Archive for the ‘cincinnati reds’ Category

Livan Tames Reds

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Backed by a ten hit and seven run attack, Livan Hernandez pitched his second complete game of the season, as the Washington Nationals notched a split of their four game series in Cincinnati. The Nats 7-1 victory compensated, at least in part, for the paucity of hits and runs the team suffered in both Miami and Cincinnati over the last seven games. Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina homered for the Nats, as Nyjer Morgan and Willie Harris finally seemed poised to break out of their respective slumps. But the story on Thursday was the work of Hernandez, who picked up five strikeouts while holding the Reds to just seven hits. Hernandez was masterful: he threw 102 pitches, 79 of them for strikes. The complete game gave the Nats’ bullpen a needed rest, as the team now heads into Milwaukee for a three game set against the suddenly average Brew Crew.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Ralph Houk, who died on Wednesday, was once one of the giants of the game. It’s not that Houk was that good a player — he appeared in only 91 games over eight seasons, but he managed the New York Yankees in 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris made home run headlines. Houk steered the Yankees through some of their most successful campaigns. Under Houk’s leadership the Yankees won 109, 94 and 104 games — taking two world series (against the Red in ’61 and the Giants in ’62). He went on to manage the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox before becoming a vice president of the Minnesota Twins. He was renowned for his temper, though former Yankees’ testify that he knew how to handle a team. He had enormous influence on future managers Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda. “I remember what a tough guy he was,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said upon hearing of his death. But Houk was also a student of the game, showing up hours before the first pitch to study line-ups and statistics.

Houk’s tough guy demeanor was well earned. He had a fearsome temper and was called “the Major,” an affectionate term that also accurately described his wartime experiences. Houk was a minor league catcher in the South Atlantic League when World War Two began. He put down his mitt and was mustered into the army as a private in February of 1942. He was picked for officers’ candidate school at Fort Knox and was deployed to Europe with the 9th Armored Division. Houk was a better soldier than baseball player: he landed at Omaha Beach, served during the Battle of the Bulge and was one of the first American soldiers to cross the Remagen Bridge into Germany. “I sent him on three missions in April of 1945 and one day he returned with nine prisoners of war,” a senior American officer later recalled.  “His reports invariably had an undetermined number of enemy killed.” Houk earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the war. To the last day of his life he kept the helmut he had worn as a young lieutenant when he landed on Omaha Beach. It had a bullet hole in it. He died in Florida at the age of 90.

“One Long, Losing Slog”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Nats 7-2 loss in Cincinnati on Monday night might have been averted — of only the Nats had hit, pitched and fielded like a major league team. The defeat stretched the Nats losing streak to three games and means that the Nats have now lost six of their last eight. Reaching the .500 mark, which might have been hoped for in April and even in May, now seems a distant and fantastical dream, as the team struggles to find its legs. The losing spiral sparked Washington Post sportswriter Adam Kilgore to describe the Nats season of hope as “one long, losing slog.” That seems about right. So too the team itself seems infected by frustration: “We do have a great lineup. We just can’t get everyone hot at the same time,” Adam Dunn said after he loss. “It seems like we haven’t had two guys hot at the same time. If Guzzie is hot, then me and Zim aren’t hot. And then if Zim is hot, we are not. It’s bad timing, really. I don’t know how else to put it.” Luis Atilano is set to face Cincinnati rookie sensation Mike Leake tonight at The Great American Ballpark.

It’s Not A Motorcycle Baby, It’s A Chopper: On this day in 1958, Tiger’s ace Jim Bunning threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox, clinching a victory in a 3-0 contest. Bunning seemed to have Boston’s number — he once struck out Ted Williams three times in one game (also in 1958), spurring “The Splendid Splinter” to rip off his jersey (buttons popping) and throw it to the clubhouse floor: “I’ll get you Bunning,” he said and began searching for a schedule to determine when he’d face him again. Baseball legend has it that Williams hated Bunning so much that he would use him as a foil during batting practice, leaning into the ball and swinging as he yelled “here comes Jim Bunning. Jim F — ing Bunning and that little shit slider of his.” Williams little trick didn’t seem to work: Bunning struck out Williams more than any other player.

