Spotted in Fenway: Kindness, an endangered species

Let’s be honest here, this should have been the Tigers game because of how ridiculously amazing their starter was tonight. The first hit he allowed was deep in the game in the 6th inning. His second allowed hit was an RBI double. And honestly, the Tigers should have been able to keep the Red Sox at that single run. But there seemed to be no bullpen support for the Tigers in their attempt to take the second game of the ALCS tonight.

And to top it off, the Tigers were leading with 5 runs — an RBI single in the 2nd and then a solo homer, an RBI double, and a 2-run homer in the 6th. That’s right, things were looking great for the Tigers. And then it was the 8th inning, an inning I’m sure the Tigers would love to redo tonight. So they bring in a new pitcher who got an out and allowed a double; pitching change and a walk; pitching change to get a strike out and a single to load the bases; a pitching change that promptly gave up a grand slam to tie up the game. Yes, you read that right — an 8th inning, 2-out grand slam.

Now while that was great for the Red Sox and their fans because it then gave them a “snowball’s chance” to actually win this game, but in the process of making a running catch for the ball the Detroit outfielder went head over heels into the Red Sox bullpen. So the Fenway fans were cheering (even the security cop in the bullpen), but the entire Red Sox bullpen went over to check on the downed Detroit fielder. The difference between compassion for basic humanity and the raucous celebration for an athletic feat was a stark contrast. The outfielder was okay, a bit winded, but okay. But I was impressed by the kindness in the bullpen.

Anyway, the game ended the next inning with a walk-off RBI single. So Boston took the game 6-5, and tied up the ALCS 1-1 as they all pack up and continue the series in Detroit this week.

I think that kindness sticks with me more than the grand slam itself. At that moment, the guys in the Red Sox bullpen weren’t seeing some enemy but rather a fellow ball player who might be hurt. And for that one moment, I saw the separation, the widening gap between the attitude of the Boston players and that of the Boston fans. Perhaps, this is why it’s so easy to adopt an opposing ball player into the team because at the end of the day, they’re all in the same boat — baseball players trying to win a ball game for their team. Seeing as becoming a professional athlete is a relatively small club, it’s nice to see examples of the club taking care of its own.

After all, you never know when they might be lucky enough to wear Yankee pinstripes…

Go Yankees!

It’s all about the pitching today…

Well, we’re now deep into the Championship Series portion of October baseball. And the story seems to be pitching, pitching, and pitching.

The Cardinals decided to keep their ball rolling, taking a very tight Game 2 from the Dodgers. Led tonight by the rookie starting pitcher Wacha, the Cardinals allowed 5 hits and a walk, with Wacha striking out 8 batters himself (total Dodger strikeouts today: 13). Comparatively, St. Louis had just 2 hits — a triple in the 1st inning and a double in the 5th. That double ended up scoring the sole run of the game on a sacrifice fly. The Dodgers put up their ace Kershaw to counteract the streak the Cardinals’ rookie has been on this season, but to no avail. These are pretty evenly matched teams, defensively, offensively, and pitching-wise, so the trick for the managers this postseason will be to match the pitching levels evenly so that their offense can grab whatever little bread crumbs they may get. It’s going to be an interesting NLCS.

Meanwhile, over in Fenway, the story seemed the same but with different names, uniforms, and facial hair stylings. The Tigers’ pitching was so on point tonight that they were running a no-hitter until a single in the 9th inning. The Red Sox, the power-hitting force of the AL this season, were just really stymied for the game. So they ended up with a 1-hitter, and with their RBI single in the 6th, Detroit walked away with Game 1 of the ALCS. And while they seemed stuck at that single run and ended their game 1-0 Tigers, the Tigers still racked up 9 hits over the course of the game, and much like the other CS, they just weren’t composing of much than some random little hits. If this keeps up, the ALCS could compete with the NL on who has the more interesting CS this year.

All this pitching strength can’t help but remind me of the days of the late 90s. Well, actually, I guess it’s a counterpoint to those days. In such stark contrast, we seem to be less in the days of those monster home runs, even deep into the postseason, and more of the fine craftsmanship that is strong pitching. Okay, yes, I am a fan of those “Bronx Bombers”, but there is a unique art in throwing a beautifully pitched game. And with just 3 perfect games (oddly 2 came in that late 90s era) in the Yankees’ history, that feat of strong pitching, especially in a year where the team had less than stellar pitching, is still something that seems more to be desired than a strong offensive show.

