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Designed to Break Your Heart: Baseball Season Ends

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late commissioner of baseball and literary giant A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote:

It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” (A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977)

Last night when the Kansas City Royals came back to defeat the New York Mets in extra innings, the won their first World Series in thirty years and ended the 2015 baseball season and with it a lot of hearts broke, as they do every year at this time. It is not just that somewhere along the way our favorite team loses, but it is the how for many people, like me, that baseball is more than a game, but has an incredible spiritual component.

This year none of my teams made the playoffs, except for our local Triple-A International League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, the Norfolk Tides. That being said the post-season was interesting and had a lot of great stories within the story of the post-season playoff series and the World Series. The Royals picked up where they did last year after they lost a heartbreaker to the San Francisco Giants and continued to win even when it looked like the opposition, whether it was the Astros, Blue Jays or the Mets was poised to win. I am not a Royals fan but as a lover of baseball I have to say that they are an amazing team.

However, the season is now over, and for me winter is now officially here, and yesterday was dreary with a lot of rain. The official beginning of winter for me starts with the end of the Fall Classic.

With the end of the season one of my places of solace from the cares of the world. Really, when I came home from Iraq, baseball was one of the few things that helped to calm my soul from the demons of PTSD, TBI, major depression, anxiety, and often-suicidal thoughts. I can agree with Sharon Olds who wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

In a world where so many things are unsettling baseball is reassuring. In the run-up to the 2016 general election where the politicians, pundits, and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” use every means available to raise the levels of fear and anxiety of people, it is even more so. In such a world baseball is a safe-harbor for me, as Mark Kramer wrote, “Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.”

Now I wait for Spring Training 2016 begins and the pitchers and catchers, including a number of friends start reporting, and with that my spring will begin.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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GIANTS WIN SERIES! The Amazing Madison Bumgarner

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Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey Raise Their Arms in Victory

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver once said “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” 

The San Francisco Giants didn’t get many home runs this season, but timely hitting, amazing defense and the pitching of a young man named Madison Bumgarner who did something that no pitcher has done since the dead ball era.

Bumgarner won two games in the this World Series, giving him four career World Series wins, and he earned the save tonight in game seven, pitching five innings of shutout ball. He had a World Series Record 0.43 Earned Run Average over 21 innings pitched in the series. He allowed just one run in his three games, of which he had a win in game one going seven innings, a complete game shutout in game five and coming back on short rest to pitch five innings of scoreless relief in game seven. In an era where pitch counts have ruled, Bumgarner defied the odds. During the regular season  he pitched 219 innings. He then pitched 48 and 2/3rds innings in the playoffs, he won two games in the NLCS against the Cardinals and had a complete game shutout of the Pirates in the Wild Card. His only blemish was a loss to the Nationals in game four of the NLDS. It was one of the most amazing post-season performances, not to mention World Series performances in baseball history.

I grew up with the Giants and I love their orange and black American League counterpart Baltimore Orioles as well. I have loved both teams since I was a child. I was hoping for a total orange and black World Series, but the Kansas City Royals put that wish to rest by sweeping the Orioles in the ALCS.

This World Series has been weird for me. I expected the Giants to win but I also expected the normal amount of “torture ball” from the Giants, who over the past five years have found ways to keep their fans on chewing their fingernails, drinking too much beer and resorting to whatever superstition gets them through. For me it is making sure my trusty Papillon-Dachsund mix Molly, is there with me. When she could still see, she went blind in early 2013, she would sit on “her” bean bag and watch the game with me. Since I was traveling during this post season we didn’t have as much Molly-Daddy baseball time, but tonight during game seven she stayed on the couch with me the entire game. Molly is my good luck charm when watching the Giants torture all of us. But I digress…

I watched game one with friends at Gordon Biersch last Tuesday, saw game two at home before flying to Stockton California for my induction into the Edison High School Hall of Fame meaning that I got no sleep the night before the flight. I watched game three with my brother, missed game four due to the induction ceremony, watch game five on my iPad on my flight home, saw most of game six at Biersch and tonight since we were all tired, stayed home to watch game seven.

