Tuesday, February 28, 2006
This special election, meant as a final blowout on special consideration for the Negro Leagues (it's uncertain whether Negro Leaguers will be eligible for the Veteran's Committee ballot in the future), nearly doubled the number of Negro Leaguers in the Hall. Sadly, the two best-known Negro Leaguers on the ballot--Buck O'Neil and Minnie Minoso--didn't make the cut, perhaps their last, best chance for enshrinement.
According to people with more knowledge than I have in this area, O'Neil's career as a player and manager were nice, but not Hall of Fame-caliber. O'Neil's big contributions came after his years in the Negro Leagues, with his work as a Major League scout and embassador of the game. Minoso's qualifications are perhaps best described by Alex Belth's recent piece for Sports Illustrated.
The saddest part--other than the personal disappointment Buck and Minnie must feel--is that, because the two of them were shut out, all of the Negro Leaguers honored by the Hall this July will be honored posthumously.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Meanwhile, in baseball, we're still in Spring Training, another sports neutral zone where attitude trumps results. The idea behind Spring Training is supposed to be whetting the appettite of the baseball fan in anticipation of the season; most of the reporting of the event seems to come down to staving off boredom and settling scores. George Vecsey in the New York Times writes the the latest of many, many columns over the past month begging Barry Bonds to retire. Since it's behind the Times Select Iron Curtain, I'll give you a taste:
Oh, boo-hoo. One of these years, BarryBonds promises us, we are not going to have him to kick around anymore. My response is, the sooner the better.
Bone-on-bone friction in his knee is probably not the only pain Bonds is feeling these days. As obtuse as he has been, Bonds must know thathe can never regain the public trust because his personal trainer was caught scurrying to the notorious Balco laboratory.
Now, the fact is that the media will always have Barry Bonds to kick around (just like they always had Nixon), regardless of what he does. If he retires tomorrow, it'll be at least five years of bitching about Barry leading up to his Hall of Fame induction, and another five years thereafter bitching about the fact that he got in, and what a morally corrupt institution that makes baseball. The immortality of Barry's accomplishments will make the complaints about him endless.
But let's be serious, here. When Vecsey, or any of the other hordes who are on the "Please, please quit, Barry" bandwagon, invoke "the public trust," they're primarily talking about themselves. Barry Bonds had a public trust? Or, better put, the public trusted Barry Bonds at some point? When was this? Back when he was with Pittsburgh, and pilloried as a "choker" because he couldn't solve the Atlanta Braves' pitching in two post-season series, or the Reds' pitching in another? Or back when he set the home run record--at a time when MLB didn't even have a steroid policy, by the way--and the various reporters covering the event had the look of children swallowing a particularly noxious medicine?
Regardless of that, Vecsey must have some pretty healthy joints to think that the loss of the "public" trust--that is, the trust of the guys in the press--is more painful than bone-on-bone in one of your knees. But then again, this whole Bonds Retirement movement is more about baseball writers than it is about baseball, or integrity, or anything else. The writers are sick of press conferences with Bonds, who holds them in nothing but contempt. And that's understandable--when you're forced to work with someone who loathes you, you usually find yourself hoping that either you or they move on to a new job, quickly.
On a baseball level, however, what does anyone gain by Bonds retiring? This is not one of those situations where a player is being asked to retire to "protect his legacy." For guys like Vecsey, Bonds's legacy is irredeemably screwed. It's not like any of these guys are worried about his health, or as if Bonds's team is asking him to stay home to improve their chances to compete (a situation that's playing out between Jeff Bagwell and the Houston Astros).
The Vecseys of the world just want Bonds to quit because they don't like him. They don't like the press conferences. Well, I've got a secret for these guys--I don't watch baseball for the press conferences. I enjoy watching Bonds hit, and so long as he isn't cheating at present, and so long as he's able and willing to suit up, and able to hit, I think he should play. If I don't want to hear Barry Bonds speak, I'll change channels before the post-game show. Isn't that reasonable?
Meanwhile, in Yankeeland, the tempest in a teapot is about Gary Sheffield, and the status of his contract. Sheffield, never one to shy away from talkin' about getting paid, had a preemptive conversation with Cashman where (apparently) Cash said the Yankees would be interested in picking up Sheff's option, but are not ready to do so just yet.
Now, this is not news. The Yanks have the option, and apparently they're not required to exercise it until after the season's over. That's good, because even though Sheffield has done nothing but hit in pinstripes, at his age a guy can have any number of problems that would hamper his production and make picking up the option sheer folly.
The tightrope Cashman's trying to walk is that he wants to keep Sheffield happy, without committing to a contract extension too early. So I'm sure that Cash is going to meet with Sheff as often as he can, and do everything in his power to make Sheff feel appreciated and loved by the franchise. Everything, that is, except triggering that option.
You see, Cashman could feud with Sheffield, and face a year of trade demands and strife. He could buy into the idea that Sheffield's a Bad Guy, a selfish, greedy player who will screw up Cashman's team in search of more dough. But instead, it seems that Cashman wants to treat Sheffield as an Ornery Old Coot--someone to be respected and coddled a little bit, but not a toxic personality. So long as Sheffield can be satisfied with the Yanks wanting to have him around next year, as opposed to contractually guaranteeing it, everything should be fine.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Every four years, it seems, I forget what the Skeleton is. It's just Luge, head-first.
No, that doesn't sound like a bright idea. But they do it anyway.
You watch a bunch of events with the word "ice" in them, and you realize something. You should really pay attention to what you put on every morning, because you never know when you're going to do something noteworthy. Tomorrow could be the day you recue a half-dozen orphans from a burning building--and if that's the day you decided to wear your bright orange pleated shirt with a lime-green bow tie...well, that might just be how you're remembered in perpetuity.
I mean, the guy that won the silver medal (er, doughnut) in figure skating was wearing a two-tone tiger-stripe-pattern top. That's right--he couldn't be satisfied with tiger stripes just in the front, or front and back in the same color. Nah, he needed two different colors of tiger stripes.
And now, whenever anyone sees the picture of himself on the podium, winning the silver, they're gonna see him wearing that...thing. Maybe, if he knew that he was going to win something, he'd have thought "Is this really how I want to be immortalized? Really?"
Of course, he might have just dumpster dived for his outfit from the Ice Dancing folks. That was like watching some bizarro universe, where you kept on thinking "You guys trained every day, for four years, making great personal sacrifices...and now you're going to wear that?"
Now, I know what you're thinking. "I'm reading a baseball blog by a guy who watches ice dancing?" But it was totally worth it, for two reasons. First, to see my wife's reactions to the bizarre outfits--every time my attention started to drift, I'd hear La Chiquita saying "Oh my god. Omygodomygodomygod!" followed by her pointing in horror at two people dressed primarily in day-glo pink; or the ice dancing bronze medalists, who looked like extras from The Wrath of Khan when they stood on the podium; or the half-dozen other Olympians who looked like they were going directly from the figure skating rink to a street corner to earn the money to get home from Torino.
Didn't they know Home Depot would be glad to hire them?
