Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blue Jays 3, White Sox 2: Well, that's it.

You would think 162 games would be enough, but I am not convinced.
Last night was maybe the single best night of regular season baseball I can remember, with four games with serious playoff implications going on at the same time, all easily followed through the glory of baseball on the internet. (Bill covers all of this superbly in the post just below mine, but I got about halfway through this earlier today, saved it, and am returning to it now, hours later, and I think it would be wrong of me to deny you my, you know, word bounty, so here it all is. Inevitably, we cover some of the same ground, but get used to it: everyone is writing about last night, and I would be stunned if there were not at least one 28 September 2011 book on the shelves this time next year. So here we go.) 

The Cardinals got out ahead of the Astros early with a five-run first, and Chris Carpenter allowed only two hits all night, so the pressure was on the Braves to stay alive against the Phillies, which they very much did not, losing in thirteen in a straight-up hell of a game. "Braves Cap Collapse," the headline says, and yeah, they sure did. I don't want to diminish the severity of that collapse, or the agony of the Braves fans who endured it, but the Red Sox implosion has been far more vivid to me, a streak of incompetence so wide and so deep that it began to look like self-abnegation. Last night, when Papelbon threw the last of his fifteen pitches in twelve minutes -- the one that ended up lined into and then out of Carl Crawford's glove in left, allowing the winning Baltimore run to come across in the bottom of the ninth -- it was the perfect ending to a seven-win, twenty-loss month, a fitting bookend to Boston's equally improbable two-and-ten start to the season. 

Meanwhile, the Rays, with a total payroll that exceeds the combined salaries of Papelbon and Crawford but not by as much as you might think, clawed themselves back from a seven-run deficit through seven-and-a-half innings, with Evan Longoria's three-run shot in the home half of the eighth bringing them to within a run. When pinch hitter Dan Johnson, who came into the game batting .108, and who I had literally never heard of, homered to tie it in the ninth, it was ludicrous, even more so than Longoria's walk-off shot in the twelfth, I think. According to FanGraphs, the only player in either leagues with worse production in at least ninety plate appearances this season is Roy Halladay. Just amazing stuff. Too bad they couldn't even put thirty thousand in the seats for it, but that's baseball in St. Pete, I guess.

Despite all of that amazingness last night, in all honesty my attention was much more firmly focused on a perfectly meaningless afternoon game between the Blue Jays and the White Sox. A game of utterly no playoff consequence, it was played entirely for the benefit of a bunch of people with nothing better to do on a pretty nice fall afternoon, people like:

(i) An old man with a scorecard.

(ii) A man with a helmet full of nachos.

(iii) A couple of Frank Thomas fans.

(iv) A lady with a beer.

(v) A kid with a rally cap behind the bullpen and his brother.

(vi) A young couple messing around with their phones but in a way that looks fun and shared and not alienating.

(vii) Seventh-inning stretchers.

(vii) And this guy.

So the usual, basically. 

What they saw was, from their perspective, I'm sure, kind of a debacle. With the White Sox up 2-1 in the top of the ninth after perfectly OK outings from both starters (Humber for the Sox, Morrow for the Blue Jays), Chris Sale just pretty much blew it: double, single, sac bunt, intentional walk, run-scoring walk, run-scoring walk, and then, inevitably, the hook. That Frank Francisco managed to seal the deal in the bottom of the ninth was both a relief and a pleasure. (After an absolutely abysmal first couple months, Francisco has actually kind of almost salvaged his season, and so good for him, I guess, but the hurt remains, a little.) I was entirely satisfied with the slightly strange way this one ended, but I've got to think White Sox fans felt it the worst bullshit ever. 

The win on this last day of the season brought the Blue Jays back to .500 for the thirty-third time this season. I don't know if Mike Wilner was entirely accurate when he called the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays the five-hundredest team to ever five hundred, probably not, but it has definitely felt that way: no great streaks one way or the other, no real can-you-even-believe-this runs of elation or let's-trade-everybody stretches of incompetence and despair. Things have been even-steven. I will have more, much more, senselessly more, to say about the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays in the coming weeks and months, but for now I'm just like, "Well, that's it. Last game of the season. I am, as always, genuinely sad to see it end." That is what I am like for now. But I had fun! 

