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Baseball Returns

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YankeeStadium

Here we go again! It’s baseball season, and all I can do is grumble. You’d think I was a Mets fan, or that my team was any one of a number of basement dwellers, the way I feel. I’m a Yankee fan, I’m supposed to be on top of the world all the time—that’s what ol’ G. Steinbrenner demanded, win the World Series every year or you’re losers. Okay, that, I think, went a little too far in wrecking morale. Still, he may have been a tyrant, but what’s gone on since Georgie’s demise is a nightmare.

As the 2014 season opens, I am facing the loss of Mariano Rivera (gracefully retired), Andy Pettite (ditto), Curtis Granderson (sold to the Mets by some moron in the Yankee org) and Robinson Cano (also moronically sold). Even outside of the Yankees I face a heavy loss: Barry Zito, former Oakland A and SF Giant, one of my favorite players and human beings, seems to have vanished after the Giants failed to renew his contract (and who could blame them? But that’s another story.Zito2012

 

 

 

DerekJeter

Last but not least, as we raise the curtain on another year of baseball, the one Yankee remaining on the team that saw its last period of glory during the late ’90s and early ’00s, Derek Jeter, announced this year as his Swan Song—so don’t bother shouting “Next year!” if things hit bottom. And, indeed, the guys lost their first game yesterday against one of my most hated teams, the F.O.B. (Friends of Bush) Houston Astros.

My allegiance to the New York Yankees is, like some people’s allegiance to a particular religion, by birth and by choice. I’m a Yankee fan by birth: I was born in the Bronx. But I chose to be a Yankee fan because in this one area of life, unlike politics and a few others I’ll decline to mention here, with the Bronx Bombers I get to be a winner more often than not. Unlike the hapless Met fan, I get to experience joy more frequently than pain. At least, that was the deal for decades. Now my Yankee fandom is going the way the aging experience goes: it’s all about loss, as beloved players and managers leave. No choice have I but to butch it out and adjust, the way I do over the loss of teeth and energy.

One thing I don’t have to lose, though, is hope: the Yankees might be great this year. As the little kid in Angels in the Outfield says of the improbable all throughout the movie, “Hey, it could happen!”

rivera-patch

 

So Play Ball!

 

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Baseball Mid-June

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I’ve been baseball blogging at the end of each month, planning to continue this way, but considering recent events on the field I cannot wait another minute. There’ve been 2 no-hitters; a perfect game; a contested one-hit that might be upgraded; several shutouts; the breaking of the Grand Slam record—and that’s just among the teams to which I pay close attention! Let’s begin with the perfect game pitched by SF Giant Matt Cain on June 13th.

Cain’s achievement is exciting for me up close and personal, since it involves the team that has my # 2 home-town loyalties. More important to them and to baseball, however, this was only the 22nd perfect game in history, and a first for the Giants. Three days later, emotions and celebrations are still running high in San Francisco. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said he was so nervous from 7th inning on that he thought he’d vomit. Like his teammates, he was terrified of making a mistake that might blow it for Cain. Late in the game he sat in Cain’s regular dugout spot, only realizing his error when manager Bruce Bochy stared at him in disbelief. The game of baseball is rife with superstitions, and this is how people behave during potential no-hitters and perfect games. Announcers trip all over their tongues to avoid direct mention of what’s at stake. Umpires prefer not to know what’s going on until it’s over. Cain’s perfection was a second for umpire  Ted Barrett at home plate: he’d previously worked David Cone’s, in 1999 (Yankees v. Montreal).

Cain himself can hardly believe he goes out to pitch again Tuesday, as if nothing’s happened, when, as he says, his life has been changed. The game was his 8th win of the season with another personal best: he struck out a career-high 14 batters.

For the final item of Giants news, Barry Zito, the pitcher who was once on top of the world as an Oakland A until the Giants bought him for an over-the-top sum of money, followed by the collapse of his arm, pitched 8 and 1/3+ shutout innings! Zito was already doing better this season than previously, but the shutout was unexpected.  I’m beyond happy for the guy. He must have a helluva talking tape in that pretty little head of his, and I hope this event tips him to an uplift. The shutout, against the  Chicago Cubs, was Zito’s 5th win of the season. He has 4 wins / 4 losses, with an ERA of 4.31

Let’s give Los Gigantes a great big round of applause!

