Even retired, Kevin Millar makes the game of baseball more amusing. Last year he was with the Blue Jays, and they brought up a pitcher from the minors named Mark Rzepczynski, one of those great unpronounceable names you see occasionally in sports. (For the record, it’s pronounced zep-CHIN-skee.) Asked on the radio how that name was pronounced, he replied, “We just call him ‘Ski’.” However, with Rzepczynski making his first start of the year, Millar, now working for MLB Network, revealed that he and Bryan Butterfield gave the pitcher a different nickname: Splamitovich. Which Rzepczynski now has on his glove. Kevin, man, I love you. Don’t ever disappear from the spotlight.
On another note, yesterday looked like an anomaly for the Year of The Pitcher II. 47 home runs were hit yesterday, including 3 by Adam Dunn, two each by Casey Kotchman, Martin Prado, and Buster Posey, and an inside-the-park homer by Jose Bautista, whose 22 homers lead the majors. The only game without a home run was the Angels-White Sox game. But back to Bautista: Where’s all of this power coming from? Bautista never had more than 16 home runs in a year prior to this year, and suddenly he’s the biggest bomber in the league. Do you remember what we used to assume when players set new career highs for home runs by the end of May? Yeah, exactly–“Must be juicing.” (Okay, so Bautista was only tied for his career high at the end of May–and, of course, my example had already set a new career high by the end of April. Still valid.) I want to believe that the game is really completely clean now, but…when there are still players putting up anomalous numbers like this, I can’t be sure.
Of course, it could just be that Bautista is having a breakout season. The aforementioned Brian Roberts had only played more than 100 games in a season twice prior to 2005, when he set a new career high for home runs by the end of April, but he tailed off and ended that season with fewer than 20 home runs, and while it’s still a career high, he has reached double digits three more times. The performances you really have to worry about are when players can’t replicate them afterwards–think Brady Anderson, whose only season with at least 25 home runs was 1996, when he hit 50. Only time will tell which is the case for Bautista.
Final note: The Cardinals blew a five-run lead to the Rockies, their first time blowing leads of at least 5 runs in back-to-back games since 1930. Chris Iannetta hit a walkoff home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth off of Evan MacLane, who was making his major league debut and now currently has a career opponent’s slugging percentage of 4.000 (not that they keep track of these things) and an infinite ERA (1 earned run in 0 IP) as well as an 0-1 record. Not the best start.
As the winter meetings in Las Vegas wrap up, it’s time for some early predictions, which will probably be wrong.
NL West: This division’s an enigma to me. The Dodgers are the only team that has been terribly active, unless you call trying and failing to deal Jake Peavy “activity”. Let’s just stick with the defending division champs.
NL Central: If you’d seen this journal in previous years, you might think that with their pitching finally coming around and them already getting a little bit of support from the media, it would be natural for me to make the Cincinnati Reds my NL surprise team of the year, right? Wrong! Admittedly, the Brewers are falling apart, and the Cardinals won’t get career years from as many players as they got career years from last year, but the Reds still won’t finish much ahead of third. Houston is maturing wonderfully, but the Cubs are still the favorites.
NL East: And that must mean my NL Surprise Team of the Year plays in the East. That is correct! As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I’m used to my team being in bidding wars over high-profile players…but I’m not used to those wars being with the likes of the Washington Nationals, who have reportedly offered $160 million over 8 years for Mark Teixeira. Even before I heard this, I thought the Nats could improve on last year’s record by a good amount, and if they pull this deal off, they could be the team everyone’s talking about this summer. Well, the NL team, anyway. Oh, right, and the Mets’ improved bullpen will prevent another late-season collapse. Mets to win the division; Phillies the wild card.
AL West: As the Angels’ front office would like you to believe it, if they lose out on Teixeira as well, they’re in a bad position. This is complete and utter B.S. The Angels still have a hold on this division. The Rangers should push them a little harder this year, but the Halos have nothing to worry about.
