Saturday, May 31, 2003

Today was a game you don't see very often: The Chicago Cubs defeated the Houston Astros 1-0 after 16 innings! Not only is that great pitching on both sides but it also shows a steely determination to win. Most people think games are exciting when both teams score a bunch of runs. Those kinds of games can get boring with all the pitching changes, high counts, throws to first and so on. A 1-0 game is a thriller, especially when at the ballpark. To have a 16 inning 1-0 game had to be very, very exciting especially when the box score says that they played those 16 innings in two hours and twenty-two minutes!

The game was Sammy Sosa's second game back from his toe problem that kept him out of so many games this year. Last night against Wade Miller, he struck out the first three at bats and then popped out to the catcher on the fourth. Tonight, he struck out five of his first six at bats. And so I would have been pessimistic if I had been a Cubs fan when Sosa came up in the 16th as the Cubs had mounted a rally. After all, he had struck out eight times in ten at bats. To make matters worse, Sosa's entire team had struck out twenty-three times already in the game, which is a franchise record.

So Sosa comes up with a man on first and third. Jimy (why does he only have one "m" in his name?) Williams brings Craig Biggio in from the outfied to give Sosa five infielders to look at. Sosa did hit the ball at an infielder, but it bounced out of Jeff Kent's glove and the Cubbies got the win. Moises Alou had saved the game in the ninth inning when he threw out Lance Berkman at home with a perfect throw.

The most exciting 1-0 game that I witnessed live was at Yankee Stadium on Bat Day with 55,000+ fans in attendance. I can't remember now who pitched for the Yankees or who pitched for the other team or even who the other team was (I think it was Oakland). Craig Nettles won the game in the eigth inning with a homerun. That was the best game I ever saw live.

Speaking of Craig Nettles, it is remarkable how similar his lifetime stats are to Brooks Robinson. They both played 22 seasons. They both had over 1300 RBI. Robinson hit for a higher average but Nettles hit a hundred and twenty more homers. Robinson had 70 more total extra base hits. Robinson's lifetime fielding percentage was .971 and Nettles .961. I watched them both as a kid as the Orioles played the Yankees a lot and those were the Orioles glory years. Robinson's fielding in the World Series against the Reds was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen...until I saw Craig Nettles' amazing performance in his World Series against the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978. If Robinson is a Hall of Famer, which he is, Nettles just misses.

I'm still unhappy about the Kim/Hildenbrand trade between the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks. I think it was a bad trade for the Sox. I'm not surprised that they have lost four in a row after playing so well. Whenever you mess up what you are doing successfully, you aren't doing a smart thing.

But it does give us one more chance to talk about how international this game has gotten (and no, I'm not against that). Today, Korean pitcher Seo stifled the Braves as the Mets won 4-2. Shinjo, from Japan, had a key RBI in that game. Ichiro hit a homerun today and his teammate Suzuki got the save. Choi didn't do much for the Cubs today in that long game against the Astros. Matsui, of the Yankees, took the collar today against the Tigers. Ichiro is still the only superstar.

I read Peter Gammons column today at The man is an amazing writer and my half hour reading his column is still one of the most entertaining times of my week. I miss him on Baseball Tonight though...

Roger Clemens goes for 300 again tomorrow. Let's hope tomorrow does it! Come on, Yankees! Score him a bunch of runs and get this milestone out of the way!

Friday, May 30, 2003

The Flagrant Fan has taken a night off. I'll see you all tomorrow night. Thank you and if this is your first visit, I'm sorry I missed you but I hope you read past posts and enjoy the reading.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Yahoo Sports announced tonight that a deal is almost done where the Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher, Byung-Hyung Kim would go to the Red Sox for Shea Hillenbrand. This trade doesn't make any sense to me. I have watched the Red Sox the last three nights and their lineup is probably the best Red Sox lineup ever. There are no easy outs and Hillenbrand, Mueller, Millar and Giambi make for a very effective and versatile combination. Hillenbrand is also a great clutch hitter who seems fearless in all that he does.

So why would you want to give up a guy like that especially when he only makes $400,000 and change? The officially stated answer is because of his on-base percentage. Excuse me, Hillenbrand's OBP is currently at .335 which is higher than 70% of MLB lead off hitters these days. He doesn't walk much. Okay. But he keeps the ball in play and he fouls off what he can't handle until he gets what he can handle. And he kills the Yankees.

