Money isn’t everything

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The electric horseman: Manager Torey Lovullo (left) welcomes Madison Bumgarner home.

Arizona the region and not necessarily the baseball team said something to Madison Bumgarner for long before he became a Diamondback at last. Enough to compel him to sign a new contract paying him less than he probably could have earned, even though he’s in the re-invention stage of his career. Sometimes there’s no place like a second home, too.

And more often than you think, money isn’t everything.

Time was when you couldn’t have pictured Bumgarner in anything other than the black-and-orange Giants hat and cream fatigues. When you saw the tenacity on the mound that turned him into a postseason myth in those fatigues and assumed, no matter what else came into play around him, that a Giant he was and a Giant he’d stay.

Madison Bumgarner and the Giants? Married even in the free agency era like Hall of Famers George Brett and the Royals, Tony Gwynn and the Padres, Chipper Jones and the Braves, Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, and Mike Schmidt and the Phillies. Not to mention future Hall of Famers Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers (so far) and Mike Trout and the Angels, plus Yadier Molina and the Cardinals, and David Wright—whom injuries obstructed from consummating a Hall of Fame career—and the Mets. Right?

But maybe you didn’t catch onto Bumgarner and his wife falling in love with something aside when the Giants hit spring training every year in Scottsdale, Arizona. Something like Arizona itself. The place means almost as much to Bumgarner as the heat of baseball competition and the chance for winning that, right now, the Diamondbacks present better than the Giants do.

“First and foremost, winning,” he said when the Diamondbacks introduced him as their newest Snake Tuesday. “That’s what the whole decision is based on, and being with a team that’s my brand of baseball. They play the way I like to play. They just play hard. They’ve got a bunch of grinders on this team, guys that don’t take any pitch off. They’re just a hard-nosed group of guys.”

That’s a terrific reason for a pitcher who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit” to think about a new team, of course. But the lure of Phoenix and the surrounding ambience of Arizona itself was just as powerful, maybe the only presence that could hit Bumgarner for distance and get away with it.

The long-enough-time Giants horse becomes the Diamondbacks’ own Electric Horseman. The Bumgarners imported a few of their horses from Bumgarner’s native North Carolina to Arizona every spring. The Giants training there was so seductive to him that, once he knew the Diamondbacks were more than interested when he finally became a free agent, he was even willing to trade a fan base he came to love as deeply as he loves to compete to surrender.

“It’s tough,” he admitted about leaving them behind. “The fans in that city mean so much to me. I mean, shoot, it’s been ten years there and we won three world championships and have been through a lot together. They’ve always been as good as they could possibly be to me, and I’ll never forget that. I’ll always be thankful for it. That part of it was tough, but coming here, so far, this place has exceeded all my expectations, and like I said, I’m really excited about it.”

The fact that he still gets to have a few skirmishes a year with the Dodgers now that he’s staying in the National League West couldn’t possibly have eluded MadBum, either.

Stephen Strasburg re-signing with the Nationals, like Trout extending for life with the Angels last spring, said essentially that there’s no place like home, even an adopted home. (Strasburg is a native southern Californian; Trout is native to a region near the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border.) Bumgarner signing with the Snakes says there can be no place like the home you long for.

The Giants could have offered him everything including ownership of McCovey Cove, his own private cable car, free feed for the rest of his life at the Fisherman’s Wharf eatery of his choice, and an on-the-house lease to any piece he chose at Hearst Castle down Highway 1 in San Simeon. Once the Diamondbacks indicated they wanted him, you couldn’t pay him enough not to swap the Bay for the desert.

If you think that’s even just a slight exaggeration, be advised that assorted published reports say the lefthander with the Dreamliner wing span in the split second before he throws to the plate had nine-figure offers to ponder from elsewhere, but he instructed his agent, VC Sports’ Ed Cerulo, that Arizona was “the number one place for me.” And money wasn’t everything.

“We definitely left some money on the table,” the newest Diamondback said when the team introduced him formally Tuesday. “You can say that.” If the published speculation is true and Bumgarner looked at $100 million or better for five years in other offers, he’s left at least $15 million behind overall while agreeing to pitch—according to The Athletic‘s Zach Buchanan—for $6 million in 2020 before hitting $14 million for 2021, $18 million a year in 2022-23, and back to $14 million in 2024.

Essentially, Bumgarner gave the Diamondbacks a new-home discount. No, make it actually: Buchanan reported that $5 million a year is deferred from the 2021-23 annual salaries until the deal is finished. And general manager Mike Hazen—who traded a somewhat more expensive desert lover named Zack Grienke to the Astros in 2019’s marquee trade deadline swap—“plans to use that [2020 payroll] flexibility” to shore up the Diamondbacks for contention.

Buchanan thinks Bumgarner all but willed the new Diamondbacks deal into existence, sort of, but don’t dismiss Hazen—who once said that on the one hand he wasn’t exactly starving for starting pitching but, on the other hand, he wasn’t exactly going to say no to the chance for more—being just a little bit shrewd in his own right, either:

Hazen admitted that adding to his rotation wasn’t his top priority, or really any sort of priority, entering the offseason, but that Bumgarner made it plain early on that he preferred to end up in Arizona. Though Hazen stopped short of saying that affinity for Phoenix prodded him into engaging on the longtime Giants starter, the structure and overall value of Bumgarner’s deal—and Arizona’s lack of rotation holes before offering it—suggest the Diamondbacks were able to capitalize on a specific advantage they had over the 29 other major-league teams.

It also looked like the early speculation that made the Bumgarner deal a possible to-come trade scenario for incumbent starting pitcher Robbie Ray isn’t necessarily so. Bumgarner’s deal flexibility lets the Snakes shore up without having to invent payroll room. They’d rather save the invention for the field if they can help it.

And, more important, Hazen’s willing to gamble that Bumgarner continues re-inventing himself on the mound to the point where he’ll deliver better goods than he could with the Giants since 2017. “We just watched a guy leave here in the middle of last season who reinvented himself every year he was here,” Hazen told the Tuesday presser, referring to Greinke. “We feel like [Bumgarner] has that ability.”

The entertainment possibilities can’t be resisted, either. Assuming the Diamondbacks have a better sense of humour now than they had when the late Kevin Towers was their general manager, don’t be shocked to discover a hitching post outside the players’ entrance at Chase Field. Or, to see Bumgarner galloping up to the park aboard one of his horses, maybe hollering, “Hi yo, Tumbleweed! Away!”

