I spied Guastavo in Kissimmee. The sighting was, given the clarity of a Florida morn, a glimpse out of the blue, like a Golden-crowned Warbler in the states. The proper name of this rare bird is Gustavo Adolpho Chacin, a left-handed pitcher last seen in parts around major league baseball in 2007, best known for winning 13 games at age 24 for the 2005 Blue Jays.
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels relies on deception when he pitches. But his pitching coach Rich Dubee apparently is the opposite type. Dubee didn't hide a thing Thursday while discussing Hamels, and what Hamels needs to do better to get back to the form of his heroic 2008 season. Dubee was as direct as Hamels is deceptive.
So, I have been playing around with a new baseball prediction system. I would like to tell you that it's complicated... and it is extremely complicated. But I don't want to confuse the word "complicated" with "stupid." I suspect my system is both.* It's versatile that way.
Johnny Damon, with the matinee-idol looks and obvious love of the big stage, is starring in his very own soap opera this winter.
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Mets agreed Thursday to minor league contracts with first baseman Mike Jacobs and left-hander Hisanori Takahashi after missing out on several free agents with higher profiles.
The Braves appear to be moving aggressively to try to sign free agent outfielder Johnny Damon and are believed to be willing to make an offer comparable to the $6 million deal the Yankees floated to Damon, or perhaps even more than that, according to someone familiar with that team's situation. The Braves have made an offer for a one-year deal, but the exact amount of that initial bid isn't know.
Heading into the 2009-10 free-agent market, the conventional wisdom was that the three big stars in their prime would get big bucks, and that the vast majority of players in the middle and lower ranks would mostly struggle to land a decent contract. And while it has been as rough as predicted for many players -- several good ones are still looking for work (see below) -- the market also yielded some surprising success stories.
Free agent first baseman Mike Jacobs is close to signing a minor-league deal with the Mets, SI.com has confirmed.
The Washington Nationals have reached agreement on a deal with free-agent second baseman Adam Kennedy, sources confirm.
Making a big starting pitching acquisition is always a risky proposition. Starting pitchers are tough to predict. Oftentimes they get hurt, they break down, they lose their stuff, or they just plain stink. At other times they'll surprise you with a great year or a great performance. Given the unpredictable nature of hurlers, especially a few years down the road, making a big splash to acquire a pitcher is a risk. For every successful Greg Maddux or Andy Pettitte signing, there are several Mike Hamptons, Jason Schmidts, Chan Ho Parks, or Barry Zitos that have the potential to hamper a franchise long-term. The impossible trick is figuring out which will be which. Here I'll attempt to present the best and worst starting pitching gambles in the 2010 offseason.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Unable to find regular playing time for Gary Matthews Jr., the Los Angeles Angels traded the outfielder to the New York Mets on Friday and agreed to pay $21.5 million as part of the deal.
MIAMI (AP) -- Florida Marlins president David Samson says the team won't trade second baseman Dan Uggla this winter.
The Yankees left little doubt that they were the team of the last decade, but what team was the most efficient from 2000 through 2009? Did the Yankees get the most bang for their 1.6 billion bucks or did someone else win more efficiently? And which team wasted enough money to claim the title of the least efficient team of the decade? The answers might surprise you -- and that means you at the players association, too -- especially because the most and least efficient teams are not determined solely by market size.
New York Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran, who is entering the sixth season of a $119 million contract, had knee surgery on Wednesday morning. The surgery, which will likely sideline Beltran for the early part of the season, was performed by Dr. Richard Steadman, a prominent orthopedic surgeon not employed by the Mets. The Mets claim that they only gave permission for Beltran to be examined by Steadman and that they asked Beltran to wait on the surgery; Beltran asserts that the Mets granted permission for surgery and then, while the procedure was taking place, changed their mind and asked that he wait. SI.com legal expert Michael McCann discusses the potential fallout.
Locked out of the U.S. by a war that ended two decades ago, best seen abroad at tournaments watched by few Americans who aren't paid to take in games, Cuban ballplayers are men about whom we know nothing in an age when we know more than we'd like to about nearly everyone else. This makes them mysterious and attractive. So the surprise isn't that Aroldis Chapman signed a six-year contract worth at least $30 million this week, but that he didn't sign for more.
