Posted on: October 31, 2011 11:35 am

Leyland on La Russa: 'Probably best of all time'

Tony La Russa goes out on top.

On top of the baseball world in 2011, because his Cardinals won the World Series. On top of the list of modern-era managers, with only Connie Mack (who retired in 1950) and John McGraw (who retired in 1932) ahead of him in total wins.

On top . . .

"He's probably the best of all-time," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Monday morning, after La Russa announced his retirement. "I think you could make an argument that he's the best."

La Russa went from the White Sox to the A's to the Cardinals, and he was successful at all three stops. He won a World Series with the A's, and he won two with the Cardinals.

Along the way, he and Leyland became the closest of friends. They managed against each other in the minor leagues. La Russa hired Leyland as his third-base coach with the White Sox. And La Russa's Cardinals beat Leyland's Tigers in the 2006 World Series.

They nearly met again this year, but Leyland's Tigers lost to the Rangers in the American League Championship Series. So Leyland watched from home as the Cardinals won.

"You talk about capping off a brilliant career," Leyland said.

Yes, Tony La Russa went out on top.
Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:41 pm

A's keep Melvin, and now need to listen to him

Bob Melvin, as it turned out, couldn't save the 2011 A's.

Nobody could have.

But Melvin could help save the future of an organization that has spent this month celebrating a movie about the year they didn't win.

The A's took the first step Wednesday, when they did the expected by handing Melvin a three-year contract to continue as manager. The next step is to listen to him.

That doesn't mean abandoning all their Moneyball principles. But it does mean understanding that there's more to judging players than just looking at the numbers, and realizing that the manager is the one who understands best what non-numerical qualities those players can bring.

The A's, still looking for their first winning season since 2006, need to find some hitters to go along with their strong pitching. They also need to find some defense, and some toughness.

It's fitting that the A's brought in Melvin's old friend/mentor Phil Garner as an advisor, but it would be even better if they could find some "scrap iron" players.

A's general manager Billy Beane called on Melvin in June to replace his overmatched buddy, Bob Geren. But Melvin arrived without being able to hire any of his own coaches, and he was saddled with the same flawed roster.

Even on the day Melvin was hired, it seemed little more than a formality that the A's would keep him past this year. They gave him an interim tag because they had no time to go through baseball's hiring process for managers, which is designed to ensure that minorities get consideration.

I wrote then that because Geren was so unpopular in the clubhouse, Melvin had a chance to turn things around quick. It turned out he couldn't do it; he had too much going against him.

Melvin could still get the A's turned around.

Hopefully, they'll listen to him.

Category: MLB
Tags: A's, Bob Melvin
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:58 am

3 to Watch: The Beckett edition

BOSTON -- If Josh Beckett loses Friday night, maybe the Red Sox don't get to the playoffs.

But if Josh Beckett doesn't look healthy Friday night, maybe it doesn't matter whether the Red Sox get to the playoffs.

Not to put too much on Beckett, but there might not be a more important player in baseball to watch this weekend. At this point, there's no way there's a more important player on the Red Sox.

The Sox already have a wounded starting rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year, Clay Buchholz still not certain to return (and unlikely to start), and John Lackey owning the worst ERA in the big leagues (6.19) for anyone allowed to make 16 or more starts.

Lackey is still Boston's third starter, and the Red Sox really don't have a fourth or fifth starter. They may be in trouble in October (if they get there), anyway.

But with a healthy Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, and a lineup that can still be very dangerous, they'd have a chance.

There's a reason the Red Sox are 19-8 in games Beckett has started this year. There's a reason that Beckett is the one Boston starter that the Rays worry about (they have no runs and two hits in 17 innings against him this year).

There's a reason I wrote, barely two weeks ago, that Beckett was the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Just six days after I wrote that, Beckett sprained his right ankle in a Sept. 5 start in Toronto. He hasn't pitched since.

The Red Sox say he's healthy now. They say he should be fine, and under no real limitations, for Friday's start against the Rays.

The Red Sox also have a habit of not always being entirely truthful about injuries.

Is Beckett healthy? For Boston's sake, he'd better be.

Without him, they don't stand much chance in October. Without him, they may not even need to worry about October.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No matter how good or how healthy Beckett is, there's no guarantee he wins, in Rays at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. That's because James Shields is pitching for the Rays, and Shields has two (of his 11) complete games, and one (of his four) shutouts against Boston. Shields hasn't lost to anyone since Aug. 16, when he gave up just three runs on three hits in a complete-game 3-1 loss to Lester at Fenway. As Shields pointed out Thursday, his six final regular-season starts will be Texas, Texas, Boston, Boston, New York, New York. He's halfway through that tough six-game stretch, and so far he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.  The 29-year-old Shields is the oldest of the Rays' starters. In fact, if he's still around next year (they could trade him), Shields would be the guy who ends Tampa Bay's major-league record streak of consecutive starts by pitchers under 30 (currently at 751 games).

2. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Phillies, who did it earlier this week. But they didn't celebrate, waiting to clinch the division first. So the first team to spray champagne could be the Phillies, whose magic number is two going into Cardinals at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park (they'd also need a Braves loss to the Mets); or the Tigers, whose magic number is one going into Tigers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum (they could also clinch with an Indians loss in Minnesota). The Phillies starter is Vance Worley, who might not make the playoff rotation but would be second or third for the Yankees or Red Sox. The Tigers starter is Doug Fister, who the Yankees and Red Sox probably should have tried harder to trade for in July.

3. Like the Rays, the Angels aren't done yet. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and four games back of the Red Sox in the wild card. Unlike the Rays, the Angels don't have five dependable starters. That's why the Angels will bring ace Jered Weaver back on three days' rest to start in Angels at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards. By starting Weaver on short rest now, the Angels will be able to start him on normal rest in their final series of the season, against the Rangers.

Posted on: September 11, 2011 10:10 pm

3 to Watch: The Let's panic! edition

In the September without pennant races, something strange is developing.

Pennant races.

Real, live pennant races. The kind of races that get you excited, if your team is doing the chasing, or make you nervous, if your team is trying to hold on.

The kind of races that make you . . .

"Hell yeah, you've got to panic," David Ortiz told reporters Sunday, after his Red Sox were swept by the Rays to shrink their wild-card lead to just 3 1/2 games (with the Rays coming to Boston this week for four games).


They know the feeling in Texas, where the Rangers once led the Angels by seven games, but were just 1 1/2 games up as of Sunday morning (and back to 2 1/2 games as of Sunday night).

They're starting to feel it in Atlanta, where the Braves once led the wild card by nine games, then ended a bad week with just a 4 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals.

And yes, they know it in Boston, where they panicked at 0-6, and at 2-10. Yeah, they're going to panic, now that one more week like the last one would see them looking up at the Rays in the standings.

Eight days ago, the computers at coolstandings.com said the Sox were 99.6 percent sure to make the playoffs. Now, after seven losses in eight games (including three straight to the Rays), those same (panicking) computers dropped it to 88.2 percent.

Frank Wren knows the feeling. The Braves general manager said he was watching those computer readings a year ago, watching them drop from 95.8 percent to 60.1 percent.

The Braves did make the playoffs, although their spot wasn't guaranteed until the Giants beat the Padres on the final day of the season, three hours after the Braves played their last scheduled game.

It made for a fantastic final weekend, even if it also made for a lot of nervous moments for Wren and for Braves fans.

For baseball's sake, the best thing that can happen now is that the Red Sox-Rays race goes to the final weekend, that the Rangers-Angels race comes down to the two teams' three-game series in Anaheim the final three days of the season, and maybe even that the Cardinals get close enough for the Braves to shout, "Panic!"

Too much to hope for?

Maybe so, but on Labor Day, even one pennant race seemed too much to hope for.

This was the September without pennant races . . . until it wasn't.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Since June 29, the Angels are 16-0 when they've started Jered Weaver or Dan Haren in a home game. That's nice, but it doesn't exactly help them this week, with neither Weaver nor Haren starting in a three-game series -- on the road -- in Oakland. The Angels begin a 10-game trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto with Angels at A's, Monday night (10:05 ET) at the Coliseum, with Joel Pineiro on the mound. The last time the Angels were in Oakland, they lost three of four, allowing the Rangers to increase their AL West lead from 1 1/2 games to four games.

2. Should the Braves be worried that they have rookies starting all three games of the series that ends with Marlins at Braves, Wednesday afternoon (12:05 ET) at Turner Field? Not necessarily. The Braves have lost eight of their last 11, but all three wins in that stretch were started by rookies, including one by Randall Delgado, who starts Wednesday against the Marlins.

3. The Cardinals don't have any games remaining against the Braves (or against the Brewers, who they trail by six games in the NL Central). The Rangers and Angels don't meet until the final three games of the season, by which point we'll either have tons of drama or none of it. But the Rays are in Boston this week, for four games beginning with Rays at Red Sox, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Unless Tampa Bay stumbles badly in three games before that in Baltimore (and even then, only if the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays at home), this weekend should be interesting. The Rays have Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and David Price set to go in the series. The Red Sox haven't even announced their starter for Thursday yet, and still don't know whether Josh Beckett will pitch in the series. One last thing to think about (for now) on Rays-Red Sox: If this race goes to the final six days of the season, the Yankees could have a big impact on it, with three games at home against the Sox followed by three at Tampa Bay. Imagine if the Red Sox need the Yankees to beat the Rays for them! Panic!
Posted on: August 25, 2011 8:27 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 10:20 am

Everything's happened before -- but not this

NEW YORK -- Never happened.