Or (sorry, it’s impossible to resist), to see a staredown and bawl-out with an enemy batter (preferably a Dodger?) who’s just hit one over the right field fence in Chase Field turn into a cheerfully snarky “Go get it out of the pool!” T-shirt.

Life and baseball with Bumgarner could be mad fun for the Diamondbacks, even if Bumgarner isn’t yet ready to resign his Fun Police commission. Almost as much fun and soul embracing as life in Arizona for Lieutenant and Mrs. MadBum themselves.

MadBum hitches his horses to the Snakes

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Postseason legend Madison Bumgarner takes flight and gallops in Arizona now.

Picture the next time Madison Bumgarner surrenders a hefty home run in his home park and snarks over the bomber having fun with the blast. The bomber’s mates will be inspired to produce T-shirts saying not, “Get it out of the ocean” but, rather, “Get it out of the pool.”

Bumgarner has signed for five years and $85 million with the Diamondbacks, and the nearest body of water into which the opposition can hit is the pool behind Chase Field’s right field fence. Until Bumgarner gets to face the team for whom he served so well, mostly, for the first eleven years of his career, in his former playpen, that is.

A few years ago, Bumgarner’s asking price wouldn’t have been as low as $85 million for five years or more. A few injuries and, more important, a heavy workload have taken their toll, though at 30 years old Bumgarner isn’t exactly ready for Retirement Row. But yes, it does feel a little strange that you’ll see him for the next five in something other than Giants’ fatigues.

And, yes, Bumgarner really did prefer going to Arizona if the Giants weren’t going to be that interested in keeping the greatest postseason pitcher in their history. The Diamondbacks, admirably, have continued remaking/remodeling themselves without even thinking about tanking, and Bumgarner is nothing if not a competitor no matter how much his left arm doesn’t always obey his orders lately.

But The Athletic‘s Bay Area scribe, Andrew Baggarly, says it was personal as well: “Bumgarner told me in July that he and his wife, Ali, loved Arizona and he’d be interested in playing for the Diamondbacks. He gets his preferred destination from a life perspective, he’ll play for a team with way more near-term upside than the Giants, he still gets to hit (in a lively ballpark where he loves to take BP) and he still gets to stare down the Dodgers five or six times a year. What’s not to love?”

Thus does it make a little more sense that, yes, the Giants “were interested and engaged in retaining” the lefthander whose arm span as he’s about to deliver a pitch makes him resemble a Boeing Dreamliner with a bearded cockpit on takeoff; but, no, they weren’t exactly rolling the old red carpet for his landing, either.

Baggarly caught the drift at last week’s winter meetings. When he asked the Giants’ new manager, Gabe Kapler, how he was selling both himself and re-selling the Giants to their franchise World Series hero. When Kapler said he hadn’t talked to Bumgarner and (Baggarly’s words) “wanted to give him his space,” but would still reach out “if others thought it was a good idea.”

“And that was it,” Baggarly continued. “That was all I needed to know. There was no way that Bumgarner would continue his career with the Giants.” Because, of course, if the Giants wanted him to stay and thought they had a shot even at $85 million for five more years (they’re said to have offered four and $70 million), “you can bet that calls and meetings would’ve been set up. Kapler would have begun the back-channeling before he even got the job. The Giants would have tried to assuage Bumgarner’s every concern and dispel every bit of unease.”

Bumgarner isn’t the only one now shouldering into a Diamondbacks jersey who’s a bounceback candidate. The incumbent Snakes ace, Robbie Ray, is looking to make a comparable comeback from a somewhat dismal 2019, and much analysis has suggested the team hoped for enough of a comeback to make him attractive at next summer’s trade deadline. Bumgarner’s signing may have made Ray look positively glittering as a trade topic and positively assured of bringing back a haul of delicious enough prospects sooner.

MadBum is almost as renowned for the pleasures he takes in hitting as he is for that lifetime 2.11 postseason ERA, including a transdimensional 0.25 lifetime World Series ERA. He’ll fume at or bawl out enemy hitter taking a little too much pleasure in a monster mash on his dollar, but he enjoys hitting one for distance as much as the next man. Even if he admits he just can’t bring himself to let the kids play, or play with the kids, when he’s the bomb victim.

A shame, too. Two Opening Days ago I had a little mad fun with MadBum’s hitting a pair out, against the Diamondbacks of all people, one a leadoff blast against Zack Greinke in the top of the fifth, the other a one-out shot against reliever Andrew Chafin in the top of the seventh.(In between, then-Diamondback/now-Dodger A.J. Pollock hit one out off Bumgarner in the bottom of the sixth.)

I wrote a puckish column pondering the dialogue between the then Cy Ruth Award candidate and the Giants’ then-manager Bruce Bochy, leaning a little heavily off the day Bumgarner and then-Dodger Yasiel Puig tangled verbally after a ground out, with Bumgarner—who loves Puig about as much as a small child loves liver (after Puig joined the Reds and took Bumgarner deep, Bumgarner cracked, “He’s a quick study. It only took him seven years to learn how to hit that pitch”)—hollering, “Don’t look at me!”

Forgive me, MadBum, but I couldn’t resist looking at you on that Opening Day:

Bochy: Bum, it’s not that we don’t need the runs, but would you kindly remember that your job with this team is not to do your impersonation of Henry Aaron every other time up?

Bumgarner: Skip, don’t look at me!

Bochy: Bum, I know you were p.o.ed about losing the perfect game in the sixth. But you’re not getting paid the gigabucks to beat baseballs into earth orbit. You’re getting paid the gigabucks to throw them, preferably down the throats of enemy batters. Think you can remember that while you’re bucking for the Cy Ruth Award?

Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!

Bochy: Bum, you’re embarrassing our hitters. Hitting one 410 feet over the left center field fence on 1-2. You realize how many guys around here can’t hit on 1-2? You bucking to get our hitting coach fired?

Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!

Bochy: Okay, I’ll give you this one, Bum. That shot you hit in the seventh with one out. 2-0. Now, that’s a more reasonable count to swing on. And you did bust a three-all tie while you were at it. But c’mon, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Even if you’re the one who let them tie it up at three-all in the first place. Well, okay, it was A.J. Pollack, and even you can’t keep him from hitting one out now and then, you’re only human, after all.

Bumgarner: I’m only what?!?

Bochy: I knew that’d get your attention, Bum! Now, about those eleven strikeouts … that’s why you’re getting paid the gigabucks. Wait a minute — hey, Denard! Not a great way to open, getting yourself arrested for attempted grand theft second!

Bumgarner: Don’t look at him, Skip!