The key to Bunning’s success was a sidearm slider, a pitch he could control from nearly any angle. It fooled Williams, as it did nearly everyone else. Bunning led the league in strikeouts in 1959 and 1960 (with 201 each year), while gaining a reputation as one of the most durable pitchers around (he was regularly in the top five in the A.L in innings pitched). He never seemed to get injured. The oddest thing about Bunning’s career came after his greatest success: in 1963, the Tigers trades Bunning to the Philadelphia Phillies for veteran outfielder Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton, a fireballing reliever with a lot of promise. It was a forgettable trade, one of the worst in Detroit history. Demeter was just okay, while Hamilton was slowed by arm injuries. While never living up to his promise, Hamilton became a kind of legend: in 1967 he threw a pitch to Boston’s Tony Conigliaro that shattered the upper left side of Conigliaro’s face and ended his career. It also ended Hamilton’s. The fireballer lost his speed after the incident, as well as his willingness to pitch inside. He left baseball and now runs a restaurant in Missouri.

Bunning’s fate was quite different. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1964 as the great new hope — the pitcher who would put the perennial losers at the top of the National League. He damn near did. The Phillies had a great line-up in ’64, led by power hitters Dick Allen and Johnny Callison and a slick defense centered on catcher Clay Dalrymple, second sacker Tony Taylor and slap hitting expert Bobby Wine (another one of those obnoxious little “pepper pots”). Bunning was complemented by starter Chris Short (a pitcher of almost unbelievable promise), Art Mahaffey and Ray Culp. The Tigers might have gotten a hint of the mistake they’d made when Bunning pitched a perfect game against the New York Mets on June 21, and the big righty went on to notch a remarkable 19-8 record.

But if Bunning was a success, his team wasn’t. 1964 was the year of “The Foldin’ Phillies” — as the ponies lost ten in a row and a seven game lead with 17 games to play. Phillies manager Gene Mauch panicked in the midst of this debacle — pitching Bunning in three games in seven days: Bunning lost all of them. Philadelphia dog-paddled its way into second place, while St. Louis passed them at a full sprint. It was the worst fold in major league history, until the Mets eclipsed it in 2007. The Phillies ’64 cataclysm seemed to unhinge the team in the years that followed, haunting Dick Allen’s successors who struggled, and struggled and struggled. But “Big Jim” Bunning continued to thrive, accounting for 70 wins over the next four years. Never mind: the Phils sputtered along, never quite putting it together again until 1980 — when they won a World Series. Their first.

After his stint in Philly, Bunning went on to Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before ending up in the Hall of Fame (it was a vote of the veterans committee that finally confirmed his entry)  and the U.S. Senate, where he now serves as a controversial and conservative voice from Kentucky. He retains the reputation he gained from his years on the mound, as a head hunting foul-mouthed lug whose stock-in-trade was a quickie under the chin — he led the N.L. in hit batters all four of his years in Philadelphia and was widely loathed for his beanball habits. Bunning’s critics say he hasn’t changed: he remains a ramrod straight, if somewhat embarrassing figure. When asked to describe Bunning’s legislative prowess, the late Senator Robert Byrd thought for a minute before issuing his praise: “a great baseball man.” But the people of Kentucky seem to love him, voting him back to his Senate seat every six years. Then too, even if Bunning is as controversial now as he was in Detroit and Philly, there is little doubt that he once threw one of the best, if not the best, slider in the game. At least that’s what Ted Williams thought.

John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . And Jim

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Oddly (but not unreasonably), the name Jim Maloney has always been associated in my mind with “The Dave Clark Five” — the North London rock band that, for a short time, gave “The Beatles” a run for their money. The DC5, as they were called, had a number of hits (“Glad All Over,” “Bits and Pieces,” “Anyway You Want It”) and a solid following, particularly among those (and there were some) who thought “The Beatles” were over hyped, over exposed, foppish and a tad too popular. Maloney was that way: the big Cincinnati right hander was one of the best pitchers in baseball during the same year (1964) that the DC5 reached the peak of their popularity, though he was bound to be left out among all the oohing and ahhing reserved for the big four of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal. History is the best judge: Big Jim could never compete for space against Sandy, Don, Bob and Juan any more than Dave Clark could garner the same attention as John, Paul, George and Ringo. Tsk. Tsk.