Tonight was special. I have had a week of tremendous ups and downs and so my stomach was in a knot the whole game. I was sure that the Giants would win, but after the 10-0 defeat in game six I was a bit nervous, even though I actually felt better with the blowout than had they lost a close game. During the pre-game shows it seemed that many of the commentators were almost cheering for the Royals to win and constantly talking about how the last nine game seven’s have been won by the home team. I knew they were full of crap but nonetheless, it was annoying.

When Pablo Sandoval was in the dugout getting ready to step into the on deck circle in the top of the first, he turned to the camera and winked.

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http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/10/29/7129621/pablo-sandoval-is-not-feeling-the-world-series-game-7-pressure

At that point, any doubts faded, but that being said I was still nervous. I watched the game but also did a few things to take the edge off at times. I looked at other news stories on the internet, republished an article about Gettysburg, drank beer and snuggled next to Molly on the couch.

I think that the Giants are one of the most amazing “teams” in the game, and under manager Bruce Botchy they accomplish amazing things in the most unlikely of ways with a team of regular guys. A rotund third baseman called “the Panda,” a wild-eyed right fielder named Hunter Pence, a rookie second baseman named Panik, a solid bullpen, and apart from Bumgarner a starting pitching staff that struggled much of the season. It seems like every year the Giants find another unusual way to win, especially when they get to the post-season.

Tonight was no different. Their starting pitcher Tim Hudson, the oldest pitcher to ever start in a World Series game, didn’t get out of the second inning. So Bruce Botchy brought in Jeremy Affeldt, a lefty who normally pitches in late inning relief. Affeldt had never come into a major league game in the second inning during his career. The crafty left-hander shut down the Royals for 2.1 innings earning the win while Bumgarner, after initially being credited with the win, earned the save. Affeldt and Bumgarner proved Earl Weaver’s wise saying that “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Affeldt and Bumgarner dominated the Royals from that hill. 

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Joe Panik tossing the ball to Brandon Crawford with his glove to begin the 5th inning double play (AP Photo) 

They were backed up by just enough timely hitting and outstanding defense, especially after Bumgarner came into the game and Second Baseman Joe Panik made one of the most amazing double plays I have ever seen. Panik dove and robbed Eric Hosmer of a hit, tossing the ball with his glove to shortstop Brandon Crawford who threw out Hosmer who was diving head first into first base. Initially Hosmer was ruled safe, but the very first manager’s challenge replay reversal of an on field call in the World Series ended a potential threat.

As the game went on into the seventh inning I began to count down the outs with Molly at my side. When Alex Gordon singled and reached third base after a fielding error by Giant’s Center Fielder Gregor Blanco with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, yet another element of torture ball. I was standing, and when Salvador Perez popped up to Pablo Sandoval in foul territory to end the game I was jumping up and down and screaming for joy, thanking Molly for staying on the couch and not moving, ensuring that nothing that she or I did would jinx the Giants. Yes this is superstitious, maybe even idiotic, but it is the way I deal with the World Series when the Giants are playing in it. 

Congratulations to the Giants, and kudos to the Royals who surprised everyone with their playoff run this year. I expect them to be a force to be reckoned with in the American League for years to come, provided of course that free agency does not rob them of their tremendous late inning bullpen staff.

With that I need to attempt to get to sleep, if I can. For once though if I don’t sleep it won’t be because of anything bad, just the post-game excitement that won’t let me sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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And So it Ends: O’s Swept by Royals

Buck Showalter

It’s hard to win a pennant, but it’s harder losing one. ~Chuck Tanner

The amazing season of the Baltimore Orioles ended this evening in Kansas City as the equally amazing Kansas City Royals ended 29 years of post season frustration, sweeping the O’s with a 2-1 victory.

The Royals have won eight straight games since starting the post-season in the one game Wild Card playoff against the Oakland Athletics. Then they swept the mighty Los Angeles Angels who had the best record in the big leagues before sweeping the Orioles who had not been swept in a series this season since July.

All of the games were competitive going down to at least the 9th inning and the biggest margin of victory was just two runs. The Royals won with outstanding defense, timely hitting and good enough pitching. They certainly deserved to win and deserve to be congratulated for their achievement. No one picked them to go this far but they did and Ned Yost their manager deserves a lot of the credit.