Bochy: Anyway, you’re getting paid to strike those emereffers out, not hit them into the Cove, buddy. There’s no Sandy Mays Award in baseball. I need you to start and when necessary close your own games, so far, depending on how much of an improvement this bullpen’s gonna be over last year’s bullpen. Christ, last year we couldn’t get save a thing if we’d had the Red Cross coming out of the pen.

Bumgarner: Rowrowrowrowwwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Bochy: What’s eating you, Bum?

Bumgarner: What’s with this Hoover? Who does he think he’s fooling with that slop? Why doesn’t he go back and make his vacuum cleaners where he belongs?

Bochy: He just struck Pence out after Hunter fought him back to 2-2.

Bumgarner: That ain’t exactly beating as you sweep as you clean, Skip.

Bochy: Where’d you learn your history?

Bumgarner: I play Trivial Pursuit just like any normal guy.

Bochy: Normal! Normal! Any normal guy who gets paid the gigabucks to pitch and strike out the other guys but who gets up to the plate and thinks he’s Mike Schmidt. You call that normal?

Bumgarner: Do I look like Mike Schmidt, Skip?

Bochy: Only when you hit.

Bumgarner: When did he ever strike out eleven guys in a game? Hey! We got first and second. Buster walked and Craw singled him to second. Who says I’m the one who has to do it all?

Bochy: Nunez just lined out to right, in case you weren’t looking.

Bumgarner: Looks like Hoover needs to change his beater bar brushes.

Bochy: Come on, Bum, give the guy a break, you had to squirm a couple of times too, you know.

Bumgarner: I twist and shout, I do not squirm.

Bochy: Have it your way, buddy. Look at him. Throws two balls to Hernandez, then strikes his ass out on three straight pitches. Looked like he took a couple of lessons from you.

Bumgarner: OK, give you that one. Poor Gork, forget the breeze, I could feel the hurricane.

Bochy: C’mon, Bum, you did more than your share today. Take the rest of the day off. Law can handle these guys.

Bumgarner: Okay, Skip, but remember who would have hit second in the ninth. For all you know I had another home run in me.

Bochy: Bum, let’s not get into that again, shall we? Can’t you settle for being the only pitcher in baseball history ever to hit two bombs on Opening Day and let it go at that?

Bumgarner: Well, look at poor Law, Skip. Two hitters, two singles, and Goldschmidt coming up. Whoa! Two straight strikes he throws on Goldschmidt. Now balls one and two.

Bochy: Gimme a break, Bum, I didn’t want Pollock to pounce on you again.

Bumgarner: You’re all heart, Skip.

Bochy: Damn! The bastard tied it up with a single.

Bumgarner: He fought the Law and won.

Bochy: Forget it. Jerry Seinfeld you ain’t. Hold on, I gotta get Law out of there.

Bumgarner: Good call, Skip. Blach got the double play. And Strickland got the strikeout. Now I know you’re gonna miss me hitting in the ninth!

Bochy: You gonna start that again?

Bumgarner: Who’s the genius who decided I could take the rest of the day off when I might have had another home run in me?

Bochy: I dunno.

Bumgarner: Well, don’t look at me, Skip!

Bochy: Hey, look who’s pitching the ninth.

Bumgarner: It’s old man Rodney! And Panik triples off him to open! C’mon, Skip, I could have gotten him home without hitting one out.

Bochy: See? Gillaspie got him home! Sacrifice fly. So it’s not like you hitting your third homer of the game, just shoot me.

Bumgarner: Don’t start with me, Skip!

Bochy: Now I got to get Melancon in there. The season isn’t even three hours old for us and already we’ve got a blown save. Thirty last year wasn’t enough, we gotta buck for forty already? Damn, how could we load up the pads on old man Rodney and not cash those guys in? How could we get Span thrown out at the plate to end that inning? Coulda had a two or more run lead.

Bumgarner: Well, Melancon isn’t getting paid the big gigabucks to go up to the plate and hit grand slams, Skip. Damn, Skip! Two outs, he gives up a double to Mathis and an RBI single to Daniel Freaking Descalso!! And Owings sends home the winning run! Why are we paying Melancon the big gigabucks? I told you you should have had me available to hit in the ninth! You ever heard of an insurance run?

Bochy: Don’t look at me, Bum!

The word is that the man who’s been a horse for the Giants even when he wasn’t pitching at his peak performance level owns horses in the Phoenix area and, with his wife, loves the horses as much as the area and as much as baseball. The man who doesn’t want you looking at him when you recover from a knockdown pitch or take him out of your shared baseball real estate isn’t averse to a little horsing around.

But wouldn’t it be something if baseball could give him dispensation for Opening Day, lets him keep a horse adjacent to the batter’s box, then—if he hits one out—lets him mount and gallop around the bases?

All the Diamondbacks have to do otherwise now remind Bumgarner the only body of water into which the other guys can hit is small, behind the fence, and features a hot tub off to one corner. And, keep him away from dirt bikes.

Ron Fairly, RIP: See ya later

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Ron Fairly. (Seattle Mariners photograph.)

There’s plenty to be said for a fellow whose baseball life involves over seven thousand games, as a player and a broadcaster. There’s more to be said for Ron Fairly, who died at 81 on the morning the Nationals—for whom Fairly once played when they were the infant Montreal Expos—won the World Series last week.

Fairly was a solid first baseman and outfielder who studied the game as attentively as he played it. When he became a broadcaster, his habits included calling walks by saying, “Those bases on balls, they’ll kill you every time.” Fairly should have known if anyone did: his playing statistics include 1,022 walks to 877 strikeouts. That’s a 0.83 strikeout to walk ratio, .84 below the Show average in his 21 seasons.

A lefthanded hitter with more than a little power, and blessed with almost the perfect surname for a major league hitter, Fairly was killed at the plate by his two Dodger home parks, the Los Angeles Coliseum (the baseball field shoehorned into the football emporium was hell on portsiders who didn’t always hit the other way) and Dodger Stadium (heaven for pitchers, hell for hitters) from 1959 (his first full season) through 1968 (his final full year as a Dodger).

And he knew it.

“I played in an era— the 1960s—that might have been the most difficult in which to make your living, as a hitter, of any in the history of the game of baseball,” said Fairly to FanGraphs interviewer David Laurila in 2011. “I played in Dodger Stadium, which was a big ballpark where the ball didn’t carry very well. It doesn’t take many [lost] hits during the course of a season for your average to drop a little bit, and you weren’t going to have as many home runs or RBIs there.”

