Archive for the ‘cleveland indians’ Category

Mickey’s Nemesis

Friday, June 25th, 2010

It’s a well-known story, but bears repeating — particularly now that Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg’s name is being mentioned in the same sentence as Herb Score’s. On Wednesday versus Kansas City, Strasburg eclipsed Score’s MLB record for strikeouts in a pitcher’s first four MLB starts. Strasburg has 41 strikeouts in his first four starts — Score had 40. But it will take some time for Strasburg to equal Score’s considerable achivements, even if the former Cleveland hurler (he passed on in 2008), battled injuries nearly his entire career. Like Strasburg, Score made his mark  as a rookie phenom; he came up with Cleveland in 1955 and set the American League on fire, going 16-10 with a 2.85 ERA. But unlike Strasburg, Score was surrounded by a team of All Star hitters and pitchers — Bob Feller and Bob Lemon had already made their mark on baseball, and Feller was a legend. The Tribe of ’55 were a powerful mix of slap hungry hitters and long-ballers: Vic Wertz, Bobby Avila, Ralph Kiner, Larry Doby. Score struck out 245 hitters that first year, a mark that stood until it was broken by Dwight Gooden in 1984.

In one of baseball’s well-known in-game incidents, in May of 1957, Score was hit by a Gil McDougald line drive that broke his cheekbone and sent him to the DL. It was said that Score never recovered his pitching motion and remained intimidated by the batted ball — the reason for his fall-off in production. But Score set the record straight in an interview with a baseball writer in 1987, saying that his career was cut short not by McDougald, but by a torn tendon in his pitching arm. “The McDougald line drive had nothing to do with my career ending prematurely,” he said. Score took a year to recover, but when facing the Senators in a game in 1958 a tendon in his arm snapped. Score visited a specialist in Baltimore and took three weeks off, then came back — again against the Senators. “I went in as a reliever, struck out five or six and ended the game on a popup to the outfield,” Score recalled. “But I hurt my arm again on that pitch. After that pitch, I was never the same again. My pitches never had the same movement on them. I had no snap.” Score was out of baseball after 1962. He spent 35 years as a Cleveland Indians radio announcer, before dying in his home town in Ohio in 2008.

Score had two good seasons — his rookie year in 1955 and his sophomore campaign of 1956, when he was 20-9. Mickey Mantle said that he was the toughest left hander he ever faced. It is said that Mantle tried everything against Score, alternating batting righty and lefty against him, but nothing worked. He could never touch his fastball, even after the McDougald incident. Score’s amazing rookie season (227 innings, 245 strikeouts) is a kind of touchstone for baseball statisticians, a model of what it means to be a phenom. But Score was not the only rookie pitcher to have set a league on fire. Dwight Gooden’s 276 strikeouts in 1984 (in just 218 innings) blasted past Score’s mark and Gooden was (arguably) even better the next year, when he fanned 268. Gooden matched this with a head-spinning 1.53 ERA. No one has equaled Gooden’s rookie strikeout record, though Kerry Wood came close, striking out 233 in 1998. Score, Gooden, Wood, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Don Sutton, Gary Nolan, Mark Langston and Hideo Nomo are the only rookie pitchers of the 20th century to strike out over 200 batters in their rookie campaigns.

It’s going to be virtually impossible for Stephen Strasburg to match Gooden’s feat, but only because it’s doubtful he will have a chance to pitch as many innings. St. Stephen is due to pitch every fifth day (not every fifth game) and will likely be shut down in mid-September. Plus, he’s on a strict under-100 pitch-per-game count, monitored by Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman. Then too, it’s unlikely Strasburg will pitch much over 170 innings in his rookie campaign– if that. This ought to be simple arithmetic (ought to be), but it really isn’t. The Nats know what every Nats fan knows: that if Rizzo and Riggleman had their druthers, Strasburg would pitch fewer strikeouts (and not more) because, arguably, fewer strikeouts mean fewer pitches. Which is to say: Rizzo and Rigs are not so worried about a “McDougald moment” (there’s nothing anything can do about that), they’re worried about a “Score moment” — when a young pitcher throws that one pitch that (cumulatively) snaps that tendon and sends a good arm into early retirement.

