Sunday, November 01, 2015

Bad Day, Bad Plays in New York & Pittsburgh

Daniel Murphy went from hero to goat for the Mets in the World Series, but he had serious competition.  His errors in the field led to victories for Kansas City, including in the final game in New York.  But other errors, possibly including managerial mistakes, will keep New Yorkers moaning all winter.  KC won the Series in five games.  What could be more demoralizing that leading in the eighth inning and losing--three times, including KC scoring 5 runs in the 12th inning of the final game.

The Mets had starting pitching and hitting, but KC exploited their weaknesses of defense (especially infield) and relief pitching.  Ultimately however it may be Series experience that made the difference.  KC played last year, losing to the Giants in seven.  The Giants played relaxed but also with nerves of steel.  They'd been there before, and even though key players like Joe Panik hadn't been, the team had--and the Giants are always a team.  KC took it all in.  This year they were the team that played relaxed, with nerves of steel.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh Sunday, things also started in very promising fashion.  Big Ben was back from his injury and had the Steelers ahead in the fourth quarter against the undefeated Cinncy Bengals.  But whether it was fatigue or just bad luck, his fourth quarter interceptions gave the game away.

Perhaps even worse for Pittsburgh, they lost their franchise running back to injury--likely for the year.  It's not as bad as losing Ben, but almost.  It's just November but it's hard to see a path to the playoffs.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cutch Apparent

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

 Andrew McCutchen learned the Roberto Clemente story many years ago, long before being drafted by Clemente’s former team, the Pirates, in 2005. When he was 11 or 12, McCutchen went to a baseball camp in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the city where Clemente was born and raised. There, McCutchen met Manny Sanguillen, the former Pirates catcher who played alongside Clemente, and heard the story of a Hall of Fame outfielder, the pride of Pittsburgh, who died in a New Year’s Eve plane crash in 1972 while on a mission to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

 The Commissioner’s Award, given annually to the player who best represented the game of baseball on and off the field, was renamed in 1973 to honor Clemente. On Friday, McCutchen was named the 2015 Roberto Clemente Award winner in a ceremony at Citi Field prior to Game 3 of the World Series, joining Willie Stargell as just the second Pirates player to win the award...

I want to strive to be like he was,” McCutchen said, “a person who would give you the clothes off of his back just to make this world a better place.”

I saw Clemente play many times, mostly at Forbes Field in the late 50s and 60s.  I shook his hand on the field once, on one of those pre-game events when kids could meet the players.  His last regular season game was on September 30, 1972.  I saw him last on September 21, in New York, in a game with the Mets.  He got at least one hit that day, closing in on 3,000 hits for his career, a mark he hit with his last at-bat.  He hit .325 in the NLCS, but the Pirates lost to the Reds in the fifth game.

Clemente was the most exciting player I ever saw play.  Only Barry Bonds came close.  I've never seen McCutchen play, which means I haven't seen a game in Pittsburgh since 2008.  Horrors!  But everything I know about him makes him a fitting heir to Clemente, on and off the field.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This Was A Job for Superman

The Team of Destiny is in part predictable: it's the team that's peaking at playoff time, often because their lineup is healthy after an uneasy season, and/or they made late season acquisitions that just jelled.  In retrospect, you can see this pattern a lot--in the 2012 and 2014 San Francisco Giants, for example.

But the unpredictable part is the Guy Who Becomes Superman.  Marco Scutaro.  Cody Ross. Madison Bumgarner. And of course, the payoff of things done right by managers, coaches and the front office, and team unselfishness.  But often enough you need the superhero.

The Mets got healthy, they seem to have team chemistry, their strength of starting pitching stayed strong, and second baseman Daniel Murphy put on a cape and flew.

Murphy hit a home run in six consecutive postseason games, including all four in the NLCS Mets sweep of the Cubs. That's an All Time Record, which in baseball means it hadn't happened in more than a hundred years.  In tonight's game he had four hits, the last one--in the eighth inning--a home run to center field.  He'd missed a homer to center field earlier by feet, getting instead a double that splashed off the warning track onto the ivy.  He was named series MVP.