I remember watching Maloney pitch the front end of a double header in Milwaukee in the deep summer of ’64. It was the week following the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was passed in the Congress, and two weeks after the bodies of three civil rights workers were discovered in Mississippi. But while at least some of the country was focused on war and civil rights, a large number of people in Milwaukee were focused on the August Braves-Reds match-up. The Braves-Reds tilt, it was thought, would determine whether the Braves would contend for the pennant. All of Milwaukee was atwitter with talk about how the Braves front four would match-up perfectly against the mighty Reds — and for good reason. The Braves front four consisted of a legend (Warren Spahn) and three savvy nose-in-the-dirt youngsters: Tony Cloninger, Denny LeMaster and Hank Fischer. Spahn was faltering then, but never mind: Wade Blasingame could come in to spell him in odd starts, and the 20-year-old was something to behold.

The only problem was that Cincinnati’s front four was even more formidable. Jim Maloney anchored the staff, which consisted of Jim O’Toole, Bob Purkey and Joey Jay. If that wasn’t enough, Joe Nuxhall was still kicking around (at the age of 35) and Sammy Ellis was an intimidating presence in the bullpen. The Redlegs’ starting nine was a terrifying mix of heavy lumber and hit-em-to-all-fields stars that included the underrated Vada Pinson, the man-for-all-seasons Frank Robinson and a young Pete Rose. But the real deal on the mound for the Reds was Jim Maloney, a brute of a pitcher whose up-and-in 95-plus fastball was nearly unhittable. Maloney, then all of 24, had just come off a 23-win season, with a sparkling ERA of 2.77. His ’64 season looked like much the same, though he wasn’t as well-supported as he had been the year before. While Maloney’s best games were still a year away (he pitched three no hitters in his career — and won only two of them), he was the one guy who could sink the Braves’ hopes for a World Series match-up. Which is exactly what he did.

But not with his arm.

Memories are strange things, allowing us snapshots of the past — and rarely a comprehensive account, or anything resembling a “film.” So it is that I recall that back in the deep summer of 1964 (and as I sat on the first base side of Milwaukee County Stadium) the great Cloninger-Maloney duel to decide the National League Pennant wasn’t a duel at all. It was an artillery barrage, led by none other than Maloney, a hulking presence, a converted Fresno, California shortstop whom the Reds transformed into a fastball ace because he couldn’t hit a lick. Except (of course) for that day in Milwaukee. And here’s the snapshot: in the sixth inning of the first game, with the bases loaded, Maloney came to the plate (a sure out) and swung his bat through the strike zone (click) and sent the ball sailing high and deep (I can see it still) into the bleachers in left field. It was a Jim Maloney grand slam — the only home run he hit that year and it sent all of Milwaukee into mourning (I swear, I thought Cloninger was going to have a stroke). Suddenly (but certainly, for that is how these things are) and though it was only the first game of the double header, the Braves were d-e-a-d Dead, Dead, Dead for 1964. The second game (as I recall) was all Vada Pinson and ended up a Reds win, but it hardly mattered. By then, Milwaukee fans knew for sure that at least for 1964 (which saw a legendary Phillies collapse) the Braves would not win the pennant.

Jim Maloney is one of those great forgotten pitchers. In June of 1965 he threw a ten inning no hitter and lost, giving up a home run in the 11th. He struck out 18 — still a Reds record — but he took the loss. In August of 1965, Maloney did it again, throwing another 10 inning no hitter, while striking out eight. This time he won. He wasn’t finished; after successive one hitters through ’65, ’66 and ’67 — years in which he battled an increasingly sore arm — he pitched a no hitter on May 13 of 1969 against the Astros. It might have been his best game. In 1970, Sparky Anderson took over as Cincinnati’s manager and inaugurated an era of Red baseball victories. But by then Maloney’s shoulder (and achilles tendon) had exploded. He was shipped to California, in an attempt to revive his career as an Angel, but it was too late, and in 1971 he retired. Maloney — the Dave Clark of pitchers — was only 31.

Nats Drop 2 of 3; Stammen Demoted

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The Washington Nationals dropped an ten inning contest to the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 on Sunday, losing two of three to the surging Concepcions. The Nats have now lost ten of their last fourteen and have dropped to four games under .500. The Sunday loss was particularly painful, as usually reliable Nats reliever Matt Capps dropped a winnable save in the ninth, while Doug Slaten gave up two unnecessary singles in the tenth to provide an exclamation to the collapse. Nats starter Craig Stammen pitched well, hurling six-and-two-thirds innings, while allowing one run. But Stammen’s effort was not enough to save his job with the big club: after the game he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Stephen Strasburg, who will start on Tuesday against the Pirates.

