Saturday, August 1, 2015

Yanks Pound White Sox


For the 2nd time in a week, the Yankees put up enough runs to make fans say, "Hey, come on, save some of those for when the Red Sox come in!

They started a 3-game series away to the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. An RBI double by Carlos Beltran gave us a 1st inning lead, then came 5 runs in the 2nd: Leadoff singles by John Ryan Murphy and Brendan Ryan, a sacrifice bunt by Didi Gregorius, a Jacoby Ellsbury lineout, a Chris Young walk to load the bases, an Alex Rodriguez single, and a home run by Marx Teixeira.

Nathan Eovaldi gave up a home run in the 3rd to make it 6-2, but the Yankees struck again with 5 runs in the 4th: A double by Young, 2 wild pitches by Carlos Rodon bringing him around to score, A-Rod taking advantage of his continued wildness to draw a walk, then another homer by Teixeira.

It was his 28th "Teix Message" of the season, and his 2nd straight game with 2 homers. It gave him 391 home runs for his career -- passing a pair of 1970s icons, Johnny Bench and Graig Nettles, on the all-time list -- and it was the 14th time he had switch-hit home runs in the same game, breaking the record of Eddie Murray. (He surpassed Mickey Mantle at 10.)

Beltran and Chase Headley then singled, Murphy drew a walk, Ryan singled home Beltran, and a Gregorius sac fly got Headley home.

Headley added an RBI single in the 5th, making it 12-2. The ChiSox got one back, then Ellsbury singled home a run in the 6th, making it 13-3.

Eovaldi pitched into the 6th, having been a little shaky. Adam Warren finished the inning, and pitched the 7th and the 8th, allowing 2 more runs. Nick Goody pitched the 9th, and allowed another -- 2 appearances, 2 shaky efforts.

But the Yankees scored enough runs to put it away early. Yankees 13, White Sox 6. WP: Eovaldi (11-2). No save. LP: Rodon (4-4).

The series continues tonight. Bryan Mitchell makes his 1st big-league start of the season, while John Danks goes for the Pale Hose.

Friday, July 31, 2015

CC Looks Done, Severino's Just Begun


The Yankees scored 35 runs in the 4-game series in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex against the Texas Rangers. And only got a split.

That's not good.

Last night's game was another bad start for CC Sabathia, who, I'm said to say, looks finished. He deserves better. He pitched 5 innings, allowing 5 runs on 9 hits -- just 1 walk was, in this case, no consolation.

He gave up home runs to Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo -- making one Twitterer say that you would have expected this in 2008. Actually, no: In 2008, first for the Cleveland Indians, and then for the Milwaukee Brewers, CC was damn near unhittable, which is why the Yankees splashed the cash to get him for 2009. And it worked, brilliantly, as he was our ace -- for 4 years. No longer.

The Yankees were hardly without fight, though. They led 3-0 after the top of the 1st inning, thanks in part to a home run by Mark Teixeira -- and then CC gave back all 3 runs in the bottom of the inning. After CC gave up another in the 2nd, the Yanks struck back in the 3rd, on a Brian McCann home run, his 16th of the season. But CC let the Rangers tie it back up in the 4th.

Teix hit another homer in the 7th, his 26th of the season. But Dellin Betances blew the 6-5 lead. Nick Goody made his major league debut in the 8th, and the first batter he faced was Robinson Chirinos, and he struck him out.

But in the 9th, he issued a leadoff walk to Delino DeShields -- son of the Delino DeShields you know, although the son doesn't use "Jr." He's a rookie outfielder who's about to turn 23, and he got 2 hits last night. He might turn out to be as good a player as his father, who was never great, but was good for a long time.

Joe Girardi immediately pulled Goody for his closer, Andrew Miller, and a weird series of events occurred. He got Elvis Andrus to fly deep to center, where Brett Gardner made a great catch. One out. Leonys Martin hit the ball up the middle, where it hit DeShields. According to the rule, DeShields was out. Two out. But Martin was permitted by the rules to advance at his own risk, and got to 1st. Miller walked Adrian Beltre, and Hamilton singled DeShields home.

Rangers 7, Yankees 6. WP: Shawn Tolleson (Wayne's son advancing to 3-2). No save. LP: Miller (0-2).

Tonight, the Yankees start a new series, in Chicago against the White Sox. Here are the pitching matchups, with all times being Eastern:

* Tonight, 8:05 PM: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Carlos Rodon.

* Tomorrow, 7:05 PM: A Yankee starter TBA vs. Bobby Danks.

* Sunday, 2:05 PM: Ivan Nova vs. Jeff Samardzija.

*

Today was the trading deadline. The Yankees did not trade for the extra starter they clearly need, now that CC looks done and Michael Pineda is on the 15-Day Disabled List.

The Yankees have also called up highly-regarded pitcher Luis Severino, whom they refused to include in any deadline deal. Might he be tomorrow night's starter?

