May 2010

Huffing And Horhay-Ing (Updated: Photos)

IMG_2393.jpgDavid Huff of the Indians lifted up his cap and pointed to a spot above his left ear. “I never saw the ball, but I saw everything else. An inch this way, an inch down – I wouldn’t be talking to you guys. But I’m fine. I hope to make my next start.”

Huff looked bright-eyed and (figuratively) bushy-tailed on the Cleveland bench an hour before today’s matinee in the Bronx. He remains unconvinced that any additional safety measures need be taken by pitchers, especially not a helmet, even though the ball that hit him would clearly have been deflected by a helmet or even a plastic liner for his soft cap, the kind batters used to wear. “A helmet is heavy. It would just rattle around on your head, probably come off. Hey, this stuff just happens. The key is just trying to keep it from happening to you.” Huff did not say, other than trusting to luck, how exactly he’ll do that….

Meantime Jorge Posada is apparently not kidding about being ahead of schedule in his return from his foot injury. Posada today took batting practice, and perhaps more importantly, today long-tossing with his substitute Francisco Cervelli and wasn’t even wincing as he pivoted off the bum foot. “Feels normal,” he said in his nonchalant manner. He was also confident he would be playing again by the weekend series in Toronto: “maybe earlier.”…

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The Unbearable Lightness of Perfect Games

There have been 20 official Perfect Games (sorry, Harvey Haddix; sorry, Pedro Martinez) in baseball history, and thanks to Dallas Braden and now Roy Halladay, there have been two of them in just twenty days.

Of course it’s more preposterous than that. Because Mark Buehrle threw his perfecto for the White Sox just last July 23rd, there have now been three perfect games (15 percent of all of them, ever) in the last 130 days of Major League Baseball play.
Wait – it gets worse. The first perfect game, by Lee Richmond of Worcester of the National League, was thrown on June 12, 1880. The second, by Johnny Ward of Providence (also still in the NL that season), took place just five days later. So now we’re talking about a quarter of all of them, ever, being concentrated in a net span of 135 days of play.
Wait – it gets worse still. After Richmond and Ward set the standard for pitching perfection in less than a week, the next perfect game thrown in their league, was a mere 84 years and four days after Ward’s, on June 21, 1964. That was Jim Bunning’s 27-for-27 against the Mets, which, to round it out neatly, was the last such game thrown by a Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher until Halladay did it tonight in Miami.
And yes, therein lies the last bizarre coincidence. Halladay’s victim: Florida. Braden’s, three weeks ago? Tampa Bay. Buehrle’s, last year? Tampa Bay. Those three perfect games in the 130-day span were each against the two Florida teams.
HELMETS AND GROUP HUGS:
Baseball got lucky again; David Huff of the Indians was sending out his own health updates on Twitter, and actually back in the ballpark with his teammates before they finished their rally against the Yankees. But the luck can’t last forever: at the current rate of growth of bat speed, a pitcher will be maimed or killed before the decade is out, and the sport must take any action that will even slightly reduce the chance or delay the possibility. The easiest solution has been mentioned here before: since at the end of their deliveries, pitchers are closer to batters, than batters were when the pitchers released the ball, pitchers and batters alike should be wearing helmets. Period.
As to the Kendry Morales disaster, this too has been coming for awhile (ask Jake Peavy about it, or Denny Hocking). You are not excluded from the laws of physics just because you’re happy and celebrating. Presumably this needs no new rules, just players seeing the videotape.
MAYBE IT’S THE DO:
Having just watched John Axford (right) record his second career save with a 1-2-3 inning against the Mets, I’m beginning to wonder if half of closing is style.
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                                   COURTESY WPIX-TV
Axford’s story is well-known now: Notre Dame, Tommy John surgery, transfer, independent ball, released, A-ball last season, and suddenly thrust into succeeding Trevor Hoffman in Milwaukee when his velocity jumped up to the mid-90′s this spring. Plus he donned the Rollie Fingers style handlebar. The gentleman on the left you may not recognize, and if he had his way, this photo would never have seen the light of day. It is during his time in the Puerto Rican Winter League of 1972-73, at which point his career stats were 7-1, 4.28, 2 saves. Soon would come a Fu Manchu (and a grownup haircut), 309 more saves and eventually Cooperstown. That’s Rich Gossage, aged 21, and, no, the hair wasn’t attached to the cap.

Tea Leaves

If you have a fantasy league team – or just like to play Closer Roulette – there is nothing more perversely fascinating than to watch an actual big league club suddenly go to Bullpen Plan B, or even Plans C and D, seven weeks into the season.

