Posted on: October 3, 2011 12:02 am
 

Cardinals refuse to be written off ... again

PHILADELPHIA -- This is a trick, isn't it? The way the St. Louis Cardinals are setting this up, it looks suspiciously as if it might be a referendum on how smart the rest of us are.

We wrote them off once, back in early September when they were 8 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.

You and the Atlanta Braves know what happened after that.

Now, after they blew an early lead in Game 1 of this Division Series and then fell behind by four runs against Cliff Lee in the second inning of Game 2, yes, just when it looked as if it was safe to write them off again ... BAM!

The Cardinals undressed Lee, a tag-team of six relievers redeemed Chris Carpenter's awful start and Tony LaRussa's gang swiped one from the Phillies, 5-4.

This was a game made for LaRussa. He used four different pitchers in the eighth inning alone. And it worked.

The Cardinals have to feel great about this one, and not just because of the win. But because of how they earned that win.

Rafael Furcal chopped a leadoff triple in the first ... but his teammates failed to score him.

David Freese drilled a leadoff double in the second ... and never moved as St. Louis blew another early opportunity against Lee.

St. Louis was 0 for 6 alone in the first two innings with runners in scoring position. And Carpenter was so off that LaRussa ripped plate umpire Jerry Meals during his mid-game television interview for having two different strike zones for Carpenter and Lee. Blatently untrue.

But somehow, Phillies mustered just two baserunners against the not-so-vaunted Cardinals' bullpen over the last five innings. The Cardinals drove Lee from the game in the seventh.

And they drove this series back to St. Louis even.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 10:36 pm
 

Holland off, but Rangers bats not

ARLINGTON, Tex. -- This had all of the earmarks of a Texas disaster.

Starter Derek Holland fought his command from the start, laboring through a 29-pitch first inning. He was lucky to hold Tampa Bay to one run.

Then he surrendered a two-run home run to Matt Joyce in the fourth, and it got real quiet real fast at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Then, what raw rookie Matt Moore did for Tampa Bay on Friday became even more impressive: Texas hammered James Shields for five runs in the fourth and never looked back, pounding its way to an 8-6 win. And in evening this Division Series at 1-1, the Rangers served notice of why they're so lethal.

Did Moore really shut out this crew for seven innings in Game 1?

Did anybody really think the Rangers were going to stay silent in this thing?

The Rangers love Holland, and with good reason. Just 24, he mixes a low-90s fastball with a curve that dips into the low 70s and a slider somewhere in-between, Holland finished the regular season by going 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA in his final 15 starts beginning July 7.

What Holland did Saturday on a day on which he wasn't sharp was keep the Rangers close.

Then the Texas lineup did the rest, from Mike Napoli's two-run, game-tying single in the fourth to Ian Kinsler's two-run double in the sixth to Mitch Moreland's exclamation point of a home run in the eighth.

By the end, believe it or not, Texas had won its first home game in Division Series history. Before Saturday, the Rangers were 0-7. They were 0-1 in this series.

No more.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 8:27 pm
 

Love Letters: Still glowing over Wednesday night

Before we get too far away from the greatest regular season night of baseball ever, some quick reactions in the aftermath of Wednesday night. ...

FROM: James J.
Re.: Rays' final chapter in comeback story defies belief


C'mon Scott:

You're not that naive are you? Seriously? Joe Girardi gave Tampa Bay that game! Leaving Luis Ayala in after walks/hit batters ... and following him with SCOTT PROCTOR? C'mon Scott ... you're more with it than this! If Girardi cared about this game, Mariano would've been in.

You could not be more wrong. Girardi's Yankees had clinched the AL East title. He had Game 1 of the playoffs in two days. His responsibility was to rest his key guys and make sure they're ready for the postseason. If Boston doesn't like it, the Red Sox shouldn't have been in the position where they needed the Yankees' help. Period.

FROM: Jim M.

