Hey, it isn’t all bad for the University of Michigan

October 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Yeah, the Wolverines might have just suffered the most stunning loss in school history (too hyperbolic?), but at least this kid is an icon now.

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So, good for him. That’s how I looked from my couch, and I didn’t really have a rooting interest.

A seriously incredible finish in every sense.

Jeter, Mantle, Berra, Cano … Bird. This is a thing.

September 23, 2015 Leave a comment

If you go through the archives of this blog, you’ll see that a large chunk of the posts are short bits that deal with basic baseball stats and random endpoints.

So here’s another one.

The Yankees currently sit just 2 1/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East with significant kudos belonging to rookie first baseman Greg Bird. The 22-year-old delivered the deciding blow on Tuesday night with a three-run homer in the 10th inning, but the team has much more for which to thank him than last night.

Six of BIrd’s 10 home runs have given the Yankees a lead and three of them can be at least loosely described as game-winners.

Aug. 19: Trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning, Bird cracks a two-run shot in his fifth MLB game. New York’s bullpen holds that margin, and the Yankees finish off a sweep of the Twins.

Sept. 7: Bird’s three-run home run off of lefty Brian Matusz breaks a 5-5 tie in the seventh inning. Yanks go on to win 8-6.

Then you have what happened Tuesday in a baseball game that had it all, in front of a raucous crowd.

The 10 home runs stick out because those Yankees rookies who have reached double-digit HRs at age 22 or younger are quite a group

Since 1940, five Yankees meet that criteria: Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter. Robinson Cano. And after last night Greg Bird.

Moving further back in time, that list also includes Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Lou Gehrig. And after last night, Greg Bird.

When the Yankees lost Mark Teixiera for the rest of the season on Aug. 17 for all intents and purposes (he played in a couple of games later that month but saw just three plate appearances and is now officially done for the year), they also lost their then-leader in home runs and RBIs, not to mention Teixeira’s sure-handed work in the field. He is still the team’s leader in b-WAR (3.8; Brett Gardner is at 3.4).

Chris Towers of CBSSports.com called Bird a “more K-y” version of John Olerud. I kind of like that. Bird has struck out in about one-third of his at bats. However, he certainly has the strike zone management and the defensive chops. Bird most likely won’t be as good of a hitter, but he should produce better power numbers.

I really can’t think of a better comparison at this time, but here’s some low-hanging fruit: For now, Greg Bird is 35-year-old Mark Teixeira, just without the switch-hitting ability. Look at how those two have stacked up at the plate this year.

Teixeira: 255/.347/.548, 31 home runs in 392 at bats, .381 wOBA
Bird: .256/.336/.562, 10 home runs in 121 at bats, .380 wOBA

I’m sure someone out there has another good player comp for Bird. But at the moment, he looks like the guy he replaced. And that’s just fine with the Yankees. He’s got some time before he’s expected to develop into the next Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig … .

Boy, we might be getting ahead of ourselves.

Tuesday was yet another example why baseball is so cool and odd

It started out as a day just like any other day. Tuesday, July 28. Nothing special on the horizon.

And then a bunch of crazy, stupid stuff happened. Such is baseball.

The day was ruled by trade rumors and suffocating coverage of the most overblown, tired sports story since Tebow. Then began the evening’s slate of baseball, which included eight matchups between sub-.500 and above-.500 teams. And those woebegone squads won five of the eight.

Not among that group was a meeting between the Phillies and the 50-50 Blue Jays. True, they didn’t have Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup yet, but you would think that the Jays would be all hyped up to play given Monday’s assurance from their front office that, yep, they’re going for it. Alas, they had trouble figuring out Adam Morgan and saw Devon Travis and Jose Bautista leave early due to injury. Travis may need some time off, but the early indication is that Bautista will be OK. Yet that’s a solid jab to the gut of the Toronto faithful — one night after acquiring the best shortstop in baseball over the past decade, your team loses at home to game’s cellar dweller and you see your impressive rookie leadoff hitter and the face of your franchise get injured.