He probably had the one of the most quiet instances of World Series shining of them all. Seven Dodger position players played all seven games of the 1965 Series and Fairly out-hit all of them, including Maury Wills, first base mainstay-to-be Wes Parker, the season’s super-sub Lou Johnson, and veteran Jim (Junior) Gilliam, who’d come out of retirement to play most of the season at third base and made a key play to save Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s Game Seven shutout.

Fairly’s 1.069 OPS for that Series was the tops among the Dodgers by far, well enough beyond Johnson’s .914. He went 11-for-29 with three doubles and two home runs against the Twins and drove six runs home while he was at it. It was a Series that threatened to become an all-home-team-winning set before Koufax’s Game Seven shutout.

“We started Sandy instead of [Hall of Famer Don] Drysdale, and the reason is that Sandy was more muscular and it would have taken him too long to warm up,” Fairly remembered to Laurila of that game. “Drysdale could warm up a lot faster if Sandy got into trouble.”

Koufax did struggle in the early innings, finding his vaunted curve ball unreliable and deciding to go strictly fastball the rest of the way. “It wasn’t until about the sixth or seventh inning that Sandy started to settle down, loosen up and get it going,” Fairly said. “On two days’ rest, he probably threw 140 pitches—maybe 160—and he was throwing better in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings than he was in the first three innings.”

(Don’t go there: before you start lamenting that today’s pitcher’s haven’t got the kidney to work like that, be reminded that Koufax would pitch only one more season to come, then retire after it, at thirty, beyond the top of his game. Among other things, continuing to be a human medical experiment to keep him pitching despite a then-unfixable arthritic pitching elbow was liable to compromise something a little more important to Koufax—like the rest of his life.)

Fairly also scored the only Dodger run in Game Two (which Koufax pitched after declining Game One because of Yom Kippur); he scored the first Dodger run in Game Three; he sent the first of four Dodger insurance runs home off Twins relief mainstay Al Worthington; his RBI double off Jim Kaat in the third gave Koufax a 4-0 Game Five cushion.

And he followed Johnson’s fourth-inning Game Seven homer with a double before coming home when his first base successor Parker bounced one over Twins first baseman Don Mincher’s head immediately to follow. Said Fairly, “[T]hat was it. Sandy took care of the rest.”

Fairly also remembered the ugliest moment of that 1965 season, the Candlestick Park brawl that climaxed a weekend of tensions between the Dodgers and the Giants, kicked off when Dodger catcher John Roseboro threw a return pitch to Koufax that zipped right past Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal’s head in the batter’s box—when Marichal was still looking ahead of and not behind himself.

Marichal had knocked Fairly down at the plate in the third inning, a little pushback after Koufax—who generally preferred domination over intimidation, but answering for a knockdown of Maury Wills in the first—sent one sailing over Hall of Famer Willie Mays’s head in the second. Marichal was less than thrilled, too, that Wills opened the game bunting for a base hit and Fairly drove him home two outs later.

When Marichal eventually came up to hit leading off the bottom of the third, Fairly was stationed in right field and occupied mostly by the wind that afternoon when Koufax threw Marichal a strike inside that Roseboro let get past him.

“After the pitch was made to Juan,” Fairly told Laurila, “I looked down because the wind was blowing so much, and all of a sudden I heard this roar. I looked up and here was Juan swinging the bat and both teams were running out of the dugout.” The return throw tripped Marichal’s trigger when he realised how close he’d been to a hole in the head.

As John Rosengren (in The Fight of Their Lives) and others have attested, both Marichal and Roseboro were buffeted by off-field events. Marichal was haunted by that year’s civil war in his native Dominican Republic, where his cousin was a presidential running mate; Roseboro was haunted by the Watts riots in Los Angeles.

And when Marichal wheeled around screaming “Why you do that??” he saw Roseboro advancing toward him, knowing Roseboro was karate trained, and in one sickening instant was overcome by fear. That’s when he brought his bat down on Roseboro’s head; it didn’t catch Roseboro’s head flush on but struck enough to open a gash over the catcher’s eye.

“Mays and Len Gabrielson were the two guys on the Giants who tried to break that fight up,” remembered Fairly. “Keep in mind, there wasn’t a lot of love between the Giants and Dodgers. We didn’t even like their uniforms. They didn’t like ours.”

Fairly knew how completely out of character the brawl was for both the normally genial, prankish Marichal (whose wife swore he never awoke on the wrong side of the bed) and the quiet but attentive Roseboro. Indeed, Roseboro eventually forgave Marichal, the two became friends, and Roseboro campaigned for Marichal after the great pitcher was denied first-ballot Hall of Fame enshrinement.

“When you talk about all of the great pitching staffs the Dodgers had, keep in mind that Roseboro was the guy putting the fingers down,” Fairly told Laurila. “John was really good at calling games. He was one of the quietest guys I was ever around, but also one of the nicest. His locker was next to mine for years.”

Fairly remained with the Dodgers until 1969, when he was traded to the maiden voyaging Expos in a deal that brought Maury Wills (exiled to Pittsburgh after he walked away from the Dodgers’ winter ’66 tour of Japan) back to the Dodgers. He spent six seasons with the Expos before they traded him to the Cardinals; now already a part-time player, he also spent time with the Athletics (after their ’70s glory seasons), the Blue Jays, and the Angels before calling it a career.

The trade to Montreal affected Fairly negatively. He wasn’t a cold weather fan as it was, he didn’t like losing after those years of Dodger success, and he was haunted, says a Society for American Baseball Research biography, when he showed his then four-year-old son where Montreal is and the boy replied, “Does this mean I don’t have a daddy anymore?”

When he finished with the Angels it didn’t mean the end of his baseball life. Owner Gene Autry offered him a three-year deal in 1979 to broadcast Angel games on television with Dick Enberg and his old Dodger teammate Don Drysdale. Fairly stayed in the Angel booth until 1987, when came the crowning irony of his broadcast life: the Giants, of all people, invited him to take over for play-by-play man Hank Greenwald.

Try to imagine the Dodgers replacing Vin Scully with Russ Hodges (the legendary longtime voice of the Giants) and you have an idea how popular Fairly wasn’t in San Francisco. At least, not until the Giants brought Greenwald back to pair with him. “[We] had a lot of laughs,” Fairly said of their time together, which ended when Fairly moved up the Pacific to step into the Mariners booth. Where he stayed, very popular, until he retired in 2006.