Baseball rarely disappoints. Every season brings its share of milestones, rare feats, dominating performances, and thrilling finishes and this year was no different. Gary Sheffield hit his 500th home run, Randy Johnson earned his 300th win and Mariano Rivera recorded his 500th save. Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter and was one error away from having a perfect game. Eight players hit for the cycle (the most in a single season since 1933). And Eric Bruntlett turned just the second game-ending unassisted triple play in major league history, which appropriately came against the Mets, thereby condensing their disastrous season into a single, historic play. Yet none of them were as noteworthy as the stories below. Here, in chronological order, are the ten biggest baseball stories of 2009.
The statement came 28 years ago.
The Mets have two geographical rivals: One is in their city, one is in their division, and both were in the 2009 World Series. For all the challenging seasons the Mets have endured through their history -- 120 losses in 1962, worst team money could buy in '93, September swoons in '07 and '08 -- there was something unique about the agony they experienced in '09.
It has been a quiet holiday week in baseball. Of course, sometimes nothing happening is almost as significant as something happening. Take the Mets, a rich, lousy team that has made an ostentatious show of being willing to spend a lot to improve. With more than $90 million committed for next year before figuring arbitration awards for several young players, the team lacks a catcher, a first baseman, two outfielders and the semblance of dignity. Every one of their starters is inexperienced, terrible, coming off an injury or some combination of the three. They might be able to get better by signing the owners of Shea Stadium, the Brooklyn recording studio named after their erstwhile, much-mourned ballpark.
Gradually and inexorably, baseball's best players make their ways north and east, chasing in this latter day gold rush-in-reverse not a pail full of gleaming nuggets panned from some murky California stream but the multi-year, above-market-value contracts that it now seems can only be dangled by franchises who play in cities served by Amtrak's Acela line.
A flurry of big-ticket activity in the last few days could spark a very interesting next few weeks after the hands and fortunes of several teams changed dramatically in a few-day span.
Roy Halladay has agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract extension with a one-year vesting option for $20 million with the Phillies. All that remains to complete the blockbuster three-team trade involving the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mariners is for physicals for all the players involved to complete the deal that was originally agreed upon Monday and involves two Cy Young winners changing teams.
On a late fall day that could resonate for many falls to come, two contenders were fortified, one was crippled and another was born. An ace looked to be going from west to east (John Lackey), east to west (Cliff Lee) and fourth place to first (Roy Halladay). If baseball teams are truly defined by their best pitchers, the ones who snap long losing streaks and dominate short playoff series, then Monday was as significant as a Game 7.
The final landing spots for free-agent hitting stars Jason Bay and Matt Holliday aren't known yet, but one thing seems true about both star players: Neither appears any closer today to remaining with his old team than when the offseason began.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays have completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves, acquiring right-handed pitcher Rafael Soriano and signing the reliever to a $7.25 million, one-year contract.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a funny winter meetings when one of the biggest acquisitions is Peter Gammons going to MLB Network. Although, a few other significant baseball people were on the move, a lot of groundwork was laid, many offers made and some very big things started to become much clearer.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin just spent $37.25 million to get veteran pitchers Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins, he had an interesting take on what has happened to the level of competition in the National League. "You have to respect the Phillies," Melvin said. "They're starting to create a powerhouse in our league."
SI.com's Jon Heyman reports from baseball's winter meetings in Indianapolis, which wrapped up Thursday ...
INDIANAPOLIS -- Superstar pitcher Felix Hernandez's intention to request about $100 million for six years in contract talks might surprise some folks in that other young star pitchers have sought far less. Zack Greinke took a $38 million, four-year contract with the Royals and Josh Johnson was reported to request about $45 million for four years from the Marlins.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Placido Polanco is putting aside his Gold Glove and switching positions to have a chance at winning a championship.
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves took another major step toward solidifying their pitching staff for next season, agreeing Wednesday to a $7 million, one-year contract with closer Billy Wagner.
Star Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, who hopes his current residence in trade limbo will be resolved within the next couple of months, will be pleased to hear that the Jays have engaged the Yankees in at least initial trade talks. According to sources, Toronto officials mentioned at least four Yankees players and minor leaguers that interested them when the teams spoke recently: Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, catching prospect Jesus Montero and outfield prospect Austin Jackson.
CHICAGO -- Jim Riggleman, the Nationals' interim manager for the second half of the 2009 season, will be elevated to the permanent managing job, SI.com has learned.
