August 7 - "Blogging Bonds", who stopped doing so several days ago, wasn't even watching Bonds when he hit the recordbreaking 756th home run of his career Tuesday night in San Francisco. I was en route from San Diego where I'd spent the weekend and a day with my brother and his family. The flights home through Houston were right on time, so much so that we had to eat bad tacos for dinner in the Bush Airport. When I got home and turned on my TV, the celebration was underway at AT&T Park. I'm afraid that the two or three minutes I spent trying to remember which floor of the garage I parked on cost me a chance to see the big blast live.
Bonds hit the historic homer off unheralded (until now) Nationals' lefty Mike Bacsik (an easier name to spell would have been nice), the 446th pitcher off whom he's homered. The run broke a 4-4 tie in the Giants favor, though the Nationals went on to win the game 8-6 after a four run rally in the 8th. The ball travelled 435 feet into the seats in deep right center field, where an adventurous and determined 22-year old from Queens, NY survived a mighty scrum to retain possesion. He was virtually carried out of the stadium by security guards.
As expected, given that the homer happened in San Francisco, the celebration was quite emotional. Bonds watched the flight of the ball until it reached the stands (there was really no doubt whether it would get out, even given the direction), then made a not overly slow trot around the bases. Unlike Aaron's analogous homer of 33 years ago, stadium security was able to keep the fans out of the basepaths. Looking back, the presence of fans on the field was a tremendous and potentially tragic security breakdown, given all the hate mail and death threats that Aaron received during his march to 715.
Son Nikolai, who served as Giants batboy in home games during the record run, got the first hug while Barry's teammates kept their distance from a family moment. Nikolai was no doubt the first non-player on the field as he adeptly leapt the dugout guard rail while the ball was still in flight. Bonds shared multiple hugs and kisses with his girls - wife Liz and daughters Shikari and beautiful 8-year old Aisha Lynn.
Later, Willie Mays joined Bonds on the field and offered his congratulations. Bonds thanked the fans in San Francisco and then choked up as he tried to thank his late father Bobby Bonds. Hank Aaron, asleep at the time of the homer it has been reported, participated by video from the scoreboard with a very gracious congratulatory message. Commissioner Bud Selig sent two emissaries, Frank Robinson and a guy I didn't recognize. Selig's warm message of congratulations is currently being vetted by his legal staff. Perhaps he could have taken a cue from his buddy Aaron. Even better, he could have been there. (Turns out that Selig was preparing for a next-day meeting with steroid investigating panel chair George Mitchell--the next best thing to taking Mitchell with him to the game, as I mentioned as a possibility to dampen the moment.)
August 5 Weekly Update - It'll be a short one tonite as my nephew repossessed the mouse he loaned me to be able to operate his sister's laptop, while we are in town visiting. The track pad makes me tired--particularly after a post-game pina colada at the Hotel Del Coronado.
NL East - Despite several injuries the Mets are holding their lead over the Phillies and Braves. Tonite they beat the Cubs 8-3 to give starter Tom Glavine his 300th career win. Glavine is the 23rd pitcher to win 300 games and should be the last for quite awhile unless Randy Johnson rebounds from his case of old. The Phillies had a great and lucky rally vs. the Brewers today as they overcome a 1-6 deficit through eight innings with five runs in the top of the ninth and two more in the 11th. The Braves made a couple of big deals near the trading deadline, getting 1B Mark Teixiera of the Texas Rangers. Teixiera went to school at Georgia Tech, so seemed like a natural fit as the Braves 1B (they released Julio Franco and included Jason Saltalamacchia in the trade package) The Braves also picked up reliever Octavio Dotel from the Royals.
NL Central - The Cubs and Brewers have the stage set for a 50-some game rush for the pennant. I hope they play a lot of games head-to-head. The Brewers have the best mascot race--their sausage race is far superior to any of scoreboard races and there's even a spot for hijinks, as Pirates 1B/PH Randall Simon demonstrated a couple years ago when he tripped up one of the competitors. The race on the Petco Park scoreboard used digital sailboats. Not much chance for damage there. With the Cubs losing to NY tonite, the Brewers hold onto their 1-game lead.
NL West - "You'll get your chance next season" explained one tourist to John, whose youthful looks still made him unafraid, and me confused about what I was writing about (I'm very tired). The D-Backs swept the Dodgers this weekend to hold their divisional lead and to sink the LA club to four games back.
Coast Guard helicopters fly over the stadium during the pre-game ceremonies. August 5 was something like the 217th birthday of the Coast Guard
Here's the full contingent of Marines in the upper right field stands before about half were "called off to war"
Imagine the hard rock band AC/DC playing "Hell's Bells" as you look at this picture. On the mound is Padres' super reliever Trevor Hoffman. It's Trevor Time!
Here's what $17 worth of beer looks like in two plastic cups.
Here I am with my wife Kay as we enjoyed the day, the game and the beer
AL Central - The Indians hold a slight lead over the Tigers, but both clubs are looking more and more like wild card contenders. Perhaps the Tigers can get their pitchers healthy and still win the division handily. Poor play by the Indians and Tigers is drawing the dangerous Twins back into contention.
AL West - Hold on while I look this up. Yes, it's still the Angels in first--now 3-1/2 over the Mariners. "Moneyball" isn't working out too well as the A's are 12 back.
Bonds celebrates with son Nikolai after the record-tying home run. (Photo by Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press)
When Bonds struck the big blow, I was watching the sun set over the Pacific or riding back from Moonlight Beach in beautiful Encinitas, California. I had a great view of the rest of the game (at least until the 8th inning when Bonds came out for a pinch runner) on my brother's 50" Hi-Def wall-mounted TV. Today we're going to see Bonds not play in person, as he gets his usual day game after night game day off before heading home to SF to try to break the record in front of the home fans.
Bonds characterized hitting #755 as the hardest thing he's done in the game and said that his head was breaking out in a rash from the pressure. He took some extra batting practice, which seemed to help in a game where he produced the second inning home run and three walks. The increased offense from Bonds didn't carry the Giants to victory, however, as the rest of the their offense sputtered and they lost the game 3-2 in 12 innings.
Commissioner Bud Selig reacted not at all in his box and issued a ultra-measure statement after the game, ""No matter what anybody thinks of the controversy surrounding this event, Mr. Bonds' achievement is noteworthy and remarkable."
That said, I may be on the scene when Bonds has a chance to either tie or break the record. The Giants go to LA this week for three games with the Dodgers and then move down the coast to San Diego for the weekend, the same weekend I'll be visiting my brother and his family in the San Diego area. He's already talked about getting tickets for Sunday. I pointed out that Bonds would be more likely to play on Saturday night.
Dadlak Polls - I've reposted the question about how many homers Bonds will have one week from tonite. As to whether you're rooting for Bonds, against him or don't care, the score is 4-2 against with no abstentions. Reportedly, the national view is about 1/3 in each category. I extended the deadline on this question.
Minor League Tragedy - Not a such a "big" story in terms of media attention, but bigger for his family and friends, was the tragic death of Tulsa Drilllers coach and former major leaguer Mike Coolbaugh, who was struck in the neck by a line drive while in the coaching box. The blow ruptured his aorta, and he died en route to the hospital. The 35-year old Coolbaugh leaves behind a pregnant wife and two small children. I wonder if this will change how coaches dress and behave on the field or if it will be written off as a fluke happening. Given how coaches love the game, I'd expect the latter response. My condolences to the Coolbaugh family and to his teammates and the entire Colorado Rockies organization.
On a Happier Note - Today's feel-good story was the induction of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both players were elected on the first ballot. Both players played their entire career with one team--Ripken, 21 years for the Baltimore Orioles, and Gwynn, 20 years for the San Diego Padres. Ripken, of course, holds the record for consecutive games played--somewhere north of 2,600 (actually 2,632). Gwynn could rack up the hits--3,141 of them, eight batting titles and a career batting average of .338. His best year came in 1994 when he hit .394, but there was no ".400 watch" as the only strike ever to cancel the World Series interrupted the season in August. Gwynn's .394 average was the highest posted by anyone since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
More Milestones - Tom Glavine goes for career win #300 this week. Alex Rodriguez swings for career homer #500 on every at-bat. Maybe there will be another double milestone night (earlier this year Craig Biggio got hit 3,000 and Frank Thomas hit HR #500 on the same night). Maybe a triple!
NL Central - I'm looking forward to the Phils-Cubs matchup on ESPN Monday Night Baseball tomorrow. The Cubs have moved to within 1/2 game of the Brewers. They've gotten great starting pitching from Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly. Fortunately, Zambrano pitched today and will miss the Phillies. He leads the NL with 14 wins. The Cards are "only" four games under .500, but will need the Brewers and Cubs to come back to them, as they're unlikely to win more than the 83 games that got them into last year's playoffs. They seem to be paying the price for the lack of off-season moves.
NL West - It's all Bonds, all the time, so the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-game winning streak and resultant virtual tie for first in the NL West has gone almost completely unnoticed, except in LA, SD and Arizona, and maybe Atlanta who were beaten by two "walk-off" hits by the D-Backs, an Eric Byrnes (he of the kayak and dog in McCovey Cove) home run and a 10th-inning RBI single by Conor Jackson. The Padres broke out of a hitting slump with 18 against Houston on Sunday, including 11 in the first inning, all charged to starter Jason Jennings. The Bonds circus comes to LA this week. The notably cheerful Dodgers fans are sure to be less than supportive when Barry bats. Maybe they'll just bounce a beach ball or do the wave. Still it will be hard for star-struck Angelenos to resist videoing or at least snapping a picture of the historic moment.
July 26 - Blogging Bonds No More
"Blogging Bonds" ends now after Barry Bonds' potshot at Bob Costas, one of my broadcasting heroes. Costas interviewed Curt Schilling on his HBO show. Never the diplomat, but still violating the unwritten law to not speak ill of another active player, Schilling said that Bonds and Mark McGwire appear guilty of steroid use because they haven't "sued the butts off" of those accusing them of doing so.
Bonds responded not by blasting Schilling, but rather by calling Costas "that little midget" "who doesn't know jack" (about baseball or the story, I'm not sure which). Costas got a good shot back by acknowledging his small stature (5'6-1/2" and 150 lb), but noting that unlike some people, he came by his physique naturally. My theory is that Costas can't throw a baseball at Bonds, but Schilling could, particularly if Bonds plays the 2008 season in the American League as a DH.
I'll still "root" for Barry to break the record, because the only way for him not to is to have a career-ending injury. But maybe he could break it in a more obscure and less gratifying manner than in front of "adoring" fans in SF, say at a midweek afternoon game with the Nationals in D.C. Too bad the Expos aren't still in the league. They could probably scare up a crowd of 5,000 or so for the event.
Another idea would be for Selig to invite Sen. George Mitchell to sit with him while he follows Bonds around. Mitchell is leading the investigation into steroid use in baseball.
Here's a link to a news story on Schilling's comments.
Here's a link to a story on Costas's response.
July 25 - Both Barry Bonds and "Blogging Bonds" take a much needed break as Barry gets the night off on the field and your friendly blogger goes to bed before 1:30 a.m. I wonder what the folks who paid $600 for a spot on Lee's Landing think? Caveat emptor, I guess.
July 24 - Blogging Bonds, Part 3 - Renteria Stars in Braves 7-5, 13-inning Win
Atlanta Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria pulls a 2-run double down the left field line, a hit that provided the game-winning margin in the Braves' 7-5, 13-inning win over the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Barry Bonds went 1-5 with a walk in his pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home run record to remain two behind Aaron with 753 home runs. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
1:00 a.m. New pitcher for Braves is lefty Wilfredo Ledezma. Save opportunity. Woodward at first and Escobar at third. Winn bats first. Bonds on deck. High strike, 2-1. Fouled off 2-2. 3-2. Walk bad for Braves here. Easy fly to left. One out. Ledezma psyched to pitch to Bonds. First time ever. Outside, 1-0. Way high, 2-0. Selig still on the scene. Big swing on high inside fastball. 2-1. High again. 3-1. High, ball four. Walk 100 on season. 1-5 and a walk for Bonds. Klesko next. Also 1-5. 14th season of 100+ walks for Bonds. 2-0 count. Fast strike 2-1. Ground foul. 2-2. Low, 3-2. Grounder to first. Woodward's throw hits Bonds in back for error. New pitcher. Tyler Yates. 6th Braves pitcher of night. 13th overall. Same as innings. Aurilia bats. 1-1. Inside 2-1. Fouled off 2-2. Outside, ball four. Bases loaded. Feliz up. 8th walk for Braves pitchers. Big swing. Fouled off. Still only one out. Bounces, 1-1. Five blown saves for Braves bullpen in July. Swing and miss on good slider, 1-2. Chopper foul. Outside 2-2. Again, 3-2. Broken bat liner to center. Base hit. 7-5 as Bonds scores. Bases still loaded. Molina bats. Easy pop to short right. Two outs. Last hope is Fred Lewis. Bouncer. 1-0. Fastball strike, 1-1. Swings over a fastball, 1-2. Slider fouled off. Inside, 2-2. Fouled at plate. Fans look very cold. Fastball down the middle taken for strike three. Game over. Braves win, 7-5. Take it away seagulls.12:40 p.m. The 13th inning. Sanchez pitches for Giants. Johnson bats. Easy grounder to third. Franco next. 2-0. 3-0. Ball four. Franco walks. Woodward runs for Franco. Escobar bats for Moylan. Line drive thru pitcher's box makes Sanchez duck for cover. Two on for Harris. Best chance for Braves in extras. Sanchez a little wild. Low bridge! Runners move up on wild pitch. 3-2. Infield up. Fouled off. Another. Grounder to second. Woodward cut down at plate. Two outs. Renteria next. Great grab by Molina on sailing fastball. 1-1. Line drive double into LF corner. Two runs. Braves up 6-4. Chipper batting righty. 2-2. Base hit to center. Renteria scores. 7-4. Next pitcher.
Chulk pitching to A. Jones. Liner to third for third out. Second last chance inning for Giants.12:35 a.m. Molina flies out to center. Base hit to left by Lewis. Fast runner. Pinch hitter is Frandsen. Their last position player. Chopper over mound. Johnson fields and gets Frandsen at first. Vizquel next. One hopper to pitcher. On to the 13th.
12:25 a.m. Top of 12th. Seagulls congregating for leftovers. Game usually over by now. Chipper Jones leads off and strikes out swinging. Pop fly to center drops in for a single for A. Jones. McCann next. Easy fly to center. Francouer now. Good spot for him. Liner to right. Third out.
