icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Reflections on Two Absorbing Nights of Late July Baseball (updated) + Some Notable Passings

I saw my first minor league game of the season this past Wednesday July 21, 2021 - the visiting Altoona Curve, affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, against the Somerset Patriots, the new Double-A Yankee franchise.  

 
The lovely ballpark, currently called TD Ameritrade Park, is walking distance from the Bridgewater Township stop of the NJTransit Raritan Valley line. The independent league team of the same name started playing at the stadium late last century. 


Brian Hanlon's impressive sculpture of the late former owner Steven B. Kalafer and former Yankee reliever Sparky Lyle offers a fine meeting place near the main gate.  Lyle was the first Somerset manager and is still a regular presence at the games. 

 
The top four in the Altoona lineup had a productive night, starting with Korean leadoff batter Ji-Hiwan Bae, second-place hitter Canaan Smith-Njigba, shortstop Rodolfo Castro (back in Double-A after filling in well with the parent Pirates), and cleanup hitter Mason Martin all contributed to a 9-6 Altoona win. 

 

Martin blasted his league-leading 18th homer in the first inning.  But the Patriots quickly answered with a Brandon Lockridge two-run homer. The teams swapped runs in the second inning before the Curve took charge with a 6-run fifth inning on the way to their win.

 

Both Altoona and Somerset are in the top echelon of what used to be called the Eastern League but now is called Double-A Northeast, another annoying example of the soulless rein of commissioner Rob Manfred.

 

Starting just a few days ago, Double-A has become the first minor league classification to ban the defensive shift.  It's far too early to judge how the experiment will work, but it was aesthetically pleasing to see two players on each side of second base before the ball was thrown. 

 
On the following night, Thursday July 22, it was time for this couch potato to treat himself to baseball on the tube.  I was rewarded with three wonderful examples of comeback baseball. 

 
First it was the Red Sox rallying with two out in the bottom of the 9th in the first game of a four-game series with the Yankees. The ever-clutch former Dodger Kike Hernandez delivered the big blow, a two-run double. 

 
After the Yankees scored the "ghost runner" on a sacrifice fly in top of 10th, four wild pitches from emergency closer Brooks Kriske in bottom of 10th led quickly to a tie game. A sacrifice fly by former Tampa Ray right fielder Hunter Renfroe won it for the Fenway faithful.  

 

The second drama unfolded in Cleveland earlier in the evening. Tampa Bay tied the game with 2 runs in the top of 9th and then won it in the 10th on a hit by another Mr. Clutch, the former Pirate Austin Meadows.  

 

It is no accident that Boston and Tampa are neck-in-neck for the AL East lead.  They lead all of baseball in come-from-behind wins. 

 

Austin Meadows is becoming a particularly feared hitter.  In Tampa's home day game on Wednesday July 21, Meadows delivered a two-run two-strike single to walk off the Woerioles who came ever so close to winning a series against Tampa Bay for the first time since last decade.

 
If the game had mattered in the standings - the Orioles are bound to the basement for this season and I fear the foreseeable future - it would have been a particularly excruciating loss. 

 
Holding a precarious one-run lead with men on first and second and one out, rookie first baseman Ryan Mountcastle raced away from the plate down the first base line tracking a popup that lingered underneath the blurry ceiling at indoor Tropicana Park.  

 
He didn't realize until too late that second baseman Pat Valaika was chasing the same ball.  They collided and the ball fell for a single to load the bases with one out. You can't give a good team like Tampa an extra out.

 
Going for his first career save, Oriole gifted but erratic southpaw Tanner Scott struck out the next batter but gave up the winning two-run single to Meadows on an 0-2 pitch.  

Repeat after me:  CLOSE ONLY COUNTS IN HORSESHOES AND GRENADES.

 
The third comeback win, one that lasted into the wee hours of July 23, was the most dramatic of all.  For the second night in a row, the Giants prevented Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen from securing a save. 

 
Admittedly a blown call on a checked swing by first base umpire Ed Hickox played a big role. Giants substitute first baseman Darin Ruf, back from Korea after undistinguished years with Phillies, was the lucky beneficiary. The call tied the game - if Hickox had correctly called a swing, the Dodgers would have won.  

 
Dodger manager Dave Roberts was incensed and raced out of the dugout yelling at Hickox who promptly threw him out of the game. It was the second straight game the usually mild-mannered if not downright phlegmatic Roberts was thrown out. One hard and fast rule in baseball is that managers cannot dispute ball-and-strike calls. 

 

Before Roberts left the premises, he allowed the struggling Jansen to stay in the game. I guess he felt the very inexperienced well-traveled-in-short-career Phil Bickford was not a good alternative.  And he had already used Blake Treinen in the 8th inning.  

 

LaMonte Wade Jr, a productive Giants rookie, promptly blasted a two-run single to right, just in front of the newest Dodger, Billy McKinney, the journeyman originally signed by Yankees who shone earlier in the year for the Mets. 

 
McKinney kept the game alive with a two-out double in bottom of 9th. But former Rays closer Jake McGee, without any help from Me or Bobby McGee or the ghost of Janis Joplin, got a strikeout of former Oakland Athletic Sheldon Neuse (pronounced Noisy) to end the game.

