Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Seventh-inning stretcher

That seventh inning last night? Baseball’s version of bungee jumping off the Empire State Building. . .. 
After last night’s Game 5 of the ALCS, I am convinced it IS easier to play in these games than it is to watch them.
I mean, these were nine innings of torture that put fans’ nerves in a vise. The emotional investment was way beyond even a federal bailout. Especially during a brutal ninth when Brian Fuentes repeatedly poked the fork into the outlet.
We’re dying out here. And what is the guy in the middle of it all thinking?
“It’s not like my life flashes before my eyes,” Fuentes said after the game, “and I’m thinking, ‘This is the ultimate moment.'”
You mean, there’s more? Oh, God. … 
Not saying this baseball postseason is too long — can’t have too much baseball — but talk about clash of the seasons: A World Series Game 7 would come during Week 11 of the college football season. … 
How’s this for potential bookends for Baseball 2009? Say the Yankees keep their World Series date with the Phillies. Say that Series goes the distance. Say both teams adjust their rotations so lefty aces CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee face off in such a Game 7 in Yankee Stadium.
The point? Lee, then with the Indians, and Sabathia faced each other in the very first New Yankee Stadium opener on April 16 (Lee and Cleveland were 10-2 winners). …

Actually, a good beating is the best revenge

Vengeance continues as the dominant theme of this postseason. And no one is entitled to more of it than are the Yankees, who for a decade had been dissed by the Angels. …
It’s tough not to root for Brad Lidge, whatever your team allegiance. The guy is extremely down-to-earth, level-headed and unassuming. And the list of pitchers who would have been terminally eaten up by what he underwent during the regular season is longer than Bernie Madoff’s IOU list. Yet here’s Lidge, flipping the switch in October … 
Congrats to Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke for winning the 2009 NL and AL Cy Young Awards. No, those haven’t yet been officially awarded. But they received comparable honors from The Sporting News, baseball’s version of Hollywood’s Golden Globes. Whoever gets those in January usually gets the Oscars in March. … 
Incidentally, for a rare insight into what makes Greinke tick, be sure to check out his cool sit-down with MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel. … 
You already knew that Bengie Molina couldn’t run. But did you also know he can’t walk, either? This season, the free-agent catcher had 10 unintentional walks in 520 plate appearances. … 
The next time the conversation turns to unbreakable records, inject Bobby Cox’s 150 ejections. The Braves manager has been tossed from more games than a scuffed-up baseball. … 
Umpire Tim McClelland had to feel “in my heart” that Nick Swisher had left the bag too soon. Because he couldn’t see it in his eyes, since they were focused on center fielder Torii Hunter. … 
But know what? If Joe Girardi could feel in his heart that Alfredo Aceves better matched up with Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis than did David Robinson, then McClelland is entitled to his own gut feelings. … 

Mauch would have approved

Somewhere high above Angel Stadium, Gene Mauch was smiling Monday afternoon. Especially when Joe Girardi came out to get Dave Robertson with two outs in a quiet bottom of the 11th. Girardi turned to Alfredo Aceves, who in no time turned the Yankees’ looming ALCS sweep into a contest.
Finally, late over-manager Mauch had company. Girardi’s unnecessary move smacked of the one made by the Little General in the ninth inning on the same field on Oct. 12, 1986.
Remember? Mike Witt got Dwight Evans on a weak pop fly to third. Two outs. Angels leading 5-4 in the clinching game of the ALCS. No one on base.
Here comes Mauch to take the ball from Witt and give it to lefty Gary Lucas – who plucks Rich Gedman with his first pitch. So here comes Mauch again, and Donnie Moore happens. Dave Henderson happens, and the Red Sox — one out away from elimination — don’t look back.
Well, not until that ball goes through Bill Buckner’s bowed legs.

Twins remain on-target to move out in style

Thanks to Scott Baker, the Twins remained on-target to become only the fourth team in at least the building-boom of the post-expansion era to say farewell to their ballpark with a postseason game.
Baker’s win in Detroit on Thursday afternoon pulled the Twins within two games of the Tigers in the AL Central race, on their way back home for the final regular-season series in the Metrodome, against the Royals.
If the Twins make up those two games while the Tigers are lowering the curtain against the White Sox, the teams will play a division tiebreaker Tuesday in the Metrodome. If they do even better — sweep while Detroit gets swept — they’ll steal the division title, much as they did in 2007, when the Tigers virtually led wire-to-wire  but gave up the flag on the last day (although surviving as the AL Wild Card, all the way into the World Series).
Either way, the Twins, moving over to Target Field for the 2010 season, would join these teams in turning out the lights with a playoff game:
  • 1996 Braves, lost Game 5 of the World Series to the Yankees, 1-0, on Oct. 24 in the final game at Fulton County Stadium (moved into Turner Field in 1997).
  • 1999 Astros, lost Game 4 of the NL Division Series to the Braves, 7-5, on Oct. 9 in the final game in the Astrodome (moved into Minute Maid Park in 2000).
  • 2005 Cardinals, lost Game 6 of the NL Championship Series to the Astros, 5-1, on Oct. 19 in the final game in Busch Stadium II (moved into Busch Stadium III in 2006).
If they get the chance, guess the only thing the Twins would want to do differently is become the first outgoing team to actually win the finale.