As for The Other Team, they gave up a couple of prospects for rent-a-slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who will, no doubt, be playing for his 5th different team in 4 years come Opening Day 2016, since the Mets can't afford to sign him to a new contract.

Met fans are very excited about this. After all, Cespedes is a great slugger. (Not really, he's almost 30 and doesn't even have 100 career homers yet.) And he won the 2013 Home Run Derby -- at Citi Field! (Oh, yeah, you know what happens to HRD winners: They get hurt.)

Met fans have been through this before. Dave Kingman (twice). George Foster. Kevin McReynolds. Eddie Murray. Mo Vaughn. Jason Bay.

The Mets aren't that far out of a Playoff berth, but if Cespedes isn't the slugger they're hoping for, and so desperately need, they're going to look like idiots -- again. Their fans, even more so -- again.

Billy Pierce, 1927-2015


Because Chicago hasn't seen too many Pennants -- the Cubs haven't won one since 1945, and the White Sox only 2 since 1919 -- great Chicago players tend to get short shrift. It's a wonder that Ernie Banks became so beloved, especially since he played for the Cubs before WGN became nationally-broadcast cable "superstation."

But this has been a bad year for Chicago baseball, and we're not even out of July yet. Not because of how the teams are doing -- the Cubs are doing decently, 7 games over .500, and just 2 games out of the 2nd National League wild card; while the White Sox are 2 games under .500, and 3 1/2 games out of the 2nd American League wild card -- but because 3 of their legends have died in this calendar year. First Banks of the Cubs, then Minnie Minoso of the White Sox, and now another White Sox great, Billy Pierce.

*

Walter William Pierce was born on April 2, 1927 in Detroit, and grew up in neighboring Highland Park. (New York -- in New Jersey -- Chicago and Dallas also have suburbs named Highland Park.) Upon graduating from high school, the Tigers signed him, and, with big league rosters still depleted due to World War II, he made 5 appearances for the Tigers in 1945.

He made his debut on June 1, 1945, at Fenway Park, wearing Number 12, pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, in a 6-4 win by the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers were merely slowed down by this loss, and won the World Series, but Billy was not included on the Series roster.

With the veterans of both baseball and war coming back, Pierce spent the 1946 and '47 seasons in the minor leagues. He was brought back up to the Tigers in 1948, but they made a big mistake, trading him, and including $100,000, to the White Sox for catcher Aaron Robinson. From this trade onward, Pierce wore Number 19. The Tigers could surely have used a good lefthanded starter during the next few years, particularly in 1950, when they finished only 2 games behind the Yankees, and in 1961, when they finished 8 games behind the Yankees.

Pierce's 1st 2 seasons on the South Side were a bit rough, not helped by the team's overall weakness. But he found his rhythm in 1951, at age 24: Over the next 3 seasons, he won 15, 15 and 18 games for a team that was nowhere near contention. Typically, to save money, the perennially penny-pinching Pale Hose would have sold a player this good to a contender and gotten cheap prospects in return. But they hung onto Pierce, and got 20-win seasons from him in 1956 and '57, as they built a contender.

Like Ron Guidry, Pierce was a lefthanded pitcher listed as 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, but won anyway. Unlike Guidry, he did not rely on speed or a nasty slider, instead possessing the best curveball of any lefty of the 1950s and the early 1960s. He was similar in style to the best righthanded curve specialists of the time, Carl Erskine of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Camilo Pascual of the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins franchise.

In 1959, Bill Veeck, having previously built winners with the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers and the Cleveland Indians, and nearly having driven the Cardinals out of St. Louis with the Browns, bought the White Sox from the Comiskey family (who still, to this day, retain a small percentage of the club), installed the legendary Hank Greenberg as general manager, and made the last few tweaks necessary to become a champion.

It helped that the Yankees were in a bit of a transition, and finished 3rd. It was the Indians who battled the Sox for the Pennant, and with a pitching rotatoin of Pierce, 39-year-old Cy Young Award winner Early Wynn, Bob Shaw and Dick Donovan, the Sox had just enough pitching to give their offense a chance to win.

That offense wasn't a powerhouse; instead, they relied on contact hitting and speed, becoming known as "the Go-Go White Sox," after hearing fans shout, "Go, go, go!" when the players ran the bases, even basing their theme song on the nickname. It was made up of scrappy players like the double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, and swift outfielders Al Smith, Jim Landis and Jim Rivera, with the occasional pop provided by former Cincinnati Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski. the White Sox beat the Indians out by 5 games, and it was in Cleveland on September 22 that they won the Pennant, their 1st in 40 years, since the team was broken up after the Black Sox Scandal of 1919-21.