Still, Strasburg’s first three outings are not only historic, they’re in the Herb Score/Dwight Gooden range. And better. Strasburg has 41 strikeouts in just 25.1 innings and sports a 1.78 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. He’s averaging 14 strikeouts per nine. That’s better than Score (9.7 per nine) or Gooden (11.4 per nine) or Wood (12.6 per nine). In fact, it’s unheard of. So logically (arithmetically), Strasburg could slap aside Gooden’s ’84 record if he could pitch as many innings (Gooden pitched 218). He won’t. St. Stephen would likely shrug all of this off (as he has, and consistently), by saying that baseball is about winning, not personal records. That’s refreshing (and true), but baseball fans are nuts about statistics not simply because records are there to be broken, but because numbers tell us important things about players. And Strasburg’s statistics tell us that, at least to this point, St. Stephen is a Score/Gooden/Wood once-in-a-generation pitcher.

Swept

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Washington Nationals finished an American League road trip in Detroit with a loss (an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Kaline pitcher Jeremy Bonderman), failing to win all but one game in two three-game series against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. The loss brought the Nats to 1-5 on the swing west but (more importantly) continued the skid of a team that was once five games over .500. The team is now officially in a tailspin, leaving puzzled Nats fans to wonder whether their Anacostia Nine are reverting to their bad habits of 2009. The final loss in Detroit pointed up the Nats’ problems: too many strike outs, poor pitching and lousy defense. “We’re not playing tight baseball right now defensively,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman admitted in the wake of the last Detroit loss. “We need to pay more attention to details.”

In many respects, the Nats 8-3 loss was typical of their recent woes. While the team put runners on base (eight hits, including an Adam Dunn dinger), they weren’t able to push across runs in tight situations — leaving 15 men stranded. Then too, while Detroit pitcher Jeremy Bonderman is a good hurler, he’s hardly a wizard. Yet, the righty regularly retired Nats hitters in situations that might have led to runs — pitching well when he had to. Bonderman mastered Nats’ hitters with a down-and-in slider that stymied the Nats line up, throwing 95 pitches over seven complete: 65 of them for strikes. Washington starter Luis Atilano was not nearly so good, giving up nine hits in just 4.1 innings — his second poor outing. For Nats’ obsessives, the game was unwatchable after the fourth. The only good news is that Adam Dunn continues his torrid pace, lofting his 16th round-tripper in the seventh, slotting two more RBIs and raising his average to .288 on the year.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: CFG’s speculations about trading for a second pitcher occasioned more than a few comments from readers. A writer from Seattle was horrified that we believe that fireball southpaw Cliff Lee “could be had for a song.” That’s not what we said. Lee can’t be had for a song, but a longer melody might do. We’ll stick by our stand: the Navigators are looking for prospects and are sellers. Lee is looking for a long term deal and would be more comfortable in the National League. The Seattle fan begs to differ: “We’ll part with Lee,” he writes, “but we’ll need Ryan Zimmerman in return.” Yeah sure. Keep dreaming.

Others wrote more creatively, noting that the Lee-Oswalt-Peavy speculations that we launched “aimed too high” (as one responder noted), saying that it seemed more likely that Washington would fish for pitchers “more reachable.” A  reader, from Atlanta, was adamant: “Houston, Seattle, Chicago — they’ll all want one of your big hitters, and Rizzo won’t give any of them up.” Well, maybe. Our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) mentioned Chicago hurler Ted Lilly (Ken Rosenthal thinks he might be available), Frisco fireballer Jonathan Sanchez and Showboat righty Dan Haren as likely targets. We’ve been mulling these possibilities and they all sound good. But Lilly is a finesse pitcher who will soon be looking for a big payday and we can’t imagine that San Francisco would part with Sanchez (a little different than last year at this time).

There’s always Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook, who has struggled this year (except against the Nats) and is rumored to be on the block. Westbrook is an intriguing possibility, particularly now that he looked so terrible against the Mets. The Cleveland front office is running out of patience with its pitching staff, and Westbrook is playing for a guy who knows the Nats system — and particularly its younger pitchers and developing hitters. Then too, Cleveland needs to retool: getting younger hurlers to go with Masterson and Huff. Mike Rizzo wouldn’t want to do that. But for Westbrook? Westbrook is not Lilly, or Sanchez (let alone Haren), but he’s affordable and would provide a veteran presence behind Strasburg. He’s had his Tommy John surgery, has a wicked cut fastball (well . . . it’s wicked often enough to spark interest among shoppers), is in the last year of his contract and has worn out his welcome in Cleveland.

