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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

Mets v Orioles

I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Quiet Achievement: Jim Thome Hammers Two Home Runs to join Elite 600 Home Run Club

Jim Thome Hits Number 600 (AP Photo)

“Not only is he a great player, but he’s a great individual… I think he was a little apprehensive about passing me up. I said, ‘Jim, I passed a lot of guys up myself along the way. I hope you hit 100 more.'”  Harmon Killebrew on Jim Thome passing him on the home run list with 574 Home Runs in 2010.

There was little build up or fanfare leading up to the Twins and Tigers game tonight. There should have been as one of baseball’s “good guys” did something that only 7 other Major leaguers had ever done, hit 600 home runs.  Maybe it is because he now plays for the Minnesota Twins who are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory.  Minneapolis is not exactly the center of the sports media universe like New Yorkwhere almost every at bat of Derek Jeter was covered in his quest to reach the 3000 hit mark.  However to me it doesn’t matter. I have been a Jime Thome fan for a long time and while I may be in North Carolina I was watching live when ESPN switched from the Giants-Braves game to the Twins-Tigers game to cover Thome’s at bat in the 7th inning.

A Smile and a Handshake (Getty Images)

Thome came to the plate after hitting home run 599 a two run shot off of Rick Porcello during his previous at bat in the 6th inning.  He was facing Tigers pitcher Daniel Schlereth and with a 2-1 count and two runners on base Thome hit Schlereth’s pitch over the Left Field fence for number 600.  He rounded the bases at Comerica Park in Detroit to a standing ovation given by the Tiger fans as well as his teammates and his family who were also in attendance who also greeted him on the field. On the scoreboard the home team congratulated Thome’s achievement;Detroit does recognize great baseball achievement’s even when it comes at the bat of an opponent.

It was a special moment that all baseball fans should celebrate and that non baseball fans should also take note of because Thome accomplished this huge feat, a feat even great than Jeter reaching 3000 hits Out of the 17,000 plus players that have played in the Majors only 8 have hit 600 or more home runs while 28 players have over 3000 hits.

Thome Honored by Teammates and Opposing Fans

Thome has struggled with injury this year and has not had his best year. He is beginning to show his 40 years the oldest player to reach the 600 mark, the previous being the then 38 year old Sammy Sosa in 2007.  Despite this he was the second fastest player to reach 600 home runs reaching it in at bat 8137 games as opposed to Babe Ruth who by far reached it faster than anyone else needing only 6921 at bats to reach 600 on his way to 714.  In reaching the 600 mark Thome joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa in the 600 club.

Thome reached the mark without a lot of fanfare or for that matter controversy. He was never tainted by the steroid controversy and is one of the nicest people in baseball, not hesitating to talk to children that come up to him in public or people that knew him in his early days.  His teammate Michael Cuddyer said “He is the nicest, gentlest, kindest guy you will ever meet … When he walks in a room, everyone watches everything he does. It’s the way he treats people, it’s the way he respects the game….”

His manager Ron Gardenhire said “He’s like Babe Ruth around here…The fans here get all mad at me for not playing him every day.”

Thome is known around the league for his work ethic and will to win.  He worked hard at his craft initially beginning as an outfielder before being converted to Third Base.  Unassuming he once said “I always had to work to be good, because I never was very good. I mean, I always had to work to get where I wanted to be. It was never easy. It still isn’t. It still isn’t.” He is called by some today’s Harmon Killebrew, a complement by any standard of measurement.  I’m sure that Harmon is looking on now cheering and probably telling Saint Pete stories about just how big of an achievement that Thome’s feat is because Thome won’t do it when he meets Saint Pete.

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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Blown Away or Thrown Away: Yankees Come Back defeat Rangers 6-5

Ron Washington has some ‘splaining to do about his management of the Rangers’ pitching staff (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Texas Rangers looked like they were about to win their first playoff game at home in their history last night, well until the top of the 8th inning that is then it all went away like a tumbleweed going across the prairie.  The Rangers jumped out to a 5-0 lead over the Yankees and looked to have the game in hand as C. J. Wilson was pitching a gem which Rangers hitters took off where Minnesota left off against Yankee’s workhorse C.C. Sabathia chasing the 20 game-winner off the mount at the end of the 4th inning.  Sabathia gave up 5 runs on 6 hits with four walks and a balk in 4 innings in which he made 95 pitches.  He struggled to get the ball over the plate as only 51 of those pitches were strikes. In Minnesota he got the win and in Texas a no decision but his playoff ERA is now 7.20 which should give the Yankees concern. Sabathia avoided disaster when with the bases load with 2 outs in the bottom of the first inning he threw a wild pitch which luckily for him bounced back directly to Jorge Posada who tagged Nelson Cruz on the arm as he slid into home. Had Cruz scored it might well have opened up the opportunity for a really big inning against Sabathia.

