December 5, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Monday, October 01, 2012
Orioles 6, Red Sox 3; Yankees 9, Blue Jays 6: 159 games and NOTHING has been decided in the AL East. And, say what you want about the new playoff setup, but the fact that it matters so much who wins the division makes this a fantastic final three days. The Yankees close things out with the Red Sox at home. The Orioles go on the road to face Tampa Bay.
Tigers 2, Twins 1; Rays 6, White Sox 2: That's the sound of the AL Central title being all but sewn up. Anibal Sanchez with another solid start. If Max Scherzer is good to go in the playoffs, the Tigers' rotation -- despite all of the kicking and stumbling they've done all year -- should make them a team no one wants to face. As for the White Sox: bad time to run into a buzz saw Rays team.
Reds 4, Pirates 3: And with that the Pirates ensure their 20th straight losing season. The just stepped off the ledge and hit terminal velocity once the second half got going.
Cardinals 10, Nationals 4: Carlos Beltran went three for five with a couple homers and five driven in as St. Louis moves a step closer to icing the final playoff spot in the NL. Washington is all clinched for a playoff spot, but it's probably worth noting that the Nationals still haven't clinched the NL East.
Braves 6, Mets 2: All the Braves do when Kris Medlen pitches is win. That's 23 straight of his starts in which Atlanta has prevailed, which is a major league record. It'll all be so much noise, however, if he doesn't win his next start: the one-game Wild Card playoff.
Dodgers 7, Rockies 1: L.A. retains dim hope, two back with three to play. Josh Beckett pitched six innings of one run ball. Matt Kemp and Luis Cruz each hit two-run homers.
Astros 7, Brewers 0: And with that the Brew Crew is officially eliminated. It was a nice late run but the hole they dug for themselves earlier in the season was too great. Watch out for next year, though: this team reminds me an awful lot of that 2010 Diamondbacks team that had the crap-awful bullpen and then the next year, when it wasn't crap-awful, made the playoffs. Not that Milwaukee has to make up 30 games or whatever the hell it was the D-backs did to turn things around.
Phillies 4, Marlins 1: Cole Hamels wins his 17th. The Phillies need one win in their final series to finish at .500. So that's something to shoot for as they play the Nats this week. Well, that and the improbable sweep of the Nats while the Braves sweep the Pirates, resulting in a tied NL East and bonus tie-breaker baseball, which would be pretty fantastic.
Angels 5, Rangers 4; Rangers 8, Angels 7: The Angels rallied past the Rangers in the first game when Joe Nathan couldn't hold a one-run lead in the ninth. In the nightcap Texas got 'em back, with Mike Napoli homering twice and driving in six. The Rangers clinch at least a Wild Card, but will have the West with one win over the A's in the season's final three.
Athletics 5, Mariners 2: Yoenis Cespedes hit an RBI triple and an eighth inning, game-tying homer. Then Josh Reddick hit a two-run shot to put the A's up for good. The A's solidify their Wild Card position. The AL West is not yet out of reach, but they gotta win out.
Indians 15, Royals 3: It's the second Sunday in a row the Tribe scored 15. This time, however, they did not outscore the Browns. The Browns scored 16 this week. Four driven in for Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cubs 7, Diamondbacks 2: I've stared at this box score for close to five minutes and can't for the life of me think of anything interesting to say about it. Sorry, folks. That's game 159 between a couple of also-rans for you.
Giants 7, Padres 5: A Xavier Nady homer tied it in the ninth and a Hunter Pence homer gave the game to the Giants in comeback fashion. Tim Lincecum continues to be exceedingly meh, giving up five runs -- four earned -- in six innings. He ends the season with a 5.18 ERA which, if someone would have bet you about it before the season began, you'd never have bit.
Thirty years ago today, Phil Niekro picked a mighty nice time to have the greatest game of his life. In maybe the most important start of his career, Niekro gave the Braves exactly what they needed at a time it was needed most.
For much of the year, you never would’ve guessed Oct. 1 would be an important game for Atlanta. They began the year 13-0 and seemingly never looked back. On July 29 they were in first place—just as they had been every other day of the year—with a nine-game lead over the nearest competition.
Then things completely went to hell for Atlanta, as they shockingly dropped 19 of their next 21. By early August, they were in second place and in a tight race with the Dodgers and Giants.
Atlanta got their groove back but ended September with a record of 87-72, leading both LA and San Francisco by one game. Yeah, the last series of the season would be pretty damn important.
The Giants and Dodgers would play each other, so it meant they might neutralize one another. Then again, it meant that at least one of them would win a game every day. One of them had to win at least two games that series, so if Atlanta lost its last series (to San Diego), they’d lose the division lead. In that first game, if Atlanta lost, they’d end the day tied with the winner of the Dodger-Giant showdown.
Enter Phil Niekro.
On Oct. 1, 1982, the longtime Braves ace took the hill in the first game of the series against the Padres. Niekro began the day with a middling ERA but a 16-4 record.
Things began poorly for Niekro, as he allowed a double to leadoff hitter Alan Wiggins. Niekro then struck out Juan Bonilla, but strike three was a swinging strike in the dirt that got away from catcher Bruce Benedict, so runners were on the corners with no outs. No matter. Though not normally a strikeout artist, Niekro fanned the next two batters before getting another out to end the inning.
That kicked off a stretch of 17 straight Padres retired by Niekro. He brought his "A" game for this important contest. It’s a good thing he did so, too, because early on, Atlanta couldn’t do anything to San Diego’s Eric Show. After five innings, it was all tied, 0-0.
Finally, Atlanta broke through with some help for Niekro, plating its first run on a Claudell Washington single.
It turns out, though, that Niekro didn't need that help. Nursing that slender 1-0, Niekro gave himself all the assistance he needed. In the top of the eighth with a runner on base, Nierko came to the plate and did something he last did in July, 1976—he belted a home run. Now Atlanta led, 3-0. The team scored an extra insurance run in the ninth but, more importantly, they had Niekro on the mound.
Niekro retired all six batters he faced after his home run. He had not only the win, but a complete-game shutout, allowing three hits and walked none. In his 716 career starts, it was the only time that Nierko combined a shutout with a home run, and it sure came at a nice time. As one last added bonus, that day, the 43-year-old Niekro became the oldest pitcher since 1934 to homer. Yeah, impressive timing all around.
The Braves would win the division by just one game. And that one-game margin came 30 years ago today courtesy of the arm and bat of Phil Nierko.
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 items in bold if you’d prefer to just skim through things:
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