Haren is different. The D-Backs are rumored to be at the beginning of a sell-off, which has their dugout talking, though they probably don’t need a top-to-bottom rebuilding. Haren himself has said that the team has a stockpile of talent — though SI’s Jon Heyman speculates that Arizona’s front office will listen to offers on the impressive righty. Heyman’s article on the D-Backs is thorough and authoritative, which can mean only one thing: the Rattlers are open for business. The only players who are off the table (Heyman says) are outfield bopper Justin Upton and young ace-to-be Ian Kennedy. So Heyman is right — Arizona shopaholic Josh Byrnes (he just shipped Conor Jackson to Oakland) will “listen,” but will the Nats make an offer? Haren hasn’t been his perennial lights-out ace this year, but he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the NL over the last three years. So he won’t come cheap. Which is too bad, because it probably means he won’t come at all. So we’ll look in the mirror and tell ourselves what we told our Seattle reader: Keep dreaming.

Nats Ambush Tribe

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Stephen Strasburg pitched 5.1 solid innings of two-hit baseball (striking out eight while walking five) and the Nats’ bats loosened up in Cleveland on Sunday, as the Washington Nine took the last of a three game set against the Indians, 9-4. While all eyes were focused on Strasburg — who struggled with a hole in the Progressive Field mound — the real hero of Sunday’s game might well have been Drew Storen, who came on in the sixth inning to shut down a nascent Cleveland rally, getting two outs with the bases loaded and saving a sure-thing Washington win. “It was one-out, bases-loaded,” Washington shortstop Ian Desmond noted. “He [Storen] comes in, gets two outs and Strasburg’s game is saved. If Storen comes in and gives up a grand slam, three of those runs are Strasburg’s. He would have given up four runs on the day in six innings and nobody would be saying that much. So you have to give our ballclub credit. It’s not just Strasburg.”

The Nats finally broke loose against the Wahoos, scoring nine runs on sixteen hits, including round-trippers from Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina. Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond were 3-5 and Mike Morse, playing right field, hit a key double in sparking the Nats win. “We put up 16 hits, we put nine runs, we played good solid defense. We made the plays we had to make, and the bullpen came and dealt with it,” Desmond said after the game. “Strasburg did a great job, not to take anything away from him. The rest of us are playing hard, too. Everything is going good right now.” After the game, the Nats traveled the short distance to Detroit to take on the Tigers, and will face them in a three game set, before returning home to face the White Sox.

Kearns Haunts Nats

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

The Austin Kearns revival continues in Cleveland, as the former Nat and sometime slugger belted out two home runs in leading the Indians to a 7-2 victory over the Washington Nine at Progressive Field. Kearns, who was hobbled by injuries during his time in Washington, is now leading the Naps in BA — and anchoring an otherwise punchless front nine that is having difficulty competing in the AL Central. Kearns’ success is one of the bright spots for first year Tribe manager Manny Acta, who helped bring Kearns to Cleveland and then watched him win a spot in the regular line-up. “Austin is the ultimate pro, a throwback,” Acta said after the Cleveland win. “He’s a professional who never gives away an at-bat. He went into Spring Training fighting for a spot, waited for his opportunity and has taken advantage of it.  He’s a coach’s dream.”

Kearns’ victim was Washington rookie pitcher Luis Atilano, who allowed three runs in the first, and never seemed to settle down. Atilano threw five innings of seven hit ball, but never mastered the Naps front nine. “I wasn’t commanding my sinker to the righties,” Atilano said of his outing. “I was more outside — middle in a little bit.” Tyler Walker was also shaky in pitching two complete innings of relief, giving up two hits and a run in facing nine batters. Doug Slaten finished the game for the Nats. The indifferent mound work and the inability of the Nats to feed off of their long-ball heroics against the Pirates, ended the Anacostia Nine’s three game winning streak, sending the team to two games under .500. The Nats face off against the Indians on Saturday, with Washington youngster J.D. Martin set to start against Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona.

The Riggleman Order: Nats skipper Jim Riggleman shook up the batting order for the first game against the Tribe, hitting Ivan Rodriguez in the second spot, starting Willie Harris in left and slotting Josh Willingham as the DH. There were apparently good reasons for this; then too, Riggleman constantly massages his batting order — this isn’t the first time that Pudge has batted second. And the 38-year-old continues to hit, no matter where he bats. That’s not true for Willie Harris, whose time on the roster is increasingly cause for concern (he hitting a whopping .168) — but Rigs keeps running him out there. Maybe he’s a long lost cousin or something . . . There must be a good reason why Alberto Gonzalez continues to wear a hole in the bench. With Kennedy and Guzman switching off at second and Ryan Zimmerman healthy, there isn’t much room to play Gonzo, but running him out to the on-deck circle as a PH and then pulling him back — to be replaced by Harris — is puzzling. Is Willie Harris really a better hitter? . . .