AL Central: A division in flux. The Tigers’ big spending has amounted to nothing, and things will only get worse. The Indians missed their window of opportunity when they got off to a slow start last year, and they’re not going to be able to do much this year. The White Sox…I still have no clue how they did that. They could do it again, or they might not. The Twins are still young, and while what they did was impressive, it will again be a question mark. That brings us to this year’s Rays, the team that everyone will expect to fade, and keep expecting to fade, but the young players will just be too good. Yes, that’s right…my pick for the 2009 AL Central Division Champions is the Kansas City Royals. You know, I heard on the radio that they’re going after Rafael Furcal, and the pundit in question said that he didn’t think it was likely because Furcal really values winning highly and takes the losses personally, and the Royals are “years away from contending”, and I was just thinking, “Yeah, right.” This is the team that almost no one will see coming, because much like that Rays team, it’s built primarily from the farm system and the occasional under-the-radar acquisition. And the Royals have spent heavily on free agents before–like the Gil Meche signing. Even if they don’t get it done, I think the Royals have a chance, but if they get Furcal, I think people might take notice. This will be the team that stuns everyone.
AL East: Hoo-boy. This is one hell of a division. Some things remain predictable: The Yankees throw obscene amounts of money at good-looking targets and try to make something work, and they end up with a lot of All-Stars that can’t quite add up to a championship team. The Orioles try to throw money at their problems, but inevitably end up making bad decisions, and will not contend. The Jays will underachieve. But what of the Red Sox and Rays? The Rays, as usual, have been fairly quiet this winter. They’re not a large-market team, but they’re smart. They’ll find a way to keep from falling off–although seeing as how most of the major pieces of that team are under contract for awhile, that shouldn’t be terribly hard. As for the Red Sox, they don’t really need a major pickup. While Mark Teixeira would be a nice pickup, I honestly don’t mind if the Nationals end up getting him, because we don’t need another big-name signing at first base. We have Youk to be a permanent corner infield fixture, and with Lowell under contract, all we really need is some insurance against Lowell breaking down. I figure, with both Lowell and Papi having spent a lot of time on the DL recently, we could keep them fresh by platooning them at DH, with Lowell also occasionally getting starts at third, and pick up an inexpensive veteran first baseman like, say, maybe old fan favorite Kevin Millar? He’s still fairly productive, and he’s still at his best when facing the Yankees–and of course, the fans love him. If we can’t get Teixeira, I think this would be a good fix. …Oh, right, the division winner? Eh…ah…hrm…well, there will definitely be two playoff teams from this division! …Unfortunately, I have no clue which two they’ll be. The Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees all look really good right now, and the Yanks are rumored to not be done spending. This could get ugly. As much as I hate to say this, I’ve got to go with the Yankees to win the division and the Rays to win the wild card.
I think I’m just going to live-blog this, Bill Simmons-style. Probably should’ve started that earlier, actually…
PM: I tune in as Bernie Williams is getting a huge ovation. Apparently
they’ve been introducing Yankee greats across time, including the
starting lineup from the first game ever played at Yankee Stadium. Now,
Bob Sheppard with the starting lineup. In centerfield, #18, Johnny
Damon. At shortstop, # 2, Derek Jeter. In right field, #53, Bobby
Abreu. At third base, #13, Alex Rodriguez. At first base, #25, Jason
Giambi. In left field, #22, Xavier Nady. At second base, #24, Robinson
Canó. The designated hitter, #55, Hideki Matsui. Catching, #26, Jose
Molina. And pitching, #46, Andy Pettitte.
Okay, now that we can
get out of stuffy serious mode, let’s take a look at the rest of
baseball. As I said, a Yankee loss will give the Red Sox a playoff
spot. For tomorrow, Florida is out of the NL East with a loss or a
Philly win. The Cubs will clinch home field up until the World Series
with a win or Philly loss.
8:13: Special guest to catch the
ceremonial first pitch…okay, it’s Jorge Posada, who’s been on the DL
all year. Nice. Throwing out the first pitch is Julia Ruth Stevens, the
8:15: There’s going to be a “special postgame
celebration” after the game. If Baltimore wins, there’s also going to
be such a celebration in Boston. The Sox may even be back in town in
time to see it, depending on when their plane left/leaves Toronto.
Speaking of Chicago Cubs, it looks like ESPN may have rush-delivered
Lou Piniella to New York. Oh, wait, that’s right, the Cubs have a
four-game series at Shea starting tomorrow. Okay, so that makes a
little more sense, but it still seems like they must have gotten the
team to NYC pretty quickly.