The Orioles had a great season but in this series missed the injured All Stars Matt Weiters and Manny Machado and the suspended Chris Davis.

While the Orioles are out this year they have solid management under Buck Showalter and General manager Dan Duquette. I have no doubt that the Orioles will continue to build on their success this year.

As a fan I believed in the Orioles even when major league scouts told me that they didn’t think they would hold on to win the AL East.

I feel bad for my friends on the Orioles who I have known as they worked their way up through the minors. No one likes to lose but these young men are a classy and determined crew who are part of a first rate organization. I expect them to continue to do well in the future. I know that is no comfort now, but they will be back.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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How Sweep it Is: Orioles Advance to ALCS

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Well, this is cool. The Baltimore Orioles have swept the favored Detroit Tigers to advance to the American League Championship Series.

The Orioles will play either the Kansas City Royals or the Los Angeles a Angels, though right now it looks like the Royals, who are leading 5-1 in game three after winning the first two games in Anaheim could be on their way to sweeping the highly favored Angels in their division series.

Personally I would rather see the Angels come back and win it simply because the Orioles have pretty much owned the a Angels this year and have had some pretty tough series against the Royals. Regardless of the outcome of the Angels and Royals series, the Orioles are just four wins away from advancing to the World Series since 1983. Regardless of who they have to play I think that they have a great chance.

Congratulations to the Orioles and the young players that I have gotten to know in their minor league careers in Norfolk, Chris Tillman, Zack Britton and Kevin Gausman.

This is really pretty cool. I have believed in this team ever since Buck Showalter was hired as the manager and Dan Douquette as the General Manager. One only has to go through my website and look back at what I wrote back in 2011 and early 2012 about the Orioles to verify this.

My hope is that tomorrow the Giants will finish off the Nationals and that both the Orioles and Giants will advance to the World Series regardless of who they have to play in their respective League Championship Series later in the week.

Have a great night and may your Monday be better than most Mondays.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5766041

I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15759689&topic_id=20156278

I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5570299

But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978231&source=MLB

Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Hammerin’ Harmon: Harmon “Killer” Killebrew 1936-2011

Harmon Killebrew 1936-2011

Baseball lost one of its best today. Harmon “Killer” Killebrew, or Hammerin’ Harmon died of Esophageal Cancer at the age of 74.  He died today with his wife Nita, friends and family at his side. Jack Morris the 1991 World Series MVP said something that I can totally understand in regard to Harmon Killebrew:

“To remember the innocence of being a young kid who just looked up to a guy he didn’t know because of what he did as a baseball player, something that you hoped that maybe someday you could be like. But as a grown man, I look back at him now not as that guy, but as the guy who tried to show me that you don’t have to be angry. You don’t have to be mad. You can love and share love. We’re all going to miss him, and we’re all going to love him forever.”

Harmon was one of the classiest players who ever played the game. A genuine star he did not make a show of fame or demean an opponent.  He played with a singular passion for the game and was a consummate gentleman who engendered the respect from his teammates and opponents and love from those that knew him.  A true superstar he hit 573 home runs and stands at 11th on the all-time home run leader list and drove in 1584 runs.   He was a 13 time All Star and the American League MVP in 1969.  In 1970 he led the American League with 41 home runs and hit over 40 home runs 8 times during his career. He began his career with the Washington Senators in 1954 and went with the franchise when it moved to Minnesota in 1961.  He finished his career with the Kansas City Royals in 1975.  In 1969 he hit 49 home runs and drove in 140 runs, a career best.  Since his records were set in the non-steroid era at a time when ballparks were larger than when many of the current home run leaders played they are truly remarkable. He was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984  on his fourth year of eligibility with 81.3% of the vote.

He was a generous man who contributed much to his community and to cancer treatment and research. He made sure that he continued his association with the Twins until this season when after his diagnosis with Esophageal Cancer he spent his customary time with the team during Spring Training.  Due to his treatments he was unable to attend opening day.

