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"Check Up From The Neck Up," "If You Hang It They'll Bang It," and Other Morsels Gleaned From Late Season Baseball Watching

It is no longer possible to turn down the sound on a disliked television broadcaster and choose a more informed radio voice. Too many digital delays and other technological innovations have ruined that alternative.

So this year I’ve been listening to TV with the sound on more often. I am glad to report that some of the ex-ballplayers as commentators have contributed some pithy observations. David Cone on a Yankee YES network broadcast the other day used a nifty phrase to describe the pitcher’s worst nightmare, the hanging breaking ball:
“If you hang it, they’ll bang it.”

And Tim McCarver on a recent Fox national broadcast of a Red Sox-Yankee game delivered this beaut about the purpose of catchers going out to the mound to give a break to a struggling pitcher: “It’s a check-up from the neck up.” You don’t talk mechanics in the heat of the game, McCarver advised.

In our age of overwhelming verbosity and even more overwhelming statistical information, it is nice to discover and applaud some terse analysis. It helps to be terse because there can also be “paralysis by analysis.”

AND NOW SOME PEEVES: One of my pet bugaboos is daily rankings of the 30 teams on innumerable websites. After all, what are league standings for but to indicate who is good and not so good?

Maybe more than most sports baseball is truly a game of inches, if not millimeters.
One case in point was the Tampa Bay Rays salvaging a game in a three-game series against the Red Sox in mid-September. The struggling Rays got the lead on a bloop double by
Will Myers that was inches fair down the right field line. In the top of the 9th with a runner on second Will Middlebrooks’ similar blow fell just inches foul and Fernando Rodney ultimately got him out and registered the save.

During their long losing streak, the reverse happened for the Rays. On this night though they caught the breaks and the Bosox didn't.

Streaks are something to watch carefully in baseball. Because for every action there is a reaction. Case in point for teams – The Los Angeles Dodgers 12 games under .500 before the start of summer went on an amazing roll to run away with the NL West this season. But on Friday the 13th of September they got crushed 19-3 by the arch-rival and defending world champion San Francisco Giants. The soon-to-be-dethroned Giants won 3 out of 4 in LA but if the Dodgers get back a healthy Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Matt Kemp in the outfield they will be a tough matchup in the NL playoffs.

Here's a streak example for players: Bosox closer Koji Uehara had an amazing personal streak going, 37 batters in a row retired. That’s a perfect game plus 10 outs. For the sake of the Red Sox, I wrote a few days ago that they should hope that streak ends before the playoffs because baseball is a game of imperfections and the evil eye of the baseball gods might just have a fall ahead for Uehara. He is, though, a very likable Japanese import who never wanted to leave the Orioles but they traded him to the Texas Rangers for Tommy Hunter and the newest home run king Chris Davis. He wanted to return to the Orioles before this season but the Red Sox outbid them and made a great bargain pickup.

Bulletin: On Tuesday night Sept 17 Uehara’s streak of 37 batters in a row ended, four short of Bobby Jenks’ reliever’s record of 41 and Mark Buehrle’s all-time 45 in a row mark. It was former Red Sox utility player Danny Valencia who tripled in the 9th inning and scored the eventual winning run in the Birds’ 3-2 victory.
The streak is now no longer a topic of conversation and thus not a distraction.

The O’s still have a chance to make the playoffs but they must win the vast majority of their games now. Building the long winning streak that has eluded them all year is of the essence. Not likely but still doable and the reason one becomes a fan and a player.

That’s all for now. Back with a review of the regular season next time. For now - Remember always – Take it easy but take it.  Read More 
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March Comes In Like A Lionfish

I don’t know enough about my family history though I do know that the patriarch of the family in central Europe around 200 years ago was someone named Fischl Lowen. And somewhere down the line, the last name and first name were flipped and Lowenfischl shortly became Lowenfish.

I know there is a lionfish in many oceans of the world and it has no predators which means it causes a lot of havoc among other fish but fortunately there is no relation there.