Second, can we get some major league club to hire Dick Button as a color man? He's the source of some of the strangest commentary I've ever witnessed. In ice dancing, his issue was the lack of "romance" between some of the couples, he would grumble stuff like "There's no passion between them. This is just overt theatricality!"
She's wearing a tafetta contraption with some form of plumage that can only be described as a "butt mop", he's wearing a shirt undone to his navel with sequins on it. Oh, and since this is figure skating, I wouldn't take odds on the guy's sexual orientation. But Dick's suprised by the theatricality and lack of romance?
When Dick finally found some romance, suddenly he turned into Isaac Hayes and the late, great Barry White, all wrapped into one. Comments like "She's so sensual!" and "There's definitely heat between those two," built up until I was pretty worried that Dick might get, um, over-excited, and need medical attention. I have this vision of Mary Carillo trying to simultaneously keep an eye on the ice, on Button, and on the nearest portable defibrilator, just in case.
While we're on the subject of sex and sports, how's this for a story of thwarted revenge? An openly-gay former U.S. champion ice skater decides to rain on a rival's Olympic moment, by making an issue of his sexual orientation. You see, the former champ thinks the young Olympian has ripped off his moves. The whole thing's timed so that the Olympian, who's favored for a medal in his event, will be too busy answering questions about whether or not he's gay to enjoy the thrill of victory (as Howard Cosell once called it). Oh, the humiliation! Oh, the lost endorsements! What a devious plan!
Except, in this case, the young Olympian--Johnny Weir--does a horrible job on the long program. He doesn't win a medal, doesn't really come close. And now, the vengeful campaign by Rudy Galiendo doesn't distract from a champion's glory, it draws attention from Weir's Bode Miller-style implosion. Weir comes off as a sympathetic figure, a nice kid who lost and is being picked upon by a washed-up gay bully.
You don't hear that one every day.
Monday, February 20, 2006
In the face of real-world worries, writing about sports, and movies, and trifles of that sort takes on an air of the unreal. To be honest, I simply couldn't write--or rather, what I could write over the past few days wasn't too fit for my readership's eyes (regardless of how few eyes there may be).
After that cryptic downer of an intro, on to the trifles and trivialities I usually write about:
Big Mouth on the Ozzeroo -- Ozzie Guillen is one of the most mystifying sports figures, ever. I never liked him as a player. He was then, as he is now, a loudmouth with a very low signal-to-noise ratio; he had the quality of annoying performance to go with his annoying mouth--Guillen was just shy of the posterboy for anti-sabermetric play (overrated defense, bad stolen base percentages, and hold the walks and the power, now with bonus sac bunts!).
His first season with the White Sox he looked like a guy in way above his head, but in '05, he showed a deft touch with the pitching staff, en route to winning the Big Enchilada (as the World Series trophy shall henceforth be known) and the Manager of the Year Award. So now Ozzie has a bigger pulpit than ever from which to spout off...well, nonsense. We'd be busy burying him for a jackass, if only he didn't also give the impression of being a pretty decent human being, for all his bouts of logorrhea.
Case in point: Ozzie went out of his way to slam Alex Rodriguez as a fake last week, for wanting to play for the Dominican Team in the WBC. Now, we're not the biggest fans of A-Rod's WBC Hamlet act, and calling out Rodriguez in the press has apparently become as much of a Spring Training tradition as Pitchers and Catchers reporting a week early. But Ozzie was exceptionally nasty about it. Here's the quote "Alex was kissing Latino people's (butts). He knew he wasn't going to play for the Dominicans; he's not a Dominican! ... I hate hypocrites: He's full of ---. The Dominican team doesn't need his (butt). It's the same thing with (Nomar) Garciaparra playing for Mexico. Garciaparra only knows Cancun because he went to visit."
Anybody who knows my background probably has a fair idea how well the Ozzeroo's rant--particularly the "not a Dominican!" part--went over with me. To Ozzie's credit, he apologized for the verbal suckerpunch on Rodriguez almost as soon as it came out in print, which kind of took the fun out of Steinbrenner's day-late counterattack on Guillen. There's not much fun to be had piling on any side right now...which goes to show what a quiet week it's been in Yankeeland.
Pitchers and Catchers...um, Pitching and Catching -- So far, the talk in Tampa has been about Ron Guidry's survival chances as the Yanks' new pitching coach; the need for Posada and the Big Unit to get back in sync now that Randy's personal catcher, John Flaherty, is gone; and the fact that Carl Pavano still isn't back on the mound for the Yanks--this time his back hurts, after shoulder pain last season.
Not to call him a malingerer, but the whispers are that Pavano's pain tolerance is directly proportional to his desire to pitch in Pinstripes, which is reportedly non-existent. If that's the case, (HUGE "if") then Carl needs to realize that his only route off the Yanks' roster is through the pitching mound--he simply can't be dealt until he shows someone that he can pitch. This melodrama will probably play out all Spring, and perhaps through the summer.
Albert Belle and the Legend of Kirby Puckett -- Another baseball story from last week: Albert Belle, the baseball player once known as "Joey", was arrested for stalking an ex-girlfriend in Arizona. Belle reportedly used a hidden GPS device to track the woman's car, and would then show up wherever she was going. Apparently, Belle admitted using the tracking device in a answering machine message, and spent another answering machine message threatening the woman.
If so, then we've managed to finally establish that Belle isn't a rocket scientist, and that he's not a nice guy. For the 480 members of the BWAA who didn't give Belle their Hall of Fame votes, this probably serves as validation of their decision not to lend their support. That's rightfully so--violence against women shouldn't make you a better choice for Hall of Fame, after all. Still, before the "nay" voters hurt themselves while patting themselves on the back, I feel compelled to bring up Kirby Puckett.
Like Belle, Puckett was an American League All-Star outfielder, whose career was cut sadly short by injury. That's where the similarities end--Belle was a take-and-rake kind of player with big home run power, while Puckett was a line-drive hitter, reknowned for his doubles off the "baggie" in the Metrodome. Belle was a hulking big guy, while Pucket was short and round. Most importantly, Puckett was a great interview, a guy who was always shown with a smile on his face and a sunny disposition. Puckett was revered as a local icon in Minnesota with a personality made for politics and a persona fit for his own brand of teddy bear.
Belle, on the other hand, battled alcoholism early in his career (when he was known as "Joey Belle") and was never at ease around the press or the fans afterward. He had incidents where he threw balls at hecklers and photographers (hit the heckler, missed the shutterbug), and he took a high-profile suspension for going off on a reporter. He was also busted with a corked bat, once.
So it's not much of a surprise that Kirby, the good citizen, is in the Hall of Fame, and that Belle's 40 votes this winter (7.7% of the vote, about one-tenth of what's needed for induction) will probably be a high mark.
But here's the rub: after Kirby was inducted, we learned he wasn't really a good citizen. He, like Belle, had problems with the opposite sex, which warranted intervention by the law. The fourth estate thought for certain that they knew Kirby. They'd interviewed him several thousand times, and he always seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. They vouched for him to the fans, just as they made sure that the fans knew that Albert Belle was Bad News.