I had the privilege of meeting him twice. The first time was on Sunday July 12th 1970 when I was 10 years old at Anaheim Stadium when the Twins were playing the Angels. It was photo day and though my parents took pictures of us with many of the players including Harmon who I remember teasing me about my Angels’ cap.  He hit a two run home run in the first inning off Angels’ starter Tom Murphy.  It was amazing thing to see for a ten year old.  That picture must have been lost years ago as I found only a few from that day when I was searching my parents’ collection of photos after my father died last year.

One of his nicknames was “killer” but that was in relation to his hitting and how he played the game. In life he was a kind, generous, soft spoken and gentle man who exemplified all that is good. He was a mentor to young people and players and many players who played with or on teams where he coached credit him with lessons in life as well as baseball. He was engaged in many charitable beginning in 1977 when he established the Danny Thompson Memorial Gold Tournament which has raised over 8.6 million dollars in the fight against Leukemia and Cancer and is named after a teammate from the Twins who died of Leukemia in 1976 at the age of 29.  In 1991 he established the Harmon Killebrew Foundation.

I met Harmon again in the summer of 2003 when I was stationed aboard the USS Hue City at Mayport Florida.  He was on a USO tour co-sponsored by AT&T called the Heroes to Heroes Tour. He was travelling with fellow Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen, Paul Blair and Jimmy Winn. There were two visits that day in Mayport, one at the Naval Station Galley at breakfast and one at the Navy Exchange. The breakfast meeting was not well publicized and due to traffic congestion the players arrived late. However, I was one of just a few sailors who where there when they arrived. We spent an hour together the players outnumbered the sailors. I remember Harmon as one of the nicest athletes that I had ever met. I told him about meeting him in 1970 and he remembered the day but not the 10 year old, but then there were hundreds of us out there that day.

He was one player that I always admired. Legend has it that his image was used as the Major League Baseball logo, although that his contested by the artist. Personally I think that he had to be the model for the logo as the image is so true to Killebrew that I cannot believe that it is anyone other than him. But then I can believe what I want, if he wasn’t and it was a composite as the author claims his image had to be part of it.

George Brett the All Star of the Kansas City Royals said something that I hope will be said of me when it is my time to pass from this world into the next:

“He was just a fierce competitor and a perfect gentleman at the same time. You don’t see that a lot. Sometimes you get fierce competitors who are bad people. You see guys that are not fierce competitors but nice guys. You don’t see the two of them together very much.”

Harmon Killebrew was an amazing man who I am honored to have met and seen play on television and in person. I have his autograph on a card with the other 5 players that I met in Mayport that morning in 2003 as well as the Stockton Ports hat that I was wearing that day.  Though I only met him those tow times I feel like I have lost a friend. The things that he signed and my memories of him are what I have left of one of baseball and humanity’s greats. Harmon you will be missed. May you rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Tides Lose to Tribe 10-6 and 7-4; Orioles win 3-1

Nolan Reimold is hitting .383 and has 2 home runs and 9 RBIs in the last 10 games

The Norfolk Tides were downed by the Indianapolis Indians on Tuesday by a score of 10-6 and Wednesday afternoon 7-4.  As was the case in Louisville it was in large part due to pitching though unlike the Louisville series only one of the two games could be held against the starting pitcher. In an unfortunate turn of events for the Tides Chris George was forced from the game after retiring the first two batters in the first inning with an injured elbow. He has not yet been placed on the DL and there is nothing currently on the Tides or Orioles website as to his status and the severity of the injury. In most of his starts this year Chris has been solid and if he is injured it will place even more stress on a struggling Tides starting rotation which could affect the bullpen. The bullpen with the exception of Tuesday’s game against the Indians has been very effective allowing the Tides to stay in games that earlier in the year would have been blowouts.

Tim Bascom and other Starters have been hammered over the past few weeks

With Jake Arietta, Alfredo Simon and Armando Gabino now at Baltimore the Tides are without their three most effective starters.  Chris Tillman has been affected and he has not been as effective as he was earlier in the year I believe by the constant actions of Orioles management to keep sending Chris up and down between Baltimore and Norfolk.  He has had some outstanding games including a no-hitter against the Gwinnett Braves. Troy Patton has improved throughout the year and is now one of the Tides most dependable starters, unfortunately for the Tides he has missed several recent starts due to being called up to Baltimore where he saw no action.  Brandon Erbe had a number of rough outings and during his good starts did not have run support from the offense or saw the defense commit errors that resulted in runs.   Tim Bascom called up from Bowie in May has struggled his last win occurred on June 27th and was tagged for 7 earned runs in today’s game.  Zach Britton who was called up on July 1st has been effective despite a record of 1 win and 2 losses.  His worst outing occurred in Louisville where he gave up 5 earned runs in 3.2 innings. Chris George as I mentioned earlier has had a decent but not remarkable season but now the verdict is out concerning the severity of the injury to his elbow that he appeared to sustain Tuesday night.