12:20 a.m. Moylan pitching. New name to me, but good stats. Klesko skies one to left. Dies on warning track. One out. Aurilia up. Easy fly to right. Two outs. Now Feliz. One of the 9th inning heroes. Moylan sidearms. Count is 1-1. Good curve away. Feliz misses. 1-2. Curve on inside half. Strike three. On to the 12th. Nearing the end for me.
12:15 a.m. Pinch hitter Diaz grounds to short. Harris with 2-2 count. Moylan is next pitcher for Braves. Now 3-2 after close call. Ball four. Will Harris run? Renteria on four times tonight. Easy DP grounder to short.
12:05 a.m. Back to Vizquel. Villareal pitching. Easy fly to right. Braves have lost last four extra inning games. Winn grounds to second. Two outs. Bonds up. Intentional walk? No. Braves go into shift. Strike on outside corner. First ever AB for Bonds against this pitcher. Fastball bounces. 1-1. Changeup at knees. Fastball outside. 2-2. Fastball knee high on outside corner. Strike three! Not a "Hall of Fame" call. Bruce Froemming retiring after this year. Answers to no one.
11:55 p.m. McCann slices a liner to left. Bonds slides and catches in webbing. Great play! Francouer batting. Messenger pitching. Easy fly to right. Two outs. I'm still upset about Cuba Gooding Jr. underwear campaign with Michael Jordan. Saw second installment tonight. Money must be really good. Or Cuba is going for the Mars Blackmon thing that Spike Lee did years ago. Kelly Johnson batting. Count goes to 3-2. Ball four high and outside. Franco up. Doubled on last AB. Batting .200 now. Klesko scoops bounced pickoff throw. Strike on outside corner. Blows fastball past Franco. 96 mph. Liner to first. On to bottom of 10th.
11:30 p.m. Vizquel up. Count is 3-2. He walks. Winn up. Just 100 pitches for Hudson. 2-0 to Winn. Bonds next, but not tying run in any event. Another high pitch. 3-0. Ball four. Two on for Bonds. 19 groundouts by Giants. No shift with runners on. Strike one--low, outside corner. Foul back, 0-2. Foul down left side. Hudson going right after Barry. Jammed him. Infield fly rule to third. Great pitch on inside corner. Klesko up. Fishes for low pitch and fouls it off. Easy liner to left field. Two outs. Last chance is Aurilia. Foul strike one. Check swing. Went around. Strike two. Check swing foul past first. Hudson is 129-65 in career. Pop foul over back screen. Soft base hit over Renteria's glove. Run scores. 4-1. Great game for Hudson. Bob Wickman comes on to get one out. Feliz will bat. Has 15 HR's. HR here would tie game. Strike on outside corner. Fastball low. 1-1. Fouled back. 1-2. Greybeard Bochy watches. Foul pop just out of play. Feliz is youngster of Giants' infield. Only 32. No greybeard. Line drive into left center. Gets between OF's for a 2-run double. 4-3 Braves. Short-armed by LF Harris. Molina bats for Rodriguez. Molina familiar with Wickman from AL play. Remaining crowd chants "Bengie". Ground ball single into left field. Feliz slides under high throw at plate. 4-4. Lewis up. Pitch gets away from McCann. Bounces back toward Wickman. Molina moves up. Ball four. Runners on second and first. Durham pinch-hitting for pitcher. Slider low, 1-0. Fastball down middle taken. 1-1. Another, 1-2. Pop fly to left. The game goes on. Bonds will bat in 10th.
11:25 p.m. Hennessey pitching for Giants. Harris grounds to second. Lots of grounders for both teams tonite. Double for Renteria off RF wall. Great all around game for him. Now Chipper. Has game's only HR--windblown fly ball to left. Grounder to first. Klesko tosses to pitcher. Renteria to third. Andruw now. Just one walk in four trips. Hudson will go for complete game shutout. No one warming for Braves. Jones still hitting below .220 in his walk season. Grounder to third. That's all for Braves.
11:15 p.m. Game moving right along tonite. Giants batting in home 8th at two hour mark. Hudson still out there for Braves. Second dominating starting pitching performance in two nights. Feliz grounds first pitch to short. Rodriguez swinging bunt to third for a hit. Lewis up in 9 hole. Pinch hitter next. Only five singles for Giants. Sweeney on deck. Second all-time in pinch hits. Bouncer toward 2nd. Johnson mishandles but regrabs in time for force out. Sweeney up. Bonds will bat in 9th. Grounder to first for third out. Have seen that before.
10:55 p.m. Winn pops up first pitch to center. Bonds now. Big swing and miss. Fastball on outside corner. Fouled off front foot. 0-2. Only four HR's off Hudson this year. Grounder foul past first. Ball dude dives to make the play. Fastball tails back across inside corner. Strike three. Two outs. Bonds didn't think so. Might be last AB given ineptitude of Giants' lineup. Klesko singles up middle. More baserunners needed. High strike 1-1 to Aurilia. Grounder to short for easy force out.
10:40 p.m. Giants batting in sixth. Since last update, Chipper Jones HR stretches Braves lead to 4-0. Fred Lewis pinch hits for Matt Morris. One hopper to Franco. One out. Can Roberts get on? Hudson keeping the ball down well. Curve taken for strike three. Vizquel tries to keep inning alive. One hopper to second. Easy throw and out.
Now Braves in 7th. New pitcher is Coddera. Lewis in CF for Roberts. Two outs. Renteria up. Base hit through middle. SB on first pitch to C. Jones. Intentional walk to Chipper. Andruw next. Bonds leads all time intentional walk list with 676, more than twice as many as second place Hank Aaron (293). Bonds once was walked with bases loaded. Andruw walks. Bases loaded. McCann cleared bases last night to give Braves all the runs they needed. Fans this time.
10:20 p.m. Giants batting in fourth. Bonds will bat third. Vizquel up now. One hopper to Franco. Winn up. Another grounder to Franco. Toss to Hudson. SF DJ living atop AT&T Park until Bonds breaks record. Could be long wait. Bonds with 15 HR in last 88 AB vs. Braves. Big swing fouled straight back. Big swing and a miss. Single into RF corner. Bad pitch on 0-2 count. Klesko grounds to second for easy force. Not much fire in Giants order. Five DP grounders in 13 innings this series.
10:00 p.m. There's Commissioner Selig in a luxury box. Doing his job. A. Jones batting in Braves' 4th. Chipper Jones on 2nd. Strikes out looking on curve at inside corner. One out. McCann up. Pop fly single in front of Bonds. Barry eased up to it. Francouer doubles into left field corner. One run in; runners on 2nd and 3rd. No chance for Barry on that one. Francouer tough with runners on. Johnson singles up the middle through drawn in infield. Two runs score, 3-0 Braves. Game on similar path as last night. Julio Franco up now. He fans. Hudson up. Singles to center. Braves' fifth hit of inning. Now Harris--eighth batter of inning. Klesko takes grounder. Out unassisted at first. Inning over.
9:35 p.m. Julio Franco batting for Braves. Their weakest position, as indicated by Franco starting with .197 average. Fox story had Mark Texiera from Rangers going to Braves--would make them pretty tough. Julio did have single and double last night. He strikes out looking to end Braves 2nd.
Bonds leads off Giants' 2nd. Batting on his 43rd birthday. Barry tips batting helmet to fans. They stand and chant "Barry". Strike called. Too low. 1-1. Wind blowing 20 mph to right. Bonds doesn't take advantage--hits grounder to 2nd baseman Johnson in short right field. Klesko batting. Two hopper to short. Two outs. Aurilia up. Another graybeard. Played for 2002 NL champs. Now back with Giants. Another grounder to short. Inning over.
9:15 p.m. Game underway. One on for Braves. Vizquel dives to turn base hit into force out at second. Chipper Jones up--leading NL in batting average. He was in Richmond too in 1992, but injured much of that year. Played SS then. Jones walks. Andruw Jones up now. Has spider web tattoos on elbows. DP grounder. Klesko picks low relay throw.
Roberts, Vizquel and Winn ahead of Bonds. Hudson having a good year for Braves, 10-5 with 3.24 ERA. Cool and cloudy in San Fran. Roberts signed for 3-years for $18MM. Strikes out swinging. Vizquel has over 2,500 career hits. 18th season. Similar career to Ozzie Smith. Base hit up the middle. Winn up. Bonds on deck. We'll see if Winn can do better than inning-ender Durham did last night. Bruce Froemming behind the plate. $600 for scalped ticket on Lee's Landing above RF. Easy DP grounder to short. Renteria steps on 2nd and fires across. Wait 'til next inning.
TBS has the Braves/Giants starting at 9:15 tonite, so I'll blog from their broadcast. Selig says he'll follow Bonds pursuit of the record ("innocent until proven guilty" was in there somewhere), but isn't saying whether he'll participate in any on-field observance (another announcement will be made when record is tied). Braves pitcher is Tim Hudson. Bonds has slammed him to .470+ average with 4 homers in very few AB.
July 24: Blogging in real time on a slow computer made it hard to cover anything but the events on the field last night. Thinking about the game afterward, I realized how parallel the careers of John Smoltz and Barry Bonds have been, two of the premier baseball players of the last 20 years.
July 24 - John Smoltz and Barry Bonds - Two Great NL Careers
John Smoltz started with the Braves in 1988, but he came to the team in the late season of 1987 in deal with the Tigers. The Tigers acquired veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander (about 40 at the time) for the stretch run and gave up the 20-year old prospect Smoltz to get him. The strategy worked for about eight weeks as the Tigers won the AL East, but were beaten by the eventual World Champion Minnesota Twins in the ALCS. Smoltz started winning 10+ games per year in 1989. The Braves went from worst to first in 1991, starting a streak of 14 straight seasons in the playoffs. Smoltz's success as a starter peaked in 1996 when he won 24 games and struck out 276 batters on the way to a Cy Young Award. The Braves were defending World Champions that year, and looked very likely to repeat until the fateful game against the Yankees, when down two games to none, the Yankees rallied from a 6-0 deficit (remember Jim Leyritz's home run?) to win Game Three, and from there rolled to the 4-2 win of the Series. Smoltz missed the entire 2000 season with an injury and came back to pitch four seasons as Braves closer. He posted over 150 saves (55 in the 2002 campaign) with only 14 blows saves. In 2003 he posted a 1.12 ERA, the lowest of his career. He returned to starting duty in 2005 and at age 40, continues to be one of the most effective pitchers in the National League, albeit one with a tender shoulder. Last night's performance was vintage Smoltz--throwing most pitches between 89 and 94 mph, but almost never throwing one completely straight or right across the middle. His split finger pitch was very effective against lefties, and his cut fastball jammed righthanders.
Barry Bonds' career started in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, coming almost directly out of a stellar college career at Arizona State. Today is his 43rd birthday. He played seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, coming within an inning of leading them to the 1991 World Series. This is his 15th season with the San Francisco Giants, his favorite team since his dad, Bobby Bonds, played there and his godfather, Willie Mays, is a Giants and baseball legend. He's played in all of the last 22 seasons, with 2005 being the only campaign seriously shortened by injury. His assault on the all-time home run record is just one aspect of his fabulous career and record. Some other highlights: #1 all-time in walks (more than 300 ahead of second-place Rickey Henderson), including a record 232 in 2004; #2 in runs scored (less than 100 behind Henderson); within 100 of 3,000 hits. RBI's, extra base hits, on-base and slugging percentage lists find his name near the top as well. He mixed in more than 500 stolen bases early in his career and was a five-time 30-30 man (HR and SB) and a 40-40 man (42 HR and 40 SB) in 1996. He's won the NL's MVP Award a record seven times. He also holds the single season records for home runs (73 in 2001) and walks (the aforementioned 232 in 2004, a year in which he struck out only 41 times). Barry broke out of a post-season slump in 2002, hitting four home runs (8 in the overall playoffs) and batting .471 in the World Series. This time his Giants came within 2 innings of winning it all before being beaten by the California Angels. Without the cloud of performance-enhancing substance use that has formed over the last two years, Bonds' legacy would be clear as one of the top two or three, maybe the best offensive player ever to play the game.
Braves' starter John Smoltz neutralized Barry Bonds and the rest of the Giants in a 4-2 win. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
11:50 p.m. Last chance for the Giants. Molina leads off. Bonds way back in the order. He played left field in the top. Molina pops to center. Pinch-hitter Lewis is next. Wickman pitching for Braves. Strikeout and putout at first. Vizquel last hope. He has 11 Gold Gloves, second-most ever behind Ozzie Smith. Rolled to second. Game over. John Smoltz wins this battle. #754 will come another day.
11:35 p.m. Diaz bats for Smoltz in the 8th. Bonds will bat against a Braves reliever--probably Rafael Soriano. Throws hard but not as experienced or subtle as Smoltz. Would be first ever AB vs. Soriano.
Soriano pitching. Durham leads off. Takes strike three on 2-2 pitch. Will probably see some strikes with Klesko on deck. Bounces. 1-0. Barry's son Nikolai in the dugout. Fastball away 2-0. Ground ball base hit up the middle. Pinch runner? No. Klesko now. Ball one, low and outside. Grounder to short. Easy DP.
11:25 p.m. Giants close gap to 4-2 on a double and a double play. Bonds will bat second in the 8th.
11:05 p.m. Vizquel and Durham combine for a nifty force at second to end the Braves sixth. Bonds leading off the Giants half. Fastball strike one--down the middle. Fastball outside. 1-1. Splitter inside. Crowd groans. Headed for Bonds' fragile knees. Fastball outside 3-1. Splitter fouled past first. 3-2. Foul fly to right on inside fastball. One-hopper to Johnson at 2nd--playing in short right.
10:48 p.m. Giants batting in 5th. Roberts walked with two outs. Winn up. Grounder off glove of 2nd baseman into right field. First and third. Durham up. Bonds on deck. Smoltz works Durham inside. Gets a close call for strike two. Durham fans.
10:30 p.m. Bonds leading off. Authenticated baseballs brought in. Braves added one to lead on a double by Franco and a bunt by Smoltz. Foul back on first pitch--a jam job. Foul past first, then a two-hop grounder to second. Current "slump" now 3-31 with two homers. About three dozen kayaks in McCovey Cove--far fewer than All-Star Game.
Klesko singles to center. Molina fans. Grounder to short ends inning.
10:10 p.m. Bottom of 3rd inning. Braves still lead 3-1. Bonds handled fly ball from McCann for second out of Braves' 3rd.
Roberts leads off. Scored the Giants' run. Grounds out to 2nd on first pitch. Giants team is very old. Seems like every starter but the pitcher is past 30, and two (Bonds and Vizquel) are 40 or older. Old and bad (worst record in NL West) not a good combination. Winn up now. Base hit through the middle. Smoltz does splits to no avail. Durham up now. Bonds will bat unless Durham hits into DP, which he does--3-6-3. See ya in the home fourth.