Mets No-Hitter

A couple of weeks before Matt Cain’s perfection, Mets pitcher Johan Santana started June off with a no-hitter. Again, the accomplishment was notable for several reasons. For one thing, up ‘til now the Mets and the San Diego Padres were the only MLB teams to have never accomplished this feat; now San Diego stands alone. As sports blogger and Mets loyalist Daryl Hochheiser succinctly put it, “It took 8019 games but…A METS PITCHER THREW A NO-HITTER. The celebration was tremendous!”

Of Santana’s 134 pitches, 77 were strikes.  He walked 5 batters and struck out 8, shutting out none other than the St Louis Cardinals (8-0), the reigning World Champions.

As if this weren’t enough nachas for the frequently underdog Mets, 12 days later R.A. Dickey, one of a handful of knuckleball pitchers, did it again! This time, though, it was rated as a one-hit game; the Mets petitioned MLB to have it changed. What happened was this: In the first inning,  B.J. Uptown hit a high bouncer which David Wright tried but failed to catch barehanded.  The Mets want the hit classified as an error charged to Wright. A successful appeal would give them their second no-hitter in 12 days after going 50 years and 8000 games without one. (Note: MLB Decision rendered; see article highlighted below.)

As of today (Sat., June 16th) the Mets are in second place in their division, (National League East), 4 ½ games behind the first place DC Nationals. By the way, their rivals on the other side of a bridge or two are also in second place, in the American League East. Do I hear a Subway World Series barreling towards October?

The Sound of Subways Clacking

I’m not jumping the gun on the World Series here, but talking about last weekend’s Yankee/Mets 3-game series, which the Yanks swept. I’ll try to reign in my enthusiasm, since I watched it side by side with my co-blogger Mr. Hochheiser, and my joy came at his expense—not a great feeling for a mother! In fact, I kind of hoped the Mets would win the final game; after all, I’d already sealed the deal on our Frappuccino bet, which is a 2-out-of-3 games won. (When we’re really flush we sometimes bet merch, like team jackets and other MLB gear.)

As for the Yankees, they didn’t crawl, they flew, out of a string of bad games, and are now on a 7-game winning streak. Batters are still freezing when the bases are loaded, or even with two runners on, what I call The Curse of the RISP, but they’re compensating for that in other ways, primarily home runs. The most exciting hit of the season was A-Rod’s Grand Slam on June 12th, when a loss loomed inevitably; not only did the GS win the game for the Yanks, but it tied A-Rod with Lou Gehrig for most Grand Slams in history.

The Return of Andy Pettite. I cannot say enough about how wonderful it is to have Andy back on the mound. Andy Pettitte, Good Ole’ Reliable, with that face, that form; that steady, reliable, excellent craft master. Truly a blessing, no disguise.

Department of Sports Racism Inc.

During Interleague games the Yanks played, and swept, the Atlanta Braves, which made a lot of people happy, particularly those of us who cringe at the Braves’ incessant, idiotic, monotonous, insulting-to-Native Americans, Tomahawk Chop.” Ugh!

Most cringe-worthy is watching little kids younger than a year making the move like tiny robots-in-training, with no idea what they’re doing; they’re just imitating, or following instructions from the so-called grownups around them. As they say in the musical South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught how to hate.”

Players and fans love the chop, and don’t seem to think it has any deep significance. It originated in 1991 when Deion Sanders, a former football player, joined the Braves. Sanders had played for Florida State, whose team did the chop—so when he came to bat the first time, fans spontaneously began to chant. Team bigwigs encouraged it by having the organist play chanting music.

But while they make it sound perfectly innocent, those of us without sentimental associations hear only a mocking call and can’t help being offended. Says critic David Churchill on Sports Critics At Large:

This chant is a parody of the supposed Native American war dance song from thousands of Hollywood western movies…This drone is actually quite ignorant, if not outright racist, towards Native American peoples. The ‘savage’ warrior message contained within the drone and the cartoon red tomahawk is unseemly… Do they not have any clue how this is being perceived throughout the rest of the baseball-watching fans in North America? Or do they really just don’t give a flying fig what the rest of the US and Canada thinks?

