Archive for the ‘pittsburgh pirates’ Category

Espinosa Arrives, But Nats Fall

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Danny Espinosa U.S. Futures All-Star Danny Espinosa of the Washington National fails to tag out World Futures All-Star Tyson Gillies of the Seattle Mariners as he steals second base during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 the in St. Louis, Missouri.

Nationals fans got a glimpse of the team’s future double play combination on Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Danny Espinosa got the starting nod at second base. After spending most of three years in the minors (with stints in Vermont, Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse), Espinosa cashed in on his early-September call up by launching his first home run (in the top of the third inning) into the right field seats at PNC Park and turning a seamless double play at a position that he will play well into the future. The Desmond-Espinosa combo is likely to be the opening day up-the-middle defense for the Nats in 2011. Espinosa’s exposure at second base was the only piece of good news for the Nats on Friday night, however, as the Pirates beat up on steady starter Livan Hernandez, touching up the right hander for eight earned runs in just 4.1 innings. Hernandez was philosophical about his outing: “It’s not happening sometimes,” he said. “When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We had plenty of responses from readers on our posting on Albert Pujols and Lou Gehrig, including complaints that we are “N.L.-centric” and that we purposely left out “the one guy who puts Albert to shame.” The reader went on a screed, saying that “Alex Rodriguez has better numbers, plays for a better team, has more awards and plays a more difficult position” than Pujols. “Pujols is a very, very good player,” the reader said. “But he’s no Alex Rodriguez.” So we checked the numbers. Rodriguez has 604 home runs in 17 seasons (Pujols has 401 in ten), has a career BA of .303 (Pujols is at .332), has a career OBP of .387 (Pujols is at .425) and has won three MVPs — the same number as Pujols. Albert doesn’t play for the Empire, but he’s played in two World Series, while Rodriguez has played in one. Pujols lags behind Albert in games played (of course), but all that this means is that Pujols (who’s played in 1530) has about 700 games (Rodriguez has played in 2278) to catch the pride of the Gothams in career home runs — and at this rate (of about 33 per year) he will. By our reckoning (and at the current rate), when Pujols has played in 2200 games, he will have hit just over 610 homers. The reader is right: Alex Rodriguez is a great player. In fact, he’s the second best player in baseball today.

Rebuilding With Youth — Or Not

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

You know your team is in trouble when the title articles on its official website talk about next year as if it’s already here. So it is with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are not only mired in last place in the N.L. Central (again) — but contending for honors as the worst team in baseball with the likes of the Birds and Mariners. Hence: “Craving experience, young Bucs welcome Nats,” is actually a stand-in wink and nod to Pirates fans that means “Come to the ballpark — because we actually might be able to beat these guys.” In truth, while Pirates’ pundits go on and on about how the two teams have a lot in common (“two teams that are trying to squeeze some positives out of a marathon season”), Nationals fans can take comfort in the fact that while the Anacostia Nine are bad, they’re not as bad as this year’s version of the Stargells — who are 44-89. 44-89? That puts the Pittsburgers several games back of the Ripkins for MLB last place honors.

It’s not as if Bucs fans don’t know it. Just yesterday, Raise the Jolly Roger (the most acerbic critic of the Pirates’ front office), actually celebrated the Pirates 5-3 loss to the Cubs by noting that “at least they looked like a team that knew what it was doing.” Rum Bunter (a whiz with photoshop), is (if anything), even more outraged; he painfully chronicles the fall of the 2010 Pirates by listing the five reasons they “suck” — and (surprise, surprise) four of the five have to do with pitching. Bucs Dugout, meanwhile, notes that while the Pirates have been terrible, they actually haven’t been terrible enough. Which is to say: being next-to-last in baseball means that they’ve missed out on the very best prospects (including Stephan Strasburg), while picking up talent that hasn’t panned out. So, if you want to look at it this way, being last in baseball this year might be just what the doctor ordered for a team with nowhere to go but up.

Doesn’t anyone have anything good to say about this team? Well . . . no. But there is some hope. Pittsburgh’s bloggers are abuzz with talk about Jose Tabata, a hot-hitting left fielder and former prospect in the Yankees organization, which signed him which he was just “16.” Tabata is hitting the cover off the ball, though it took him time to get started: he only arrived in the show in early June, and had trouble stringing together a good run. But now Tabata is the talk of Pittsburgh, and being mentioned in the same breath as other N.L. rookies: Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, Washington’s Ian Desmond, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, and Chicago duo Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro. Of course (there’s always an “of course” when it comes to the Pirates), the celebration over the arrival of the young rookie (the “centerpiece” of a trade that sent Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Empire), could be premature.