To return, finally, to the dramatic stuff from last night, I've got a few things I'd like to share with you, the first a .gif that shows pretty clearly that Dan Johnson's game-tying solo blast totally bag tagged some guy. Here you go:

Next, here's a graph from FanGraphs (where else?) of AL wild card probabilities throughout the evening (click here for more):

Here are Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac of MLB Network losing their minds, a little:

And finally, here's a pretty terrific video timeline that MLB put together, definitely worth ten minutes of your time on this, a night without any baseball:



Man Alive, What an Evening

Tampa Bay Rays rush the field after teammate Evan Longoria hit a 12th-inning home run off New York Yankees relief pitcher Scott Proctor during a baseball game early Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, in St. Petersburg, Fla. With the win, the Rays clinched the AL...

Bruce Bochy fielded his best white-flag team yesterday and the Giants got trounced 6-3 by the Rockies, exactly as expected. But who cares? Yesterday was possibly the most thrilling single day of regular-season baseball in history. Certainly in my lifetime. Four games with final postseason slot implications. The possibility of two separate 163rd games.

The Red Sox and Rays entered the day tied for the AL Wild Card Lead, and the Braves and Cardinals entered the day tied for the NL Wild Card. The Red Sox were in Baltimore, the Rays were hosting the Yankees, the Braves were hosting the Phillies, and the Cardinals were in Houston.

The Red Sox went into a 7th-inning rain delay leading the Orioles 3-2. The Rays fell behind to the Yankees 7-0 going into the 8th inning. The Braves were leading the Phillies 3-2 into the 8th. The lone uneventful game was the Cardinals, as expected, simultaneously mauling and shutting out the Astros (the worst team in baseball).

The Braves coughed up a Phillies tying run around the same time as the Rays put together a 6-run bottom of the eighth. The Cardinals game wrapped, ensuring them at worst a playoff game against the Braves the next day. The Red Sox game resumed and the Sox failed to score an insurance run that was gunned down at home plate. The Braves game headed into extra innings as a Rays .108 pinch-hitter -- who hadn't hit a home run since April -- bounced a line drive off the net of the foul pole with two out and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning to knot the score at 7 and send that game into extra innings as well.

The Braves got runners in scoring position for Martin Prado, who offered the worst swing I have ever seen in a pressure situation and ended the inning. The Phillies got a go-ahead run off a Hunter Pence BABIP Special, and the Braves bounced into a double play to give the Cardinals the NL Wild Card.

Back in Baltimore, Carl Crawford was unable to grab what would have been out number three as the Orioles got three consecutive two-out hits off of Jonathan "huck it down the middle" Papelbon, and stunned the Red Sox by winning the game, 4-3.

Three minutes after the Orioles dogpiled one another on their rain-soaked home field, Evan Longoria hit his second home run of the game, a laser beam that just cleared the fence inside the foul pole along the left-field line and clinched the Wild Card for Tampa Bay.

There are moment in baseball -- key moments, indelible moments -- that you know, as you are watching them, that they will be part of baseball lore forever. That you'll be seeing them on replay for the rest of your life. Aaron Boone's 2003 ALCS homer. Kevin Mitchell's barehanded grab. Dave Roberts' stolen base. Kirk Gibson. Bill Buckner. Carlton Fisk. Now we can add Longoria's home run to that elite group. He raced down the first base line, knowing that the ball might not clear the wall, but that he was going to have to try for extra bases if it didn't. Just before he got to the bag at first, both arms shot straight up in the air. The look of elation on his face matched that of the stunned and exultant crowd. His teammates flew out of the dugout as if shot from a cannon, and everyone watching could scarcely manage to come up with a sentiment any more profound than that of, "BASEBALL. OH MAN, BASEBALL."

This is why we watch. Baseball simply does not get any better than this, and no other sport on its best day can ever hope to match moments such as these.

