Category Archives: Major League Baseball

Red Sox take field in Cleveland amidst ongoing sadness from Marathon bombing

Tuesday was one of those nights when normal felt a little bit off.

One day after leaving Boston within a couple hours of two bombs exploding that killed three people watching the Boston Marathon, the Boston Red Sox players and manager tried to bring perspective to a deed that had no perspective.

Count Indians manager Terry Francona, a former Boston resident, among those who were questioned as part of their public/civic/sports job.

Thing is, questions were asked of players and managers feeling the same sadness and helplessness of anyone who watched or read what happened. Somehow guys who mainly worry about lineup cards and curve balls were expected to bring wisdom and healing.

The main message from the Red Sox, who flew into Cleveland after the bombs exploded: Perhaps a game can provide momentary relief.

Boston third baseman Drew Middlebrooks posted on Twitter: “I can’t wait to put on my jersey today… I get to play for the strongest city out there.”
“This is a time we can use our platform for the right reasons,” Middlebrooks said, “and really show that we are here for the city and how much we love our city.”

That in effect was all anyone could do.

Middlebrooks admitted it was odd being away from Boston, but admitted Tuesday’s game might not have been played in Fenway Park, which is not far from the sight of the death and suffering. The Celtics and Bruins canceled games, but Middlebrooks was happy that the Red Sox could “get something on TV in Boston other than replays of the bombing.”

“I know going back to my experiences with cancer,” said Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, “I know the further you can get away from that (and) not think about it, it kind of eases your mind. Maybe we can do that by taking the field, easing some minds back in Boston and give them something other than news to watch for a couple hours.”

Indians manager Terry Francona started the week expecting to be asked about facing the team he managed for eight years, and was braced for the questions.

Instead he tried to talk about the pain in his former city.

“I’m not sure you have to have roots in Boston to care about that,” Francona said. “Obviously I do … It seems when you turn the TV on, or when you’re there, it’s hard for everybody.

“Whether it’s personal or not, it seems like it gets personal.”

Francona knows the importance of Patriots Day in Boston, how it’s a holiday and how the city celebrates. Francona said some of the video on TV that he saw showed the church where his daughter was married.

“It’s very unsettling,” he said. “For everybody.”

But even with the unease, the sadness, the suffering, the day after buses ran, coffee was brewed and games were played. In Boston and elsewhere. It just so happened that the Red Sox were spending their time in Cleveland doing their job.

The Indians started the game with a moment of silence, then shortly after played “Sweet Caroline,” a song the Red Sox use as their anthem late in games. It was just a song, but there was meaning behind it.

“I thought,” Francona said, “that was a very classy touch.”

It didn’t mean the heaviness didn’t weigh, just like it did after Newtown and Aurora, Colo., and other equally horrific events. Francona often says many are smarter than him, but summed up many feelings when he said: “It’s hard enough to be an adult. Can you imagine being a little kid growing up now? It’s hard.

“It just makes you feel bad.”

Not from the NFL Combine: Indians have two of baseball’s top 100 prospects

Baseball America released its list of the top 100 prospects, and the Indians have two.

Except one they acquired through trade this offseason.

Which means they have one home-grown prospect in the top 100: SS Francisco Lindor, who ranks 28th.

The other: Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, the rap dude who isn’t liked by Arizona’s catcher who was acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason Shin-Soo Choo deal.

Bauer ranks 14th.

All of Cleveland knows how Washington felt Friday night

Cleveland fans can empathize with the pain of the Washington Nationals.

Five times Friday night the Nationals were one strike away from beating St. Louis and advancing to the National League Championship Series. Five times St. Louis somehow found a way to stay alive.  Somehow the Cardinals turned a 6-0 deficit into a win. Somehow they scored four runs in the ninth to beat the Nationals 9-7.

It was exhilarating for St. Louis, torture for Washington. Slow and agonizing torture.

And closer Drew Storen pitched the entire ninth.

This was a Jose Mesa of the highest degree.

The only thing different from Washington and Cleveland was the Indians’ ninth-inning came in Game 7 of the World Series, which made it all that much more painful. But this Nationals meltdown was reminiscent of Barry Bonds getting thrown out at home in his last game as a Pirate, of the Red Sox turning a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 win over the Yankees, of so many other improbable comebacks.

And Storen, as this excellent story in the Washington Post by Mike Wise shows, suffered tremendously when it was over. For a picture of what a clubhouse is like after a game like that, give it a read. (Thanks to Twitter follower Raj Malik, @rajmalikdc, for pointing it out).

Baseball is such a great game. The Reds were mounting a comeback like St. Louis in their final game, but Cincinnati’s line drives were caught by the Giants. The Cardinal somehow kept finding open spaces.

The lesson of the Indians, Pirates and now the Reds really highlights the one great element of baseball that makes it different from other sports: There is no clock.

You have to get 27 outs.

There is no taking a knee, no killing the clock, no using time in the final minutes, no timeouts to stop the clock, no going out of bounds, no playing four corners.

Twenty-six is not enough. Neither is 26 and two-third.

You have to get 27 outs.