8:25: Jon Miller asks, “Who will hit
the last home run at Yankee Stadium? Jeter? A-Rod?” I hope it’s an
Oriole. Preferably Kevin Millar.
8:26: Joe Morgan says it’s not
a must-win game for the Yankees. He later qualifies it by saying that
they will be eliminated from the playoffs this year. I still disagree.
You don’t eliminate yourself, and you definitely don’t close out your
home ballpark by handing a playoff berth to your most hated rival.
break means we can discuss more eliminations and stuff. Okay, actually,
we don’t have any more for tomorrow. We have the Phillies clinching a
playoff berth with two wins and a Milwaukee loss…we probably have
others. The game is coming back. 8:30 PM already, and still no pitches
besides the ceremonial one.
8:31: They’re scrolling Yankee
Stadium history across the bottom of the screen. Gag. Now we’re on
all-time Yankee Stadium leaders. Mickey Mantle leads in Games Played
and Home Runs; Jeter leads in Hits, Gehrig in RBI. Now we’re in
“Events”, such as notable boxing matches and concerts. Concerts! I wonder why I’m doing this.
Finally, Pettitte takes the mound, to the tune of “Boys of Summer”.
Miller tells us about “the roll call”, that despicable part of the game
when everyone chants the players’ names until they respond, then
wonders if that tradition will move with them to the new stadium.
Morgan, thankfully, tells him that because of the fans’ fervor, a lot
of things will be moving over.
8:37: Oh, no, they’ve got one
camera on those fans and another on whatever player’s name they’re
calling out. Abreu has to ignore them momentarily to catch a fly ball
from Brian Roberts, then Nick Markakis singles to center on the first
8:39: Morgan talks about the roar of the crowd, something
I can appreciate, having once identified a classic game on the radio as
being at Yankee Stadium just from the crowd noise. Mora flies out to
Nady, and Huff grounds out to Jeter.
8:41: Was there a commercial there, or just more Yankee Stadium reminiscing? Chris Waters is pitching for Baltimore.
The recorded Bob Sheppard introduction of Derek Jeter. Was too busy
looking up Waters’s numbers to see how Damon got out. Waters debuted
with 8 innings of one-hit, shutout ball, and in his most recent start,
had a complete game shutout.
8:44: Apparently Jeter got an award for breaking Gehrig’s record. Tonight, though, he’s out on strikes.
Morgan reminds us that Jeter’s playing hurt tonight. My hands can’t
move quickly enough for this…how does Simmons do this? Another
backwards K, and it’s 1-2-3. You don’t think…Nah, there’s no way that
would happen, right? 😉
8:49: Miller tells us the Orioles have a
potent offense. They also tell us that Pettitte is on a personal 5-game
losing streak. Sounds good to me.
8:50: Hernandez is down on
strikes. For the second time tonight, we’re told that Ruth said he’d
give a year of his life to hit a homer in the first game at Yankee
Stadium, and that he did. Oh, and that was career strikeout #2,000 for
8:51: Adam Jones triples off the top of the wall
in right. Millar comes up with a chance to drive in the first run in
the last game at Yankee Stadium.
8:52: Pettitte’s considering retirement, apparently. Allegedly. You know how long southerners’ retirements last, though.
8:53: Full count.
It’s a walk. Jay Payton comes up and drives in the run with a
broken-bat grounder to short, too slow to turn the double play.
8:56: Juan Castro flies out to Damon.
Okay, so maybe giving a play-by-play is too much. Best to focus on the important stuff, and on Miller’s inane comments.
bizarre. In spite of their OT loss to NC State, East Carolina is still
ranked. Oregon was knocked out by Boise State, and with OK State idle,
they were unable to capitalize on the other losers…so Vandy and TCU
are in. To review: there are only 19 teams from BCS conferences in the
AP Top 25. And one of them is Vanderbilt. And one of those non-BCS
teams is all the way up at number 11.
9:04: A-Rod reached on a walk and is at second with two outs. So, yeah, it’s still possible.
9:04: Whoa! Brian Roberts gets a Web Gem for a diving catch. 2 innings done.
Yogi and Whitey are in the booth. Miller calls Ford the greatest
pitcher in Yankee history, then asks Yogi to confirm. Yogi, jokester
that he is, says, “He’s okay.” One on, didn’t see how. Roberts then
steals second. Ford gives a story about warming up in the late innings
of Larsen’s perfect game because “Don gets tired in the late innings.”