So now we move beyond 2011 and into the postseason. Let us root for the Brewers. Let us root for the Rays. Let us root for the Diamondbacks and the Tigers and the Rangers. Let us root for baseball at its most glorious, at its most profound and affecting. Let us enjoy these next few weeks, for the winter is long and devoid of this glorious game. We will continue to be here talking about the feelings that the postseason and the hot stove and all that malarkey will bring, but baseball is now entering its yearly twilight.

This is going to be one hell of a postseason, my dear friends. Let's all be baseball fans together, for there is surely no greater thing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vogelsong and Bumgarner Get 13th Wins Against Colorado

Take a breather, Conor.

The Giants have taken the first two of their last series of the year. A 3-1 typical Giants victory behind Ryan Vogelsong, who finishes the season in the top 5 of NL ERA leaders, and if he doesn't win NL Comeback Player of the Year then why even have the award, man? Then Madison Bumgarner held the Rockies scoreless, becoming just the fifth Giants player ever to finish the season with a K/BB ratio of more than 4.00 which is just insane. This was his year 21 season and he is already an ace on most MLB teams. INSANE. This dude is going to be something else for years and years.

Conor Gillaspie hit his first home run last night, an inside-the-parker. Please enjoy a .gif, courtesy of Find the Swagger.


The Giants try to avoid the sweep today by not starting Matt Cain, as scheduled, opting instead to go with Eric Surkamp on three days' "rest." (Quotation marks because he didn't make it out of the first inning in his last start so look for today's game to end up being something like 25-1 Rockies.)

Pat Burrell will start today for the Giants, possibly his last start ever. If Cody Ross doesn't pinch-hit today, which he's unlikely to do, it may be his last time in a Giants uniform. Eli Whiteside can please let the door hit him on the ass on the way out. Andres Torres may be non-tendered a contract in the offseason. Brett Pill will probably be next year's backup 1B. Brandon Belt went 3-for-3 last night with a walk and his first splash hit, which was a legit bomb. He'll probably be next year's everyday left fielder, because Aubrey Huff. Carlos Beltran is probably only signing with the Giants if they sign Jimmy Rollins, Prince Fielder, AND Albert Pujols and trade for Jose Bautista, so look for him to light his jersey on fire in the dugout mere seconds after the last out is made today.

It has been the craziest season, man. I will watch today's game with sadness and hope and love, and await PLAYOFF BASEBALL and of course, wait 'til next year.

White Sox 2, Blue Jays 1: One Could Argue Henderson Alvarez Deserved Better

This would be a hell of a way to end the season, wouldn't it, with a run of like five losses in a row and barely any runs? They wouldn't do that to me, would they?


I Think I Love You, Moneyball Starring Brad Pitt

There was no reason to think this was even filmable, was there? Despite my enthusiasm for the Michael Lewis book -- I've read it four times, I think, and maybe the most fun I have ever had at a ballgame was at a meaningless laugher on a Sunday afternoon in Toronto against the A's right after my wife and I had both finished reading the book for the first time that we refer to as Moneyball Day -- but when a movie adaptation was announced roughly one million years and several rewrites ago, the very notion seemed to me absurd. Like, what's the narrative arc, even? As amazing as those dirt-cheap hundred-win teams were -- and if you do not believe in the magnitude of Billy Beane's achievement, you must be way better at Baseball Mogul than I am or will ever be -- I spoiler nothing by telling you that the Oakland Athletics have yet to win a championship under the guidance of Billy Beane. And the Oakland draft of 2002 that Lewis makes so much of in the book never really turned out to be especially good. And the A's are still a sadsack broke-as-hell team with a horrible stadium and probably no long term future in Oakland. So what do you even make the movie about, really?

Billy Beane, haunted by his own past in the game as a failed can't-miss prospect, is open to new ideas about the valuation of baseball players; these new ideas are provided by a somewhat Paul Depodesta-like Peter Brand (with much, much talk of Bill James); the A's win twenty straight games and thus pull off another great season despite losing Giambi and Damon (and Isringhausen, sure); in recognition of his achievements, Beane is offered a contract by forward-thinking and dapper Red Sox owner John Henry that would make him the most highly paid GM in all of sports; Beane declines amid flashbacks of the lone decision he has made in his life based solely on money (signing with the Mets rather than attending Stanford) and family concerns. So, the book, basically. The book. 