Do you think it was right that the Yankees treated it like a spring training game? Get your two ABs then in go the minor leaguers. The Yankees need to develop some integrity. I am not saying they lost it on purpose, but they never played to win the game. Imagine the richest team in baseball just cheapened the game!

You could not be more wrong, either. Any other takers here?

FROM: Harry

Hi Scott,

You asked how did the Rays impossible comeback and miracle happen? I can tell ya how. I prayed on it. From the 7th when they were down 7-0, through the Longoria blast in the 12th, every pitch, every at-bat. I prayed them into the playoffs and into the World Series in 2008 as well.

Now I know who I'm going to turn to in times of crisis.

FROM: Tom H.

Scott:

You are so right. Last night was one of those nights that I will always remember. All I can is, Wow. For those of us that love baseball, last night will live [forever]. I will always remember the emotional roller coaster of that night. It just doesn't get any better than last night. Thanks for capturing the emotion of the night!

Five days later, I'm still trying to catch my breath.

FROM: Daniel D.

Being a Yankee fan, I just loved way Red Sox folded! Tampa Bay played great down stretch!

At the very least, the Rays seized the opportunity.

FROM: Andrew T.
Re.: Charmed life continues for Tampa with remarkable triple play

Great story! The article emotes the excitement of the now! Thanks! Go Rays!

It's been fun! Let's keep watching! Rays are looking good! Thanks!

FROM: Wally B.

Scott,

The team is the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa is a city, Tampa Bay is the home of the Rays. Where is Tropicana Field? You need to know these things.

And the Sunshine Skyway goes over ... the San Francisco Bay, correct?

Likes: Kyle Chandler was waaaaay overdue for the Emmy he won for Friday Night Lights. Too bad Connie Britton didn't win for her portrayal of his wife on the best show that's been on television in years. So sad it's over... Razzoo's Cajun restaurant in Fort Worth, Tex. The crawfish etouffee and spicy shrimp and chicken gumbo are outstanding. ... The shrimp gumbo at Pappadeaux. ... Heritage Park in Fort Worth, great place to run.

Dislikes: Smokers who toss their cigarette butts out the car window as if the world is their ashtray. Happened again on a freeway in Texas on Thursday as I was driving from the airport to my hotel. Lady in front of me just flicked it out. Pig.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric:

"Nobody on the road
"Nobody on the beach
"I feel it in the air
"Summer’s out of reach
"Empty lake, empty streets
"The sun goes down alone
"I’m drivin’ by your house
'Though I know you’re not home"

-- Don Henley, The Boys of Summer


Posted on: September 30, 2011 10:41 pm
 

Damon sorry to see Francona - "HOF manager" - go

ARLINGTON, Tex. -- Boston is now four teams ago in his rear-view mirror but, nevertheless, Tampa Bay outfielder Johnny Damon is sorry to see Terry Francona and the Red Sox part ways.

"It's sad to see him walking away from the game right now," Damon said following the Rays' 9-0 stomping of Texas in Game 1 of the AL Division Series here Friday. "I love him as a manager. He stated he didn't have the clubhouse chemistry he once had, especially back in 2004 when we were able to do some wonderful things.

"To me, he's a Hall of Fame manager. He's always going to be remembered in Boston."
Posted on: September 30, 2011 8:10 pm
 

Rays carry season-end momentum into Game 1 win

ARLINGTON, Tex. -- Who needs a triple play when you've got the left arm of the brilliant Matt Moore?

Who needs to bother worrying about needing to storm back from a 7-0 deficit when you've got a kid like him?

This time, the Tampa Bay Rays found another improbable avenue to victory: Making just the second big league start of his career, Moore led them there. He was brilliant in pitching seven shutout innings during Tampa Bay's 9-0 Game 1 Division Series romp over the stunned Rangers.

And suddenly, following the liftoff Moore gave them, the Rays have seized Texas' home-field advantage and, maybe even more impressive, carried their season-ending momentum straight into the playoffs after the emotional high of Wednesday night.