Breaking down each team in the NL East heading into the offseason. Teams are listed in order of 2009 finish. Check out the other division previews here:
The remarkable thing about baseball in the 21st century is that there really is no break in the action any longer. On the first day after the World Series ended, we had one trade, one near-trade, and the news that one of the top potential free agents, Bobby Abreu, would not be reaching the market. So even as the Yankees celebrate with a parade and the Phillies pack up a season two wins short of their goal, both front offices are looking ahead to 2010 and the decisions that will have to be made to get the teams back to the World Series.
NEW YORK -- The unique Yankees foursome of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada probably didn't need to win one more World Series together to prove anything. But they did, anyway. And they did it 13 years after their first one together. No other foursome can say that.
NEW YORK -- The Yankees christened the first season in their new ballpark the same way they opened their old stadium in 1923: with a World Series championship.
Most of his teammates were not even in the showers and Pedro Martinez was already out the clubhouse door, hustled by a handler through the basement of Yankee Stadium, stopped only when he had to wait for an elevator up to the parking lot. As Martinez spoke -- "I'm extremely proud," he said. "I had fun and enjoyed it. I don't regret anything" -- a Yankee fan chanted softly in the background, "Who's your daddy? Who's your daddy?" No matter what he did, or where he went, Martinez could not escape it.
The majority of the Philadelphia Phillies' players appear to have come to regard the dozens upon dozens of media members who fill their clubhouse after every World Series game in the same way that a family of picnickers, who had looked forward to an idyllic al fresco autumn meal, might regard a swarm of ants. The strategies that the Phillies -- who seem genuinely surprised that the media's glare is so much more intense during their series against the Yankees than it was during last year's matchup with the Rays -- have utilized to deal with the horde are varied.
PHILADELPHIA -- Just to the left of the 374-foot marker in left-center field at Citizen's Bank Park, sandwiched between advertisements for Southwest Airlines and Budweiser, is a sign that brings in no money but may be just as valuable to helping the Phillies cash in this World Series. It is of a microphone between the letters HK, and it is commemorating late Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who passed away earlier this season. For the fans and the team, it serves as a reminder of the man whose distinct baritone was the voice of the team for nearly four decades. For Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, it is something else: his latest target in an ongoing effort to shake a puzzling and powerful slump.
1. The matchup so nice we had to have it twice: Six days after he used a darting changeup and great movement to hold the Yankees to three runs in six innings, Pedro Martinez will take the mound in the Bronx one more time, this time trying to stave off elimination of his Phillies. In last week's Game 2, Martinez allowed just two solo home runs, both on tough pitches, in his first six innings, keeping the Phils in a game in which A.J. Burnett was just a little bit better. Serenaded by chants of "Who's your daddy?" -- and quietly hearing worse from one fan whom he chose to upbraid at his postgame press conference -- Martinez showed both the showmanship that makes him a star and the skill to back it up.
PHILADELPHIA -- While the Yankees have to be considered a fairly heavy favorite with only one win needed as they head back to the Bronx, the Phillies still have some characteristically serious fight in them. Until last rites are read to the Phillies, they should be assumed to have plenty of life.
Mr. October is taken. So is Mr. November. Chase Utley will have to settle for a historic hot streak that has helped push the World Series to a Game 6 for the first time in six years.
PHILADELPHIA -- That swing is so quick. It's rattlesnake quick. Jai Alai quick. Shell game quick. That swing is so quick, it should make a cracking sound, like the tip of a whip. That Chase Utley swing.
1. With the sound of Alex Rodriguez's ringing double to left field, the Phillies' situation went from "bad" to "desperate" late Sunday night. Philadelphia is now down 3-1 in the World Series, a position from which very few teams have ever recovered: Those in this position have gone 5-28 in best-of-seven Series, and the last team to come back from a 3-1 hole was the 1985 Royals. Teams in the specific position of the Phillies, down 3-1 in the World Series without home-field advantage in 2-3-2 format, have won just two of 13 times: the 1979 Pirates and the 1958 Yankees.
The World Series may not be over, but many fans of the defending Philadelphia Phillies are apparently giving up, leading to a plunge in the asking price for tickets being sold through ticket reselling Web sites.
PHILADELPHIA -- Earlier this week, Jamie Moyer was lamenting that nobody just sits around and talks about baseball anymore. So Jamie Moyer, 46 years old and now in his 23rd season and without much else to do since he is not on the Phillies' World Series roster, decided that he would sit around and talk baseball. And so that is what he did during the Phillies off-day last Friday. Talk. About pitching in general -- how to throw a slider, why cutters can be effective without hurting your arm and the difference between being a pitcher and a thrower -- and about Cliff Lee in particular.