In fact, I know that one of the key portions of filling out the 2014 roster will be building up reliable, strong pitching both in the rotation and in the bullpen, perhaps even before filling out the larger other part of the roster. It’s always an interesting balance to find that perfect number of pitchers versus hitters on the 25-man roster, and with so many 2013 players becoming free agency for the 2014 season, it will be a work of a little GM-magic to create a viable team for October 2014.

Because, let’s be honest, they aren’t building a roster for April. So if the goal is #28, then they’re building a team that can play October baseball in Spring Training. But then again, those dynasty years of the late 90s, weren’t built in March, and boy did they succeed in October. Names we don’t even know now will become household names all because of that precarious balance. And for that, we can hope for October and dream of that elusive #28.

Go Yankees!

A dream worth celebrating

It took 4 hours and 47 minutes, 13 innings, and 3 runs for the Cardinals to take Game 1 of the NLCS. It was quite a game at that, 3-2 Cardinals over Dodgers. The Dodgers and the Cardinals both struck their offense back in the 3rd inning and sat at the score of 2-2 well into extra innings. This is going to be an interesting series because both teams are pretty evenly matched as far as pitching and offensive power goes. So an interesting fact is that all 3 runs for the Cardinals were driven in by a single batter — Beltran. The first 2 were in that 3rd inning as a 2-run double and the third came as a walk-off single in the 13th.

It was rather triumphant in a sea of red in St. Louis to see a single score the runner from 2nd base after midnight (local time). The sprinkles of that unmistakable Dodger blue faded into the night as they trudged to the visiting clubhouse and look for their win maybe tomorrow. There’s nothing like October baseball. If anyone ever says that baseball is boring, they clearly have never sat on the edge of their seats in extra innings just waiting and hoping that the next hit is that perfect one that will be the winning hit and run.

Once again, the world is missing news from the Yankee world tonight. Instead the world (and by “world”, I mean that small core of people who care about such things, like say blog readers) will have to wait for this whole postseason to end so we’ll truly be in the off-season of MLB. A new World Champion will be crowned and celebrated, and all those October dealings that Cashman and the boys have been cooking up will begin to bloom into something we’ll know as the 2014 Yankees.

And before you know it, it will be Spring again…

But wait, let’s actually savor October baseball, even if the Yankees aren’t in it. Because the sport should transcend team loyalties. The players get into baseball to play the game, and while the lucky ones get to play in the Bronx, the rest still get to play the sport they fell in love with when they were kids, the sport they dreamed of playing in that World Series and getting that winning hit and being that hero. You don’t chase after your dream without wanting to go all the way to the top. And there’s 100 guys right now wanting that chance this year, 100 over-grown little leaguers who dream of that World Series win and title. But only 25 will get that chance, that win, that title this year. And that dream is one worth celebrating, even if they aren’t in pinstripes.

Go Yankees!

Predicting for average, thankfully not a GM

The Tigers pulled it off and are now on their way to face the Red Sox in the ALCS. And while the Yankee fan in me hates the whole idea of those two teams playing in the Championship Series, the general baseball fan is relieved that the best 2 teams in baseball in the AL are competing for the chance at the World Series. I cannot say the same for the NLCS, but being as I am first an AL girl, born-and-raised, I guess I know where my loyalties lie.

Anyway, the Tigers were really the best team tonight, pulling off a shutout win (3-0), thanks mostly to their starter and ace Verlander who is still one of the best pitchers in the league and went a full 8 innings and 111 pitches, keeping the Athletics to just 2 hits and a walk. That’s right, just 3 base runners and none of them scored. Detroit only capitalized on two opportunities — a 2-run home run in the 4th and a run scored on a force out in the 6th. In the 9th, Detroit went to their closer, who after 2 quick outs, got into a jam, allowing a double and a hit-by-pitch. But he pulled out of it with a fly out for that elusive 3rd and final out.