Murphy had his biggest home run season this year--he hit 14.  But that's back when he was Clark Kent, mild mannered utility infielder for a not so great Metropolitan baseball team.

I've written here several times that I've never been able to figure out how the Cubs won so many games.  Once the Mets (and Murphy) beat Arietta, the series was functionally over.  The Mets, who lost all their regular season games against the Cubs, never even trailed the Cubs in any of the four playoff games.

Now the question becomes whether they will meet another apparent Team of Destiny, Toronto, which must win the next two games, both in Kansas City.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Schadenfreude 3 Dodgers 2

I won't lie.  It's the Dodgers losing rather than the Mets winning that did it for me, that actually had me excited in the bottom of the ninth on the MLB gametracker.  The criminal Chase Utley making the first out of the ninth was sweet, in his first appearance since he crippled the Mets' shortstop.

And on almost the same grounds I'm sticking with the Mets against the sentimental favorite (outside of New York) Chicago Cubs.  Yes, Barack's team, but they employ a serial criminal, however legal.

But I won't bring the same feeling to it.  I spent 5 years in Illinois, give or take, though outside of Areitta I still can't figure out why the Cubs win.   The Dodgers are not only the Giants perennial rival, these days they are their opposite.  The Giants clubhouse ethic is inclusive, personal and team-oriented, with a manager who is both respected and loved.  The operative word for the Giants is loyalty, as it is for their fans.  The Dodgers with their huge payroll appear to be the opposite.  Not as bad as Washington perhaps but by tomorrow they'll probably have a new manager, too.  Update 10/22: It took a few more days, but Dodger manager Mattingly is gone.

Meanwhile Toronto won their first series, and despite the fan damage in their ultimate home win, I'm sticking with them.  TO!  (And Trudeau!)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

No More of This, Baseball

The Dodgers' Chase Utley has been suspended for his "slide" that broke the leg of Mets shortstop Tejada in their second playoff game. The play went a long way to enabling the Dodgers to win the game.  The immediate two game suspension is being appealed.

I don't think it's enough.  The Dodgers should forfeit this game, and Utley should be charged with assault.

This story contrasts this case with the Cubs incident that injured Pirates star Kang.  The Utley play is clearly illegal, the Cubs play just hard baseball, in this view.  I don't agree.  There is no place in today's baseball for a play that carries with it the significant likelihood of injury to a player.  Especially the Cubs player in question, who is a repeat offender.  He's already ruined one career.  That can't happen.

All I can do now is reinforce my distaste for the Dodgers and the Cubs.  Go Mets!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Last Games

Update 10/7: Unfortunately the wild card game went according to script, with Cubs ace Jake Arrieta blanking the Bucs and ending their season.  One of those rating guys had the Pirates at 10th of 10 teams in the playoffs, but mostly because they were facing Arrieta.  If they'd won this game, they would have been rated 2nd. Which by the way is where they finished in the majors in number of games won.

 So now a lot of pure baseball fans, and possibly Giants fans, will be rooting for the Cubs to go all the way, because they haven't in such a long time.  Not me.  I've got enough Pittsburgh still in me to wish them ill, particularly after they put one of the Pirates hitting stars on the disabled list, and after Arrieta plunked two hitters Wednesday.  He's riding high now, so he has a "winning attitude" but he seems like an asshole to me. Go, Toronto.  Anyway, my baseball season is really over now.

10/4:It went down to the wire but the Pirates won their final regular season game to get home field for the wild card game on Wednesday.  Their loss to the Reds Saturday along with the Cubs win meant they had to win Sunday to host the game, which they did.  With the likelihood that it's going to be a tense pitchers' duel, home field might mean nothing or it might mean everything in a low scoring game.

