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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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"Anything Can Happen In A Short Series," Is Felix Hernandez Worthy of Another Cy Young, and The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour Finally Ends

And now the 30 MLB teams that began the season with hopes in spring training have been reduced to 10. And while there was a chance that there could be three game 163’s after action on the final Sunday of the regular season, none of them materialized.

Oakland won at Texas and Seattle thus lost out on the second wild card in the American League. Late July acquisition David Price, the onetime stellar southpaw of the Tampa Bay Rays, came up big for the Tigers and they won the AL Central for the 4th consecutive year.

But runner-up Kansas City still made the post-season for the first time since 1985 and they will host the Athletics in the Winner Take All Wild Card game on Sept 30. Their hopes will rest on righty James Shields, another former Tampa Bay Ray hurler, versus southpaw Jon Lester, himself a late July acquisition plucked from the Red Sox by A’s gm Billy Beane.

In the National League Pittsburgh lost two in a row at Cincinnati and the Cardinals won the NL Central again though the Pirates and St. Louis could meet again in the NL Championship Series. The Pirates will have to get through the San Francisco Giants in the Wednesday NL Winner Take All game. The home field crowd at the wonderful PNC Park should give them a big boost.

The matchup of well-traveled Edinson Volquez versus Giants’ ace southpaw Madison Bumgarner should be a gripping one. I will never forget Giant pitching coach Dave Righetti, the former Yankee closer, gushing over Bumgarner’s abilities after the Giants won the 2012 World Series: “He just looks like a pitcher!”

Left out of The Big Dance – if you allow me to use the basketball post-season phrase - are the Seattle Mariners who won 87 games, a vast improvement over recent fallow years. But they will always rue a late season horrid road trip that cost them a chance at the playoffs.

“King” Felix Hernandez could not stop the bleeding and got lit up by the Toronto Blue Jays in his next-to-last start of the season. He might still win another Cy Young award but I don’t like the way his case has been artificially bolstered.

MLB changed a hit into an error in one of Hernandez’s losses thereby making his ERA lower than another Cy Young contender the Chicago White Sox’s star southpaw Chris Sale. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber might have the best credentials for the Cy Young but too often votes go by raw numbers and reputation.

The post-season should provide a lot of excitement. I have never been a predictor but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles can turn it on in October after clinching very early on September 16. "Playing Meaningful Games in September" is the title of an essay on The Orioles Glory Years 1960-1983 that will be published shortly in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture.

An irony of September 2014 is that the last two weeks of the regular season saw the Orioles playing Meaningless Games in September. After the early clinching manager Buck Showalter decided that resting his everyday star outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis made sense, esp. since Markakis got drilled behind his shoulder blade by Toronto southpaw Aaron Loup. Catcher Caleb Joseph also almost got hit in the head by Blue Jay righty Marcus Stroman in the same series resulting in a five-game suspension for the promising Stroman.

Showalter decided that it was not worth it going all out for the best record in the league over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What distressed Showalter and all us ardent Oriole fans (I call myself a CON man - Certified Oriole Nut) were the fielding lapses in the last games of the season. Third base became a sink hole, reminiscent of the days before miraculous Manny Machado arrived in August 2012 and helped to propel the team to the playoffs.

Machado is gone for the season with an injury to his second knee and my guess is that the utility man Ryan Flaherty gets the start on Thursday October 2 against the Tigers.
If the team gets as far as AL Championship Series Chris Davis, who surprisingly filled in well at third base, will be eligible beginning in the third game. But that it is a long long
way off.

Jeter Scripts Another Special Yankee Stadium Moment
I love baseball because surprise and unpredictability is at the heart of the game. And never bet against Derek Jeter doing the dramatic on the largest stage.

On Thursday night Sept 25 in the last home game of his 20 year career as a New York Yankee, he doubled in the first run of the game and quickly scored the second. In mid-game, showing more range than usual, he started an excellent double play to nip the Orioles’ speedy Adam Jones (a videotaped ruling overturned an umpire’s on-field call).

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning, Jeter hit a slow roller to short that wouldn’t have been a double play. But normally reliable, indeed brilliant Baltimore shortstop JJ Hardy didn’t even get a force play as he threw past newcomer Kelly Johnson at second base. Two runs scored and the Yankees went into the 9th inning with a 5-2 lead.

Fate struck in Jeter’s behalf again. Yankee closer David Robertson gave up two long home runs to tie the score. But in the bottom of the 9th Jeter was up with the potential winning run on second. As he had done so many times before, Captain Clutch slammed a game-winning single to right field.

After the game losing pitcher Evan Meek, a journeyman who will not make Baltimore's post-season roster, expressed almost delight that he would be linked in baseball history with Jeter’s last great hit. Such is the reputation that Jeter has among his peers.
And needless to say, he is a saint to his legion of fans some who paid up to $10,000 for tickets to his final Yankee Stadium appearance.

Enjoy the post-season beginning with the Wild Card games. And I'm glad to learn that there will be 7 umpires at the World Series. One will umpire behind home plate for the first game, go to right field for game two, and then the replay booth for the remaining games.

I have long advocated a replay chief being on the scene of the game. Maybe this development can avert the overturning of a key call from someone hundreds of miles away from the action. Let the best teams win and the baseball be memorable. Of course I want the Orioles to go all the way and perhaps avenge 1971 and 1979 against the Pirates.
Whatever happens, I hope that a team clearly wins and there are more heroes than goats.

And always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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