He was known wherever he was on the air for “See ya later” calling home runs (including Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr.’s in an eighth consecutive game) and as a raconteur steeped in baseball history and borne of a fine wit.

A favourite among Mariners fans was Fairly’s recollection of Koufax manhandling Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle in the 1963 World Series. As the sides changed and Mantle passed Fairly at first on the way back to centerfield, Mantle cracked, “Hey, Red, tell the bastard to lighten up, he’s making me look bad.”

Fairly made one more return to the broadcast booth, when the Mariners’ Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus died unexpectedly after the 2010 season and Fairly filled in for a third of 2011. After that, it was home to Palm Springs and a quiet life of grandchildren and golf until esophageal cancer invaded and at last overtook him. “He had seemingly beaten the disease,” writes Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) columnist Larry Stone, “but friends say it was the radiation that did him in.”

As a hitter, Fairly looked on the surface as though he cratered almost completely after Koufax’s retirement. He told an interviewer it was sort of Drysdale’s fault:

Drysdale told (general manager) Buzzie (Bavasi) that we should lengthen the grass and slow down the infield. I thought that was crazy. We were a ground ball/line drive team. We didn’t hit the ball in the air. Well, Buzzie lengthened the grass and it killed me. I didn’t have the speed to beat out infield hits and ground balls that had been getting through for me were winding up in infielders’ gloves.

Obviously, as a baseball theoretician Don Drysdale was one helluva pitcher.

Early in his career, Fairly had the distinction of rooming with Hall of Famer Duke Snider, a California native who also became a broadcaster after his playing days. Snider loved to regale the kid with tales from Ebbets Field where Snider’s prodigious power hitting and handsome looks earned him the nickname the Duke of Flatbush.

According to Laurila, Fairly remembered Snider saying he was batting in Ebbets Field with Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella on deck—with his chest protector and shin guards still strapped on. Campanella apparently didn’t think Snider could hit the pitcher in question with two out.

“Duke wouldn’t get in the batter’s box until Campy took them off,” Fairly said. “A few pitches later, Duke popped the ball up in the air. As he was running to first base, he was hollering at Campy, and Campy was laughing at him.”

I hope Fairly is giving them all a little friendly hell about it while they share a drink in the Elysian Fields now. Then, I hope Campanella gets to horn in with some jokes, and Mantle asks them to tell some bastard to lighten up, when Fairly, Drysdale, and Snider get to call some more games together up there.

Marcus Stroman and other trade deadline thoughts

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Marcus Stroman to the Mets—method to madness or madness to method?

As regards the Mets dealing a pair of mixed-reviews pitching prospects to the Blue Jays for their staff ace Marcus Stroman, and the coming trade deadline in general a few observations. Beginning with the one that tells me it seems at least three-quarters of baseball never saw this Stroman deal coming.

Anyone who thought Stroman’s new address would be New York by this year’s new single trade deadline figured it would involve the Yankees, leaders in the American League East, and not the Mets, strugglers to stay within reasonable sight of even the second National League wild card.

Or, if Stroman was going to move on from Toronto, he’d be more likely to land with one or another viable 2019 competitor—say, the Braves, where I seem to recall some observers thought he’d make a better mutual fit if the Yankees really were convinced Stroman was good enough to pitch but not necessarily fit.

But Stroman, who makes his living largely by way of his ability to lure ground balls, is now a Met. So where do we and they go from here?

1. Former major league general manager Jim Bowden, who now writes for The Athletic, says the Mets have no intention of landing Stroman just to flip him for a better package by the close of trade business Wednesday. And the two pitching prospects going to the Jays—Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson—are considered solid but not elite prospects, but the Jays believed they weren’t going to get better than them for Stroman when all was said and done.

2. The Mets aren’t a team of elite defenders especially around their infield this year, and yet Steven Matz—returning to the rotation after a brief spell in the bullpen to re-horse—pitched a complete-game 3-0 shutout Saturday night in which his calling cards were a deft blend of breaking and off speed stuff and putting his fielders to work, which for a change they did rather admirably behind him.

3. Matz’s performance may well have had a firm impact on the Mets’ pitching thought. May. They’ve tried since 2013 to cultivate an arsenal of power arms in the rotation and seen, when all is said and done, only Jacob deGrom live up to any expectations. They watched Matt Harvey’s injuries collapse him from a power pitcher to one in search of a new cause and, now, a new team. They’ve seen Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler bring the power without delivering the consistent results.

If the Mets had eyes for Stroman before Matz took the mound Saturday night, Matz’s performance had to have told them it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to add another arm to the rotation that belonged to a young man who uses more than his arm to survive on the mound. Stroman isn’t a strikeout machine; he has the second highest ground ball rate among all Show starting pitchers.

4. Maybe acquiring Stroman begins to get the Mets re-thinking their incumbent defense, too, especially marrying him to Matz in their rotation. Rookie of the Year candidate Pete Alonso forced Dominic Smith off first base, but Smith in the outfield looks almost exactly like the un-natural he is out there even though he hits with authority. Rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s willingness to take aging Robinson Cano if he wanted closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners last winter forced Jeff McNeil, their obvious second baseman of the future, likewise into an outfield where he’s about as comfortable as an elephant in front of a mouse much of the time.

5. Diaz has been a mess not entirely of his own making this season, mishandled, sometimes mis-deployed, and while the raw talent is still there the Mets are now rumoured to be shopping him. Cano has four years left on the contract the Mets took on from the Mariners, making him almost an immovable force. Whether the Mets’ contradictory ownership might be willing to take a bath on the deal in order to start moving defensive parts back where they belong is anyone’s guess.

6. With Stroman off the market eyes turned not just upon Syndergaard but the rest of this trade deadline’s pitching market.

The Giants’ unexpected resurgence means Madison Bumgarner isn’t likely to go anywhere the rest of the season, compared to a month ago when the observers and speculators pondered where, not if he’d move on. The Yankees need whatever starting pitching help they can get but the market now seems more constricted—and as much as they’re wary of dealing with the Mets, Syndergaard now might look like an attractive Yankee target. Might.

And the Nationals, like the Giants but at a higher level, have had an unexpected resurgence of late after they were all but written off as dying as late as early June. They ran into a buzzsaw in Los Angeles this past weekend, needing Stephen Strasburg to pitch the masterwork he did in seven Sunday innings to escape with even a single win, but now Max Scherzer—whom all the Smart Guys said had to go on the trade deadline block once upon a time, in large part to bring them badly needed bullpen relief—may find his barking back barking well enough into August.

