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Opening Day 2013…and Be a Blessing to Us

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“Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”  ~Sharon Olds, This Sporting Life, 1987

It is good to have survived the last five months. The Mayans were wrong about the end of the world and despite the the best efforts of the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, in spite of Sequestration, North Korean Nukes, Al Qaida terrorists and troubles brewing around the world and at home we finally made it to Opening Day.

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Some for me baseball, maybe more than any other thing brings a sense of order to my universe. Some of my earliest memories involve baseball. I played in my back yard, in sandlots, parks and real baseball fields. I learned the game from my late father and when he was deployed to Vietnam my mom would come at watch my Little League games. Most of my broken bones have been the result of injuries sustained on the baseball or softball field, which make me look forward to my next assignment at the Joint Forces Staff College all the more since the faculty and students play ball almost all year round.

I have always loved the game and like Walt Whitman seemed to believe that there is something healing about it like no other game. Whitman said that baseball is “our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

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I wonder sometimes if Whitman would think that perhaps the Dominicans and Japanese appreciate “our game” more than us? Considering how well they do in international competition and how many of “our” star players come from those countries and others he might have something to say about it. Perhaps that the game transcends America itself and allows Americans to appreciate men like Ichiro, Big Papi, Robinson Cano, Pablo “the Big Panda” Sandoval, Jose Reyes, Hideki Matsui and many more, 243 on Opening Day 2012 that were on Major League rosters, over 100 being Dominicans.

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Now as for me I think that is a sign of the greatness of this game. It is a game that I think more than any transcends culture. To watch the enthusiasm of the players and fans of the non-US teams in the World Baseball Classic was a joyful experience for me. I don’t know maybe in our faced paced thrill a minute ADD inducing  and violence addicted American culture we have forgotten the joy that this game can bring. Maybe we are too cynical and have even done damage to it with the Steroid and Performance Enhancing Drug use scandals.

I don’t know, I could be wrong but I do think that a trip or two to a ballpark every year would be a good thing for every American. In fact I don’t even think that it would need to be a big league ballpark because the joy and mystery of the game can be found anywhere there is a baseball field where boys of every age find a bit of magic in  the crack of a bat, running out a grounder, stealing second base or striking out the side.

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The great Jackie Robinson said something that I think is incredibly profound: “Baseball is a curious anomaly in American life. It seems to have been ingrained in people in their childhood…. Baseball is, after all, a boy’s game, and children are innocent of evil. So even adults who are prejudiced revert to their childhood when they encounter a baseball player and they react with the purity of little children.”

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So to all of us who looked so forward to this day. Yes it is a day that comes every year, and for some people the season seems too long, the games too many and the pace, well not fast enough. But that being the case it is a human game, a game that I think allows has a spiritual sensitivity unfound anywhere else in sports. Yes it is a game, it too is a business and well for some people like me a religion.

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This weekend I plan on getting to a game or two at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish in Norfolk Virginia. I won’t make the home opener, but I will get some of the Norfolk Tides opening home stand.

I hope to see you at the ball park this year. Trust me. It will do you good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Swept: Detroit Pitchers Dominate as Tigers Send Yankees Home

Tigers Celebrate (Photo Tim Fuller- USA Today Sports)

The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Earl Weaver

Murderers Row went down with a whimper in the American League Championship Series. The mighty New York Yankees who dominated with their bats during the regular season struggled during the entire post season, hitting just .200 in 9 games against the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers. If it was not for some last inning heroics by Raul Ibanez in Game Three of the ALDS against Baltimore the Yankees might have watched the ALCS from home. However they squeaked by the Orioles in a very tight series but then ran up against the fearsome starting pitching of the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit’s starting rotation of Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer allowed just 2 on runs in 27.1 innings of work while striking out 25 Yankee batters. Overall the Tigers outscored the Yankees 19-6 in the series and the Yankees never led in any game. Overall the Tigers held the Yankee offense to just 6 runs on 22 hits in the series. Tigers pitchers struck out 39 Yankees and limited the Yankees to a .152 team batting average and 3 home runs, 2 of which came in the 9th inning of game one against closer Jose Valverde.