Still scrolling facts.
9:14: Showing highlights of Jackie
Robinson stealing home in the World Series off of the Ford-Berra
battery, a call they didn’t agree with. Mora drives in Roberts. Ford
relates a story of Phil Rizzuto saying that he could see from shortstop
that Robinson was safe, but years later, they found out that Scooter
wasn’t even playing that game.
9:19: Finally, inning over.
9:23: Matsui gets the first hit for the Yanks, a single. Now showing, the final pitch of Larsen’s perfect game.
9:26: Three-run homer, Johnny Damon. ****.
9:27: Jeter hits one to almost the same spot, but not far enough; running catch, Markakis.
9:33: Has there been a game going on here? Two walks have given them first and second with two outs.
Fly ball to left, ends the inning. Whitey told the story of when he
gave up four hits on his first four pitches and Casey Stengel came out
and asked Yogi if Whitey had anything and Yogi responded, “I don’t
know, I haven’t caught anything.”
9:37: There really was only one commercial there, then a return with “New York, New York” playing. I think it was the Sinatra version, but it didn’t really sound like either of the main versions.
9:42: One-out double for Millar.
Now talking about 1976, Chris Chambliss’s home run, the Big Red Machine
and Reggie Jackson as a guest star on the telecasts, saying that the
Yankees needed “a big hitter”–and they would acquire Jackson that
offseason. Tie ball game on a two-out RBI single by Roberts. Inning now
9:54: Two-run homer, Jose Molina. Argh.
Brief mention of John Sterling. Yes, I’ve more or less lost interest.
Sterling and Michael Kay were apparently the emcees of the pregame
ceremonies. The official closing of the Stadium is in November. Isn’t
that a bit early for an outdoor hockey game?
10:16: Peter Gammons with David Wells and David Cone, talking to them about their perfect games.
Pettitte leaves with one on and none out in the sixth. This means he’s
eligible for the win, and not eligible for the loss.
10:20: Jose Veras on to pitch.
Sounds like a “Boston Sucks” chant. Also, celebrities in the stands. We
have Val Kilmer, we have Bobby Knight…do we have others?
10:26: Pinch-hitter? Oscar Salazar comes out to pinch-hit for Juan Castro.
Now showing: Reggie’s heroics in the ’77 World Series. Oh, he’s in the
booth. You can tell that I’ve lost interest in this game, can’t you?
Seventh inning stretch. Ronan Tynan’s there, of course. Also, a couple
more pitching changes. Phil Coke replaced Veras with two out in the
sixth, Lance Cormier replaced Waters with two outs in the bottom of the
sixth, and Joba–the one and only–replaced Coke with one out in the
top of the seventh. When did Joba return and why is he a reliever
again? I take it he’ll also take care of the entire eighth, then hand
it off to Mariano. It’s the only right way.
11:01: Back again.
While we’re thinking of closers (we knew that regardless of score, Mo
would be pitching the ninth), K-Rod had save number 60 yesterday
Michael Kay is taking over in the broadcast booth. ESPN normally shuts
out local coverage, so it’s really nice that they’re handing the mic
over to the YES play-by-play man.
11:06: Abreu singles and steals second. A-Rod’s up, 0-for-1 with two walks tonight.
11:07: Abreu to third on the fly out.
11:09: Pitching change. Cormier replaced by Jamie Walker.
Pop-up, bad communication, no one catches it, Abreu scores. Dropped by
Brandon Fahey. Wait, when did he enter the game? Brent Gardner
pinch-running for Giambi, Rocky Cherry replacing Walker.
11:14: Oh, right, Castro left the game. Fahey pinch-ran for Salazar and took Castro’s place at shortstop. We’re back.
11:17: GET FAHEY OUT OF THERE!!! He boots the ball, and Gardner, running on the play, makes it to third.
11:19: Sac fly Canó, Nady to second. Gonna take quite the comeback for the O’s to pull this off…
11:20: Pudge pinch-hits for Matsui and grounds out.
Defensive changes: Gardner stays in at center, Damon to left, Cody
Ransom comes in to play first base, batting in Nady’s spot.