Wilson was solid through 7 innings giving up a solo home run to Robinson Cano in the top of the 7th but then collapsing in the 8th along with 4 relievers sent in by Ron Washington to try to stop the Yankees, only one of which, Derek Holland got anyone out.  Why Washington did not put his closer Neftali Feliz in with the game on the line even though it was not initially a save situation puzzled me as much as it did most experts. Also why Washington seemed to panic with Wilson still throwing hard after a walk and a double that went by a less than stellar third baseman is beyond me. Wilson was to face the heart of the Yankees order but he had dominated Jeter, Teixeira and Rodriguez  who were 0-8 against him with 3 strikeouts and two pop-ups in those 8 at bats. Washington had to remember or had he forgotten that this was the same bullpen that melted down in game three against the Rays.

Brett Gardiner slides into 1st to ignite the Yankees’ 8th inning rally (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In the 8th the Yankees rally started with Brett Gardiner beating out a ground ball for an infield hit diving into first base to beat Wilson to the bag. He scored on a double to left by Derek Jeter.  This brought set up man Darren Oliver into the game and Oliver walked Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. Oliver was then lifted for Darren O’Day who gave up a single to Alex Rodriguez that scored Jeter and Swisher. Washington then trotted out Clay Rapada who gave up a single to Robinson Cano to score Teixeira.  This brought Holland into the game and Holland gave up a single to Marcus Thames to score Rodriguez to give the Yankees the lead a lead that they did not relinquish.

Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher congratulate each other after scoring in the 8th inning comeback (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By contrast the Yankees bullpen was solid with Dustin Mosley picking up the win and Mariano Rivera the save. Darren O’Day got the loss for the Rangers. The Rangers gave this one away; Ron Washington seemed to be out of his league last night and made some really questionable decisions.  Now the Rangers have to win today or go to Yankee Stadium with a two game deficit.  The Rangers will send Colby Lewis to the hill to face Phil Hughes. Lewis had a no-decision in game 3 against the Rays giving up just 2 hits in 5 innings work before Washington pulled him and gave the game to the bullpen which just as they did last night melted down. Hughes dominated the Twins in game 3 of their series pitching 7 innings giving up no runs on 4 hits.

If the Rangers do not win tonight, it will take more than heroic efforts by Cliff Lee to get them past the Yankees. It will take a miracle.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s MLB LCS Picks

The Vicar of the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish makes his LCS Predictions

Well baseball fans it is time to pick who I think will be in the 2010 World Series.  This year we have the heavyweights, the New York Yankees the defending World Series Champions and the Philadelphia Phillies who won the Series in 2008. The Yankees will be facing the upstart Texas Rangers who are fresh off their first playoff series victory in franchise history while the Phillies face the irrepressible collection of unknown underdogs the San Francisco Giants.

The NLCS

“The main idea is to win.” John McGraw

Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds has his worst record against the Giants of any team that he has faced more than 3 times

Both of these series will be fascinating to watch and should provide baseball fans with some memorable moments. The teams took different paths to get the LCS.  The Phillies as expected took the NL East in a convincing manner going 97-65 in the regular season and having one of the best trios of starting pitchers seen in the Majors for a long time.  The Phillies defeated the Cincinnati Reds sweeping the Big Red Machine in the NLDS.  Despite this the Phillies, apart from the great pitching of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels were not impressive hitting only .212 against a rather lackluster Reds pitching staff. The Phillies scored only 13 runs on 16 hits in that series, just a fraction above 4 runs a game but only 7 of those 13 runs were earned runs, the rest came as a result of the Reds abdication of something that is known as defense. To skew the numbers even more 4 of those earned runs came in a 1.2 inning period against Reds game one starter Edinson Volquez. Remove those 4 runs and the Phillies scored just 3 earned runs in 25 innings. The Phillies had a .301 OBP and an anemic .273 SLG against the Reds. In the series the Phillies had just one home run, that coming from Chase Utley who led the team in RBIs with 4 in the series. Only one other player had more than 1 RBI and that was Shane Victorino with three. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley led the team’s position players tied with a .273 batting average. Phillies starters had a 1.17 ERA while the team staff had a collection 1.00 ERA.