Back in the swing of things

One goes away for a week or so for vacation with his daughters and returns grateful that at the age of 16 they are still willing to take vacations with their old man.

At some point that will end, after all.

Of course, this visit was combined with some college visits, which is interesting, especially the way things are explained.

At Fordham the gentleman in charge said one could go the school web site and get a good guess what parents would be expected to pay. “Be ready for a higher number than you expect,” he said.

Ahem.

OK then.

At New York University, the tour goes right through the student union building, which has an almost priceless view above Washington Square Park uptown to the Empire State Building. It’s breathtaking, but it ought to be for what NYU costs.

The NYU tour takes folks into buildings, but not really in them. Example: The tour goes to a dorm, but they decline to show a dorm room because, they say, all dorm rooms are different.

That’s an interesting approach.

Of course the trip had to end sometime, which means the real world returns.

Upon return, it’s interesting to learn some things:

–The NBA Finals are over and someone won a title. Perhaps it’s best to leave that right there.

–The Indians are on a four-game losing streak and have been outscored 22-6 on the streak. This is called a “tough stretch.” Of course the losing streak follows a four-game winning streak, including a sweep of the Reds when the Indians scored 21 runs. This is called “baseball.” The Indians are 10-13 in the month of June, which isn’t exactly burning it up. But they remain in contention in the division in which they play.

–Major League umpiring remains as … interesting … yes, that’s the word … as ever, with a missed dive into the stands called an out. Umpire Mike DiMuro flat missed the call on Jack Hannahan’s pop-fly Tuesday night, and that happens. Me, I appreciate the fact Manny Acta didn’t lose it over the call. It was botched, and DiMuro admitted it was botched. Umpires make mistakes, just like players and managers and, yes, even sportswriters. Occasionally. However, one hopes that the next time any player goes into the stands and raises his glove, DiMuro follows his fundamentals and asks to see the ball actually in the glove.

–College football now has a playoff system, with a four-team playoff coming in 2014 — and the four teams will be “selected.” Really, all this means is that instead of the third-best team complaining and griping, it now will be the fifth-best. No system is perfect, and the NCAA made clear its intentions behind the playoffs by putting the title game up for bid. Oregon State president Ed Bay answered when asked how the playoff would change NCAA revenues. His answer came with a smile: “Up.” Yes, it’s all about the standard stuff, which would be the money.

–The Cavs take the next step in the post-you-know-who era in Thursday’s draft (which has been covered exhaustively and extensively by our own Sam Amico). It appears they will not get the shooter they need in Bradley Beal, so that leaves guys like Harrison Barnes or Michael-Kidd Gilchrist. A year ago, there was some disappointment when Barnes decided to stay at North Carolina because he was in the mix for the top pick. Now the Cavs might be able to take him this season, and pair him with Kyrie Irving. That would be a pretty good start to building a new team.

–Incidentally, the draft’s top pick, Anthony Davis, is doing his NCAA thing by trademarking the “unibrow.” That’s the single eyebrow that goes across Davis’ face and above his nose. This after he had already trademarked “Fear the Brow” and “Raise the Brow.” Davis told CNBC: “I don’t want anyone to try to grow a unibrow because of me and then try to make money off of it. Me and my family decided to trademark it because it’s very unique.” An eyebrow. Unique. Imagine that. Someone might actually want to grow an eyebrow over their nose because of some snot-nosed college kid who can jump high and block shots who has yet to play professional game. Of course, the NCAA made this kind of thing possible by not allowing any college student to profit off the millions the NCAA and others make from ticket sales and TV revenue and jersey sales and, yes, “brow” merchandise. So Davis is following the lead of the NCAA, and taking his revenues like his eyebrow … up.

Good to see things remain consistent in the sports world even after a week of looking at colleges.

Verlander’s eighth inning was something to behold

The Indians swept the Tigers and won the week as they solidified their hold on first place in the AL Central (Did I mention they are in first place?). This was a very good thing for the (first-place) Indians, who continued their (division-leading) brand of solid, smart, opportunistic (first-place) baseball. The (first-place) Indians have stared down the (third-place) beast that is the (third-place) Tigers lineup, and not blinked. Did I mention they are in first?

But one other thing that remains from the series finale is the last inning thrown by Justin Verlander in Thursday’s game. It was, quite simply, off the proverbial hook.

It was probably the best pitched non-playoff inning I’ve ever seen.

Thursday’s game was kind of  like a mini-playoff game in May, with lots of strategy and moves. It’s the kind of game that makes baseball great. The Indians did just what they were told to do when facing Verlander, they just tried to put the ball in play. That, plus the fact Justin Masterson was so good, gave Cleveland a win — and an impressive sweep. But Verlander ended with a statement to remind the Indians that they will have to go through him to win the division.

Watching him in the eighth was downright incredible.

He started the inning throwing mid-90s, and got faster as the inning progressed.

On his 112th pitch of the game, he hit 100. Then he struck out Jason Kipnis throwing 101.

Verlander threw three strikes to Kipnis, and they were 98, 100 and 101 — the last his 113th pitch of the game.

He then faced Asdrubal Cabrera and threw him an 82 mph curveball, but followed with a fastball that hit 102. The next pitch: A nasty curve at 83 that froze Cabrera and had him flipping the bat away as if to say: “I’m helpless against this guy.” Which he was.

