May 25, 2013
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012
The philosophy for the American League-leading Texas Rangers has been pretty simple so far this season: let our pitching keep us in the game and wait for the big bats to produce at the right times. How else do you explain a team with 83 wins and the 12th-best ERA (3.87) in all of baseball?
The Rangers lead the majors in runs and batting average and are second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. While most of the glory has gone to the MVP-caliber seasons of Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, the emergence of David Murphy in the No. 7 spot has provided a big spark to their lineup.
Just going by appearances alone, Murphy should not be doing what he’s doing. At 6-foot-4 and a slender 205 pounds, Murphy, who draws a slight resemblance to Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, looks more like he should be dominating his company softball league than some of the best pitching in the AL. He would have a hard time passing the eye test with some of the old-school scouts from Moneyball.
This season he’s proving that looks can be deceiving while putting up numbers of .314/.393/.495, including a .345/.406/.508 line since the All-Star break that includes the sixth-best batting average in baseball. His 3.0 WAR ranks better than All-Stars such as Derek Jeter, Billy Butler and Adam Jones.
What’s more impressive is that Murphy, a left-handed hitter, is hitting .381 with an OPS of .889 against left-handed pitchers while still hitting .301 with all of his 13 home runs against righties. He has also come through in the clutch, hitting .405 with an OPS of 1.174 with runners in scoring position.
When you look at Murphy’s approach to hitting, he does nothing to overwhelm you. He doesn’t take big hacks at the first pitch he sees like Hamilton and Beltre. Instead, he’s patient and does a great job of protecting the plate, hitting .329 after getting behind 0-2 in the count. In fact, it seems like most of his hits come from him simply throwing the barrel of the bat at a ball out of the zone and driving it for a single.
Murphy is also a surprisingly good fielder, recording only one error so far this season and tied for fifth with a .994 fielding percentage among all left fielders.
Murphy, who was taken No. 17 overall by the Red Sox in the 2003 draft, hasn’t exactly had the ideal career of a first-round pick. At age 30, he has played in only 686 games, boasting a career .286 average with 71 homers and 312 runs batted in. During his time with Texas, he’s often been considered the no. 4 outfielder and even started this season behind Craig Gentry on the depth chart. Then he got hot, batting .356 in June and never having a month since then in which he’s hit below .310.
At just $3.63 million this year, Texas is getting quite a deal for Murphy, and with one more year of arbitration, he could affect how the Rangers handle this offseason. With Hamilton ready to take the highest offer at the end of this season, team President Nolan Ryan and GM John Daniels have to decide just how much they’re willing to spend for the fan-favorite slugger.
With Murphy’s improving numbers, along with the emergence of 24-year-old center fielder Leonys Martin and rumors of moving Ian Kinsler to center to make room for super prospect Jurickson Profar in the infield, Ryan and Daniels might not feel so bad about letting an inconsistent (and aging) Hamilton walk.
Murphy might not be a household name, but look for plenty of teams to be interested in him once his contract comes off the books in 2014. His play over the past few months has helped the Rangers remain in the driver’s seat in the AL despite down years from Michael Young and Nelson Cruz. If he continues to hit this well in the No. 7 spot, the Rangers could hit their way back to the World Series for a third straight year.
Just gonna warn you: this was written as cold medicine was taking effect, with wine -- ill advised, I know -- and while listening to the new xx album. Lots of heavy stuff here, not best for reason or, for that matter, the reading of box scores. But we'll soldier through because this is the Internet and the Internet is serious business, folks:
Red Sox 4, Yankees 3: I guess if everything else has gone wrong you can still make yourself feel better by playing spoiler. Jacoby Ellsbury with four hits including the walkoff single. On his birthday no less. David Robertson: seventh loss in relief this year. Remember back when we thought Mariano Rivera wasn't actually missed all that much? Yeah, that was hilarious.
Orioles 9, Rays 2: J.J. Hardy homered twice -- he had four hits in all -- and the O's are back tied for first place in the wild wild east. Unfortunately, they lost starter Jason Hammel to what appears to be a recurrence of the same knee injury that cost him July and August.
Nationals 5, Mets 3: Bryce Harper had four hits. This new xx album, though it sounds completely different, does put me in the same mood as the soundtrack to the Wim Wenders film "Until the End of the World," which is one of my favorite albums of all time. Been listening to it since it came out. A year before Bryce Harper was born. Damn I feel old sometimes.
Reds 5, Pirates 3: Pittsburgh is now 72-69. Jeez. It was bad enough to see the Pirates slip out of playoff contention, but it would stink if they can't even crack .500. Mike Leake did some serious own-cause-helping, with two hits and a run scored on a wild pitch.
Phillies 9, Marlins 7: Speaking of cause-helping, Roy Halladay -- who didn't pitch particularly well -- had an RBI single. Jimmy Rollins hit a homer and drove in three. The Phillies are back to .500 for the first time since early June.
Brewers 5, Braves 0: Milwaukee continues to roll -- the Brewers are now at .500 for the first time since April -- and the Braves continue to have a hell of a time scoring runs. Marco Estrada tied them up here, pitching shutout ball into the seventh.
Astros 1, Cubs 0: Just your everyday six-pitcher, six-hit shutout. Unless I'm counting wrong, the Astros used 19 players in this game, thus explaining the three hour and 11 minute run time.
Royals 9, Twins 1: Seven shutout innings for Will Smith. And even with the cold medicine I am refraining from dropping references to the more famous Will Smith. By this, of course, I mean the English cricketer, the opening batsman and right arm off-spin bowler who currently plays for Durham.