The Tides and Orioles need to find a solution to the difficulty that the current starters are having in the early innings.  Again with few exceptions the bullpen has been solid since the All-Star break but the starting pitching needs to improve.  The Tides are now scoring enough runs on a regular basis that they should be winning more games than they are losing. They are losing in the early innings when starters have given up too many runs to opponents. Examples include July 16th when Bascom gave up 6 runs in 1.2 innings, July 24th when Tillman gave up 6 runs in 3.2 innings, the 29th when Tillman gave up 5 runs in 4.1 innings, August 5th when George gave up 6 runs in 3.2 innings, August 6th when Bascom gave up 7 runs in 3.2 innings, the 8th when Britton gave up 5 runs in 3.2 innings and today when Bascom gave up 7 runs in 6 innings.  All things considered getting down by that many runs that often makes it very difficult on the offense.  It is true that there have been many occasions when the offense failed to produce when starters pitched well but the trend lately is to get behind early and despite solid performances from the offense to score plenty of runs and get plenty of hits and nearly come back to win.

Tides hitters are showing signs of life, in the past 10 days Nolan Reimold has hit .389 with 2 home runs and 9 RBIs, Robert Andino .350 with 5 RBIs, Scott Moore .324 with 2 homers and 6 RBIs, Matt Angle .385 and 5 RBIs.  A couple of players hot earlier have cooled down or are slumping but even so in the past two weeks the Tides team batting average has gone up from .248 to .252 with corresponding increases in other offensive categories, a sign that overall the hitting is getting better.

On Tuesday night the Tides lost 10-6 and following the injury to Chris George saw the bullpen not be able to get the job done giving up 10 runs (7 earned) on 12 hits with 2 errors and walking 5 in 7.1 innings, a game ERA of 8.87.  Tides hitters had a good night of their own pounding our 6 runs on 12 hits including a home run by Scott Moore, an inside the park home run by catcher Adam Donachie and doubles by Michael Aubrey, Rhyne Hughes and Donachie who had 4 RBIs.  Cla Meredith (1-2 7.65 ERA) got the loss for the Tides and Joe Martinez (1-0 4.00 ERA) the win for the Tribe.

Today it was Tom Bascom who was stung giving up 7 runs, )4 in the 4th inning) in 6 innings work relievers Kam Mickolio, making his first appearance since coming off the DL and Denis Sarfate each pitched well, Mickolio allowing a hit but no runs and Sarfate putting the Tribe down in order with 2 strikeouts.  Nolan Reimold had two hits one a double with 2 RBIs, Robert Andino had a RBI producing sacrifice fly, Michael Aubrey had a RBI double and Brandon Snyder a double.

The Tides and Indians finish the series Friday night with Rick Vanden Hurk (1-1 2.84 ERA) on the hill for the Tides and Brad Lincoln (6-3 4.17 ERA) up for the Indians.

The Orioles played their second game of a 3 game series against Cleveland and defeated the Indians 3-1 on the strength of a 2 hit complete game shutout by Brad Bergeson.  The Orioles are now 8-1 under Buck Showalter and are now 40-74 for the first time during the season not having the worst record in the majors, which is now held by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They are close to overtaking the Mariners and within striking distance of the Indians, Royals, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Nationals.  Showalter is a leader a precise man that uses statistics, views of others in the organization and his own observations to evaluate players including their competitive spirit.

Anyway, it is late; I am tired and have an early morning.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Tides Blown Out of Buffalo 11-4: Northern Road Trip Ends with Tides Losing Six of Eight Games….Is there any Hitting in the House?