Some of the glitter has worn off Adam Kennedy, who booted a ball against the Tribe. Rigs says that that’s the result of not having steady playing time, a good enough (and probably accurate) explanation. Kennedy was a steady-as-she-goes fielder in both Anaheim and St. Louis, though no one would ever confuse him with a gold glover. We suspect that this leaves Riggleman in a kind of quandry: the team needs Guzman’s bat, but he’s a deficit at both second and (even more so) in right, while Kennedy has yet to hit his stride in the batter’s box . . .I keep coming back to Harris. While it’s true that Harris will never “find his stroke” by sitting the bench, how likely is it that (after 52 games and 95 at bats) Willie will suddenly become Lou Gehrig? Or Alberto Gonzalez? Or even Mario Mendoza? Harris has never hit over .270 in a season, and that was three years ago in Atlanta. Maybe it’s time for Rigs to rethink his role . . .

Bombs Away

Friday, June 11th, 2010

The Washington Nationals ended their home stand with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a sweep of their three game series. Livan Hernandez pitched six solid innings in notching the win, but the difference in the game was home runs hit by Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Mike Morse — who started the game in right. The Nats hit the long ball in the series, with Adam Dunn now dialed in and absolutely firecracker hot: the Nats first sacker is hitting .284 (after a slow start), and has hit a home run in each of the Nats’ last three home games — all against the Stargells. Over the last ten games, Dunn has spiked his batting average by ten points. The Nats head to Cleveland for a three game series before heading on to Detroit, the second stop in their second round of inter-league play.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: NL East Chatter (of which we are a proud part) is running a multi-part series entitled “Future of the NL East” that focuses on the division’s best young players. The review started with a portrait of Stephen Strasburg (prior to his first outing in D.C.); this week’s focus is on Jason Heyward and it’s worth the read . . . Our friends over at Real Dirty Mets Blog have a fascinating post on Mets journal keeper and artist Joe Petruccio, who is dedicated to filling his personal notebook with a season-long looked at his “beloveds.” Petruccio’s art hearkens to the day when sports pages were filled with quick sketches or cartoons of daily plays and games. There must be, somewhere, a similar notebook filled with sketches of the Nats (I would just bet), but until we find such an artist, we will have to be satisfied with Joe’s drawings — if of the wrong team.

Speaking of Mets Fans, one of the droogs (you remember the droogs, right?), responded to our plea for new nicknames with an email — and some interesting nominations. His suggestions for the Chokes include: “the Mutts,” “the Amazins,” “the Kings of Queens” (not bad, that), the “NY Mess” and “The Miracles.” For the Phillies he has “the Whizkids” and “the Philthies” and for the Dodgers he suggests we adopt “Da Bums.” The Kings of Queens is a keeper, in my humble opinion . . . Meanwhile, our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) writes that we should drop the nicknames altogether, arguing that the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rockies and Brewers (among all the others) “already are nicknames” and then she (I’m convinced it’s a “she”) adds the following two words: “you moron” . . . still another reader suggested we conduct a survey of Nats fans to see if the Nats should have a suitable nickname, “a shorthand” version of Nats that would replace what he calls “your pretty lame Anacostia Nine nickname . . .”

So here’s the Petruccio stuff. And don’t forget to visit his blog . . .

The “Forgettable” Senators of 1961

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

There’s lots of things that happened on this date in history: in 1912 the Titanic set sail from Southampton (to meet its untimely demise five days later) and in 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published. Oh yeah, and in 1961 the expansion Washington Senators took the field for Opening Day at Griffiths Stadium. Of the three events, the last is the most forgettable, even if it most closely resembles the Titanic’s ghastly fate. These were not your daddy’s Senators (those Senators had boarded a plane for Minneapolis, where they became the Twins), and they certainly weren’t memorable: the Senators were cobbled together from an expansion draft of team leftovers when the men who then ran baseball decided that a team in Washington would balance the new high-end la-de-da franchise set to open in Los Angeles — and called (get this) the Angels.

Washington seemed an afterthought: a balancing act to the new west coast team — and its expansion draft reflected it. There just wasn’t that much talent available, and the talent that was available played in New York. Former Cubs great Dale Long came over from the Yankees to play first base, the beautifully named but limping Coot Veal came from the Tigers to play shortstop (which he did, but not often — and poorly), the aging Gene Woodling (38) came down the road from Baltimore to play the outfield and righthander Dick Donovan came in from the Pale Hose to anchor the staff. It wasn’t a surprise that the expansion Senators finished ninth that year — the surprise was that the Kansas City Athletics (then a virtual farm team for the Yankees) were actually worse: though both teams had the same 61-100 season. The Angels, on the other hand, finished ahead of the Senators by some nine wins. They had drafted better (Leon Wagner, Eddie Yost, Earl Averill, Ken Hunt!) and started to build a farm system.