Oddly, 1959 was not one of Pierce's better seasons, going 14-15. He did not start in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching 3 innings of relief in Game 4, being brought in by manager Al Lopez solely to intentionally walk a batter in the 8th inning of Game 5, and pitching the 8th inning of Game 6, when the Dodgers clinched.

He bounced back with good seasons in 1960 and '61, but Veeck sold the team in '61, and the new owners, the Allyn brothers, never should have bought the team, as they never had enough cash. After the '61 season, they traded Pierce and Don Larsen -- yes, Yankee Fans, that Don Larsen -- to the San Francisco Giants for 4 players who never amounted to much.

At 35, Pierce seemed reborn with the Giants in 1962, going 16-6 and helping them win their 1st Pennant on the West Coast. He started and lost Game 3 of the World Series against the Yankees, but also started and won Game 6, forcing a Game 7, which the Yankees won. It was the closest he came to winning a title.

In his last season, 1964, he was 37, and made 34 appearances for the Giants, all but 1 in relief. He was 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA. It didn't help the Giants win another Pennant, but the White Sox finished just 1 game behind the Yankees, so not having Pierce may well have cost them the Pennant. And, having won just 5 Pennants in 64 seasons, they couldn't afford to lose that one. They came close again in 1967, at which point Pierce was 40 and could still have been pitching. But he was tired of pitching in Candlestick Park, and retired after the 1964 season.

*

From the '59 Go-Go Sox, Aparicio, Fox and Wynn are in the Hall of Fame. From the '62 Giants, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry are.

Does Billy Pierce deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown? His career record was 211-169, a winning percentage of .555 -- his wins and percentage higher than some pitchers in the Hall, but not most. His career ERA was 3.27, and his ERA+ 119 -- good, but not great. He had 1,999 strikeouts, good enough for 5th all-time among lefthanders when he retired (trailing Warren Spahn, Rube Waddell, Lefty Grove and Eddie Plank), but the only thing eye-catching about the total now is that he just missed 2,000. He had 2 20-win seasons, led the AL in ERA in 1955, in wins in 1957, and in complete games 3 times. He made 7 All-Star teams.

Using the results of Most Valuable Player voting, historical surveys and sabermetric analysis, baseball historian Bill Deane projected in 1989 that Pierce would have won the AL Cy Young Award in 1953 and 1956 if it had been given at the time. He finished 5th in AL MVP voting in 1956, and 3rd in the overall (not yet for each League) voting for the Cy Young in 1962. That was as close as he ever got to a major award.

Baseball-Reference.com has a Hall of Fame Monitor, on which 100 equals a "Likely Hall-of-Famer"; they have Pierce at 82. They have a HOF Standards, on which 50 equals the "Average HOFer"; they have him at 35. Each means he falls a bit short.

They also have Similarity Scores, showing which 10 players are the most statistically similar. Pierce's 10 are, in order: Vida Blue, Luis Tiant, Hal Newhouser, Jim Perry (Gaylord's brother), Catfish Hunter, Milt Pappas, Bob Welch, Hooks Dauss, Orel Hershiser and Mickey Lolich. Newhouser and Hunter are in; Dauss missed by 1 vote in the Veterans' Committee once; Tiant, Hershiser and Lolich have their advocates; Blue might have made it if he hadn't decided that cocaine was more important than baseball; and Perry, Pappas and Welch don't have much of a chance. Based on these comparisons, it's hard to say Pierce belongs.

*

Billy married high school sweetheart Gloria McCreadie in 1949, and they stayed married for the rest of his life. They had sons William and Robert and daughter Patti.

His father ran a pharmacy in Detroit, and he helped run it in the off-season. But he moved to Chicago, and stayed there permanently, even after being traded to San Francisco. He spent most of his post-baseball working life with the Continental Envelope Company.

He returned to the White Sox as a broadcaster, a scout (he discovered Ron Kittle), and a public-relations official. The team retired his Number 19, and dedicated a statue to him, placing it on the center field concourse of U.S. Cellular Field. He was named to the White Sox' Team of the Century, and to the Michigan Sports and Chicagoland Sports Halls of Fame.


In 1999, National Public Radio host Scott Simon wrote Home and Away, a memoir of his sports experiences, in which he calls sports "a romance language." He mentioned that, as a boy growing up in Chicago, he wanted to be Billy Pierce. When he finally got to meet Pierce and tell him this, Pierce offered to spend the next few years wanting to be him. That was nice.

Billy Pierce died this morning, from gall bladder cancer. He was 88 years old.
 
With Pierce's death, there are 7 members of the 1959 Chicago White Sox World Series roster still alive: Starting shortstop Luis Aparicio, starting center fielder Jim Landis, starting right fielder Jim Rivera, backup 3rd baseman Sammy Esposito, backup right fielder Jim McAnany, backup catcher John Romano, and pitcher Omar "Turk" Lown.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Yankees REALLY Mess With Texas, Then Come Down to Earth


The Yankees really messed with Texas on Tuesday night. Although, at first, it seemed like it would be the other way around.