And it all works. It totally works. There are of course plenty of nits that can be picked, as with anything based on a true story, but all of the changes make dramatic sense, even if they upset Keith Law. Does it make baseball sense that Billy Beane would fly to Cleveland to suggest a few minor deals in the office of Mark Shapiro? I guess not, but dramatically, it's a scene that motivates Beane's interest in Brand, a fat guy who seems to know what Billy's up to, a little. Also, it's really funny. Getting bent of shape about details like that position you as an enemy of fun and quite possibly the arts, in my view. The only thing that had me scratching my head a little is when the movie makes it seem like Jeremy Giambi was a new addition to the A's lineup in 2002, rather than the guy who didn't slide in the 2001 ALDS, not because I think that's an important detail that needed to be represented, but because I thought for a minute maybe I was remembering it wrong. But of course I was not, and I put the matter out of my head entirely when Jeremy Giambi danced with his pants half down in the clubhouse. There are perhaps hairs that could be split, were one so inclined, but come on. You love this movie. 

The main thing I want to communicate to you about Moneyball is that it, and everyone in it, is awesome. Just awesome.  That Brad Pitt is one of our finest actors in addition to being almost offensively good looking -- in Jonah Hill's words, from an entertaining but nonessential interview on The Howard Stern Show last week, "It's fucked up, how good looking he is" -- is widely known, so why belabour the point, but holy shit is he awesome in this. I applaud his ongoing, systematic efforts to make himself look physically bad on camera, which is I think what all the eating is about, but it's not working. 

Jonah Hill's Peter Brand is surprisingly well drawn, and not the complete caricature of a spreadsheet enthusiast I expected when I heard that Depodesto didn't care to have his name used in the movie. Brand, despite his reasoned, rational approach to the mathematical problem of winning ballgames, is still a romantic. Why else walk around with a baseball in your hand? What a nice touch that was. He's a Jamesian, fully realized: there's nothing cold and unfeeling about anything Bill James has ever written, despite the way he sometimes get discussed. It's impossible to read Bill James and not come away with a sense of his unfailingly, romantic, obviously silly love of baseball, right? Rejecting sportwriterly cant and the unthinking acceptance of old saws, and looking for novel answers to the old questions of the game doesn't make you a robot. It might very well make you someone like Peter Brand, though. I was surprised that Brand was as well drawn as he was, actually, given that it was not a character Depodesto wanted to be attached to, but I think I get it: Depodesto is still very much trying to make his way in baseball, and the dismissive "Google Boy" tag that dogged him during his too-brief tenure in Los Angeles has proven hard to live down. Given the extent to which the very, very old men who still write baseball stories for newspapers have taken this movie's release as an opportunity to rail against all things Billy Beane, the last thing Paul Depodesto needs is to be any closer to any of that. I get it, or at least think I get it; maybe that's not it at all. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Art Howe has come under fire from, well, just from Art Howe, I guess, actually. He called it "character assassination," and has actually blamed Billy Beane for it, in a fantastic recapitulation of the whole "Billy Beane shouldn't have written that book" Joe Morgan situation of a decade ago (that it was Joe Morgan's voice set against the images of the A's failing in the 2002 playoffs is perfect). Honestly, I thought Howe emerged as an entirely sympathetic character in this telling: working on a short-term contract, Howe is asked to mange his team in a way that is well and good for Beane and Brand and their grand scheme, but will be utterly indefensible to the twenty-nine other non-Billy Beane GMs that Howe is going to have to justify this to in order to, you know, work. If Beane extends him, fine; he'll be happy to buy in. Otherwise, this seems to Howe professional suicide. That's perfectly reasonable, isn't it? Hoffman was great; the character made sense; and if Art Howe is upset with it, I think he might not be great at watching movies.  