No other pitcher in major league history had started his team's first postseason game with just one big-league start under his belt. And Moore, 22, became the youngest AL pitcher to start Game 1 of the postseason since Oakland's Vida Blue in 1971.

The way he dominated one of the game's best lineups, you could have sworn that he cut his major-league teeth long ago. Same as his only other start, when he tamed the New York Yankees, shutting them out over five innings and fanning 11. Last pitcher that young to fan 10 or more Yankees in New York? Hal Newhouser of the Detroit Tigers in 1943.

This guy throws 97 m.p.h. with the ease of you and I playing catch. His curve is terrific. And manager Joe Maddon especially loves his changeup.

That's 17 strikeouts in 12 big-league innings so far against the Rangers and Yankees.
Posted on: September 30, 2011 6:33 pm
 

Reagins out as Halos' executive secretary, er, GM

The Los Angeles Angels of Desperationville didn't fire a general manager on Friday, they canned an executive secretary.

Everybody knows that owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia -- and Moreno and Scioscia alone -- run the Angels.

Tony Reagins?

Somebody's gotta phone the agents and other general managers, take notes, collect information and make sure Moreno and Scioscia have enough of it to make their decisions.

That man was Reagins, a nice guy who was both badly overmatched and uncomfortable in the gig from Day One.

Now, somebody else will take the notes, make the calls and bring the information to Moreno and Scioscia so they can gather the information they need to take the Angels wherever they go from here.

And where that is is anybody's guess right now.

The Angels did not make the playoffs in 2011 -- or, in 2010, for that matter -- because the Texas Rangers are a better and smarter organization right now that has whipped them both on the field and in the executive offices.

The only reason the Angels remained competitive this summer was because of the boost young players like Mark Trumbo, Tyler Chatwood, Peter Bourjos and, yes, late in the season, Mike Trout provided.

And the man responsible for drafting them, Eddie Bane, was fired as the scouting director after last season.

Fact is, under Moreno, the Angels have become more adept at firings the past couple of years than postseasons.

They fired longtime trainer Ned Bergert last winter after 36 years in the organization. They canned Bane. A major league scout named Dale Sutherland who had been in the organization for 19 years. They've callously laid off longtime media relations employees in recent years who worked incredibly long hours and had devoted their lives to the cause.

They can call Reagins' departure a resignation if they want. But when the second paragraph of the news release contains a statement from Moreno saying, "Though we finished 2011 with a winning record, we remained short of our objective in winning a championship. In moving forward, we felt a change was needed", that's a firing.

Moreno got years of great publicity after the first thing he did as owner was lower stadium beer prices, but his ownership clearly is at a crossroads right now. Though he talks the talk of winning championships, he's consistently failed in the free agent market over the past several winters: Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, among others.

Bottom line, the Angels' actions jibe with their words less and less frequently. The organization has become soulless, and disingenuous.

Reagins certainly wasn't the cause of this, only a symptom. He clearly was carrying out others' orders as a GM, while the real stuff was going on behind the curtain.

The Angels can hire another GM. But until they change the process, until that GM isn't just a puppet on a string, the gap between the Rangers and Angels is going to continue to grow.


Posted on: September 29, 2011 10:26 am
 

Thankful for day of rest, Rays look to Texas

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Best thing about Thursday for the bleary-eyed Tampa Bay Rays, of course, was simple: They're in. Somehow, some way, improbably, impossibly, incredibly ... they moved past Boston and into the wild-card slot for the first time since May at the very last possible minute.

Second-best thing about Thursday for the Rays?

In pulling off their miracle, they also avoided the dreaded one-game playoff with the Red Sox on Thursday.

Which means a team that has been in full-on sprint mode for weeks gets one very key day to rest its pitching before facing the Texas Airborne Rangers in Game 1 of an American League Divisional Series on Friday.