9:30 p.m. Now we're in SF. Braves strike early as Brian McCann clears the bases with a gapper to left center. Braves lead 3-0. AT&T Park not full. Selig not in stadium. Bonds in LF batting fourth. Eight HRs by Bonds off Smoltz is most he's hit off any single pitcher.
Bonds up now with two on. Bunt hit by Roberts and E-6. Ball one. Ball two, outside. Smoltz is 11-15 vs SF. Swing and foul back on slider inside. Fastball on outside corner--though "K" zone says outside. Check swing--ball three. Curve ball low and inside--99th walk of season.
Bases loaded for Klesko. I watched Klesko when he played with the Richmond Braves in 1992. He never gets cheated on a swing. Wild pitch brings in one run, 3-1 Braves. Not great catching mechanics by McCann. Klesko has hit one in McCovey Cove. Strike three--swing and miss on splitter.
Inning ends when Molina dribbles a ball in front of the plate. McCann throws him out at first. Back in next inning when Bonds might bat.
July 23: Blogging Bonds, Part 2 - ESPN2 will join the Braves and Giants as soon as the Red Sox and Indians finish. The Indians will bat in the home 9th down four runs. With the Giants at home, there's a good chance that a break-in for Bonds' first AB won't be needed. No Papelbon tonite for Sox with a big lead. Manny Delcarmen on for Sox. Trot Nixon pinch-hitting for Indians wearing unfamiliar garb to Sox fans. I suspect that a lot of them would prefer Trot over J.D. Drew. Fly ball to left for the second out. Ben Francisco is next PH for Cleveland. Looks like younger (much) version of Julio Franco. Grounder to third, Sox win! Young Jon Lester gets the win. He had chemotherapy for a lymphoma in the off-season. Great comeback!
After an 0-6 weekend before Bud Selig in Milwaukee, Barry Bonds and the rest of baseball still await #754. Will Selig follow Barry back to San Francisco? I'm guessing he'll at least wait for Barry to hit #754. He's got a regular job, you know?
July 22 Update - NL East - Without tonite's Braves-Cards result, every team in this division has a 6-4 record in its last 10 games. So, not much change in the standings. Phils 1B Ryan Howard is trying to get into the NL MVP discussion with 27 HRs and 79 RBIs, second and third in the league respectively. He's been hitting like it's 2006 since an early season stint on the DL.
I enjoyed reading about Chip Ambres getting the game-winning hit for the Mets today. We saw him play LF in three games for the N.O. Zephyrs earlier this summer. There he hit a home run and made at least one nice play in left field. Ambres is in New York at least in part because the Mets released 48-year old Julio Franco, was immediately picked up his old employer, the Atlanta Braves, who've had trouble getting offense from their first basemen. Franco started tonite for the Braves, but is clearly a short-term solution. He might say otherwise, given that he wants to play until he's 50. The Mets may also be making roster room for new coach Rickey Henderson, recently hired as the team's major league batting coach. A 48-year old like Franco, Rickey's expressed interest in playing again in the major leagues, 28 years after he broke in in 1979. He played in 25 major league seasons on 9 teams, including four stints with his first team, the Oakland A's. Active play would delay his inevitable Hall of Fame election for five more years. He could be elected in 2009 if he doesn't play any more. With starting second baseman Jose Valentin suffering a broken leg, the Mets have a lot of interesting decisions to make. I wouldn't look for Henderson to be activated before September 1, when teams can expand their rosters to 40 players. Braves OF Willie Harris had a great game this week--6 for 6 with two triples and 6 RBIs.
NL Central - The Brewers failed (succeeded?) to add to Barry Bonds' home run total in a three-game series, retiring him six times and giving out three walks (one intentional) while Commissioner Selig watched. Brewers' ace Ben Sheets tore a tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand, a bad blow for the division leaders. The Cubs continue to play well and will probably push Milwaukee for the lead soon. The Reds still have the worst record in the NL, but four teams (Giants, Astros, Pirates, and Nats) are bunched within 1-1/2 games.
NL West - Chris Young of San Diego looks like the best pitcher in the NL right now, particularly after shutting down the potent Phillies' offense in a 1-0 win, reducing his league-leading ERA to 1.85. The Phils roughed up his buddy Jake Peavy and some relievers in a 9-0 game the next day. Brad Penny of the Dodgers improved is record to 12-1, despite giving up four early runs to the Mets on Saturday. His teammates rallied (including Penny's own double) for an 8-6 win.
ESPN 2 will have the Giants and Braves Monday night. I'll blog Bonds' at-bats. He'll face veteran pitcher John Smoltz, off whom Barry's hit a surprising eight HR's in 64 ABs while drawing 20 walks, a great record off a future Hall of Fame pitcher.
The NL Wild Card race is wide open, with six teams within 5 games, led by the Padres.
AL East - The Yankees have been the hottest hitting team in the AL, culminating the week with a 45-run explosion (7, 17, 21) in three wins over Tampa Bay. With 21 today they tried to make up for what's been a lack of run support for Andy Pettitte, their most dependable pitcher all year, but carrying only a 6-6 record, even after today's onslaught. All 11 Yankee position palyers both got a hit and scored a run in the game. The Red Sox still hold a 7-1/2 game lead, looking sharp in a sweep of the White Sox. Some of their underperforming bats (Lugo, Drew, Crisp and to some extent Ramirez) seem to be waking up. The D-Rays strengthened their grip on last in the AL. They now trail the Rangers by 4 games.
AL Central - No one played great this week, so the Tigers cling to a 1-game lead over the Indians. The once-mighty White Sox are now tied for last with the resurgent Royals, who beat the Tigers in 2 of 3 games over the weekend. An earlier 3-game sweep of the Twins by the Tigers dumped the defending AL Central champs 8 games back.
AL West - The Angels and Mariners remain locked in a close race. Maybe I'll learn more about this division than Vlad, Ichiro and Moneyball by next week. The Angels and Tigers will be on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball then. I did learn that Angels 3B Chone Figgins (great name - right out of Dickens) was second in Player of Week balloting behind Ryan Howard. He went 12-22, hit safely in every game, scored five runs and stole four bases.
AL Wild Card - The Indians and Mariners are in a tight race with the Yankees and Twins lurking 6-1/2 and 7 games behind the Indians respectively.
Poll and Quiz Results - No one got the quiz right. The Giants (NY and SF) have the most total wins (10,100+). They lead the Yankees because of a 20-year head start (NL vs. AL recognition as a major league).
By a literal margin of 2 to 1, respondents thought that the extensive coverage of the Phillies' 10,000th franchise loss wasn't constructive.
This week's poll and quiz relate not surprisingly to Bonds' pursuit of the home run record. Please take a minute to answer. Thanks!
July 21 Update: Blogging Bonds - I'm watching the Mets and Dodgers on FOX this afternoon. They are cutting away from the game to show Barry Bonds' AB's in Milwaukee. (Bonds hit two HR's--752 and 753--on Thursday in an afternoon loss to the Cubs in Wrigley Field.) Bonds went 0-4 in game one of the three-game series with the Brewers. Somewhat surprisingly, he's in the lineup today. He often doesn't play day games following night games. Maybe he's playing to give meaning to Commissioner Bud Selig's attendance at the game. Another thought I had was that Bonds would play Saturday or Sunday to go for #754 and make it more likely that he'd hit 755 and 756 on an upcoming homestand.
Bonds up now in 4th. SF leads 1-0. Roy Oswalt pitchalike Dave Bush still pitching for Brewers. Barry is 0-6 lifetime vs. this pitcher. Count is 1-2. On first AB, Bonds fanned on a 73 mph curve. Now 2-2. Low inside, 3-2. Bonds grounds low pitch back to Bush. Back to L.A.
Bonds up again in 6th with Giants up 3-0. Count is 1-2 after a couple of foul balls. "Steroid" chant in background. What a happy scene. Bonds has 71 multi-homer games, one being Ruth for all-time lead. Another foul on a hittable pitch. Then a slow curve that bounces. 2-2. Ground foul. Bonds has homered vs 443 pitchers, but not Bush. SB on 2-2 pitch. Now 3-2. Fouled back. Bush going after him with base open. Walk on curve, low/inside. Bonds' 97th walk of season.
Bonds 4th AB in 8th against LH reliever Shouse - intentional walk (runner on 2nd). Crowd boos--Bonds or the walk? Probably some of both. Lewis runs for Bonds. Drama over for today.
Ryan Howard walks off dejectedly as the Phillies lose to St. Louis 10-2, the 10,000th loss suffered in the 124-year history of the franchise.
NL East: All the contending teams came out of the break well. The Mets hit two home runs to start a game (Jose Reyes and ex-Zephyr Julio Gotay) for the first time in their 47-year history as they beat the Reds. The Braves dominated the Pirates and the Phils took two of three from the Cards, with all three games being wipeouts--13-3; 10-4 and 2-10. The Cards hit six home runs on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, inflicting a loss that allowed the Phils to reach 10,000 losses in their less than illustrious history. Please see the poll question for a quiz on which franchise has the most wins in major league baseball history.
NL Central: The Cubs put pressure on the Brewers by sweeping the Astros at Wrigley Field for the first time in about 20 years. Only the third game was close as the Astros blew a 5-0 lead before the second inning was over. Carlos Zambrano pitched another dominating game and Derreck Lee hit a home run as the Cubs continue to thrive after Michael Barrett's departure for San Diego. Cubs' fans long-term hopes were also on the rise as Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban expressed interest in buying the Cubs franchise. An activist owner with a thirst for winning would be a great fit for a franchise that's approaching 100 years between World Series wins (not to mention the eerie resemblance between "Cuban" and "Cubs"; maybe Cuban will change the pronunciation of his name. I doubt that the Cubs will become the "Cubes", though the stadium could become "The Cube" if Cuban buys and renames it after himself.) After a hot weekend, Albert Pujols' slump has produced a .315 batting average and 20 home runs. Pujols briefly expressed his frustration at not playing in the All-Star game, but seemed to release it against the Phillies.
NL West: The Dodgers and Padres continue their fight for the top spot. The Dodgers won a 12-inning game over the Giants on Saturday, 8-7, after holding a 7-2 lead going into the 8th inning. Padres pitcher David Wells was suspended by the league office for seven games for his argument with the home plate umpire against Atlanta. Wells reduced his chance for a reduced sentence on appeal by complaining that the handling of his suspension was a step on the way to "playing in skirts and pitching underhand." No homers for Barry this week as he is mired in a 1-25 slump since HR #751. Commish Selig is non-committal as to whether he will be there for #756, citing his "day job". He should be there.
AL East: The Yankees trimmed their deficit to the Red Sox to nine games. They appear to have three stable starting pitchers (Wang, Pettite and Clemens) and a renewed Mariano Rivera, who posted two saves this week. The Sox need to avoid an extended losing streak.
AL Central: The Tigers survived the hot Mariners to hold the slightest 1/2 game lead over the Indians. The Twins advanced to six games over .500 and can't be counted out.
AL West: Sports Illustrated picked the Angels to win it all. I need to learn more about them. All-Star MVP Ichiro signed a contract extension with the Mariners--five years and $90 million. Not bad for a 33-year old singles hitter (albeit one who is a fine fielder and baserunner and his .330 plus career batting average).
New Feature: Dadlak Baseball Polls - Check out two polls on the Phillies' much publicized 10,000th franchise loss, still sometime in the future. I hope you'll take a second to vote. The polls are in the right-hand column.
Figuring that the pitching matchup favored the Cards, I guessed the date of loss 10,000 correctly (July 15) so I took this question off the board. I'll leave the question about the usefulness of this story up for awhile. I've added a quiz on which team has the most wins. This might be harder than you think.
American League wins 10th straight All-Star game by tense 5-4 score
Ichiro hits first-ever All-Star inside-the-park home run to earn MVP honors
July 10 - The Game
1) Papelbon to D. Lee. Intimidating pitcher. Floater to CF. Base hit. Still seems like such a talented pitcher could be a starter.
2) "Stealing" commercial with Derek Jeter and Harvey Keitel doesn't mention Gatorade by name. Does say "Is it in you?" Cocky.
3) Orlando Hudson (D-Backs) up. Baserunners needed. Rowand on deck. Strikeout and SB by D. Lee.
4) Rowand now. Stance like Ron Cey per Joe Buck. Good comparison. Passed ball. Lee to third. Strikeout swinging on high strike.
5) Sanchez. High fly to center. Hunter cuts in front to take. Putz coming on in 9th with Francisco Rodriguez in reserve. Looks bleak, particularly if Putz is as good as Leyland says.
1) Carlos Guillen up vs. Trevor Hoffman. Hardy in at short. Nice play by Hudson to his right. One out.
2) Who will win the Chevy Taco, I mean Tahoe?
3) 25 saves and sub-2 ERA for Hoffman. Great for 40-year old. Grounder to Lee at first. Flips to Hoffman.
4) Posada up. Not keeping score. No idea who's up for NL in 9th. Buck to rescue--Holliday, McCann and PH. Hoping for 2 on for Pujols. Double off CF wall.
5) Hunter up. Have to stop him. No blown saves for Putz this year. Foul ball off Froemming. Last All-Star game for Bruce. Retiring after this year. Worked more than 5000 games. Wondering if Selig answered my e-mail about DH. I forgot about the live chat and took a nap. Grounder to 3rd.
Bottom of 9th
1) Thought I might see the Miller High Life truck at a local restaurant yesterday where the menu offered a Kobe burger for $10.95. Just under the $11.50 threshold that gets your MHL taken away. I've never seen anything close to $11 can of tuna.
2) Holliday up. Froemming nailed again. Putz pitching. Fastball and splitter. Strikeout on high cheese.
3) McCann now. Wondered if he should be an All-Star. Hitting only .262. McCann fouling pitches off. Jammed. Pop up to short. Two outs.
4) Dmitri Young last hope. Started year with minor league contract. Soriano on deck. Bad swing. Two strikes. 98 mph. NL players still on feet in front of dugout. Grounder to second. Missed by Roberts. Hit or error? Hit.
5) Soriano. Wish there were two on. Thin but wiry and strong. Giant bat. 2-1. Up and in. 3-1. Soriano hangs over plate. HR to right! 5-4.
6) Now JJ Hardy. First AB. First pitch low. K-Rod up for AL. Strike on outside corner. Bad changeup, but outside, 2-1. Fastball outside, 3-1. K-Rod ready. Last batter for Putz in any event. Ball four low.