At best the Yankees offense could charitably be described as pathetic and nothing like their regular season performance. Of their regulars only Ichiro Suzuki had a decent series. He hit .353 with a home run but the rest of the line up which struggled against the Orioles completely fell apart against the Tigers. Nick Swisher hit just .250, Mark Teixeira .200, Russell Martin, .143, Alex Rodriguez .111, Robinson Cano .052 and Curtiss Granderson .000. Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees went down with a broken ankle in 12th inning of game 1 hitting 1-5 for a .200 average.

The Tigers will now go on to face the winner of the NLCS either the St Louis Cardinals or if they can come back from a 3-1 deficit the San Francisco Giants. The Yankees will go home with a lot more questions than answers. They are showing their age and in light of the poor playoff performance of their hitters I expect big changes will be coming. I expect that a lot of the Yankees problem was their age. Unlike past seasons where they have been able to rest players during the last couple of weeks of the year they were in a dogfight with the Orioles and did not clinch the division until the last day of the season. The long 162 game schedule takes a toll on older players, especially if there is no chance to rest them.

Big questions will have to be answered. How will Derek Jeter recover from his surgery? How effective will closer Mariano Rivera be after a year off after being injured in warmups early in the year? What will the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez do with the remaining years of his 10 year contract with its no trade clause? What will become of players like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Curtiss Granderson?

Robinson Cano leaves the Dugout after Game 4 (AP Photo-Paul Sancya)

In addition to hitting the Yankees pitching staff is also showing age and had to be bailed out many times in the regular season by great hitting.

Yes the Yankees have a lot of money to throw at problems but it has been a long time since they have had to deal with the possibility of wholesale changes to their line up. This should make the American League East a very interesting race in 2013 since the Red Sox will also be rebuilding after a disastrous season. The issues that the Yankees and Red Sox are facing are large and 2013 AL East could come down to a race between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tigers who were the overwhelming favorites to win the AL Central before the season struggled but came on strong in the last month of the season to overtake the surprising Chicago White Sox. Their surge was very timely, it allowed the to defeat the Oakland Athletics in 5 games and then send the Yankees home in a most convincing manner.

Congratulations to the American League Champion Detroit Tigers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Omen: Jeter’s Injury Foretells the Future as Yankees Fall to 0-2 to Tigers in ALCS

Before the times of change, still is it so: 
By a divine instinct men’s minds mistrust 
Ensuing dangers; as by proof, we see 
The waters swell before a boisterous storm

William Shakespeare Richard III

Baseball people are tremendously superstitious. Sometimes events, miscues, injuries bad calls and bad luck are of more significance than they would be if they didn’t happen when they did. Cubs fans can attest to this as can the generations of Red Sox, White Sox and Giants fans who endured one shocking disappointment after another as they languished between World Series Championships.

Derek Jeter is the face of the Yankees. He has been a staple of the team and been their as they won championship after championship and his steady play and leadership have been a part of the great success enjoyed by the Yankees. He has played through injuries and never missed a post season game until tonight.

The Yankees may have become the latest team to see things slip away and legends pass. In the space of less than a day the New York Yankees went from looking like they would pull off another late game miracle thanks to the clutch hitting of Raul Ibanez to being down two games to none in the ALCS.

On Saturday the Detroit Tigers appeared to be sailing to an easy win when the Yankees got to closer Jose Valverde in the bottom of the 9th. Up 4-0 the Yankees scored 4 runs including a game tying 2 run home run by veteran Raul Ibanez who seems to have made hitting dramatic late game home runs a new habit.

But in the top of the 12th inning, as the Tigers rallied for what would be a winning lead, Derek Jeter, “The Captain” who had played in spite of injury for much of the past month broke his ankle on a freak play attempting to field a ground ball.

It was a devastating loss for the Yankees, not so much the game but Jeter’s injury. Jeter was one of the few Yankee regulars beside Ichiro Suzuki who have had any offensive punch during the post season. Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Curtiss Granderson and Robinson Cano have had nightmarish post-seasons.

The Tigers won game one 6-4 and shut out the Yankees 3-0 today to take the 2 game lead in the series. The Tigers were leading 1-0 in the 8th when they benefited from a blown call at second base when Nick Swisher threw behind Omar Infante who gone too far off the base. Cano applied the tag but Infante was called safe. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi argued the call twice and was thrown out of the game.

