December 11, 2013
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Monday, September 30, 2013
Marlins 1, Tigers 0: It's not often a 100-loss team ends the year with a beer shower celebration. But it's not often a guy on a 100-loss team -- or any team for that matter -- throws a no-hitter on the final day while winning via a walkoff wild pitch. Congratulations Henderson Alvarez. Sorry about having to get that hug from Jeff Loria afterward. Oh, also weird: the Tigers shut the Marlins out until the eighth using three starting pitchers: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. So no, not your typical Game 162.
Rays 7, Blue Jays 6: The Rays almost woofed away a playoff spot completely. Now, thanks to the stumble at the end, they are still stuck with a Game 163 and potentially two one-and-done games rather than just one. Oh, well, that's what baseball wants, that's what baseball gets.
Rangers 6, Angels 2: Way to finish strong against a team that hasn't been playing bad baseball of late. Texas has seven straight wins. But if the Rangers don't win an eighth and then a ninth in a row, it's all over.
Pirates 4, Reds 2: And they'll meet again on Tuesday, this time up the river in Pittsburgh. A three-game sweep for the Pirates. Now we get to see if momentum means anything. Hint: it doesn't, historically speaking. But if the Pirates win, people will still say it's a thing.
Indians 5, Twins 1: The Indians finish hot. And now they hope that Texas and Tampa Bay go 19 innings and use every single pitcher tonight.
Braves 12, Phillies 5: Big offense for the Braves, and no one fought with anyone, which is nice. Although really, between yelling at the opposition over home run trots and coaches fighting with players, the Braves are giving me a 1970s A's-Yankees vibe. Maybe they'll dysfunction themselves all the way to the World Series title. As for the Phillies: thank god this year is over.
Orioles 7, Red Sox 6: A loss, yes, even though they were up early, but the Sox finish at 97-65, tied for the best record in baseball. This was basically a spring training game for Boston. For the Orioles: a good season. And an abject lesson in the difference between the ball bouncing one way in one year and the other way the next.
Royals 4, White Sox 1: An 86-win year makes it the best since 1989 for the Royals. They finished the month 17-10, making it their best month of the year. Gonna be a trendy pick next season. For the White Sox? Well, the didn't lose 100. I guess that's something.
Mets 3, Brewers 2: The Mets rallied with two in the eight. Eric Young Jr. took the stolen base crown. Otherwise, a pretty forgettable season for both clubs this year. At least the Mets, unlike the Brewers, had some things to grow on in the form of young pitching. Fans of both clubs are probably both happy for winter.
Yankees 5, Astros 1: Fourteen-inning game, 15th straight loss for the Astros. But it may be the Yankees who have the more uncertain future. Nowhere to go but up for Houston. The Yankees could be on the verge of a rebuild, a reload, a rebound year or a total cratering. Gonna be an interesting offseason for Brian Cashman.
Cardinals 4, Cubs 0: The Cards finish with a tie for the best record in baseball, home-field advantage in the NL playoffs and a date with the Wild Card winner rather than a series with the Dodgers. Not a bad way to roll into the playoffs.
Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 2: Farewell, Davey Johnson, who ends his managerial career his career with a record of 1,372-1,071. Farewell, Nationals, most experts' pick to win the NL East this year. For the D-backs, grit wasn't good enough.
Athletics 9, Mariners 0: Bang meets whimper. Six pitchers combine for the shutout, and now the A's look forward to a playoff rematch with the Tigers. Some starters sat, others left the game early; either way it didn't matter. The M's now will look for a new manager. It should totally be Ozzie Guillen, right?
Giants 7, Padres 6: Two runs in the ninth for the come-from-behind win. It was Hunter Pence, the Giants' new $90 million man, who did the honors. Three RBI overall.
Rockies 2, Dodgers 1: Todd Helton's career comes to an end. With a strikeout, alas, but he'll remember the better stuff. Nice ovation from the Dodgers fans for Helton at the end. L.A. now heads to Atlanta. God, I hope Brian McCann doesn't kill Yasiel Puig for not playing the game the right way at some point, but it could very well happen.
And with that, And That Happen bids you adieu for the year. Yes, we have a Game 163 to go, but ATH is a creature of the regular season.
And it's been a good season. But we now shift into a different gear -- the playoff gear -- which is wonderful for its own purposes but which is just ... something else. For me, baseball is about the day-in-day-out of the regular season, and its lack of pitched drama is what makes it a true pastime. I like the playoffs fine, but there's nothing like April-September baseball. And every year at this time, I feel a bit sad about its passing, even if the next month will be exciting and memorable.