Tigers 5, White Sox 3: Doug Fister allowed two runs over seven and the lack of Ryan Raburn correlates with the Tigers actually scoring runs. Hurm. The Tigers are back to within two.
Rangers 6, Indians 4: What a shocker: Adrian Beltre hit a home run. Matt Harrison won his 16th. Ubaldo Jimenez, in contrast, lost his 16th, which is the most in the bigs.
Mariners 4, Blue Jays 3: Kyle Seager went 3 for 5 and fell a triple short of the cycle -- not that we should care -- and Erasmo Ramirez got his first major league win. Franklin Gutierrez made his first error in 301 games. He regrets it, I'm sure, and can give you his complete assurance that his work will be back to normal. He's still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And he wants to help you.
Padres 6, Cardinals 4: The Cardinals are rolling out the red carpet for the Dodgers and Pirates to waltz back into the second Wild Card slot, though those two don't seem intent on walking it. Maybe Milwaukee and Philly will. In any event, the Cards have dropped 10 of 14. A five run fourth for San Diego helped put the game away.
Diamondbacks 1, Dodgers 0: Ian Kennedy tossed seven and a third shutout innings. And Miguel Montero hit an RBI double. That, combined with this ...
Giants 9, Rockies 8: ... give the Giants a six game lead with 20 to play, so the NL West is over. This was the best cause-helping game of them all, with Madison Bumgarner hitting a three-run homer to tie it up at four in the fourth. He didn't pitch worth a damn, but the other seven (seven!) Giants pitchers held the Rockies down long enough for San Francisco to eek it out.
Athletics 6, Angels 5: The Angels had a comeback win in them, you could just tell. It was 6-3 in the ninth, Anaheim plated two and then had runners on the corners with no one out. Out goes Grant Balfour, in comes Jerry Blevins and it's strikeout, double play, over. All on eight pitches. Not bad.
Fifty years ago today was possibly the single greatest game ever pitched in the major leagues. It has an extremely good claim to being the most overlooked great pitching performance.
On Sept. 12, 1962, Washington Senators pitcher Tom Cheney threw a 16-inning complete game, striking out 21 batters, which is still the all-time record. Oh, and he won the game, too—2-1 over the Orioles.
Cheney was a 26-year-old on his third big league team who began the year with just three wins. However, he’d shown some flashes of brilliance so far in 1962. On June 30, he fanned 10 in a complete game shutout, and then thrown two more shutouts in August. In his first start in September, Cheney allowed two runs in 10 innings while fanning 10. Keep in mind that teams in the AL as a whole averaged barely over five Ks per game back then.
Sept. 12 would easily be the greatest game of Cheney’s career, though.
It actually got off to a rocky start. Two of the first three batters he faced singled, and he never did strike anyone out in that first inning. More importantly, Cheney got out of the inning without allowing a run. The Senators had already scored a run in the top of the first off Baltimore’s Milt Pappas and Cheney was trying to hold onto the 1-0 lead.
He finally got his first strikeout when outfielder Dave Nicholson led off the second. It would be the first of three times Cheney would fan Nicholson. Cheney struck out three batters in the third, which ensured that the batters who got via a double and walk didn’t score.
Cheney kept plugging away. One more K in the fourth. He fanned three of the four batters he faced in the next frame (the other one hit a two-out double). The third and fifth innings would be the only time all day Cheney fanned three batters, and even in them he didn’t strike out the side in order. Cheney never utterly dominated any single inning, but he was pretty damn effective in all of them.
He was at his least effective in the seventh. Not only did he fan zero batters, but he allowed his only run, on a double and single. The single was by pinch-hitter Charlie Lau, who batted for Pappas. Cheney would match up against Baltimore reliever Dick Hall until the 16th frame.
After the seventh inning, Cheney hunkered down. Occasionally the Orioles would get someone on base, even advancing to second, but they never got beyond there the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Cheney methodically kept mowing down batters. He fanned two more in the eighth inning. And again in the ninth. And still again in 10th —and one more time in the 11th. Heading into the 12th, Cheney had 17 strikeouts.
He was approaching rarified air. The record was 18 strikeouts. Sandy Koufax had done it twice—including once earlier in 1962. Warren Spahn had done it 10 years, and a teenaged Bob Feller did it at the end of the 1938 season.
Koufax. Spahn. Feller. That’s some nice company. And Cheney was just one strikeout away from joining that cozy little club. OK, so it took extra innings for him to do it. Spahn threw 15 innings in his 18-K game.
However, at this point Cheney had his longest stretch without a strikeout. He was K-less in the 12th and 13th innings. He retired every batter he faced, but none with a strikeout. In the 14th, the first batter flew out before Cheney finally made the record books when he fanned second baseman Marv Breeding for his 18th strikeout of the day.
Then, for good measure, Cheney fanned opposing pitcher Hall to end the inning. That was 19 strikeouts—a one-game record.
Russ Snyder became strikeout victim No. 20 in the next inning. He was also the 15th straight batter Cheney retired, a streak that ended immediately afterwards when Brooks Robinson received a base on balls.
In the 16th inning, Cheney finally got some offensive help when first baseman Bud Zipfel hit one of his 10 career home runs to give Washington a 2-1 lead. Now it was up to Cheney to end it.
He gave up a single and two groundouts, but ended this game in the only appropriate manner—strikeout No. 21. That strikeout was pinch-hitter and future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams.
Cheney could say he’d done something no one else ever had, fan 21 batters in one game. Fifty years later, he’s still the only one who can say that. The rest of his career didn’t pan out well, and he retired with a 19-29 record and 345 strikeouts. But no one can ever take away what he did 50 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim over things.
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