Monday, September 17, 2012

Dr. Strangeglove, Branded & Eduardo Nunez

Right, let's get to it.  Friday night saw the opener of a big 3-game series between the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium II, while the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics, both gunning for the postseason themselves, met in Oakland.

When these series started, the Yanks and O's were tied for first place in the American League Eastern Division, with the Rays 4 games back and still, more or less, in the race, and very much in the race for one of the AL's 2 Wild Card berths.

On Friday night, CC Sabathia (13-6) had his 3rd straight bad start.  This is worrying.  Cody Eppley and Joba Chamberlain each allowed another run, which made the difference.  Not that the Joba run was Joba's fault, as Eduardo Nunez booted what should have been a 3rd-out grounder, and that let a run score.  He makes that play, and it's 5-4 Rays going into the bottom of the 9th.  Instead, it was 6-4, and that was the final score.

Despite home runs by Curtis Granderson (his 38th of the season) and Alex Rodriguez (his 18th), the Yankees just couldn't quite get enough runs off David Price (18-5), Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney (43rd save).

Fortunately, the A's beat the O's, 3-2.  The Yanks and O's remained tied for 1st, with the Rays 3 back.

*


Once upon a time, there was a baseball player named Dick Stuart.  He was quite the slugger: In 1956, playing for the Lincoln Chiefs in Class A ball, he hit 66 home runs.  This was not a record in minor-league ball (84 and 72 had been done, in seasons of more than 162 games), but it was astounding, especially as he played only 141 games that season.  From that point onward, he started signing autographs as "Dick Stuart 66."
He reached the majors with the 1958 Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a member of the Pirate team that beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series -- in fact, he was on deck when Bill Mazeroski hit the winning home run.  He was also a contestant on the game show Home Run Derby that season, outslugging returning champion Wally Post and defending his title by beating Gus Triandos, before being defeated by Frank Robinson.

In 1963, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.  This was a typical Red Sox trade in the Yawkey Era (1933-2002): Get a big-name right-handed slugger who can fire shots at the Green Monster, and the home runs he hits will offset any baserunning or defensive inadequacies he might have.  It seemed to work: That year peaked with 42 home runs while leading the AL in RBIs with 118.  But just 2 years later, the Sox traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies.  He bounced around, playing for the Mets and even in Japan, before wrapping it up with the California Angels in 1969.

Stuart was a born DH -- born at least 10 years too soon.  His fielding was so bad that they put him at 1st base, the position where poor fielders whose bat just had to be in the lineup could (it was thought) do the least damage.  This worked for 1960s sluggers Harmon Killebrew and (as Dick was then known) Richie Allen, both of whom were awful at 3rd base but tolerable at 1st.

It did not work for Stuart.  His fielding remained so bad in Pittsburgh, someone nicknamed him "Stonefingers." Then, in 1964, after the film Dr. Strangelove came out, Stuart received a new nickname: "Dr. Strangeglove." That season, the winds that whipped through Fenway Park (significantly reduced since the additions of that big club-seating area behind home plate and seats where the old roof was) sent a hot-dog wrapper toward the field, and Stuart made a diving catch of it, getting a standing ovation from the Sox fans.  He died in 2002, shortly after turning 70.

Why do I bring up Dick Stuart? Because Eduardo Nunez is a Dominican version of Dr. Strangeglove, and the thought of him playing shortstop while Derek Jeter is injured -- especially when A-Rod can move over to short and Jayson Nix can play 3rd -- is terrifying.  Not as terrifying as Dr. Strangelove coming true, but bad enough!

Late Friday night, I posted to Facebook a clip of the opening of the TV show Branded.  Running from 1965 to 1967, it starred Chuck Connors, a former major league ballplayer and also, briefly, early NBA player, better known for an earlier Western series, The Rifleman.  He played Captain Jason McCord, the only survivor of an Apache massacre of a U.S. Army fort.  The next-to-last man to survive lived just long enough to tell an investigator that McCord had relieved the commanding officer, General Reed, and ordered a retreat in the middle of the attack.  Which was true -- except that the C.O.'s order to attack would have left them all dead anyway, so retreat was the right option.

To protect the reputation of Reed, his old mentor who was starting to lose it, and to prevent a reprisal against the Indians, McCord accepted a dishonorable discharge.  The opening theme shows him literally getting drummed out of the corps, his brass epaulets and buttons torn from his jacket, his sword broken.  (The broken sword became the series' symbol.)
McCord then wandered the Old West, going from job to job, helping people where he could, until the backlash of having "the Coward of Bitter Creek" forced him to move on.  It was like another series of the time, The Fugitive, except that McCord had the opposite problem from Dr. Richard Kimble: He wasn't being pursued by the law, the law had already done what it could to him.