PHILADELPHIA -- Alex Rodriguez has turned around his perennial playoff struggles and with one swing of his bat brought the Yankees within 27 outs of their 27th World Series championship -- and his first.
PHILADELPHIA -- With two out and a tie score in the top of the ninth inning, nobody on base and a 1-2 count to Johnny Damon, Phillies closer Brad Lidge uncorked one of his signature sliders, 84 miles per hour and diving toward the plate. Damon swung. The crowd erupted. Several Phillies lurched toward their dugout. But Damon stood stubbornly in the batters box. He was one of the few people at Citizens Bank Park who recognized that he had nicked a piece of the ball and catcher Carlos Ruiz had failed to glove it. "He kept himself alive," Lidge said.
PHILADELPHIA -- At stake for the Phillies on Sunday night is a season, a repeat, possibly a dynasty. On the mound is Joe Blanton. He is 6 foot 3, 250 pounds, a former first-round draft pick who is built like a beer-leaguer, only with high stirrups and a sharp curveball. He pitched wonderfully in last year's World Series, won more than he lost this season, and was decent enough against the Dodgers in the NLCS. The main problem with Blanton is that he is not Cliff Lee.
Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci breaks down Game 3 from Philadelphia: 1. If Game 3 is the turning point of the World Series -- 68 percent of teams up 2-1 go on to win it -- then a Yankees championship began with one pitch from Cole Hamels that will be remembered as one of the great gaffes in recent Series history. The beginning of the end for Philadelphia was a first-pitch curveball Hamels threw New York pitcher Andy Pettitte with no understanding of basic baseball. When Pettitte stepped in, Hamels was working with a 3-2 lead, a runner at second base and -- here's the key part -- one out. Pettitte is a career .134 hitter who has come to bat a total of 12 times over the past three years. Hamels could dispose of him with fastballs, the way J.A. Happ would do the next inning, and he would be one out away from being out of the inning. Instead, Hamels threw a first-pitch curveball up, and Pettitte slapped a single to tie the game. Why in the world would he throw
Andy Pettitte gave up more runs than he had in any of his first three starts this postseason but got them back by singling home the tying run and scoring the go-ahead tally.
1. Unless you were Jimmy Rollins, you had to believe that this World Series was going to be a long one, as closely matched as are the Yankees and Phillies. So while Philadelphia lost Game 2, 3-1, to a stellar pitching effort by Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, they scored a small triumph that may pay dividends as the series is extended: they chipped away at the seemingly indestructible nature of Mariano Rivera.
NEW YORK -- The fabulous Phillies were unfazed by their Game 2 defeat that left the World Series even. This team does not lack confidence. Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins was asked whether he still believed in his prediction of a five-game Phillies victory after the Yankees' 3-1 Game 2 victory, and Rollins responded, nonchalantly, "If that's what it takes."
NEW YORK -- It was an old villain in a new ballpark that did in Pedro Martinez.
Former Diamondbacks third-base coach Chip Hale is being hired to fill that role for the Mets, sources said.
NEW YORK -- Every trade or signing that's involved underrated pitching star Cliff Lee looks like an incredible bargain so far. But pretty soon it will be Lee's turn.
NEW YORK -- When Chase Utley was playing whiffle ball games on Ashbrook Avenue in Long Beach, the best home-run hitter in the neighborhood was Sean Burroughs. In high school at Long Beach Poly, it was Milton Bradley. In college at UCLA, it was Eric Byrnes. With the Phillies, it's Ryan Howard. Utley was always regarded as the scrapper, never the slugger, noted more for his line drives than big blasts. Former coaches described him as skinny, scrawny, lanky and wiry. He grew to 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, but refused to think of himself as a deep threat, not with a swing as compact as a karate chop.
NEW YORK -- Even when he caught a ball behind his back, Cliff Lee merely shrugged.
Sources say longtime scout Sandy Johnson has agreed to return to the Mets as VP of scouting to continue assisting embattled general manager Omar Minaya after suggesting for weeks he was likely to retire, and some Mets officials believe the unusual effort made to retain Johnson is another sign of diminishing faith in Minaya.
NEW YORK -- Star Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, an amateur Jimmy the Greek, says his Phillies are going to win the World Series in five games. Rollins is on a few-year roll with his predictions, although the Yankees generally seemed more amused than concerned about Rollins' latest. "Nostradamus,'' Jorge Posada called him, though it was hard to tell whether Posada was lauding or mocking Rollins.