Stammen was philosophical about his demotion. “The proof is in the pudding. I knew I was kind of one of the guys in line for [the demotion],” he said after hearing the news. “I haven’t been very consistent and it’s just the way it is. To pitch in the big leagues, you can’t really worry about if you are going to get sent down or staying or going or eating cheese for lunch. You have to be able to get guys out.” It has been known for some time that Strasburg’s arrival would mean the demotion of someone in the starting rotation — and the decision came down to one between Stammen, J.D. Martin or Luis Atilano. Outside of Stammen, the continuing big story of the Nats is the inability of Matt Capps to get out of the ninth with a win. Once again on Sunday, Capps found himself in a save situation that he couldn’t complete. Capps entered the contest with one out in the ninth, but gave up successive doubles to account for the blown save, his fourth of the year. “I don’t know what to say. I wasn’t very good,” Capps said following the contest.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Bill Ladson has the Nats “leaning” towards drafting big bat catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper with the first pick in today’s first year player draft. While Harper is only 17, his bat is so good that he’s become the prohibitive favorite — and has been called “the greatest amateur player of all time.” So, as most Nats blogs agree, Harper is the pick: Nationals Farm Authority (who are good at predicting these kinds of things) says that Harper is “a lead pipe cinch,” while detailing the top ten prospects in the lottery. Meanwhile, back on June 3, Nationals Enquirer published a video of Harper’s ejection from a recent junior college game. The rap on Harper has been that he has a bad attitude, but the report seems more rumor than fact. Then too, if being ejected from a game were cause to question a person’s character, there wouldn’t be many draftees eligible. Even so, over at Capital Punishment they’re worried about the attitude question and meticulously rework worries about Harper’s swing. CP says that Harper is no “sure thing.” Too true.

The Nats-Reds “Scrum”

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

In the long history of a full season, Saturday’s loss will go down as just another statistical digit — but the 5-1 struggle that pitted the Washington Nationals against the central division-leading Cincinnati Reds may well mark a turning point in the Nats season. Or, at least, that’s the hope. Following the game (which featured enough oddities to ensure endless entertainment for the 25,000 souls who watched it at Nationals Park), Nats skipper Jim Riggleman seemed oddly upbeat, stressing that the pure gamesmanship of the Anacostia Nine provided convincing evidence that the Nats can play with — and beat — any team in the majors. That wasn’t true last year.

The facts of the game are this: Nats starter Luis Atilano pitched well enough to raise the argument that when “the phenom” arrives, he should stay (seven complete, six hits, one earned), Washington hitters battled hard (seven hits in all and numerous scoring opportunities) against a rising Reds star who seemed oddly masterful on the mound, and the team successfully scrummed through a puzzling interference call on Ian Desmond and a bone-crushing collision between Cincinnati second sacker Brandon Phillips and D.C. backstop Wil Nieves, that left Phillips to fist pump his courageous ability to elbow a player caught flat-footed and undefended. It was the response to that among Nats fans that finally seemed to congeal the kind of loyalty that Riggleman & Company so prize: Miguel Batista got a high sign from Ivan Rodriguez on the bench (a raised eyebrow and then a nod) and plunked the more-than-deserving Phillips with a 89 mph fastball. (We once doubted Miguel’s abilities: now he can do no wrong.) As Phillips slogged to first, Batista walked proudly from the mound — even before he was tossed by the inimitable (and unstable) Joe West.

Nats fans, who awaited the moment with patience, rose to cheer.

Following the game, the back-and-forth between the Nats and Reds (the interference call, the subsequent ejection of Riggleman, the Phillips-Nieves collision and subsequent fist-pumping — and then the Batista retaliation) elicited enough interest to anesthetize an elephant. This was all, well, par for the course. At least in baseball. “I just go out there and play the game of baseball the way I know how,” Phillips said. “I just play with a lot of excitement. I didn’t see anything wrong with what I did. If people think I did something wrong, I apologize to whoever thinks so, but it’s baseball.” Batista shrugged:  “It was just playing baseball,” he said. “Everyone who knows Phillips, you have to go way in and way out.” Perhaps, but Nats fans filing past the Navy Yard Metro could at least salve their 5-1 feelings with this palliative: if Dusty’s talented boys think they can win through intimidation, the likes of Miguel Batista will show them otherwise.