At first glance, then, it would seem the Nats have a big problem as they prepare to square off against the National League East-leading Braves Monday night. Except that the Braves, who ran roughshod over the league before the All-Star break and still lead the Nats by five and a half games, have suddenly regressed to being only human. Not only have they lost seven of their last eleven, they’ve lost two critical elements—shortstop Dansby Swanson, resurgent veteran right fielder Nick Markakis—to the injured list. The Nats won’t have Strasburg or Scherzer to throw at the Braves this week but the Nats might still gain key ground, anyway.

7. The bullpen dominos began falling over this past weekend, too. Veteran Sergio Romo, once a key to a couple of Giants World Series winners, just went from Miami to Minnesota where the Twins, this year’s American League surprise, just bumped their bullpen up several notches by bringing him aboard. Jake Diekman went from Kansas City to Oakland, a sign the Athletics are gearing up for another wild card run. There are contenders aplenty who need help in the pen and few more than the Nats.

8. If the Jays are rebuilding in earnest, bullpen-longing eyes may be cast upon the surprising Ken Giles. After his 2017 World Series mishap (which wasn’t entirely his sole responsibility) and subsequent personal and mound meltdowns, Giles has rehorsed completely in Toronto. As in, a career year: a 1.54 ERA and a 1.60 fielding-independent pitching rate. Not to mention a 5+ strikeout-to-walk rate and a 14.9 strikeout-per-nine rate.

Yes, the Nats have eyes upon Giles and his Jays pen mate Daniel Hudson. But so may the Red Sox and any other contender who needs a bump among the bulls. Even the Twins, despite landing Romo, might still make a play for Giles at least or, if Giles eludes them, Norman, whose 2.87 ERA and June-July of only four earned runs in 21 innings’ work yanked his trade value up accordingly.

Bowden rates the Stroman deal a B+ for the Mets and a B- for the Jays. It wouldn’t hurt the Jays’ standing to try prying a slightly better haul back for Giles and/or Hudson. And although Giles is dealing with a slight nerve issue in his pitching elbow, wiping out the side as he did in a Saturday night assignment should make his suitors breathe a little easier, assuming they don’t fall tempted to overwork him while he works through it.

9. The Mets may or may not yet have a wild card long shot this year, but don’t kid yourselves: they were thinking as much about 2020 as now when they made their play for Stroman. And since Stroman is under team control through the end of 2020, don’t be surprised if they like what they see from him the rest of this season and start talking extension with him before 2020 begins.

Which might also mean that Syndergaard at minimum, and Wheeler at maximum, may yet have changes of address coming by Wednesday afternoon. And with whisperings that the Red Sox have eyes upon Diaz for their pen, which needs a little help but isn’t as badly mismanaged as the Mets pen has been this year, the Mets should be thinking smart and looking very closely at that Red Sox farm system.

Because the Mets could also use a third base upgrade from veteran Todd Frazier, who’s reliable but beginning to show his age. And as thin as the Red Sox system is for now, AAA third baseman Bobby Dalbec was named both the offensive and defensive player of the year for 2018 in the Red Sox’s minor league award valuations. If the Olde Towne Team wants Diaz for their pen that much, the Mets should all but demand Dalbec in the return haul.

10. Too many teams never quite do what they should when it counts. The Mets, alas, are notorious for that. Even when they’re winning.

 

. . . but the little gulls understand

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A flock of seagulls over AT&T Park’s outfield, not unlike the one Pete Alonso of the Mets scattered in the sixteenth Thursday night.

A pair of National League also-rans meeting to start a four-game set in San Francisco. One managed by a three-time World Series-winning skipper, the other managed by a former pitching coach who’s caught too often unawares but still might break a record for in-season votes of confidence that make his team’s fan base anything but confident.

A pair of starting pitchers whose names appear as often in trade-deadline speculation as Harold Stassen used to run for the presidency. Backed by one bullpen that has three bulls whose names are sometimes whispered in trade talks and another backed by a group that plays with matches a little too often for its own good.

And, a marathon in which both sides’ pitching traded off otherwise lockdown work around twenty hits, ten for each side, with 32 strikeouts between them for fifteen innings, and a flock of seagulls flying above the left side of the AT&T Park outfield in circular patterns that looked taunting one minute and challenging the next.

Thus the Mets and the Giants Thursday night entering the sixteenth inning tied at one. Until Pete Alonso opened the top of the inning almost doing to a seagull with his bat what Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson once actually did to a dove from the mound to break the tie at long enough last.

The Mets entered the bottom of the sixteenth with a 2-1 lead and exited with a 3-2 loss to the Giants in which Mets reliever Chris Mazza, who’d worked a spotless fifteenth, couldn’t get an out if he’d pre-ordered them on Amazon Prime Days just before the Mets hit the Bay Area.

Both teams all but emptied their bullpens, following seven strong innings from Mets starter Noah Syndergaard and nine from the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, with the Mets’ pen of all people having a little bit of the better of things until the sixteenth. And that was after both Syndergaard and Bumgarner could swap a few jibes about how the single runs each surrendered might look almost like happy accidents in the box score.

Mets rookie Jeff McNeil scored in the top of the first—while Alonso himself dialed Area Code 6-4-3 with nobody out. Giants center fielder Kevin Pillar scored Pablo Sandoval with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth. And no matter what the Mets and the Giants threw at each other or swung against each other, nobody else came home until the sixteenth.

Bumgarner still felt his oats after the ninth, doing everything he could short of bringing Perry Mason in to plead his case to manager Bruce Bochy to go out for the tenth. “He lobbied, trust me, he did,” Bochy said after it finally ended. “In fact, I came in after the game, he’s still mad at me for not letting him go out there in the 10th.”

“I didn’t try to make it much of a conversation but he wasn’t having it,” the normally ornery Bumgarner said with a few chuckles punctuating his remarks. “Usually if I really want to I can get my way with him, but he wasn’t having it today. How many times do you get to go out for the tenth?”

He struck out six in nine to Syndergaard’s eight in seven. Then came the running of the bulls. The Mets’ pen—in order, Seth Lugo, Luis Avilan, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Robert Gsellman (working two innings), and Justin Wilson—scattered three hits and three walks with a combined ten strikeouts (including Gsellman’s three) before manager Mickey Callaway sent Chris Mazza out for the fifteenth.

The Giants’ pen—in order, Will Smith (another trade deadline subject), Reyes Moronta, Tony Watson, Derek Holland, and Trevor Gott—was equally stingy until the sixteenth, scattering four hits and a walk while striking out a collective eight. (Including three each by Smith and Gott.)