Again...why would you want to get rid of that kind of guy. Kim has some value as a closer. But he doesn't want to close anymore. I am not convinced that he has what it takes to be a starter. He is currently 1-5 which isn't a fair method to rate him as the Diamondbacks can't hit and haven't scored for him.

Also consider that Kim has a history with the Yankees that isn't very positive and doesn't bode well for a team that wants to use him against their archrivals. This trade doesn't make sense for anyone but Hillenbrand since he comes from Arizona and would be able to go home. What is Arizona going to do, sit Matt Williams (granted that he hasn't had a good year since 1999)?

I would have never guessed who was on top of the American League for batting average. Would you have guessed Melvin Mora of the Baltimore Orioles? I wouldn't have. He is currently batting above .350. He batted in the .230's last year. I've always pictured Mora as a spectacular fielder and a good prospect. But Mora is 31 years old! It just took him a long time to get a chance. He is consistently on Baseball Tonight's highlights for fielding but now he is hitting too. You just never know in this game.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Sometimes managers out think themselves. Both managers in the Yankees/Red Sox game did so tonight in a game the Yankees were fortunate to win and the Red Sox were unfortunate to lose. Let's break down the two decisions.

First you have the top half of the ninth inning. Mike Mussina has pitched a heck of a game and is up 5-1. He's only thrown 102 pitches at this point. Okay. If you want to use your closer, Mariano Rivera, the time to bring him in is at the start of the inning. Who cares if it's a save situation! You want to win the game. These closers are a rare breed and I've watched hundreds of games pitched by closers. These guys are much more effective if they start the inning and nobody is on base. When you bring them in with base runners, you're asking for trouble.

Mussina, to his detriment, starts off the inning with a walk. Mussina never walks anyone. It was just one of those fluky things that should have had nothing to do with him being tired. The next batter gets a single and you now have first and second. The unspoken rule in baseball is that you only leave your starter in the game late until there is no way for him to lose. Mussina had two more base runners before he was in that situation. If you were going to start Mussina in the inning, you could have gone two more batters before you yanked him and then go with matchups (lefty-lefty).

Instead, Mussina gets yanked and Rivera comes into a situation that is uncomfortable for him and the inning blows up. The Yankees are very fortunate for the athletic ability of both Jeter (to snag a line drive and get an out) and Soriano who had the presence of mind to stop a ricochet with his bare hand and then throw the runner out at home to keep it a tie game. Now a 5-1 win is a 5-5 tie all because Torre out-thought himself.

Now it's Grady Little's turn. The Red Sox closer, Lyon, is still in the game and easily gets Jeter to start the inning on a ground out. The next batter is Matsui who lines one over Manny Ramirez' head. Manny, who is usually a good fielder, must have gotten turned around picking up the ball because he threw the ball in where nobody could catch it and Matsui ended up on third. The Yankees now have the winning run on third with one out and Soriano up next.

This is where Little out-thought himself. First, he walks Soriano. Good call. The man has been the Yankees best hitter and is very dangerous. Giambi has called himself the "designated out" most of this season and he's pretty much correct. He is slow and has pounded an awful lot of balls to second base. The play here is to keep the corners in and keep the middle going for the double play.

But Little walks Giambi too to load the bases! Gosh! That's asking an awful lot of your young closer. Why do that? I can see it on the one hand because Soriano can steal second and there goes your double play. But you can at least try it. What have you got to lose? Even if Soriano steals second, face Giambi, who hasn't hit anything, and see if you can get a popup or something. Then you have two outs and can play it straight for the third out.

Instead, you have bases loaded with a very patient batter at the plate who has been in pressure situations his whole career. The count goes 2-2 with a couple of fouls. There is a close fastball inside that is called ball three. The Red Sox thought that pitch cost them the game and the post game NESN announcers were outright indignant that the ump robbed the Sox. The pitch looked inside to me. But none of it matters. Grady Little should never have loaded the bases to force this issue and it never would have happened. In a comeback, exciting game, you should never put yourself in the position to lose the game with a walk.