Nats Return After Dropping Five

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

John Lannan held the St. Louis Cardinals to two runs in six innings (one of his most solid outings of the season), but it wasn’t enough as the punchless Nats lost their fifth straight on the road. The Nats return to Washington today to face the Metropolitans in a two game set, which will be followed by the “Battle of the Beltways” — a three game series against the league poorest Baltimore Orioles. Despite the loss, Lannan’s outing against the Redbirds must have brought a sigh of relief to the Nats brain trust, as the young lefty is a mainstay of the Washington rotation. With Jason Marquis down for at least the next several weeks (and with Craig Stammen and Luis Atilano still finding their way in the majors), Livan Hernandez and a revived Scott Olsen would have been the only two absolutely dependable starters in the Nats’ rotation if Lannan had continued to struggle.

In spite of the five game skid, Nationals skipper Jim Riggleman focused on Lannan’s positives. “He pitched good,” Riggleman said. “I’m really encouraged that he was out there and pitched in that 100-pitch range pain-free. He’s kind of had an issue or two. We bumped him a start and all that kind of stuff and that’s one of the better games he has thrown this year for us.” Lannan was also upbeat. “We haven’t hit our stride with hitting or with pitching and we’re still battling,” he said after the Cardinals loss. “We’re in every ballgame, and that’s all you can ask for when we’re kind of struggling. We have to get out there tomorrow and win as many as we can at home.”

Cincinnati Rising: If the Nats call up Stephen Strasburg during anything that even looks like a major skid, the expectations for him will be too high. But if they’re winning, well then Strasburg’s arrival will be seen as a move that can put them over the top. There’s no way for the Nats front office to win this “why not now” battle; which is probably one of the reasons why Mike Rizzo is sticking to his original schedule, despite the young phenom’s spectacular showing in the minors and in spite of what the Nats might be doing on the field. Then too, there’s the model being followed by the rising young starter in Cincinnati — Mike Leake. Leake has powered a surprising Cincinnati (where arms go to die) squad to first place in the Central Division. Due to Leake (whose role at the center of the Reds starting rotation is key) the Reds are giving the Cardinals fits and making the Cubs look mediocre.

So why aren’t the Nats doing the same thing?

Tom Verducci unpacks this issue in a recent SI column. The heart of the Verducci column is a comparison of the way the Reds are handling first round draft pick Mike Leake vs. the way that Rizzo & Co. are handling Strasburg. “What is most interesting about the Strasburg Plan,” Verducci writes, “is that concurrently the Cincinnati Reds are running an entirely different development plan with Mike Leake , their base model of Strasburg. Leake, 22, and Strasburg, who turns 22 in July, both pitched in major college programs, both were drafted last year in the first round, both signed too late to pitch in affiliated pro baseball last year and both went through their first spring training this year. They were born only eight months apart.” And then Verducci goes on to note that Leake’s pitch count this year add up to 691 pitches in nine MLB games as compared to Strasburg’s 469 pitches in the minor leagues. So who’s being smarter — Dusty Baker’s playoff hungry Cincinnati Reds, or Jim Riggleman’s build-for-the-future Nationals?

Verducci notes that Jim Riggleman was the manager of the Cubs in the year that then-phenom Kerry Wood was overpitched and that (as a result), he’ll be extra careful when Strasburg arrives. But the temptation is certainly there. We might imagine a resurgent Nats Nine that, in mid-September, is just two games out of the Wild Card race. With Lannan, Strasburg, Hernandez, Stammen and Olsen as the starting five and Strasburg on the mound against (say) the surging Braves, Riggleman will want to leave him right where he is — despite his pitch count. It’s not everyday you get into the playoffs. But then again, why would you rely on Strasburg in September if you know that your next day’s starter is not Craig Stammen or Scott Olsen, but Roy Oswalt? Which is not only why Jim and Mike will stick with their plan (no matter what), it’s also why it’s likely that come the trade deadline, the Baker Boys of Cincinnati will do the right thing by Mike Leake: they’ll get him some help.

Jimenez Outduels Livan

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Ubaldo Jimenez and Livan Hernandez held a master class in pitching on Thursday with Jimenez coming out on top — at least in terms of the score. Supported by two solo home runs (one each from catcher Miguel Olivo and third baseman Ian Stewart), Jimenez shut down the Nationals when it counted, wracking up his fourth win of the season in an itchy-close pitchers’ duel at Nationals Park. In spite of the score, Hernandez was (arguably), the more impressive pitcher, mixing a fastball (which topped out at 87 mph), with a slider and change-up. Hernandez changed speeds so effectively that he most often fooled Colorado’s heavy hitting lineup. Jimenez, on the other hand, relied on an overpowering fastball that topped out at 97 mph — his slowest offering was Livan’s fastest. So while the Rockies won, the result of the duel between speed and finesse was clear: Livan was the more cerebral pitcher, Jimenez the rocket.