To read Lee Jenkins' five reasons the Phillies will win, click here.
To read Ben Reiters' five reasons why the Yankees will win, click here.
It was just a bunt, a little roller in front of the mound off the bat of Dexter Fowler, but it confounded the heck out of reliever Scott Eyre. Before he could even reach the thing, he'd stumbled horribly to the ground, where he grabbed an ankle, writhed about and pounded his fist.
So much has gone wrong this postseason, the annoying procession of off days, bad calls, dreadful weather and intrusive television interests, but pure baseball always prevails in the end. Not everyone appreciates the Yankees -- at times, the resistance leans toward hatred -- but there was a crushing inevitability to their pennant-winning celebration early Monday morning, for reasons well beyond the decadence of an unlimited payroll.
Before the ALCS and NLCS, I identified the players on each of the four teams who had underperformed in the opening round of the playoffs and thus needed to step up their performance to help their teams win their respective league pennants. With another round in the books, here are the players on the two pennant winners who remain concerns heading into the World Series.
NEW YORK -- This Yankees team is a lot like many past pin-striped champions, with its emphasis on pitching, power and payroll. And although it'd been six years since the storied franchise's last trip to the World Series, in another reminder of past champions, Mr. Steinbrenner recalled the usual script. Only this time it was the young Mr. Steinbrenner, Prince Hal, who sounded in celebration like he was impersonating his father.
Former Nationals manager Manny Acta has been hired as the Indians' new skipper.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993, but it was not until their final act that they earned true acceptance and appreciation. They had 96 wins one year, 95 the next, a very good team that fell just short of great. Then Joe Carter came to the batter's box in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, sent a moonbeam over the left-field foul pole, and took his delirious lap around the dirt cutout at Skydome. By the time he reached home plate, the Blue Jays were a dynasty or at least something close to it.
PHILADELPHIA -- When the NLCS was over, and the Dodgers were done again, eliminated just like the year before in five games by the Phillies, iconic Dodgers manager Joe Torre gathered his mostly young troops together, and he spoke of progress. It seems like a tough sell job, with the result from one year to the next being exactly the same. But Torre could sell parkas in L.A.
1. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada made his answer doubly clear when asked why the Yankees are on a 5-1 postseason run after going 4-13 in their previous 17 postseason games. The difference? "Pitching. Pitching," Posada said.
When it ended, there were no massive dog piles, no exuberant displays of over-the-top-excitement and no outward sign that their second consecutive National League pennant signified anything more than what they had said it would be all week long: just another step on their journey to what they, and a growing number of others, are envisioning as a second straight World Series championship.
PHILADELPHIA -- Pedro Martinez held court in the corner of the Phillies clubhouse for 20 some minutes today, answering questions in English and Spanish, referring to himself and Raul Ibañez as the club's "old goats," proclaiming Boston's 2004 ALCS comeback "the greatest in the history of the game" and riffing on Jimmy Rollins' youthful appearance ("he looks just like he did in that 'Beyond Baseball' commercial").
PHILADELPHIA -- One Dodger was going over the possibilities and permutations following the heartbreaking Jimmy Rollins-authored 5-4 Game 4 defeat that left Los Angeles on the cusp of elimination, and that Dodger mentioned having to win a game here in Philly, then two more back in L.A. Then that Dodger mentioned having to beat Cliff Lee, who they couldn't touch, if they even get to a Game 7.
PHILADELPHIA -- The moment the clubhouse doors swung open to the media, a little past midnight Tuesday morning, the Phillies turned all at once and dashed from their lockers into the privacy of their back lounge. They surrounded their longest-tenured player, raised shots of Tequila Don Julio, and chanted: "One more! One more! One more!" Then they strutted back into the clubhouse, all of them following shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who was wearing a ring of shaving cream atop his head like a crown. It was as though he couldn't bring himself to wipe it off.
PHILADELPHIA -- It was surely past his bedtime, but as midnight approached on Sunday night in Citizen's Bank Park, there was a little boy in a Cliff Lee jersey hanging with the man himself, and a few of his Phillies friends, just outside the home team clubhouse. The grown ups were talking and joking with their pint-sized pal and only minutes before, Lee had finished off a dazzling performance that gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series. The scene now was reminiscent of the schooling he had just given the Dodgers -- in both cases he looked like a man among boys. In the Phillies 11-0 blowout win in Game 3, Lee delivered as superb an outing as this postseason has witnessed to date, even if the line itself -- eight innings, no walks, 10 strikeouts, no runs and no chance allowed -- doesn't do justice to the level of brilliance he displayed on Sunday.