The Phillies, meanwhile, have won nine of 10 games since the All-Star break. Six of those wins have come against .500-or-better clubs. And they are still six games “ahead” of the Brewers and Red Sox for the title of the worst team in MLB.

You had the Rays’ Curt Casali become the first-ever rookie catcher to homer twice in consecutive games. And speaking of catchers (or at least players who used to play catcher and still have the body of a catcher) Evan Gattis — EVAN GATTIS — pushed his 2015 triples total to seven. He had one career triple through more than 200 games entering this season. Gattis is primarily a designated hitter these days. The last DH to triple seven times in a season was Johnny Damon in 2011. But Damon, even at that advanced stage of his career could still run. Gattis eternally lumbers.

For good measure, the last catcher to triple at least seven times in a season was John Wathan in 1980. That was so long ago (how long ago was it?!?!) that it was two years before Julio Franco made his MLB debut.

Mookie Betts and the Red Sox were victimized by baseball’s version of the “Dez Bryant rule.”

And finally there was the abomination between the Yankees and the Rangers. The Rangers scored five runs in the bottom of the first inning — and then didn’t get a hit for the rest of the night. By the time Texas had recorded an out in the top of the second inning, they were already trailing, 6-5. The Yankees would go on to score 11 runs in that second inning. which alone saw the hulking duo of Didi Gregorius and Brendan Ryan combine for three doubles, a triple and six RBIs.

By the end of the third inning, the Rangers had used three pitchers, allowed 15 runs and thrown 107 pitches.

At its merciful end, the Yankees had compiled 21 unanswered runs on 19 unanswered hits. Jacoby Ellsbury reached base due to catcher’s interference twice. Outfielder Adam Rosales pitched an inning for the Rangers and although he gave up a long home run to Brett Gardner, he struck out Chris Young looking. Prior to that ninth-inning AB, Young had racked up two doubles and a grand slam.

And, of course, Adam Warren was credited with a save in this 21-5 squeaker.

Thanks a lot, random Tuesday in late July.

Categories: Uncategorized

Pitching is overrated: Blue Jays acquire Troy Tulowitzki

Everyone knew the Toronto Blue Jays were going to add a pitcher before the trade deadline. And they did so on Monday night, acquiring 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins from the Colorado Rockies.

Oh, and as a bonus, they also received the best shortstop in baseball over the past 10 years: Troy Tulowitzki. For Jose Reyes, young reliever Miguel Castro and a couple of prospects.

There are plenty of questions and concerns about the players involved in this deal — which prospects will be sent to Colorado?; can Tulowitzki, with his history of injuries, hold up on the turf?; what’s to become of Reyes? With as much as $66 million due to him over the next three seasons, it’s near impossible to believe the rebuilding Rockies will hold on to an injury-prone 32-year-old with a deteriorating skill set at that price. At this juncture of his career, Reyes is pretty much Erick Aybar with greater name recognition.

But the lingering thought after digesting this trade is … seriously, what about that pitching staff, Toronto?

Just in the past week, the Blue Jays have reportedly shown at least minimal interest in Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Jim Johnson, Mike Fiers, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, David Price, Joakim Soria, basically any San Diego Padres pitcher and Jonathan Papelbon. They were in on Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir and Steve Cishek before each was traded. They reportedly came close to working out a deal for Carlos Carrasco that eventually fell through this past weekend.

All of that, of course, makes too much sense. The Blue Jays’ offense leads Major League Baseball in runs scored by a huge margin. Their 72-run edge over the second-place Yankees is greater than what separates the Yanks from the Cincinnati Reds, who rank 20th in that stat. The Jays are also at the top in slugging percentage and OPS. But their work on the mound leaves much to be desired. The starting rotation, headed by Mark Buehrle, has a 4.38 ERA, a number that is better than only what the Indians, Tigers and Red Sox are putting out there. The bullpen has settled down after being dreadful early on and following a game of ninth-inning musical chairs that saw Toronto go from Brett Cecil to the aforementioned Castro, back to Cecil and then on to Roberto Osuna. Osuna has been pretty good as the closer for the past month, but he’s only 20. The need for a proven power arm in the late innings and a true ace in the rotation is immense.