Senators’ fans registered their disdain for the “Afterthoughts” by voting with their feet. The new expansion team drew just 597,000 fans, though the team’s owners thought this might improve — the next year the Senators were slated to move into the newly built “D.C. Stadium,” a then-state of the art facility that would later be named for Robert F. Kennedy. In all, there are only two good reasons to remember the ’61 Senators: Gene Woodling — whose career was revived by a surprising.313 season — and Dick Donovan, as classy a pitcher as there was in baseball. But Woodling’s surprise year was truly a surprise. A 38-year-old could not carry on forever and while Woodling would be remembered for his years of near-greatness with the Indians, he could not replicate them with the Senators. By 1963 he was out of the game.

Not so for Dick Donovan, a righthanded fastballer whose best year as a pitcher was still ahead of him. Donovan, who was originally signed as an amateur by the Boston Braves in 1947, had one day in the sun, though it was a long time coming. After three years of mediocrity bouncing between Boston and the minors, Donovan was signed by the Tigers, who (after eyeballing their wild new “ace”) sent him back to the Braves. “No thanks.” But in 1955 the Chicago White Sox took a gamble on Donovan and were rewarded, in large part because the New England righthander had developed a sneaky slider to complement his above-average fastball. The result was a 15-9 season and a spot at the top of the White Sox rotation. He thereafter served up four steady (and two not-so-steady) seasons before arriving in Washington.

Donovan’s claim to baseball fame, however, came in the third game of the 1959 World Series, when he pitched the best game of his career. Facing off against Dodger great Don Drysdale, Donovan gave up just two hits in 6.2 innings, while Drysdale served up eleven hits to the normally hitless Hose. But the White Sox were the hard-luck losers: after Donovan ambled to the dugout in the 6th, the Chicago bullpen collapsed and the Trolleys took the game 3-1. Donovan must have sensed the impending doom. While waiting for their new stadium to be completed in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers played at the converted Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the short porch in left was guarded by a looming forty foot screen. As Donovan was warming up prior to facing Drysdale, he looked out at the screen and shook his head: “I wonder how a fellow ever gets the side out,” he said. “I guess you gotta be a positive thinker.”

Donovan was only 10-10 for the ’61 Senators, but he led the AL in ERA and might have become a feature of the new team’s rotation. But the Senators’ front office didn’t think he’d get much better and they dealt him (with Jim Mahoney and Gene Green) to Cleveland for Jimmy Piersall. It was a mistake. Piersall hit .244 for the Senators, while  Donovan won 20 games for the Indians. He was just so-so in the two years that followed and, after pitching only 22 innings in the ’65 season, he retired to his boyhood home in Massachusetts. For the next twenty years, Donovan was a successful businessman and a well-known figure in Weymouth. He died in 1997 at the age of 69.

Lannan Vs. Halladay

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

John Lannan #31 of the Washington Nationals deals a pitch against the New York Yankees on June 17, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.

John Lannan says he’s ready for Opening Day and he better be: he faces new Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay. “As a pitcher, you would like to face the best, and I want to face the Phillies,” Lannan says. “I want to go against the toughest guys and really compete. It’s going to be exciting. Either way, I wanted that [Opening Day] game so I can make up for last year, and I definitely want to do better than last year.” Lannan opened for the Nats last year, in Florida, and struggled: he pitched three innings and gave up six runs. You might recall that game — it was an Emilio Bonifacio runfest. It looked then that Bonifacio would be the bane of the Nationals for the year, and proof positive that the trade that had sent him to Florida (for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham) was a bust.

It was anything but. After a quick start, Bonifacio tailspinned, ending the year with a .252 BA and one home run. Willingham, meanwhile, sat the bench and Scott Olsen struggled, eventually going down with arm trouble. By the end of May the trade seemed a wash, at best – the swap of a still-developing kid (with minor leaguers Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean) for two mediocre piece players who just couldn’t get going. But as it turned out, it was only a matter of time before Austin Kearns played himself out of a job (earning a well-deserved ticket to Cleveland), while Willingham became a fixture in left field. Olsen, meanwhile, showed flashes of brilliance and is now, albeit tentatively, penciled in as a candidate to be DC’s fifth starter.