Oh, well. Thanks for reading every morning. This feature will see you again next year.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Rangers 6, Angels 5: They were up then down then bang! Jurickson Profar with the walkoff blast. This one would've been way easier, however, if Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre all hadn't committed errors in the second inning, allowing three unearned runs. But it was a must-win game and the Rangers won.
Indians 6, Twins 5: A win, sure, but the way Chris Perez nearly coughed up a 6-1 lead the day after getting a vote of confidence from Terry Francona has to make Cleveland nervous. Apart from mop-up duty or innings eating in games where the Tribe has, like, a 12-run lead, he'll likely be watching the rest of this series from the bullpen bench.
Rays 4, Yankees 0: The Rays finish off a sweep of the Yankees with ease -- they outscored New York 17-3 -- but the real story here was the farewell of Mariano Rivera. It wasn't a save situation, but his final home game was pretty familiar stuff: zeros across the board apart from the innings pitched and pitch count. And the way he was taken out of the game was as touching as can be.
Braves 7, Phillies 1: Jason Heyward was 5-for-5 and David Hale allowed only one run over six innings. See, Brian McCann? That's how you keep the opposition from crossing home plate.
Padres 3, Diamondbacks 2: Alexi Amarista hit an RBI single in the 11th inning, ending the home portion of the Padres season. They were 45-36 at home this year. Not bad for a team that, overall, has won only 75 games. Since I got back late Monday I've been trying to convince my bosses at NBC that I'd perform better in San Diego too, but they're not buying it.
Orioles 3, Blue Jays 2: Miguel Gonzalez pitched seven innings of two-hit ball. Matt Wieters homered. After the game Wieters said "that was vintage Miggy" of Gonzalez's performance. Gonzalez has one and a half years experience.
Brewers 4, Mets 2: Johnny Hellweg beaned David Wright in the head. Wright is OK, but damn, I hope these final meaningless games are worth it for Wright. The beaning wasn't intentional. Afterward Hellweg said "That's the last guy on the team I want to hit." I'd be curious to see his list of priorities.
Giants 3, Dodgers 2: This could've been the final game for Tim Lincecum in a Giants uniform. If so, not too bad: seven innings, eight hits, two runs and a no-decision. Angel Pagan's homer in the eighth broke a 2-2- tie.
Royals 3, White Sox 2: David Lough hit a two-run homer and Jeremy Guthrie pitched well. It was the Royals' 84th win, which is their best total since 1993.
10 years ago today, the worst season any team has had in the last 50 years had its greatest moment of joy. 10 years ago today, the 2003 Tigers made a tremendous comeback to ensure they wouldn’t set a new modern record for losses in a season.
120 losses is the modern barrier no team wants the cross. That’s how many games the 1962 Mets lost: 120 loses versus just 40 wins. That’s the most by any team since 1900. (If you go back earlier the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134, but they hardly count because their owners bought the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1898-99 off-season and put all the talent there. 120 losses are the most for a real team.)
For most of the season, it looked like the Tigers would break the Mets record. As June neared its end, they had a record of 18-61, on pace. They’d alternate death spirals with brief gurgles of hope. But their last hope to avoid infamy seemed to come to an end in September, when they dropped 16 of 17 decisions, giving them a record of 38-118.
To avoid tying the Mets mark, the Tigers would need to win five of their last six, something they hadn’t done all year. Hell, they hadn’t done that in the last two months of 2002, either.
But the Tigers took it one game at a time. On Sept. 23, they clobbered the Royals, 15-6. The next day Detroit won their last road game of the year, 4-3. Now sporting a 40-118 record, the Tigers just needed to win three of their last four games to avoid tying the Mets.
Now came a four-game series to end the year against the visiting Twins in the home confines of Comerica Park. The first game was a joyful 5-4 win in 11 innings. But the next day turned it around, an 11-inning heartbreaking loss (also by a 5-4 score). The team had no more margin for error.
With a record of 41-119, the Tigers were still in the hunt for a new record of 121 losses.
That set the stage for Sept. 27, 2003: the next to last game of the year. If they won this, the worst the Tigers could do is tie the Mets' mark.
Early on, it looked like a complete disaster for the Tigers, as the Twins scored in the first and then padded their lead in the middle frames. As the game entered the middle of the fifth it was 8-0 Minnesota, and you don’t have to be a baseball genius to figure out that the best team in baseball wasn’t likely to comeback from that big a deficit, let alone the worst team in baseball.