Troy Tulowitzki, however, can’t pitch. Breaking news, I know.

Barring a trade to cover those pitching blemishes — the likelihood of which will depend on the prospects involved in this one and whom Toronto is willing to trade away — the Blue Jays intend on winning solely by outscoring everyone else. That’s kind of been their modus operandi for the entire season. Monday’s move just hammers that philosophy home like a Tulowitzki liner into the left-center gap.

The Blue Jays currently sit three games out of a wild card spot, but they aren’t going to make the playoffs without at least one notable upgrade to that staff (sorry, LaTroy). But I don’t want to be a total downer. This team is going to play a lot of ugly-fun slugfests, and while I think Devon Travis will end up replacing Reyes in the leadoff spot, how about this lineup just for fun?

Josh Donaldson
Troy Tulowitzki
Jose Bautista
Edwin Encarnacion
Chris Colabello
Russell Martin
Kevin Pillar
(some dude in left field)
Devon Travis

Is that something I could interest you in? That top quartet looks like something straight out of an All-Star game. American League East pitchers are finding it hard to sleep tonight.

Who Let Larry Bernandez pitch for the Seattle Mariners tonight?

I thought I read this morning that Felix Hernandez would be taking the mound in Houston tonight. I mean, that’s what the Internet told me. I trusted it.

But as the bottom of the first inning between the Mariners and Astros transpired, I felt as if I had been lied to. That couldn’t have been Felix. It just couldn’t have been.

Hernandez made it through all of one-third of an inning, allowing eight runs on five hits, two walks and an error of his own doing. With that performance, Hernandez became just the second Cy Young Award winner to permit that many runs in 0.1 innings, joining Fergie Jenkins’ abomination from 1980.

Eight earned runs matches a career high for Felix that dates back to Aug. 28, 2013 versus the Rangers. Because he gave up six more hits in that outing, his career-low game score of four is safe. Tonight’s game score? Eight. But no one would say Felix pitched “better;” he was just put out of his misery sooner.

The length of the start is noteworthy for its rarity as well. Hernandez lasting just a third of an inning has happened only once before: He recorded one out in a 2007 start before departing due to a right forearm injury. Perhaps a physical ailment can be blamed for what happened in Houston?

It’s not like this was Felix’s first poor start of the season or even of this month. He got shelled for seven runs at home against the Yankees on June 1, and after issuing 13 walks through his first 70.2 innings, Felix has handed out 10 walks in his last 12 innings. His strikeout rate has been OK — his only out in Houston came by way of the K — and there doesn’t seem to be anything worrisome going on with his velocity. The best-case scenario is that this was just a really, really, really bad night for “The King.”

Corey Kluber may have turned in the most dominant eight-inning start ever

“What’s wrong with Corey Kluber?”

Eighteen strikeouts in eight innings against the best team in baseball? I think he’s fine now.

Kluber came into Wednesday’s start versus the Cardinals having already allowed nearly 40 percent of the earned run total from his Cy Young Award-winning 2014 season. Sure, he had been a little unlucky with a .373 BABIP according to Baseball-Reference, but that didn’t really matter to most baseball enthusiasts. Kluber’s rough start had people questioning his meteoric rise from league-average pitcher to one of the league’s best. I’m sure the “F” word was thrown around over the past couple of weeks.


And then: Eight innings, one hit, no runs, no walks … 18 strikeouts.

Maybe those snickering will take notice now that Kluber has thrown perhaps the best eight-inning start in Major League Baseball history.

