Posted on: October 8, 2011 12:57 am
 

Arizona's Towers: "We just didn't get last ups"

MILWAUKEE -- From 97 losses a year ago to the 10th inning of the Division Series this year. What a path the Snakes slithered, what diamonds the Diamondbacks carved out of last year's rocks.

When it finally ended with a hold-your-head-high 3-2 heartbreaker in the 10th inning of Game 5 here Friday night, it was a sad but proud Arizona team that headed toward the offseason.

"We fought to the end," said veteran general manager Kevin Towers, who fixed one of the worst bullpens in history to help pave the way for Arizona's remarkable turnaround. "That's what we did all year long. Never say die.

"We just didn't get last ups."

Indeed, the visiting Diamondbacks took a 1-0 lead early on Justin Upton's homer, fell behind 2-1 and then tied it 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning on Willie Bloomquist's gutty, successful safety squeeze against Brewers closer John Axford.

Axford had converted 43 consecutive save opportunities until Bloomquist's bunt. But the Brewers won it in the bottom of the 10th anyway.

"You look at both clubs and they're equally talented," Towers said. "They got the key hits at the end. If this series was to end the way it probably should have ended, it had to go extra innings."

Diamondbacks club president Derrick Hall checked in with a tweet as the Diamondbacks headed for their charter flight home Friday night: "I have never been prouder of my @dbacks. Those boys fought all year and their heads are held high. Thanks to our great fans."

"We've come a long way," said rookie manager Kirk Gibson, the overwhelming favorite to be named as NL Manager of the Year. "We set goals in the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, we didn't get all the way there. We talked about changing the culture and what does it mean to be a Diamondback.

"And I just told these guys that they should be proud because they've set the stage and the standard for how we want to play. And they've done it all year. Some of these guys will be back on our team. Some guys will move on. I feel like we've given them a positive experience, and they'll all be ambassadors for the game."

Talk about an offseason that will be colder and longer than usual. Given this year's success, the Diamondbacks are certain they're headed in the right direction and already can't wait to get started on 2012.

"The off season is too long," Towers said. "This was a fun group of guys. I'm going to miss being around them this winter. The comeback wins ... they just had a great attitude."
Posted on: October 7, 2011 8:54 pm
 

Brewers thrill Milwaukee with 10-inning win

MILWAUKEE -- This might be a beer town, but they will take champagne. Oh yes they will. Especially when it's the first postseason champagne they've sprayed in 29 hard, lean years.

Especially when it's a team as free-spirited and beloved as this year's Brewers, who drew three million fans to Miller Park this summer and, with a scintillating 3-2, 10-inning Game 5 win over the Diamondbacks on Friday, earned the privilege to draw several thousand more over the next 10 or so days.

National League Championship Series, here they come.

First time ever.

Not since 1982 have the Brewers moved to within one step of the World Series, and back then, they were in the American League. And yes, they advanced to the Fall Classic, where they fell to St. Louis.

Since then, it's been 29 Octobers of raking the leaves and cheering for the Packers.

Until now.

What a game, what a season.

To hold on and win, Milwaukee's bullpen had to face down an Arizona team with 48 come-from-behind wins, most in the majors this year. But the Brewers' bullpen is so good, it hadn't blown a lead after the seventh inning since July 4.

There was tension, there was sweat, there was nail biting.

And for the first time since 1982, the result was a win in a postseason series.

The Brewers won this last winter, when they decided to keep Prince Fielder and swing for the fences in 2011. They won it when the acquired Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. Won it in July, when they landed closer-turned-setup-man Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets the night of the All-Star Games.

And they won it with one out in the 10th when Nyjer Morgan drove a 2-2 pitch against Arizona closer J.J. Putz up the middle, scoring Carlos Gomez from second.

Miller Park immediately went crazy, blue and gold confetti papering the place.

What a game, what a season. Next stop: NLCS.
Posted on: October 7, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 1:20 pm
 

Brewers' last playoff manager looks to go deeper

MILWAUKEE -- If Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke needs any sort of reference points for the last time the Brewers were in the postseason, back in 2008, he doesn't have to travel far to find the manager from back then.