Spoilers’ Banquet

More and more teams are becoming spoiler-proof, as they clinch playoff spots — and heave sighs of relief. But this September has offered vivid proof why contenders hate engaging also-rans at the end of the season.
Wondering where all these frantic finishes — the Twins and Tigers in the AL Central, the Rockies and the Braves in the NL truly-Wild Card — came from? After all, recall that when the month began, this was supposed to be the September to not-remember?
Here’s where: Those hopeless last-place teams, making life miserable for the elite.
Funny, “spoiler” is one of baseball’s venerable concepts, but seldom defined. Let us Webster on it.
The Majors’ six cellar-dwellers have engaged contenders in 92 games thus far this September. They’ve won 38 of them.
While a 38-54 record may seem unimpressive — heck, it is unimpressive — the winning percentage of .413 actually is superior to the six teams’ full-season body of work.
The best finishing kick among the six belongs to the A’s, who are 17-8 this month and personally ruined the Rangers’ postseason dreams by beating Texas five out of seven.
But the Royals also rate. They’re responsible for throwing the AL Central race into a pretzel. Kansas City’s 14-12 month includes a 5-1 low-blow to the Tigers.
Seems like taking championship hopes against teams long in wait-till-next-year mode is like leaving milk out of the refrigerator.

Chipper’s misery has little company

Larry Jones isn’t so Chipper these days.
The guy at the not-so-hot corner for the Braves keeps talking about making next season his last if 2010 turns out to be as personally frustrating as 2009 has been.
“The game is not fun to me when I’m not playing up to my standards,” is how Chipper Jones puts it.
And this is what he’s talking about:
Jones is in danger of the biggest decline of any reigning batting champ in National League history (among batting-race qualifiers, to discount injury-caused drops).
His average of .269 entering tonight’s key game against the Phillies represents a drop of 95 points off his NL-leading .364 average of last season.
The “record” drop of 97 points belongs to the Cardinals’ Willie McGee, who led the NL with .353 in 1985 then slumped to .256 in 1986.
You might say that Willie’s average fell down an elevator shaft, but two decades earlier Norm Cash had gone for the full ride in that elevator.
Up: Cash, a slugging Detroit first baseman, jacked his average by 75 points to take the 1961 title at .361.
Down: In 1962, Cash hit .243. That 118-point drop is the Major League record for defending batting champs.

Rays’ record slide

The Tampa Bay Rays will be out to dodge a dubious record tonight in Camden Yards: Longest losing streak in history for a team coming off a World Series appearance.
The still-reigning AL champs have dropped 11 straight, which matches an implosion endured by four previous World Series alumnae as revealed by MLB.com research:
  • 1998 Florida Marlins
  • 1986 Kansas City Royals
  • 1929 St. Louis Cardinals
  • 1915 Philadelphia Athletics
The Rays were already in free-fall before Carlos Pena cracked two fingers on a CC Sabathia pitch, so don’t go blaming that injury for their disappearance.
Guess one might say that for Joe Maddon,  whose post-2008 celebration included nuptials, the honeymoon is over.

Brian Downing: Still Driven

When I had the pleasure of covering the California Angels of the ’80s, my favorite person was Brian Downing.

Oh,  Downing was a fave player, too. An ultimate gamer, who turned early-career criticism into the motivation to work hard to become a truly impact player. His hard-nosed conversion to the outfield after an arm injury rendered him unable to throw from behind the plate — he was originally a catcher, for both the White Sox and the Angels — was stupendous.

But the person was even more special. Thoughtful, articulate, passionate, selfless. Nearly two decades after his final Major League at-bat, I just became aware of another example of his admirable make-up … more on that in a few graphs.

My view of Downing certainly wasn’t isolated. Teammates felt about him the same way.

A special memory is of Downing receiving a standing ovation — from the Angels dugout — when he got his last career hit in Anaheim Stadium on Oct. 4, 1992 as a member of the Rangers.