But in the end, they didn't know Kirby; this is one of the reasons why I've always been kind of tepid about the media's personal assesments of any celebrity. It's not an insult to someone's interviewing skills to say that hanging out with a person, in a semi-public area like a baseball clubhouse full of reporters, might not be the most effective way to learn what kind of person they are.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Chacon, on the other hand, has had some success as a starter. His NERC (normalized ERC) in 2003 was great. 2004 was the year of the closer experiment, which was a disaster for whatever reason (although still part of Chacon's "history"). I have Chacon projected to be a good (better than average) pitcher. I think that Pecota's projection for him is flat out not even close, but I could be wrong. I have a lot of respect for their projections overall. While it is indeed tricky to project players coming from the Rockies, even using proper park adjustments, there is one thing that no forecasters do that I do, which will make a big difference in the projections. That is to adjust for the hangover effect for Rockies players. IOW, their road stats while playing for the Rockies need to be adjusted quite a bit as well as their home stats. When Rockies players switch teams (or go from another team TO the Rockies), their road stats (not including their road stats in Coors Field) go up substantially (or down substantially if they are GOING to the Rox). If you don't adjust for that, you will substantially under-project players like Chacon.
So basically I think that Chacon is a pretty good pitcher (and should post around a 4.50 ERA for the Yankees) and that Small sucks. Wright is not half the pitcher that Chacon is. I think that he (Wright) is terrible as well.
You can check out the whole thread, and the entirety of MGL's comment, here. Lichtman's a terrific baseball mind, the proponent (and if I recall correctly, inventor) of the defensive metric UZR, and one of the co-authors, along with Tom Tango (a/k/a TangoTiger) of The Book (as in "Torre's managing by the Book this inning, bringing in Rivera to protect a three-run lead"), a book on baseball strategies that I very much look forward to reading. Between that, the already-released Winners by Dayn Perry and John Sickels' annual Prospects book, and most importantly, Baseball Prospectus's 1-2 punch at the end of the month--the 2006 Edition of their annual, and Baseball Between the Numbers...well, a baseball fan could be busy reading straight through opening day.
It honestly didn't feel like 26 inches of snow, and certainly didn't feel like the biggest single-day snowfall in New York...ever. Worst thing about the blizzard? When I went out for supplies (this was Sunday evening, after the snow had pretty much stopped) I saw boys running around with what looked like oversized scissors. On the end of each "blade" was what looked like an ice cream scooper.
It took me a few minutes to realize that this was some sort of gadget for making snow balls (no, I did not find out the hard way). We've come to live in a country where the young can no longer be bothered to pack their own snow balls, by hand. I find this very depressing.
I was ignoring the Winter Olympics, for all the usual reasons and then some. I don't think you should call Turin "Torino" unless a) you're in Italy or b) you're willing to call Rome "Roma," Venice "Venezia" and Pizza Hut pizza "disgusting," all the time. I don't care how many drinks Bode Miller has before he goes skiing, or what name Johnny Weir gives his right-hand glove. I don't care much about the X-Games, and therefore snowboarders on a half-pipe aren't high on my list of things to see.
So I skipped the Opening Ceremonies, and ignored the Olympics all weekend long. But on Monday, just when I thought it was safe, the Winter Olympics sucked me in...again!
It started off innocently enough. I was flipping through channels, and saw Tom Cheek, the speedskater. I remembered seeing something about Cheek in a headline somewhere on the Internet, so I was curious. Stuck around to watch him win the gold (ah, tape delay...turns out that was the story that I'd originally seen out of the corner of my eye). By then, inertia had taken over, and the Russian couples were figure skating. Sudden flashback to the Cold War, I'm sticking around for that. Then the Chinese, the Russians' main rivals for the medals, were back up, with a pair named "Pang and Tang."
(SIDE NOTE: This pairing alone, not even getting into the subsequent "Zhang and Zhang" pairing must have incited Bill Singer levels of xenophobic "humor" around the U.S., and perhaps around the globe. Days later, we may all finally be recovered from lousy jokes involving chop sui, doubletalk chinese, and that old tried-but-true, "Me love you long time." It's just the cost of living in an incompletely evolved culture.)
Up came the Russians who ultimately won the gold, Totmiyanina and Marinin, and my first human interest story of the 2006 Olympics, as NBC taught us all about how the male of the couple Max, who looked to be 6'6" or so, dropped the female--Tatyana on her head, in international competition two years ago. True to the story, the Russians created a performance which was completely free of mistakes, but tentative--more about not screwing up while in the lead (and not dropping your partner on her head, again) than about expressing the true beauty of ice skating.
After the Russians took a commanding lead, NBC had to keep our attention by announcing that the last couple of the night, the aforementioned Zhang and Zhang would be attempting a move "that has never been done before in competition" a throw with a quadruple spin. So Z and Z ("they're not related," someone--Mary Carillo, I think--tells us helpfully) start their routine, and right away, they're doing their quadruple lutz throw (or whatever it is) and the whole thing is completely fouled up. Zhang Dan (that's Ms. Zhang) goes down on the ice, hard, and stays down, having fallen awkwardly after only three and a half of her planned four revolutions.
And as she's down, it looks like the night's over--give the gold to the Russians, the silver and bronze to Z'n'Z's teammates, call it a night. After falling, they no longer had any chance at the gold, and since it was the beginning of their set, if they were to continue, Z'n'Z would have to make ALL of their required jumps and whatnot, all on Ms. Z's bad knee.
I bet all of you know by now how this turned out. But the whole thing just reminded me of why anyone cares about the Olympics--young people, who've waited four years to prove themselves on the world stage, and who are willing to put themselves through anything just to finish, even when it looks like there is no hope.
Another reason I'm more pro-Olympics than I was Monday morning: Bryant Gumbel's big, stupid mouth.
Here's Gumbel on the Winter Olympics, "So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. And try to blot out all logic when announcers and sports writers pretend to care about the luge, the skeleton, the biathlon and all those other events they don't understand and totally ignore for all but three weeks every four years. Face it, these Olympics are nothing more than a marketing plan to fill space and sell time during the dreary days of February."
Since every other word in that diatribe could just as easily be applied to the Summer Games, and Gumbel doesn't seem to mind them, I would guess that Bryant's big issue is the "paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention." Of course, Bryant's fantasy GOP convention is full of Asians and almost totally devoid of Latinos, so I'm not so sure that any of Bryant's whining holds much water.
But just as a side note, the Winter Olympics were not invented to "fill space and sell time" in February. They predate television. And, regardless of what Gumbel may think, the Winter Games weren't created as part of a racist (or even GOP) plot to give Europeans athletic supremacy over Africans. We're not talking about athletic apartheid. It's just sports. If sportswriters don't pay much attention to luge and the skeleton during non-Olympic years, it's only fair to note that those same writers seem to only notice the triple-jump and shotput only on leap years, as well.
But then again, tripe like this is typical of Gumbel's "bravery" now that he's on HBO. Just the fact that Gumbel is against something turns out to be a pretty good reason to support it.