The rap on Tabata, an apparent leftover from yakkers in the Yankees’ minor league system, is that while the young Venezuelan has oodles and oodles of talent, he was lazy and had a bad attitude. That would have killed any thought of him playing in the Nats organization (Mike Rizzo hates the word “lazy”) but it didn’t matter to rehab specialist and Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington — who ignored the warnings, believing they were overstated. It appears the gamble has worked out. Tabata is now a featured sparkplug in the middle of a play-em-young-or-bust Pittsburgh philosophy. Yet. Yet, at the end of July a correspondent for Bleacher Report cited rumors circulating in Pittsburgh that the young phenom might not actually be that young. That instead of being 22 (his birthday is August 12) he might actually be all of 25 . . . or 26. Or, as BR says: “This is actually very important news as far as the Pirates and Tabata’s future development are concerned.  If Tabata turns 22 on August 12th, he’s a hell of prospect, given his past minor performance, even if he isn’t much of a major league left-fielder today. On the other hand, if Tabata turns 25 on August 12th, he isn’t much of a prospect at all.”

A controversy? A scandal? Not for Pirates’ GM and resident player therapist Neal Huntington (insert snide comment about Nyjer Morgan here), who responded to the reports by issuing a non-clarification: Huntington said he has documentation showing that Tabata was born when he says he was born (take that!), but that even if the reports are true (ahem) it doesn’t matter. Or more pertinently: “Apart from unfounded speculation, there is nothing to indicate his age any different than reported,” Huntington said. “My point is that while we have reason to doubt his reported age, it is a non-issue to us.” Roughly translated: the only number we care about is the one in the column marked “BA.” Pirates fans would undoubtedly agree, as they have had little to cheer about this year, or last … or the year before that …

We can take a closer look tonight, when the Stargells begin a three game set against your Washington Nationals in Pittsburgh.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Letters and cards pored in from all over the globe, as our millions of worldwide readers were justly irritated that they couldn’t get on the site over the last 18 hours or so. Our board of directors (you remember our board of directors — right?) “instructed” (that is, demanded) that our crack technical team (and here they are) clean us up a tad bit, and so they did. It won’t happen again (of course it will, but never mind), but apologies nonetheless.

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 . . .

Bullpen Sinks Pirates

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals took the second in a three game set against the Pirates on Wednesday, though the 7-5 victory was much less cleanly played than the previous night’s 5-2 drubbing. Still, a victory is a victory, and the sloppily played triumph will enter the win column — and lift the Nats to within two games of .500 with one game left to play against the Stargells. The victory was also a vindication (of sorts), for Nats manager Jim Riggleman, who has praised rookie right fielder Roger Bernadina. Bernadina was 3-4 on the night and his speed on the base paths seemed to energize the Nats Nine. “He’s a very talented guy,” Riggleman told the Post back in May. “If you run him out there enough, he’s going to do some damage, because he’s just that good of a player.”

The Nationals were also sparked by a perfect bullpen, as Tyler Walker, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps combined to sink the Pirates through 4.1 innings of two hit, no-run ball. Tyler Walker’s outing was key, as the former journeyman Metropolitan, Giant and Phillie has struggled of late. “It was a bullpen shutout. That’s what we were looking for,” Walker said after the win. “We came in and picked up Johnny [Lannan]. He didn’t have his best stuff tonight. You come in and you want to pick him up. You want to help out your teammates. Tonight, I was able to get that job done. I had been struggling in that situation lately — [with] inherited runners. I was really trying to bear down and get us off the field, so we could get back to hitting.” Walker’s outing brought his ERA to back under four, while Storen (1.74) and Clippard (1.57) continued to impress.

Those Little Town Blues: Our friends over at The Real Dirty Mets Blog are getting fat and sassy, in the belief that the Mets are showing that they are some kind of team. (Haven’t they learned? C’mon guys — you’ll only be disappointed . . .) Most recently, “Mr. North Jersey” did some kind of throw down (is that what it’s called now?) in CFG after the Strasburg outing — to the effect that “don’t expect my Mets to go easy on you; we will be out for blood.” Well, let me tell you — we’re terrified. No really. We are. I mean, Strasburg, Lannan, Hernandez are pretty good, but there’s not a one of them as good as Oliver Perez . . .  Our constant desire to become an entry in The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary has led us far afield in the past. It didn’t seem that any Nats qualified as throwing, fielding or hitting in any particularly unique manner for us to even nominate a word or phrase. But now, with Stephen “they call me Mr.” Strasburg having plied his D.C. wares, we think we’ve come up with something. The heater that Strasburg threw against Andy LaRoche on Tuesday (his last K) seems to qualify. It was both unique and spectacularly Strasburg — ian. The Strasburg pitch was up-in-the-zone at 97-plus and absolutely unhittable. We’ll call it “a Porky Pig fastball” — and see if that catches on . . . No? . . .