It was like Super Bowl XXII, in 1988, when the Denver Broncos scored on their 1st play from scrimmage, tacked on a field goal, and Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams got hurt, with the Broncos leading 10-0... And then, as the Sports Illustrated article on the game was titled, "And the Rout Was On!"

Chris Capuano, as you may be aware, is a bum. He once won 18 games in a season for the Milwaukee Brewers, but that was 10 years ago. He missed the entire 2008 and '09 seasons due to injury, and since that 2005 season when he won 18, he hasn't had a plus-.500 season again. He was 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA for the Yankees last year. This year, he's 0-4 with a 6.97 ERA. On Tuesday night, he allowed 5 runs and was replaced before he could get out of the 1st inning. Yesterday, he was designated for assignment. He will never disgrace the Pinstripes again.

5-0 Rangers. And the rout was on... the other way!

Top of the 2nd. Yankees batting against Rangers pitcher Martin Perez. Chris Young led off with a double. Chase Headley singled him home. John Ryan Murphy singled. Didi Gregorius was hit with a pitch, loading the bases with nobody out. Brendan Ryan doubled. Jacoby Ellsbury singled. Brett Gardner singled. Alex Rodriguez doubled. Tie ballgame.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister pulled Perez, and brought in Wandy Rodriguez. That worked for a moment, as he struck out Mark Teixeira. But now, the Yankees had batted around. Young drew a walk. Headley singled. Murphy struck out. But Gregorius hit a triple, and Ryan a double, making it 11-5 Yankees before Rodriguez struck out Ellsbury to finally stop the bleeding.

11 runs on 10 hits. There was a walk and a hit batsman. No errors. No home runs, either. Usually, in an inning anywhere near that big, there's at least 1 error and at least 1 homer.

There was a homer in the 3rd, a grand slam hit by Young, his 12th of the season. There was an error in the 4th, leading to the 16th Yankee run.

By this point, I wasn't the only Yankee Fan thinking, "Hey, guys, we're playing the Red Sox next week. Save some of those runs."

The 6th was another big inning. Gardner led off with a walk. A-Rod struck out. Teix was hit with a pitch. Young struck again, doubling home Gardner. Garrett Jones brought in to pinch-run for Tex. Headley sruck out, but Murphy singled. 19-5.

It wasn't over. In the 9th, Ellsbury opened by reaching 1st on that rare play, catcher's interference. And Gardner hit a home run, his 11th.

Diego Moreno relieved Capuano. It was only the 3rd major league game for the 28-year-old Venezuelan, all for the Yankees this season. Technically, it wasn't a start, but if it had been, the Yankees might have won 21-0. He pitched through the 6th, and allowed just 1 baserunner, a walk. He was brilliant. With CC Sabathia looking done, and Michael Pineda going back on the Disabled List (scratching him from tonight's start), we need another starter. Maybe he's the one.

Adam Warren pitched 3 perfect innings to close it out. Therefore, according to the rule, he gets credit for the save even though he came in with a 14-run lead. I guess the rulemaker figured, 3 innings is enough to wipe out even a 14-run lead. Certainly, nobody figured the Yankees would score 11 in the 2nd.

Yankees 21, Rangers 5. WP: Moreno (1-0). SV: Warren (1). LP: Perez (0-2).

*

Last night's game wasn't nearly as much fun. Masahiro Tanaka did not have good stuff. He pitched 6 innings, allowing 4 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks.

Carlos Beltran led off the 2nd with a home run, and singles by Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Ellsbury led to another Yankee run that inning. But that 2-0 lead did not hold, as Tanaka gave back 3.

The Yankees did not score again. The Rangers did. Rangers 5, Yankees 2. WP: Colby Lewis (11-4). SV: Shawn Tolleson (18 -- son of former Ranger and Yankee infielder Wayne Tolleson).LP: Tanaka (7-4).

The series concludes tonight. CC goes against Yovani Gallardo. Then the Yankees had for a real baseball city, Chicago, to take on the White Sox, before coming home and facing The Scum.

*

The trading deadline is in about 20 hours. The Rangers got Cole Hamels from the Phillies. The Toronto Blue Jays got David Price from the Detroit Tigers, thinking he's the last piece to get them into the Playoffs. (He's not.) The Pittsburgh Pirates got Tiger closer Joakim Soria.

The Washington Nationals got our old pal Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies for a Double-A pitcher. That's how far Papelbum, and the Phillies, have fallen.

The Royals got Ben Zobrist from the Oakland Athletics and Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds, and didn't give much up either time. They are serious about defending the Pennant they won last year.

Well, this time, they'll have to go through the Yankees.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Yanks Mess With Texas & Other Baseball News


It's been an eventful last 24 hours in baseball. Let me get to the most important part: A Yankee win.