Jonathan Sanchez beat the Phillies twice in 2010 in a convincing manner (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Giants are the dark horse of the playoffs in fact if you look at all of the “expert” predictions no one had the Giants finishing better than 4th in the NL West behind the Padres, Dodgers and Rockies. The team was a collection of no-names at the start of the season save their starting pitching rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez.  During the regular season and at the trading deadline the Giants went and picked up a bunch of journeymen rejected by other teams leading Padres ace Matt Latos to call them a team made up of “mercenaries.” Since the Giants have gotten little respect most of the year why should they now? The Giants went 92-70 in the NL West taking the division on the last day of the season from their nemesis the San Diego Padres.  The Giants get to the NLCS after gutting it out in four one run games against the Atlanta Braves, a team so evenly matched in most departments in a series that was arguably one of the most filled with tension and exciting in recent divisional series history.  Like the Phillies the Giants hitting was weak hitting .212 and scoring 11 runs 7 of which were earned on 23 hits. Rookie Buster Posey led the team in hitting with a .375 batting average followed by Cody Ross at .286 and Aubrey Huff at .267.  The Giants had a .288 OBP and .295 SLG against the Braves. Giants starting pitchers had a .089 ERA in the series and the team staff had a collective 1.66 ERA.

In the Regular season the Phillies went 97-65 but there is a caveat 25 of those 97 wins came against the Nationals and Marlins. Remove those two teams stats out of the equation and the Phillies are 72-54 against the rest of the league.  The undoubtedly a great record but over a quarter of Phillies wins came against two bad opponents. Now I am not dissing the Phillies in any way as it would have been criminal if they even were close to having a .500 record against them. The Giants went 92-70 and like the Phillies they beat up on their division’s cellar dweller the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 13-5 record.  The only team in the league that had the Giants’ number was the Padres who the Giants edged out on the last day of the season for the Division title.

Playing against common NL opponents the Phillies went 84-54 against the Giants went 82-57 and the teams were 3 and 3 against each other in 2010.  In those 6 games the Phillies had 28 runs to the Giants 27, 45 hits compared to 60 for the Giants and 2 errors against the Giants 4.  But I think the real key is how the starting pitchers did in head to head matchups against the opposing team and I find these numbers to be interesting.

W-L             IP       H         ER      BB      SO      HR         ERA

Hamels     Phi      0-1             20        11        9        5        15         1         4.05

Sanchez    SF        2-0            13       5         2        6         8         0             1.38

Cain           SF        0-1           6        7        5        1          4         1               7.50

Blanton     Phi      1-0           6.1     8        2         2         7         2              2.95

Zito            SF        0-1          5          8        4         4         0         0             7.20

Oswalt      Phi       1-0          7           6        3          3        7        2             3.86

Lincecum   SF       0-0          8.1        3         2         2        1       11           2.22

Moyer        Phi      0-1          6          10        4         4        1        2            6.00

Wellmeyer  SF      1-0          7           3          2         2        4        0           5.27

Halladay      Phi      0-1        7           10        5         5         0        1           6.43

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

In the coming series the pitching rotations tentatively have Lincecum against Hallady in game one, Sanchez against Oswalt in game 2, Cain against Hamels in game 3 and Bumgarner against Blanton in game 4. Both managers have not ruled out pitching either Halladay or Lincecum on short rest. The Giants have a stronger bullpen but Giants closer was banged around by the Phillies worse than any of his other opponents.

Padre Steve’s NLCS Pick

I think this series goes 7 games and I hate to try to pick a winner based on these numbers. All the experts are picking the Phillies in 5 or 6 games but I don’t know if they will manage that based on the statistics. My heart lies with the Giants but the Phillies do have more pop in their bats. In the starting pitching it looks like the Giants have the edge in the head to head match ups.  Also the Giants did not have a good number of new players in their first two games against the Phillies. I am going to be the odd guy out and I will probably be wrong but I am going with the Giants to upset the Phillies in seven simply because the Giants have nothing to lose in this series, none of the real experts expects them to win. I expect Lincecum and Sanchez to be the difference and for Hamels and Halladay not to do as well against the Giants as they have the Reds and their own division. If the Giants lose the series then people will say that I didn’t know what I was talking about and forget these picks by game one of the World Series. If not people will say that I am a genius or incredibly luck. Either way I’m okay with this pick.