Both the Mets and the Giants, riding concurrent hot or semi-hot streaks into Thursday night, might yet be pondering the reset buttons. But several players on both sides made themselves look a little more attractive to prospective contending suitors a fortnight before the new single trade deadline.

The men don’t know, but the little gulls understand.

Then Williams Jerez, who’d shaken off first and second in the top of the fifteenth, went to work in the top of the sixteenth. He had Alonso 0-2 with a foul. Then he hung a changeup, and Alonso hung it into the left field seats, missing one of the circling gulls by inches. Imagine the gulls as they scattered: Incoming! Hit the deck! There is no deck!

Jerez nailed a pair of back-to-back strikeouts before walking Amed Rosario, but he escaped when he picked Rosario off and got him thrown out for attempted grand theft. Then it was Mazza’s turn to work a second inning.

He got that turn because Callaway had no choice: he had nobody left in the pen, it wasn’t their fault the Mets were as futile in getting runs home until Alonso’s blast, and he didn’t want to burn a starting pitcher if he could help it. Callaway admitted after the game that if it went somehow to a seventh inning he would have sent left fielder J.D. Davis to the mound and pitcher Jacob deGrom out to play left field.

Thank God it didn’t quite come to that, except that the Giants made sure it wouldn’t get to that point off Mazza in the bottom of the sixteenth. It’s a luxury the Mets couldn’t have afforded unless they’d gotten more in their half than just Alonso’s almost-seagull shoot.

A leadoff double (Alex Dickerson), RBI double to re-tie (Brandon Crawford), a hit batsman (Austin Slater, who took over for Mike Yastrzemski in right field in the ninth), a bases-loading single (Pillar), and the Mets’ infield in to choke off the run that wouldn’t be choked off when Donovan Solano (who’d replaced Joe Panik at second in the tenth) sort of snuck a base hit into shallow right field.

“Syndergaard did a great job of pitching out of some jams early and their guys did too,” said Callaway after the game. “There were a lot of baserunners at third with less than two outs and nobody got in. It was a tough night to score runs.”

It was for fifteen innings, until the bases-loaded jam the Mets couldn’t escape the way they did in the fourth, when Pillar’s sacrifice fly began life as a potential bases-clearing hit until J.D. Davis ran it to the rear end of left field and made a leaping snatch.

But the Giants finally banked a win to be proud of and the Mets banked a loss they couldn’t really be ashamed of. Even the gulls looked as though they tried congratulating both sides when it finally ended.

Gee, Officer Krupke—krup you!

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He didn’t quite demand “Who died and left you the Baseball Police?” but Max Muncy splashed Madison Bumgarner’s self-righteousness Sunday afternoon . . .

When Madison Bumgarner’s pitching career ends, a good many people will remember him as a postseason lancer who throve and delivered when the heat was nuclear. Appropriately. And a good many people likewise will remember him as a classic get-off-my-lawn type with the petulance of a nursery school child whenever any hitter had the audacity to hit a home run off him. Also, appropriately.

The get-off-my-lawn Bumgarner arrived Sunday afternoon in AT&T Park when Dodgers infielder Max Muncy greeted him in the top of the first. The lefthanded Bumgarner threw the lefthanded Muncy a fastball fat and juicy. And Muncy drove it past about five kayakers into McCovey Cove behind the right field promenade.

All Muncy did after connecting was take a few moderate steps up the line before starting his home run jog. If you’re measuring bat flips, Muncy’s was more like a bat dump. And as he rounded first, Bumgarner—who suffers neither fools nor home run hitters gladly—growled at Muncy: “Don’t watch the ball, run!”

Muncy wasn’t exactly unprepared as he rounded first heading for second. As he quoted himself after the Dodgers banked the 1-0 win: “I just told him if he doesn’t want me to watch the ball, go get it out of the ocean.”

If you thought “Don’t look at me!”/”Don’t look at him” troll T-shirts whipped up fast after Bumgarner roared just that at then-Dodger Yasiel Puig a few years ago, you hadn’t seen anything yet:

2019-06-10 GoGetItOutOfTheOcean

That shirt hit the cyberground almost as fast as Muncy’s blast flew into the cove. Its arrival made the old “Don’t look at me!” troll shirts seem on a time delay.

About the only thing Sunday’s game did otherwise was resurrect Bumgarner’s likely trade value should the Giants finally acquiesce to reality and kick off a painful but necessary remake/remodel. He pitched seven innings and, after Muncy put his ego into the drink, scattered three more hits while striking out five and surrendering no other runs.

That wasn’t even close to the story of the game.

Bumgarner is self-aware enough to know he comes off like the kind of grump that divides baseball fans almost in half. For every old-school grouse who thought Bumgarner was not only within his rights to let Muncy have what for rounding first, but also a little chin music, maestro, his next time up, there’s a new-school graduate who thinks Bumgarner’s still too young to become a boring old fart playing a game in which he happens to earn a ducal dollop of dollars while playing it.

“I can’t even say it with a straight face,” the lefthander told reporters after the game, and he couldn’t. Bumgarner looked like he was trying to stifle the kind of nervous snicker you might emit when something strikes you funny during something like a funeral.

“I was going to say the more I think about it, you’ve got to just let the kids play, that’s what everybody is saying, but . . . he struck a pose and walked further than I liked . . . They want to let everybody be themselves. Let me by myself —that’s me, you know? I’d just as soon fight than walk or whatever. You just do your thing, I’ll do mine. Everybody is different. I can’t speak for everybody else, but that’s just how I want to play. And that’s how I’m going to.”

Bumgarner has one point. There’s nothing wrong with letting him be himself, either. If he wants to treat baseball as though he ought to be pitching in a business suit instead of a Giants uniform, that’s his right and he’s earned it.

Except that he knows others enjoy the same right to be themselves. If he wants to bawl out a hitter who just laid waste to one of his pitches and has the audacity to enjoy having done it, then what he’s really saying is he doesn’t really respect the other guy’s right to be himself, too.

If Bumgarner wants to fume because he was sent into orbit, fine. But there’s a reason why Muncy’s basepath comeback kicked off a new supply of troll shirts. Bumgarner doesn’t want hitters admiring their home runs off him, whether or not they land among a crowd of kayakers on the waters? And he’s not exactly out there trying to serve them pitches they can hit for those home runs.

Unless there’s some personal animosity between them otherwise, a hitter who’s just sent one seaborne isn’t looking to add insult to injury when he has fun with it as it sails away and after it lands. (Pirates, try to remember that the next time Derek Dietrich plants one into the Allegheny River.) Neither is a pitcher who can’t resist a little gesture of triumph after he survives a very tough plate appearance by striking the batter out at last.