Frustrated Hitters like Joey Gathright have not had a Good Season so far in 2010

The Tides first northern expedition of the year ended badly in Buffalo on Monday night. On a cool, cloudy and breezy Buffalo night the Tides fell to the Bisons by a score of 11-4.  The game was actually relatively close and could have gone to extra innings but for the 7 runs allowed by the Tides in the 7th and 8th innings.  Tides Starter Troy Patton (2-5 5.53)  gave up 4 runs, three earned on 8 hits in 5.2 innings work.    Jim Miller came into the game to relieve Patton in the bottom of the 6th with 2 outs and retired the first batter that he faced.  Miller gave up a solo home run to Jason Pridie in the bottom of the 7th before retiring the rest of the order.  However the 8th inning was the inning of doom for the Tides as the Bisons’ bats lit up Miller and Pedro Viola for 6 runs on 4 hits which included home runs by Russ Adams and Mike Jacobs and a double by Jesus Feliciano each of which scored two runs.  The Tides tried to rally in the top of the 9th but the rally fell very short with the Tides scoring 2 runs on a series of singles by Josh Bell, Michael Aubrey, Brandon Snyder, Robert Andino and Adam Donachie.  The Tides had scored two runs early in the game when Michael Aubrey hit a two run home run in the top of the 2nd inning.

Rhyne Hughes leads the Tides in batting averaage

The road trip was difficult for the Tides especially in the hitting department. The Tides scored just 21 runs on 57 hits and only 2 home runs.  They were shut out twice with one of those a complete game for the opposing pitcher.  They now sit at the bottom of the International League in the team batting average with a .234 team average and an On Base Percentage of just .299 also the lowest in the league.  They rank third from the bottom in run production with a total of 157 runs in 39 games with a Slugging Percentage of .366 the second lowest in the league.   In some ways the Tides hitting mirrors that of their parent club the Baltimore Orioles.  Who have a .251 average a .310 OBP and scored just 133 runs next to last in the American League with a fourth from the bottom Slugging Percentage of .384.    It is obvious that the Orioles and the Tides need to improve markedly in hitting and run production if they ever want to be competitive.

Former Tides Pitcher Alfredo Simon got the win in Relief in Baltimore while Corey Patterson (below) had a game tying home run in the bottom of the 8th

In the pitching department the Tides are part of the middle of the pack in the International League with an ERA of 4.27.  In a number of pitching categories the Tides are competitive however they have given up 142 walks the most in the League other than Pawtucket and are in the top third of the league in terms of home runs, runs and earned runs.  With the exception of the final game of the series in Buffalo the pitchers kept the Tides in the games despite giving up the long ball in inopportune moments.

While the Tides pitching could improve the pitchers are on the whole improving but the hitters are struggling and players that hit for good averages last year are not getting it done this year. In 2009 Joey Gathright hit .325, Justin Turner .300, Michael Aubrey .290, Scott Moore .254 and Brandon Snyder .248.   By comparison Gathright is hitting .184, Turner .250, Aubrey .266, Moore .256 and Snyder .202.  The team batting average in 2009 was .272 and currently in 2010 .234.  On base percentage 2009 was .330 and this year .299, slugging percentage in 2009 .389 and 2010 just .366.  The Tides have to figure out a way to hit this year otherwise even the improving pitching staff will continue to lose games that on other teams that they would win.   Certainly the talent is there and the hitters are capable of better.  Could it be the change in the hitting coach that occurred with Richie Hebner replacing Dallas Williams who had held the job for four years?  If it is not Hebner certainly there has to be an explanation for this slump.  At the beginning of the season I was not concerned but coming up on a third of the way into the season I am becoming concerned about despite a number of games where the Tides appeared to have broken out of this collective slump but then lapsed back into it.

The Tides played tonight against the Pawtucket Red Sox and lost by a score of 6-0, more on this game tomorrow.