 
In another example of how many so-called "little things" very often determine a game's outcome, it was Neuse playing second base who didn't stretch far enough to catch a throw from shortstop Chris Taylor on a grounder from former Yankee Thairo Estrada that enabled another Giants newcomer Jason Vosler hustling from first base to beat the throw. 

 
Cheers to Vosler from West Nyack, NY and Northeastern U in Boston who made his debut early this season and is part of the depth to replace the injured Evan Longoria at third base. He grinded out a walk against Jansen that set up in the dramatic denouement. 

 

I am waiting - not breathlessly I admit - for the moment when managers allow a pitcher who has excelled with ease in the 8th to be allowed to start the 9th. I know the ninth is different mentally, but it is still baseball.  

 

Like Roberts going from Treinen to Jansen, Yankee manager Aaron Boore lifted Luis Cessa who retired the Bosox on five pitches in bottom of 8th and turned to Chad Green in the 9th and it didn't work out.  

 

The Giants now lead the Dodgers by 3 games, 4 in the loss column, with another 3 coming up in San Francisco at end of month. The Padres are 7 games back.  At this juncture, it's hard to envision anyone catching these three for playoff spots, the NL West title plus the two wild card positions.  

 
But remember that the only word you need to understand baseball, as stated beautifully by the late pitcher Joaquin Andujar, is:  YOUNEVERKNOW, YOUNEVERKNOW! 

 

Interesting series coming up weekend of July 23-25 between AL Central-NL Central leaders who have comfortable leads, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox. Meanwhile in tight NL East, Braves visit Mets for Monday July 26 doubleheader and three more games. Braves still can't clear .500 despite having a 15-run better run-differential than Mets, meaning they have outscored their opponents better than the Mets have done.  

 

Red Sox-Rays are neck-in-neck in AL East with Yankees hanging on perilously to hope prior to July 30 trading deadline. Toronto is returning at end of July to its home field for first time since 2019 - it might provide a boost if they get the pitching.  

 

Houston has solid lead on Athletics in AL West but with Mike Trout coming back soon and Ohtani always a presence, Angels not totally out of it either. Nor Mariners. 

 
NOTABLE PASSINGS: 

Condolences to the friends and family of Sparky Lyle's fellow Yankee reliever Dick Tidrow who passed away last week at the age of 74.  Originally signed by Cleveland (the Indians, starting 2022 the Guardians), Tidrow won World Series rings with the 1977 and 1978 Yankees. 

 

He was a great mentor to Ron Guidry. Later as a longtime member of the SF Giant front office, Tidrow's pitching evaluations were a key asset to the World Series champs of 2010-2012-2014.  

 

As far as the newly-named Guardians, it could have been worse, it could have been better.  There are ornate statues of Guardians on a bridge leading into the city that makes the choice somewhat understandable.

 
Before I close, the world of opera has suffered a series of losses, announced in just the last few days. 

Lighting designer Gil Wechsler, 79, of Alzheimers. He went from Brooklyn's Midwood HS to great fame in his chosen field, nicknamed "the prince of darkness" for his memorable sets at the Met (NY Times obit 7-23).

 

And director Graham Vick, 67, of covid (NY Times obit 7-19).  Vick was director of England's Birmingham Opera and a passionate believer that opera should be accessible to everyone not just the wealthy, entitled upper classes.    

 
That's all for now - always remember:  Take it easy but take it.  And, just as important:  

STAY POSITIVE, TEST NEGATIVE! 

4 Comments
Post a comment

Appreciating Shohei Ohtani (with correction) and Pete Sampras, Remembering Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Updating Team Israel, & TCM Noir Tips

 

The hot streak of Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels right-handed pitcher and DH, has been amazing to watch.  He is the first player in MLB history to be named to the AllStarGame roster as both pitcher and hitter.

 

The 27-year-old Japanese import already has 32 home runs, surpassing the record held by former Yankee Hideki Matsui. Hideki was very gracious praising Ohtani for breaking his record.

 

Thanks to our Japanese correspondent Jun Ogawa, I have learned that the former Red Sox hurler Daisuke Matsusaka recently announced his retirement effective at the end of the season.

 

Koji Uehara, former Oriole, Ranger, and Red Sox reliever, was effusive in his praise for Matsusaka who though a younger man was a role model when Koji came to America.  

 

When visiting the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI during my birthday weekend last week, I did find a good example of one American athlete's grace in retirement.  

 

Pete Sampras's 2007 induction speech into the tennis shrine was filled with humility and dignity.  Unlike Andy Roddick who was wearing a summer fedora with a Rolex brand on the brim, Sampras was dressed without adornment.

 

He admitted being nervous at the occasion and wished he were playing instead of talking. Fighting back tears throughout his brief speech, he concluded: "I'm a tennis player, nothing more, nothing less.  It's been more than enough for me."  

 

In an age where we ask far too much of our celebrity-athletes and too many cannot handle the exposure, Sampras's words should be remembered. 

 

The tennis Hall of Fame is housed in the Newport Casino. It was completed in the early 1880s, the first work of the famed architectural trio, McKim, Mead, and (Stanford) White.  It is definitely worth visiting. 

