December 8, 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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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Pirates 2, Cubs 1: And with that the Pirates are going to the playoffs. It's so strange, though, how even though it's the franchise that has lost for the past 20 years -- even though it's just the laundry that has been shut out so long -- that we sort of passively put all that weight on the current members of the Pirates too. Weight that Andrew McCutchen talked about after the game:
"Even though I didn't lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years"
That's pretty remarkable when you think about it. McCutchen was six years old when Sid Bream slid into home plate in the 1992 NLCS, yet pressure has been put on him simply because he got drafted by the Pirates instead of, say, the Giants. The Reds clinched yesterday too and are back to the playoffs. No one asks, say, Shin-Soo Choo about any weight being removed even though he's just as much of a playoffs newbie as McCutchen is. Oh well.
Reds 3, Mets 2: Like I said, the Reds clinched too, this on a Shin-Soo Choo single in the 10th, but it was a very different scene afterward. No champagne or anything, as they want the division title and seeing the Cardinals beat the Nats a bit after their game ended made that a half game harder to do.
Cardinals 4, Nationals 3: The Nats get eliminated. Proof that you can't just sleepwalk for four and a half months and then step on the gas for a while and expect it all to be OK. Proof that preseason expectations and predictions mean nothing. Proof that when someone -- like a lot of us around here -- adds "on paper" to comments about how good a team looks in March it's probably close to meaningless. Meanwhile the Cardinals are tied with the Braves for the best record in the National League. Whichever of those teams prevails in this regard gets to avoid the Dodgers in the NLDS, so yeah, there are still things to be decided in the NL.
Rays 5, Orioles 4: What an awful day for the Orioles. They lost on a James Loney walkoff homer, get swept in four games and lose Manny Machado and Alexi Casilla to serious injuries. The Rays are a game up on Cleveland for the top Wild Card spot. The O's are all but eliminated.
Twins 4, Tigers 3: The Tigers could've clinched the Central but the wheels fell off late. Lots here that suggests what kind of trouble the Tigers could have in the playoffs. Justin Verlander had a dominant stretch of strikeouts -- he finished with 12 in six innings -- but inefficiency prevented him from going deep into the game. This exposed the Tigers bullpen for too many innings and led Jim Leyland to go to closer Joaquin Benoit for a five-out save, which just wasn't happening. Today is another day to clinch, but I feel like there are reasons to be concerned.
Brewers 5, Braves 0: Atlanta played much like a team that had spent the previous night shooting champagne into each others' faces. Marco Estrada threw seven shutout innings and Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy homered.
Athletics 10, Angels 5: Not all teams that celebrated Sunday looked flat on Monday. Five wins in a row for Oakland, which benefited from Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss homers and RBI from seven different A's.
Rangers 12, Astros 0: Alex Rios hit for the cycle and drove in four runs. Texas is a game behind Cleveland for the final wild card spot. All of their remaining games are at home.
Royals 6, Mariners 5: Alex Gordon keeps the Royals' hopes alive. He gunned down a runner at the plate in extra innings and then scored on Salvador Perez's two-out double in the 12th to put KC ahead for good. The Royals are still a longshot, though. Three back with six to play and, unlike the Rangers, all their remaining games are on the road.
Marlins 4, Phillies 0: This could've been Roy Halladay's final start for the Phillies. And, though he has said he will pitch again next year, the way he looks it could be his final start in major league baseball. He faced only three batters, walking two, and couldn't break 83 on the gun. This is pretty sad to watch.
White Sox 3, Blue Jays 2: Tiger got to hunt, Bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?" Sox got to pitch, Jays have to bat, Jays fans have to ask where their Leafs' schedule's at. Why no, I didn't read Charles J. Shields' quite excellent biography of Kurt Vonnegut over the weekend. Why do you ask?
Padres 4, Diamondbacks 1: My Friday and Monday absences were occasioned by a trip to San Diego for a wedding. While there I got to take in Sunday's game at Petco. And hang out and walk on the beach and eat In-N-Out Burger and good tacos and drink good beer at Karl Strauss and see my brother and enjoy all of the good things Southern California has to offer while avoiding just about all of the bad things it has to offer, mostly because I didn't go up near Los Angeles. Starting about 8 a.m. yesterday, as I was enjoying a wonderful breakfast, I began my usual "wait, why don't I live here again?" musings. I've been back in Ohio for about eight hours now and I'm still musing. Sigh. Oh, Padres beat the D-backs. Apologies for the non-recap of that one. I was busy consulting real estate listings.