7) Pitching change. K-Rod replaces Putz. D. Lee batting. Ball one. Alex Rios in RF. An uber-exciting "double switch" by AL Manager Leyland, who must remember this move from his NL managing days. This managerial maneuver is often cited as a reason to get rid of the DH. I think that watching pitchers bat is a better reason to expand the DH to all baseball. This from a 35-year NL fan.
Foul past third. Lowell on line. K-Rod from Venezuela. 2-1. 100 saves at age 24. Curve on inside corner, 2-2. Curve away, 3-2. Foul at plate. Hardy running on pitch, of course. Fans on feet. Check swing, no swing. Walk--two on. Leyland squawks. Hudson to bat with Pujols on bench??
8) Hudson bats. Base hit ties game. Curve low, 1-0. Rowand on deck. Fastball inside, 2-0. Fastball bounces, 3-0. Take all the way, 3-1. Low ball four. Bases loaded.
9) Rowand now. Base hit would put NL ahead. Would win I should say. Strike one. High fly to right. Rios handles. AL wins, 5-4.
10) Good game. Ichiro inside park HR is highlight. Should win him MVP.
11) Time of game 3:06
12) Ichiro gets MVP and the truck. Will they fit it with right-side drive so he can use it in Japan. Taco Hybrid - beef and chicken. Translator does interview. Ichiro already in suit. Personal first inside-park HR for Ichiro. Ichiro is free agent after this year. Big bucks somewhere for him.
1) It was Paula Cole. Soulful version dedicated to men and women in uniform took 1:33.
2) Carlos Lee hitting for Saito. Santana pitching. Foul HR. Santana 40-4 at Metrodome after All-Star break last four years. Strikeout on bouncing changeup.
3) Soriano next. Cue shot foul to right. Takes strike three on inside corner.
4) NL running out of outs. Reyes grounds to Guillen. Surprising that Reyes plays this long with other talented NL shortstops, though most are not on the roster.
Top of 8th
1) Lowell singles to left off Billy Wagner.
2) Morneau now. Foul pop to third--Sanchez.
3) Sizemore makes out as I say good night to wife.
4) Victor Martinez now. 2-run HR to left. Get ready for loss #10 in a row to AL. Papelbon next pitcher for AL. Fastball inner half.
5) Crawford next. Already has HR. Two hopper to short.
Bottom of 6th
1) Verlander to Beltran 98 mph. Beltran takes 3-0 pitch. Then triples off RF wall. He thought it was out; then slowed down to take a double; had to hustle for a triple.
2) Griffey Jr. Sac fly to right, 3-2 AL.
3) Wright singles to center. Broken bat.
4) Holliday now. 3-2 count. Shot to first. Morneau handles. Wright to 2nd.
5) Martin fouls ball off heel of security police in RF. Pops up 99 mph pitch, "Shit!"
Top of 7th - will post after this.
1) Ichiro and Griffey, Jr. vying for MVP so far. AL and Ichiro in front.
2) Saito pitching to Roberts. 23 saves. Bruce Froemming is home plate ump. Most veteran ump in the crew. Grounder to Hudson at 2nd.
3) Posada next. Hunter on deck. Saito is 37. Lee catches liner to first.
4) Hunter up. Pop up. Taken by Soriano in left.
5) Seventh inning stretch. Paula somebody (not Abdul) will sing God Bless America.
6) Not many watercrafts left in McCovey Cove.
8:50 p.m. Back from Dinner
Bottom of First
1) Reyes singles and steals second easily. Bonds pops up to right.
2) Beltran K's on great 94 mph pitch.
3) Griff Jr. 8th season in Cin. 586 career HR. Tied for 6th. Single up middle for RBI.
4) Wright ends inning with groudner to 3rd. Force at 2nd.
Top of 2nd.
1) Penny pitching. Started last year's game. 10-1, 2.39 ERA
2) Out in order. Broken bat by Guerrero. Strong throw by Reyes vs. Pudge.
1) Fielder vs. Haren - first Brewer since Molitor in '88 to be elected. Named after musician Prince. Walks on outside pitch.
2) Martin - dad is "busker" - professional street musician in Montreal. Thanks, Tim. Broken bat liner to third. Caught.
3) Utley - fly to RC; caught by Ichiro.
4) Cabrera bats for Penny. Can't play field with bad shoulder.
5) Dinner at table. Back ASAP.
Top 3rd - come back later.
1) Beckett pitching to Bonds. Reyes on 2nd after "weird double". Bonds flies to left. Big groan from crowd, but ball at least 10' from fence. End of Bonds' night.
Barry Bonds watches his fly ball soar toward waiting glove of American League left fielder Magglio Ordonez.
2) Beltran - grounder to 2nd; Reyes to 3rd.
3) Leyland says Putz is his closer tonight. Would like to "use for 6 innings" since Tigers and M's start 2nd half.
4) Griffey Ks on weak swing.
Top of 4th
1) Soriano for Bonds in left. Hamels on mound.
2) A-Rod golfs low pitch to left for base hit. Steals 2nd easily.
3) Vlad grounds to Reyes; looks A-Rod back; throw to first.
4) Ordonez grounds to Reyes in hole; 2nd out.
5) Pudge singles to right. A-Rod out by plenty at plate (20'). Martin applies tag. No Rose vs. Fosse here as A-Rod doesn't even slide.
1) Beckett still pitching. Wright grounds to new 2B Brian Roberts.
2) Fielder lines to Ichiro in center.
3) Martin K's swinging.
1) Chris Young vs. Brian Roberts. We see video of Young's fight with Derreck Lee. Roberts walks.
2) Posada batting for Beckett. Classy, quiet player. Now 35 and hitting better than ever. The Yogi of his day. Fly to center. Easy for Beltran.
3) Bruin the bulldog dives for baseball in McCovey Cove. Training exercise. No balls hit that way.
4) Ichiro bangs ball of RF wall. Bounces away from RF. Easy Inside Park HR for Ichiro--first ever in All-Star game. Roberts scores 2-1 AL.
5) AL out in order thereafter.
1) No fun for NL. No report from me. On medical phone call. Sabathia pitched for AL.
1) Cordero pitching. Two quick outs. Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford hits HR.
2) Last batter makes out.
7:50 Almost Ready to Play
1) Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ozzie Smith read the batting orders. Ozzie is a veteran broadcaster. Has done "This Week in Baseball" for years.
2) Jake Peavy on mound for NL. Has a great record (9-3, 2.19 ERA 125 K's). Will pitch only one inning.
4) Jeter next. Now 33 years old. I doubt he will bunt. 2-2 now. He has perfect swing for a hit to right. Double play grounder. Good throw by Utley.
5) Ortiz now. Utley in short right, but Reyes still on left side of second. Bad swing, 1-2. Just missed low/outside on 2-2. (FOX tracker says way out) Easy grounder to 2nd. Fielder drops the throw. Ortiz not running, but he still makes it. Might need a PR.6) A-Rod now. Ortiz at first. Grounder to 3rd. Good stop by Wright. Utley makes sure at second.
7) I think that I just saw Cuba Gooding, Jr. hug somebody (Michael Jordan) in a jeans commercial. He's better than that.
Will post now and look for dinner.
7:32 More Pre-Game (on field)
1) Chris Isaak and harmonizer sing National Anthem in zippy 1:15. Good for them.
2) Big salute to Willie Mays is great. Willie moves better than teammate McCovey. Barry Bonds walking along behind and to the right. Now holding his hand. Others walking behind. Willie throws from "CF" to NL SS Jose Reyes. Pink Cadillac convertible (late '50s or early '60s vintage) is on field to give Willie a ride. Derek Jeter greets him. Bonds helps him into back seat. He rides on a special seat on top of the back seat. Now tossing balls to the crowd, ala a Mardi Gras float.
All-Star game honoree Willie Mays shows one thing you can do in the back of a pink Cadillac, throw baseballs to your adoring fans.1) Will wait this commercial out, but dinner looms so may have to interrupt for that.
3) The Taco Bell running guy now speaks Swahili. Special!
4) Chevy and baseball love each ohter. I love baseball more than I love Chevy.
5) Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are the announcers.
6) LaRussa says that Bonds will hit twice.
7) LaRussa is embarrassed by NL losing streak.
8) Broadcaster/RF Eric Byrnes is in McCovey Cove. He has a bulldog in his kayak.
9) Cadillac might be from 1958, the year that the Giants moved to SF.
10) Pac Bell Park is now AT&T Park after the most recent round of mergers.
Will post now and come back.
7:00 Pre-game Thoughts
1) Eric Karros has very big hair.
2) Is FOX airing a commercial for baseball or covering a game?
3) Possies for Bonds come early in pre-game.
4) Are studio hosts journalists or fans? They say fans.
5) Mays and Bonds are focuses of game. One revered; the other reviled. Joined by relationship as godfather/godchild. I've read that Bonds has said that Willie was a greater influence on his life than his dad Bobby. Willie's sunny personality didn't rub off much.
6) Griffey, Jr. and Jeter interview Mays.
7) Interesting factoid--Mays went 3-4 in each of two games during 1960 when two All-Star games were played.
8) Mays says that 1954 catch was his best "TV catch" but another catch where he crashed into the fence and a teammate and knocked himself out was his best ever. The video was impressive.
9) Mays says that Junior most reminds him of self. Griffey turns with sheepish grin.
10) Mays has known Barry his whole life; pleasure to watch him play. Will enjoy watching him break HR record, but it's just a number and he expects someone else to break that record.
11) Wants to be remembered fo how he treated the game and his teammates.
12) Thanks Jeter and Griffey for being great role models. I agree with that.
13) Mays was 24-time All-Star. Yikes!
14) Fans boo the Taco Bell guy (hitting for $1MM) who does't get it out of the infield.
15) Homer does a fun animated intro. Knew there was a relationship there.
16) Fans boo Dodger reserves, but cheer everyone else. (Padres get mixed reaction)
17) Ichiro introduced by both names
18) Music behind intros seems overwrought and pretentious--like a John Williams movie score. Lots of strings and cymbals crashing.
19) Intros are simple - no nicknames or hype; a classy touch.
20) Players are in team uniforms not special All-Star game uniforms. Seems like they've done it the other way sometimes in the past.
21) Cards have best red-accent uniform.
22) Barry Bonds gets "Here you go San Francisco!" intro. Fans chant Barry. Barry takes off cap and bows to acknowledge.
23) Has Griffey Jr. always worn #3?
24) Here's Prince Fielder. Homer saluted his body in the intro.
25) Dodger catcher Martin is booed, but doffs cap to crowd anyway.
Will post and come back.
Home Run Derby - Monday, July 9
Angels OF Vladimir Guerrero launches one of the home runs that won the 2007 Home Run Derby at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Francisco.
July 10 - I'll fix typos and interject some postscript type thoughts as I drink my morning Pepsi.
9:50 p.m. Belliard threw too many low ones in Rios's last round. If Vlad's pitcher can feed him a little better, he'll win easily. I predict the Yankees will win the World Series in "The Bronx is Burning". (I forgot about 1976. The story starts with The Boss hiring Billy Martin for that season. The Yanks reach the World Series but are swept (SWEPT! as Steinbrenner roars while Martin cries afterwards) by the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds. The show also focuses on the "Son of Sam" killings. I switched off when they started in on that story line.)
All but two rounds have resulted in at least three homers. Odds are with Vlad. Here goes. First swing - HR to left. Liner to left and one hop pickup 1/1. High and short 1/2. Another popup 1/3. Screamer off wall in left 1/4. Camera near home pointed at impact point. HR into first row in left 2/4. Posse mobs Vlad at plate. Same guy who came out earlier for AP (not Fielder). Vlad takes. High fly. Shaggers converge and miss. 2/5. Pop in IF 2/6. Pressure mounting. He is in swingoff. Low pitch and popup 2/7. Shoud have taken it. Takes one down the middle. Next pitch. That'll do it. HR to left for 3rd and winning HR. Dominican posse goes nuts. Last Dominican champ was Miguel Tejada. He had a great time too.
Vlad has three good looking boys. No post-game interview. Just trophy presentation.
This was fun. Might try again tomorrow, but dinner will probably interfere. What do you think?
9:35 p.m. Lots of typos in this process. Will correct later or not at all (correcting now; ugliness trumps spontaneity). Helps with spontaneous look.
ESPN studio guys talking now. They haven't added much. This event defies analysis for the most part. This Wed is worst day of sports year. No baseball and no other sports to fill in.
Rios first. Beliarad still pitching. No carryover from last round. Scores start at zero. 2 outs quickly. Liner to left 0/3. That looks good to left 1/3; now 1/4. Not sure what was magic about 2nd round. HR to center 2/4. Popup 2/5. Vlad says 503' is his longest ever. Fly ball on track in center 2/6. Interview conducted by guy from ESPN Deportes in Spanish. 2/7 now. Liner to left. Good pickup 2/8. Grounder into NL players, at least those who are left. 2/9. Rios tiring maybe. That's it--fly to right. Seemingly easy pickings for Vlad.
Three HRs will win for Vlad. He is taking some big cuts. Budweiser commercial. Will post and come back.
9:05 p.m. Now Guerrero. Just missed in left. Fan misplayed it. Looked like Jeffrey Maier. Now 3 outs. Low pitch. 4 outs. First HR to left. Next one almost to Coke bottle. Pujols taking swings in tunnel. Talk about a pro. Vlad now with 5 outs. Cranks that one out to left. 3/8/5. No cap for Vlad. Another out. Dusty Baker resplendent in powder blue suit. Vlad hits foul homer--sorry that was out 4/9/6. That one was not 4/9/7. Big fly to left 5/10/7. Vlad looks like a big kid having fun. Liner into LF corner 5/10/8. Still 3 short. TAking his time now. No doubt on that one 6/11/8. Two more to tie Matt. Vlad looks at right hand. Blister? That one's gone. 7/12/8. Stands are packed for this. Players and writers may not like it but fans do. That one ties Matt. 8/13/8. Great performances in 2nd round. More tape for Vlad's fingers. Vlad is a great name. Just out--that one ties Matt. I miscounted there somewhere 8/13/9. Bye bye Matt 9/14/9--deep to left. Way deep--503 ft. Longest yet. Single to left. Turn over. Good job. Last one cleared LF stands. Albert needs 10 to tie. Rios in finals for sure. Many thought a guy name Alex R would win this, but not this Alex R.
Long show. Now at 2:15 including pregame. Kayaks are dispersing. Trying to get a good table for dinner maybe.
More interviews--McCovey again and Mariner P JJ Putz (not a great name)
Am rooting for Pujols, though Vlad is fun to watch. Good effort by Holliday for a newcomer. Same for Rios.