So here’s the update on my predictions: (*I was right // ^I was wrong)

  • NL Wild Card — Pirates over Reds (Pirates win over Reds 6-2 to advance as Wild Card)*
  • AL Wild Card — Indians over Rays (Rays win over the Indians 4-0 to advance as Wild Card)^
  • NLDS 1 — Pirates over Cardinals in 5 (Cardinals win over the Pirates in 5)^
  • NLDS 2 — Braves over Dodgers in 3 (Dodgers win over the Braves in 4)^
  • ALDS 1 — Red Sox over Rays in 3 (Red Sox win over the Rays in 4)*
  • ALDS 2 — Tigers over Athletics in 4 (Tigers win over the Athletics in 5)*
  • NLCS — Cardinals over Dodgers in 5
  • ALCS — Tigers over Red Sox in 7
  • World Series — Tigers over Cardinals in 6

Officially batting for average in my predictions, which as all baseball fans know is great in the overall. And these results prove I know my AL much better than my NL. And well, I was a game off in all but one series, but I threw in that guess just for good measure.

With the NLCS starting tomorrow and the ALCS on Saturday, we’ve now made it to the heart of postseason baseball. This is really just getting started, at least in four cities and fan bases in the US. For the rest of America, they’ve moved onto football or even pre-season basketball. And that’s a shame. Just because you’re team’s not playing doesn’t mean there’s no baseball. It’s kind of fun to watch a game and watch it for the pure pleasure of the sport — without any (or much) loyalty to a team or set of players, seeing how good (or not) the teamwork is, and observing the finer details and grace of the game.

And there’s no news in Yankee-land. Most people are now having fun with Girardi’s extended stay story that they seem to be distracted from all the other off-season possibilities. I suppose landing the big fish like Cano and filling out the major parts of the roster are the next priority, but I think they had it right in pushing for a man at the helm before a final roster. You have to know what kind of team you are building before you can start building, and the man who will set the tone for development and competitive passion is the manager. Now that he’s in place (and I’m assuming based on recent interviews with Cashman and Steinbrenner that the rest of the coaching staff will also return), they know what kind of team and leadership they can expect from the coaches and manager and thus can build effectively.

I suppose also they are waiting to some extent for the results of Alex Rodriguez’s arbitration and appeal. If they uphold or shorten his suspension (even to 50 games), they will need to secure an everyday corner infielder, and they will have some of the suspended pay from Rodriguez’s salary to play with to keep under that $189 million salary “goal” (they have stated recently that it’s more of a goal than a mandate, which is more reasonable if they want some leeway to produce a winning team next year). However, if his appeal is completely successful, the Yankees will then have a regular 3rd baseman and can instead focus on filling other things — like pitching. And I’m guessing they are more focused on finding consistent pitching, especially in the starting rotation, than anything else on their list.

As a girl, it is my absolute right to love shopping, but the idea of shopping for players like Cashman is about to jump into beginning this next month is rather intimidating and like piecing together a moving puzzle that’s out of focus. I don’t think most generic baseball fans truly know all that goes into being a GM, and until really diving into baseball research, I didn’t either. But I have a new appreciation for it now, and I can see where a misunderstanding of its unpredictability can lead to some really bad assumptions. Not that I agree with every one of the decisions — you’ll just never know which ones on this blog. We stay positive here!

And on that note, here’s to a positive off-season and hope for some really amazing signings, trades, and random diamond-in-the-rough grabs and call-ups…

Go Yankees!

Girardi’s staying put in NY

Game 5 in the NLDS clearly had some home field advantage for the Cardinals who took the game and the series with their 6-1 win tonight. And honestly, that is a huge tribute to their starting pitcher who threw 107 pitches over 9 innings — a complete game and win. Well deserved, Cardinals. The Pirates made every effort, with their starter going 5 innings, giving up just 2 runs (a 2-run homer in the 2nd), and 5 other pitches comprising the next 4 and the Cardinals still got 4 runs (including a solo home run in the 8th) off the bullpen. The Pirates just weren’t hitting and their bullpen certainly seemed fatigued.

The Cardinals will face the Dodgers on Friday for the NLCS.

But let’s be honest here, Yankee fans are more interested in Yankee-related things. And today, they announced some great news. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees have reached an agreement on a contract extension through 2017 — a 4-year $16 million contract, that will bring him to a decade at the helm of the Yankees once this contract is over. Girardi credits the delay in his response to spending time with his family and communicating his options with his family. And though he does have ties and family in the Chicago area, the Girardis have made their home in New York, and I don’t think they wanted to change homes any time soon.