The ALCS

“You got to get twenty-seven outs to win.” Casey Stengel

Cliff Lee Owns the Yankees (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

In the ALCS we have the Yankees (95-67) looking to secure their chance to get in the World Series and win in for the 28th time going up against the playoff novice Texas Rangers (90-72).  The Rangers walked away in a weak AL West race and the Yankees finished as the Wild Card winner just behind the Division champs, the now eliminated Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees rolled by the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS humiliating the Twinkies again proving as I said in my ALDS prediction that the Twins can’t beat the Yankees with a stick.  The Rangers defeated the Rays in a close series that went the full five games with their ace, Cliff Lee being the difference maker. The Yankees swept the Twins in a one sided series where they outscored the Twins 17-7 and outhit them 36-21 with their pitching staff having a 1.73 ERA against the Twinkies.  Phil Hughes was dominate in 7 innings work in game three while Andy Pettitte showed that he had recovered from injury and was effective in game two. C.C. Sabathia was banged around in game one but had the good fortune to have Yankees hitters come on strong. Mariano Rivera was simply lights out.

The Rangers won the AL West and faced the AL East champion the Tampa Bay Rays. This was the only series to go five games and the first division series to do so since 2005.  It was also a series where no home team won a game on its own field, so much for home field advantage.  In the series the 21 runs on 44 hits and committed 5 errors against the Rays 13 runs on 37 hits and 5 errors.  The Rangers pitching staff had a 2.40 ERA and was led by Cliff Lee and C. J. Wilson.  Lee was 2-0 in the series going 16 innings giving up 2 runs on 11 hits with a 1.13 ERA.

Mariano Rivera and the Yankees look to down the Rangers and try for their 28th World Series Title (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the regular season the Yankees went 84-60 and the Rangers went 76-68 against common AL opponents.  The teams went head to head 8 times splitting 4 games each. The Yankees swept the Rangers in mid-April and split a pair in mid August with the Rangers sweeping the Yankees at home in September. The Yankees pitching staff gave up 33 earned runs on 51 hits in those 8 games with a 4.23 ERA against the Rangers.  The Rangers pitching staff gave up 37 earned runs on 63 hits with a 4.62 ERA. The only pitcher to completely dominate the Yankees was Cliff Lee just as he did in the 2009 World Series when he was with the Phillies.

The Rangers had a regular season team ERA of 3.93 giving up 636 earned runs, 163 home runs and 551 walks.  In the hitting department the Rangers had a .276 team batting average, a .338 OBP and .491 SLG driving in 787 runs on 1556 hits of which 455 were extra base hits including 162 home runs.

The Yankees pitching staff had a team ERA of 4.06 giving up 651 earned runs and 179 home runs.  The Yankees hitters had a .267 team batting average, a .350 OBP (the best in the AL) and a .436 SLG producing 859 runs on 1485 hits including 508 extra base hits of which 201 were home runs.

Padre Steve’s ALCS pick

All things considered the teams match up well but no matter how well Cliff Lee pitches I see the Rangers losing in 6 games. However if the Series goes to 7 games and the Rangers can pitch Cliff Lee a third time I think that they will steal the AL Pennant from the Yankees, but they have to get to game 7 or they will not will the series.  My pick is the Yankees in 7 setting up an old fashioned World Series between two historic franchises the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. What baseball fan besides Phillies and Rangers fans wouldn’t want to see that?  The last time the Giants and Yankees faced off in the World Series was 1951 when the Giants were still in New York which the Yankees won as well as 1936 and 1937 both of which were captured by the Yankees. One has to go back to 1921 and 1922 for the last times that the Giants defeat the Yankees in the Series, the last time that the Giants won a series was 1954 against the Indians.  A Giants and Yankees series might even bring back the ghosts of baseball past who will float into the New Yankee Stadium and AT&T Park remembering the old Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds with great fondness while those still living from the 1951 series like Willie Mays and Yogi Berra see their successors battle it our.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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No Joy in Tampa: Rangers Win 5-1 advance to ALCS

David Price looks on as the Rangers celebrate

The Tampa Bay Rays made an early exit from the playoffs in a year that many expected them to challenge for the World Series. Instead Joe Maddon’s team played their swan song on Tuesday night knowing that it is unlikely that this team will be the same next season.  It was a series where the home team never won a game, so much for home-field advantage which was bad news for the Rays who had the “advantage” of playing in a stadium that the fans only show up to during the playoffs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau it is the first time that the road team has one every game of a post season series.

The difference maker: Cliff Lee mows down the Rays (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Ron Washington’s Rangers ended a playoff drought that stretched back to 1961 when the Senators came to Washington as an expansion team and until Tuesday was the only MLB franchise that had never won a playoff series.  The legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan the new owner of the Rangers sat in the stands savoring the moment as Washington and his team celebrated on the field while the Tampa fans filed out of the stadium. The mood in Tampa was totally different than in Atlanta on Monday when the Braves lost their series to the Giants and both teams and grateful Braves fans saluted retiring manager Bobby Cox. If there was no joy in Mudville when the Mighty Casey struck out there was less in the Trop as B.J. Upton popped out to left center to end the game and season for the Rays.