On that same vein, here's hoping that Bryant comes out against Spring Training, which starts tomorrow. Once again, we seem to have survived the long, cold Winter.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
The feeling is that Chacon was playing over his head when he reached the Yanks last season, and went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA. That's mainly because his opponent's batting average on balls in play--that is, how opposing batters did against Chacon when they weren't striking out or hitting homers--was a meager .240 while Chacon was in pinstripes. To put that in context, the best pitcher in the AL last season, Johan Santana, allowed a .265 BABIP, and the National League Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter, allowed a .285 BABIP.
It's likely that Chacon, who's a flyball pitcher and who doesn't strike out many guys, will see his batting average on balls in play against him rise next season, and his performance will suffer as a result. Take a look at Chacon's hot-off-the-presses PECOTA card: Nate Silver's projection system predicts a 5.04 ERA for Shawn next season. That's brutal. Chacon's collapse rate, that is, the chance that his translated ERA will increase by 25% or more, is 45%. Now, you might think that doesn't sound so bad--he has more than a 50% chance not to collapse--but that rate is more than twice Chacon's "improvement rate" of 21%.
In short, PECOTA thinks that Chacon will be worth $2.75 million this season, nearly a million dollars less than the Yanks will pay him for 2006. Except in durability, PECOTA doesn't consider Chacon much of an improvement over Jaret Wright (projected 5-5, 5.14 ERA in 91 innings), Chacon's likely competition for a rotation spot. And if you think PECOTA's harsh on Chacon, you should see how it brutalizes Aaron Small (5-5, 5.47 ERA in 90 innings).
There are many times when my analytical mind conflicts with my Yankee fan heart. I want PECOTA to be wrong about Chacon and Small (not so much Wright, but we've gone over this before). Both of them are good stories, seem to be nice guys, and were entertaining enough to watch pitch last season.
But logically, two flyball pitchers who strike out less than five men per nine innings each aren't likely to set the American League on fire, even with the Yanks getting improved outfield defense from Johnny Damon. Analytically, you have to look at a guy like Small, a 34 year-old who's scuffled around the minors since the George HW Bush administration and who has a career 4.93 ERA (at AAA!) and you have to see a player who had a fluke season last year. It's nice to see Aaron Small cash in on that gorgeous 10-0 season (Small settled his arb case with the Yanks for $1.2 million late last month), but I also hope he saves as much as he can, and doesn't live too extravagantly in '06--since he can't really count on paydays like this every season.
Like most people involved with BP, I'm very proud of PECOTA, and I think it's the best thing going in the extremely challenging area of performance prediction. The changes that have been made to the PECOTA cards this year--there's more information than ever, there--make it worth the price of a subscription all on its own. Some of the new features, like MORP--the statistical gizmo that predicts the monetary value of a player's expected performance--are just incredibly cool.
But in the case of Chacon and Small (and, incidentally, Chien Ming Wang...but that's a whole other story) I really, really, hope that PECOTA's dead wrong. Every year, the system will be wrong about some players, and sometimes extremely wrong--here's hoping the Yanks' pitchers manage to buck the odds, for the better.
Speaking of my work at BP, I dropped a joint on the Yankees and the WBC, for Notebook on Friday. The obligatory taste:
Despite all this carnage, the Bronx Bombers will probably be well-represented with high-profile players in the WBC. Johnny Damon seems determined to play, as does Derek Jeter. Rodriguez is also committed--unless he changes his mind again, that is. Wang, Miguel Cairo, Ron Villone and Bernie Williams could all still wind up on their countries’ 30 man rosters.
That the Yankees’ ballclub is resisting the World Baseball Classic is no surprise. The Yankees were the only team to vote against the WBC’s creation, and they have consistently resisted allowing players from their organization to play in the Olympics or other international competitions. However, the fact that so many individual players have decided to step out and announce their decision to snub the WBC--rather than declining more quietly--indicates that maybe George Steinbrenner isn’t alone in his lack of enthusiasm for international tournaments.
By the way, today's Daily News reports that of the Yankees potentially playing in the WBC, Ron Villone is unlikely to play for Team Italy, while Miguel Cairo would be tickled pink to be on Venezuela's roster.
This is the best news I've read in a long time. The only thing that could've made it better was if Rickey Henderson were coming to coach the Yankees, rather than the Mets. Not only do I think that Rickey has a great deal to offer a ballclub from a coaching standpoint (I think it's no coincidence that the only useful season Roger Cedeno had in his career, he was Rickey's teammate) but he's also one of the great quotables in the bigs, on the level of Yogi Berra.
It honestly wouldn't make much sense for Rickey to coach the Yanks, who have few young players and no young speedsters on the roster. The future Hall of Famer has his work cut out for him with Jose Reyes, a player who's greasy fast but has shown considerable resistance to coaching (remember when the Mets hired a personal trainer to teach him to avoid his perennial hamstring pulls?). While Reyes's base stealing may not need much help--he led the NL in steals last season, swiping bases at an 80% clip--if Rickey can somehow get Reyes to respect the strike zone, the Mets shortstop (career .303 OBP) could become, in the words of Burgess Meredith in Rocky II "a very dangerous person."
OK. Who thought this was a good idea? Isn't it hard enough being a Catholic already without Michael Jackson getting involved.
"Gee, Michael, you and the Church have so much in common..."
In better music news, last night I caught the Barry Harris Trio at the Village Vanguard with La Chiquita, and one of our friends, Dave. Best jazz show I've ever attended, made the more so by the playful manner in which the band veterans--drummer Leroy Williams is probably the youngest, and he's in his late 60's--interacted with each other and with the crowd that came in for the 11 o'clock set. Harris, one of the big Bebop pianists out of Detroit, played with his back to the audience for the most part--which meant he must have been making faces because he was constantly cracking up bassist Earl May. The trio were often talking to each other, conversationally and just below the music, in a way that suggested that the audience was just some friends who'd stumbled into a studio session.
After the first time the Vanguard staff tried raising the house lights on him, Harris really cut loose, doing a soft little scat, in which he was joined a woman in the first row who must have been a friend of his, and then turning around on his piano bench to encourage the whole crowd to sing along. It was beautiful, and intimate, and everything that's good about jazz in New York.
If you can get down to the Vanguard (that is, if there isn't too much snow) Dr. Harris is playing there tonight and tomorrow night. I can't recommend the performance highly enough.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Nice, nice, nice. D.R. gets on the board early against former (current?) Red Sock Jeremi Gonzalez, getting out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st. Venezuela threatens to come back immediately in the bottom of the inning against Juan Cruz, but are somehow stimied despite two walks in the inning.
There's no warning on the screen whether the game is live or on tape. I check MLB.com to run the gamecast on the computer while I watch. Oops, game on tape! I get a quick preview of what the game will look like in the fifth inning, while again wondering why the broadcast on YES is running so damn late.
While I'm bitching about the broadcast, I might as well mention that we're looking at the broadcast team of Sample and Leyritz again. We're also having sound problems, so Leyritz is mainly inaudible--kind of like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon, he's off-camera, you can tell that he's speaking, you can't can't make out a darn word of what he's saying. Billy Sample, with his superior diction, can be understood every other sentence, like a Brooklyn cab driver. As you'd expect with a clinching game for Venezuela in Venezuela, the crowd noise is huge, with screaming, clapping, merengue, thunder stix, and that staple of Latin American baseball, the home team's marching band doubtless causing earbleeds for miles 'round.