Downing played the last two of his 20 seasons in Texas and, having already disclosed retirement plans, as Karma would have it the schedule had the Rangers in the Big A to end the ’92 season. Rangers manager Toby Harrah played along, starting Downing at second base — a position he had never played in his first 2,344 games.

Didn’t play it in this one, either — Downing singled in the first, dashed down the line as the crowd appreciatively erupted, and was replaced by a pinch-runner.

As he made his way off the field for the final time, all the Angels moved to the front of the opposite dugout and joined the ovation. Class.

Now for that Downing update … 

He and former lefty ace Chuck Finley were chosen in the spring as the first inductees in 15 years into the Angels’ Hall of Fame, a ceremony scheduled to take place at Angel Stadium on April 9.

Downing was always a nervous flyer. As a player, he had no alternative, but the experience drained him. Now he simply won’t fly, so he made the long drive from his Texas home to southern California for the induction.

It never happened, tragically. Nick Adenhart and two friends were the fatal victims of a drunk hit-and-run driver in the wee hours of April 9, and that night’s game against Oakland was postponed.

Downing respectfully stayed out of sight the whole time, and left as stealthily as he had come, driving back to Texas.

A couple of weeks ago, Downing climbed back into that SUV, got back on the highway, and again made the long drive, finally taking his well-deserved bows on Aug. 27 as he and Finley donned the red jackets emblematic of the Angels’ shrine.

Alas, a Carlos redux

The CC Sabathia pitch which yesterday ended Carlos Pena’s season is unfortunate for many reasons.
There goes the Rays’ big gun at about the time they’ve lost all hope. There goes Pena’s shot at leading the AL in homers.
And there goes one of the funkiest offensive seasons on record. You knew Nickel would have its own perspective.
Too bad Carlos didn’t get to stick around to hit a 40th homer. He would have become the first in MLB history to have 40 with as few total hits and as low a batting average.
As it is, Pena’s 39 homers (among 102 hits) has been rivaled only once, and that came with an asterisk. In 1995, Mark McGwire had 39 homers and only 48 other hits. But that came in one of his final injury-plagued  seasons in Oakland, and McGwire played only 104 games and did hit .274.
Pena winds up with a .227 average — and 100 RBIs. Could be the lowest average ever for a 100 RBI guy. Dave Kingman batted .204 in 1982, but he stopped at 99 RBIs along with 37 homers.
By the way, lightning apparently can strike the AL homer leader twice, as long as his name is Carlos.
A year ago, Carlos Quentin led the league with 36 homers when a fractured wrist ended his season and allowed Miguel Cabrera to barely edge him for the home-run crown.

Angels? Losers? Huh?

The very definition of noise pollution:
Since the Trading Deadline came and went, people all over with a microphone or an IP address have been unloading on the Angels, consigning them to the “Losers” bin for not making a move.
Hello? Speaking of consignments, how about dropping all these polluters in the looney bin?
Best record in the AL (and only a couple of ticks behind the Dodgers neighbors for best in MLB). And that’s not all. Since the weekend prior to the All-Star break, 17-3. And that’s still not all.
How about this: Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero simultaneously going on the Disabled List coincides with that start of that 17-3 spree. Name another team that could’ve similarly withstood the double-loss of its two biggest bats. No chance. Especially a team, incidentally, considered offensively challenged to begin with once they let Mark Teixeira out of their grasp.
Oh, yeah … the Angels were drilled for that one, too.
And here they are, the Majors’ highest-scoring team. Always willing to help out: With the Metrodome about to be replaced by the open-air Target Field, the Angels jump-started demolition with a 35-run weekend in The Igloo.
In those last 20 games, they have scored 148 runs. For reference, in the preceding 20 with Hunter and Vladi, they had scored 115.
Mike Scioscia, easy call as Manager of the Year? Nope. Not enough. I’m holding out for Alchemist of the Year.
Scioscia ignited his latest batch with a rare blow-up not as memorable as 2006-vintage Jim Leyland (“We stunk, and it’s not good enough. It’s been going on here before and it’s not going to go on here.”) but just as effective.
“That’s a bad game. We need to get better. We need to play with consistency. And if the guys in that [clubhouse] aren’t going to do it, then we’re going to have to look at some changes,” Scioscia had said after a blowout loss to Tampa Bay on June 11 had dropped the Angels’ record to 29-29.
Since: 34-11.
I do get it: Deep-thinking analysts bashed the Angels for not acquiring the added pitching they’ll need to survive October. Can’t win without a fortified rotation, they said. Gotta load up on arms, they said. In other words, you need a staff like the ones of the Braves in the ’90s, jammed with Cy Young Award winners.
You know, those Braves who went into 14 consecutive postseasons, and came out of them alive exactly once.