It’s not every season, never mind every day, when you open the bottom of the ninth in an apparent blowout, your designated hitter leads off by pulling to within eight of 600 career launches, he returns later in the inning to tie it up with a single, and the next man up hits one to the back of the yard to win it.
Some other people to watch closely, very closely, as spring training begins rounding into serious shape:
THE BARD OF PITTSBURGH—Daniel Bard was one of baseball’s best pen men with the 2009-11 Red Sox. Then Terry Francona quit before he could be canned, Bobby Valentine was brought in to man the bridge, Bard was turned into a starting pitcher—and became a mess of his own in the middle of the Valentine nightmare. He signed a minor league deal with the 2014 Cubs and never got out of extended spring training. He signed with the 2014 Rangers and disappeared again. He’s signed a minor league deal with this year’s Pirates. The hope is that Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage—who’s repaired such fractured pitchers as Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, and Edinson Volquez—can repair the Bard.
What to take away from the All-Star Game other than the American League’s 6-3 win and thus home field advantage for this year’s World Series? The Mike Trout Show?
* Trout (Angels) became the first player in 38 years to lead off an All-Star Game going deep, hitting Zack Greinke’s (Dodgers) fourth pitch the other way, into the right field seats next to the Great American Ballpark visitors’ bullpen. Add scoring ahead of a powerful throw by Joc Pedersen (Dodgers) on Prince Fielder’s (Rangers) single in the fifth, and Trout—who’d reached base in the first place by beating out what might have been a double play finisher—joined Willie Mays, Steve Garvey, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Gary Carter as baseball’s only two-time All-Star Game MVPs.
As regards the final All-Star voting—fans, players, etc.—minus the Last Man online vote, a few sobering thoughts:
1) Four Royals turned out to be voted as starters, after all, compared to eight Reds voted but six left remaining in the 1957 ballot box stuffing scandal. (Then-commissioner Ford Frick, we repeat, removed Wally Post and Gus Bell from the starting lineup in favour of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.) Apparently, the Kansas City stuffers just didn’t quite have what it took to set a new record for voting perfidy.
In his 1970s days with the Milwaukee Brewers, George Scott, the big colourful first baseman who’d been a Red Sox favourite, had a chat with the team’s then co-owner Edmund Fitzgerald, about whose team Gordon Lightfoot did not write “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” “If we’re gonna win,” Scott told Fitzgerald, “the players gotta play better, the coaches gotta coach better, the manager’s gotta manage better, and the owners gotta own better.”
Boys will be boys, in baseball and elsewhere, and grown men will be boys, too. But some of what the Show Me State’s boys and girls seem to be showing don’t seem to be the kind of thing you’d like showing.
If the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office isn’t facing an investigation into whether people therein hacked into the Houston Astros’ internal data networks, Kansas City fans are gleefully stuffing online All-Star ballot boxes in favour of the Royals regardless of whether the players in question deserve to be in the starting lineup.
Merely six games have passed in the new season but there are questions as to whether the Los Angeles Angels’ 2015 might be dying before it really begins to take shape. And whether their own owner and front office hasn’t detonated a poison gas bomb that will take months to clear.
Forget the payrolls, as Kansas City outfielder Jarrod Dyson rightly points out. They don’t matter when you hit the field or step into the batter’s box. The wealthiest teams in baseball have been known to collapse like insolvent counties.
The Los Angeles Angels joined their ranks ignominiously Sunday thanks to a Royals team that seems to know nothing of the meaning of rolling over and playing dead. And these Angels, who’d run roughshod after the All-Star break and turned into a threshing machine while all around what remained of the American League West deflated, looked and played like zombies in a division series game they had to win just to stay alive.
When the Oakland Athletics dealt for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, there were those ready to hand the World Series rings to them on a platinum platter. And there were those others, myself included, who cautioned not to do it just yet. Not that it stopped them, especially after the A’s landed Jon Lester out of Boston.
Albert Pujols may not have been able to hit as customary for the last couple of seasons, thanks to nagging trouble with plantar fasciitis in his heel. But if you prick him in just the right place he can swing big with words just as deadly. Fellow former Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark may be preparing to learn the hard way just how deadly that might be.