In Caracas's case, their brass band only plays one tune, which goes "TaaaDaaa tadatadatada TaaDaa TaaDaaa."
I have heard this at least 400 times by now. I hate it with a passion normally reserved for people who cut in line at the supermarket, or who are unkind to children and animals. I will be humming it tomorrow, in Court. I hope to have it out of my head sometime before my tenth wedding anniversary.
The teams each score a run in the fourth (sac fly for Licey, Ramon Hernandez homer for the Caracas Leones), before things get serious in the sixth inning. Scoring aside, the memorable part of this game is the defensive play. Pigpen makes a great stab into foul territory for a looping line drive. Anderson Hernandez, who's probably my favorite player of the tournament, makes a great backhand play. The Venezuelan leftfielder, Javier Herrera, makes a beautiful diving play in foul territory, into the bullpen dirt.
But the defense breaks down in the sixth inning, when Timo Perez helps Venezuela tie the game. First he flubs a leadoff base hit by Marcos Scutaro, allowing Scutaro to go to second. A couple of outs later, Jose Valverde replaces Juan Cruz. He proceeds to hit his first batter, Hernandez, and then there's a line drive to straightaway right field. For some reason, Timo! appears to be playing on the warning track against a righthanded hitter, he charges in, dives...and the ball skips past him for a triple. Scutaro and Hernandez score, tie game.
I now hate Timo! almost as much as I hate the Caracas brass band song.
Following the end of the sixth, there's some sort of bizarre delay in getting to the next inning. For a while, the screen is frozen on a long shot of the stadium in Maracay, while Sample continues to talk, Leyritz continues to mutter incomprehensively, and the song continues to play, on continuous loop: TaaaDaaa tadatadatada TaaDaa TaaDaaa!
Some sort of bizarre, and relatively unexplained scuffle has broken out on the field. For all we know, it could be Uggie Urbina breaking out of prison. It has something to do with the camera guys, one of whom helpfully hurls his camera at some guys in yellow shirts. No one knows who the guys in the yellow shirts are, because Jim Leyritz is explaining it, and hrs impossible to understand. The only thing we know for certain is that they're not baseball players, and they're not members of that marching band, who are still playing The Song.
When things get going again, the Dominicans follow the pattern of their previous confrontation with Venezuela, taking the lead on a Sandy Martinez homer. After the homer, Licey brings in crazy reliever Julian Tavarez to hold the lead, which he does in the bottom of the seventh and the eighth. In the top of the eighth and the ninth, the Dominicans squander leadoff baserunners, including a two-on, no outs situation in the ninth.
Then came one of the most shocking ends to a ballgame that I've ever seen. With Jorge Sosa on the mound, Ramon Hernandez singles to lead off the inning. The Leones sacrifice a pinch-runner over, and the pinch-runner scores on a single by Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez is caught making a wide turn for second, and the cutoff man throws to one of the middle infielders (it looks like shortstop Erick Aybar) to get Gonzalez in a rundown. Aybar(?) runs Gonzalez back toward first base, and once Gonzalez's momentum is built up to the point he can't stop Aybar(?) throws to first base...to no one. It actually looks like he might have confused Venezuela's first base coach for firstbaseman Jose Offerman. Gonzalez doesn't advance from first, but he would have been out if Licey didn't botch the run down.
Still it's one on, one out, with the bottom of the lineup coming up. Licey can still get out of this, and win the game in extra innings.
Henry Blanco, a guy with a major league batting average of .219 comes to the plate. Sosa throws a ball, then on his second pitch does his job and pops Blanco up to very short left. It's a high fly, the shortstop, Erick Aybar, goes back for the ball, and the left fielder, Napoleon Calzado, rushes in. Then, suddenly, it becomes obvious that Aybar has lost the ball. He turns to look at Calzado, who had slowed a tick trying to avoid a collision, and then tried to lunge forward to make a play. Aybar tries to get out of Calzado's way...AND THE BALL HITS HIM ON THE TOP OF THE HEAD, HARD, AND RICOCHETS PAST THE RACING CALZADO, ROLLING INTO LEFT FIELD.
The camera focuses on the ball, which looks like it will keep on rolling to the warning track, but we can hear the crowd as Gonzalez rounds the bases. No Licey fielder even enters the picture. The game is lost, and the cameras pick up Gonzalez as he's mobbed at the plate.
I am in shock. My wife comes out to see, but there is no replay. Just me staring at the TV, where a bunch of Venezuelans are having a semi-violent on-field celebration (Gonzalez is scuffling with the people who are rushing him on the field).
The last six paragraphs took me two hours to write. I feel numb, right now. Venezuela deserves the title, they were an implacable, relentless opponent in the tournament, and they grabbed two games right out of the Dominicans' hands. But that is one horrible way to lose.
The Venezuelan squad is unbeaten, courting defeat on Saturday against Licey and on Sunday, when they went to extra innings with winless defending champion Mexico. Monday's 5-1 victory over Puerto Rico was close through six innings, tied at one, until the host team broke through against the Boricua relievers. Earlier in the day, the Dominicans had won a pitching duel against Mexico, 3-1, to keep their dreams of a championship alive.
With one loss, the Dominicans have to beat Venezuela on the final day of the tournament in order to stay alive, and then win a playoff on Wednesday if they want to take the title. The Venezuelans, on the only hand, only need to win one of two games, with the home crowd firmly behind them.
I highly encourage you to tune in, on YES or by MLB.tv, to see how this turns out.
A detail from tonight's game, that I'm sure will get past all the fellas who are fainting at the prospect of major league pitchers throwing full-force in March. Danny Bautista, a 24 year-old starter with the Orioles, threw 86 pitches in five innings of work on Tuesday for Licey. In February.
I don't quite know what to make of this. Should O's fans be up in arms about this, declaring jihad upon Rafael Landestoy if Cabrera feels a twinge in his elbow or shoulder this summer? Or will they understand that for years, players have been giving it their all to represent their country in winter ball? Has anyone actually studied whether folks who pitch in winter ball do better or worse than their counterparts over the course of a season?
Monday, February 06, 2006
Now, that isn't a terribly damning statement, since Crimes was one of the best movies of the past 20 years. Here's the setup on Match Point: Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a former tennis tour standout, who's now the house pro at a posh club in London. Dirt poor and living in a studio with a fold-out bed, he's determined to improve his situation, as evidenced by a scene where we see him double-fisting a paperback copy of Crime and Punishment with a second paperback--a study guide with a title like "Understanding Dostoevsky."
Chris's chance comes when he starts giving lessons to Tom, a son of priviledge with a rusty backhand. After forcing into his conversation with Tom the fact that he loves opera, Chris finds himself invited into Tom's world of wealth: the private box at the opera house, the weekend at their country house, and the covetous glances of Tom's sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Soon enough, he's shagging the sister, dropping Dostoevsky references on Tom's dad, and being sized up for a spot in the family business, which operates out of a huge Faberge Egg-looking office building, which I guess symbolizes the vague cutting edge of luxury, like the Empire State Building or the late Twin Towers once did.