Girardi can shift blame to the umpires all that he wants but the fact is his team has not hit the ball during the post season with the exception of the 9th inning of game one against the Orioles. The Orioles had a bad call that negated a home run in game 5 of the Division Series against the Yankees that easily could have changed the course of the game, and may have help the Orioles win the series. To see Girardi complaining tonight in the post game interview was unbecoming, especially compared to Buck Showlater’s response to similar questions after game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees.

Now the series moves on to Detroit and the Yankees will have to face Justin Verlander. Unless the high priced Yankees offense can get going and start getting hits and producing runs they will not play another game at home this year.  The Yankees were lucky to get through against the Orioles and unless something changes fast they will exit the post-season.

I think that this may actually point to greater problems next year for the Yankees. They are getting old and despite their seemingly unlimited ability to buy what they need on the free agent market are not the team that they used to be. They still have a lot of talent but something is not right in the team chemistry and Joe Girardi will have to figure that out in the next few games and after the season ends.

I think that Jeter’s injury and the Yankees struggles portend the changing of the guard in the AL East.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Game 5 Anyone? Resilient Orioles Defeat Yankees in 13 Innings 2-1

Manny Machado Scores winning run (AP Photo)

It was another long night in the Bronx but this time there was no magic from a Yankee hitter and it was yet another thrilling chapter in their 2012 season. The never say die Baltimore Orioles extended their season defeating the Yankees 2-1. Jim Johnson closed out the game in a classic pitchers duel that involved a total of 16 pitchers, 8 from each team. In the 13 innings there were only 15 hits.

Darren O’Day shuts down theYankees in Relief (Elsa Getty Images)

The Orioles struck first as Nate McLouth hit a solo home run in the 5th. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 6th when Robinson Cano grounded out to second to score Derek Jeter who doubled to lead off the inning. Both teams failed to capitalize on when they had runners in scoring position, the Yankees threatened in the bottom of the 8th when they had runners on 2nd and 2rd with only one out. Darren O’Day entered the game and became the hero of Birdland as he struck out Alex Rodriguez and then got Nick Swisher to fly out to right. O’Day then went on to shut down the Yankees in the 9th, 10th innings allowing no hits.

Nate McClouth makes key catch in against the wall off of Jayson Nix, he doubled up Russell Martin. (Elsa Getty Images)

Pedro Strop came into the game in the 11th and pitched two scoreless innings and in the top of the 13th, with the clock already past midnight 20 year old rookie Manny Machado doubled to right and scored on veteran Shortstop J.J. Hardy’s double to left, both off of David Phelps. The Orioles brought in Jim Johnson who put the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the 13th.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has managed the series since learning of the death of his father on Sunday (AP Photo Alex Brandon)

It was a tense game as both teams pitchers made the pitches that they needed and hitters struggled. The Yankees and Orioles led the majors in home runs but those big bats for the most part have been remarkably silent. The Orioles can in large part be chalked up to playoff inexperience and hitters swinging at bad pitches, or base running mistakes. The Yankees with the exception of a 5 run 9th inning in game one have been cold and without Ibanez’s home runs in game 3 this series could well be over.

So it comes down to game five. The Orioles and Yankees who were even in the regular season against each other are even again and for one of the teams the 2012 season will be over later tonight, yes it is already Friday.

Meanwhile the magical season on the Oakland A’s came to an end against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles or the Yankees will now play Detroit in the ALCS while San Francisco will await the winner of the Cardinals and Nationals game tonight with that series also tied at two apiece.

What a division championship series in both leagues, every series will go the full five games, all competitive and all exciting. This is playoff baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Yankees Strike Back: Defeat Rangers 7-2 as Bats Come Alive

C. C. Sabathia shouts after striking out Mitch Moreland in the top of the 6th inning (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The New York Yankees rose like the Phoenix from Arizona to extend the ALCS and their season in a do or die game at Yankee Stadium.  The Bronx Bombers who had had empty bomb bays for all but one inning of the ALCS found their payload and unloaded it on Rangers’ starter C. J. Wilson who had mastered the Yankees in game one and the Rays in the ALDS. 

Mitch Moreland goes down on a called third strike in the top of the 6th (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Yankees struck early with a 3 run first inning that began with a walk to Alex Rodriguez and a one out walk to Lance Berkman. Jorge Posada then singled to drive in Rodriguez Curtis Granderson then singled to score Berkman and Posada scored on a throwing error by Rangers’ right fielder Jeff Francouer’s throwing error to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.  The Yankees continued their mugging of Wilson with back to back home runs in the bottom of the third inning by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. 