Willingham’s the story here, not Lannan. The Marlins’ 17th round draft pick is starting his seventh major league season, and is likely just starting to peak. When Kearns did his “oh the humanity“ routine in late May of last year, Willingham was ready — hitting a very average, but very respectable, .260 in 133 games, with 24 dingers and 61 RBIs. You have to wonder what he might have done with an earlier start, and a more workmanlike September (when he tanked). Dunn, Zimmerman and Willingham became the heart of the Nats order for 2009 and you have to believe that, with just a little more oomph, the trio might have transformed itself into a Half Street version of Murders’ Row. Which is only to say that, one year later, the trade that sent the young speedster to Florida for Willingham and Olsen looks pretty good: if Josh can pick up where he was last August — and if Olsen can be the pitcher the Nats supposed when they brought him north.

“The Heater” Vs. “Old Reliable”

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Bob Costas had Bob Feller on his baseball show last week and “the Heater from Van Meter” was as outspoken and irascible as always. And fascinating. Feller, the former Cleveland great is now 90, knows how to turn a phrase, loves baseball — and has little modesty when it comes to dropping names of the great and near-great. He spent time with the Babe (“he was the best to ever play the game,” he said) and Gehrig. The three of them would head out to the bars in New York and Ruth “would bend an elbow” and Gehrig would be drinking water and not saying very much. “We never talked about baseball,” Feller told Costas. Feller thought Ruth was a fascinating man and much beloved and never had a bad word to say about anyone.

Feller was proud that in that last great picture of Ruth (the one where he’s leaning on a bat with his head down and the crowd is around him), the bat he used was Feller’s. The Indians were playing the Yankees that day and Ruth grabbed a bat from the Cleveland dugout to steady himself and he stood there and he waved his hat and then he listened to the cheers come down and he leaned on Feller’s bat. Feller took the bat and saved it and it’s now in his museum, just off of I-81 in Van Meter, Iowa. “The Babe was a very sick man,” Feller said. “He was dead in five months.”

Like Ruth, Feller doesn’t give the impression of being very modest, but he knows the game and loves it and he has decided opinions on pitchers and hitters. He’s an admirer of Nolan Ryan (“he’s a very close friend of mine,” he told Costas) and believes Sandy Koufax (I tilted an ear to hear this and think I got it right) was the best lefty he’d ever seen and “for five years” the best pitcher in baseball. Feller should know, I suppose, but vaulting Koufax to the top of the lefty list puts him ahead of Warren Spahn and Lefty Gomez. Feller talked about his own vaunted speed, saying that he had been clocked at 107 mph — an amazing feat if true. But no one was faster than Johnson, he said. He talked about World War Two, with Costas noting that Feller’s three years off to fight the war probably cost him 300 wins — and perhaps as many as 350-360. Feller says he has no regrets. “That was one we had to win,” he said. “Studio 42” (the Costas program) showed Feller in the Navy. Feller was a part of “The Great Mariana Turkey Shoot” in the Philippine Sea in June of 1944.  “If you were killed you were a hero,” Feller said. “If you didn’t you were a survivor.”  

Feller said that the champion 1948 Indians team (on which he played) was a good team, but not nearly as good as the 1954 team that lost four straight to the New York Giants. In ’48, Feller lost a first game nail biter to Braves’ pitcher Johnny Sain and then an 11-5 blow-out to Warren Spahn. Satchell Paige relieved Feller in the blow-out and Feller talked about him. “He was 44 at the time,” he said. “He claimed he was 42 but he was 44,” and then went on to talk about the barnstorming white teams that he had put together to play the Negro Leaguers prior to baseball’s integration. Paige, he said, had a wicked fastball “but not much of a curve.” The 1954 series, a 4-0 New York Giants sweep. Feller cited Willie Mays’ catch in the first game and Giants’ pitcher Johnny Antonelli’s pitching as the reasons for the sweep. “Antonelli never pitched better in his life,” he said.

Feller’s most interesting comments, however, had to do with hitters. He was particularly outspoken — blunt really — when talking about his success against great hitters. “Gehrig couldn’t hit me,” he said, “not at all.” During the last games of 1938, Feller recounted, he put Greenberg down in order to kill whatever chance the Detroit first sacker had of breaking Ruth’s home run record. Greenberg had 58 round-trippers that year, in addition to 146 RBIs. He walked 119 times. But he couldn’t solve Feller, who issued one of the best baseball one-liners I’ve ever heard: “Hank Greenberg couldn’t hit me with an ironing board,” he said. Rapid Robert’s answer to Costa’s question about who hit him well came as something of a surprise: “Tommy Henrich,” he said, and there was an edge of defiance in his voice. The great ones couldn’t hit Feller — one of the few who mastered Gehrig — but Tommy Henrich sprayed him to all fields.