There's only one fly in the ointment for Chris's relentless climb to the social top, and that's Nola (Scarlett Johansen), a struggling American actress. When Chris first meets Nola, the attraction is instantaneous--he's busy commenting on her "sensuous lips" and on the verge of inviting her to test the springs on his fold-out when he learns that Nola is Tom's fiance.
Obviously, even after Nola becomes off-limits to him, Chris does not stop desiring her. And this being a noir movie, eventually he will have to decide between "the lady and the loot," and the only option he will have if he wants to keep his choice is...murder!
Now, the most refreshing thing about Match Point is the un-Woody Allen-ness of it. Allen isn't in the movie, and unlike every other recent Allen film, there isn't a Woody Allen stand-in character -- that's a younger actor, encouraged by the director to do his best impression of Allen as a performance: see Will Ferrel in Melinda and Melinda, Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity, Jason Biggs in Anything Else. Instead, the characters speak in naturalistic tones and none of them drop into Allen-esque patois of artificial, neurotic, rambling stream-of-consciousness talk. Allen finds a different voice for his characters, and it sounds authentic (although I'd love to hear from a real Londoner who's seen the movie on this point).
You'd pretty much forget that Allen was involved in the movie altogether if it wasn't for the lascivious way the camera focuses on Johansen--particularly in the sex scenes. That's recognizably Allen in his dirty old man mode, which nonetheless feels much more appropriate with Rhys Meyers in the lead than it would if the young actress were getting it on with Woody or one of Woody's avatars.
Getting back to the plot, for any of you who have seen Crimes and Misdemeanors (and if you haven't just stop reading, go rent it, and see it now--the Internet will still be here when you're done) what happens next won't be terribly surprising. Chris's dilemma is much like Judah Rosenthal's in Crimes: he wants a great many things for himself without accepting any of the consequences that come with them. As in Crimes, Chris's plight is viewed from Allen's atheist/nihilistic viewpoint, where there is no merciful God and no cosmic justice. That's appropriate to the film noir aspects of the movie.
However, in the course of "streamlining" the film to be more purely a thriller (which is an odd concept, as supposedly Match Point is the longest movie that Allen has ever made, and its pacing is often sluggish), all the philosophical aspects that made Crimes so powerful--the metaphysical discourses, suicidal PhDs, blind rabbis, and imaginary confessions--have been reduced to a single near-cliche image. It's a tennis ball hitting the top of the net, with only luck--not karma, God, justice, or providence--deciding whether the ball lands on your side of the net, or your opponent's.
The image is used twice, effectively, in the movie. However, "some things depend on luck" is a pretty thin premise for a feature film, which leaves Match Point as a slightly unsatisfying experience, at least compared to Crimes and Misdemeanors. I still recommend it highly for Rhys-Meyers's excellent lead performance, and fine supporting turns by Mortimer, Matthew Goode as Tom, and Brian Cox as Tom and Chloe's father. Johansen, though she looks terrific, is a bit of a disappointment in a role that's a bit unevenly-written, neither femme fatale nor girl next door.
But the bigger story of Match Point is that Allen--a filmmaker a lot of people had written off--is back, reinventing himself and taking a new direction. That's good news, and plenty of reason to see a movie all on its own.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Yesterday's game was a gut punch for the Dominican team. The Dominicans put up a "picket fence" from innings 2-8, after scoring two runs in the opening frame. They were up 7-2 going into the 7th inning, when the wheels fell off. The Venezuelans overpowered the Dominicans in the late innings. A three-run double by Luis Rodriguez and a two-run shot by Japanese League standout Alex Cabrera tied the game at 7 in the 7th inning. The Dominicans took the lead again in the bottom of the inning, only for the Venezuelans to tie it again in the top of the 8th.
The Dominicans took their final lead of the night on a home run by noted power source, Jose Offerman(!?!) and went into the top of the ninth with the game in their hands...only to lose it to the newest Red Sock, Alex Gonzalez, jacking a three run shot.
In the bottom of the ninth, Venezuela stood behind the best closer in the tourney, Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. D.R. had their chances--Miguel Tejada slammed a lighttower shot that just barely went foul, before being retired on Rodriguez's fastball, and outfielder Alexis Gomez, doubled before Rodriguez unleashed his hellacious slider--the one so good, you know it has to be grinding his arm and shoulder into hamburger--against Ronnie Belliard. Pigpen never stood a chance.
Talking about any other baseball news basically means talking about Johnny Damon's hair. All I'll say is that you'd think that after Giambi and A-Rod, newcomers to the Yanks would stop getting themselves blond highlights. This madness must end!
In the interest of self-promotion, there's another bit of my work up at Baseball Prospectus, on the Pirates, and their acquisitions of Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz (link here, last article on the page):
The meme when a young team like the Pirates makes moves for veteran mediocrities like these, and like the earlier acquisition of Sean Casey, is that the vets are needed to teach the young turks how to win. This is the type of idea we’ve dismissed out-of-hand in the past, but which probably deserves a little more respect than we’ve given it.
Nonetheless, the idea doesn’t hold here, because this crew of veterans that the Pirates have brought in is distinguished by their lack of winning, and their dearth of postseason experience. Between Burnitz, Randa and Casey, none has spent a whole season with a division-winning club. The only one of these guys to see a postseason plate appearance was Randa, who played in the Division Series last October after being a deadline acquisition by the Padres. He did a pretty nice job--four for eleven with a walk and a double…in a three game sweep by the Cardinals.
The 2005 Padres (final record 82-80) were only the second winning team Randa had ever been on. In ten full seasons in the Show, his teams have finished last in their division five times. In his eight full seasons, Casey’s Reds finished under .500 six times. After beginning his career with the 103-loss 1993 Mets, Burnitz almost made it to the playoffs in the 1996 season with the 99-win Cleveland Indians…before he was dealt away to the Brewers, at the August trade deadline, for Kevin Seitzer. All told, ten of Burnitz’s 12 full seasons have been spent on under-.500 teams.
This isn't meant to minimize these fellows’ achievements in the majors. One of the points we frequently raise here is that winning players aren’t better people than the guys that came up short. It’s just that if these guys are supposed to teach the youngsters to win, it should be pointed out that these veterans might find winning a novel experience, themselves.
After all, when the going gets tough this season, what’s the inspirational speech they’re supposed to give their young teammates? “When we were losing 100 games back in 2002, we could have given up…”
So, what does everybody think about this idea of bringing in veteran players to "mature" your club? Is there anything to the intangibles?
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Venezuela/DR is the second game on today's schedule, and you can watch the action live on MLBTV.com, or on tape delay on the YES Network at around 7:00 or 7:30 (it starts after Mexico/PR ends).
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The announcing team is Billy Sample and Jim Leyritz, which gives me The Fear. They start off in what looks like a studio, so despite the fact that both men are in short sleeves, I bet that they're announcing this off a video feed rather than on location.