The Yankees began a 3-game series against the Texas Rangers, at Globe Life Park in Arlington, in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd inning, but in the top of the 3rd, the Yankees struck back. Chase Headley led off the inning with a single, and Didi Gregorius hit a game-tying home run, his 5th round-tripper of the season.

B.J. Ryan followed that with a triple, Brett Gardner walked, and Chris Young hit a sacrifice fly to score Ryan with the go-ahead run. 3-2 Yankees.

Alex Rodriguez celebrated his 40th birthday in style, driving a 6th-inning pitch the opposite way for a home run, his 24th of the season, the 678th of his career, and the 6th that he's hit on his birthday, an all-time record.

The Yankees tacked 2 more runs in the 7th, with a leadoff walk by Carlos Beltran, a double by Headley, and a single by Gregorius.

Ivan Nova struggled a bit, and only went 5 innings, but 4 scoreless innings from Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances made him the winning pitcher. Yankees 6, Rangers 2. WP: Nova (3-3). No save. LP: Matt Harrison (1-2).

The Yankees' Magic Number to clinch the AL East is now 58.

*

The Daily News, not normally a friend to A-Rod (Bill Madden, in particular, doesn't like him), put him on the back page, with the headline, "THIS IS 40!" But the New York Post made him look like commercial cartoon character Mr. Clean -- complete with bald head and earring.

Lord knows what George Steinbrenner would think of that photoshop with A-Rod and the earring. But he'd love the lack of long hair (never a problem with A-Rod), and he'd certainly love the winning -- the clean winning!

There was an unfortunate incident during the game. Mark Teixeira tried to score, but 3rd base coach Joe Espada said, "Easy!" That caused Teix to slow down momentarily, and when he picked up speed again, it was too late, as he was thrown out at the plate. Then, reminiscent of Paul O'Neill, Teix threw a trash can in the dugout.

This isn't the first time the Yankees have had 3rd base coach issues. I wonder what Mike Ferraro is doing these days?

*

I used to love Shane Victorino, "the Flyin' Hawaiian," when he was the center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. Why? Because Met fans hated him. Anybody who pissed off the Flushing Heathen that much had to be worth celebrating.

Then he signed with the Red Sox. And he helped them win yet another tainted World Series in 2013. (Though I have no reason to believe he was doing any of the cheating.)

Now, the Sox have traded him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And he cried over it.

Let's see: Leaving organization in disarray, in a place with bad weather and a nasty media... going to one with promise and the money to fulfill it, playing alongside (apparently) clean stars such as the legendary Albert Pujols and legend-in-the-making Mike Trout, in good weather, with a media that usually focuses on the other team "in town"?

Tears, Shane? They should be tears of joy!

Anyway, a player I once liked a lot, because Met fans hated him, is once again likable.

In exchange for Victorino, the Sox got Josh Rutledge, a 26-year-old shortstop who played with the Colorado Rockies, but has spent this entire season at Triple-A, and never got into a game for the Angels. The Sox may have gotten a good deal here, as Victorino wasn't going to make a difference in the future, but Rutledge could be one of the players who does.

But the Angels may have solidified a shot at the Pennant with Victorino, a proven winner in both Leagues.

*

The Toronto Blue Jays have traded Jose Reyes, the greatest shortstop the Mets have ever had, to the Rockies, for veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

The Rockies also got Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco; the Jays, veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins -- infamously, the only man who dared to wear Number 21 on the Yankees after Paul O'Neill, and was booed right out of it, and never did much for us. I don't expect any of those guys to have much of an impact.

That Tulo was traded is not a surprise, as he's been dangled at the trading deadline (this year, it's this Friday, at 4:00 PM) 3 seasons in a row now.

As for Reyes getting dumped by another team, everybody that's shocked, raise your hands. Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Reyes has now played for 4 different teams in the last 5 seasons. He's made 4 All-Star teams, but the last was 4 seasons ago. He's never won a Gold Glove. He's batting a decent .285, but has just 17 doubles, no triples, 4 home runs, 34 runs batted in, and 16 stolen bases. His OPS+ is 98 -- meaning his run production is slightly less than average.

He's 32 years old.

Met fans thought he was the best player in baseball. They thought he was better than Derek Jeter. They thought he would lead them to World Series glory. They thought he would make the Hall of Fame.

Met fans are idiots.

*

The Mets did, however, get former Yankee pitcher Tyler Clippard from the Oakland Athletics for Casey Meisner.

Meisner is filler. Clippard had a decent rookie season with the Yankees in 2007, but was traded to the Washington Nationals for Jonathan Albaledejo. "Who?" I don't blame you for forgetting him. The Nats converted Clippard into a reliever, and since 2010 was the kind of reliever that would really have helped the Yankees, if they had kept him. The Nats traded him to the A's before this season, and now the A's have traded him to the Mets. He's 30, and the Mets do need bullpen help.