Tommy Henrich is one of those Yankees who played in the shadow of Gehrig and Ruth and DiMaggio — but he was beloved by his teammates: in part because he seemed to play harder when the Yankees were behind. He had four World Series rings with a lifetime batting average of .282 with 183 home runs. Like Feller, he took three years away from baseball during World War II. He hit .308 with 25 HRs and 100 RBI in 1948, arguably his best season. But “Old Reliable” is probably best known for his heads-up play in the 1941 Series that might have saved the series for the Yankees. With Brooklyn set to tie the series at two games apiece and leading 4-3 with two outs in the ninth, Henrich came to the plate. With the count at 3-2 he swung at strike three. But Trolley catcher Mickey Owen couldn’t handle the ball and Henrich was safe at first. Joe DiMaggio then singled, and Charlie Keller doubled to score both runners and take the lead. Joe Gordon later doubled to bring in two more runs, and the Yankees had a 7-4 victory and a 3-1 Series lead. And the Yankees went on to win the series.

Henrich was a fine ball player and a good man. He was known for his glove in the outfield, his mentoring of younger players, his deep voice and good sense of humor — and his ability to hit the heck out of Bob Feller. Feller still can’t figure it out. “It’s just one of those things.” Oddly, a mere two weeks before the Costas-Feller interview was aired, Henrich died in Dayton, Ohio. He was 96. 

Cards Sweep Nats; Ronnie To L.A.

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Garrett Mock and Adam Wainwright threw a classic pitchers’ duel at Busch Stadium on Sunday, but the Nats fell to the Redbirds, 2-1 to drop the third game of a three game set. Mock and Wainwright traded pitch-for-pitch through six complete, until Mock left a 3-2 pitch up in the strike zone against Albert Pujols, which turned out to be the difference in the game. Pujols stroked the mistake into centerfield, ending the deadlock and giving the Cards the win. Both bullpens closed out the game in near-perfection, as Nats’ bats could not provide an answer against a trio of Cards’ pitchers. The Nats accounted for only four hits in the game: one each by Willingham, Dukes, Orr and Bard. It was a tough series for D.C. hitters — but a particularly tough last game, as they faced one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, and arguably one of the contenders for the Cy Young Award. The masterful Wainwright had only one shaky inning and is now 16-7 on the year. 

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Sunday’s game was one of the best of the year by Mock, who was spotting his breaking stuff nearly perfectly. But the pitch to Pujols, Mock said, will probably keep him awake: “The pitch that’s going to cost me some sleep tonight is the one that he got a hit on that scored the second run,” Mock said. “I wasn’t trying to throw the ball there, obviously — not trying to throw the ball anywhere where he could hit it. I feel like I did do a good job of executing my pitches today, but that particular pitch, I’ve got to be better than that.” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had praise for Washington’s starter. “I just called Jim Riggleman and said, ‘Whoever decided to put Mock in the rotation, it was a good decision,'” La Russa said. “Boy, he was very good.”

After the game, the franchise announced the departure of Ronnie Belliard for the sunny climes of L.A., where he will find service with the Trolleys. Ronnie’s gotta be as pleased as punch to be headed to a contender, after riding the pines for most of the season behind Anderson Hernandez, now riding the pines for the Chokes, and Adrian Gonzalez. Not surprisingly, Belliard was of two minds on the trade: “I’m happy because I’m going to L.A. and that team is in first place,” he said. “But I’m sad because I am going to leave a lot of friends. I’ve been here for the last three years and I made a lot of friends.” Belliard had been playing well since the All Star break, hitting .325 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He’d been getting more playing time. The Nats received minor league righthander Luis Garcia and a player to be named in the swap.

Baltimore 

The Orioles might, truly, be one of the forgotten teams of baseball. Fated to play in the A.L. East, the little orange birds are mired in last place, 28 games behind the Yankees — and only eight wins better than the Nats. But there’s hope in Birdland, and not simply because the O’s have won six of their last 11. The team arguably now has one of the best outfields in all of baseball, a clear contender for the rookier of the year award, and perhaps one of the league’s premier young pitchers. All of this was on display on Sunday, when the O’s took on the Naps in Baltimore and coasted to an easy win behind the power arm of rookie Brian Matusz. All of 22, the former first round (fourth overall) pick in the 2008 draft, is the thinking man’s pitcher, who studies game-day videos of himself to determine how best to spot his killer curve, then adjusts his arm slot accordingly. Matusz threw 97 pitches yesterday, 67 of them for strikes. He held the Indians to four hits over seven innings.