And if you’re wondering, the fourth year on the contract was Girardi’s idea to give his family a nice cushion of feeling like home for the next 4 years. The Yankees showed they really trust him and his leadership by agreeing. While technically, the Yankees ended this season at one of their worst in 20 years, they still came in 3rd in the AL East, just a few games shy of the postseason. And much of that is because of Girardi being able to patch together a team in spite of absolutely everything working against them. So perhaps with a healthy team next year, that same magic he seemed to possess to weave what was still a winning season can translate into a postseason win. At least, that’s what both Girardi and the Yankees are hoping.

Okay, I guess every Yankee player and every Yankee fan is hoping for too — that elusive #28. The number that will once again be on the back of their faithful manager. Teixeira said it best that with all the new faces, it’s nice to know that his won’t be one of them. There’s always new faces every year with trades, signings, rookies, and call-ups, so it’s nice to know that there’s going to be a great veteran presence not just in the next locker, but in the manager’s office as well — a big brother for some, a father-figure for most, and a friend for everyone.

Go Yankees!

Tied and untied in the AL

Tonight was two very different versions of the ALDS Game 4, and much like every other day in the week of the 2013 postseason, it was full of twists, turns, and drama. Because what would October baseball be without a saga or epic storyline for every game.

Detroit triumphed over Oakland to force a Game 5 (though my initial report via a phone app had Oakland taking tonight’s game and the series). But no, the Tigers aren’t letting those green and yellow-clad guys get away so easy. The Athletics started with a 1-run lead in the 1st that became 3 runs by the 5th, to which the Tigers responded to tie up the game 3-3 in the bottom half of that inning. The 7th added one more to Oakland and two more to Detroit. But then Detroit added another 3 runs in the 8th to push their lead further ahead, and essentially turn Oakland’s 9th inning rally into a whimper, keeping the Tigers alive for Game 5 with this 8-6 win. Oh, and just to keep things even more interesting, there may or may not have been fan interference on a home run/fly ball attempt, depending on how you look at the call. I think it could have been an out, but the umpiring staff deemed it a home run. It could have been the call to change the game for the Tigers, and perhaps, it was really a homer in disguise.

Fan Rule #1: DO NOT INTERFERE WITH A PLAY… EVER! Once the ball crosses the fence, it’s fair game; but until then, it’s still in play and none of your business until you get paid to wear a uniform and sponsored by Rawlings for your glove and Nike for your cleats.

And down in Florida, the Rays made every effort to push for their own Game 5. Maddon (the Rays’ manager) put up 7 different pitchers, most only going an inning or two. For this reason, the Red Sox were scoreless for a full 6 innings, something I didn’t think could happen right now with their offensive “lava grenade” (the only thing I could think of that’s hotter than a “hot streak”). But the biggest problem is that the Rays also weren’t scoring any runs. The Red Sox started with their recent acquisition this year from the “other Sox”, who is clearly still one of the better pitchers of the league, allowing a single run from the Rays on an RBI single.

Now, up until the 7th inning, this were looking up for the Rays, and that’s when they got sloppy. A wild pitch easily scored a run to tie the game and an RBI single pushed the Red Sox over the Rays 2-1. And then the Rays closer did what he always seems to do this year, not his job. With just one out, he walks 2 batters and hits another with a pitch. The man cannot find the strike zone for anything, so they opt for the 8th pitcher of the game, who gives up a sacrifice fly. So bring on pitcher #9, who finally gets that elusive 3rd out for the Rays. And the Rays went down in order for their last 3 outs, giving up the game and the series to the Red Sox, who walked away with a 3-1 win in both the game and the series.

The Red Sox go on to the ALCS, and the Rays get started on their vacation plans this Fall. I should note here that the Rays have an excellent starting rotation and really great potential in their younger players, but they lack that click when it comes to teamwork which shows in their really weak defense and fielding (they don’t trust each other). They also don’t have the power-hitting to match a team like Boston. And that can be okay if you can get around the bases to score via small ball, but again, the lack of teamwork (and probably veteran experience in the long run) shows by not being able to move runners around. It looks like the Rays GM has his work cut out for him this offseason.

So we have two Game 5’s, one in each league for the two tightest races. And after that, I can update my postseason predictions. So far, I’m still swinging for average. But it’s still pretty early in October.