Rangers celebrate their first playoff series win (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The Key was pitching, in particular Cliff Lee who as he was in the playoffs last year with the Phillies absolutely dominated the Rays for the second time in 5 games. Lee fanned 11 Rays in a six hit and one run complete game victory and lowered his post season ERA to 1.12.  The win continued a post season where pitching has been the dominant force in every series.

Aggressive base running: Elvis Andrus scores in the 1st inning

The Rangers used some aggressive base running to set the Rays on their heels early in the game and continued that aggressiveness the entire game. Elvis Andrus got a leadoff single and stole second base. He then scored on a ground ball out by Josh Hamilton alertly coming all the way around from second as the pitcher David Price taking the throw at first failed to check the runner.  The Rays got that run back in the bottom of the 3rd inning combining consecutive singles by Sean Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist to get on the board.

The Rangers took the lead in the top of the 4th inning when Nelson Cruz alertly scored on Ray’s catcher Kelly Shoppach’s throwing error to third which sailed high and right over the outstretched arm of Evan Longoria. The scored again in the 6th inning to make the score 3-1 using aggressive heads up base running this time by Vladimir Guerrero to get the run. With Guerrero at second base and Nelson Cruz on first Ian Kinsler hit a ground ball to first base. First baseman Carlos Pena threw to second to get the force but the throw back from second was late getting to Price who was covering. Guerrero’s dash to the plate surprised Price who threw just late to Kelly Shoppach at the plate as Guerrero slid around the tag for the run. The Rangers added two insurance runs off or Rays Closer Rafael Soriano when Ian Kinsler hit his third home run of the series a two run shot to make the score 5-1.

The win was a triumph for the scrappy Rangers and a bitter disappointment for the Rays and the 12 disciples in Tampa that are their die-hard fans. The team will be certainly broken up was the payroll is slashed by a huge amount leaving free agents like Carl Crawford up for grabs. The Rangers move on the face the Yankees in the ALCS and this could be a much more interesting series than that played by the Yankees against their perpetual piñata the Minnesota Twins.

Tomorrow or Thursday I should have my LCS picks out, I went four for four in the Divisional series so I hope to repeat my success with the same degree as I did last year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Yankees Sweep Twins while Rays Remain Alive

Still smiling, Mariano River and Yankees seal the deal again (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The ALDS series between the Yankees and Twins ended about as I expected it to end, another humiliating defeat for the Twins at the hands of the Yankees.  As I said on my prediction the “Twins cannot beat the Yankees with a stick.”  Once again that proved to be the case as the Twins lost their 12th straight playoff game.  They had an excellent record but did not do well at the end of the season and that carried into the ALDS. Once they lost a 4-0 lead with Francisco Lariano on the hill in game one the writing was on the wall as to how this series would end. The looks on the faces of the Twins players and Manager Ron Gardenhire showed it all and from that moment on they were toast. If one wants to beat the Yankees or for that matter any other good team one has to believe that they can win against them. The Twins unlike the lowly Orioles don’t believe they can beat the Yankees.  That is the difference, until the Twins start believing they can beat the Bronx Bombers they will be the perpetual victim in the ALDS or ALCS whenever they face them.   The Yankees won 6-1 on Saturday with Phil Hughes holding the Twins to just 4 hits in 7 innings work.  The Yankees hitters cranked out 12 hits to get the 6 runs including 2 home runs, one each by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano.

The Thrill of Victory (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Deep in the heart of Texas the Rays kept their hopes alive against the Rangers. The Rangers took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 7th on an Ian Kinsler home run. It seemed at that point that the momentum had shifted to the Rangers and their usually very effective bullpen. That did not happen, the usually strong bullpen surrendered 2 runs in the 8th and 3 more in the top of the 9th to give the Rays a 6-2 lead. The Rangers scored another run on a Nelson Cruz solo home run.  Rays starter Matt Garza was effective through 6 innings and relievers Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano limited the Rangers to just 1 hit and allowed no walks in the final three innings.

The Agony of Defeat (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees now get a few days off before they play the winner of the Rangers-Rays series. Today the Rangers and Rays play in the first of three Divisional Series games with Tommy Hunter (13-4 3.73 ERA) going up against Wade Davis (12-10 4.07 ERA).

More later,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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