That’s not hyperbole. If you go by game score, Kluber’s score of 98 is the highest from any pitcher in a start that went less than nine innings. The previous high belonged to Yu Darvish, who compiled a score of 96 during his near-perfect game against the Astros a couple of years ago. But at least he got a couple of outs in the ninth that evening. The previous high game score for a pitcher who was pulled after the eighth inning was Johan Santana’s 95 in 2007.

The irrational fan in me definitely wanted to see Kluber come out for the ninth inning. 20 strikeouts? 21?? This could be history! Just skip his next start! Give him nine days to recover!

Alas, after 113 pitches and not allowing the Cardinals to get a runner to second base all night long, the rational call was made. The job was certainly done well.

The 18 strikeouts are notable by themselves, other than the obvious fact that someone was able to strike out major league hitters 18 times in 24 chances.

Those 18 Ks are the most from any American League pitcher since Roger Clemens did the same in 1998 (Ben Sheets had been the most recent pitcher in either league to reach 18 strikeouts; he did that in 2004). The day after Roger’s outing, Kerry Wood struck out 16, and Randy Johnson K’d 16 two days after that.

With Michael Pineda’s 16-strikeout performance from Sunday, he and Kluber are the first pitchers to strike out at least 16 batters within a week’s span since that trio 17 years ago. Maybe another overwhelming pitching performance that creates a lot of wind energy is just a few sunrises away?

Regardless, rest assured that there is nothing wrong with Corey Kluber, other than what he just did to the St. Louis Cardinals.

A Father-Son Journey Through Baseball, And The Elusive No-Hitter

My dad and me seven years ago at a Dodgers game. Somehow, he hasn't aged since this photo. I, on the other hand ...

Father and son seven years ago at a Dodgers game. Somehow, he hasn’t really aged since this photo. I, on the other hand …

I’ve always been told that you’ll see something special every time you go to a baseball game.

My father dispensed that fanciful adage upon me many times while I was young. But it was definitely true on Wednesday as we watched from Infield Reserve Section 6, seats 1 and 2 in Dodger Stadium as Clayton Kershaw no-hit the Colorado Rockies in one of the best pitching performances of the past 20 years.

It was an exciting moment for everyone in attendance. Well, almost everyone. In true Dodger Stadium fashion, I watched as some fans picked up their stuff and headed for the exits in the seventh inning. I’m not sure what’s going on in their lives, but that was a poor choice.

Anyway, what happened Wednesday night was historic. More importantly, it was the fulfillment of a life-long dream for my father.

At least I had already witnessed what was technically a no-hitter. It was a combined no-hitter at the college level, which is like watching “Gravity” on your tablet; you saw it, but you didn’t get to feel the full experience. Worst yet, I forgot to score that game at the University of Central Florida. I score 99 percent of the baseball games I attend but accidentally left my scorebook behind in my dorm that night. That further lessens its legitimacy to me.

But my father, a life-long Yankees fan who later created a life-long Yankees fan, had never seen a no-hitter. And while I estimate that I have seen between 400-500 baseball games in my life, he has attended more than 1,000.

He was born in 1950 and grew up on Long Island, N.Y., in a family that wasn’t fond of baseball. So he would hitch rides to Yankee Stadium with the neighbors or friends’ parents.

When he moved out to California in 1976, he loaded up his van with my mother, a cat, the money in his pocket and all of the beer that van could hold. As the Yankees and the Dodgers would meet three times in the World Series over the next handful of seasons, he grew to hate Blue with a passion while living in Los Angeles. That emotion was something else he passed on to me.

If you haven’t noticed already, I am very easily influenced, especially when it comes to sports.

My parents did their best to make ends meet in the late ’70s and early ’80s. She was a waitress, and he played music in any dive bar in Southern California that could fit a piano. On his off days, Sundays and Mondays, you could find both of them at a baseball game. They went to either Dodger Stadium or Anaheim Stadium when it hosted the correctly named California Angels.