In a testament to the family atmosphere that surrounds this fun bunch of Brewers, Dale Sveum continues his work with the organization as hitting coach, his time in charge largely forgotten in the dustbin of history.

When the Brewers nearly folded down the stretch in '08, they fired manager Ned Yost in a shocking move in mid-September, with just 12 games left in their season.

Sveum took over on an interim basis for those 12 games, then managed in the playoffs as the Brewers were eliminated in four games by the Phillies.

After that, Sveum was considered as full-time manager but didn't get the job. The Brewers instead hired Ken Macha, who ran the club in 2009 and 2010. When they didn't renew his contract, they plucked Roenicke off of Mike Scioscia's Angels staff.

So here we are, three years later, and there's Sveum, working behind the batting cage, offering this bit of advice to Prince Fielder, that bit of help to Ryan Braun.

Surely, he had to swallow some pride when he was passed over as manager. Why did he stay?

"It was a very unfortunate situation at the time," Sveum, 47, told me when we spoke here a couple of weeks ago. "I only managed for 12 days and then the playoffs. It wasn't like I was there for three months or something. It wasn't the norm where you think you deserve the job."

Given that feeling, the strange circumstances and his affinity for the young core group of players in '08 -- most of whom will play this afternoon in what could be Prince Fielder's final game as a Brewer -- Sveum never gave serious thought to leaving. Maybe others would have walked away in a huff, but not this guy.

"I've been with quite a few organizations, but the Brewers have been great," said Sveum, who played for the Brewers, Pirates, White Sox, Athletics, Mariners and Yankees during his 12-year major-league career. "I love it here. I love the city.

"There would be nothing more gratifying than winning one here. I played here. I coached here. We have a great owner [Mark Attanasio] who is not afraid to spend money and keep guys. We drew three million fans this year.

"This is not a bad place to be. And these jobs don't come around very often."

While Sveum said the run in '08 with CC Sabathia was a whole lot of fun, he said this year has been better because "we have a complete pitching staff, and whenever you have a complete pitching staff, you have a chance to go deep into the playoffs."

"The fans are not stupid," Sveum said. "They know there's a window here to go deep into the playoffs, and that's what brings electricity."

Those fans, on edge since Arizona evened this series 2-2 on Wednesday night in the desert, only hope the window to go deep into the playoffs doesn't slam shut prematurely later tonight.

Likes: Three Game 5s. How great is this? ... Fabulous Tigers-Yankees Game 5, and what a job of managing in that series by Jim Leyland. ... The folks who work for Southwest Airlines are some of the friendliest and most helpful in the business. The other day, a little portfolio-type thing I carry that has a ton for frequent-flier cards, numbers and receipts in it, fell out of my workbag on a flight. I didn't notice until I got to the baggage claim area, and a terrific lady for Southwest in the baggage claim area jumped on the case immediately, phoned the gate and had it back to me within 15 minutes. The folks cleaning the plane had found it and, phew, what a relief. ... Mo's steakhouse in downtown Milwaukee. The "McAlpine" Horseradish Crusted Prime Ribeye, white cheddar mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach ... now that's a meal. ... Culver's frozen custard, a Wisconsin staple.

Dislikes: Another week of great baseball, 75 degrees in Milwaukee today, beautiful sun, sailboats on Lake Michigan ... what's not to like?

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Reading departure signs in some big airport
"Reminds me of the places I've been.
"Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
"Makes me want to go back again.
"If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
"I could somehow adjust to the fall.
"Good times and riches and son of a bitches,
"I've seen more than I can recall
"These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
"Nothing remains quite the same.
"Through all of our running and all of our cunning
"If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane"

-- Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Posted on: October 6, 2011 5:26 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 6:46 pm
 

Sox choice of Robin Ventura innovative, shocking

Leave it to the Chicago White Sox and general manager Kenny Williams to zig when everyone else thinks they'll zag, to take the path through the woods when everyone else is looking at the paved roads.

The White Sox picked a manager Thursday straight out of left field, a guy who has never been in a major-league dugout as a skipper or as a coach.