This is the third straight year the Pirates will play the wild card game, with a record of 1-1.  It's not a fair system, especially when the team with the second best record in all of the Majors--the Pirates--can be eliminated by one bad game, while other teams with a worse record (like the Dodgers) get a series.  This is the third year for this system, and though it produced the World Champs last year, it is due for an overhaul.

But where I am, the season is effectively over, because it's over for the SF Giants, and therefore their broadcasters.  So the dials on the radios return to the classical station instead of the one that plays really awful country music when it isn't carrying the Giants games.

I doubt I can go cold turkey though, so I'll probably spend some recreational time watching selected games from last year's postseason on YouTube.  I'll stick with the Pirates live this year in any medium I can, of course, as long as they're in it.

Saturday at the ball park on the Bay, Tim Hudson was honored, and Sunday it was Jeremy Affeldt, with the astonishing postseason record of 22 consecutive game appearances without giving up a run, including the seventh game of the World Series last year.  In the postseasons he pitched in every inning except the first and the ninth.

The best part of the game was the return of Matt Cain, who started and pitched 5 scoreless innings.  That was a good transition to next year, though the outcome of the game wasn't--the Giants proceeded with a lead and a shutout throughout the game in some majesty, giving pitchers a few batters and a bow, until with one out in the ninth the Rockies erupted and won the game.

It was Star Wars day on Saturday, so the Giants victory--on 425 foot homers by Marlon Byrd and Brandon Crawford, and an inside-the-park homer by Kelby Tomlinson, who finished the year with a .301 average--was witnessed by a number of Wookies.  Jake Peavy pitched another stellar game and got the win.

Sunday was fan appreciation day, and several Giants talked about the unique qualities of Giants fans, and how this combines with the team, from front office to clubhouse.  Ryan Vogelsong said it best: "I don't know where I'm going to be next year, or what name is going to be on the front of my uniform.  But I do know this--I will always, always be a Giant."

I'm sure lots of teams and cities claim that their fans are the best of all, but in my limited observation, the Giants have a good claim.  Pittsburgh fans are passionate, and though that passion extends to the game itself (football or baseball), it is all or nothing, depending on winning or losing.  There's deep loyalty but such mood swings of adulation or disgust.  Giants fans are more about the fun of the game, loyalty to the team they know, and just constant support.  It's probably a class thing but I don't want to get into that now.  It adds up to a different kind of excitement.  I've seen lots of Pirates games but I've never felt the electricity in the stands as I did in San Francisco.

Most of all, and not surprisingly, I'll miss the announcing team.  They've utterly spoiled me.  I can't listen to anybody else without wincing.  Well, some of the national TV guys are bland enough not to matter, but for radio, nothing like the fab four.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Tim Hudson threw his last big league pitch on Thursday afternoon in San Francisco, across the bay from where he threw his first.  In fact the same man who was umpiring at second base that first day, was umpiring second base on the last.

But in between 1999 and 2015 Tim Hudson had a pitching career that may get him into the baseball Hall of Fame someday.

He'll be honored officially at the ball park Friday.  But the Giants announcing crew talked about how deeply he was part of this team, and the lives of his teammates.  How he was a mentor to Madison Bumgarner,  close to him every step of the way in MadBum's extraordinary postseason performances a year ago.  Their families even lived together for a time.

They spoke of his ongoing relationships with teammates that has extended to several looking for homes in his neighborhood so they can stay together.  One of them is pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, who before Thursday's game announced his own retirement at the end of this season.  He pitched in Hudson's game, and if he's faced his last batter, let the record show that he struck him out.

Meanwhile the Pirates had an off day while the Cubs won their game against the hapless Reds.  And the hated Ravens won their first game of the year against the Steelers in overtime.  The flaw in the Steelers game turned out not to be their substitute quarterback but their kicker.

 And of course the coaches--that's a burgh staple, though in this case they may be right.  And isn't this the third case of a failed pass on an obvious short yardage running play in a crucial moment, beginning with Seattle in the Superbowl?  Which was called the worst coaching decision ever made?