11:25: Two outs already. Damn, that’s quick.
First-pitch flyout for Jose Molina, the first time he’s been out this
game. He’s been declared the Chevrolet Player of the Game, though I’m
hoping that will change.
11:31: Fahey finally catches one, but
collides with Alex Cintrón in the process. Someone rescue this poor
idiot. Cintrón then throws out Jeter for out three. We’re not even
cutting to commercial, instead focusing on the bullpen. Mo throws a
couple more pitches before entering.
11:34: Wow, that was a long
montage of calls. Every no-hitter and perfect game, a few major home
runs…”Enter Sandman”. Payton, Fahey and Roberts due up, but Luke
Scott is in the on-deck circle. So Fahey is given a little mercy, after
11:36: Count is 1-1. Yes, we’ll be going play-by-play for the ninth.
Another foul; 1-2. Miller points out that it’s not a save situation,
“not that anybody cares on this night.” Payton grounds out to Jeter.
11:38: Yep, Scott will pinch-hit. Good. Very good.
11:39: Two down. Oh, now this
is cheesy. What do you think this is, an All-Star Game? Jeter leaves
the game, then comes out for a curtain call at the crowd’s request.
Bullsh*t move by Girardi. I hope that the final out, whenever it comes,
goes to shortstop, just to rub it in Girardi’s face.
11:41: Nope; grounder to first ends it. No clinch for the Sox.
11:45: They’ve finished up playing Frankie’s version of “New York, New York”…and started it again.
11:47: Jeter’s got a mic in his hand. Let’s see what he’s got to say.
too much to write verbatim. It’s very nice, though, and he did a great
job at quieting down the crowd–although you can still kind of hear the
crowd roar. Big cheers when he calls them “the greatest fans in the
world”. It ends with the organization saluting the fans. Cool, I guess.
Is that even the Stadium PA playing the song this time? Yeah, I think
it is. Of course, it sounds like it’s out of sync with itself. Bad
camera wiring? Is it something recursive, it’s recording itself? Or are
different speakers just playing it at different times?
11:52: Okay, how many times are they going to play that damn song?
12:01 AM: A retrospective of the night.
The Yogi Berra commercial…no, wait, it’s different this time. Yogi’s
had a commercial for this final game, but this one is different. Even more
poignant. Oh man…I may be trembling again. Okay, so it’s just an
extended version, here’s the ending I remember. Finally, the full
12:04: SportsCenter begins. This is Passed Ball, signing off.
12:05: Spoke too soon. They’re playing it again!!!
“I was upset they threw him out of the game because he’s really good hittin’. He’s a cute little fella. He doesn’t throw that hard and doesn’t have very good stuff. It’s probably a good thing they threw him out, because it probably would have been (hit to) Monument Park. I love facing him. He doesn’t have many out pitches. He should be fortunate he is in the big leagues”–The always-quotable Kevin Millar on Edwar Ramirez after yesterday’s game, a 13-3 Yankee win. I was spot on about Millar yesterday–he really does do his best work against the Yankees, with six of his sixteen homers this year coming against them. The Yankees remained busy, trading Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit for Pudge Rodriguez and also dealing LaTroy Hawkins to Houston for a minor leaguer. The addition of Pudge brings them one step closer to having a full set of wild-card era rings on one team. Of the thirteen seasons since the wild card era began, the Yanks now have members of eight championship teams–’96 (Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte), ’98, ’99, ’00 (the three from ’96 plus Posada), ’02 (Jose Molina), ’03 (Pudge), ’04 (Damon), and ’05 (Marte). Okay, sure, they sort of already had ’03 with Pavano…I’ll admit it, I got confused at first as to which Marlins team Pudge had been on, thought he’d been on the ’97 one. Still, I doubt there’s any other team with championship rings from as many different years. Wait…actually, the Red Sox come close. In addition to the numerous members of the ’04 and ’07 championship teams still with the team, they have rings from 1992 (Timlin), ’93 (also Timlin), ’01 (Schilling), ’03 (Beckett and Lowell)…no, that’s still one short. Blame it on those Yankee teams, whose few remaining active players are mostly still Yankees. Anyway, while Manny hasn’t been traded yet, Ken Griffey Jr. is headed for Chicago, off to join the division-leading White Sox. And suddenly, they don’t look so out of place in the big dance.