1. Tonight for Game 3 of the NLCS the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda becomes the third pitcher in as many days to start a championship series game after not starting in the division series. The Phillies' Pedro Martinez, of course, was masterful on Friday, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing only two hits and no walks (though Philadelphia's bullpen blew the lead and the game). The Angels' Joe Saunders tossed seven innings of two-run ball last night, exiting in a 2-2 tie, a game that the Yankees won 4-3 in the 13th inning.
LOS ANGELES -- An hour after his win and one of the postseason's most intriguing storylines had slipped away, Pedro Martinez was standing at his locker in the back corner of the Phillies clubhouse, looking just as calm as he did during seven brilliant shutout innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. He was still dealing, only now they were tales from his brilliant afternoon, rather than fastballs and filthy off-speed pitches, that he was offering. He rambled on so long that when he was reminded that the team bus would be leaving shortly, Pedro all but ignored it. He seemed interested in staying as long as he wanted.
LOS ANGELES -- As Brad Lidge finished his warmup pitches before the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday night, an interesting tune began pulsing through the Dodger Stadium loudspeakers: Metallica's Enter Sandman. It was a curious choice, and not just because it is best known in baseball circles as the personal anthem of the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, and its foreboding sound has been a staple of Octobers past, usually serving as last rites for the opposition.
1. Even without a rainout, the Yankees or Angels could become world champions by playing 11 games in 28 days without ever being scheduled to play three days in a row. Springsteen would be embarrassed by that schedule, and he just turned 60. That's why if you're a baseball fan, you root for rainouts the next two nights in New York.
LOS ANGELES -- They met in this same round a year ago, finished with the two best records in the National League this season and each had home-field advantage in the division series, and yet somehow the fact that the Phillies will meet the Dodgers in the NLCS feels mildly surprising. The Dodgers upended a Cardinals team overflowing with top-quality starting pitching, supposedly that most determinative of postseason factors, while the Phillies eliminated a Rockies team that had been playing the best of any team in the league since late May.
Another critical piece of the Washington Nationals efforts to rebuild their operations abroad was put into place Wednesday afternoon when Boston Red Sox Latin American coordinator Johnny DiPuglia accepted a position as the Nationals director of international operations.
Yesterday, I took a look at the heroes and goats from this year's Division Series. In doing so, I limited my list of goats to players from the four teams eliminated in the LDS. Given that the four advancing teams lost a combined total of one game in the first round, there were no real goats to speak of on the Angles, Yankees, Phillies and Dodgers, but there were plenty of players who failed to perform up to their usual standard. Given the increased level of competition and the longer, best-of-seven series, these are the players that the League Championship Series participants will need to have step up if they are going to take their respective leagues' pennants.
DENVER -- "A cigar, dammit," Ryan Howard, holding a bottle of champagne in his right hand, barked as he stood in the middle of the visitor's clubhouse at Coors Field moments after Game 4 of the Division Series in Denver. "Somebody get me a damn cigar!" A simple request, really, from the man who delivered Philadelphia's biggest hit of the series: a ninth-inning two-out, two-run double that tied a game that had more twists than a le Carré novel. In the end, the Phillies eliminated the Rockies in a 5-4 thriller that somehow topped the four-hour Game 3 epic a night earlier -- and yes, in the end, Ryan Howard got his cigar.
1. When the Phillies attempt to close out Colorado tonight and put in place a rematch of the 2008 NLCS against Los Angeles, they might feel a little better about the last three outs than they did when the regular season ended. Well, a little better, anyway.
DENVER -- The doors swung open, and he jogged in from centerfield as the faithful back home -- the ones still awake, that is -- held their breath as they watched. It was exactly 2 a.m. in Philadelphia. Seventeen hundred miles away, a cold chill whipped through the Colorado air in Coors Field; the temperature in the Mile High City: 24 degrees. And here was Brad Lidge, attempting to shut the door on the Rockies in Game 3 of the NLDS, his team clinging to a one-run lead.
Jennifer Valdivia scooped up the baseball after it sailed into the right-field stands. The 12-year-old smiled and giggled over the keepsake from her first Major League ballgame.