Very much unlike Art Howe, I have no complaints, really. Moneyball gets it right. It speaks to the constant tension between reason and emotion that is at the heart of not just Billy Beane as a character -- trading Jeremy Giambi, posterboy for his rationalist experiment, in a fit of pique (remember the Giambi for Mabry thread on Baseball Primer, with people trying to figure out a rational explanation for it, because there had to be one, because it was Billy Beane?) -- but at the heart of the game itself, of our experience of it as players, as fans, as writers, as readers. However it is we engage with baseball, that's how and why it moves us, I think, this kind of Apollonian/Dionysian interplay that is no doubt best left to Roger Angell to describe in prose, but that Moneyball manages to put perfectly on the screen.


Thanks, Jose

Stay plz

93-67, 94-67

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

White Sox 4, Blue Jays 3: So Long, Ozzie Guillen.

"He's garbage, still garbage, going to die as garbage." -- Ozzie Guillen on contemptible sportswriter and convicted stalker Jay Mariotti (June, 2006)
It looked like the story of last night's game was going to be how the Blue Jays left the bases loaded in the top of the second only for the Tyler Flowers to hit a three-run shot off of Dustin McGowan in the home half of the inning, because really, for the longest time after that, nothing happened. Kyle Drabek got touched up for a run in a hard-luck seventh, and the Blue Jays finally got on the board in the eighth on a mere groundout, but things didn't really get interesting (well, baseball is always totally interesting, but you know what I'm saying) until White Sox closer Sergio Santos came out for the ninth and threw forty pitches (!), allowing a pair of runs on a David Cooper double and walking pretty much everybody before getting Adam Lind (no doubt feeling fresh as a daisy coming off paternity leave) swinging to end the game with the bases loaded. 

But all of that ended up seeming minor, as it turned out to be Ozzie Guillen's last game as White Sox manager, which is, you know, pretty major. As has perhaps been noted elsewhere previously, Ozzie is a character. He will no doubt be loved forever in Chicago on the strength of the White Sox first World Series win in eighty-eight years, and loved everywhere for the amazing things he would say in the papers and on Twitter. All signs indicate that he is on his way to Miami (possibly in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers), which means even though he will still probably be somewhere being awesome, I will almost never think of him, because I almost never think of the Marlins (I see no point). So this looks a lot like goodbye, Ozzie: you are a good egg.

I also wanted to mention unartfully in closing that the attendance at last night's cold, rainy, nothing game between the Blue Jays and the White Sox drew a crowd of 21 320, while only 18 772 showed up at Tropicana Field last night to watch the Rays beat the Yankees to draw even with the Red Sox for the wild card with two days left in the season. I would suggest that this is because people in Chicago, unlike people in the Tampa Bay area, enjoy baseball and deserve a team. Maybe even two! As everyone who has ever gone to baseball games at all knows, the Yankees are the best road draw around -- this year, for instance, they're averaging crowds of 33 954 in away games -- and yet you can't even get 20 000 into the (admittedly wretched) Trop for a crucial game. "If people don't want to come out to the ballpark," a great man once said, "how are you gonna stop them?" And this is certainly true. All I am saying is this: pretty lame, Rays fans; pretty lame.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Rays 5, Blue Jays 2: How About No More Brett Cecil Ever?

Four runs in three-and-a-third: not cool, Brett Cecil. With pretty much the same peripherals as last season, Cecil wraps up the season with a 4-11 record, rather than last year's 15-7. Was he lucky last year, or unlucky this season? Or is he, on the whole, kind of a butt and best disregarded entirely? Increasingly, that is my position. Next year, give me a rotation of Romero, Alvarez, Morrow, a revitalized and smoke-throwing Kyle Drabek and, what the heck, Yu Darvish. That is what I am after.

Oh hey, have I mentioned that Ben Zobrist hit an inside-the-park home run yesterday after Jose Bautista slammed into the wall and stayed down for the count? I hadn't? Forgive me; it was a remarkable thing that I should have told you about immediately.

Let me say in conclusion that now that the Blue Jays are finished with the Rays, I wish the Rays every success in unseating the slumping Red Sox, who are in the process of blowing a massive lead in the wild card race in truly spectacular fashion. Even last week, when the Blue Jays were beating up on the Angels, it occurred to me that I would actually totally prefer to see the Angels in the playoffs over the Sox, and yet because they chose to oppose the Blue Jays, I could not but wish them nightly thrashings. But now, an Angels-Rays one-game playoff with the Red Sox all sad at home seems to me the sweetest of conclusions to this fine 2011 season.