Of course, the Red Sox Nation will curse their bad luck and bad umpiring and bad karma and the special treatment that the Yankees receive by the umpires but the truth here is that the Yankees almost blundered into a loss because of Torre's decisions and then lost because of Grady Little's decisions. The game sure is easy from the comfort of a rocking chair isn't it?

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

No mercy. That's what has struck me about the last couple of nights watching the Red Sox/Yankee series. Last night, there was no mercy for Roger Clemens going for his 300th win. Tonight, a pitcher named Matt White was making his major league debut for the Red Sox and the Yankees banged him around for six runs. No mercy. And I guess that's the way it should be.

I remember a long time ago when Denny McLain supposedly gave Mickey Mantle a grooved pitch to hit at the end of Mantle's career because McLain had always been a fan. Now this shows my weakness, but I thought it was a nice thing to do. But McLain got tarred and feathered by baseball writers and his peers at the time as there is no place for mercy in baseball.

The only way I have experienced that in my life was when I was bowling competitively. Oh man, I'm going to tarnish my image forever telling you that! Anyway, I was very good back in the 80's and had a 198 average and won most of the tournaments for a period of time in New Hampshire. Usually, whatever I'm playing, I'm happier to lose because that makes the other person happier and I like making people happy. But not in bowling. In bowling, it was about winning because winning meant money and I wanted it. I played mind games, I pyched my enemies out. I did all I could to stomp on the other person. So a part of me understands this no mercy concept.

But think of this poor Matt White's family. Their son/brother/wife/whatever is finally going to fulfil a lifelong dream and pitch in the major leagues. The time finally comes and he is from Massachusetts and NESN is carrying the game. They most certainly were all watching. The kid comes in the game and the whole family is whooping and hollering and as each hit gets pushed past the infield, their hearts are sinking a little more and a little more until by the end of the inning, they are all wondering to themselves just what they are going to say to the poor kid the next time they talk to him. No mercy in baseball. None at all.

Wow...Denny McLain. I haven't thought about him in a long time. Denny McLain, for those of you who were born in the post baby boomer era, is the major leagues last 30 game winner. You never hear about that do you? You heard about Roger Maris until McGwire came about. You heard about Ted Williams as the last .400 hitter. But you never heard about the last 30 game winner did you? You may wonder why you never heard about that. The answer is that McLain was the Darryl Strawberry of his time. He was the great talent that squandered it away and ended up in jail and broke...disgraced and dropped by baseball like hamburger from a mad cow.

Consider that for a five year period, McLain was one of the best pitchers of the last fifty years. From 1965 to 1969, McLain won 108 games and lost 51. In 1968, he was a big reason that the Tigers had one of their best years in franchise history as he won 31 games while only losing six. He pitched 336 innings and gave up just over 300 baserunners (walks plus hits). His ERA that season was 1.96. McLain won the Cy Young award and the MVP award that year. To me, the most amazing stat from those two years is that he started 82 games in those two years (wow!) and 51 of them were complete games!

The season following 1968, he won 24 games while only losing 9. Yes, that's a record of 55-15 in two years! He was that good. McLain was a good-ole boy who liked to have a good time. Those good times ended up catching up with him after the 1969 season. He was found to be associating with the wrong people and was suspended for a good chunk of time. It was a very big scandal at the time. Today it would have been a blip on the radar screen. But back then, it was big news.

He was never the same after that and became a parody of himself by losing 22 games for the Washington Senators in 1971 (that club that year is another great story that maybe I'll tell tomorrow). A year later he was out of baseball and it wasn't long after that and McLain was in jail. For a great history lesson (and life lesson), I recommend the following Web page:

Denny mercy. None needed.

Hold your head up, Matt White. There will be another chance. And if not, you still beat the odds.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Oh man. What a crappy day to be a Yankee fan. And I am, after all, a fan. Today I wanted Clemens to get his 300th probably as much as he wanted it. And little things happened to add to a big loss. Mondesi hitting the ball on the ground with the bases loaded and one out with the Yankees only down by two. Rivera not making a good throw to third when Marabelli ran to third on the hit and run. A good throw makes the third out and no runs for Clemens that inning. It all just sucked.