PHILADELPHIA -- "One day you're up, one day you're down," Rockies closer Huston Street, standing in the visitor's clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night, said of the high-wire act of finishing games. "There's no middle ground, really." Eleven months ago Street was shipped to Colorado in a package that sent Rockies franchise player Matt Holliday to Oakland. Street was a mess then: he couldn't locate his changeup, his fastball wasn't quite sinking the way it used to. The season began, and it wasn't clear if he'd be the Rockies closer --- or a closer for anyone.
He doesn't have the celebrity wife. Nor does he have the perfect hair, the perfect changeup, or the World Series MVP on his resume. No, Cliff Lee is not the fabulous Cole Hamels. But on a chilly Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia, as winds swirled wildly and napkins and cheesesteak wrappers blew across Citizens Bank Park, the underrated and unflashy 31-year-old left-hander showed why he is the true ace of the defending champs. With two outs in the ninth of a 5-1 game, the chant of "Let's go Lee!" echoed across the ballpark as the lefty buzzed a 94 mph fastball over the plate and past swinging Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins for the final pitch of an exquisite October complete-game gem.
The Phillies and Rockies just might be the most unlikely postseason rivalry in baseball history. The Phillies were the worst of baseball's 16 pre-expansion franchises before the arrival of Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton in the early '70s and made just two postseason appearances between their first championship in 1980 and the beginning of their current run in 2007. The Rockies were a foundering expansion team unable to solve the mystery of pitching at high altitude prior to the introduction of their humidor in 2002, and remained mired in the bottom two spots of the NL West for several years after its arrival as well. Despite that, there's a rich history behind this matchup.
Baseball's employment rate took a hit this week with the unsurprising firing of embattled Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, the unexpected firing of Padres longtime GM Kevin Towers and the shocking development that Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez's job may not be completely safe.
With one weekend remaining in the regular season, baseball suddenly finds itself with the one thing it seemed almost sure to be without this year: pennant race drama, albeit a much more muted version than the high-stakes scenario that has played itself out so often through the years. For instance, with three games remaining, seven of the eight playoff spots are already taken, the American League matchups have been set (AL East vs. AL Central, AL West vs. wild card) and the series that might have been the most compelling because of its head-to-head nature (Rockies-Dodgers) instead will be not much more than a postseason warmup act for two teams who are already playoff-bound. 1951 it is not. That said, there are still several playoff plotlines yet to be determined.
1) It's official: Young pitchers have taken back the game. A down cycle of starting pitchers has turned upward. An ERA that begins with a 2 no longer is an oddity.
The Colorado Rockies aren't a team, they're an armada. Even their depth is deep. With apologies to Atlanta fans -- all 18 of them -- the Braves are strictly an opening act when it comes to thrills, bedlam and suspense in the National League's wild-card race.
There is a very short list of players in baseball history who over long careers hit .300, own an on-base percentage of .400 and slug .500. There are more complete ways to judge a player's hitting talents, of course, but there's something beautifully well-rounded about the .300/.400/.500 hitter. He hits. He walks. He pounds the ball.
His teammates had long since departed the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Tuesday night, but Chipper Jones remained. He had recently caused a stir by saying that he was thinking seriously about retiring after next season, even though he'd still have another two years on his contract. But on this night at least, he was in no hurry to leave. His Braves had just won for the 10th time in 12 games to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, and Jones seemed to be both pain free and in a happy mood, both rarities for him this season as he has struggled to what is arguably the worst season of a Hall of Fame career.
The season is in its twilight, but the stars of Diamond Digits shine on. This week an all-time great hurler continues his improbable comeback run, a young star shortstop is unprecedentedly good in the field. At the plate, we have a Royal who puts up triple-doubles like Oscar Robertson, and for the second consecutive week, Ichiro hits a huge milestone.
The talk, of course, revolves around the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have now clinched their 17th consecutive losing season, a record of beautiful futility.* But there might be something else going on in baseball. Bad teams, it seems are staying bad.
As the season winds towards October, here are some key players to keep an eye on:
Manager Lou Piniella slumped in the dugout this weekend, exemplifying a talented Cubs team that has slumped far too often this season. Meanwhile, Mets manager Jerry Manuel provided a study in contrasts, standing erect in the opposing dugout, and generally not giving off the same sort of negative vibe. It must be a matter of style, and/or personality, since Manuel's Mets are is having a season just as horrific.