Meanwhile in Baltimore the Orioles defeated teh Royals by a score of 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning. Luke Scott hit 2 home runs off of last year’s Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.  Former Tides outfielder Corey Patterson hit a home run in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the game and give the O’s another chance to win.  Former Tides starter and now Orioles closer Alfredo Simon got the win.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Crossing the Mendoza Line: It’s not All about the Lifetime Batting Average

Hammock Grand SlamRobby Hammock Crossing the Plate after his Grand Slam in the Bottom of the 6th against Charlotte

When I was playing baseball I hit somewhere around the Mendoza line.  I was never much of a hitter but I made up for my lack of hitting by being pretty solid defensively, a pretty versatile utility player and hustling on every play.  Likewise I would be the guy encouraging other players.   On two different teams in two different sports I was named the “Most Inspirational Player” by my teammates.  Being the most inspirational player does not mean that you are a particularly good ballplayer but rather that you add something else to the team dynamic.  In fact you may not be admired for how well you play, but rather how hard you try and how you get along with your team mates.  I was talking to my dad who is now in a nursing home with end stage Alzheimer’s disease on my last visit.  In a rare moment I had him back talking baseball I thanked him for how he helped me learn to love the game, pitch and field, especially fielding.  I said to him, the only thing that you didn’t do was teach me to hit.  He looked up at me and said “Son, there are a lot of people who can’t hit, it’s a gift.”  So I guess I was doomed to be a Mendoza Line player.

Mario Mendoza played for the Pirates and Mariners.  To be kind he was an amazing defensive shortstop but he as my dad would have said” Couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag.”  His career average was .215 although he often flitted and flirted with the .180 – .200 level. He never played in an All Star game or World Series.  He never hit more than two home runs in a season, in fact one was an inside the park job playing for the Mariners and he hit below .200 in five of his nine major league seasons.   However, despite that Mario Mendoza lives on in baseball, his name forever associated with a low batting average.  In modern baseball parlance the Mendoza line is considered a batting average of .200.  Credit for who coined the term goes depending on your source to either George Brett, the All-Star Third Baseman of the Kansas City Royals or fellow Seattle Mariners Tom Paciorek or Bruce Bochte from whom Brett may have heard the term.  Either way the term stuck after ESPN commentator Chris Berman who used the term in 1988 to describe the hitting struggles of a star power hitter.  Once Berman made the comment it became a pretty standard way of denoting guys who struggle at the plate.  Mexican sportscaster Oscar Soria corroborates the Paciorek and Bochte version referencing a conversation with Mario Mendoza while Mendoza was managing the Obregon Yaquis in the Mexican Pacific League who stated that Mendoza said “that Tom Paciorek was the first to mention the phrase “Mendoza Line” when he read the Sunday paper” and that “then George Brett heard about that.”  Soria then discussed how Mendoza was initially angered by Berman’s use of the term but now “he enjoys the fame of the phrase Mendoza line.”  For a really good discussion of the Mendoza Line see the article in the Baseball Almanac at: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/books/mendozas_heroes_book.shtml, from which the information above is gleaned.

Now my buddy Elliott the Usher and I have frequent discussions about the game discussing pitching, hitting, fielding, base running, prospects, scouting and strategy.  Elloitt is one of those gems of Baseball knowledge, his love and knowledge of the game shows in the way he deals with people including Major League Scouts, players from the Tides and visiting team who are charting the game and others.  I really think that he should be hired as a commentator or color man on some baseball broadcast.  This season we have enjoyed a lot of laughs as well as had a lot great talks amid the joys and sorrows of the season.  One of our frequent subjects of discussion is players on our team as well as the visiting teams who are hitting near or below the Mendoza Line.  We have a few on the Tides who are hovering at or below the Mendoza line.  A couple of these players are former Major Leaguers and a couple career minor league guys.  Last night I decided to venture out for the first time in two days since I was now getting a case of “cabin fever” and my cocktail of Vicodin, Motrin and Amoxicillin seemed to have my pain and swelling a bit more under control.  Judy said my cheek still looks “like a squirrel’s” but at least I wasn’t in too bad of pain, though when I got up in the morning and until 2 or 3 PM I was still pretty sore and tired.  At least for the majority of the game the pain was manageable and of course as soon as I got home I dumped a butt load of meds down me and went to sleep.