But the Tigers weren’t fully down yet. And they had one advantage. While Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled almost all of his starters to rest them (Minnesota was gearing up for the playoffs, after all), Tiger skipper Alan Trammell left his entire starting lineup in. He may as well – this game meant a lot for Detroit.
In the fifth, Craig Monroe, singled in a run against Twins ace Brad Radke. Well, at least it wouldn’t be a shutout. But it was just 8-1 and that was the score at the seventh inning stretch.
In the bottom of the seventh, though, the Tigers really began to rally. They combined a double, two singles, and a well-time Minnesota fielding error into three runs. Now it was 8-4, and the Tigers were halfway there. Then again, they only had six outs left to work with. WPA gave them just a four percent chance to win.
After the Tigers bullpen shutout the Twins for the third straight inning, the Detroit bats made the game genuinely interesting in the bottom of the eighth.
Shortstop Ramon Santiago led off with a walk. OK, that’s nice. But he was immediately gobbled up on a fielder's choice grounder by center fielder Alex Sanchez. Now they had five outs to play with and were still down by four. But this is when things really began to turn around.
First Sanchez stole second. WPA readjusted Detroit’s winning odds up to five percent. Hey, baby steps people, it’s baby steps. Next, second baseman Warren Morris drew a walk. That makes it an eight percent chance to win. Anything that moves the odds up is appreciated.
Well, Twins reliever Juan Rincon didn’t have it, so time for a new pitcher: hurler J.C. Romero. In 2002, Romero was a bullpen star, posting a 1.89 ERA in 81 innings, but 2003 had proved to be a rough go of it for him. Romero would end the season with an ERA of 5.00, and never was he rougher than in this game.
Facing Tigers star Bobby Higginson, Romero issued a walk to load the bases. Now it’s a 14 percent chance to win. Mind you, that still sucks, but it sounds so much better than four percent. And Romero still couldn’t find the plate. He walked Dmitri Young to drive in a run, making it 8-5. Oh, and that put the tying run on first, with still just one out. Suddenly, the Tigers had a 24 percent chance of winning. Heck, the odds have skyrocketed from sucky to lousy.
Up next was Craig Monroe, the man who drove in their first run back in the fifth. And he worked his magic again, with a sharply hit ball to center. Runners were only able to advance one base, but it’s now 8-6 with the bases still loaded with one out. Don’t look now folks, but the Tigers have a 37 percent chance to win the game.
And up came first baseman Carlos Pena. The future AL home run champ was still just a young player, barely more than a prospect, but he still had plenty of talent. More importantly, his aim was true—he laced a single that brought home Higginson and Young, with Monroe scampering all the way to third.
Guess what? The game was now tied, 8-8. Incredibly, the worst team in decades had fought their way back from this huge hole. And with one out, they now had a 75 percent chance to win the game. Suddenly things looked bleak for the Twins.
Incredibly, Gardenhire left Romero in the game. With a chance to be the big hero, Shane Halter came to the plate hoping to drive home the leading run. Instead, he struck out looking. Apparently, Gardenhire knew what he was doing when he left Romero in. Finally, Brandon Inge grounded out. The Tigers had batted a round and tied the game, but they still didn’t have the lead. They just might lose 121 games on the year yet.
In the top of the ninth, the Twins wasted a leadoff double by young Justin Monreau, and it was 8-8 heading into the bottom of the ninth. At this point, the Twins got rid of Romero and replaced him with a steely veteran presence, ancient pitcher Jesse Orosco. Seemingly around since the 19th century, Orosco was the oldest player in baseball at age 46. Every time he stepped on the field, he broke his own career record for games pitched.
This would be appearance No. 1,252 for Orosco, still more than any other pitcher ever.
Leading off, Santiago flew out against Orosco. One away. But Alex Sanchez drew a walk. This was interesting because the Tigers needed just one more run, and as the team’s best base stealing threat, Sanchez could put himself into scoring position with a swipe. But then again, crafty Orosco was a lefty, and hence it should be harder to run on him. Sure enough, Orosco threw to first as often as he threw to home. He wanted Sanchez close to the bag.
But for Alan Trammell, this was no time to manage scared. He gave Sanchez the green light—and Sanchez delivered, swiping second for his 43rd steal of the year.