Anyway. On to Chicago for one last hurrah. Let us do this.


Diamondbacks Sweep Giants, But You Knew That Already

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Second base umpire Gary Darling throws out manager Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants after he argued a play during the fifth inning of the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on...

At least Bruce Bochy got to not watch the whole game.

90-66, 91-66 ,91-67, 92-67

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Merciless 15-2 Victory Eliminates Giants From Wild Card

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24: Mike Fontenot #14 of the San Francisco  Giants commits an error against the Arizona Diamondbacks after running  into second base umpire Bruce Dreckman during the first inning of a MLB  game at Chase Field on September 24, 2011 in...
herp derp

Well, it's pretty apt that the single most horrid game of the year was the one that knocked the Giants out of everything. Baggs has a full rundown on all the facts you need to know about this putrid abomination of a baseball game. It started with an umpire standing in the way of an easy grounder and nearly concussing Mike Fontenot, and ended with a power outage and every pitcher in the Giants bullpen successively shitting a parade of beds.

Although 2012 could potentially be a better season and could potentially be a worse season, at least the bright side is that it's improbable that many, if any games in 2012 will be as bad or worse than this one. Let's all root for Matt Kemp to win the triple crown and for the Brewers to win the pennant, shall we?

Rays 6, Blue Jays 3: Five Unearned Runs on Three Errors is Arguably Too Many Unearned Runs on Too Many Errors

Not pictured: Ricky Romero dying inside
Aside from Jose Bautista's 43rd home run of the season, a two-run lined shot into the left field seats, this game was nightmarish. Consider the bottom of the first, an inning marred by two errors, and a non-error that was nevertheless the single worst defensive play of this Blue Jays season, and there's a pretty high bar there. After Desmond Jennings lined out to short to open the home half of the inning, defensively wretched September call-up David Cooper managed to drop a B. J. Upton popup in foul territory. Upton singled softly to right, but Romero answered by striking out Evan Longoria with a pretty tasty curve. The inning should have been over at that point, of course, but wasn't, and then it should have been over again: Ben Zobrist grounded to short, only to see Mike McCoy throw one so egregiously into the dirt that I'm not even going to do a thing about David Cooper failing to scoop it, because this was a weird hop.

All of that is bad, really very bad, totally and completely bad, but then this happened. And it was worse. If the ball is going to fall in between two fielders, can't it at least look like this? 

That's a lot to ask, I realize, but really I would take anything over the perfectly ineffectual image of Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus both standing bolt upright while a ball neither of them called drops to the turf and rends in twain the heart and butt of young Ricky Romero, hapless victim in this shitty, shitty spectacle. When Zobrist reached on another McCoy error in the eighth, it seemed only thematically consistent that Johnny Damon, he of the short-style pants and ready ways (the pants are longer these days but the ways no less ready), would homer to right and close the book on Romero: 7 2/3 IP, 6H, 6 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.

There was a definite FMLness to Romero's countenance last night, and who could blame him? I know I won't.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Diamondbacks Beat Giants 3-1 to Clinch NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks' J.J. Putz, center, celebrates the final out in an MLB baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 3-1 and won the 2011 National League West Champions title.
Good game.

Blue Jays 5, Rays 1: Not At All What I Expected

Early jitters, settling in, etc.
Generally speaking, when David Price takes the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays, he cuts a swath through Blue Jays hitters, and I am left shaking my head. Before last night's game, he was 9-1 against Toronto, and not many of those nine, if memory serves, were squeakers. So when Price opened the game with two strikeouts on six pitches, I had concerns. These concerns grew deeper and more troubling when Brandon Morrow threw twenty-nine pitches in the bottom of the first. The second wasn't awesome, either: forty-eight pitches through two does not auger well, right? But the Blue Jays were the beneficiaries of two costly throwing errors by Price in the third, and the three runs they put up that inning were more than enough for Morrow, who pretty much cruised the rest of the way: seven scoreless innings of two-hit, four-walk, nine-strikeout baseball. This Jekyll and Hyde thing that Brandon Morrow has going this season is killing me, a little, to be perfectly honest with you, but last night he totally settled in after some early jitters, so good for him. 