It's the last thing you expect to hear.

Baseball has been played for more than 100 years. By this time next month, there will have been 200,000 major-league games.

In fact, if you believe the folks at baseball-reference.com (and I see no reason why you shouldn't), the actual number of games through Wednesday will be 199,589.

"Everything's happened," Russell Martin was saying Thursday.

Well, maybe now.

I have to admit, I never would have thought three grand slams in a game was a record. I guess I would have guessed that it tied a record, since it's hard to imagine a team hitting four.

But three? Yeah, that had to have happened, once in those 199,580 games.

Turns out it hadn't.

"Pretty amazing," Martin said. "This game has been played for a long time. Pretty much everything has happened."

It was easier to believe that no Yankee had 3,000 hits, until Derek Jeter did it earlier this year, than it was to believe that no big-league team had hit three grand slams, before the Yankees did it Thursday against the A's.

Robinson Cano hit one. Martin hit one the very next inning. And then Curtis Granderson hit one.

And when he did, the crowd went nuts . . . but not because anyone knew it was a record.

It wasn't until a few minutes later, when Granderson was already back in the dugout and the news appeared on the scoreboard, that the Yankees knew what they had just done.

"I was like, 'Oh, wow,'" Granderson said. "I was surprised it hadn't been done before."

It does seem crazy, but maybe it's not.

After all, the Yankees had only had three games in all their history in which they'd hit even two grand slams. They hadn't done it at all in 12 years, hadn't done it in this country in 75 years, hadn't ever done it at home.

Some teams go all season and don't hit even one grand slam.

Yes, Fernando Tatis once hit two in one inning, but some players go careers without hitting a grand slam.

Still, if I'd asked you Thursday morning whether any team had hit three grand slams -- in any of those nearly 200,000 games -- you'd have said yes. If you'd asked me, I'd have said yes.

"It's a pretty crazy accomplishment, if you think about it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

I'm trying to think about it, trying to think about how memorable it makes an otherwise forgettable 22-9 Yankee win over the A's.

But I keep going back to those two words at the top.

Never happened.

"Definitely cool," Martin said.

He's right. It's pretty amazing . . . and definitely cool.

Posted on: August 25, 2011 6:54 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 7:06 pm

Yankees set slam record

The Yankees became the first team in major-league history to hit three grand slams in one game, when Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson all hit slams Thursday afternoon against the A's.

Cano's slam, off A's starter Rich Harden, came in the fifth inning, when the Yankees trailed the A's, 7-2. Martin's slam, an inning later off reliever Fautino De Los Santos, gave the Yankees a 10-6 lead. Granderson's slam, off Bruce Billings, made it 21-8 in the eighth.

It had been 12 years since the Yankees last hit even two grand slams in the same game, and 75 years since they did it a game at home.
Posted on: August 25, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 6:27 pm

Phillies, Red Sox move up Sunday games

With Hurricane Irene on the way, the Phillies have shifted their scheduled Sunday game against the Marlins to Saturday, when they will play a day-night doubleheader. The Red Sox have done the same with their scheduled Sunday game against the A's.

The Phillies and Marlins had been scheduled for a single 7 p.m. game on Saturday. Instead, they will play two games, at 1 and 7. The Red Sox and A's, who were scheduled to play a single game at 1, will instead play separate-admission games at 12 and 5.

On its current projected path, Irene is expected to pass through Philadelphia on Sunday, on its way to New England. The storm has also threatened weekend series in Baltimore and New York.

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 25, 2011 11:59 am

Melvin remembers Flanagan

NEW YORK -- Bob Melvin and Mike Flanagan were teammates for just one season, but their friendship endured, frozen in a 20-year-old picture that Melvin still keeps.

Melvin thought about that picture Thursday as he remembered Flanagan, a day after the former Orioles pitcher died in an apparent suicide.

"He threw the last pitch by an Oriole at Memorial Stadium," said Melvin, who was the Orioles catcher that day. "He struck out Travis Fryman on a 3-2 curve. We often talked about that afterwards, and there was a picture of him walking off the mound with me next to him. He signed it for me."

Flanagan was 39 years old then, almost at the end of an 18-year career.

"He was just a great teammate, like another coach," Melvin said.
Category: MLB
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