Verlander threw 11 pitches that inning, and four were over 100.

Baseball folks call what he did sick or nasty.

It was all that — and more.

The Indians were helpless.

“Amazing,” Indians manager Manny Acta said.

The chart below (from BrooksBaseball.net’s PitchFX tool) shows Verlander’s pitch speed throughout the game. Note how he a) mixes speeds, which continually keeps hitters off balance, and b) how his speed increases as the game goes on. This is not supposed to happen. Guys are supposed to lose strength and speed as the pitch count grows. He did the opposite.

The far right of the chart shows just how unhittable he was against Cabrera. His speed was increasing with each pitch, and the breaking ball he dropped had Cabrera striding into a Burke Airport runway before the pitch was halfway to the plate.

In fact, watch Verlander as he throws strike three to Cabrera. He’s on his way to the dugout before the umpire signals.

This was the most memorable non-playoff inning I’ve seen. Short of Paul Byrd’s double-windup, it might be the best I’ve ever seen.

One analyst says Indians are better than the Tigers

It wasn’t just because in one game the Tigers lost to the Indians that led one ESPN sabermetric guy to say he doesn’t get the Tigers. He simply believes the Indians are the better team.

Wrote David Schoenfeld: I just don’t see why the Tigers are better. Just because everyone picked them before the season? Once you get past those big shiny names on the Tigers’ roster, if you want to pinpoint one big difference between the two clubs, it’s a little statistic that us sabermetric types love: the old base on balls. 

FanGraphs: Is Chris Perez’s blown save a sign of trouble?

Chris Perez is such an unfailingly good guy it’s tough to criticize him, much less watch him blow a save in the season opener. He’s what athletes  should be — competitive, caring and accountable. Guy stands up no matter what happens.

Too, the life of a closer is fraught with bad games. The reason it stands out so much shows the edge on which the closer lives. Win and everyone is happy, lose and a close game is gone and the closer is the reason.

Perez took the blame for the loss in the opener because he could not hold on to a 4-1 lead in the ninth. But the Indians hitters were just as much as fault, especially Asdrubal Cabrera, who grounded into a first-pitch double play with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th. Anything to the outfield wins the game; he swung at the first pitch after the guy ahead of him walked on four pitches, and ended the inning.

But there may be reason to be concerned about Perez.

The web site fangraphs.com details these concerns in a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of his appearance. It’s well worth reading.

Among the chief concerns: Perez’s velocity was down, which combined with spotty location leads to problems — he had one swing-and-a-miss, not nearly enough for a guy who throws hard.

The conclusion:

“The Indians have a very capable relief ace in Vinnie Pestano waiting in the wings — he worked 1.1 scoreless in extras Thursday, including a strikeout and three whiffs in 25 pitches. Perez simply doesn’t have the control to offer anywhere near what Pestano does without that life on his fastball; if Perez can’t find it soon, he’ll be one of the first closers to lose his job.”

Votto’s new deal could shake the earth

I opined yesterday that Joey Votto’s $225 million extension with the Reds might just change the rules for small- and mid-market teams. If it doesn’t change them its impact will be felt in those cities (like Cleveland) where players have been traded or left as free agents as opposed to retained.

The Indians had their reasons for doing what they did, not the least of which was working within budgeted revenues.

The Reds kept Votto.

And they appear to have extended themselves greatly to do so. I mean, $225 large?

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay offers that the Reds clearly expect their revenues to increase, and if they can increase revenues by $10 million a year (which isn’t as nuts as it sounds) they’ll have made up the difference between what he makes now and what he will make on the extension.

His signing is a risk, but given the possible revenue increases, it might be a risk worth taking.

Votto is that good. And he’s also a guy who earned it the old-fashioned way. He worked for it.

The one group of fans that can identify with Cleveland fans

I’ve always thought that the one group of fans that can identify with Cleveland fans lives in Pittsburgh, and roots for baseball. Because when Atlanta’s Sid Bream just beat the throw from Barry Bonds to win the seventh game of a playoff series in 1992, an era ended. That was Pittsburgh’s Drive, Fumble and Jose Mesa moment — and it’s given an excellent look here. Yes, Pitsburgh still has the Steelers, but that one had to hurt.

More wisdom from Curt Shilling

Curt Schilling is one of those guys who always does interesting interviews. He speaks his mind, is not afraid  to state his opinion and sometimes goes against convention.

Schilling presently runs 38 Studios, a game company in Rhode Island that next week will release its new video game “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.”

Schilling granted an interview to SI.com in conjuction with the game release, and had a few interesting things to say.

Among them was his opinion that nobody who admitted to using steroids — Roger Clemens included — should be in the Hall of Fame.

“My biggest problem, and I’m so sick of hearing it from hitters or anybody else, is that steroids didn’t help you hit,” Schilling said in the interview. “That’s the most bald-faced lie ever. When I’m facing Barry Bonds Sept. 1 and Barry Bonds feels super fresh and I’m dragging ass, don’t tell me that. It was as much about being fresh and keeping your body fresh.”