Finally, here is a picture of an intentional walk, which is not something you see photographed all that often.

They shook.

Friday, September 23, 2011

If this is indeed the new Blue Jays logo, then I totally, totally love the new Blue Jays logo

The Blue Jays were tremendously wrong to ditch their original logo in 1996; they were at least as wrong to replace that pretty bad second logo with the unspeakable T-bird in 2003. Mercifully, that lasted only a year. Since then, the current logo has been completely tolerable, in my view, but I think it is telling that I personally possess nothing aside from baseball cards that bear its mark: I am a man of the old logo. Perhaps because of this, I am also a man utterly thrilled -- yeah thrilled -- about the leaked logo. There are, as you can see, more than a few similarities. And I am totally, totally into that.

Maybe I'll get a new hat!


Blue Jays 4, Angels 3: Now That is How You Close The Season at Home

There she goes.
Trailing 3-1 in the seventh despite another solid start by young Henderson Alvarez, the Blue Jays at last got down to biznass: Eric Thames, who Alan Ashby could not possibly love more, led off the inning with his twelfth home run of the season, knocking Ervin Santana out of the game. Jose Bautista walked (3-4, 2 BB, 2 standing ovations complete with chants of "M-V-P"), and Adam Lind ripped one off of Mark Trumbo at first. What could have been a double play was instead a ball that skittered into centre field, which allowed Bautista to reach third, and Lind to totally evade the tag at second, not that umpire Brian Runge noticed. As you can see here --

-- Adam Lind was not nuts about this, nor should have been. In any event, Bautista came in to tie the game at three on a wild pitch, but the Jays left an E5 double out there to die to end the inning.

Let us reconvene in the bottom of the twelfth, long after the Blue Jays had strangely lost the DH through pinch hitting machinations in the bottom of the ninth and defensive reorderings in the top of the tenth. Leading off that home half of the final inning of baseball to be played in Toronto this year was that selfsame E5, who curled a 3-2 hanging breaking ball just inside the foul pole to give the Blue Jays their eleventh walk-off win of the season. And there was much rejoicing, because it owned. The Blue Jays were perfect in extra innings at home this year, which is a pretty awesome thing to be. Thanks, guys.

I was struck last night by the end-of-season baseball feelings displayed by young Navin Vaswani of NotGraphs, whose emoting I have linked to previously in these pages. The last home game of the year is invariably a melancholic affair, even, or perhaps especially, when it ends like this one did. In the tellingly sepia-tone-titled "One Last Night At The Ballpark," Navin had this to say:   

I’m at the Rogers Centre. Section 217, first base side. The lid’s open. There couldn’t be finer weather for the grand finale, the last baseball game in Toronto this year.
Vernon Wells is getting “the business” in left field. An elderly woman to my right booed him when he came to bat in the fifth. She’s merciless. A couple of enthusiastic Blue Jays fans, or, as I like to call them, “clowns,” just started the wave.
There’s an Englishman sitting behind me, at his second game this week. About baseball he said: “I just wish we had this in England.”
Baseball’s the best. It’s going to be a long winter.
 He did not stop there:

ADDENDUM: Edwin Encarnacion — “Double E,” not “E5″ — walked it off for Toronto. It was glorious. The Blue Jays made sure that since they weren’t going to the postseason, neither were the Los Angeles Angels. Here’s to playing spoiler.
In the 9th and 12th innings, when Jose Bautista stepped up to bat, most everyone in the building rose to their feet and showered the American League’s Most Valuable Player with applause, and chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” This warmed my baseball heart. We might not have given him the many curtain calls he probably deserved, but Bautista was appreciated. His has been another incredible season, one this city won’t soon forget.
I had it all Wednesday night: Great company; delicious sweet potato fries; a beautiful night; a couple of Bud Light Limes; and an extra innings, come-from-behind walk-off Blue Jays win. If that’s the last baseball game I ever have the privilege of watching in person, I’m good. No complaints.
It would be easy to make light of this as the kind of naked sentimentality best reserved for the ear of one's significant other, or perhaps best confined to the heavily annotated pages of one's scorekeeping book, even. But I salute Navin. These are baseball feelings of the highest order. Is there a more profound baseball feeling than the end-of-season baseball feeling? I submit that there is not. Bless you, Navin.