The Rangers attempted a rally in the bottom of the 5th inning when catcher Matt Traenor homered to left and was followed by Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus singled but the inning ended when Josh Hamilton hit into a double play. The Yankees added another run in the bottom frame as Lance Berkman sacrificed to score Nick Swisher to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead.

The Rangers mounted another rally attempt in the top of the 6th inning as David Murphy, Ian Kinsler and Jeff Fancouer had back to back to back singles to load the bases with one out. Matt Traenor was out on a ground ball that scored Murphy but that would be all the Rangers would muster for their efforts. The Yankees added another run in the bottom of the 8th as Curtis Granderson  homered to make the score 7-2.  Mariano Rivera entered in relief in the top of the 9th and shut down the Rangers in a non-save situation.

Alex Rodriguez, Lance Berkman and Jorge Posada celebrate after game five

C. C. Sabathia got the win despite allowing 11 hits.  The Yankees now force the series back to Rangers Stadium on Friday where Phil Hughes will face Colby Lewis.  If the Yankees get by Lewis they will face their nemesis Cliff Lee in game 7 and that sports fans will be an interesting matchup. The question is do the Yankees have the gas to come back? I predicted the Yankees to win the series but I will not underestimate the Rangers especially with Cliff Lee in waiting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Rangers Hammer Yankees 10-3: Take 3-1 ALCS Lead

Josh Hamilton belts his 2nd home run of ALCS Game 4 (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It looked like A. J. Burnett and the New York Yankees had turned the corner against the pesky Texas Rangers.  Well that was until they saw what they thought might be victory disappear in a barrage of Rangers runs leaving Yankee Stadium nearly devoid of Yankees faithful for the second night running. The feeling among Yankees fans is symbolized by the reaction of their fans, they know that they are done and baring an improbable comeback the Yankees will not repeat as either American League or World Series champs.

Nails in the coffin, Nelson Cruz hits 2 run homer in top of 9th inning to give the Rangers a 10-3 lead (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees got out to an early 1-0 lead on a home run by Robinson Cano that on review should have been ruled as fan interference but was allowed without video review by the umpiring crew. Lance Berkman came up next and hammered a shot down the right field line that was initially ruled as a home run but was reviewed and disallowed passing narrowly to the right of the right field foul pole. The Rangers wasted no time getting those runs back as in the top of the 3rd inning Burnett seemed to lose his edge. David Murphy walked and took second on a wild pitch. Burnett then nailed Benji Molina in the back as Molina was attempting t bunt. Mitch Moreland then hit a sacrifice fly ball to send Murphy to third base and Molina to second. Elvis Andrus grounded out to score Murphy and was followed by Michael Young who singled to plate Molina to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.

Rangers’ starter Tim Hunter struggled giving up another run in the bottom of the third inning when Derek Jeter tripled and scored on Curtis Granderson’s single.  Burnett held the Rangers in the top of the 4th inning and the Yankees made things very interesting in the bottom half of the inning.  Hunter hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch to lead off the inning and Robinson Cano singled and advanced him to 2nd base. Hunter the struck out Nick Swisher for the first out and Lance Berkman singled to load the bases.  The Rangers’ brought in Derek Holland to attempt to stop the bleeding. Holland got Brett Gardner on fielder’s choice which scored Rodriguez to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.  Holland then took command striking out Francisco Cervelli to end the inning.

The Rangers loaded the bases in the top of the 5th inning but did not score and Holland despite giving up a leadoff double to Jeter shut down the Yankees in the bottom half of the inning. In the 6th the wheels came off of the Yankee Express. Vladimir Guerrero singled to lead off the inning and Burnett got the following two batters out before intentionally walking David Murphy with Guerrero on second. The brought Benji Molina to the plate and the Rangers’ catcher seized the moment pounding a 3 run home run into the left field seats.  Burnett got Mitch Moreland to foul out but the damage was done, the energy that had been gathering in Yankee Stadium was gone. 