And they scored each game. Or at least they scored each game as well as they could for as long as they could see. You have to be aware that this was well before our current climate, when beer sales weren’t halted in the bottom of the seventh inning.

My father guesses he and my mother attended at least 40 games per season during this time. Then I came along in

Here's half of the scorecard from a Royals-Angels game in 1981. The game was scored by my mother and father, the "2 Murphys." You can tell that scoring got more difficult and spotty by the 5th inning.

Here’s half of a scorecard from a Royals-Angels game in 1981. The game was scored by my mother and father, the “2 Murphys.” You can tell that scoring got more difficult and spotty by the 5th inning.

1984, seven weeks earlier than expected. But that didn’t stop my parents from acclimating me to Major League Baseball very early on. My dad says I attended my first game about three weeks after my birth. I was small enough for him to hold a beer, score the game, and cradle me with his forearm.

I don’t remember that first one, but many of the games remain vivid and almost all of them spent with my father.

Going to Dodgers games in the early-to-mid 1990s, sitting in the Loge section down the left-field line, receiving behind-the-back passes from Roger, “The Peanut Man.” That’s at least 20 games per year.

Going to Angels games in the late ’90 and into the new millennium while I was in high school, sitting in the upper deck between home plate and third base. Thirty games per year.

When I went off to UCF, I would return to California in the summer, and we would go to Dodgers games every Sunday and sit in the same section from which we watch the game today. You can’t beat it with a ticket price of $15 per person.

My father and I don’t have what I think most would call the typical father-son relationship. We are much less father-son and much more best friends. We are rarely serious. We tease each about anything. And we bond through baseball like nothing else. Our perfect day probably contains tickets to a game, opening a box of baseball cards, and then returning home to watch the Yankees win on TV.

When he dies, my dad has very clear and firm guidelines for what to do with all of his ashes: Scatter them around areas of the new Yankee Stadium. And some of them must make it on to the field. That must happen. If I get arrested in the process, so be it, but every speck of ash better be a part of that stadium, dammit.

We have plenty of baseball games in our future, but he had resigned that he would never see a no-hitter. This is something we talked about often. My father had grown playfully bitter of all of the people who had seen no-hitters, probably because he has not been without his share of close calls.

— He was invited to fly back to New York for Independence Day weekend and had tickets already purchased for him for the Yankees’ July 4, 1983 game versus the Red Sox. Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter. He couldn’t make the trip out for reasons he doesn’t remember.

— He gave away tickets to the Dodgers’ game on July 28, 1991 to his boss. On that afternoon, the Expos’ Dennis Martinez was perfect.

— My dad and I were all set to attend a Dodgers game on July 14, 1995. One problem: July 14 is my mother’s birthday. There’s no way we were making that game. You can guess the rest: Ramon Martinez threw a no-hitter.

— The closest either of us ever came to witnessing an MLB no-no in person occurred on May 24, 1995. Jack McDowell was pitching for the Yankees in Anaheim. By the fifth inning, McDowell had yet to allow a hit, and so my dad and I went into our usual mode of silence. Yes, we are those types of people who don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening. Our only code word for it is “special.” If a guy has a no-hitter in the works, he’s got “something special going on.” A perfect game is “very special.” It’s stupid, I know, but it’s part of our superstitions. More on that in a minute.

McDowell made it to the top of the eighth before Chili Davis reached on a seeing-eye infield single to break it up. Then the roof caved in; McDowell allowed three runs in the eighth, and the Yankees lost, 3-1.

Since then, we haven’t seen a pitcher even make it through the fourth with a no-no. But at every game, without fail, my father would always mention when the opposing pitchers had allowed their first hit. It didn’t matter if it was the top of the first, he still said, “There goes the no-hitter.” It’s like he has to hear himself say the words to make it real. I don’t know whom else he’s talking to; I know full well what a hit looks like, dad.

But he had to say it. Every time.