In the 2nd season, as the show moved from black-and-white to color, President Ulysses S. Grant (played by character actor William Bryant) found out the truth, and hired McCord as a spy, to infiltrate groups opposed to the federal government.  (This was the era of Sean Connery's James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, Mission: Impossible and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold -- and the spy parodies Our Man Flint and Get Smart.  It was tough to do a spy series in the Old West, a time when the U.S. didn't have any overt foreign enemies, but it was possible.) The suggestion was that, eventually, once McCord had "done his bit for king and country," Grant would pardon him and reveal the truth.  But the series didn't last long enough to bring that resolution.

Why do I bring up Branded? Because Eduardo Nunez has cost the Yankees enough games over the last 2 seasons with his awful fielding.  I wanted him drummed out of the Pinstripes.  I thought he was not fit to wear the uniform.

Nunez needed to redeem himself.  Big-time.

*



On Saturday afternoon, the Yankees got Ivan Nova back onto the mound, after a stint on the Disabled List and, before, that, a few bad starts.  We really needed him to come out strong.

He did, taking a shutout into the 6th inning.  The Grandy Man struck again, hitting his 39th dinger.  And... Nunez? Yes, Nunez hit a home run! His 1st of the season.  And Robinson Cano hit his 40th double.

Yankees 5, Rays 3.  WP: Nova (12-7).  SV: Rafael Soriano (39).  LP: James Shields (14-9).

And the A's beat the O's, 5-2.  So the Yanks moved a game ahead of the O's, with the Rays now 4 back.

*

Then, yesterday afternoon.  Let's start with the bottom of the 3rd inning, one of the biggest innings the Yankees have had all season -- both in terms of number of runs and possible Division race impact.

Nunez led off with a walk.  He stole 2nd, one of 3 bases he stole on the day.  Derek Jeter singled him home, and got to 2nd on the throw home.  Nick Swisher sacrificed the Captain over to 3rd.  A-Rod singled Jeter home.  Rays pitcher Matt Moore was now quite discombobulated: A wild pitch moved A-Rod to 2nd, and Robinson Cano drew a walk.  Russell Martin went the opposite way and hit his 17th home run of the year.  The Yankees led 5-0.

Moore brushed back Andruw Jones.  Plate umpire Paul Emmel warned both benches to let that be the end of it.  Rays manager Joe Maddon, who lets his players be as dirty as they want (remember that home plate collision in spring training a few years ago?), argued, and Emmel tossed him.

The Rays pulled a run back in the top of the 4th, but the Yankees regained it the next inning on an A-Rod sac fly.

But Hiroki Kuroda got shaky.  The Rays scored 3 runs in the top of the 6th to make it 6-4.  But between them, Boone Logan, David Phelps, David Robertson and Soriano allowed just 2 baserunners the rest of the way: One hit and one walk.  6-4 Yankees was the final.

WP: Kuroda (14-10).  SV: Soriano (40).  LP: Moore (10-11).

The O's, however, beat the A's, 9-5.

*

So here's where the AL East stands, with 16 games to go:

The Yankees lead the Orioles by 1 game, and the Rays by 5.  The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Boston Red Sox yesterday, and this eliminated the Sox from the Division race.  They have also been eliminated from the Wild Card hunt.  The number to eliminate the Jays is 1.

The number to eliminate the Rays is 12.  And the Magic Number to eliminate the O's and clinch the AL East is 16: Any number of combined Yankee wins and Oriole losses adding up to 16, and the Yankees win the Division again.

The Chicago White Sox lead the AL Central by 2 over the Detroit Tigers.  Their Magic Number is 16.

The Texas Rangers lead the AL West by 3 over the A's.  Their Magic Number is 14.

The Washington Nationals lead the NL East by 5 1/2 over the Atlanta Braves.  Their Magic Number is 11.

The Cincinnati Reds lead the NL Central by a whopping 11 over the St. Louis Cardinals.  Their Magic Number is 5.

The San Francisco Giants are pulling away from their ancient bi-coastal rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the NL West.  They lead by 7 1/2, with a Magic Number of 9.

The Wild Card races: The A's and O's currently hold the places in the AL.  The Anaheim Angels (that's what I'm calling them) are 2 1/2 back of the O's, the Rays 4, the Tigers 4 1/2.  In the NL, the Braves and Cards hold the places.  The Dodgers are 1 back of the Cards, the Milwaukee Brewers 2 1/2, the Pittsburgh Pirates 3, the surging Phillies 4, the Arizona Diamondbacks 4 1/2, and the San Diego Padres 6.

Today is the Yankees' final day off of the regular season.  Tomorrow, with Andy Pettitte returning from the DL, they host those pesky Blue Jays.  Tonight, the O's, still on the Coast, face the Seattle Mariners.  And the Rays host the Red Sox.

We cannot dismiss the Rays from the Wild Card race.  But the AL East race has gone from 3 teams to 2.

Here we go...

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