 

IN addition to videos of all the inductees, there are some memorable highlights from the careers of such forgotten greats as Maureen Connolly, "Little Mo," who won the Grand Slam of women's tennis while still a teenager.  

 

Also nicknamed "The Babe Ruthless," her career ended before she was 20 because of a horseback accident.  She became a good commentator and journalist, but so sadly died from ovarian cancer at the age of 35 in 1969. 

 

Speaking of athletes deserving remembrance, Jim "Mudcat" Grant died on June 12 at the age of 85. He was more than just an outstanding pitcher, 145-119, 3.63 career ERA. Except for Sandy Koufax's heroics, Grant was the most outstanding pitcher in the 1965 World Series won by the Dodgers in seven games over the Twins.  

 

Grant was also the author of a book on AfricanAmerican pitchers, "The Black Aces," an entertainer who performed nationally and internationally, and an effective spokesperson for racial equality.

 

I had a memorable encounter with him in December 2005. I had just finished taping an interview for the documentary about Larry Doby, "Pride Against Prejudice," based on Montclair State Professor Joseph Thomas Moore's book of the same name. 

 

I met Grant on his way into the studio.  I asked him who signed him for the Cleveland Indians back in the 1950s.  "You won't believe this," he told me. "Fred Merkle." 

 

Please check out the documentary, the last work produced by Bud Greenspan who became famous for his films about the Olympics.  Grant talks very movingly about how Doby was a mentor who led him before games to the bleachers to greet the Black fans who came to root for them.   

 

For those of a younger age, Fred Merkle was the young NY Giants first baseman who commited the famous "boner" late in the 1908 season - not touching second base from first on a supposed game-winning single to center field.  It led to the game being ruled a tie and the Cubs won a playoff and the World Series.

 

They wouldn't repeat that victory for the next 108 years. It was as much the curse of Fred Merkle as anything.  Because many games had been decided by a baserunner not touching second base to avoid hordes of fans invading the field. 

 

Here's hoping that no boners influence the rest of what looks like an exciting second half of the season.  Ohtani's Angels are now slightly over .500 and they've gotten hot with Mike Trout on the injury list.

 

He should be back after the AllStar game.  If the Angels get some consistent pitching and third baseman Anothony Rendon heals from his latest injury, they could at least make a run at the American League wild card. 

 

I am not the biggest fan of the Olympics, especially this year with covid rampant in Japan.  But I am a fan of Team israel, one of the six teams scheduled to play in late July as baseball and softball return as Olympic sports.

 

Second baseman Ian Kinsler is the biggest name on the scrappy Israeli team. They will be playing an exhibition at Maimonides Park (home of the Brooklyn Cyclones on Coney Island) on Sun July 11 at 4p.  Their opponent will be a team from the NY Fire Department. 

 

After playing against independent league teams in Rockland County, Hartford, Connecticut, and Aberdeen, Maryland, their last exhibition game will be on Tues July 20 at 630p against the NY Police Department team at the Long Island Ducks stadium in Central Islip, LI. 

 

Then on to Japan where they will face Team USA on July 29-30. The American team includes former Yankee reliever David Robertson, former Met third baseman Todd Frazier from the Jersey Shore, and the well-traveled pitcher Edwin Jackson.    

 

Before I close, here are some TCM tips for the upcoming weeks in July.

 

Every Friday in July is Neo-Noir night hosted by Eddie Muller and Ben Mankiewicz. Here are some of the highlights:

 

F July 9 8p "Get Carter" (1971) w/Michael Caine/Britt Eklund

10p "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973) w. Mitchum/Peter Boyle

 

F July 16 630p "Baby Face" (1933) with Stanwyck using her looks to rise to the top - disappointed suitors include young John Wayne 

and Douglass Dumbrille who shortly will emerge as a wonderful bad guy in Marx Brothers and Frank Capra films.

 

8p "Pulp" (1972) w M. Caine as pulp writer trying to overcome that job - w. Mickey Rooney and Lionel Stander (back from blacklist)

 

945p "Body Heat" (1981) remake of "Double Indemnity" (1944) the film that many say started the original noir movement - w. Kathleen Turner/William Hurt

 

Sa July 23 

8p "Blood Simple" (1984) first Coen Brothers film

10p "Night Moves" (1975) Arthur Penn directs Gene Hackman/Susan Clark

12M "To Live and Die In LA" - Wm. Friedkin directs Willem Defoe/John Turturro

 

Here's the Noir Alley schedule.  N.B. Sat night screening now starts at 1230A not midnight, and often, not always repeated Su at 10AM 

 

Su July 11 "The Bribe" (1949) with Charles Laughton/Ava Gardner/Vincent Price/Robert Taylor

 

Su July 18 "Los Tallos Amargos" (1956) so rare that nothing about it on tcm.com/schedule  Never hurts though to re-check it

 

Su July 25 "Cause for Alarm" (1949)

 

Su August 1 "Hollow Triumph" (1948)  Paul Henried as a crook turned psychiatrist.  This one not repeated at 10AM

 

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

 

 

2 Comments
Post a comment