At the plate, all eyes were on second baseman Warren Morris. A wash out from the Pirates, he was no one’s idea of a big bat, but if he could just deliver here. He fouled one off to fall behind on the count, 1-2, and then Alan Trammell showed just how fearless he was going to manage this inning—he sent Sanchez to third.
If Sanchez is out and the Tigers lose, Trammell will never hear the end of it. But Sanchez wasn’t out—he was safe at third. Now the Tigers didn’t even need a single, just a nicely hit fly ball would do.
It was up to Morris. He took one for a ball to even it up, 2-2. Then Orosco threw another pitch and Morris swung—and missed for strike three.
But wait! Morris wasn’t the only one who missed. So did Twins catcher Rob Bowen. Orosco’s pitch was wild (Morris was swinging wildly at this one apparently) and the ball went all the way to the backstop.
Well, you don’t have to ask Sanchez to do anything else. He tore lose for the plate and scored easily. The Tigers had done it, come back from the dead to win, 9-8. Rather fittingly, the Tigers won the next game, too, ending with 119 losses, just under the 1962 Mets.
Oh, and as for Orosco, this 1,252nd game would prove to be his last. Thus the man with the all-time record for games pitched in saw his career end on a walk-off wild pitch. That sure was some ending to some game—and it was 10 years ago today.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Tigers 1, Twins 0: The Tigers finally clinch the AL Central. It was a nail-biter, though, as they scored their lone run in the first inning and then held off the Twins all night long. Best part of their celebration? For the second year in a row Max Scherzer rocked the goggles with two different color lenses.
Indians 7, White Sox 2: The Indians keep their foot on the gas, continuing their season-long abuse of the White Sox. They've beat the Pale Hose 14 straight times. Danny Salazar struck out eight dudes in five and a third innings.
Rays 8, Yankees 3: I've often said that you can't count out the Yankees until they are officially dead. Well, now they are officially dead. Phil Hughes failed to get past the fifth inning once again. That makes 14 times for him this year, which ties the single season record since 1969. He's gone after this year. He needs to retreat to some home for shell-shocked pitchers on the west coast. Like maybe Seattle or San Diego.
Rangers 7, Astros 3: The Rangers are still alive, still one back of Cleveland. The competition now gets considerably tougher, however, as they go from hosting the hapless Astros to the far more hapful Angels.
Brewers 4, Braves 0: I held forth on Twitter about this last night. My view: Carlos Gomez's home run trot was pretty punky and low rent, but Brian McCann literally blocking the basepaths and preventing Gomez from crossing the plate was just dumb. This is the second or third time this year the Braves and McCann have taken it upon themselves to be the baseball decorum police, and it's La Russian in its silliness. You know how you deal with a dumb showboat? Ignore him. Point and laugh. Have the scoreboard operator put up the NL standings with the Brewers' place in them bolded. Spare me the macho You Have To Play The Game The Right Way business and lead by example. For what it's worth, Gomez apologized after the game. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn't see McCann apologize for instigating a benches-clearing situation which could have gotten someone hurt.
Cubs 4, Pirates 2: The Pirates are now three behind St. Louis with three games to go, so this is pretty much all about the Wild Card now.
Cardinals 4, Nationals 1: The sweep. Youth served the Cardinals, as youngsters Shelby Miller, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal combined for the one-run performance.
Mets 1, Reds 0: Daisuke Matsuzaka made 'em look pretty weak, and the Reds dropped two of three to the Mets and now have to sweep Pittsburgh this weekend to host the Wild Card game at Great American Ballpark.
Angels 3, Athletics 1: Jered Weaver pitched seven innings of five-hit ball and Josh Hamilton drove in two. If only this sort of combo happened far more between April and August. Alas. The Angels have taken four of six from the A's in the past week or two and now face the Rangers, whose season they can spoil. Probably worth keeping an eye on these guys next year. Just too much talent to continue to suck like they have.
Red Sox 15, Rockies 5: Todd Helton got a horse, a homer and a double in his final home game for the Rockies, but he also got a pretty darn decisive loss. Will Middlebrooks had two homers -- a grand slam and a three-run shot -- to give him seven RBI.
Marlins 3, Phillies 2: Adeiny Hechavarria drove in three runs, including the go-ahead run in the eighth.
Orioles 9, Blue Jays 5: Four homers for the O's as they continue to play out the string with Adam Jones, Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters on the bench. This win finally assured them of a .500+ record.