“I mean, I don’t get it,” one of CFG’s droogs said last night. “The Ahoys? That’s what you call the Pirates?” Okay, we admit, it’s corny, but we’ll take reader nominations for nicknames and we’ll use them too. If they’re any good. We call the Mets “the Apples,” having dropped “the chokes” as being, well … offensive. But, while we call them “the apples” we don’t particularly like that nickname — or even “the Metropolitans.” It seems . . . ah . . . antiquated. So. Have you got something better? Well, send it in. And we’ll use it. But we’ll stick by “the Trolleys” (for the Dodgers) and McCoveys for the Giants and we’ll also stick with the Belinskys for the Angels (after legendary Halo pitcher Bo Belinsky) and, come to think of it, the uniquely descriptive “White Elephants” (c’mon, you know, for the Athletics) is an absolute keeper. But, admittedly, we’re having trouble coming up with a nickname for the Rockies. “The Heltons” is just too easy. And we’re having trouble labeling the Brewers. The “Brew Crew?” C’mon. I mean, who the hell cares? So nominations are open . . .

Guess who’s cashing in? Why, that would be the Topps baseball card company (well, they’re in business, so a little cash is probably not inappropriate), which has issued a limited edition set of cards of Stephen Strasburg, showing him pitching in Tuesday night’s debut. The limited edition has a very short print run, to ensure card value, and shows his first pitch. Right. That “other” card company — Bowman — will not be outdone. It has announced that it is producing a limited number of Bryce Harper cards. The Topps limited edition Strasburg card is pricey (and popular), although Topps has announced it will add a card to its 2010 660-card set (#661) for collectors who purchase a boxed set . . .

Strasburg card-0610.jpg

Strasburg (W, 1-0), Capps (S, 19)

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

If, during Spring Training, you had asked Nats skipper Jim Riggleman to sketch out a “model” Nationals win, he might have said something like this: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter followed by a middle inning lights-out reliever, finishing with an unhittable closer who strikes fear into the opposition. And the bats? That’s easy: a get-on-base-guy at the top of the order followed by the heavy lumber: Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez. Add liberally all those other things that really good teams have: a tight defense anchored by a youngster at short and a speedster in center. Oh, and let’s not forget: a strong and intimidating strike-throwing no-walks every-fifth-day sure-thing starter.

On Tuesday night, Jim Riggleman got his wish: Stephen Strasburg provided one of baseball’s most dominating pitching debuts, holding the Stargells to four hits over seven complete and wowing the sell-out crowd of 40,000-plus — who gave the now former phenom innumerable standing ovations before demanding that he take a well-deserved curtain call. “I really can’t put into words any better than what you saw,” Riggleman said following Strasburg’s gem. The California native and 2009 first round, first overall Nats draft pick registered fourteen strikeouts and no walks. I’ll repeat the important part of that last sentence, just for emphasis: no walks. But Strasburg’s numbers tell only a part of the story. Excepting for a semi-shaky fourth (and even then, he seemed in complete control) Strasburg dominated the game — with a silly-sick curve, an unhittable change-up and an in-your-eyes fastball that topped out (twice) at 100 mph. And the Nationals won, in a model of precision that Riggleman might have only dreamed of just two months ago: Strasburg was followed by 8th inning guy Tyler Clippard (one inning, one hit, two strike outs), before “Let’s Go Capps” (one inning, no hits) closed the door.

Nationals 5, Pirates 2.

From where the CFG contingent was sitting — in Section 129 (and here we are, in case you’ve forgotten), the night seemed filled with odd physical tics. Every time that Strasburg finished howitzer-ing a fastball past an increasingly puzzled Ahoy line-up, the entire section would look up at the scoreboard, calculating velocity. Up and back, up and back, like watching a ping-pong match. “That’s 100.” The 82 mph curves were as impressive, the mix in pitches a sign that “this kid” (as in, “boy, can this kid throw”) is more than just a fireballer. And then the nods or guttural response, or expressions of awe. “Seven in a row, are you kidding?” There was a sense of disbelief in all of this. Everyone had heard the hype, but no one had quite believed it. CFG’s DWilly rang up after the game, his cell crackling with the sound of the crowd celebrating on Half Street: “The real deal,” he said.