Matusz isn’t a surprise: he’s a can’t miss pitcher who won’t miss. The surprise is Felix Pie — a former Cubbie who has now, shockingly, set down roots in left field after going through nearly three years of trying to figure out how to hit major league pitching. Pie has been on a tear, raising his average over the last two months to a respectable .272 and showing some power; he now has seven home runs (a laughable total, we suppose, except that the punch-and-judy Dominican wasn’t supposed to have any at all). Pie weighed in to help Matusz on Sunday, jacking a two run homer in the third. He’s hitting .383 since August 14.

Pie is a nice addition in the outfield, completing a trio that includes Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. If Jones was playing in New York or Boston, we venture to guess, people would be describing him for what he is: the best young outfielder in all of baseball. The Pie-Jones-Markakis trio has kicked Noland Reimold, a contender for rookie of the year, into the D.H. spot. Reimold’s hot bat has been a surprise for the MacPhail’s this year: the 25-year-old climbed his way, hand-over-hand through the Baltimore system, before the front office gave him a grudging look. He was a prospect that was once ranked near the bottom in the O’s system. But he’s produced and it looks like he’s in Baltimore to stay.

Okay: things aren’t all that great in Baltimore and the fans are restless. How can they be otherwise. The team is in last place. They’re certainly not going to win a pennant next year, or maybe even the year after. But the MacPhail plan is on track — and if the outfield of Pie, Jones and Markakis ever hit together, the Baltimore Orioles could become one of the most formidable teams in all of baseball and a challenger to “the nation” and the evil empire. With Matusz they have the beginnings of a young staff, the only other ingredient they need. And so, after an era of irrational interference from a know-it-all owner, the Orioles are finally on the right track. If they only had a little more pitching.

Felix Pie (left) is congratulate by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Felix Pie (left) is congratulated by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Manny, Madonna and Other Nuggets

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Spelling Bee: Friday morning’s commute featured the Sports Junkies ragging on the uniforms the Nationals wore the night before.  Bright blue with a red, white and blue interlocking “DC” on the left part of the chest were seen as “nubbins” which is Junkie-speak for horrible.  What the boys on 106.7 failed to notice is that at least it was spelled correctly.

Digital Angst: When Friday dawned I was in quite a stir about the change over to an all-digital TV signal.  Would I have reception when I returned from the office?  Would I be able to watch “The Office”?  I was relieved at 10:30 last night when I turned on the tube and found that the Nats dropped another heart-breaker.  All was normal after all.

Calling Dr. Madonna: The Yankees front office is so out of joint about A-Rod’s woeful .233 batting average that they’re rumored to be considering having him travel to London to see renowned Chakra specialist Dr. Madonna.  In a related story, Red Sox owner John Henry is urging David Ortiz to consider converting to Kabbalah.

You Can Pick Your Friends: Who was that kid who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday night’s game vs. the Reds? Did he win a contest of some sort? He was in dress pants, shirt, tie and sporting a Nationals home white jersey on top. From about 50 feet he arched one in slow, high and inside to Nats catcher Wil Nieves.  Was it some Senator’s son?  Was he the 100,000th fan to see a Nats home game this year? Nope. It was Drew Storen of Stanford University whom the Nats drafted in the first round (a compensatory pick) on Tuesday after they snagged Stephen Strasburg. Hope he puts some zip on the ball down in the minors.

Milton Being Manny: Milton Bradley, the Cubs right fielder, pulled a Manny Ramirez stunt yesterday by tossing a caught fly ball into the stands when there were only two outs. Unlike Manny he was resoundingly booed by the Cubbie faithful. When Manny did it a couple of years ago Fenway fans merely shook their heads. Of course Manny was batting about .326 and Miltie is batting .224.Dodgers left fielder Juan Pierre is sporting the fastest feet and the slowest arm in the NL.  He leads the league in steals but can’t reach the cut off man.

Manny

 

For The Birds: Smithsonian scientists have discovered that the best way to avoid a catastrophe related to birds being sucked into jet engines — similar to what happened in New York earlier this year – is to have all large white birds near airports boxed up and shipped to Progressive Field in Cleveland. The scientist said that doing so may drive up the ERA of opposing pitchers, but it was worth it when saved lives were considered.