But you know what? Because Robin Ventura was in the dugout for 2,079 games as a player, and because of who he is, the choice is perfect.

Ventura was in a White Sox uniform for 1,254 of those games. He was a player's player, beloved in the clubhouse. He knows the White Sox. He's popular in Chicago. -- maybe moreso than Ozzie Guillen was (though not as loud, not nearly as loud).

Can he manage? We'll find out.

This is one of those hires that could turn out to be out-of-the-box brilliant ... or a spectacular failure.

 I will say this: Last time the White Sox named a manager who had never called the shots in a big league game, they won a World Series title. His name was Ozzie Guillen.

Consider this another promotion from the White Sox Alumni Club (Ventura will become the 17th former White Sox player to manage the club). There are no guarantees that it will work, but say this for owner Jerry Reinsdorf: He's been around a long time and the guy appreciates -- and facilitates -- White Sox tradition.

The biggest names in the Sox rumor mill were two highly respected coaches, Davey Martinez of Tampa Bay and Sandy Alomar Jr. in Cleveland. If Chicago was going with a rookie manager, why not Ventura? He knows the players very well, he knows the Chicago media, he knows the South Side terrain.

Ventura had been working as a special assistant to director of player development Buddy Bell since June. Every GM has special assistants, but I've never heard of a director of player development having one.

But that's what savvy GMs do: They stash talented people in their organization, because you never know when, say, an Ozzie will wear out his welcome.

Williams, on a late afternoon conference call Thursday, called Ventura "one of the classiest people I've ever met in the game." The GM, while admitting this was an unexpected development, said he interviewed Ventura from 1994-1998, when Williams worked in player development and Ventura was the White Sox third baseman.

"He just didn't know it," Williams said.

Among the criteria Williams listed that Ventura fit: "A passion for the city, for the organization and the drive to win a World Series championship. This person had to have leadership and communicative ability, I think, that will work with our veteran players and with our young players."

Will that lead to managerial brilliance? Who knows?

"I have a passion for it, I have a passion for this team and this city," Ventura said on the conference call. "the passion is there to do it. I was asked to do it. I'm honored to have this opportunity."

Ventura, 44, has a lot in common with White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko in terms of character, baseball acumen and blue-collar work ethic. Clearly, after the rifts in the organization that developed under Williams and Guillen, Ventura is a uniter, not a divider. Which is exactly what the Sox need.

Now, if he can just get Adam Dunn to hit ...

Posted on: October 6, 2011 1:53 am
Edited on: October 6, 2011 9:50 am
 

Yanks hope Fister, Alexander parallels continue

Like Doyle Alexander back in 1987, Doug Fister cleared the way for the 2011 Tigers to win their division and steam into the playoffs.

But, Game 5 Thursday night in Yankee Stadium? That's where the Tigers need the comparisons to come to a screeching halt.

The Yankees, meanwhile, will do just fine if the striking similarities continue for one more night.

"Fister is a really good pitcher," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on Wednesday's off day in New York. "I have no idea what's going to happen. [Ivan] Nova is a good pitcher. He beat us in the first game here. ...

"Both of them are very good pitchers. It's one game. I don't know what's going to happen. Somebody can get a good bounce or a bad bounce. Somebody can hit a dramatic home run. Somebody can make an error. I can't predict that."

You couldn't predict the amazing mirror images that Fister and Alexander have provided in Tigers history, either.

Bill Lajoie, the gruff and brilliant baseball man who passed away last December, was the general manager of the Tigers when they traded a young John Smoltz to Atlanta for Alexander in mid-August of '87.

To this day, it remains a deal hotly debated by Detroit baseball fans because, while Smoltz blossomed into a certain Hall of Famer, the deal still accomplished perfectly what the Tigers needed at the time. And I do mean perfectly: Alexander went 9-0 with Detroit, and the Tigers needed every single one of those victories as they fended off the Blue Jays on the last day of the season.

Fister, meantime, went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA for the Tigers after GM Dave Dombrowski acquired him from the Mariners on July 30. More importantly, the Tigers went 9-2 in games Fister. Before his arrival, when that spot in the rotation came around, the Tigers had been 4-17.