The Mets need hitting more. They also need to improve their rotation, which, contrary to what their fans would have you believe, isn't good enough to make the Playoffs.

Certainly, it's not as good as the Yankees' rotation. But, especially with CC Sabathia looking, sadly, done, the Yankees could use one more good starter.

We shall see.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 10 A-Rod Moments: A 40th Birthday Tribute


July 27, 1975, 40 years ago today: Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez is born in Manhattan.

He (for want of a better phrase) grew up in Miami. He was taken with the 1st pick in the 1993 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, by the Seattle Mariners.

He made his MLB debut on July 8, 1994, at (interestingly enough, at least retroactively) Fenway Park. He was just short of his 19th birthday. Batting 9th, playing shortstop, and wearing Number 3, he grounded to 3rd in the 3rd inning, flew to center in the 5th, and grounded to short in the 7th, all against Chris Nabholz. He was due to come up again in the 9th, but was left on deck at the last out. The Mariners lost to the Boston Red Sox, 4-3. There was a Yankee 3rd baseman who hit a home run for the Mariners in that game, but it was Mike Blowers.

He played for the Mariners until 2000, and he signed the biggest contract in baseball history with the Texas Rangers. It was in these seasons, 2001, 2002 and 2003, that we are led to believe that he first used performance-enhancing drugs.

On February 16, 2004, the Yankees traded All-Star Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Joaquin Arias, to the Rangers for A-Rod. With Derek Jeter at shortstop, they moved A-Rod to 3rd base. Despite all kinds of crazy things happening -- some but not all of them his fault -- he's still with the Yankees, still wearing Number 13 (because 3 is retired for Babe Ruth), although he's only played 31 games at 3rd base since 2012.

His failings are well-known. His incidents, on-field and off-field, are familiar, from the PED use to the Slap Play in the 2004 American League Championship Series, from his disappearing acts at the plate in postseason play to his domestic shenanigans.

There have been many -- myself included -- who have said, on varying occasions, that the Yankees should just get rid of him, that he had embarrassed the team too many times, and that he wasn't worthy of being a Yankee.

How do we look now? I'll eat my words, if it means I can wash them down with champagne in the fall.

In 2015, with his suspension over, and without Jeter looking over his shoulder, he appears to be a new man. Yes, I know, we've heard that before -- in 2009, when his bat was a huge reason why the Yankees won the World Series. Maybe now, he can help them do it again.

*

Top 10 A-Rod Moments

This is in chronological order. Note that these are the Top 10. The Bottom 10 would be hard to narrow down, but would include his busts, his opt-out during the 2007 World Series, and the Slap Play.

1. September 29, 1996. A-Rod finishes the regular season as the AL batting champion, batting .358 -- a very high figure for a righthanded batter in the post-World War II era. He also leads the league with 141 runs, 54 doubles, and 379 total bases. He hit 36 home runs and had 123 RBIs.

He was 21 years old.

2. January 26, 2001. He signs a 10-year contract with the Rangers, worth $252 million -- doubling the $126 million contract recently signed by Kevin Garnett, surpassing it as the biggest in the history of North American sports.

Nobody thought a professional athlete -- any professional athlete -- was worth that much money. But, after 5 full seasons with the Mariners, including Playoff berths in 1997 and 2000, 4 All-Star seasons, and 2 near-wins in the AL Most Valuable Player voting (2nd in 1997 and 3rd in 2000), few doubted that, at 25, A-Rod deserved to be the highest-paid player in baseball.

3. July 17, 2001. Selected as the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game in his former home park in Seattle, A-Rod suggested to starting 3rd baseman Cal Ripken, once the best shortstop in the game, that they switch positions. They did. It was a classy gesture from a player who people rarely choose to cite for class.

Ripken, like Robin Yount and Alan Trammell, had "changed the game" for shortstops, making them as big and strong as 1st and 3rd basemen and outfielders, giving them the same kind of power numbers, while maintaining the shortstop's traditional mobility and quickness.

A-Rod, Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox were the key beneficiaries of this. Since 1998, the debate as to which of the 3 was the best player was like the old debate about the best center fielder in New York in the 1950s: Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Duke Snider.

With Nomar's injuries and exile from Boston, and A-Rod's move to 3rd, the "best shortstop" question was forever settled in Jeter's favor. But, statistically, A-Rod remains the best player among them.

4. October 7, 2001. The Rangers were nowhere near postseason qualification, but that was hardly A-Rod's fault. In the regular season that concluded on this date (delayed a week by the 9/11 attacks), he hit 50 home runs for the 1st time, finishing with 52, 135 RBIs, and a .318 average.

He would top that in 2002, leading both leagues by hitting 57 homers -- at that point, a figure topped in baseball history only by Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. (Ryan Howard has since been added to that list.) The 57 homers are still a career high, as are his 142 RBIs.