Let’s have no nonsense about it all just being MadBum being the competitor he is. “‘Enjoy the view, bitch, because I’m gonna strike your sorry ass out next time’ is being a competitor,” says Deadspin‘s Albert Burneko. “‘Stop watching your home run, it’s rude!’ is being the cops.”

Forget the business suit, maybe Bumgarner ought to take the mound in a police uniform. Gee, Officer Krupke—krup you!

It’s not as though Bumgarner doesn’t understand the thrill. This is a pitcher who’s hit eighteen home runs himself during his eleven-season career. Including a pair on Opening Day 2017. You might suggest Bumgarner take off the gun belt and billy club and have himself a ball around the bases the next time he hits one for distance.

But you can see the troll shirts now: “Fun for me but not for thee!”

New park, renamed team, a Las Vegas blast—but you had to be there

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A view of the left field wall and panorama at the new Las Vegas Ballpark Thursday night.

The Las Vegas Aviators had a bit of a blast Thursday night, in their new Las Vegas Ballpark playpen in the west side of town’s Summerlin district. They smothered the Sacramento River Cats, 11-3, on a cool-turned-chilly night, heavy enough on the wind, with the key inning the third when the Aviators showed themselves triple players of the better kind.

As in, four triples in five plate appearances in the inning, and three of them hit consecutively. As in, the first of the three landing on the fly into a warning track wedge. As in, an eighth-inning home run missing being a splash hit by about a foot farther.

Unless you were at the game, as I was, or listening free via MiLB.com, you wouldn’t have known all that by picking up the Las Vegas Review-Journal Friday morning. All you knew was that the Aviators (now an Oakland Athletics AAA affiliate) sicced the hounds on the River Cats (a San Francisco Giants AAA affiliate).

You didn’t know that Aviators shortstop Jorge Mateo started the third inning fun by hitting the curvy line drive that landed on the fly between the track and the bottom of the right center field fence padding.

You didn’t know that, one called strikeout later, left fielder Dustin Fowler, first baseman Seth Brown, and catcher Sean Murphy all tripled in succession, leaving things 5-1, Las Vegas.

You didn’t know that called strikeout kept the Aviators from doing what’s only been done once in the major leagues, the Boston Red Sox hitting four straight triples in the bottom of the fourth 6 May 1934, en route a 14-4 blowout of the eventual American League pennant-winning Detroit Tigers.

Or, that the last time any team anywhere hit three straight triples was the Montreal Expos in the bottom of the ninth of a 5 May 1981 game—and it wasn’t enough to keep the Expos from getting blown out by the San Diego Padres, 13-5. (The Colorado Rockies almost did it, but Troy Tulowitzki rudely interrupted the string by hitting a two-run homer after the first two and just before the third triple.)

You didn’t know that, in the top of the eighth, with the Aviators keeping the game pretty much out of reach, River Cats third baseman Zach Green led off against relief pitcher Jerry Blevins, the former New York Met, and hit a 2-1 pitch over the right center field fence and into the ballpark’s swimming pool patio, until it landed just past the pool and bounded around the patio concrete. Since no fans were at poolside we assume a ballpark staffer retrieved the souvenir.

20190412_122658You didn’t know that until Green teed off the Cats’ first run scored in the top of the second when their first baseman Austin Slater scored while left fielder Michael Reed was dialing Area Code 5-6-3.

You didn’t know that the Aviators went 6-for-19 with men in scoring position on the night while the Cats went a mere 1-for-5. Or, that the Aviators did more damage against two Sacramento relief pitchers (Chase Johnson in two and two thirds, and Ray Black in the eighth) than they did against River Cats starter Shaun Anderson in the second and the third.

At least the Associated Press, whose coverage the R-J did use, was kind enough to tell you that Murphy missed the cycle by a double and a homer, while presuming you could figure out for yourself that Mateo’s triple, two doubles, and a single put him short of the cycle by one bomb.

The AP was also kind enough to tell you the Aviators turned the game into a full blowout with a four run eighth including Murphy hitting a three-run homer. Brown singled before Murphy launched one that flew about twelve feet over the right center field fence.

I get that the paper’s sports department is probably all over the NHL’s Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As in, a 31-team league allowing 51 percent of its teams to play for a championship, which is simply unserious no matter how engaging the sport actually is when it isn’t fans going to the fights where a hockey game breaks out. (I’ve never forgotten the year TV Guide‘s fall sports preview said, “Good news for fight fans—the NHL is back.”)

The Knights shocked hockey (and a lot of other people) by winning the Pacific Division title in their inaugural season, 2017-18. And they still had to slog through a playoff against less worthy teams before they got to be demolished by the Washington Capitals in the finals. This season, they finished third in the Pacific. And they lost a sloppy first-round first game to the San Jose Sharks, 5-2. It might as well have been Sir Loin of Beef against Jabberjaw.

Baseball may have the ridiculous wild card system in a pair of three-division leagues, but nobody finishing lower than second place in their division gets either of the two wild cards in each league. In the NHL and in the NBA (thirty teams, half of them making last year’s playoffs), you might as well not even play the regular season, almost.

And I get that Las Vegas Ballpark had some Opening Night problems, 40 mph winds hardly of the park’s own making, which thinned the starting crowd of over 11,000 before the third inning was over. The Thursday night winds weren’t that furious, but they were chilly enough by the time the fifth inning came around, and the crowd didn’t really begin thinning until around the sixth.

The Howard Hughes Corporation—which bought and renamed the team (they’re the former 51s) and built the ballpark—is capable of many things, but I’m not entirely sure that weather-making is among their talents.

I don’t know if the Review-Journal lacks a substantial baseball staff, or they decided to just follow the Knights strictly after the unexpected Opening Night windstorm. But at least they were kind enough to let the AP tell you that the Aviators have a four-game winning streak and a 7-1 season-opening record, which they haven’t done since they were still the 51s and a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate in 2006.

Or maybe Thursday’s game just didn’t have the pizzazz of Opening Night when an umpire took a bat out of the mouth of the Aviators’ bat dog, Finn, a labrador who’s trained to retrieve bats. The booing was loud enough to make you think the Orioles traded Chris Davis to the A’s and that the A’s sent Davis to Vegas to try to straighten himself out.

Or, maybe, two blowouts in their first three home games of the year just struck the R-J as dog-bites-man.