Colleague Danny Knobler was combing through some statistics recently, and came up with this: Fister's 1.79 ERA came in 10 starts. The only Tiger in the last 38 years to make that many starts in a Detroit season with a lower ERA than that? Try Alexander, with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts in '87.

Separated by 24 years, the parallel paths of Alexander and Fister continued into the postseason.

Alexander, in his first postseason start in '87, was hammered by Minnesota in the Metrodome in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series. He served up six earned runs and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings and allowed two home runs, both to Gary Gaetti.

Fister, technically, has not made a start in this year's Division Series because of the odd Game 1 rainout that resulted in a suspended game. Fister "started" the next day, on Saturday, and was cuffed for six earned runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He walked two. He balked. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Leyland hopes to see a sharper curve from Fister tonight.

"I didn't execute a few things," Fister said of his Saturday start in New York. "A good lineup makes you pay for it. That's what they did the other night. It's going to be a new fight [Thursday] night. I'm still going to go out there and approach the game the same way that I did before. I'm going after hitters and using my defense and obviously letting the offense do the work."

Back in '87, things did not improve for Alexander in his second -- and final -- postseason outing for the Tigers. With Sparky Anderson's club facing elimination in Game 5 in Tiger Stadium, the Twins clobbered Alexander again. In just 1 2/3 innings, he surrendered four earned runs and six hits. By the time it was finished, his smoldering ERA was resting at a vastly imperfect 10.00.

Fister? If the weird trend continues, the Tigers are doomed.

Likes: You can't beat three of the four Division Series going the full five games. Last time that happened? How about 2001, when Seattle (which beat Cleveland), the Yankees (Oakland) and Arizona (St. Louis) each won Game 5. ... The cheeseburgers at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Mich. As good as they get. ... Detroit Beach Restaurant and Pizzeria in Monroe, Mich. ... Running through the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village grounds. Beautiful. ... The hints of orange and yellow now streaking the leaves in the Midwest.

Dislikes: Sleep well, Steve Jobs. What a legacy.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"As pretty as you are
"You know you could`ve been a flower
"If good looks were minutes
"You know you could have been an hour
"The way you stole my heart
"You know you could have been a crook
"And baby you're so smart
"You know you could have been a school book"

-- The Temptations, The Way You Do The Things You Do

Posted on: October 4, 2011 11:47 pm
 

Yanks turn A.J. loose, clobber Tigers in Game 4

DETROIT -- The scariest sentence of the summer for Yankees fans turned into the most surprising sentence of the year.

From "The season depends on A.J. Burnett" to "Good Lord above, look who saved the day!" in 81 pitches on a gorgeous night at Comerica Park for everything and everyone but the Tigers.

Mark it down. Burnett rides in on a white horse. The Yankees blast Detroit 10-1. This Division Series is headed back to New York even-steven at two games apiece, with the winner Thursday spraying champagne.

All hail A.J.

Maybe it was his 2009 World Series victory frozen in time inside of his laptop that spurred him. Perhaps it was getting kicked one too many times while he was down, getting taunted one too many times in public, getting spurned one too many times from the Yankees' brass.

Whatever it was, after a wobbly first inning in which he loaded the bases with walks -- including an intentional pass to Miguel Cabrera -- Burnett was, dare we say it, ace-like. He lasted 5 2/3 innings, the perfect amount for a bullpen that includes Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.

And the thing is, after New York's six-run eighth, the latter two weren't even needed.

"You can't count me out," Burnett had said on the eve of his latest make-or-break start. "I'm going to bring everything I've got and just let A.J. loose out there."

Good thing for him, they let Curtis Granderson loose, too. That bases-loaded first inning? Two out, and Don Kelly smoked a screaming liner dead ahead to center field. Granderson broke in at first, then quickly recovered, scrambled back and made a leaping stab that ended the inning.

It was a spectacular catch made possible by an initial misread. Bottom line, it saved Burnett at least two runs and possibly an inside-the-park grand slam.