5. September 28, 2003. A-Rod completes his 1st MVP season, batting .298, hitting 47 home runs with 118 RBIs.

He would also win the MVP with the Yankees in 2005, batting .321, hitting 48 homers with 130 RBIs.

6. August 4, 2007. A-Rod hits the 500th home run of his career, a 375-foot (or so) drive into the left field stands at the old Yankee Stadium.

I was there for that one, sitting in the upper deck down the 1st base line, giving me a perfect view of the entire hit from takeoff to landing. This game set records that still stand, as far as my live viewing is concerned, for most runs by either team and by both teams: The Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals, 16-8.

He will finish the season batting .314, with 54 homers (the most ever by a righthanded-hitting Yankee) and 156 RBIs (ditto). The 54 homers are the most by any Yankee since 1961, when Roger Maris hit 61 and Mickey Mantle hit 54. The 156 RBIs are the most by any Yankee since 1937, when Joe DiMaggio had 167. He won his 3rd MVP.

7. May 8, 2009. After missing the 1st quarter of the season with a hip injury, A-Rod plays for the Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. On the 1st pitch he sees in the season, he swings, and hits a 3-run home run into the left field stands. The Yankees won, 4-0.

8. August 7, 2009. The Yankees had cleared just about every hurdle this season, except being able to beat the Red Sox. But tonight's game at Yankee Stadium II remains scoreless in the bottom of the 15th inning, until A-Rod bats against Junichi Tazawa, making his major league debut. A-Rod gives him quite the welcome, blasting one to left field for a walkoff home run.

After this game, the Yankees pounded the Sox the rest of the way, and even clinched the Division against them.

9. October 7 to November 4, 2009. A-Rod finally became a "Mr. October." (Reggie Jackson considers A-Rod a friend, and probably won't mind me using the nickname in this instance.) He hit game-tying homers against the Minnesota Twins in Games 2 and 3 of the AL Division Series. He tied game 2 of the AL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with an 11th-inning homer, and the Yankees won in the 13th. He hit another homer in Game 4, tying the record shared by Lou Gehrig and Ryan Howard of having RBIs in 8 straight postseason games.

It only made sense that his 1st World Series home run would be controversial, and that the 1st World Series hit requiring review to see if it was a home run or not would be hit by him. It happened in Game 3 in Philadelphia against the Phillies, and it wasn't that controversial: The original call still gave him a double, and the replay showed it was obvious that it was a home run. Finally, in Game 6, he drew a key walk that was more important than any hit he's ever gotten, and he won his ring, as the Yankees beat the Phillies, 7-3.

10. June 19, 2015. After his season-plus suspension for PED use, it began to look like, even if he came back, his bids for milestones such as 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs, and 660, 700, 715, 756 and 763 home runs were finished.

But A-Rod started 2015 strong, and, on this date, A-Rod hits a home run against Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium II. It was the 667th home run of his career -- and his 3,000th hit.

He now has 677 home runs (4th-most all-time behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth), 2,027 RBIs (3rd-most all-time behind Aaron and Ruth), 3,028 hits, and a lifetime batting average of .299 -- well, .29865. He's not that close to .300. (He'd have to get 13 straight hits to get his average over .2995, to round it up to .300; and 20 straight hits to get it actually over .300. The record for consecutive hits is 12.)

*

Perhaps A-Rod's biggest moment is yet to come. Winning the 2015 World Series, as the most-tested-for-PEDs player in baseball history, would be, if not exoneration, at least full redemption, validation of his greatness, and a giant middle finger to those who cannot bring themselves to forgive him.

1st Place Yanks Beat Twins 2 of 3


I'll have a 40th birthday tribute to A-Rod in my next post.

The Yankees went for their 6th straight series win yesterday, against the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.

The game was scoreless in the bottom of the 3rd, when the Twins got on the board. But Chase Headley led off the top of the 5th with a home run, tying the game. It was his 9th home run of the season.

The Yankees broke through in the 6th. Brett Gardner led off with a single, then Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann drew walks to load the bases with nobody out.

Carlos Beltran struck out, stoking fears that having bases loaded and nobody out would be wasted. But singles by Garrett Jones and Headley put an end to that, driving in 3 runs between them. Didi Gregorius bunted home another run. And then Stephen Drew, once again confounding people who say that he can't hit anymore, hit one out to deep right field, for his 13th homer of the season.

Nathan Eovaldi lived up to his Nasty Nate nickname, going 8 innings, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts.

Yankees 7, Twins 2. WP: Eovaldi (10-2). No save. LP: Kyle Gibson (8-8). The Yankees take another road series.

*

So, with 17 of the season's 26 weeks, and (for the Yankees, anyway) 97 of the 162 games in the books, here is how the American League Eastern Division stands:

The Yankees are 55-42, in 1st place, on a 92-win pace -- on the average, just under the 93 wins it usually takes to win the Division.