Derek Jeter in the Yankees dugout in the 8th (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

In the 7th inning the Yankees’ relievers were handed the task of trying to shut down the Texas assault on Gotham. David Robertson after a horrific night on Monday got the first two batters out and was relieved by Boone Logan who promptly surrendered a solo home run to Josh Hamilton to bring Joba Chamberlian into the game. Joba fared no better giving up a double to Vladimir Guerrero and walking Nelson Cruz before giving up a RBI single to Ian Kinsler before striking out David Murphy to end the inning with the Rangers ahead of the lifeless Yankees by a score of 7-3.

Holland set down the Yankees in order in the bottom of the 7th inning.  In the 8th Chamberlain allowed a single to Benji Molina but got out of the inning without giving up another run.  In the bottom of the the Yankees threatened again loading the bases on a series of walks by Holland, Darren O’Day and Clay Rapada before bringing in 40 year old veteran Darren Oliver who closed out the inning without giving up a run.   

Benji Molina celebrates after the game (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees woes continued in the top of the 9th as the Rangers put the noose around the Yankees in game four. Sergio Mitre relieved Chamberlain and gave up a leadoff home run to none other than Josh Hamilton, his 4th homer against the Yankees in 4 games.  Guerrero singled and was lifted for pinch runner Julio Borbon but Borbon’s speed would not be needed as Nelson Cruz took Mitre yard for another Rangers home run. The Yankees got a leadoff single from Brett Gardner in the top of the 9th but Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson went down in order leaving the Bronx in a state of shock for the 2nd straight night.

The Rangers scored 10 runs on 13 hits making their total 31 runs for the series on 43 hits agains an anemic 11 runs on 26 hits for the Yankees.  To make matters worse for the Yankees the team lost Mark Teixeira to a season ending hamstring pull while trying to leg out a ground ball. Derek Holland got the win and the 82 million dollar bust, A. J. Burnett took the loss.  The Rangers now lead the Yankees 3 games to 1 and have to have C. C. Sabathia make the performance of his life to stay alive this afternoon.  That will be a tall task as the big right-hander has not done well this post-season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dominance at its Best: Cliff Lee Owns the Yankees Rangers Roll 8-0

The Owner of the Yankees Cliff Lee rubs up a new ball (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Cliff Lee simply owns the New York Yankees and if the Sons of the Stein are smart they will find a way to entice their nemesis to play for them in 2011. However, that will not help them this year as Lee dominated the Yankees in a more dominant fashion than he did last year with the Phillies where he beat the Bronx Bombers twice.  On Monday night at Yankee Stadium Lee added to his playoff luster by pitching a 2 hit 8 inning shutout of the Yankees on a night when he struck out 13 Yankee batters walking only one.  He retired 11 Yankees in a row before Jorge Posada blooped a single into right for the first his with two outs in the bottom of the 5th inning and a leadoff single to Brett Gardner in the bottom of the 6th inning.  Every Yankee hitter with the exception of Robinson Cano struck out at least once in the loss.

An unusual October sight at Yankee Statium a loney fan waits for the Yankees to go down in the bottom of the 9th   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

In fact had the score remained 2-0 going into the bottom of the 9th   and Lee would have likely gotten his way to go out and finish the game.  Instead the Rangers clubbed Yankees relievers for 6 runs in the top of the 9th allowing the Rangers to bring in closer Neftali Felix in a non save situation.  Felix sent the Yankees down in order himself striking out Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in the inning to make a total of 15 strikeouts.   

Yankees starter Andy Pettitte made only one mistake which occurred in the top of the 1st inning. With one out Michael Young singled and then Josh Hamilton yanked a curve ball from Pettitte over the right field wall to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. The Rangers added 6 runs on 6 hits in the top of the 9th against Yankees’ relievers Boone Logan and David Robertson. By the end of the night the Rangers had mustered 8 runs on 11 hits.

Pettitte got the loss and Cliff Lee the win to give the Rangers a 2-1 series lead going into game four tonight at Yankee Stadium.  The Rangers will send Tommy Hunter to the hill to face the struggling A. J. Burnett who was 1-7 with a 6.61 ERA in his final 12 starts.  Hunter started against the Yankees on September 11th giving up 2 runs and striking out 8 in five innings work in a 7-6 Rangers win. The Rangers have now scored 20 runs against Yankees pitching and unless Burnett comes up big the Rangers could go into game five with a 3-1 series lead.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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