In the end, the brilliantly pitched 2-0 contest came down to this: the Rockies could hit a hanging slider (which is what  Hernandez threw to Ian Stewart), while the Nationals most often could not catch-up to the Jimenez fastball. The contrast between Hernandez and Jimenez was most marked in the first inning. Behind in the count 3-1 against Willie Harris, Jimenez attempted to play catch-up by throwing Harris his best pitch — a 97 mph fastball in the upper part of the zone. The pitch was predictable and, in most cases, would be unhittable. But Willie was ready and put the offering over the head of the centerfielder. “The guy throws a million miles an hour,” Harris said, talking about the at bat. “He has really good offspeed pitches as well. He keeps you off balance. You get in an 2-0 count, you are definitely thinking the fastball. He drops in a changeup or a slider on you. That’s what the good pitchers do now.” It was one of the few mistakes that Jimenez made.

There are enough good third basemen in the NL to stock a separate league: David Wright, Ian Stewart, Placido Polanco, the fading Chipper Jones, Aramis Ramirez, Arizona’s wiff-or-wack Mark Reynolds and, of course, “our very own” Ryan Zimmerman. Among others. Cincinnati fans would clamor that new Reds third sacker Scott Rolen should be added to the list of the elite: and they have a point. Rolen, who once crossed swords with Tony La Russa,  is leading a Cincinnati team that could be the surprise champ in the NL Central, despite their early 7-9 record. Rolen is playing like he did in 2002, when he came over to the Redbirds from the Ponies and won a Silver Slugger Award. The often hobbled Rolen is hitting .289 with four homers and Cincinnati (where arms go to die) is responding. They took two of three in Los Angeles, notching an impressive 8-5 victory yesterday against the Trolleys that was sparked by Rolen’s cannon-shot double in the bottom of the seventh. Dusty’s Baker Boys were ecstatic. This is the way that Baker and the Cincinnati front office had planned things at the start of the season.

Rolen, who has a problem with authority figures, fits well in Cincinnati — where (very often), no one seems to be in charge. The slick-leather-big-bat third baseman was a 2nd round draft pick for Philadelphia back in 1993, but took four years to get to the majors. It was worth the wait. Beginning in 1997, Rolen began a five year run that had Phillies fans comparing him with Philadelphia legend Mike Schmidt: Rolen hit 21, 31, 26, 26 and 25 dingers before being shipped (via Toronto), to St. Louis where he battled injuries and fought with the manager. St. Louis cut him loose, shipping Rolen to Toronto (which, believe it or not, actually has a baseball team) for Rolen clone Troy Glaus, who had once hit 47 home runs for the Angels. The trade seemed an even-up; Rolen and Glaus sported big bats and tweeky shoulders — Rolen had shoulder surgery in May of 2005 (after a collision at first with Dodger fill-in and former North Side Drama Queen draft pick Hee Seop Choi), while the suddenly under-performing Glaus had shoulder surgery in January of 2009.

By the end of last year, both Rolen and Glaus not only needed to get healthy, they needed a new start. Glaus got his when he signed this last off season with the Atlanta Braves, while Rolen was traded from Toronto to Cincinnati in a move that had Reds’ fans scratching their heads: the swap seemed an expensive and questionable last-gasp effort to fill a hole at third, while the Cincy front office searched for a more permanent replacement. But Rolen has been a surprise: a solid citizen in the clubhouse (that’s the surprise) and a formidable bat in Cincinnati’s fifth hole (which, frankly, is not) Rolen is now teamed with veteran Brandon Phillips and big lumber youngsters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to provide mashers in the middle of the Cincy order. Once Bruce and Phillips get past their early season slumps (and they will), the Reds are likely to surge past the Cubs and Brewers, giving St. Louis a run for the division title. It’s too bad Rolen can’t pitch — it took Cincinnati starters sixteen games to notch their first victory, which came yesterday against Los Angeles.

Rolen would agree — Aroldis Chapman can’t arrive soon enough.