The fact that he had never seen a no-hitter was going to be at the top of his “Things You Regret” list when it came time for him to rest on his deathbed.

Then came this past Wednesday.

Originally, he was upset when I told him Kershaw would be pitching for the Dodgers. He is certainly amazing to watch, but we do see Kershaw relatively often, and his presence meant that another Dodgers win was pretty much inevitable. That’s the last thing my father wants to see.

Sure enough, it’s already the third inning, and the Dodgers are ahead, 7-0. Looks like we’ve got a throwaway game on our hands.

Yep, that happened.

Yep, that happened.

But we were also well aware that Kershaw had gone nine up, nine down through the first three innings. Dan, one of my dad’s employees whom we brought to the game, was unaware of our code. He wanted so eagerly to talk about what we might be watching. So my father gently told him, “If you want to sit somewhere else and talk about it, go ahead.” Or maybe it wasn’t that gentle.

Once Kershaw made it through five innings, the crowd was immersed, and my father and I had figured out, almost telepathically, what superstitious routine we were going to carry out until the end of the no-hitter or the end of the game, whichever came first.

He would score the top half of the innings. I would score the bottom half.

He had to leave his seat before every inning to go somewhere. Even after the beer stands had closed, he had to get out of his seat and go … somewhere. I don’t know where he went, but he made sure to return before first pitch.

At the top of every inning after the fifth, my father would say, “Let’s get some runs.” That’s what he would like to see the visitors do against the Dodgers, but now that statement was spoken only to continue what had been working for us.

Never mind the fact that Kershaw’s change-up was diving into the dirt like a jack-hammer, his curveball was coming from out of the heavens, and the Rockies’ lineup was extremely shorthanded due to injuries … my father was certain this no-hitter wasn’t going to continue without that same chain of events, repeated over and over and over again.

Now it’s the top of the ninth. Two outs.

The crowd is on its feet and at full volume. I look over at my dad to see if he can at least crack a smile. This is what he’s always wanted. Does he want to hold hands as we take in this moment?

Nope. He looks straight ahead, as stoic as ever. In that last at-bat, the only three people in the stadium are Clayton Kershaw, Corey Dickerson and Tom Murphy.

I take out my phone and start to film just before Kershaw strikes out Dickerson to record his 15th K of the night, and the 12th no-hitter in Los Angeles Dodgers history. I quickly spin the camera around to my father.

I have never seen him more excited. Not when we were present for the Yankees’ World Series-clinching game in San Diego in 1998.

Not when Scott Norwood’s kick went wide right and he jumped for joy out of his chair — and then sat right back down in agony as had undergone hernia surgery just days prior.

Not when Jim Leyritz went deep off of Mark Wohlers in 1996. Not when Derek Fisher nailed that shot with 0.4 seconds left versus the Spurs.

Not when I graduated from college, twice.

He pumped his right fist five times as if he was beating up the railing in front of us. He then looked up and raised his arms to the sky as if he was thanking God. It should be mentioned that he is an atheist.

He then turns to me and screams with glee, “SON OF A BITCH! I’VE FINALLY SEEN ONE!”

He can die a happy man.

My father will frame that scorecard this weekend.

My father will frame that scorecard this weekend.


We didn’t leave the stadium for another 40 minutes. We couldn’t leave. We had both just scratched a major item off of our bucket lists. We must have said “amazing” 100 times collectively that night. We could find no other words. However, I think “stunned” was thrown in there a good 50-60 times, too. My father has never been nor will never be so pleased for a Dodgers victory

When we arrived home, we had to watch the highlights. And then we watched them again an hour later. My father and I did what we usually do during the months of April through October: We sat at the kitchen table and watched baseball.

We spent hours reminiscing about what we had just seen and that, yes, it did happen. And we were there, soaking in baseball history together, right next to each other just as we have been for 30 years.

That is why you go to baseball games: You never know when something special will happen.


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