And in Yankees news, Robinson Cano has been nominated as the Yankee representative for the Hank Aaron Award, an award to honor the player in each league with the most outstanding offensive contribution. Cano was the logical choice, especially because he was one of the few consistent every-day players the Yankees had from Opening Day to Game 162. Voting is underway just until Thursday, October 10th. Past winners from the Yankees include Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Derek Jeter (2006, 2009); Kevin Youkilis won the award with Boston in 2008, and Rodriguez also won the award with Texas in 2001, 2002,  and 2003.

Go Yankees!

12+ hours of baseball and plenty of drama to go around

Today was anything but ordinary in the world of baseball. But let’s be honest, there’s nothing ordinary about the postseason. All 4 games pitted sheer rivalry against one another, and all 4 games defied the status quo to shake up the playoffs.

First game: Cardinals eked out a 2-1 win over the Pirates to tie up the series 2-2 and force a game 5. Honestly, it was a pitchers’ duel here from start to finish. The Cardinals only got 3 hits over the course of 9 innings and a 2-run home run for their only score, and the sole run the Pirates scored was a solo home run and the only hit on their side of the roster. At this point, let me just say this, whoever wins Game 5 will have fought very hard for this series and clearly deserves it. Both teams are pretty evenly matched at this point, and this has been one of my favorite Division Series to watch this year because of that.

Second game: Athletics kind of kept the bats alive and trumped the Tigers’ pitching staff with their 6-3 win, now leading their series 2-1. Three of the A’s runs were scored on solo home runs alone; the rest found themselves as results of small ball play. And while neither team is known for their passivity or lack of passion when it comes to baseball, it became all that much more apparent when there was a bit of a brawl on the field after what appears to be a miscommunication between an A’s pitcher and a Tigers’ batter in the 9th inning. Fortunately, it didn’t take much to quell the situations and continue with the game. But it certainly reminded me why these two teams don’t play each other very often, and why I’m very glad they don’t.

Third game: In what looked like the Red Sox were going to sweep, the Rays came back to tie up the game before walking off the heroes in their home stadium 5-4 and trailing the Sox 2-1 in the series. No, seriously, in a game I don’t think the Rays thought they could win after two rather awful defeats by the Red Sox, they go on to win it in spectacular fashion — two outs, bottom of the 9th inning, and their batter smacks a solid home run into the rays’ “touch tank” past the centerfield wall. (The Rays have an actual tank set up for fans to come and pet actual sting rays and manta rays and similar fish before the game. I’ve done it, and it’s pretty cool.) No worries, the ball floats and won’t ever really hit an animal. The rarity always freaks out some animal activists who don’t understand these kinds of animals, who are used to noise and human interaction and swim about a foot under water at all times. A baseball, because of its design, will hit the water and stay at the surface, right as the rays continue their circuit in their tank home.

Final game: We have a winner, albeit not the one I wanted, but still the Dodgers beat the Braves 4-3 tonight to take their series and await whoever will grab the series (Pirates or Cardinals) for the ALCS next weekend. It’s especially disappointing for three reasons: first, the Braves tied up the game after the Dodgers got an early lead and then tacked on their lead run and kept that tight score until a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 8th really sealed the game (and thus the series for the Dodgers); second, the Braves are actually a much better well-rounded team (which is why I picked them for my choice here), so it’s hard to see them fail where they should really be succeeding; and third, the Dodgers as a whole act like a bunch of diva frat boys, something I don’t think we should celebrate as professional athletic behavior. And thanks to the Dodgers, I’m 0-for-4 (so far) on my DS picks this postseason.

No word on Yankee legal matters yet. Girardi and Cano are still contemplating their contract offers, and Rodriguez is back in New York to continue arbitration after a weekend with his family at home in Florida. And that’s about everything in Yankee Universe that’s public knowledge. Here’s why: because immediately after the season, everyone retreats back to their family life and becomes regular people again, enjoying the luxury of not playing elite-level sports every single day and catching up on whatever trendy cable show they’ve missed from being on the road and busy working; they take vacations, visit relatives, and just take time to be guys instead of “Somebody”. And if they stay out of the news, off the back page of local newspapers, they can just enjoy the break before having to dive back into training for 2014.

Actually, baseball season is really set up rather good if you have a family because you basically return home just after the kids start school, nothing baseball-related over the major family holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and by the time the kids are winding down school activities, you’re back on the field so they can watch you be one of the “Boys of Summer”. And while there are definitely disadvantages for families of baseball players, I think this has to be a perk — quality family time during the biggest family season of the year.

Go Yankees!