Dick Bosman’s 1974 “No-No”

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Not every Nats game is a trip down memory lane, but damn near. Before the first pitch of last night’s Nats-Rockies tilt at Nationals Park, one of me droogs (here they are, for those of you who’ve forgotten), told me about watching a no-hitter pitched by fastballer Dick Bosman in Cleveland in 1974. “You’ve actually seen a no-hitter?” I asked. He nodded: “A great game,” he said. “Fantastic. It was back in the early 1970s, 1973-1974, something like that.” Being armed with one of those hand-held doohickies, I looked it up. The game in question came on July 19, 1974 at Cleveland’s Memorial Stadium, when the Naps faced off against Oakland’s White Elephants. The A’s would go on to take the World Series in ’74, but on that July day in Cleveland they looked helpless against Bosman.

Bosman had a more than serviceable career: his fastball carried him from sleepy Kenosha, Wisconsin into the Pirates organization, and then into the McCovey’s minor league system. He ended up in Washington, where he had his best years pitching for the Senators. His best year came in 1969, when he led the AL with the lowest ERA and went 14-5. He won 16 games in 1970. But even at the age of 27 — when Bosman should have been at his peak — he seemed to be running out of gas. Bosman went to Texas with the Senators, but then kicked around until 1974, when he landed a starting role in Cleveland, where the no-account Indians were doing what they have been doing throughout their long and painful franchise history: searching for pitching.

July 19, 1974 was a warm day in Cleveland, but it was not killer-hot like it can be in Cleveland and there had been showers in the morning. Bosman was slated to start against Oakland’s Dave Hamilton. With some 24,000 looking on (Cleveland Stadium — built in 1931 — held 78,000 for baseball), Bosman went to work, facing a line-up of Oakland bombers. In many ways, this was a typical Oakland team, a mix of speed and power complemented by a deep starting rotation: Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi were at the heart of the order, with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman and Dave Hamilton the primary hurlers. “Blue Moon” Odom added to the mix, though his best years were in the past. The Indians and A’s were locked up into the third, when Joe Lis gave the Naps a 2-0 lead. In the top of the 4th, Bosman fielded a swinging bunt from Bando, but his throw was wide of first, and scored as an error. As it turned out, Bando was the only A’s baserunner for the day — and the one baserunner that would keep Bosman from a perfect game. By the end of the 7th, Bosman had faced only one more than the minimum.

In the ninth inning, on the verge of putting himself in baseball’s record books, Bosman approached his catcher, John Ellis. “Catch me on your belly if you have to,” Bosman said, “but make me keep the ball down.” Ellis squatted behind the plate, flashing his glove on the ground, nodding at Bosman. “I told myself it was John and me now,” Bosman remembered, “and I concentrated on getting those last three hitters.” In the ninth, Bosman put the Elephants down in order, sealing his no-hitter and (as he hoped) resuscitating his career. [Here’s the boxscore] At the season’s beginning he had been on baseball’s junk pile and relegated to the bullpen. Now he was “in the books.” His teammates were ecstatic, and Cleveland fans chanted him off the field: “We want Bosman. We want Bosman.” He came out of the dugout after a time, and tipped his cap. “This is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for and dreamed about,” he said after the game. “I almost feel like I am dreaming.”

Bosman wasn’t long for baseball. In 1975, he was traded to the team he no-hit, with Jim Perry for Blue Moon Odom and cash. He had a good year with the A’s, pitching effectively and registering an 11-4 campaign. The A’s finished first in the AL West, seven games ahead of the Royals, and faced-off against the Red Sox for the AL pennant. The Red Sox crushed the A’s in three games, and went on to face the Reds in the World Series. Bosman saw little duty in the Red Sox post-season series, pitching to a single batter. The A’s released him in 1977 and he retired to his home in Florida. He spent the next twenty years in Florida, restoring antique cars — his obsession. He vowed to never look back. “When you shut the door on baseball, you have to keep it shut or it will never let you go.” Bosman has been a coach in the Tampa system since 2002.

The $8 Million Man . . .

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Diamond Nuggets for 3/07/10

Spit and Vinegar:  Grizzled veteran Jamie Moyer is in Phillies camp this spring after three surgeries since the end of last season. The 47 year old went under the knife to repair three torn muscles in his groin and abdomen — injured in a late September relief outing. The $8 million man will join just 14 other players to compete in four decades. Moyer began his career in 1986 with the same Cubbies team that featured Ryne Sandberg and Ron Cey. To give some indication of his toughness, assuming an average 100 pitches per start (since I’m not counting some 60 relief appearances), Moyer has thrown 60,000-plus pitches in his career. 

Trivia Time: Which of Moyer’s teammates on that 1986 club went on to win two World Series Championships with another team?   