Here are the lineups for the two sides:
Dominican Republic -- Licey Tigers
2B Anderson Hernandez
DH Erick Aybar
SS Miguel Tejada
1B Willie Otanez
LF Napoleon Calzado
3B Ronnie Belliard
RF Timo Perez
C Sandy Martinez
CF Melky Cabrera
P Juan Cruz
Puerto Rico Gigantes
SS Alex Cora
2B Ruben Gotay
CF Jose Valentin
LF Pedro Valdes
DH Alex Cintron
1B Edwards Guzman
3B Luis Figueroa
C Jon Lin Pachot
RF Jose Feliciano
P William Collazo
Top 1st -- Three up, three down. The last out is Miguel Tejada, which brings up an issue with the WBC. Everyone has been sniping this week about star players possibly getting injured in the WBC, yet they forget that some pretty big names play in Winter Ball. No one's whining about the possibility of Tejada breaking his leg right now.
Bottom of 1st -- After a nice slap hit down the leftfield line, Ruben Gotay does some bonehead running, getting gunned out by Orioles farmhand Napoleon Calzado.
Top 2nd -- Calzado swings like a blind man at three pitches from the lefthander Collazo.
Ronnie Belliard (misidentified by Sample as "Rafael Belliard") hits into a DP grounder, but beats it out. Belliard looks like Manny Ramirez these days, and his uniform's so sloppy, that watching him in the Dominican Winter League in 2004, I nicknamed him "Pigpen." Gotay makes a nice play on a Timo Perez grounder to end the inning.
Bottom 2nd -- Cruz is struggling here, which is a bad sign for Oakland, given that he's
not exactly facing a major league lineup. Gets out of a two-out two-on jam, thanks to a nice play by Belliard.
Top 3rd -- After a seeing-eye leadoff single by catcher Sandy Martinez, Melky Cabrera comes up. Cabrera shows some nice selectivity, running the count to 3-0, and ultimately working a walk off Collazo. Mets farmhand Anderson Hernandez follows with a bloop hit, to load the bases for Angels farmhand Erick Aybar. Aybar taps into a 5-2-3 DP. Bad job. Still, with Tejada at the plate and first base open, it's a shock to see Collazo challenge the former MVP. Tejada drills it down the thirdbase line, hard enough that it gets stuck under some padding in foul territory. Collazo is ultimately bailed out by the fact that Willie Otanez forgets that there are such things as cut-off men--on a single, he goes too far rounding first, and gets nailed, on a play that looks like a 9-1-3 putout.
Bottom 3rd -- again, Cruz in a jam, one-out, two-on for Jose Valentin. Valentin, who played 3rd for the Dodgers last season, is expanding his repertoire by playing center field in Winter Ball. Valentin coughs it up, popping up to Pigpen after running the count to 2-0. Still, Pedro Valdes bails him out by blasting a 3 run shot to dead center, just past Melky's reach. PR leads, 3-2.
After some technical difficulties, we're off the inning-by-inning work, for a while.
Billy Sample's brutal on play-by-play, constantly mixing up the names of the Hispanic players. One side has a junkballing lefty whose last name is Collazo, the other a lanky left fielder whose name is Calzado. They're not interchangeable, Billy.
Meanwhile, the King, Jim Leyritz, doesn't have an announcer's voice. But he is paying attention, noting that the Dominicans had to send someone up there to take some pitches when Collazo got two outs on three pitches in the top of the fifth.
Meanwhile, the camera work reminds you just how good major league baseball broadcasts of the HD Era are. Compared to what we're used to, this Caribbean League footage from Puerto Rico looks like it's being shot from underwater...at night.
Still it's baseball, with people who are trying to win, so I'm watchin'.
In the top of the 6th, two on, one out, they've pulled William Calzado, in favor of Orlando Roman. The only thing I know about Roman, other than he's righthanded, is that he's a "refuerzo," or reinforcement, to the Gigantes roster.
In the Caribbean World Series, each of the Caribbean countries is represented by the team that won their local Winter League championship. In this case, the Licey Tigers won the Domincan Championship, and the Carolina Gigantes (Giants) won the Puerto Rican Winter League. The roster of each championship team is then augmented with a limited number of players from other teams' rosters. On the PR team, Feliciano, Valentin, Cintron, and Pachot are all reinforcements, since I guess that the Gigantes were really weak in the outfield. Tejada and Cabrera were both reinforcements for the Dominicans.
This Roman guy isn't looking too good, allowing a game-tying single to Ronnie Belliard, and then hitting Timo! in the knee to load the bases. Former major leaguer Sandy Martiners gets struck out on three pitches by the next Puerto Rican reliever, whose last name is Agosto.
Valerio de los Santos, another guy who's seen some service time in the majors, takes over in the bottom of the inning for Licey.
While I'd always cheer for the Dominicans in the Caribbean Series, beause of my Dominican heritage, it's a little bit sweeter for me this year because I have a pretty direct link to the Licey ballclub, one of the two teams that plays in D.R.'s capital, Santo Domingo (the other capital team is called Escogido). It turns out that my great-great grandfather, along with a great^2 granduncle, were among the founders of the Licey ballclub, back in 1907. So I'm an in-born fan.
Speaking of Licey, one of the non-reinforcements, Anderson Hernandez, hits a one-out triple in the top of the 7th. Pressure's on Erick Aybar--who's playing DH (or BD--Bateador Designado) after being displaced from short by Miguel Tejada, but who plays ahead of much-hyped former Red Sock Hanley Ramirez on the Licey club. Aybar doesn't come through with the man on third, so Tejada gets walked with two outs. Fool me twice, shame on me, I suppose. The Gigantes follow with a pitching change, and Willie Otanez at the plate.
The reliever is righthander Federico Baez. Baez feeds some good breaking stuff to Otanez, but hits a Baltimore chop over the pitcher's head, fielded by the shortstop who throws slightly off-line, and the ball is knocked out of firstbaseman Guzman's mitt. Calzado pops one out to Valentin to end the inning, D.R. leads, 4-3.
Pigpen makes a great play from one knee to lead off the bottom of the 7th! going to his left, Belliard caught the ball in the hole, tumbled to the ground and rolled over to make a great throw to first from one knee.
While De Los Santos works the inning, we see lefty Carlos Perez warming up (along with former Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde) in the pen. Perez is one of the Perez brothers, along with former Yankees Pascual and Melido. Perez is interesting because he's a quasi-fugitive from justice, who has stayed in D.R. for the past few years after a young woman sued him for rape, and won a huge default judgment. He's still alive, still pitching, and (last I heard) still trying to get back to the majors, even at the age of 34. But the second he draws a salary in the United States again, his accuser will be there to garnish his paycheck. Although Perez protests that he's innocent, he didn't do much to support that claim by leaving the U.S. mid-case and letting his accuser win by default.
Blech, what a sordid thing to be writing about, when I'm overjoyed to be watching my first baseball in months. Part of me doesn't want to believe that Carlos is a rapist, just because I used to enjoy watching his brothers pitch so much. Pascual was such a goofball, that it's easy to forget that he was one of the worst free agent signings in Yankee history once upon a time--he signed in November, 1989, pitched 14 innings in 1990 and got injured, was still injured in '91, when he only got 74 innings in. And then he was busted on the old substance policy, and disappeared from Major League Baseball.