Astro Brad Lidge just now recovering from a shot Pujols hit off him in late 2005. ESPN reporter Mayne out of kayak and in stands. All ready now. McKay pitching. Takes three. Inside pitch. Way out to left. Now 2/6/0. Right along line. That's 3/7/0 and five in a row including swing off. Those two in swing off don't count in totals. 3/7/1 now. Lame fastball down middle. Popup 3/7/2. Another swing 3/7/3. He's lost the stroke now. 3/7/4. Needs inside pitches. Liner to left 3/7/5. Grounder 3/7/6. Long way to go now. Liner 3/7/7. Whoops that was out. 4/8/6. Way out on inside pitch 5/9/6. Popup 5/9/7. Foul HR 5/9/8. Fielder (not Fielder, part of Dominican entourage) comes out to encourage AP. Base of Coke bottle 6/10/8. Still needs 4. Taking this seriously. Same spot with inside pitch. 7/11/8. 3 to tie and 4 to advance. Good effort in any case. Easy fly. Caught! 7/11/9. Son brings AP a towel. Pretty swing. Still alive 8/12/9. AP racking up $ for charity. $220M on last HR. Still needs 2 to tie. Pressure spot..he's good at this. Now needs 1; 9/13/9. Another $237M for charity. Vlad not interested in swing off. That one's high, but not far enuf. AP ties Matt for 3rd. Vlad and Rios advance to final. Good round. All made at least eight.
Commercial for sure. Will post and return.
8:40 p.m. Round 2 with Holliday, Morneau, Rios, Guerrero, and Pujols. No one has found a groove yet. A disappointing evening for the kayakers so far. At least there are two lefties still hitting (make that zero--Morneau eliminated in playoff; not sure why I thought Rios was a lefty). If a righthander reaches the cove they'll stop and erect a statue on the spot. Big boats serve as smallcraft carriers for some of the kayakers.
Holliday is first. He is leading NL with .345 batting average. Big RH outfielder. Back to 10 out rule. Five outs then finally a HR to left. We must have missed a few swings. Another HR to left; and another. 3 outs to go. I think they're just showing us the homers. Fly to right. One out left. Another HR to left. That's four. 475' on that one. The longest yet. Another beautiful drive to left. Now six HRs and five outs. They changed the display to show HR's and swings rather than HRs and outs. Finally a shagger snags one. Next comes HR 7. Holliday and his pitcher have found a groove. Or maybe you get 15 outs in this round. If I had sound on I could tell. I got it now, 8 in this round and 13 total. Can't tell about outs. The total is under the Mute icon. There's out #10. Sorry for the confusion. I will turn volume down to zero rather than use mute. I don't think I can do this listening to Chris Berman. Matt has a little boy, also #5.
Rios is next. Peter Gammons is interviewing Ryan Howard. Ryan is so personable. (Shaq of baseball without the glitz)
Lanky OF Alex Rios of the Toronto Blue Jays finished a surprising second in the Home Run Derby. He hit 12 homers on 22 swings in Round 2.
It will take some big efforts to keep Holliday out of the finals. Now Rios. Just short in center. HR to center. Another. Now 2 outs. Vlad has cool dreads. Most others bald or short hair. Pileup in center for 5th out. Just out in left for #3; 8 overall. Another one in about the same spot. Off a glove. 7 outs. Just out in left center. Way out in left. Now 6 and 11. Two outs left. Into the tunnel in left. 7/12. Got under that one. Just one left. Wow--got there in center. Didn't think it would. 8/13, tied with Matt. Inside left foul pole for lead 9/14. Competition heating up. 10/15 into first row in left. Dead center way out 11/16. A screamer to left 12/17 - getting Abreuesque (5 in a row). Just misses 404 sign in center. Turn over. Wow! Seven homers in last 10 swings. Good leverage from this tall guy. Rios says he picked Beliiard for his pitcher right before the event based on advice from Vlad. My prediction on Pujols doesn't look so good.
Commercial. Will post and come back.
8:25 p.m. - Ryan Howard is next. I think that he reached 100 career HR's faster than any other player (fewest games). The shagger went for that one, but it sailed over his head. Now 0-3 for Ryan. He will be disappointed not to advance. Came to SF exclusively for this event. Now 0-6. Took his cap off. Grounder into AL dugout. (folding chairs in foul ground) Finally one to center. Just 3 outs left. Needs 3 homers at least. Now 2 outs. HR into RF seats. A rocket off RF wall--no dice. Number three into deep center. Pop fly to left. Holliday, Rios, Guerrero go on with five. Morneau and Pujols have a five swing playoff.
Morneau is first. Pitching is his manager Ron Gardenhire. No speed gun on these tosses. Batters have to supply all of own power. 0-2. Off the Levi Landing sign in right--apparently that is in play. Only one out left. Onto the camera platform in right--home run! Pujols needs two to advance. One will result in 3-swing playoff.
Pujols takes two. Make that three. Four. Picked the right pitch. Long HR to left. Next swing breaks tie. Pujols advances. Morneau spectates. It was one of those inside pitches that Pujols specializes in punishing...albeit not at 90 mph.
Based on those two swings, Pujols looks good to win it all.
Commercial time. Will post and come back with Round Two.
8:05 p.m. Downtown SF has to be the most picturesque setting ever for a ballpark, with the bay and Bay Bride in the background, the scene is spectacular.
The Simpsons Movie, starring Homer, is the perfect sponsor for this event.
Now comes Cecil Fielder (I mean Prince, you can tell how old I am) - a grounder into the shift that the shagger muffs. Next a homer to deep center. The kayak brigade readies. The next ball dies short of the warning track. In the RF stands for Homer 2. Prince is stocky like his dad Cecil and maybe a little shorter--a Luzinskiesque physique. 4 outs after a grounder to the right side. He's hit more HR's already this year than all of last year. I have to believe that the shaggers aren't allowed to catch a fly ball. They haven't yet. Next comes a mammoth shot to dead center--about 20 feet over the 421' sign. Cecil, I mean Prince, takes a mighty swing, Ryan Klesko-like, but comes up empty. The next swing puts one in the cove where a kayaksman goes overboard for it. Just one out to go. Prince needs one more but his shot to center only scrapes the wall. Three homers, including probably the longest one so far to center--nope --they call it 423'. Seems like it had to be longer than that. Fielder wil not go to next round. Already two fives and two fours ahead of him.
Erin Andrews is a good sideline reporter for ESPN--knowledgable about baseball as well as very attractive.
Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels is next. He probably won't take many pitches. He's one of the best bad ball hitters in the majors. Three quick outs. David Ortiz, also from the Dominican, gets Vlad a new bat. Grounder to short. High fly to left. Nothing yet. The next one is way out to left. Another one in about the same spot. He needs at least two more. There's one--also to seats in left. He takes a pitch low. HR distance but well foul--into upper deck. Three outs left. Another ball in his sweet spot--HR to left-443 feet. Next is his longest yet--to the back of the LF stands. Now he's in the second round--463 feet--longest one yet. HR's accumulate for first two rounds, so he should keep trying. Another into second deck foul in left. Just one left. A grounder. Vlad is done with five. Ortiz gest partial credit for the new bat.
Ryan Howard is next. Probably a commercial first. He was last year's champ and is defending NL MVP. Will post and come back.
7:45 p.m. Back from the commercial. Three batters have competed in the first round. Next is Albert Pujols. Whoops, it's a preview of the ESPN miniseries "The Bronx is Burning" about the Billy Martin/Reggie Jackson Yankees of the late '70s, which follows on ESPN.
Pujols is in the box. He takes three and then homers to dead center--a classic Pujols shot. He hasn't homered in a game in 74 ABs, a long stretch for him. Now he has two outs and is taking more pitches. A grounder to short for the third out. Now a homer to left center. Pujols is the most selective so far. One hop to the wall--five outs. Off the wall for six outs. Homer 3 follows out seven to left center. Pujols has 266 career homers at age 27. Homer 4 reaches the second row in left. Just two outs to go. Pujols is the best I've seen at hitting inside pitches out to left without pulling them foul. Now just one out left--high and stinky on the warning track. Pujols ties Morneau with 4--may need help to qualify for next round, which will only hold four of the eight competitors.
Alex Rodriguez is in the booth with the ESPN broadcast team--he opted out of the HR contest because of his bad hamstring. He will play in the game.
I think that the fan cam guy in McCovey Cove is actually an ESPN guy.
Alex Rios of the Blue Jays is next. Tall right handed batter, resenbles Derreck Lee of the Cubs. A new name to me. Ex-Brave infielder Rafael Belliard is the pitcher. Rios reaches the first row in left with his first swing. One of the shag crew bails out under the second. These kids are not chosen for baseball ability. Maybe they're told not to catch the ball. Lots of long fly action, but no homers. Now four outs gone. No such probelm with the next swing -- HR ot left. Homer run three is a majestic blast to left center--about 10 rows up. The next swing misses by about a foot. A fan reaches out with a gove, but in true fan fashion, misses. Alex drives the next one over the CF wall. Four homers and six outs. Got under that one--they didn't show the shag crew. Liner in the hole for a single--eight outs. Another CF homer--puts him tied for lead with five. Too high--only one out left. Same thing with last swing. Five homers--tied with Holliday. Longest HR - 427'
2007 MVP candidate Prince Fielder is next. Another commercial. Will post and come back.
6:45 p.m. It's good to see Willie McCovey, but sad to see him walking with the aid of two canes. He handed out he bats for the home run contest.
Now they're showing the fan came guy in his kayak in McCovey Cove. There appear to be 100's of kayakers with him.
I'm listening to an NPR Radio program on health care while watching ESPN's coverage of the Home Run Derby with subtitles. This way I'm spared listening to Chris Berman.
The first batter is Justin Morneau of the Twins. His first three swings produce foul balls. Number four soars into the seats. Number six goes foul into the cove, producing the first souvenir. Number eight is in the seats. Now he has 3 homers and 9 outs. Now four. Now a fly ball and his turn is over. Four homers--probably about on the cut line. Longest homer 430 feet.
Matt Holliday of Colorado is next (after a commercial). His first two swings reach the seats in left. The shag crew in center butchers swing five. Number six produces homer three. Six outs left. Now four homers as the next ball leaves the park in left. Now five homers, moving ahead of Morneau. A grounder leaves four outs. A foul liner leaves three. The shag crew watches the next ball drop in center. Just one left after a popup. One last liner foul ends his turn with five homers. His longest was 462'.
Now they're interviewing Barry Bonds who says that he can't physically compete in Home Run debries because of his advanced age. Lots of folks wearing #25 jerseys in the stands.
Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers is next. He's been great in Detroit, but his former manager in Chicago, Oziie Guillen, hated him. Two outs before his first homer to center. He's leading the AL in batting at .368. Out four reaches the warning track. A grounder to short for out five. Out six dies in short left near the line. Out seven hits the wall--so close. Finally a second homer. Just two outs to go now. The shaggers don't move on popup to short. Just two homers total for Ordonez, who is more of a line drive hitter anyway.
The bad man, Albert Pujols is next. Seemingly indestructible, Pujols ("Winnie the Pooh" to Berman--I wonder if he'd call him that to his face) has hit 30+ homers in his first six seasons and is the most feared right handed hitter in the National League.
Commercial time. Will post and come back.
July 9 All-Star Update - Starting Pitchers and Batting Orders
Oakland's Dan Haren and San Diego's Jake Peavy were selected as starting pitchers for the Major League All-Star Game on Tuesday night. Haren leads the AL with a 2.30 ERA; Peavy has an even lower ERA at 2.19 and leads the NL in strikeouts with 125. Haren is pretty much an unknown to me. Peavy has a lot of talent, but had a hard time in the NL playoffs last year.
I almost picked the AL batting order, reversing Ortiz and Guerrero. The actual order is Ichiro, Jeter, Ortiz, A-Rod, Guerrero, Ordonez, I-Rod, Polanco, Haren. Ichiro and Ortiz are the only lefties. That's probably why Ortiz gets the three hole over Guerrero.
I like Chase Utley better than Tony LaRussa does--either that or he wants Barry Bonds to get an extra at bat. (I don't believe he's expecting Bonds to do much basestealing near the top of the order--though Utley wouldn't do that either.) The NL batting order is: Reyes, Bonds, Beltran, Griffey Jr, Wright, Fielder, Martin, Utley and Peavy. LaRussa appeared to be going for right, left, right, left at the bottom of the order.
The Home RunDerby lineup is also set. The AL will send out Vladimir Guerrero, current batting leader Magglio Ordonez, reigning MVP Justin Morneau and Alex Rios (of the Blue Jays). NL sluggers will be Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder (NL HR leader), defending champ Ryan Howard, and late sub Matt Holliday (filling in for Miguel Cabrera). It's almost impossible to pick a winner of this contest. More than by power, the winner usually emerges due to an excellent rhythm between pitcher and batter. Hitters have some concern about "screwing up" their swings, as may have happened to 2005 winner Bobby Abreu, who hit an amazing 43 homers during the contest and has only hit about half that many in almost two seasons since. On the other hand, winning the HR Derby didn't bother Ryan Howard's stroke last year. He went on to lead the NL with 58 HRs and won the MVP award.
July 8 Season Update: The All-Star break traditionally marks the midpoint of the Major League season, no matter how many games have actually been played. Division leaders at the halfway point are Boston (big); Detroit (by one over Cleveland); Angels (by 2 1/2 over resurgent Mariners); Mets (by 2 over Braves); Brewers (still 4-1/2 over Cubs) and Padres (by at 1 over Dodgers). Tampa Bay has once again shown themselves to be the "team to beat" (literally) in the AL at 34-53. The Reds and Nationals trail the NL at a nearly as bleak 36-52. Surprises on the upside have been Seattle, Cleveland and Milwaukee; the Yankees, Giants, defending champion Cardinals and White Sox have been the biggest disappointments.
Without doing too much heavy research, my first-half NL MVP is JJ Hardy of the Brewers--a power-hitting, play every day shortstop whose team is in first place and has been most of the way. The NL Cy Young winner for the first half is Brad Penny of Los Angeles. Rookie of the Year is Hunter Pence, CF for Houston. Manager of the Half-Year is rookie Bud Black of the Padres.
AL MVP is Alex Rodriguez. His stats overwhelm his team's mediocre record. Justin Verlander of the Tigers gets the Cy Young for a great record and a no-hitter. Dice-K could be Rookie of the Half-Year. Eric Wedge of Cleveland gets the AL manager nod.