Also, echoing a sentiment expressed by Baseball This Morning host Mark Patrick, Manny held up a sign yesterday that read “I’m going to Green Bay for Brett Favre straight-up”. Think Manny’s an XM listener?
The blowouts detailed in the entry for yesterday continued in yesterday’s games. The Yankees revenged Tuesday’s loss with a 10-0 victory over the Pirates, Joba Chamberlain picking up his first win as a starter, while Tampa Bay scored 10 runs in a single inning, which I can only explain by copying over ESPN.com’s play-by-play. What exactly is a “fielder’s choice to center”, anyway, and how does an error by the shortstop end up being described as “to center” when the pitcher was batting? (Was that where the ball ended up after the shortstop’s throw?)
|Tampa Bay – Top of 5th||SCORE|
|Ryan Tucker pitching for Florida||TAM||FLA|
|C Crawford homered to right.||5||0|
|B Upton walked.||5||0|
|E Hinske doubled to deep right, B Upton scored.||6||0|
|E De La Cruz relieved R Tucker.||6||0|
|E Longoria homered to left, E Hinske scored.||8||0|
|D Navarro walked.||8||0|
|G Gross walked, D Navarro to second.||8||0|
|B Zobrist singled to right, D Navarro to third, G Gross to second.||8||0|
|J Shields grounded into fielder’s choice to center, D Navarro and G Gross scored on error by shortstop H Ramirez, B Zobrist safe at third on error by shortstop H Ramirez.||10||0|
|A Iwamura doubled to deep left, B Zobrist scored, J Shields to third.||11||0|
|L Kensing relieved E De La Cruz.||11||0|
|C Crawford grounded out to second, J Shields scored, A Iwamura to third.||12||0|
|B Upton singled to left center, A Iwamura scored.||13||0|
|E Hinske fouled out to third.||13||0|
|B Upton to second on wild pitch by L Kensing.||13||0|
|E Longoria singled to shallow right center, B Upton scored.||14||0|
|D Navarro struck out swinging.||14||0|
The Rays committed four errors in the game, but only one was in an inning in which they allowed a run, and they won by a score of 15-3. As mentioned before, today’s Rays-Marlins game saw the visitors attempting to pick up their first franchise no-hitter, and they came darn close, a one-out walk in the fourth (erased on a double play) and a leadoff homer in the seventh the only two blemishes on an otherwise perfect game for Matt Garza; 6-1 the final. Three of Wednesday’s games were considerably more exciting down the stretch, however. The Nationals took a 4-2 lead in the sixth, only to see the Angels tie it up in the eighth, then won 5-4 in a walkoff in nine. Cincy and Toronto were tied after nine, the visiting Reds winning 6-5 in the tenth. And in Detroit, the visiting Cardinals quickly got off to a 2-0 lead, then re-took the lead with a run in the top of the third after Detroit scored twice in the second. Another run in the fourth would extend the lead to 4-2, and they scored again in the top of the fifth to tie it after the Tigers scored three in the bottom of the fourth. The Cards took a 6-5 lead in the seventh, only to see the Tigers tie that same inning, then went on top 7-6 in the eighth, again seeing it disappear in the bottom of the frame. The Tigers won 8-7 in a ninth-inning walkoff. The excitement would only continue in this afternoon’s game, where no team led for more than half an inning at a time. The Tigers started the scoring with a run in the bottom of the sixth, only to see the Cards respond in the top of the seventh. The Cards then took a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth, and the Tigers answered to send it into extras, where they would have a walk-off of the most literal sense in the tenth, Clete Thomas drawing the bases-loaded walk after Carlos Guillen had been intentionally walked with one out and Curtis Granderson on second and Miguel Cabrera had been intentionally walked with two outs and Granderson now at third on a fly out. Intentional walks with two outs can come back to haunt you–just ask the Chicago Cubs, who intentionally walked Nick Markakis with two outs in the third inning of a scoreless game this afternoon to load the bases for Kevin Millar. Millar drew a walk to drive in the first run (on a full-count pitch that looked to me to be right down the pipe), Aubrey Huff followed up with a two-run double, and Jay Payton followed that with a two-run single that would be all the offense the Orioles would need; they scored six more times in later innings to win 11-4.