Last night the Tides swept a double header from the Charlotte Knights who are the AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  Since the game was rain delayed after a series of severe storms raked the area in the two hours prior to the first pitch it was not well attended.  Because of this I was able to flit between my buddies Barry down in section 102 and Elliott.   It was good to be able in a fairly relaxed atmosphere to talk about the game.  The Tides had lost the last game prior to the All Star Break in Durham and then the first game back from the break.  In those two games their hitting died and they were outscored 16-3.  Last night Chris Tillman was throwing an outstanding game having given up just one run in the first inning.  It wasn’t until the 6th inning until the Tides scored their first run with one out when Michael Aubry doubled to score Justin Turner to tie the game 1-1.  The Tides then loaded the bases and Brandon Pinkney struck out for the second out.  At this point with the bases loaded, Elliott and I gave a mutual groan.  One of our “below the Mendoza Line” batters, catcher Robby Hammock was coming to the plate.  Robby is a good defensive catcher and while playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks caught Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2003.  However this year has seen Robby really struggle at the plate.  The count went to two and from the way Robby had been swinging the bat tonight Elliott turned to me and said “I can’t look.”  Robby then fouled off the next pitch.  I said “Elliott he’s dragging this out.” Then I yelled “Hey Mendoza! Get a hit!”   At this point Robby who is currently hitting .190 stood back into the batter’s box.  The pitch from Knight’s reliever John Link was a slider that didn’t cut and Robby planted it in the picnic area in Left Center for a Grand Slam home run.  Elliott and I rejoiced, Robby had maybe gotten the hit that would re-ignite the team for the second half of the season.  This blew the game open and the Tides went on to win 5-1.  Robby was quoted in the Virginia Pilot today about the hit “I closed my eyes and put my bat in the spot” and “I felt decent today, I just got lucky and that’s all there was to it.”  Tides fans are not complaining even if it was lucky, I’m happy for you Robby, you helped get us back on track enjoy the moment and keep hanging in there.

The hitting surge continued in the second game.  Jeff Fiorentino and Michael Aubrey, who are .300 hitters, Fiorentino about .325 right now and way above the Mendoza Line each had 2 hits and drove in two runs while our other way below the Mendoza Line players had a good night. Infielder Carlos Rojas was in at Third due to injuries that forced Manager Gary Allenson to reshuffle the line up.  Carlos is a pretty good defensive player with pretty good range.  However he was only hitting .156 going into the game but went 2-3 with two singles in what I think was his first multi-hit game of the season.  Catcher Chad Moeller who has struggled at the plate since coming down from Baltimore when Matt Wieters was called up also doubled and scored a run as the Tides took the second game 5-1 with Chris Waters getting the win.

All in all it was not a bad night for our guys living below the Mendoza line; hopefully they will all get themselves up above it.  As a member of the Mendoza Line club myself I hope that they all do well and that last night is a harbinger of things to come.  Today my mouth feels a bit better than yesterday though I woke up in some pain.  I plan on seeing tonight’s game with Judy as the Tides hopefully will extend their International League South Division lead over the Durham Bulls by defeating the Knights here again.

Coming back to the Mendoza Line itself the way that guys like Mendoza make their mark is by the intangibles that they bring to the game.  Some of the “Mendoza’s” went on in other ways to make a difference in the game through coaching, managing, scouting at the Major or Minor League level, as well as in sports media, announcing or writing.  Some would include guys like Tony LaRussa career .199 average in 10 seasons, Charlie Manuel .198 in 6 seasons, Bob Uecker career .200 in 6 Major League seasons, Sparky Anderson who hit .218 in one season in the Majors and once said “I led the league in “Go get ’em next time.” Tommy Lasorda was a pitcher and had a 0-4 record and 6.48 ERA in three major league seasons as well as Earl Weaver who never made it to the Majors.  All made lasting marks on the game and all were way below the Mendoza line.

The application to baseball players and non-ball players alike when you find yourself at the Mendoza Line is to make the most out of what you have.  Play to your strengths and know that if you do this you will make a mark, even if it is not at the plate.  I figure as a somewhat well trained and experienced theologian, historian, military officer and Priest that the Deity Herself understands bad days, and lackluster careers and still helps us get through life.  So anyway, as a Mendoza Line alumnus I say to all those hovering around the line, find a way to make your mark and do well, I’m cheering for you as are all the other Mendoza’s among the Saints in Heaven.

Peace, Steve+

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