Now Then, Where Were We? Oh yeah, searching for a right fielder. Even before the Strasburg debut, the Nats front office had to feel that the team they put on the field could make a run at a playoff spot, the only negative being the gaping hole in right field. That’s called a conceit: what we mean to say is — the yawning maw in right field. With the Willie Harris/Willy Taveras platoon a thing of the past (it lasted all of one game), the Nats were hoping that Harris alone (and then Roger Bernadina) could make the difference. But Willie is not only hitting below the Mendoza line, he makes Mendoza look like DiMaggio. Then too, Bernadina is yet to get his legs (or his stroke, as the case may be) and the oft-injured Mike Morse, while a Riggleman favorite, just doesn’t feel like a permanent solution. Or hit like one. Well, there’s Cristian Guzman . . . okay, well maybe not.

So, the search is on. Last week, Ben Goessling speculated about a number of fixes, including the Brew Crew’s Corey Hart, the North Sider’s Kosuke Fukudome and Tampa’s B.J. Upton, any number of whom would be an upgrade. But the price, according to Goessling, would be high: Tyler Clippard, or Matt Capps — and throw in a top prospect. With the possible exception of Hart, it hardly seems worth it. Hart has pop (15 dingers), but a so-so-average, the K-man patrols the field with the best of them (but is too inconsistent at the plate — and comes with a salary), and B.J. Upton has yet to live up to his hype (.235 BA, six homers). Past A Diving Vidro (now there’s a great name for a blog) says that David DeJesus might be an option — but then the bloggers at PADV rightly call him a K.C. Ryan Church . . . ugh.

There’s another possibility. The White Sox are “open for business,” and have apparently been dangling outfielder Carlos Quentin — who can be had for the right price. But it’s hard to see what that price might be. The one thing the Nats can now (supposedly) trade is relief pitching — the one thing the Pale Hose don’t need. Then too, it’s hard to figure what you gain with Quentin: sure, 21 home runs last year (remember? CQ was once “The Second Coming” in “The Second City”), but his measly BA (.236!) and anemic OBP of .323 has soured his stay in Chicago. If we’re going to pay top price for a right fielder, then it’s worth getting one who can swing the stick. Quentin has yet to prove he can. Then too, whether it’s Hart, or Kosuke or B.J. or whomever, dealing Tyler Clippard or Matt Capps just now seems like a bad idea. Clippard has emerged as one of the game’s premier middle relievers (well, he’s getting there), while dealing Capps would seem proof of attention deficit disorder: maybe the Nats front office remembers what it’s like to play without a closer, but the rest of us are permanently Hanrahan’d. Which means? Which means that sometimes, at least in baseball, the best thing to do is nothing at all.

Nats Beat “The Freak”

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Tim Lincecum struggled on Wednesdayleaving his fastball up in the zone and failing to throw strikes with his curve — allowing the Nationals to score six runs and pound out six hits in taking the second game of a three game stint in San Francisco. Luis Atilano, meanwhile, dominated Giants’ hitters through the first four innings, before San Franciso put together a mini-rally in the fifth. Even with that, San Francisco (which is struggling at the plate) was unable to connect against Atilano, or Washington’s relievers. “Everything was working good,” Atilano said of his performance. “Finally, I was able to command my sinker. I was just throwing sinkers and changeups the first couple of innings. Everything was good. I was happy I finally got back to the point where I was on top of my game. Hopefully, it will keep going like that.” Atilano is now 4-1 on the season — and a surprise for the Nats — while Lincecum lost his first.

There’s no question the Nats need to start hitting. While the Anacostia Nine aren’t having the same problems at the dish as the Giants — who are scrambling to find their rhythm — the team’s anemic performance on Tuesday (two runs on just four hits in a 4-2 loss in San Francisco), serves as a cautionary note for a squad that should be among the NL’s leaders in scoring runs and hitting for average. They’re not. The Nats are in the middle of the pack in the NL in batting average (7th of 16), tenth in RBIs, tenth in hitting the long ball, ninth in walks and 11th in scoring runs. With Ivan Rodriguez on the DL, the team will need to have Wil Nieves step into his shoes not only behind the plate, but in the batter’s box. That doesn’t seem likely. Worse yet, the Nats are near the bottom in fielding (12th of 16), having committed more errors than any team but the Marlins. The good news? Surprise. Surprise. It’s the bullpen. The team leads the league in saves and has been solid in the middle innings. It’s a good thing, with a team ERA at 4.45, the Nats remain desperate for arms that can keep their opponents off the board.