The photo is of Tigers CF Curtis Granderson, an All-Star snub, stealing a home run in one of the defensive plays of the year (actually the photo is from 2006, but he made a very similar play on Sunday)
San Diego's Chris Young (SP) and Hideki Okijima (RP) won the fan votes as the last two All-Stars. Okijima was a surprise given that much more fuss was made over the Sox' other Japanese pitcher, Daisuke Matsusaka, who is not an All-Star despite the publicity and 10 wins. The Astros Roy Oswalt lost the vote, but still made the team to replace John Smoltz, who has a sore arm. Brandon Webb of the D-Backs also was added to replace Brian Fuentes of the Rockies. There was concern that Alex Rodriguez wouldn't be able to play because of a sore hamstring, but he now says he will. There are no other injury subs to report.
The National Leage last one this game in 1996 (I was there in Philadelphia and enjoyed seeing local hero Mike Piazza hit a home run.) I used to root hard for the NL, but I won't sacrifice any blood pressure points this year, even with the home field for the World Series seventh game on the line.
The batting orders and starting pitchers will be announced tomorrow. I'll post again then.
July 1 All-Star Update - Fans, players and managers filled the rosters for the 2007 Major League All-Star Game in San Francisco, highlighted by the fans' selection of Barry Bonds as a starting National League outfielder. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez led all vote-getters. (You can click on these names and get stats and other info from http://www.mlb.com/.)
American League, Starters
Ivan Rodriguez, DET
David Ortiz, BOS
Placido Polanco, DET
Alex Rodriguez, NYY
Derek Jeter, NYY
Vladimir Guerrero, LAA
Magglio Ordonez, DET
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
Josh Beckett, BOS
Dan Haren, OAK
Bobby Jenks, CWS
John Lackey, LAA
Gil Meche, KC
Jon Papelbon, BOS
J.J. Putz, SEA
Francisco Rodriguez, LAA
C.C. Sabathia, CLE
Johan Santana, MIN
Justin Verlander, DET
Victor Martinez, CLE
Jorge Posada, NYY
Justin Morneau, MIN
Brian Roberts, BAL
Carlos Guillen, DET
Michael Young, TEX
Mike Lowell, BOS
Carl Crawford, TB
Torii Hunter, MIN
Manny Ramirez, BOS
Alex Rios, TOR
Grady Sizemore, CLE
National League, Starters
Russell Martin, LAD
Prince Fielder, MIL
Chase Utley, PHI
David Wright, NYM
Jose Reyes, NYM
Carlos Beltran, NYM
Barry Bonds, SF
Ken Griffey Jr, CIN
Francisco Cordero, MIL
Brian Fuentes, COL
Cole Hamels, PHI
Trevor Hoffman, SD
Jake Peavy, SD
Brad Penny, LAD
Takashi Saito, LAD
Ben Sheets, MIL
John Smoltz, ATL
Jose Valverde, ARI
Billy Wagner, NYM
Brian McCann, ATL
Derrek Lee, CHC
Albert Pujols, STL
Dmitri Young, WSH
Orlando Hudson, ARI
Freddy Sanchez, PIT
J.J. Hardy, MIL
Miguel Cabrera, FLA
Matt Holliday, COL
Carlos Lee, HOU
Aaron Rowand, PHI
Alfonso Soriano, CHC
I think the fans and the managers did a fine job with the selections. My only quibble would be with Ivan Rodriguez over Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez for AL catcher, but it's a small quibble, since I-Rod is a perennial All-Star having a decent year catching the defending AL champs and Central Division leaders.
Otherwise they picked my first or second choices (or in Jeter's case, a very strong 3rd). I didn't see any glaring omissions from the reserve selections--Ryan Howard maybe--but he was a casualty of needing one player from every team (Dmitri Young of the Nats at 1B); Edgar Renteria at SS, but as I noted in my blog, National SS was a crowded position--Reyes and Hardy are fine players at the front end of their careers, and the ones the fans want to see.
With Penny, Saito and Martin, both the fans and manager picked the right Dodgers. Red Sox fans should be thrilled to get 5 players--all deserving, especially the dreaded Papelbon. As an NL fan, I sure hope we're not down one or two in the ninth and have to face that guy. The team only had room for one Red Sox 1B, and Big Papi had to be that guy--maybe next year for Youkilis.
The voting indicates that hate for Barry Bonds might not be as widespread as it appears watching the games--he drew 2 million plus votes and a starting nod. I hope he gets 3 at bats to try to hit one into McCovey Cove.
A-Rod drew the most votes overall, 3.9 million, about 700,000 more than the second highest total--3.2 million drawn by Derek Jeter. Ken Griffey, Jr. got the most votes among National Leaguers--almost 3 million. It was great to see Junior get that kind of support.
The fans get one more chance to vote--one from among five AL pitchers (I picked the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay) and one from among a mixed bag of NL position players and pitchers (I picked Astros P Roy Oswalt).
July 2: We can also speculate about who will named to pitch for each team. This is a manager's decision (Tony LaRussa and Jim Leyland respectively as managers of the 2006 World Series teams). The decision usually considers both who's pitching the best and who comes into the Tuesday night game with the proper rest to pitch. By the first criteria the top candidates would appear to be BRad Penny of the Dodgers, with the Padres Jake Peavy close behind for the Nationals, and Dan Haren of the A's for the Americans, unless Leyland wants choose his ace Justin Verlander.
Oh yeah, we can also play manager and make out the batting orders. Here are mine.
Reyes, Utley, Beltran, Bonds, Griffey, Jr., Fielder, Wright, Martin, Penny
Ichiro, Jeter, Guerrero, A-Rod, Ortiz, Ordonez, I-Rod, Polanco, Haren
The American League has dominated this game recently and looking at one through six in their order makes me think they could win yet again.
Even with the ugly tie of a few years back I still dislike the gimmick of giving home field for the 7th game of the World Series to the All-Star Game winning league. It should be enough that we enjoy the game for what it is--the best of its kind (not an afterthought like in the NFL or defenseless like in the NBA or NHL) without creating an artificial value. The 7th game should be alternated between leagues, or given that we now have interleague play, go to the team with the best overall record for the regular season. This might give teams that have clinched their divisions something to play for at the end of the season, ala home field advantage in the playoffs that serves the same purpose in the NFL.
Midweek Milestone Extra (June 29) - Sammy Sosa reached 600 career homers last week. Last night, two career milestones were achieved, one in very dramatic fashion.
I'll start with Frank Thomas, who hit his 500th career homer as the Blue Jays lost to the Twins, 8-5. Thomas, who played most of his career with the Chicago White Sox, has been rejuvenated the last few years as an itinerant DH. Of the 22 players with 500 or more home runs, Thomas likely became the only player to be ejected from the same game in which he hit his 500th home run, as he was tossed out in the ninth inning for arguing a called third strike.
Consistency and longevity combined to allow Craig Biggio to reach the 3,000-hit milestone, in his case in almost unbelievably dramatic fashion. Playing and hitting just little enough to avoid reaching 3,000 on a recent road trip, the 20-year Astros veteran Biggio entered the first game of a homestand with 2,997 career hits. After leading off the Astros first with an out, Biggio followed with hits in his next five at bats (only the second 5-hit game of his career)--a line single over short for 2,998; a grounder to third that the Rockies third baseman threw into the stands (though the official scorer ruled appropriately that Biggio would have beaten a good throw) for 2,999; a game-tying RBI liner to right center for the milestone 3,000, on which Biggio was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double; a line single to right for 3,001; and a game-extending, running hard all the way, infield single to short in the 11th for 3,002 (swing pictured above), a ball hit with two outs and two strikes and the Astros trailing 5-4 after Rockies SS Tulowitzki homered in the top of the inning.
Astros rookie CF Hunter Pence followed Biggio's infield single with an "infield" double, a grounder than snuck past Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes and also between the shortstop and second baseman, who looked at each other as the ball rolled across second base and into center field. On the hit, Biggio hustled from first to third, and amazingly, Pence made it to second as the centerfielder was playing deep protecting against a gap hit. Two inside pitches, the second one of which hit Astros 1B Lance Berkman in the left hip, loaded the bases. Astros LF Carlos Lee wasted no time ending the game, golfing Fuentes first pitch far over the left field wall for a walk off, grand slam home run. Both the downtrodden Astros and their fans in Minute Maid Park went nuts. I tried to cast an All-Star ballot for Lee, but missed the on-line voting deadline by about 20 minutes.
Earlier, the Astros appropriately interrupted the game after Biggio's 3,000th hit and brought his family (wife and three kids) and his now-retired best friend Jeff Bagwell on the field to join in the celebration. Biggio was gracious in the post-game interview, acknowledging the Astros fans, who gave him a standing ovation before every at bat. In typical fashion, when asked about the big hit, he commented that he was happy it had driven in a run to tie the game at the time.
The game-winning comeback was the Astros' third of the game--from 1-0 to 1-1; from 4-1 to 4-4 and finally from 5-4 (with 2 outs and 2 strikes) to the "uberdramatic" (as my daughter might say) 8-5 win.
I don't remember many milestone moments that well--Aaron's 715th HR (off Al Downing); Mike Schmidt's 500th HR (off Don Robinson); Pete Rose's 4,172nd hit (off Eric Show) come to mind readily. Because of family obligations I didn't even see Biggio's hit (off Aaron Cook, I think) live, but I did see most of the rest of the game on Fox Southwest, including the improbable and dramatic finish, and I suspect the hit and game will join my long-term baseball milestone memory.
Biggio's career in Houston and my time in Baton Rouge are almost parallel (he started in 1988; I moved in 1987), and I've followed the Astros most of those years. In his first year, I remember him hitting a game-winning home run off Rich Gossage against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. Harry Caray was still announcing back then and was dumbfounded that this little "Beeeegeeeo" as he pronounced the name, could homer off the mighty giant Goose. I've always admired the skill, savvy and determination that he's played throughout his career, even while being shuffled from catcher to second base (a great career move) to the outfield (during Jeff Kent's stay in Houston) and back to second base. In the late 1990's, I'd say that Craig was one of the best five players in the game for a couple of years. A World Series ring eluded him (as it has many great players), but that casts barely a shadow on a Hall of Fame career. Congratulations, Craig Biggio!
I (dadlak, not Tony LaRussa) have been a major league baseball fan for 45 years, so it's about time for my first post on the subject and on the 2007 season so far. But I'll start with a quick look back at the 2006 season.
National League Recap: 2006 was a very odd season as the New York Mets, big spenders but losers for many years, put together a team that dominated the National League the entire year. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals, who dominated the National League regular season in both 2004 and 2005 only to get bumped out in the playoffs (the historic 2004 World Series loss to Boston; and to the long-suffering Houston Astros in the 2005 NLCS), limped into the postseason as winners of only 83 games (out of 162), qualifying as the champions of a very weak National League Central Division. At their apparent weakest, the Cards whipped the Padres, and then beat the Mets in the National League Championship Series.
American League Recap: The Detroit Tigers, another perennial doormat and losers of a staggering 119 games as recently as 2003, pulled together a dream season under rejuvenated manager Jim Leyland. The Tigers streaked from the starting gate and held on well enough to qualify for the American League playoffs as the wild card team, losing the Central Division by a narrow margin to the late-surging Minnesota Twins. The Tigers continued their fine play in the postseason, whipping the "mighty" Yankees and the not-so-mighty Oakland A's, who somehow beat the Twins to get to the ALCS. "The Gambler", 42-year old starting pitcher Kenny Rogers, led the Tigers with stellar performances in both series, though one was tainted by the clumsily-explained presence of a brown gooey substance on Rogers' pitching hand. Somehow Rogers escaped trouble from what appeared to be a blatant violation of baseball's rules against doctoring the ball with foreign substances. The outcome of the controversy was a surprise to me as Rogers had achieved near-pariah status the previous season in Texas when he knocked over a cameraman.
2006 World Series: Despite the Cards' strong postseason play, they still went into the World Series as decided underdogs to the Tigers in a rematch of the 1968 World Series that featured future Hall of Famers such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Al Kaline. In 2006, the Tigers appeared to have a huge pitching advantage with the crafty Rogers, hard-throwing Justin Verlander, other quality starters and a dominant bullpen closer in 102-mph thrower Joel Zumaya. On the field, the Cards had should-have-been MVP Albert Pujols and other players having off years, while the Tigers had a power-packed lineup of players having career years, a surfeit of hitting talent for the three National League rules games in the Series where DH Marcus Thames and his 28 home runs would have to wait on the bench. As a sidebar, the American League dominated the National League in interleague play in record fashion, and once again won the All-Star Game to get home field advantage in the Series.
As the cliche goes, that's why they play the games. Form prevailed only in Kenny Rogers win for the Tigers. The rest of the time, only first baseman Sean Casey hit for the Tigers while the rest of their lineup contributed mostly strikeouts and fly balls. The Tiger pitchers struggled to find the strike zone, turned tiny shortstop David Eckstein into the Series MVP, and most egregiously, couldn't pick up a grounder and throw the ball to first base. All four Tigers' losses featured a pitcher's fielding error.
To the surprise of every postseason handicapper, the St. Louis Cardinals won their first World Series since 1982 (remember Ozzie Smith, Jack Clark and Willie McGee). Tony LaRussa, their future Hall of Fame manager, celebrated well into the offseason and was arrested for DUI. Tigers' manager Jim Leyland tried to figure out why his team forgot how to play at such a critical time.
Jim Edmonds of the Cardinals scores a run in their Game One win in the 2006 World Series. Photo from the St. Louis Times-Dispatch website.
2007 Season: As the 2007 season nears the one-third mark, the Tigers have regained their form--not running away from the field this time--but competing for the lead in a very strong American League Central. The Cardinals have regained their late 2006 regular season form--battling with the Pirates and Reds to stay out of the NL Central basement while the young Milwaukee Brewers comfortably lead what again appears to be a very weak division.
June 25: Those cutesy commercials you see with baseball stars riding the San Francisco cable cars (which inexplicably crash into the bay) mean that the 2007 Major League All-Star Game is coming up soon (Tuesday, July 10, I think). Many years ago after the vote was restored to the fans (it was taken away in the late '50s, when a ballot-stuffing incident put seven Cincinnati Reds in the starting lineup), I voted many times each year and carefully filled out each ballot, which I turned in at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. In 2005, I joined the throng voting on-line to give White Sox OF Scott Podsednik (sp OK) the final reserve spot over Yankee SS Derek Jeter (it was an anti-Yankee move--Jeter is a much better player). This year, I'll again vote on line. The deadline is coming up soon, so I'll figure out my ballot in here and go over to MLB.com to enter it.
We fans only get to vote for position players, there being too many pitchers (10 or more per team) to sort out. With the game being played in San Francisco, there'll be no DH (which is silly because they always pinch-hit for the pitchers anyway).