"It is very important not playing [Thursday]," manager Joe Maddon said amid the champagne showers in the Rays clubhouse overnight Thursday.

"Texas is very tough. Their numbers playing in their ballpark are sick. We've got to play our best baseball. We've got to be on our best behavior."

What Tampa Bay has had going for it all season is rich depth in its rotation. From James Shields to Jeremy Hellickson and beyond, the Rays can bring it on the mound.

But here was the state of Tampa Bay's pitching as the Rays were forced to chew through so many relievers during its wild charge this week that the bullpen stretched like salt water taffy: Starter James Shields, who beat the Yankees on Monday, was warming in the pen as the Last Man Standing in the 12th inning Wednesday.

Had the Rays been forced to play Boston in a one-gamer on Thursday, they would have had to get incredibly inventive to make it through (though perhaps not as inventive as chasing a trade with Kansas City for Bruce Chen).

"It's huge," All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria said of the chance to take a 24-hour breather before taking on Texas. "Those guys [the pitchers] have been grinding all year for us. You can't say enough about what the bullpen did [in Wednesday night's 8-7, 12-inning win over the Yankees]."

Now, Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey have a fascinating decision in choosing a Game 1 starter. Jeff Niemann, coming off of a sore back, or high-ceilinged prospect Matt Moore were in line to start the one-game staredown with Boston had it come to that.

Will the Rays elect to go with Big Game James Shields on short rest (he started Monday)? Niemann? Would the unconventional Maddon dare hand the ball to the rookie Moore?

It's all just one more good reason why Tampa Bay was thrilled to not have to play on Thursday: Gives them more time to think about these decisions.
Posted on: September 29, 2011 10:03 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 10:49 am
 

Yankees not scared of Verlander - for good reason

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- So one of the keys to this crazy game is forgetting yesterday and zeroing in on today.

Yet as the New York Yankees work Thursday to prepare for the Detroit Tigers and Cy Young shoo-in Justin Verlander in Game 1 of an American League Divisional Series on Friday in Yankee Stadium, they can't help but look way back to March 31.

"It's funny how the season goes full circle," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said late Wednesday after the Yankees lost to Tampa Bay and learned first-round playoff matchups. "Opening Day, we played Detroit and it was Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia, and now that's what it is to start the playoffs.

"It should be fun."

The Yankees on that afternoon prevented Verlander from obtaining one of what would be his 24 victories this season. The Detroit ace went six innings, allowed three earned runs, fanned eight, walked four and surrendered a Teixeira homer in a no-decision.

"Detroit's a great team," Teixeira said. "It doesn't matter who we play [first]. We have to beat all the best teams in the league. The Tigers, the Rangers ... we have to bring our 'A' game."

In what easily is the most intriguing first-round matchup, the Yankees may face the difficult task of getting Verlander twice in a short five-game series.

But they also are one of the few teams that can brag about cracking the Tigers with Verlander on the mound. After beating Detroit 6-3 on opening day, the Yankees faced him one other time -- and beat the Tigers again.

It was in Detroit on May 2, and they scored three runs in the first two innings against Verlander en route to a 5-3 victory. That day, they also scored three earned runs in six innings against Verlander, who, as he did on opening day, struck out eight and walked four.

Again, Verlander came away with a no-decision. But in the end, Detroit lost only nine games this season in which Verlander started -- and the Yankees handed the Tigers two of those.

Funny, Yankees slugger Robinson Cano did not remember facing Verlander after opening day this year and, as it turns out, with good reason. He was not in the lineup May 2.

"His stuff has always been the same," Cano said. "He throws hard, he's got good stuff. Friday starts the postseason, and you forget about the past."

Some of the Yankees already have.

"I don't pay any attention to that stuff," said outfielder Nick Swisher regarding New York's first-round draw. "We're going to beat 'em. Hands down.

"We're excited. We're ready. It's in our house. It's going to be fun, a lot of fun, man."
 
 
 
 
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