Soylent Green Is People: There was an animated dugout conversation between Tim Lincecum and McCovey manager Bruce Bochy last night after Lincecum was removed from the game. Odds are that Bochy was zinging his ace for his inability to keep runners close at first. The Nats stole four bases on Lincecum, three of them in the top of the 5th and two of them on no-throws from catcher Benjie Molina . . . Rob Dibble’s “intestinal fortitude” speech came in inning 5 last night. This time Dibble’s victim was Luis Atilano. Dibble deemed Atilano’s performance “disappointing.” Really? Atilano gave up two earned and four hits in 5.1 and he might well have pitched a complete 6th if it hadn’t been for a Roger Bernadina misplay in right field. Then too, Atilano was coming off two previous rocky starts and was facing baseball’s best pitcher. What the hell is Dibble talking about? “These kids have to learn, there’s competition up here — they should be pitching like their hair is on fire.” Oh come on: two earned and four hits in 5.1? We’ll take it . . .

Speculation about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut is the focus of MLB baseball talk — and the Nats blogosphere. Nats Triple Play says that the Nats front office has been manipulating Strasburg’s debut for contract purposes (check) and to sell out a June 4 Friday night game (check). The Nationals Enquirer (meanwhile) gives the Nats a pass, noting that Mike Rizzo had never said when Strasburg would appear: “Heck, about the only thing the Nationals are guilty of is not stepping in sooner to squash the speculation around June 4th. And really: why should they have? It was only last night that anyone from the Nationals even mentioned June 4 as a possibility; and it was Rizzo denying that this date was written in stone.” Still, there’s a lot of anger on fan forums about the June 4 date. So here’s the deal: don’t listen to the Nats, listen to the pundits. About a month ago, baseball guru Tim Kurkjian had Strasburg starting against the Ahoys on June 10. That sounded about right, but Kurkjian might have been off by about two days. My bet is Strasburg will be on the mound on the 8th . . . so here’s a question: what happens if “the next big thing” gets hit around and Rigs has to pull him in the 4th? Let’s not kid ourselves — there are no guarantees . . .

Fish Fall, Nats Take Series

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The Washington Nationals nudged out yet another victory against the Florida Marlins, defeating the Fish at Nats Park on Sunday, 3-2. The game clinched the series for the Nationals, who took two of three. The hero of the game was Josh Willingham, whose home run in the eighth inning was the difference in the win. Livan Hernandez, who is now the ace of the staff, pitched seven solid innings, giving up only one earned run. But Hernandez didn’t notch the win: reliever Tyler Clippard (usually perfect in such relief situations) gave up the tying run to the Marlins in the top of the eighth. So while Clippard was assessed a blown save (his fourth), he was credited with the win — bringing his record to an unlikely 6-0. After Willingham’s homer put the Nats ahead, Matt Capps came on (in the ninth), to get his 13th save in as many tries. The Nats are starting to learn how to win one-run games. “I think our players feel like if we’re close, we’ve got a chance to win the ballgame,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “We’ve got some real pros in there.”

Tyler Clippard’s sixth win without a loss (all in relief) reminded MASN baseball analyst Rob Dibble of the careers of two MLB relief specialists: Ahoy legend Elroy Face and Red Sox boxcar Dick Radatz. Though only time will tell, the comparison is fair for Face (spindly and bespectacled, like Clippard) much less so for Radatz. Face was 18-1 for the ’59 Pirates (the team finished only two games over .500), while Radatz (who lasted all of six years in the majors) was 15-6 for the ’63 Red Sox. Both were relief specialists, wracking up unlikely victories for average clubs. Otherwise the two were entirely different. Face was a legend, setting the standard for what a closer can be in fifteen stellar seasons for the Clementes. He led all of baseball in relief pitching numbers for nearly two decades. In 1960, Face saved three games in the Pirates series against the Yankees (won by the Pirates in a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski). “The Moose” Radatz’s short career was meteoric — he won two Fireman of the Year awards and was feared for his 95 mph fastball. In a game in 1963 he came in with the bases loaded and struck out (in order), Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard. But in 1965 he injured his shoulder and lost the edge on his fastball. After retiring, Face became a carpenter in Pennsylvania. Radatz lived at his home in Easton, Massachusetts where, in 2005, he fell down a stairway and suffered a life-ending concussion.