The worst part was having to watch the game on NESN. ESPN was carrying the game nationally, but since NESN reaches up to this area, and since NESN was carrying the game, ESPN was blacked out up here in Maine. Jerry Remy is one of NESN's announcers and a former Red Sox second baseman. Normally, I like his work and his acerbic wit. But he must have some sort of grudge towards Clemens because he took absolute glee in watching Clemens labor and lose. That made it doubly bad. Sure, you are a home announcer and want your home town team to win, but he should also have had more respect and acknowledged what Clemens had done for the Red Sox and what his career has accomplished. It was a very low-ball, uncouth and unprofessional broadcast.

Remember that I am also a Red Sox fan and have no problem with this being the Red Sox year. Hell, they deserve it to be their year. But I sure wanted Roger to get that 300th in style and against the team that he did so much for. Remy has no legs to stand on. Clemens didn't give up on the Red Sox. The Red Sox gave up on him.

NESN was promoting a contest where you could win a trip to the "Grand Old Parks of Baseball." If you won, you would be able to go to Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and...umm...Camden Yards. Huh? Since when is Camden Yards a great old park? But that does point out that there are no more grand old parks besides those three. I hope adding the extra seats to Fenway saves it for a few more years. Fenway Park is baseball at its best.

Oh well, Roger. I was living and dying for you there. Maybe next time...

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I wasn't a fan of Bobby Valentine as a manager and I certainly wasn't in favor of him becoming part of Baseball Tonight (on ESPN) once he was fired as the Mets manager, but I have become a fan of his honesty and by what he says on the shows.

Maybe it's because I agree with him so often that I like him in an egotistical way which is ironic since part of the reason I never liked him was because of what I perceived was his big ego. But no matter, if you have the courage to tell it like it is, then I'm right there with you.

Tonight's honest tirade from Bobby Vee was his answer to the clips showing Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling upset about not getting strike calls. Valentine's answer was to say to both pitchers: "If you want strike calls, throw strikes just like rookie pitchers have to throw." I almost stood and cheered the man.

The strike zone in MLB has been a joke for a long time now and every fan who watches the games with today's centerfield cameras know it. For those who say there isn't a problem, just the fact that the powers that be in baseball are calling for a better strike zone standard speaks volumes that there is a problem. Those of you who know the Flagrant Fan knows that I am not a fan of the Atlanta Braves. In fact, you know that I am an anti-Braves fan. Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux have been great pitchers (the Fan says through his teeth) but part of their greatness has been to exploit the bizarre state of the major league strike zone.

Fans watched for years and years as pitches thrown five to ten inches outside were called strike routinely, especially for pitchers of high stature. No pitch above the belt was considered a strike. The inside strike did not exist. A couple of years ago, MLB acknowledged the problem and asked the umpires to call the strike zone as the rules state it to be. An effort has been made to call more high strikes and to stop giving the outside pitch such a wide zone.

Has it worked? Let us say that it's a start. The great curve ball pitchers of the last couple of years have been a benefit of the effort to get back to the rules. Pitchers like Glavine and Maddux that don't have the great fastballs and lived by guile and the generous outside strike zone have struggled as they should. Power pitchers have the high strikeout pitch back.

But it has to go further. The high and outside strike is now there, but the high and inside strike is still not called. Umpires are still too inconsistent and still revert back to calling pitchers outside the strike zone a strike late in the game. Far too many umpires give up on the curveball and are almost as fooled by them as the batters are. I still watch way too many games and shake my head at the strike zones of the umps behind the plate.

Valentine wasn't done tonight and strengthened his argument by stating that umpires in Japan practice during batting practice. What a simple and great idea. The umps not behind the plate that day could do that so that the one crouching all game doesn't have extra duty. Why not have baseball officials working with the umpires during the practice to work with them on their strike zones.

In my mind, NBA basketball has been ruined by a softening of the rules. Watching players take three and four steps--traveling at will while there is no such thing as a pivot foot or up and down just ruined the game so that it's not a sport anymore. It's a dunking circus. MLB of all games promotes tradition and history. Fine then. Don't go down the NBA route and call the game the way it is written to be called.

And I'll use harsher words than Bobby Valentine. Those pitchers who have lived by a bad strike zone for years should take it like men when the game reverts back to the way it should be called. Just shut up and pitch.