I say all this because the old saying on the eve of the third month of the year is “March Comes In Like A Lion but Goes Out Like A Lamb.” I don’t mind at all thinking that March comes in like a lionfish because it is a special time of year for a sports fan.

College basketball season is reaching a climax and I am happy that my graduate school alma mater the Wisconsin Badgers are coming on strong. They are only a game behind the Big Ten-leading Michigan State Spartans and Indiana Hoosiers. A road game against the Spartans on Thursday March 7 might determine their title hopes and regular season titles still mean something to me.

There will be a Big Ten tournament that will largely determine March Madness seeding but regular season performance still should count for something. My undergraduate alma mater Columbia has had a disappointing season in an Ivy League that is the only league in the country playing back-to-back games. Conditioning and health are thus of primary importance and a key injury can set you back permanently.

That’s what happened to my Lions when their All-Ivy senior point guard Brian Barbour caught a flu bug that knocked him out of commission for several games. To finish at .500 in the league Columbia must sweep the final four games, including a visit to contending Harvard on Fri March 8.

The Cantabs will have revenge on their mind after Columbia’s convincing 15 point triumph in New York a couple of weeks ago. The defending league champion Harvard cagers have a chance to put away second-place Princeton this weekend on the road.

As much as I love small-time college basketball and occasionally the pros, what March means the most to me is the resumption of spring training. So many story lines are forming and harder than ever to predict results because of the turnover of players.

The best thing about spring training in that since 1995 we have enjoyed the presence of labor peace so we know that there will be a full season and post-season of thrills. And the old cliché remains true that everyone is still 0-0 until the games count starting on Sunday night March 31 when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim visit the Cincinnati Reds for the start of the regular season.

Hardly a traditional rivalry the Angels vs. the Reds but this is the first year of inter-league play virtually every day and so many anomalies exist. Like the following day Monday April Fool’s Day both the Yankees and the Mets open at home. Neither team will be favored to reach the World Series in 2013, especially the Mets, but the key one word about baseball remains: Youneverknow, youneverknow.
There will always be a surprise team.

In 2008 it was the Tampa Bay Rays making the World Series after years of futility. And thanks to a gifted general manager ANDREW FRIEDMAN, field manager JOE MADDON and supportive owner STUART STERNBERG, they have averaged 92 victories a year since 2008.

At the end of last season I lived in mortal fear that the Rays would take revenge on my Orioles in the final series of the year by sweeping them at Tropicana Field. Turning the tables after the Birds had brought out the broom in Baltimore earlier in September.

That series was marked by the greatest play I saw all year – rookie third baseman MANNY MACHADO’S bluffed throw to first base that caught pinch-runner RICH THOMPSON unaware as he overran third base.

The Orioles were the surprise team of 2012, turning their 2011 record of 69-93 around exactly to 93-69. Can they repeat? Who knows? They certainly have a fighting chance with a full season of Machado, the reclamation project NATE MCLOUTH and NICK MARKAKIS. More solid work from effective starters WEI-JIN CHEN and MIGUEL GONZALEZ will certainly help.

I’m not in the prediction business so it is hard to say who will be the surprise team of 2013. I don’t necessarily believe in the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED jinx but the current issue with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is touting the Cleveland Indians who have splurged on free agents first baseman/outfielder NICK SWISHER and center fielder MICHAEL BOURN in addition to other newcomers pitcher TREVOR BAUER, outfielder DREW STUBBS and new manager TERRY FRANCONA.

Games will still be won on pitching and defense and it remains to be seen if the Indians have enough of that to compete with the defending AL champions Tigers and runner-up White Sox.

That’s why they play the games and no amount of statistical “science” can prove anything this early. So relax and enjoy the upcoming season and such off-field events as the highly anticipated first-ever exhibit on scouting, opening in Cooperstown on May 4th. More on that in upcoming posts.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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