What My Buddies Said During Friday Night’s Game: Me Droogs, Willy and Mikey (here they are), were my row-mates during the Nats Friday night loss to the Marlins, commenting on the team and baseball. “God, these guys  stink,” Willy said in the bottom of the third. I was offended: “what the hell are you talking about? They’re young, they’re tough, Stammen is a comer. For God Sakes Man, give-em-a-chance.” I tried to move away from him. He rolled his eyes: “No, not these guys,” he said. “Those guys . . .” and he gestured towards the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Yankees had just posted a nine-spot against his beloved Red Sox. I shrugged: “Oh yeah,” I said. “God, that’s awful. I feel terrible.” The Red Sox are 16-16 on the year. The Nats are 17-14. Enjoy it while you can . . . The scintillating conversation continued. “How many balls do you think they use during a game?” Mikey asked. I thought for a minute: “I hear they start with  72.” He nodded: “That’s six dozen.” Mikey’s no slouch: he graduated from college. After the game he sent me a link, which quoted a Pirates clubhouse assistant as saying the Pirates go through about 120 baseballs per game. The league office, I subsequently learned, asks each team to provide 90 new balls for each game. According to Major League Baseball, between five and six dozen balls are used during a game . . .

“Who’s this guy?” Willy asked during the 8th. I looked out at the Florida reliever. “Renyel Pinto,” I said. “Sneaky quick with a fastball that comes up in the zone. He’s not bad.” Willy nodded: “He looks like Sid Fernandez.” Mikey shook his head. “Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile.” Willy referenced The Book Of Bad Baseball Memories he keeps in his head: “He pitched the seventh game of the ’86 Series,” he said. “When the Red Sox lost to the Mets.” I harumphed: my God, these Sox fans. It’s like listening to a Believer talk about Lourdes. “I’m right,” he said. “Look it up.” I did. Charles Sidney Fernandez pitched ten years for the Apples, before moving on to Philadelphia, Houston and Baltimore. He developed arm problems after his stint in New York and, after a valiant effort spent at resuscitating his career, retired from the game in 1997. He posted a career 114-96 record — almost all of his games in New York. Fernandez pitched games five and seven of the ’86 Series (an afterthought for “The Nation,” which regularly relives Bill Buckner’s through-the-legs error of Game Six) but the game seven winner was Roger McDowell. Here was the Mets starting staff for the series: Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Roger McDowell, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez. Don’t kid yourself, the Chokes wish they had them now . . .

From time to time I get seats in Section 128, just behind the Nats dugout and just to the right of the netting that protects the fans (or, “potential victims” as I all them) from foul balls. We were in the fourth row. Our usher says the same thing at the beginning of every game. “Pay attention Section 128, these foul balls come mighty fast. You have to watch every single pitch.” And then he adds: “Enjoy the game.” In the seventh inning a man and his son (who must have been about 13) moved down to the row in front of us. You could just tell, this kid was thrilled. I leaned forward: “If one of these balls comes streaking this way at about 125 mph, I expect you to catch it,” I said. “Because I’m not going to.” The boy looked at his father, who laughed. “He’s kidding,” he said.

No, actually, I wasn’t.

Twin Killings: Twinkies, Bosox On The Ropes

Saturday, October 10th, 2009


There have been 26 Yankee juggernauts in major league history — 27 if you count the 1960 team, that could have, might have and should have won a world title: were it not for the heroics of Bill Mazeroski. This team, the 2009 version, is even more formidable. The twin killers of the Twins on Friday night (that put the reeling Twinkies down by two games to zip) were Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, one of whom is headed to the hall and the other who might well be. It’s easy to see why Teixeira — offered an off-season gift basket from the Nationals — decided to play for the pinstripes: the New Yorkers know how to spend money, and they know how to win: a requirement for any ballplayer who prizes not only a large bank account, but a handful of rings.

What was billed as a pitchers’ duel turned out to be exactly that: as Yankee A.J. Burnett mixed four kinds of fastballs to put the Twins down through six innings. But Burnett, a puzzling mess at odd times, was pulled after six complete, with Yankee manager Joe Girardi suddenly dependent on a relief core that has often been shaky. And so it proved: even Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera were merely human, while former Ahoy fireballer and reclamation project Damaso Marte was a disaster. The often so-so Nick Blackburn, meanwhile, was brilliant — posting a 1.59 post season ERA and befuddling Yankee hitters through 5.2. So when Joe Nathan arrived with the Twins’ lead intact we could be forgiven for thinking the game was over. Not so: Alex Rodriguez’s ninth inning home run tied it, while Tex’s walk off against Jose Mijares in the 11th won it. “It’s really disappointing,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’ve been walked off enough times here. Some of the things that happened out there were pretty disappointing. It was a good baseball game. A lot of things could have went either way, but didn’t go our way again tonight.” 