The Toronto Blue Jays are at .500, 50-50, 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees, 8 games behind in the All-Important Loss Column.

The Baltimore Orioles are 48-49, 7 games behind.

The Tampa Bay Rays are 49-51, 7 1/2 games back, 9 back in the loss column.

And the hated Boston Red Sox are 44-55, 12 games back, 13 in the loss column.

The Yankees' numbers to eliminate these teams -- any number of Yankee wins plus that team's losses adding up to the number in question means they cannot overtake the Yankees for the AL East title -- is 52 for the Sox, 56 for the Rays, 57 for the Jays, and 59 for the O's. Therefore, the "Magic Number" to clinch the AL East for the Yanks is 59.

According to MLB.com, the Yankees' chances of making the postseason are now 90 percent; of winning the Divison, 78 percent. I'll take that chance.

The Red Sox? 2.7 percent that they make the Playoffs. Screw 'em.

If the current Major League Baseball standings hold until the end of the season, the Playoff teams will be as follows, with seedings:

AL: 1. Kansas City Royals; 2. Yankees; 3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; 4. Houston Astros; 5. Minnesota Twins.

National League: 1. St. Louis Cardinals; 2. Los Angeles Dodgers; 3. Washington Nationals; 4. Pittsburgh Pirates; 5. San Francisco Giants.

The Mets are 2 games, 3 in the loss column, behind the Nats in the NL East, and 3 1/2, 4 in the loss column, behind the Giants for the 2nd NL Wild Card.

The Mets did have an interesting weekend, scoring 15 runs on the Dodgers in L.A. on Saturday (when they usually have trouble scoring that many runs in an entire week,), and then winning on Sunday as well, ending Zack Greinke's scoreless streak at 45 2/3 innings.

The Mets' chances of making the Playoffs are now at 48 percent -- pretty good considering how poorly they did from early May to mid-July.

The Yankees now go to the Dallas area to play the Texas Rangers. Time to mess with Texas!

*

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 5, this Saturday night, at 7:00, against the Philadelphia Union, at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Union knocked the Red Bulls out in the Quarterfinal of the U.S. Open Cup, America's version of the FA Cup. This past week, the Red Bulls played friendlies with a pair of European giants, shocking defending English Premier League champions Chelsea, and coming from behind to beat defending Portuguese league champions Benfica.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": See the previous answer. The next game against the New England Revolution will be on Saturday night, August 22, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The next game against D.C. United will be on Sunday night, August 30, at Red Bull Arena.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 8, a week from this Tuesday, August 4, at 7:00 PM, at Yankee Stadium II.


Days until Arsenal play again (in a competitive match): 13, on Sunday afternoon (8:30 in the morning our time), home to East London club West Ham United. Under 2 weeks.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 39, on Thursday night (why?), September 3, away to Woodbridge. Under 6 weeks.


Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 40, on Friday night, September 4, in a friendly with Peru at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. Not following the script of the U.S. Women's national team, who won their World Cup, the USMNT lost to Jamaica in the Semifinal of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and then lost to Panama to finish 4th, while Jamaica lost to Mexico -- who got some very favorable calls, in their Semifinal against Panama, in the Final against Jamaica, and in the U.S.-Jamaica Semifinal, setting them up to play the weaker opponent. However, much of the blame for the U.S. defeats can be laid at the feet of manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who can't pick a lineup to save his life. Or anyone else's. He has to go, if we're going to do better than the Round of 16 at the next World Cup.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 41, on Saturday afternoon, September 5, home to Norfolk State.

Days until the Devils play again: 75
, on Friday, October 9, home to the Winnipeg Jets. Under 11 weeks.

Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: 75, also on Friday, October 9, against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Or, to put it another way, "82 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, despite having definitively played their last competitive game in the Nassau Coliseum, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 86, on Sunday, October 18, away to the Rangers.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 104, on Saturday, November 7, at the Emirates Stadium. A little over 3 months.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 
123on Thursday morning, November 26, at 10:00 AM, at EB. Just 4 months.

Days until the Copa América Centenario begins on U.S. soil: 313, on June 3, 2016. A little over 10 months. The tournament will be between teams from the North American, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) and South America (CONMEBOL, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary). Although it's a member of CONCACAF rather than CONMEBOL, the U.S. is the host nation, and thus qualifies automatically, as it does for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 320, on Friday, June 10.


Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 376, on Friday, August 5, 2016. A little over a year.


Days until Alex Rodriguez's Yankee contract runs out: Officially, at the end of the 2017 season. Game 7 of that year's World Series could turn out to be on Halloween, so, for the sake of this entry, let's say October 31, 2017, which would be 1,193 -- a little over 2 years. Of course, the Yankees could release him before then, but I don't think the House of Steinbrenner wants to take the financial hit from buying him out.

Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 1,413, on Friday June 8, 2018. A little under 3 years.