I weight 2007 play most heavily, but not exclusively. 2006 performance and career performance also figure in--about 2:1:1 if I had to put a proportion to each. Sportswriters seem to weight current performance more heavily. The general fan population relies a little more on career performance, though a great season performance can get their attention. Team performance is a tiebreaker of sorts for me. I'll do the NL picks today and the AL picks tomorrow.
First Base - The top candidates are Brewer Prince Fielder, Cardinal (and 2005 NL MVP) Albert Pujols, Phillie (and 2006 MVP) Ryan Howard, and Cub Derrek Lee. Fielder is having a breakout year, with 27 HR's so far. Howard and Pujols, who had monstrous 2006 seasons, both started slowly. This is close call that I'll make in favor of Fielder, as his Brewers have been in first place most of the way.
Second Base - Many NL teams platoon at second or are trying to upgrade. The Phillies have no such issues as they send Chase Utley out to play second and bat third or fourth in the lineup every day, a luxury they might have enjoyed years ago if they hadn't traded Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs. Utley had his breakout season in 2005, and hasn't looked back, carrying career highs for batting average, slugging average, and on-base percentage so far this year. Not particularly fast afoot or gifted defensively, Utley makes up for his deficiencies by knowing the game and playing to get his uniform dirty. Kelly Johnson of the Braves and Jeff Kent of the Dodgers are good hitters, Freddy Sanchez of the Pirates led the NL in batting average last year; and the Reds Brandon Phillips is a phenomenal fielder, but none come close to Utley's total contributions.
Shortstop - This is a very strong position for the National League. Rafael Furcal, considered the best in the league just a couple years ago, would rate no higher than sixth behind the Mets Jose Reyes, the Brewers JJ Hardy, the Phillies Jimmy Rollins, the Braves Edgar Renteria, and the Marlins Hanley Ramirez, the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year. Hardy would be the choice based on 2007 only, but Reyes electrified the league in 2006 with a combination of speed, power and acrobatic fielding and has maintained a high level of play this year, so I'll pick him.
Third Base - A relatively easy choice as the Marlins Miguel Cabrera is having another great year at the plate. The Mets David Wright will get a lot of support after a great 2006. Perennial All-Stars Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones are having somewhat off years.
Catcher - The Dodgers Russell Martin has by far the best offensive stats and catches an above-average pitching staff, so I'll go with him. No one else stands out in a lackluster field.
Outfield - Three picks here. The only sure choice is Ken Griffey, Jr. who is rejuvenating his career at age 38 with 21 homers. Rockies OF Matt Holliday leads the NL with a .355 batting average. He also had a good 2006, batting .326 with 34 homers. I'll go with him. Vying for the other spot are Barry Bonds, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, and Eric Byrnes among corner OFs and Carlos Beltran and Aaron Rowand as CFs. It's hard to think of Bonds as a sentimental choice, but with the game in San Francisco, there is that angle to consider. Both Soriano and Beltran had great 2006 seasons. Soriano has been a little better so far in 2007. Lee has given the Astros what they paid for, but the team hasn't won many games. Byrnes has been the Diamondbacks best player. Rowand is having fine season for the Phillies after an injury-plagued 2006. I'll go with Beltran for his great 2006 season, fine career, and the need for a real centerfielder between Holliday and Griffey, Jr. who's not the fielder he was 10 years ago.
First Base - Reigning AL MVP Justin Morneau of the Twins has slightly better stats, but I'll go with "Big Papi" David Ortiz, even though he DH's most of the time. The most feared hitter in the AL the last few seasons shouldn't be shut out just because of where the game is being played.
Second Base - I'm unfamiliar with Ian Kinsler, who's hit 14 HR's for the Rangers, but also carries a .244 batting average. Brian Roberts of the Orioles has the best stats, with a .324 average and 22 steals, but I'll go with Placido Polanco of the Tigers, who has a .329 batting average and has been a key figure in the Tigers success since coming over from the Phillies.
Shortstop - This is a tough choice, with three excellent candidates--perennial Derek Jeter of the Yankees, who has a .349 batting average, Orlando Cabrera of the Angels (also shortstop of the 2004 WS Champ Red Sox), who's batting .332 with 44 RBIs, and the Tigers Carlos Guillen, who has 12 homers and 55 RBIs to accompany a .324 batting average. For some reason (probably not being familiar enough with Guillen's stats, but also for wanting to include another Angel), I went with Cabrera.
Third Base - No question here--Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees has been terrorizing pitchers for most of the year and gets the nod. Mike Lowell of the Red Sox is having a fine year, but runs a distant second in this race.
Catcher - Another close contest between Jorge Posada of the Yankees and Victor Martinez of the Indians. I chose Posada, but looking at Martinez's stats (14 HRs, 62 RBIs) makes me wish I chose him. Must be from watching all those Yankee games on ESPN. Maybe next ballot.
Outfield - Two spots are filled unquestionably with Angel Vladimir Guerrero and Tiger Magglio Ordonez, who leads the AL with a .380+ batting average. The competition for the third spot is tight among Tori Hunter (Twins), Manny Ramirez (Red Sox), Grady Sizemore (Indians), Alex Rios (Blue Jays) and Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners). My first vote goes to Ichiro for his .359 average and 22 steals and for a long career of accomplishment on both sides of the Pacific.
SS Jose Reyes of the Mets demonstrates of one his many skills as he slides in safely with a steal of third vs. the Florida Marlins.
NL East: The Mets have recaptured their 2006 regular season form, despite some injuries to their veteran pitchers. Their three MVP candidates, CF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Wright, and the electrifying SS Jose Reyes, give the Mets a chance to win every day. 2006 spot starters Oliver Perez and John Maine have become mainstays of the Mets' 2007 rotation, and the ever-reliable Billy Wagner anchors the bullpen. The Braves, out of the postseason in 2006 for the first time in 15 years, challenged the Mets early and still look like a wild card possibility. The Phillies feature some impressive young talent, MVP 1B Ryan Howard, All-Star 2B Chase Utley, and emerging pitching superstar Cole Hamels, but have a weak bullpen and some other lineup holes. They've recovered from a dismal 4-11 start to pull two games over .500 at 26-24. Howard slumped early, but returned from a stint on the DL with a couple of big games. The Florida Marlins have a lot of young talent--SS Hanley Ramirez, 2B Dan Uggla, and established star but still very young 3B Miguel Cabrera. They could make a push for the wild card or fall back. The Washington Nationals look like sure NL East cellar dwellers.
June 11 Update: The Mets offense slumped in a recent 3-game sweep by the Phillies in Shea Stadium. The Detroit Tigers extended their misery in an interleague series. New York's once comfortable lead is now down to 2 1/2 games over the Braves and 4 1/2 over the Phils.
June 18 Update: The NL East race continues to tighten as the Mets' bats slump. The Braves and Phillies are within 1-1/2 and 2 games respectively The Yankees, headed in the other direction, clobbered their crosstown rivals 8-2 on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.
June 25 Update: The Braves fell from second to third with a dismal streak that saw them score only one total run in five consecutive games (yes, there were four shutouts in there) with the Red Sox and Tigers. Bobby Cox tied a major league career record with his 131st ejection. I doubt that ESPN will go inning-by-inning trying to catch #132 live. Symptomatic of the Braves problem is CF Andruw Jones' alarming plunge to a sub-.200 batting average--alarming for Jones in particular as he's in the last year of his contract. The Phillies held their own at 8-7 in interleague play, which has been a problem in recent years. Overall the AL won this year's interleague series by a 22-game margin. The Tigers and Angels led the way with 14-4 records. The White Sox are going so bad that they lost 14 of 18 to their NL opponents.
July 1 Update: The Mets extended their cushion in the NL East over the Phillies to 5 games by winning three of four in Philadelphia. The Braves rediscovered their offense and inched ahead of the Phils by one. The Phils will need better pitching all around to make a run--they lead the NL in runs scored but are next to last in ERA.
July 8 Update: The Mets continue to struggle, losing two of three to the Astros in their last series before the break (and they had to play almost two games to win that one, winning 5-3 in 17 innings). There was a story that Willie Randolph benched Jose Reyes for a couple of games for not hustling. Pitching for the most part keeps the Phillies from contending better. They lead the league in runs scored, but have employed 24 pitchers so far (26 is the record for a season). Rereretread Jose Mesa (at least 41 years old) is a recent addition. He gave up a first pitch extra-inning HR to Astros rookie Hunter Pence. This was a particularly bitter loss for the Phils, who appeared to win in the 9th on a double play grounder. The first base ump blew the call, allowing the tying run to score from third. Four innings later, the Astros won. Ryan Howard finished his "off" first half with 20 homers and 60+ RBI. Although not selected for the All-Star game, Howard will travel to SF to defend his Home Run Derby crown. The Braves are trying to hold onto the last game of the first half, leading San Diego 5-3 with 2 outs in the ninth after leading 5-1. Make that 5-4 as the Padres are stringing together singles, the last one by Brian Giles. Ex-Brave Marcus Giles is batting now. The big Padre is on top of the dugout, pleading with God for help. Giles strikes out on a pitch on the outside corner, an ironic finish to a series where both veteran Padres starters, David Wells and Greg Maddux, complained about being squeezed by the home plate umpire, Wells so much that he was ejected.
More on the Phils, a franchise that has lost a professional sports record 9,999 games in its history. They avoided #10,000 for at least three days with an 8-4 win over Colorado on Sunday. This game featured the unusual designation, "Hero of the Rain Delay", ascribed to human projectile Shane "The Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino, who among others, came to the rescue of the Rockies' grounds crew as a storm threatened to swamp them as they put the tarp on the infield.
I don't know if this was a home run swing, but Brewers SS J.J. Hardy has hit quite a few homers this season while leading the Brewers to first place in the NL Central.
NL Central: I mentioned the Brewers, who are leading the NL Central behind exciting young players like SS JJ Hardy, 1B Prince Fielder, and 2B Rickie Weeks. The Brewers also picked up Cardinals post-season pitching ace Jeff Suppan as a free agent. They should have a great chance to win the 85 or so games it will take to win the Central. The Cubs made big offseason moves, signing manager Lou Piniella and young slugger Alfonso Soriano, among other expensive acquisitions. Their pitching features young war horse Carlos Zambrano, but overall the Cubs look like an overpriced disappointment in 2007. The Astros peaked in 2005 behind a fabulous pitching staff and some timely hitting. With the departure of Andy Pettite and Rogers Clemens, and the decline of closer Brad Lidge (triggered by a crushing late inning HR by Pujols in the 2005 NLCS), the Astros now have the deadlly combination of mediocre pitching and bad hitting, despite the offseason addition of slugger Carlos Lee, and perennial good work by 1B Lance Berkman. The 'Stros will struggle to reach .500, play Craig Biggio enough to get to 3,000 career hits, and probably cost manager Phil Garner his job. I don't know enough about the Pirates and Reds to comment, but after 1/3 of the season, these teams are in their usual positions near the bottom of the standings.
June 11 Update: The Brewers, now just 5 games over .500 have returned to earth, but sea level remains pretty low as they maintain a 5-1/2 game lead over the Cards and Cubs. Any team with a plus-.500 record might win this division. Recent action was highlighted (or lowlighted) by a on-field tirade by Cubs manager Lou Piniella that earned a 4-game suspension, and a dugout brawl between Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett, who both later declared their undying love and made up.
June 18 Update: The Brewers steadied their vats enough to move seven games above .500 and stretch their lead over Chicago and St. Louis to 6-1/2 games. 1B Prince Fielder is challenging Alex Rodriguez for the MLB home run lead. I don't know how good a fielder he really is, but I heard that he was hitting home runs in major league stadiums in batting practice at age 14 when his father, Cecil Fielder, played with the Detroit Tigers.
My daughter is thinking about becoming a Cubs fan after their most recent outburst--a bench-clearing melee with the Padres after Padres pitcher hit Cubs star 1B Derrek Lee in the left shoulder. Lee thought the pitch was aimed at his head. Highlights of the fight included peacemaker Cubs manager Lou Piniella getting pushed backwards over his own player, and then another player apparently climbing over Piniella in his spikes to join the action. Even better was the sight of Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano pulling off his belt--I don't know if anyone has asked him what he planned to with it. Carlos was the Cubs pitcher at the time of the fight. A teammate pushed him away.
Ken Griffey, Jr. is back to more youthful home run hitting form. After 18 homers this season, Junior's career total is 581. His next target on the list is Mark McGwire at 583. Several modern day sluggers--McGwire, Palmiero, Sosa, Bonds--have been targets of suspicion regarding use of steroids and hormones to improve performance. I can't remember Griffey's name ever being mentioned, despite his lofty career totals and two 56 HR seasons in 1997 and 1998. If Griffey can stay healthy, which has been a problem since his move to Cincinnati, he's got a decent shot at 700 HRs. He turns 38 in November, so three more seasons after this one aren't out of the question.
June 25 Update: The Brewers expanded their lead with a good week. The Cubs got a little better and moved into second with a well-pitched and defended three-games sweep of the crosstown White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, aka "The Cell", which sounds catchy at first, but then reminds me of a jail cell. (A side note--several major league stadium, past and present, have similar nicknames--the late Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, "The Vet"; Jacobs Field in Cleveland, "The Jake", Turner Field in Atlanta, "The Ted", Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, "Bob" (also it's Chase Field now, so that nick is by the boards); there are probably others--I'll do a study and report back). They also "felt the love" by trading catcher Michael Barrett to the Padres. Apparently Barrett's declaration of love for his teammate, including dugout fight opponent Carlos Zambrano, couldn't overcome his inferior fielding. Zambrano found his groove, pitching four straight great games. Griffey, Jr. got all three homers needed to pass Mark McGwire on the all-time list at 584. He also got a overwhelming welcome in his return to Seattle, where the Reds played the Mariners in an interleague series--so much so that he mentioned a desire to finish his career in Seattle.
July 1: The Brewers pushed the resurgent Cubs back a little with a 13-4 drubbing on Saturday. Still the Cubs won 2 of 3 from Milwaukee, including a 6-5 comeback thriller on Friday night, ended by Aramis Ramirez's 2-run walkoff homer. The Brewers opened with five in the top of the first, but got no more. Ken Griffey, Jr. hit career HR #585 and led National Leaguers in All-Star votes, but the Reds continued losing and fired their manager today.
July 8 Update: The Cubs got to .500 but have been treading water there, so the Brewers have maintained a 4-1/2 game lead despite winning just 3 of their last 10. Junior Griffey hit career HR #586, tying Frank Robinson on the all-time list. I forgot to mention this in the NL East update, but Phillies RF Shane Victorino made the necessary but futile try of the year, launching himself projectile-like into the right field stands after a foul ball that was just out of reach. Unfortunately, the Phillies pitchers walked the next two batters, walking in two runs that would provide the 7-5 margin of victory.
