivan's show.  

 

(I remember Dana from the Steve Allen Show. "What are you going to do in outer space all by yourself?"

"I plan to cry a lot.")

 

Tyler Kepner is on a roll.  When Albert Pujols was suddenly released by the Angels last week, he remembered what Pujols told him four years ago:  "You don't retire. The game retires you."

 

He is at least 41 years old and a shadow of his former self. I realize it is very hard for an athlete to admit when it is time to hang up one's spikes. But how many more record-breaking GIDPs does Pujols need to get the message?  

 

I also wish Miguel Cabrera of the lowly Tigers would also decide to retire. He seems likely to fall short of his goal of 3000 hits, being 124 shy after the rainout on May 9.

 

Unfortunately, neither Angels owner Arte Moreno nor Detroit's Ilitch family worked out a deal where each player could have retired gracefully by the end of the year. And feted for their undoubtedly Hall of Fame careers.

 

Meanwhile, the Yankees have righted their ship with improved starting pitching and just enough hitting.  They are two over .500 after games of May 9.  

 

For those wondering how their longtime starter Masahiro Tanaka is doing in Japan, he pitched seven innings in his latest effort even if it was a loss. Tanaka is back pitching for the Rakuten Eagles, his first pro team that he joined as a teenager before he signed with the Yankees in 2014.  

 

The last stats I saw had his record at 2-2 with 3 walks, 20 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA. Amazingly, he is not yet 34 so he obviously feels he has a lot more left in the tank.  

 

Jun Ogawa, a devoted fan and student of Japanese baseball, reported the news to me about Tanaka's last outing.  You will hear more from Jun in the weeks ahead.  

 

While working in the computer field in LA in the late 20th century, Jun became a devoted fan of the Dodgers. Like most Dodger followers, he is concerned about their current slump.

 

They started 13-2 but astonishingly, the defending world champions have not won back-to-back games since Apr 16-17.  They are barely above .500 as I post.

 

Blake Treinen is currently the only reliable reliver. The loss of young phenom Dustin May to TJ surgery and the extended absence of former MVP Cody Bellinger have not helped. The Dodger individual offensive stats don't look bad but the elixir of winning has certainly been missing.

 

Still a long way to go and no team is running away with anything anywhere in this MLB season. So sit back and enjoy the unpredictable drama of baseball.  So I say YIBBA (Yours In Baseball Before Analytics).  

.  

A follower of YIBBA believes that starting pitchers should want to go deep into games - it doesn't have to be a possible no-hitter for a pitcher to expect to reach the 100-pitch mark.  Why not make 120 the outer edge?  Why not enforce penalties against pitchers and hitters who dawdle before each pitch?

 

What is today doesn't have to be tomorrow. So I say loud and clear, YIBBA, YIBBA, YIBBA!

 

Before I go, what would be this blog without a few TCM reminders:

M May 10 10p Norma Shearer in "Marie Antoinette" 1938

 

W May 12 915a Katherine Hepburn documentary

 

Sa May 15 12N "The Set-Up" great boxing movie with Robert Ryan 1949

  8p "The Big Heat" 1953 Fritz Lang directs Glenn Ford-Gloria Grahame, odd allies fighting gangsters 

 12M The return of Noir Alley with "Touch of Evil" 1953 Orson Welles directs, stars w. Janet Leigh/Charlton Heston

 

Coming Tues May 18 8p "Fatso" 1980  Anne Bancroft directs and stars with Dom DeLuise in dieting spoof

 

Wed May 19 6p "They Live By Night" 1948  Nicholas Ray's gripping tale of young Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell on the run from the law

 

8p "Judgment at Nuremberg" 1961  Stanley Kramer's 3-hour drama with Spencer Tracy/Richard Widmark/Marlene Dietrich

 

Th May 20 8:15a  "Fireman's Ball" 1967 one of Milos Forman's last films before he fled Czechosloakia

  930a "Operation Madball" 1957 with Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs

 

Fri May 21 1030p Samuel Fuller's "Crimson Kimono" 1959 with James Shigeta/Victoria Shaw

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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