But when Pascual Perez was doing his thing, he was damn entertaining. I remember his pick-off throws between the legs--Perez would bend low, like Mike Mussina, when he pitched from the stretch. Sometimes he'd peek at the runner between his legs, bend even further down, and flip the ball from between his legs, kind of like a standing football snap. Pascual was a good hitter and baserunner, which didn't figure since he was tall and gangly.
All the Perez brothers were animated figures on the mound, prone to celebrate strikeouts with a fistpump or, if the K ended the inning, a little dance coming off the mound. Many complain bitterly that such exuberance is unprofessional, and sometimes it was (after all, Carlos struck out only 448 guys in his 823 major league innings, and he was extremely celebratory for each one of those whiffs) still, I tend to dislike the stony stoicism of so many major leaguers today. There just isn't enough color, sometimes. The Perez boys were color, all right.
And speak of the Devil, in the bottom of the 8th, Perez is on the mound. Perez still has the same herky-jerky motion, and attendant control problems that so often accompany such a motion. Still seems to throw hard enough, though. During his major league career, Carlos was a control pitcher, who didn't strike out many or walk many.
More boneheaded baserunning by P.R., as Valentin gets picked off by Perez. Good thing, too, since Perez then walks Valdes, and is replaced with Jorge Sosa of the Braves. A grounder and two singles later, P.R. has tied the game at 4.
Sosa looks like a guy who was sent to the Winter League to work on his breaking ball, but doesn't realize that his countrymen would appreciate it if he treated this game like it matters. His slider has been high and over the plate, and one of those hangers over the plate was the ball that Luis Figueroa hit to tie the game.
Man, is Billy Sample bad. Licey pinch-hits for Melky in the top of the ninth, and Sample's caught with his pants down. Maybe they are on-site after all. Leyritz makes his first mistake of the evening, claiming that Hernandez, who gets an infield hit after the unknown pinch hitter grounded out, is the "leadoff hitter." Moments later, he catches himself like a guy who's just hit a rough spot on the sidewalk, "ONE out and Hernandez on first." Now Erick Aybar comes up, and is identified by the on-screen graphic as Cabrera. Aybar hits into a double play, and now Sample can't remember how many outs there are. Bottom of the ninth coming up, tied at 4.
Jose Valverde is the new Dominican pitcher. Valverde throws hard and straight, with bad mechanics that have his push leg swinging around his landing leg after each pitch pitch. With one out, Alex Cora singles off Willis Otanez's glove at first. The King, whose voice is the low rasp of a pack-a-day smoker, is doing a nice job, despite his boner last inning. He mixes in anecdotes about his own winter league experiences with nice observations on the field.
Ugh, hard grounder takes an insane bad hop on Tejada, making it 1st and 2nd with one out. Jose Valentin is up, and despite all the lovely things Plachtke had to say about Valentin last year, he's being praised by Sample and Leyritz as clutch. Well, he advances the runners with a big hopper to the first baseman.
Not exactly the kind of clutch we had in mind.
So with the winning run 90 feet away, it's Jorge Padilla--a pinch hitter I never heard mentioned in the broadcast, facing Valverde. First base is open, but Valverde just pours in the gas, smoking Padilla on a fastball high and outside.
This leads to one of those Perez-style celebrations American baseballists seem to mind so much.
It's still Baez in the top of the 10th, as Tejada leads off. Two quick outs by Miguel Tejada and Otanez, leaving things up to Napoleon Calzado. Calzado got a hit earlier in the game, but his swing looks like it has a Grand Canyon-sized hole in it. Calzado fists an easy fly to left, giving the Puerto Ricans another shot to win the game.
The D.R. team--indeed, most of these winter teams--are somewhat hack-happy. Which make for some innings where the team looks like worldbeaters, and others where they go down easy, like a completely different team.
Eddie Ramos, an unaffiliated pitcher, is the new Licey lanzador in the bottom of the 10th. Ramos looks a bit like Pascual Perez did, with a big 'Fro under his cap, a windup that has him all over the mound on every pitch. It leads to a little dance move at the end of each pitch, as he straightens out his lower body (which has gotten all twisted up in his follow-through), and backs up the mound. All he needs to do is throw an Eephus pitch, and I'll think that this is just a fever dream.
After two quick outs, Ramos starts getting hit, and soon it's 1st and 2nd, with Feliciano at the bat. Ramos is able to pop Feliciano up to strand the runners.
Houston, we've lost the announcers! In silence, punctuated only by cheering and the umpire calling out "ball!" Pigpen walks. Alexis Gomez, who apparently came in after Timo was hit by the pitch, pops up a bunt, which falls between the catcher and first baseman, but just barely. They still get Pigpen at second, because he couldn't get a good jump with the ball in the air.
Now it's a man on first for Sandy Martinez. Bit of trivia--Martinez was actually on the 2004 Red Sox team, getting in three games at the end of the regular season. This makes me wonder, was that enough to get him a World Series Ring? A half-share of the World Series loot?
Not that I'm still bitter or anything. Sandy pops out, leaving things up to...Melky Cabrera?
Oh, yeah, Sample's phantom pinch hitter was actually Melky. Melky does a nice job, stroking a single to right, getting Gomez to second, and forcing a pitching change.
The new pitcher is Brad Salmon, as the sound from the announcers weaves in and out like a drunken driver. Salmon's pitching to the the Player of the Game (so far), Anderson Hernandez. Salmon's all over the place, and the count runs to 3-2, before Hernandez smacks his fourth hit of the game, and brings in the go-ahead run. The Puerto Ricans then forget about Hernandez, who steals second without a throw, or even a pitch, as the Gigantes were appealing at a base, apparently claiming that Melky didn't touch second on his way to third.
Again, an astute observation by Leyritz that the ball is live during that appeal. I wonder, is that a stolen base or just an advancement on a throw? It becomes academic with the third out, but any way you slice it, Dominicans lead, 5-4.
Ramos stays on for the bottom of the inning, still doing his little dance swivel after every pitch. Alex Cora leads off with a double deep in the rightfield gap, putting the tying run in scoring position with nobody out, and immediately bringing big Roman Colon out of the pen for Licey. Colon's in the (Detroit) Tigers organization, and he brings a boring fastball (or maybe even a sinker) to bear on Ruben Gotay, who nearly ties the game on a sinking liner that's barely caught by Otanez.
One out and runners on again for Jose Valentin. Valentin takes Colon's fastball for a ride to deep right field, which is caught by Gomez. The fly moves the runner over to third, and leaves it all in Jorge Padilla's hands.
With a guy on third, Colon is peppering the ground in front of the plate, and to his credit, Martinez blocks two pitches that could have tied the game. Padilla fouls off the first payoff pitch; Colon gets a visit at the mound from Miguel Tejada (a "Hey kid, don't f--- up" visit) and then...screen goes blurry with digital "snow". We miss the pitch, but then again, so did Padilla. Game over.
Thanks for sticking with me through the Live Blog of the leadoff of the Caribbean World Series. Catch you later, when hopefully, I'll be healthier.