Oakland Athletics

Update on Manny Ramirez, June 17th: Manny has asked for and been granted release by the A’s. Apparently they feel he’s still not up to par, and they’re getting what they need from outfielder Collin Cowgill. Not wanting to wait any longer to play, Manny will try to get placed elsewhere. Unlike the usual blame-and-rant Manny, he expressed only love and gratitude for the A’s. “Oakland is a great place,” he said. “They gave me a chance. I was proud to get an opportunity there.”

In 17 games for Triple-A Sacramento, Ramirez hit not a single homer, and scouts for the As say he doesn’t resemble his former self anymore. It’s too bad–I for one was looking forward to watching Manny and his dreads fly around  Oracle Field. His would-be teammates said they had a great time with him in spring training, and are sorry to see him go.

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Droppin’ Like Flies

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Remember last year, when so many Mets players went on the DL early in the season, and the bodies kept on piling up? The talented Jose Reyes, their shortstop and leadoff hitter, was out all year. I felt sorry for them, and for their fans, including my son, who suffers so much agony from their erratic playing. This time they sank through no fault of their own. (Their loss to the Yankees yesterday was, however, their own doing!)

I mention this as an intro to express my devastation over what’s happening to the Yankees. They started the season with bats blazing, tearing through one winning series after another. Pundits, statisticians and talking heads were all of the opinion that it could never last, that too many of the players are inching towards a doddering old age and would soon  lose momentum. Well, they are losing momentum – but it isn’t because of their age. One by one, ordinary injuries have put them on the DL or the bench. As each injury compromises another aspect of play, the other guys step in to pick up the slack – and they’re not doing a bad job of it. Still, how long can they keep it up? And are there more injuries coming down the ‘pike?

The biggest catastrophe came last week, when catcher Jorge Posada’s foot was hit by Minnesota Twins’ Michael Cuddyer. Up until then Posada was having a terrific season, batting .326 with six homers and 14 RBIs, eight doubles, and a .406 on-base percentage. If Minnesota had purposely tried to get rid of him, they couldn’t have planned it better (not saying they did, just saying it does work in their favor). Posada’s foot has a fracture, and it’s expected to keep him out of action for three or four weeks.

Jorge’s just the latest fly to drop. Curtis Granderson went down a few weeks ago with groin strain; hopefully he’ll be back by the end of May. DH Nick Johnson just had wrist surgery, which will put him out of commission until August, and pitching reliever Alfredo Aceves is on the DL with lower back strain. Chan Ho Park, who recently rejoined the team, missed 30 games with a hamstring strain. Outfielder Nick Swisher has been out four games and counting, due to a sore left bicep. Last Wednesday, outfielder Marcus Thames sprained his left ankle, and while he hasn’t been placed on the DL, he hasn’t come back to the game yet either. None of these injuries are the kind that only affect older athletes, and none of these guys, except for Posada and  Chan Ho Park, could be  remotely considered on the old side of ball playing.

But of course, it doesn’t matter why, it only matters what and how long, and if it keeps up it could derail the team. I’m hoping the healthy guys continue to pick up the slack and keep things going. If anyone can manage that, it’s the New York Yankees.

No Nicks: Dead Wood in the Yankee Lineup

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It’s frustrating being a fan. You don’t know who makes decisions or why. You have no say in those decisions, not even a puny quadrennial vote like in the electoral system. You know better than anyone what needs to be done to improve the team, but you helplessly watch as they chug along an unchanging, insane path to mediocrity. If the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior with the same terrible results over and over again, then by definition, whoever’s making decisions up in the Bronx is insane: They keep right on sending players to the bat that everyone knows will strike out, fly out, hit into a double play, leave guys stranded on base, or otherwise fuck up the group effort. That’s what’s been happening in nearly every Yankee game every time one of the Nicks, Johnson or Swisher, comes up to bat.

How come when Jeter or A-Rod hits a slump, it’s headline-shattering news, but when these guys plod along like this nobody says a word? Just as I can’t outguess Yankee management, I can’t outguess media treatment – or mistreatment — of players.