NL West: This division is shaping up as 3 or 4-team battle among the Dodgers, Padres (both of whom qualified for the 2006 postseason, though both stunk once they got there), the Giants and the resurgent Diamondbacks. The Dodgers spent a lot of money on free agents and have some talented pitchers. The Padres have talented pitchers, but spent less on free agents, though they did acquire Braves 2B Marcus Giles, brother of their long-time OF Brian Giles. The Giants feature the gruesome march of Barry Bonds toward the all-time HR record (he stands at 746, needing 10 more to overtake Hank Aaron). All the flap over use of performance-enhancing substances (and the media's general animosity toward the arrogant and aloof Bonds) has made this the least anticipated career record run in sports history. Still Bonds has recovered from leg injuries that slowed him in 2005 and 2006 and appears to be on his way to a remarkable season for a 42-year old outfielder in any state of performance enhancement--30 to 40 HR's, a .300 batting average, and 150 walks. I think that Ted Williams had a similar final season in 1960. The Giants also committed over $100 million to free agent lefty Barry Zito, late of Oakland. It's exciting typing all these "Z"-named pitchers--Zumaya, Zambrano, Zito. Has there ever been a better time for Z-pitchers? Inquiring minds want to know. Only baseball researchers can tell.
June 11 Update: Barry Bonds hit #747 tonite, tieing him with Boeing for 2nd on the all-time list, but the Giants have fallen to last place, behind even the Rockies. Pitching is carrying the Padres to a slight lead over the Diamondbacks. Jake Peavy looks like a likely All-Star game starter with 7 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA.
June 18 Update: Bonds moved ahead of Boeing with #748, though his team continued to falter--now 4-1/2 games behind the 4th place Rockies. The Padres, Diamondbacks and Dodgers remain in a close race at the top. The Padres won the fight game over the Cubs, 1-0, despite a near no-hitter by Zambrano.
June 25 Update: Buoyed by great pitching, the Padres, D-Backs and Dodgers continue to battle for this division. Still the attention focuses on Barry Bonds, at-bat by at-bat as he approaches the all-time home run record. He hit one this week to reach 749. The Giants played a great game with the Yankees in San Francisco on Saturday, winning 6-5 in 13 innings. The series marked the Yankees first visit to SF since they beat the Giants in the 1962 World Series, an event that marked the beginning of my life as a baseball fan.
July 1 Update: The story doesn't change much from week to week. The Padres, Dodgers and Giants remain bunched within 1-1/2 games. Barry Bonds hit another homer (#750), the point at which he said the countdown would begin. There was speculation in the paper this morning that Bonds would move to Japan to pursue Sadaharu Oh's international record of 868 homers, which Bonds reacted to like a joke, but didn't explicitly deny. He talked like he planned to play in the US again in 2008. With a season and a half, 800 career homers would be within range. Maybe his idea is to hit so many that people will accept him as the all-time HR king even after discounting for steroid use. That pursuit might move to the AL where Bonds could get 400 AB's and 25 HR's per year as a DH, stats that would be very attractive to most teams. The issue would be whether a team would pay what Barry wanted. Does the name New York Yankees ring any bells? Bonds' dad Bobby played with the Yankees at the end of his career.
July 8 Update: The Dodgers and Padres fight for first as Barry Bonds continues his one homer per week approach (now at 751) to the magic number. Either Dodger ace Brad Penny or Padres ace Jake Peavy (eerily similar names) will start for the NL All-Stars. The Pads had a fortunate ejection on Saturday as ineffective starter David Wells was tossed from the game for arguing in the fourth inning. To that point he'd given up 3 doubles and a home run. The Padres bullpen held the Braves to two more runs the rest of the way while the offense went to work for an 8-5 victory.
AL East: The Boston Red Sox lead big, so far getting a good return on their high-priced free agents J.D. Drew and Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The pitcher is known as "Dice-K" and throws a wide variety of pitches, including the "gyro ball".
June 3 Update: Check that comment on J.D. Drew, who was hitting .217 with 2 home runs before getting hurt. Even "Dice-K" is a little shaky--7 wins, but an ERA near 5. Beckett, reliever Jonathan Papelbon and unsung hitters like Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis ("the Greek god of walks") are carrying the Sox to their big lead.
Josh Beckett, a big-name acquisition for the Sox before the 2006 season, has been much more effective than he was in 2006. The Yankees are digging a very deep hole, for the most part due to woeful pitching, mostly by untested rookies who are filling in for injured veterans like Mike Mussina (back now) and Carl Pavano (undergoing possible career-ending surgery). The Yankees are so desperate that they spent about $20 million for four months of 44-year old Roger Clemens' pitching life. "The Rocket" will make his first start of the season on Monday, June 4, and will earn almost $1 million per appearance. Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay also compete in the division, but none are above .500 so I'll reserve comment (neither are the Yankees, but as I mentioned, I get to see them often as ESPN or FOX televises almost every Yankees-Red Sox game).
June 3 Update: The Yanks and Red Sox were on yet again tonite, this time on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, one of my favorite telecasts because of the broadcast team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Tonite's game was long but entertaining, even though the Yankees prevailed 6-5 on a 9th inning home run by Alex Rodriguez. Yankee bullpen ace Mariano Rivera, who's had lots of trouble this year, pitched a strong 9th inning for the save. The Red Sox fans are on top of every issue--in mid-game they chanted "Where's Roger?" in reference to the announcement that Rogers Clemens' Yankee debut in 2006 would be delayed from June 4 to at least June 10 because of a "fatigued groin". The first chemical plant manager I ever worked for would have had a quick root cause analysis of that injury, "Too much . . ." (you can probably figure out the rest). Later the fans all yelled as a pop fly fell toward Rodriguez's glove. A-Rod got in trouble in a midweek game against the Blue Jays when he yelled at Toronto's 3B just as he was going to catch a popup. The 3B flinched, the pop up dropped fair, and the Yankees scored three in the inning and went on to win the game. Much of the sports press derided A-Rod's action as unsportsmanlike, and Yankee manager Joe Torre even counseled him not to repeat it. Tonite, Joe Morgan said that such ploys were almost routine when he played, but that when he yelled "I got it," that meant he was going to catch the ball no matter what. The Blue Jays 3B is rookie and maybe not ready for such a moment.June 4 Update: The Associated Press reports that Clemens' MRI shows that he has "disrupted scar tissue" in the groin area, the effect of which he first felt while pitching in a minor league game on May 28. He still plans to throw a bullpen session in Tampa on Wednesday.
June 11 Update: Losing six of ten while the Yankees won eight shrank the Red Sox lead to just 9-1/2 games. Roger Clemens won his first start over the Pirates on June 9, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings, while the Yanks piled up 9 in support. A-Rod has resumed his slugging ways and is up to 24 home runs for the season. Josh Beckett continues to look like the AL All-Star game starter.
June 18 Update: The Red Sox continued to play well, and good for them, as the Yankees caught fire and won 9 of their last 10 to move to three games over .500, but still 8-1/2 games behind the Sox. Alex Rodriguez reverted to his April form, terrorizing the AL with 27 homers and 73 RBI's with the season still 14 games short of its midpoint. Roger Clemens lost his second start despite only giving up two runs, as the Yankees were shutout by Oliver Perez and the Mets bullpen. Clemens and fellow 40-plus year old future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson are trading second place on the all-time strikeout list. Clemens moved five ahead at 4,619 by striking out eight Mets. The all-time lead is probably out of reach for both pitchers as Nolan Ryan, who also pitched well into his 40s struck over more than 5,700 batters in his career. At 11 under .500 and 15-1/2 behind the Sox, the perenially low-achieving Orioles fired their manager.
June 25: The Red Sox extended their lead back to 11 games, now over the Blue Jays, who overtook the Yankees for second. The Colorado Rockies, of all teams, cooled off the Yanks, and as mentioned earlier, the Yankees also lost to the Giants, even though Alex Rodriguez hit a 440-foot home run in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game.
July 1: The Blue Jays moved into second ahead of the Yankees (who are 3 games up on the dismal manager-firing Orioles), but still 10-1/2 ahead of the Red Sox. Barring a collapse, the Sox should be able to start resting their regulars for the playoffs on about August 15, though their fans still fear the ghosts of the past in the form of a late Yankee charge. Roger Clemens is 1-2 with a 5+ ERA in four starts. Tampa Bay snuck into the AL basement while the Rangers and Royals left it unlocked. I hope they don't make too big a mess.July 8 Update: Despite being swept by the Tigers, the Red Sox still hold a 10 game lead over the mediocre or worseAL East. The Yankees had a couple of fun wins over the Angels, 2-1 in extra innings behind another good start by Roger Clemens (ERA now 3.63), and 12-0 today behind a lively offense and Cheng-Mien Wang. A-Rod hit career HR #494 to pass Lou Gehrig on the all-time list, a scary position for a player in his early 30s.
By consensus the best pitcher in the American League and probably in all of baseball, Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins fires a pitch against the White Sox in a recent game.
AL Central: Probably the best division in baseball, as the AL champ Detroit Tigers, the defending Central Division champ Minnesota Twins, the 2005 World Series champ Chicago White Sox and a resurgent Cleveland Indians team battle for what will likely be two playoff spots. At this point in the season, the Indians have made the most progress behind a young, powerful lineup and surprising pitching. The Twins, with reigning AL MVP Justin Morneau and AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana aren't clicking on all cylinders yet, but they made a late rush last year and can't be counted out. The White Sox have hung in with great pitching and poor hitting. They'll need to correct the latter problem to contend. The Tigers young team seems to have picked up where they left off (excluding the World Series), though they did just lose three straight to the Indians. The Kansas City Royals also play in this division. Their role is to lose 100 games or more every year, and to every so often develop a good player who will move to another team as soon as he's eligible for free agency.
June 11 Update: The Tigers and Indians continue to play well and battle for first. The Twins haven't yet found their stride (emblematically, J. Santana is 6-6 with a 5+ ERA) and the White Sox are sinking fast, now 9 games out of first. Volatile Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen is not a happy man.
June 18 Update: No changes here, except for the Royals confident march out of MLB's cellar. A recent 6-4 stretch has moved them 1-1/2 games up on the dismal Rangers and NL bottom-feeding Reds. I wish I had more details for you, but I'd have to move to KC to see any of their games.
June 25 Update: Continued good play by Detroit and Cleveland hold promise for the AL playoffs to feature four good teams--these two along with the Red Sox and Angels. The Tigers have become an offensive machine. OF Magglio Ordonez leads the AL in batting average. DH Gary Sheffield has been on a tear after a slow start. SS Carlos Guillen was AL Player of the Week. The White Sox have fallen so hard that they are within range of the Royals and Rangers for the worst record in the American League. The Twins suffered a scare when reigning MVP 1B Justin Morneau bruised a lung (can you do that?) in a home plate collision and spent two nights in the hospital after coughing up blood.
July 1: Cleveland remained hot, moving slightly ahead of the Tigers. The Twins have inched a little above .500, but remain aways back. Still you can be sure that both the Indians and Tigers are watchful, given the Twins second half performance last year. Tonight the Tigers nipped the Twins 1-0 in a '70s style pitchers duel, won on an 8th inning HR by Tigers' DH Marcus Thames. The Twins losing pitcher, Justin Baker, gave up only three hits total, but still had to be consoled by his manager after surrendering the home run.
July 8 Update: The Tigers inched back ahead of the Indians by sweeping the Red Sox. These two teams continue to be the top offensive clubs in the American League. The Twins remain well back (albeit closer than they were in 2006 at the same time), but magnified the White Sox woes by scoring 32 runs in a doubleheader with the Chicagoans (Justin Morneau is back with a vengeance--3 homers during the onslaught).
Angels All-Star OF Vladimir Guerrero continues his good work with an RBI double to help beat the Yankees last week in New York.
AL West: This is a mysterious place that will be probably be ruled eventually by the bizarrely named Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (formerly Anaheim Angels, formerly California Angels and born as the Los Angeles Angels (when they actually played in LA rather than Anaheim)). The Angels have a great player in former MVP Vladimir Guerrero, a very gifted outfielder and hitter from the Dominican Republic. The Seattle Mariners feature Japanese icon Ichiro (Suzuki, though his last name doesn't appear on his uniforms or in news reports--like Cher he goes by first name only) and a number of anonymous North American and Central American players. The Oakland A's are the leading practitioners of "Moneyball", a statistically-based approach to building a team that values home runs and walks above other skills. When a Moneyball team isn't hitting HR's or drawing walks, as the A's didn't in the 2006 ALCS, it is a decidedly boring and awful team to watch. The Texas Rangers round out this division. They have the worst record in baseball (oops..now just inches ahead of the Royals), have been bad for several years now (mostly due to bad pitching) and therefore get no further analysis in this report.
June 11 Update: The Angels have ridden a 24-9 home record to the second best record in baseball. The Mariners and Athletics play competitively, but are in better shape for the wildcard. The Rangers continue to swap places with the Royals on a day-to-day basis as the worst team in baseball.
June 18 Update: No big moves here either, though the Rangers did win 2 of 3 in a critical interleague battle for the MLB cellar with the Reds. Sammy Sosa hit career home run #599. The celebration of his 600th may be somewhat muted. The Mariners managed to lose three straight to the Astros, giving up 24 runs in three games to the anemic Astro offense.
June 25 Update: The Angels blew their lead out to 8 games, leaving Seattle and Oakland to aim for the wild card spot. Rangers fans seemed genuinely excited about Sosa's 600th (and 601st) career home runs. Number 600 game in an 8-run Ranger outburst vs. the Astros, during which Sosa also hit a 2-run single. Sosa started his career in Texas, before then-Rangers "decider" George W. Bush traded him to the White Sox. Of course Sosa did most of his damage, including three 60+ home runs seasons on the northside of Chicago in a Cubs uniform. With 13 HRs and 59 RBIs, Sosa has met the Rangers' expectations, and has more than earned his "meager" $500,000 salary. Sammy won't be 39 until November and could conceivably reach 700 career homers if he can hit 15-20 more HR's this year and then play productively to age 41.
July 1 Update: The big question tonight in Seattle is "how good could they have been if he cared?" as Manager Mike Hargrove abruptly resigned, citing burnout. His team was on an 8-game winning streak and has moved within 4 games of the once inapproachable Angels. A lot of pressure falls on interim manager Bruce McLaren. Does he have to win nine in a row on his own to survive?
July 8 Update: The Mariners continue their impersonation of a contending team, despite the sudden retirement of skipper Mike Hargrove. They're now within just 2-1/2 of the Angels, as Ichiro threatens the AL batting average leadership.