Padres 12, Diamondbacks 2 : Twelve runs for the Padres? Wow. After the game Jedd Gyorko said "It's been awhile since we had a game like that." Heck, there are stretches of five or six games combined where they haven't had a performance like that.
Mariners 6, Royals 0: The Royals bow out of the playoff race. On the one hand, if you told me before the season that Kansas City would be in it until just before the last weekend of the year I'd say that the Rpyals had an amazing, expectation-exceeding season. On the other hand, having watched them more closely this year than we normally have watched them, it's hard to escape the feeling that what ultimately did them in was too many stretches on not playing up to potential. Obviously this was still a successful season. But such a weird team. One that can look so good in some stretches and look so bad in others.
Giants 6, Dodgers 4: Likely Barry Zito's last win for the Giants. Seven years in Oakland, seven years in San Francisco. Nice bookends I suppose, with a lot of overpaid performance in the middle, but such is life. He left the game between innings so he didn't get a standing ovation. One wonders what the San Francisco fans would have done if he had been pulled mid-inning. What is the proper response to someone who was around for so much success but, really, didn't contribute too terribly much to it?
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Indians 5, White Sox 4: Unbelievable. Chris Perez blows a save in the top of the ninth and the ancient Jason Giambi picks him and the Indians up in the bottom, smacking a two-run walkoff homer. Still life in that old bat. Still life in the Indians, who remain in Wild Card position.
Rangers 3, Astros 2: Texas keeps pace. Helps that the Rangers are playing a corpse of an Astros team, which has lost 11 in a row. Given what everyone else in the AL is doing right now, the Rangers are the only remaining threat to Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
Cardinals 2, Nationals 0: Close but no cigar for Michael Wacha, who loses a no-hitter with two out in the ninth on a Ryan Zimmerman infield single that went a freaking inch over Wacha's head and just couldn't be put away by Pete Kozma and Matt Adams. A near no-no now, but it's not even certain he'll be in the playoffs rotation for St. Louis.
Pirates 8, Cubs 2: Gerrit Cole pitched six strong and hit an RBI single. Pedro Alvarez drove in three. Pittsburgh keeps pace with St. Louis and remains a game up on Cincy.
Mets 4, Reds 2: Mike Leake had been dominant of late but he came up empty against the Mets, not even making it out of the second inning. He gave up gave up four runs and eight hits in that short time, including a three-run homer to Daniel Murphy. Cincinnati is now three back of the Cardinals and one back of the Pirates.
Braves 3, Brewers 2: An Andrelton Simmons walkoff single helps Atlanta remain two up on the Dodgers and a half game up on the Cardinals for the best record in the NL and a chance to face the Wild Card victor. There isn't a team in the playoff picture who has a more pronounced home/road split than the Braves, so they need to keep their foot on the gas.
Blue Jays 3, Orioles 2: And with that the Orioles are eliminated. Mark DeRosa, of all people, helped twist the knife, hitting the game-tying RBI single in the eighth and the go-ahead RBI in extras.
Phillies 2, Marlins 1: The 100th loss of the year for Miami. Didn't take much in the way of fireworks for the Phillies to hand it to the Marlins, either. Their runs came on a bases-loaded walk and a groundout single.
Rays 7, Yankees 0: It's almost over for the Yankees. Matt Moore shut them out for five innings and the Rays pen took care of the rest. Hiroki Kuroda's second half continues to be decidedly "meh" as he allowed five runs in five and two-thirds.
Tigers 4, Twins 2: The Tigers clinch the playoffs and the magic number for the division title is now one. Doug Fister and Austin Jackson lead the charge.
Rockies 8, Red Sox 3: Charlie Blackmon, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Dickerson went deep off John Lackey. Tyler Chatwood allowed only one run -- unearned -- in seven.
Angels 3, Athletics 0: The Angels' late surge continues, as Jason Vargas throws a four-hit shutout, ending this one in a crisp two hours and 17 minutes. Watch the Angels, who are set up to spoil the Rangers' season in their final series this weekend.
Diamondbacks 2, Padres 1: Didi Gregorius tripled in what would prove to be the winning run in the 12th. Paul Goldschmidt hit his 36th homer. The Padres' only run came on a passed ball. West Coast Baseball.
Mariners 4, Royals 0: That's almost it for the Royals, who are now four back with five to play. James Paxton pitched seven shutout innings and struck out 10. Justin Smoak with a big three-run homer.
Dodgers 2, Giants 1: Hyun-Jin Ryu combined with two relievers for a five-hitter. Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig went deep.