Such a scenario seems to be playing out in Milwaukee where future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman may have finally taken a curve he can’t handle. Carlos Villanueva was handed the keys and wound up on the sidewalk, too. And suddenly it was rookie John Axford successfully stanching the flow in Minnesota Sunday, with his fellow freshman Zach Braddock setting up.
The key for reading signs in Milwaukee was Tuesday’s game, and with the Brewers up 2-0 on Houston in the seventh it seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out what Ken Macha had in mind. Then the Brewers scored four and suddenly there was nothing to be gauged by the exercise innings of Villanueva and Todd Coffey in the 8th and 9th.
Maybe there was. While it was still 2-0, Macha had Villanueva warming up to pitch the 8th, putting the lie to the presumption that Axford had pitched Sunday only because Villanueva was overworked. We will never know who Macha would have used in a save situation, but it clearly wasn’t going to be Carlos.
Brewer management, incidentally, is giddy over the power arms of the two rookies. It is always sad to see the possible end for a class act and nearly unbeatable performer like Hoffman (and make no mistake about it, this could easily be the end), and it seems a little cruel to hear of two guys who combined don’t have a week invested in the pension plan drawing drools, but such is baseball life.
All of which reminds me somehow of one of those rare instances in which Rotisserie can speak volumes about reality. I am in my fourth year with a bunch of actors in an NL-only league. Among the ten of us, and counting 12 guys on our two-man disabled lists, we “own” 262 National League players. Only ten of them are Pittsburgh Pirates and it’s only that high because somebody just took a flier on Neil Walker (the other nine are Doumit, Cedeno, LaRoche, Jones, McCutchen, Milledge; Dotel, Hanrahan, and Meek – we count Holds).

Marian-No Saves?

My buddy and ex-colleague Rich Eisen of NFL Network asks a fascinating question. Apart from his meltdowns against Minnesota and Boston this week, Mariano Rivera has another startling skein in progress.

He’s gone nineteen days without a save.
Is that his personal record, at least since John Wetteland left and he inherited the closer’s role (so long ago that I was still working at ESPN)? My memory jumped to the last time we heard the “Mo’s Done” refrain, a terrible skid early in 2005. Retrosheet confirms he saved only one game between April 13 and May 9, and had none over the last seventeen days of that stretch.
I have not examiner Rivera’s full career but there’s an even longer skid, and it completely escaped my recall. Mo staggered out of the gate in 2007, not recording a save in his first eight appearances, the 26 days between the opener on April 2, and his first save on the 28th. The Yankees opened the season 8-13 and at that point Rivera had… none. That’ll be tough to beat.
The Necessity of Rivera underscores the Yankees’ critical problem. The age-to-depth ratio is not strong, and it is causing the team to sag. Posada, Granderson, Johnson, Swisher, Mo himself, to say nothing of the middle relievers or Javier Vazquez. Are you thinking Joba Chamberlain to close right now, if there’s another injury problem for 42?

They Booed The Winning Run

This is not unique to the Bronx. I’ve heard it in Boston, I’ve heard it in Philly, I’ve heard it in all the places where the smart fans dwell and even the ones where they don’t. 

The sequence last night went as follows:

1. Alex Rodriguez ties up the game in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon.

2. Papelbon retires Robinson Cano for the second out to keep alive his chances of getting out of the game alive.

3. Papelbon hits Francisco Cervelli on the elbow putting the winning run on base and bringing home run threat Marcus Thames to the plate.

4. The Yankee crowd boos.


You’re aware of what Thames did next. I’d just like to stop at the booing part. Nobody’s suggesting a Bronx crowd should be applauding Papelbon for plunking a Yankee, but, honestly, if Cervelli can get up and walk to first, that’s a good thing, why on earth are you booing the gift of the winning run sent to first on a hit batsman?


Sigh.
Incidentally, Thames’ subsequent game-winning home run ended a truly long drought. That was his first homer as a Yankee in (any) Yankee Stadium since June 10, 2002, when he debuted with an improbable first-pitch-he-saw-in-the-bigs blast off Randy Johnson. This statistic is somewhat skewed by the fact that he didn’t play for the Yankees during the 2003-09 seasons. Still, a bizarre fact.
As was the reality that I have now witnessed both of Thames’ home Yankee homers. Not to say the Red Sox and Yanks play a Tom & Jerry Cartoon version of the game, but even though I was on tv until 9 PM, I figured if I could get to the yard by 9:30 I’d still get to see 90 minutes of baseball (I got there at 9:28; they ended at 10:58 – and eight runs were scored, including five homers, after my arrival)
Can’t resist the screen cap, sorry:
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YES NETWORK VIA MLB NETWORK

Goofy McSlackjaw there in the middle is yours truly. At the far left, in the Yankee cap, is Joe Piscopo, live, even though it wasn’t Saturday Night Sports.
One more image (I keep saying this is the last of them; I make no promises) from over the weekend. All that’s left of the old place is a collapsed pile of the rightfield corner.
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Thanks to all for pumping this blog up to 4th in the MLB Pro category in April. I’m genuinely honored by the interest.

They Gave Me Eyes But I Could Not See

Did two posts (here, and here) last month on the likeliest successors for each of the 30 current active big league skippers.

Since I’m delighted to post successful forecasts here, it’s incumbent on me to mention the other kind, in the wake of Trey Hillman’s dismissal as manager of the Royals, and his replacement by Ned Yost.