Since the start of the season, Nick Johnson’s gone up to bat 33 times. He’s had six hits, one home run, and four ribbies, with a .182 average. Swisher’s stats are slightly worse: in 33 at bats he’s had five hits, one homer, three ribbies, and a .152 average. Last year, up until the post-season, where he tanked, Swish was fine: His season average was .249 with 29 homeruns.

Johnson, who played for the team in 2001, ‘02 and ‘03, is reknowned for getting injured. As one blogger notes, “{M}ark my words there will be plenty of days when Johnson is absent. In his 7 full major league seasons…he’s played 100 games or more fewer times than he’s played less than 100 games.” I’m totally baffled as to why Nick Johnson is on this team.

Swish, on the other hand, can play better, and he ought to be getting extra coaching time; again, I have no idea if he is or not. I know they won’t throw him to the minors or get rid of him unless the situation becomes exceptionally dire – he’s one of the best-liked guys on the team, with good reason. Known for being a cut-up in Oakland, in New York everyone says he’s a riot in the locker room. I wonder how much of a riot someone can be when he’s performing the way Swish is?  In any case, he shouldn’t be tossed, but helped.

As stated, I know what needs to be done here. If only Girardi, Cashman, the brothers Steinbrenner and / or whoever is making these decisions would get with the program.

Mets Marathon: By now everyone’s heard about the 20-inning game Saturday night between the Mets and Cardinals. It reminded me of The Hector Quesadilla Story by  TC Boyle, probably the funniest baseball story ever written. Boyle hilariously describes the effects on everyone present of an endless ballgame. Around the 12th inning the players begin to look like they stepped out of “The Night of the Living Dead.” By the 27th, the vendors run out of beer, an umpire passes out, and one player drops ice cubes in his trousers to stay awake. In the 31st,  half the fans are asleep and the other half are “staring into nothingness” like the inmates of an insane asylum. Lest I destroy the humor with my selective quotes, I’ll stop. The story’s available on an NPR podcast titled “A Baseball Celebration”. Enjoy.

Interleague Weekend

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This weekend Major League Baseball finished up Interleague play for the season. Where I live, geographically, we had the Bay Bridge Series. Where I live, emotionally, there was the Subway Series. Results from coast to coast were mixed.

The Yankees and Mets got an early start on Friday with a makeup game at Shea. Then they hopped onto their respective buses and headed over to the Bronx for the first game of the regularly scheduled series. They alternated Saturday and Sunday as well—since both teams are moving into new digs next year, this was the last time they’ll ever play one another in the old stadiums (stadia?).

Here’s how the scoring went:
Game 1: Mets 4, Yankees 1
Game 2: Yankees 9, Mets 0
Game 3: Yankees 3, Mets 2
Game 4: Mets 3, Yankees 1

Consistent they are NOT. Andy Pettitte pitched six innings in Game 2 (good story comparing pitching in 1968 to now), picking up his ninth win. This was against the mighty Johan Santana, AND after waiting through an hour’s rain delay. They don’t call him veteran for nothing. In Sunday’s game—the only one televised for my viewing pleasure—Mets pitcher Oliver Perez annihilated my guys—or, as another blogger put it, “Perez, not Steinbrenner, owns the Yankees.”

That quote comes from a witty, conversational, lovingly detailed blog I heard about on NPR Saturday.
Rarely am I as impressed by a baseball blog as I am by this one—he writes about the aspects of baseball that interest me most, and he even sort of writes the way I do. For instance, yesterday, when Mets closer Billy Wagner came out in the ninth, fans held up signs welcoming “The Sandman.” That just happens to be Yankee closer Mariano Rivera’s moniker, and I, naturally, went ballistic. Here’s what the man they call The Blogfather had to say about it:

That Billy Wagner comes out to Enter Sandman is a travesty. If this were wrestling, Mo would sneak up behind him and crack a folding chair over his head. Then when David Wright tried to retaliate, Kyle Farnsworth would put him in the Cobra Clutch.

(The Real Sandman)

Love it!

Three thousand miles across the continent, over on my side of the country that is, the SF Giants and Oakland Athletics confronted each other once again. Thank the Baseball Gods and Goddesses, they let Barry Zito off the hook; he didn’t have to face his old team for another humiliating outing. In the first game Oakland beat SF 1-4, but on Saturday the Giants shut out the A’s 1-0, and they got carried away on Sunday, winning 11-1.