The Boston Red Sox Are Being Eaten In Anaheim. After a not-even-close 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Belinskis on Thursday, “the Nation” sent ace Josh Beckett to the mound against Jered Weaver. It was a bookie’s fantasy: the lanky if talented Weaver brothers have “never quite” and have a tendency to implode (and what a sight it is!), while Beckett is calm to the point of perversity — and it’s downright weird. If Jered is Yosemite Sam (arms akimbo, fist slapping glove), then Josh is Mr. Magoo (calmly asking for another ball, as the one he just pitched sails into the night). So it was that — if you were to actually bet (and you wouldn’t would you?) — you would have been all-in on Beckett. And you’d have lost.

It happened in the seventh inning in Anaheim and it went something like this: Vlad Guerrero walked (Howie Kendrick runs for him), Kendry Morales lines out, Kendrick steals second, Juan Rivera grounds out to third (two outs), Maicer Izturis singles (Kendrick scores), Mike Napoli HBP, Erick Aybar triples, (Izturis and Napoli score), Chone Figgins strikes out for out number three. Score: 3-1 Angels.  What was most unusual was that Beckett seemed to lose his cool — complaining to homeplate umpire C.B. Bucknor that Mike Napoli hadn’t moved out of the way of a fastball that hit him in the back. Beckett seemed to come unhinged. “I wasn’t much [ticked] that he wouldn’t overturn the pitches, but show me a little bit of respect,” Beckett said. “He just straight-faced me and then walked away. I was just like, I went up to [catcher Victor Martinez]. I said, ‘Vic, he’d be [ticked] if I did that to him.’ I’m not asking him to even overturn it, just listen to what I have to say. Don’t like, take your mask off, straight-face me and then walk away. I can’t say anything to the point of getting thrown out.” 

The Red Sox, now down two games to none, must win three games in a row to advance to the league championship series. “We’ve just got to regroup,” Beckett said. “We know what we need to do now. We can’t lose another one. A lot of guys in here have been through this. It’s not an ideal situation, but we have to win.”

Roberto Clemente

Friday, September 4th, 2009

The Nats will host Roberto Clemente Night on Friday night when they face off against the Florida Marlins. As I recall, I saw Roberto Clemente play six or seven times, almost all of them in Milwaukee County Stadium. This must have been in 1964 and 1965 — at the peak of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I saw him two more times after that, in 1969 or 1970, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Clemente was only 25 when he played on that great 1960 world championship team that took the series in seven games from the Yankees — the one where Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off in the ninth inning of the sevnth game. Clemente was young, just 25, and hit .314 for the season.

Clemente won the MVP award in 1966 at the age of 31, his greatness established: he hit .317 with 29 home runs and he had 202 hits. He was a hitting machine — at the end of the 1972 season (just before he was killed), his hit total stood at exactly 3000. He had at least three more good years left in him in baseball, a lot more in life. The Clemente years were good years for the Pirates: they won a world championship in 1960 and 1971 and Clemente was surrounded by good players, some of them were very good: Matty Alou and Dick Groat and Don Hoak and Willie Stargell and Al Oliver and Bill Mazeroski and legendary pitchers Vern Law, Harvey Haddix and Bob Friend.

I remember Clemente playing right field, but I don’t have any specific memory of him hitting and I remember the way that he ran because it was so distinctive. He was scary quick, midwest quick. And you knew, when you saw him play, that he had a very special ability. I had heard he had a legendary arm and I saw it — once — though I don’t remember the exact details. Close enough thought: I remember the game. It was in Milwaukee County Stadium and it was a day game featuring the home team lame-duck-no-account 1965 headed-out-of-town (I’m still bitter about those) Milwaukee Braves against the mighty Pirates. The Braves were at bat with two outs, but there wasn’t anyone special at bat (like Aaron or Mathews); but some light hitting lug — and I didn’t much like many of them anyway. It was someone like Woody Woodward or Dennis Menke or someone like that. I would like to think it was Menke, one of my least favorite players. Dennis “boot ’em” Menke.  

Anyway, whoever it was came up and hit a scorcher down into the right field corner (a hell of a hit) and tore around first and the ball was hit on a line just inside the first base bag. The ball headed to the corner and it took one high bounce against the green wall. And Clemente went and got it and caught it on the bounce as it came off the wall and Menke (or whoever) headed to second and just kept going. A clear triple. And Clemente turned and rifled the ball over the head of the second baseman and into third where Pirate third sacker, young Bob Bailey was waiting.

I remember it well: the ball caught up with Menke about halfway between second and third and Menke looked at the ball as it passed him. I saw his head turn. Everyone saw his head turn. And Bailey just kind of spread his legs and leaned down and the ball took one bounce and Bailey applied the tag and flipped the ball to the ump. We were all on our feet with Braves fans (what there were of them) ready to cheer this fantastic triple and the air just came out of the stadium and everyone, just everyone, kind of looked at their shoes and shook their heads and went back to their popcorn. What was amazing about it really was that when Bailey applied the tag, Clemente was already halfway to the dugout — he was on the lip of the infield grass. And I remember thinking: well, I saw that.