ATLANTA: Maybe Chico Cadahia or Eddie Perez, but I think the best bets are two former Cox lieutenants, Fredi Gonzalez of the Marlins, and ex-Brewers boss Ned Yost. If the latter were the obvious choice, he’d probably be back on the staff, not an advisor in KC.


KANSAS CITY: John Gibbons. Hiring a recently dismissed, no-nonsense ex-manager as your bench coach, is the standard process for anointing an heir apparent.


There’s an old Monty Python sketch about a terrible stage actor who ranks the difficulty of each role based on how many words it has. “But,” he adds, thoughtfully, “it’s not just about knowing all the words. It’s also important to get them in the right order!”
Sigh. Right guy, right logic, wrong prediction!

The Ken Burns Cat Out Of The PBS Bag

PBS has officially announced details of Ken Burns’ update to his 1994 PBS “Baseball” documentary, including the (cough) interesting (ahem) line-up (cut to the second paragraph) of interviewees:

Ken Burns’ “The Tenth Inning,” the follow-up to his nine-part 1994 “Baseball” documentary, finally will air on PBS Sept. 28-29, the final weekend of the regular season for Major League Baseball.

Roger Angell, John Thorn, George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Bob Costas return for “Tenth,” and are joined by new interviewees Keith Olbermann, Joe Torre, Pedro Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki.

If you have a long memory, you may recall that Ken and I did not see eye-to-eye on the original series, which was to me a great sadness because I had so enjoyed his “The Civil War” (I watch it at least annually, usually twice a year). I had no desire to make any public criticism of it but was kind of asked to by ESPN when USA Today came asking the network for one of it’s baseball historians to address the series.
Happily, that is a long time ago and Ken and I have since become good friends. He’s been a guest on tv with me several times and did me the honor of letting me see a rough cut of the “Tenth Inning” supplement. It’s exceptional, retains his distinctive style and pace despite the greater availability of video, it’s historically perfect, and as always with his series (Shelby Foote in “The Civil War,” the late Buck O’Neil in the original “Baseball,” and all of the principals in his epic of WWII, “The War”), it will make stars out of some of the interviewees. For my money, ESPN’s Howard Bryant might be the breakout guy of the new production. My MSNBC colleague Mike Barnicle is terrific too. The most fascinating thing for the fan: Pedro Martinez at his reflective best, candid and moving, and a few memorable clips from the first sit-down interview I’ve ever seen with Ichiro. It’s in Japanese, it’s worth it, and he’s thoughtful, proud, and funny.
Me? I’ll do but it was a bad hair day.

I Guess It Really IS His Mound

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COMCAST SPORTS NET via MLB NETWORK

You’ll remember that after the contretemps with Alex Rodriguez, Braden had said “If my grandmother ran across the mound, she’d hear the same thing he (Rodriguez) heard.” After escaping the group hug with his teammates, with whom did he celebrate the perfect game?
His grandmother, Peggy Lindsey. 
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COMCAST SPORTS NET via MLB NETWORK

Dallas Braden admits to having been a wild teenager, and he got wilder still after losing his mother – to skin cancer – when she was barely in her 40′s. “I came real close to taking it away from myself, then my grandmother stepped in and kind of slapped me back into shape and got me going,” he told Baseball America after he won his first big league game. “I told my grandma that someday she would watch me pitch in the majors.”
The loyalty goes both ways. Braden throws a perfect game – on Mother’s Day – on Breast Cancer Awareness Day – for Grandma. And Grandma promptly tells the media, per this tweet by A’s beat writer Susan Slusser, “Stick it, A-Rod!”

Lincecum Weather

Low 50s, swirling winds, and 90 minutes before the game and the hot dog wrappers and other debris is already dancing on the warning track here at CitiField. The bad news for the home team – Giants coach Tim Flannery advises that Tim Lincecum prefers this kind of day to all others. San Francisco is so into the Sunday lineup thing that Juan Uribe is batting cleanup and only three other every day guys are in there – Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz, and Sandoval (and hes at first) so Lincecum will have to carry them. Against Oliver Perez that, of course, is entirely possible.

What? A Milton Bradley Controversy?

Several sources, including this Seattle radio station, are reporting – gasp! – that Milton Bradley left the Mariners mid-game last night after manager Don Wakamatsu tried to remind him that a manager runs a team and not an outfielder who keeps getting traded because he believes that the breeze he feels is actually the universe revolving around him.

So if you had May 4 on the over-under for Bradley’s meltdown, you win the pool.
There is one glimmer of encouragement – although it has echoes of previous false self-awareness alarms – a second report that this morning, Bradley asked Wakamatsu and GM Jack Zduriencik “can you help me?”
Peter Gammons now tweets a text from Bradley: “Any reports I said I’m packing up and leaving are 100% fabricated.”
You will recall that the longest Bradley has gone without one of these, as he’s played his way in and out of LA, Oakland, San Diego, Texas, and the Cubs, is a season-and-a-half. Incredibly, people keep getting fooled.
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