Swing and Miss? In the bottom of the second inning of a Cincinnati/Cleveland pre season game on Friday Redlegs right fielder Jay Bruce was called for a swinging third strike. Ordinarily that shouldn’t be a cause of dispute but Bruce’s wrists never broke and his hands hadn’t gone through the plane of the plate. But his bat did. In Bruce’s attempt to check his swing his bat broke in half and the top portion missed the pitch for strike three.  Bruce is a big kid, but I gotta believe it was the narrow bat handle that was the culprit. 

Say What? I guess the good ol days of players coining a phrase like “hit ‘em where they ain’t” or “give him some chin music” are long gone. The players are better educated than they’ve ever been and maybe the game’s gotten too sophisticated – or we have. But things may have hit a new low this week when a term best associated with Hegelian philosophy crept into the baseball lexicon. In response to a question about the growing trend of veteran players vying for a job as non-roster invitees outfielder Cory Sullivan told a USA Today scribe that it’s just part of the business now.  “It’s the zeitgeist of baseball,” he said.  Where’s Tom Hanks when you need him? 

“There’s no zeitgeist in baseball!”

Trivia Answer: Which of Moyer’s teammates on that 1986 club went on to win two World Series Championships with another team? Terry Francona, manager of the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox. C’mon. You knew there’d be one Red Sox reference here didn’t you?

Angel’s Stun, Sweep Sox

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

That glazed and puzzled look that has appeared on the faces of so many other post season teams (the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, and the Chicago Cubs last year, to name just two) is now being worn by the Boston Red Sox. The A.L.’s wild card entry was stunned by a ninth inning rally in Boston on Saturday, and swept in three games by the Los Angeles Angels to be eliminated from the playoffs. The Bosox appeared headed for a sure win in their head-to-head match-up against the Belinskis, leading the Halos 6-3 heading into the 9th inning at Fenway Park — with their ace closer, Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. But with two outs, Papelbon’s down-and-out or up-and-in stuff failed him: Erick Aybar singled, Chone Figgins walked and Bobby Abreu doubled to tighten the contest. Even then, the Red Sox remained a simple grounder or fly ball away from victory. To set up a force out at every base, Papelbon walked Torii Hunter intentionally. That brought Vladimir Guerrero to the plate. On the very first pitch to one of baseball’s beset bad-ball hitters, Papelbon gave up a single to center. Guerrero’s hit, a leaning over-the-plate smack of a low and outside fastball, scored Figgins and Abreu and gave the Angels the 7-6 victory.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The elimination of the Redbirds and Bosox now sets the wheels in motion for the offseason in both Boston and St. Louis. There’s a lot to do. Fans of “the Nation” face some big questions: about the future of David Ortiz and the cost of Jason Bay. The team is hardly in need of a major overhaul, yet the horses that have consistently put it into the off season are aging or hobbled. The entire left side of the Boston infield is in question: Mike Lowell can’t play third forever and the team has no ready answer at shortstop. “Phtttt . . . c’mon” — fans of the Nation say: what about Jed Lowrie? Well, what about him? Maybe Baseball Reference is lying, but their stats show him hitting .147 in 32 games. Hell, there’s a shortstop in Washington who hits a damn sight better than that and he’s no damn good at all . . .   

The Redbirds are younger, but the questions might be more pertinent: whether to pony up the big bucks it will take to keep Matt Holliday in left and (just like the Red Sox) what to do at third. Mark DeRosa is a free agent and while he likes St. Louis he will test the free agent market. Then too, while shortstop seems set for the River City Nine, rookie phenom Brendan Ryan hit a scorching .083 in the playoffs and looked shaky in the field. Redbird fans have the same reaction to this negativity as their Bosox buddies: “Oh yeah, well what about Troy Glaus?” Okay, right. Troy Glaus: who left his right shoulder somewhere in Toronto and hasn’t been the same since. Maybe he’ll return to his 2008 form (.270, 27 home runs), but it’s a pretty big maybe. Then too, number three starter Joel Pineiro is a free agent and would be a number one starter on most major league teams: including the Nats (now there’s an idea). Oddly, whether Holliday or DeRosa or Pineiro decide to stay in St. Louis might hinge more on the fate of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan than on how much money Billy DeWitt puts on the table. LaRussa and Duncan’s contracts are up and both are rumored headed to Cincinnati, to team up with their old St. Louis G.M. pal Walt Jocketty . . .