Granderson would make another sensational catch to end the sixth. But, by then, the Yankees led 4-1 and thanks to Burnett, they were out of the rough.

"I've been proving people wrong my whole career, it seems like," Burnett had said on Monday evening. "People are entitled to their opinion.

"Obviously, I give them reasons here and there do doubt."

In Game 4, Burnett gave them reasons neither here nor there to doubt. The dude was stellar, just in the nick of time.

Tuesday was a very, very good night for the Yankees also in that the blowout allowed Robertson and Rivera to watch idly from the bullpen and maybe get some crucial rest for what should be a terrific final act to what has been a riveting series.
Posted on: October 4, 2011 6:04 pm
 

Rangers looking like anything but one-hit wonders


Here's the thing about the Texas Rangers as the champagne sprayed Tuesday in Tampa Bay: Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, the Rangers early stars this October, were elsewhere when Texas made its first foray to a World Series last October.

And as the Rangers move on and prepare to meet either the Detroit Tigers or the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series, those two are just the latest examples of Texas' power both on the field and off.

Lots of people assumed the Rangers were done last winter when they couldn't retain Cliff Lee. But general manager Jon Daniels and his staff were creative enough to fill in the cracks of a very good core and the Rangers so far haven't missed a beat.

I don't know whether C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and the rest will provide enough pitching to slip past the Yankees or the Tigers and push the Rangers to their second consecutive World Series.

But I do know that under club president Nolan Ryan, Daniels and beyond, the Rangers never for a moment spent one time feeling sorry for themselves losing to San Francisco last fall. They never for a moment wasted time looking in the rear view mirror.

"The reality is, there are a lot of teams that have gotten there once," Daniels told me in March as the Rangers limbered up in Arizona. "That doesn't take anything away from it, but that's not our goal.

"First of all, we want to win it. And second of all, we don't want to be a one-hit wonder. And we need to prove that."

As the Rangers climb the charts again in 2011, they look far more long-term than one-hit wonder.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 11:53 pm
 

Yikes, Yankees' season now up to A.J. Burnett


DETROIT -- Now comes the scariest sentence of the summer for the Yankees: Their season depends on A.J. Burnett.

Hide the women and children. Stock up on the Tums. Get a good night's sleep. As this high-octane series sprints toward Game 4, the Yankees have no room left for mistakes because they probably made their biggest in getting a 5-4 Yankee clipping in Game 3 here Monday.

That mistake? Failing to take advantage of two unexpected windfalls against Tigers ace Justin Verlander:

A two-run first inning that momentarily knocked Verlander and the Tigers off-balanced was given back by CC Sabathia in Detroit's two-run third.

Then, Verlander was absolutely sensational from the second through the sixth innings, the Yankees clawed back from 4-2 to tie the game at 4-4 in the seventh. And set-up man Rafael Soriano immediately gave it up when Delmon Young crushed a one-out fastball in the bottom of the seventh to make it 5-4.

It wasn't quite the classic battle between Verlander and Sabathia that most of us expected. Sabathia was wobbly from the beginning, walking three Tigers in the first, another in the second and one more in the third. But the Yankees turned three double plays behind him in those three innings to atone for his sins.

Verlander, after that two-run first, savagely mowed through the Yankees over the next five innings. He hit 100 m.p.h. several times. He sent curve balls that bent like bananas. He threw changeups somewhere in between. He was sensational during this time. He fanned four consecutive Yankees during the fourth and fifth, then stretched it to seven in a nine-batter stretch through the seventh.

With two out in the seventh, Jorge Posada stunned him by fighting back from 0 and 2 to walk. Then Verlander drilled Russell Martin with a 100 m.p.h. fastball in the ribs. Ouch.

What undoubtedly stung Verlander just as much, Brett Gardner lashed a 100 m.p.h. heater for a game-tying double after that.

Before the Tigers could fully digest that, Young was depositing a Soriano pitch over the right-field fence -- and the Tigers were depositing the Yankees to the brink of elimination.

With Burnett headed to the mound to start Game 4 Tuesday night.
 
 
 
 
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