Clemente two

J.D., Riggleman, and Dunn’s Dinger

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009


The Milwaukee Brewers came into Nationals’ Park the proud owner of a four game losing streak that had put them ten games behind the St Louis Cardinals in the NL East. The Brewers will not likely catch the Redbirds, but they must have been pleased to escape Friday night’s game at Nationals Park with a decisive 7-3 win. There was much to be proud of in the Nats’ play, except for the final score: J.D. Martin threw 6.2 innings, gave up eight hits and struck out four. Perhaps most important of all, he didn’t walk one Blatzman and gave the Nats’ bullpen a rest. His solid showing placed him firmly in line for future starts — and a potential place in a revamped 2010 rotation. But Martin gave up home runs to Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee, which proved decisive: and Brewers’ starter Braden Looper gave up four hits in six innings of work.

The most memorable moment of the day, of course, was Stephen Strasburg’s appearance at Nationals Park, where he was introduced by the front office and Nats’ All Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Nats’ fans packed the stands along the third base line to get a glimpse of the college phenom. Strasburg appeared genuinely complimented by the lavish attention and modest enough to admit that his journey to the big leagues was dependent on his own success — and the decision of the organization’s baseball people. This is amazing,” Strasburg said of the crowd. “To play at San Diego State, where we didn’t get many fans until this year, this is pretty special.” The Strasburg introduction was well-handled, a down payment on the promise made by the ownership at the all star break that things would get better for Nats fans. The Nats front office must believe the Strasburg investment has already started to pay dividends.

There were two other memorable events of the day, both important. The first was the light stand shot that Adam Dunn launched against the Brewers in the 1st inning. The home run, Dunn’s 32nd,  landed on the concourse just off the second deck in upper right field. My guess is that it was the longest dinger hit in Nationals Park. Ever. Dunn’s OBP is at .420 and after a late-July swoon, his batting average is .288. The second post-Strasburg event of note was interim manager Jim Riggleman’s praise of Nats’ fans in his post game comments after the loss to the Brewers. Riggleman seemed genuinely humbled by the fact that Nats fans are still showing up, night after night, to see major league baseball’s worst team. Riggleman noted that the players appreciate the support. Rigs has it right and it’s about time people noticed. Night after night, between 18,000 to 24,000 fans are showing up to see the Nats play. True: the high end numbers (some 30,000 or more) come to see the Red Sox or Cubs or Cardinals. But that hasn’t been true recently, when the Nats have faced the Rockies and Brewers.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Yankees-Red Sox tussle is over in Boston, with the final score 20-11. The Empire sealed the victory in the last minute with a field goal by Hideki Matsui. The Yankees drove the ball on the Red Sox with ease, picking apart their secondary. “This shows our character,” a Yankees player said after the game. “This was smash-mouth baseball all night. We were really able to get into their backfield. I just want to thank God for giving me this opportunity . . .” The Back Bay is burning: the Sawx are trailing New York in the NL East by 7.5, and are only one game ahead of the Rays in the wild card . . .

I mean, I can see why the Nats continue to play Ronnie Belliard instead of say, oh, Mike Morse. Can’t you? I mean, really, if we give Morse a chance you never know what might happen. Why, we could even lose some games. We wouldn’t want that to happen. Listen, Ronnie justs needs to get over the nervousness of playing in the big leagues. Like last night for instance: when he got picked off of first base for no damn good reason . . . The Centerfield Gate board of directors (by a very close vote) has instructed me to add three names to my list of underrated MLB Players: Naps’s outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, Belinski’s outfielder Kendry Morales and Ahoys’ outfielder Garrett Jones. So who the hell is Garrett Jones? Jones is the Pirates’ new right fielder, whom the Pirates got from the Twinkies  for ah . . . well, for no one at all. Jones is the guy the Ahoys signed as a free agent after the Twins released him. Will someone please, please, please, wake up the Twins. Garrett Jones has fourteen home runs in 43 games. Every time you turn on the television, there he is, plunking another one into the stands at PNC Park. Then the three people in attendance stand and cheer as one. It’s enough to shake your lack of faith in Neal Huntington . . .

Mets Pirates Baseball

On Baseball Tonight on Friday night, Tim Kurkjian said that the Cubs might be done. What? C’mon, really? There’s forty games left. Are you sure?