25 years ago today was a disappointing day for Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb. Well, there were plenty of good things about it. He got the win, and a starting pitcher always likes that. He got a complete game; pitchers take pride in that. He even got a shutout, and that’s a feather in anyone’s cap.
But if you’re going to pick up a win by throwing a complete game shutout, it’s hard to have it end in a more deflating way than the way it ended for Dave Stieb a quarter-century ago today. You see, he came one out from a no-hitter, and would’ve had it, had it not been for a fluky bad hop.
On Sept. 24, 1988, Stieb led the Toronto Blue Jays against the not-so-mighty Cleveland Indians. Early on, it was clear that Stieb had brought his A game. He set down the side in order in the first and second innings. Though he allowed a one-out walk in the third, that batter was gunned down in a failed steal attempts, and Stieb retired the next batter to end the inning.
In his second time through the order, it was more of the same. In innings four through six, the only batter to reach base came on a walk, and he was rubbed out on the base paths (this time as part of a double play).
People were starting to wonder: Could Stieb do it? Could he throw a no-hitter? Then again, maybe they were wondering if anyone would score, for Indians pitcher Rod Nichols was twirling a gem of his own. It wasn’t a no-hitter, but it was a shutout.
Stieb retired the side in order again in the seventh. He was just six outs away. In the eighth, he hit a batter with two outs, but then retired Terry Francona via fly out. Stieb wouldn’t be able to face the bare minimum 27 batters on the day, but the no-hitter was intact. And Stieb had just one more inning to go.
Even better, in the top of the ninth the Jays finally broke through, turning a pair of singles, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly into a run, for a 1-0 advantage. Now it was all up to Stieb.
First up in the ninth was catcher Andy Allanson. He’s the guy who walked and tried to steal back in the third. This time, Stieb fanned him for his eighth K of the day. Next up came veteran first baseman—and former Jays teammate of Stieb—Willie Upshaw. Pinch-hitting for the shortstop, Upshaw tapped out a routine grounder to second.
Stieb had never thrown a no-hitter. The closest he’d come was earlier this year when he had a complete game one-hitter, but the hit there came in the fourth inning, so there wasn’t much drama to it. Now he was just one out away.
To get that out, he’d need to retire leadoff hitter Julio Franco. Franco took the first pitch for a ball, and then took the next two for called strikes. Apparently, the umpire was calling a wider strike zone than Franco expected, so he began to protect the plate. Franco would play until he was nearly 50 because he was such a good professional hitter, and it showed here. He fouled one off. Then he fouled another off. And a third. Franco was battling. He was going to make Stieb throw him a good pitch. On the seventh pitch, Franco took one that was outside and this time the umpire gave it to him—ball two.
Stieb threw another one—pitch No. 123 of the game—and Franco made contact. This time the ball landed in fair territory—an easy hopper to the second baseman. This was it! All second baseman Manuel Lee had to do was follow the bouncing ball into his glove and Stieb would have it.
The ball bounced on the turf to Lee and then... took an utterly insane hop wildly over Lee’s head. No jump in the world would be high enough to catch it. It was like the ball was suddenly possessed by an evil spirit that hated Stieb. The ball went into the outfield for a single. You couldn’t call it an error—Lee had no play. Apparently, the ball bounced on the seam where the turf meets the dirt at second base and went goofy as a result.
Stieb retired the next batter to preserve the win, but lost the no-hitter. This would become in some ways the signature game for Stieb. He was the guy who kept just missing the no-hitter.
In fact, in his very next start, on Sept. 30, 1988, Stieb took a no-hitter into the ninth, only to allow a single with two outs. At least that time it was a routine single. Incredibly, in his second start in 1989, Stieb had another one-hitter. This time the single came early—in the fifth inning—but Stieb had three one-hitters in four starts.
In August 1989, Stieb was one out from a perfect game, only to allow a double, then a single, losing his perfect game, no-hitter and shutout. (He did get a complete game win, though). Three weeks later Stieb took a no-hitter into the sixth only to have a Robin Yount single ruin it for him. In 15 months, Stieb had five one-hitters, and a two-hitter, with three of those games seeing him come within one out of a no-hitter.
Hellish, isn’t it? The story has a happy ending. The next year, on Sept. 2, 1990, Stieb finally did it: He threw a no-hitter. If anyone ever earned it, it was Dave Stieb. He had plenty of hard luck close calls, but none were harder luck than the one-hitter he threw 25 years ago today.