Matt Kemp Beats Giants, 8-2

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  (L-R) Juan Rivera #33, Aaron Miles #6 and Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate Rivera's two-run home run against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at Dodger Stadium on September 22, 2011 in Los Angeles,...

Matt Kemp is really amazing. He's within spitting distance of the NL triple crown. Four points behind Braun for average, one home run behind Pujols, and leading the league in RBI. Not sure how anyone could possibly be considered for this league's MVP. He had three doubles and a home run tonight, and since the Giants offense consisted of solo home runs from Beltran and Sandoval, his one home run in late innings would have been more than enough for an easy victory. The Giants are really rotten, man. They stink on ice.

Let's hope the Diamondbacks make it quick and painless tomorrow night and really put a stomping on everyone to put the Giants out of their misery.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Angels 7, Blue Jays 2: Guys, guys, guys.

At least things are going a little better for Vernon, I guess.
It's like, do the other Blue Jays even realize what the deal is with Dustin McGowan? That it's remarkable that he still even has an arm? And I am not using "arm" in the metonymic or synecdochic (I am not going to look up or remember which is correct right now) sense of "an ability to throw a baseball," but in the literal sense that it is remarkable that there is still an arm attached to the right side of Dustin McGowan's body. So when he allows two runs in five innings, you thank him for his efforts and take it from there, damn it, and while they may well have thanked him, they definitely didn't take it from there, not in any meaningful way. Instead, six relievers combined to form Buttron, and the bats went cold. The result: this dud.


89-65, 90-65

I'm just going to post pictures of happy monkeys until the playoffs start. Yes, I have already grown complacent. Let's just do this shit already.

Giants Win 8-5 in Sixteen Brisk Hours

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Mike Fontenot #14 of the San Francisco Giants misses the tag on Dee Gordon #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers who steals second base during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on September 21, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
Haters gonna hate

That game took forever. There was absolutely no reason that game should have taken that long. The Giants and Dodgers took nearly four hours for a game that wasn't particularly close. The Giants keep winning games against people not named "Clayton Kershaw" and keep the Diamondbacks' magic number at 2. If the Giants win the Dodgers finale today, they will arrive in Arizona tomorrow with the Diamondbacks' magic number still sitting at "2". Which means that either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, the Giants will be watching the Diamondbacks celebrate clinching the NL West on their home field, in front of like 12,000 people, 8,000 of whom will be Giants fans.

Best-case, and least-likely scenario: The Giants win tonight and sweep the Diamondbacks. That means the Giants will be one game back with three games left to play. That's the best case scenario. The scenario I'm betting on is that the Giants lose their first game against Arizona and that'll be that. Also, that the Diamondbacks eliminate the Giants from the Wild Card race as well. I'm resigned to that. It's cool. August was real, real bad and broke the back of the Giants. It happens more often than anyone wants to admit. Meanwhile, I'm forced to choose between my two least favorite teams in the NL for who I want to win the Wild Card: the Braves or the Cardinals. Yuck.

Whoever wins...we lose.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Angels 10, Blue Jays 6: Neither Brett Cecil Nor Kyle Drabek Fooled Anyone Last Night

The Blue Jays' four late, meaningless runs should not obscure the fact that this one got out of hand early, and stayed very much out of hand throughout. Brett Cecil didn't get past the third, and Kyle Drabek managed to be even worse in his two innings of work. That is fitting and just, I guess: an enormous part of the problem with the Blue Jays' awful rotation this year has been that Cecil and Drabek were not just worse than expected, but in fact totally worse than anyone could have possibly expected. Ever. They were brutal. And the worst. Both last night, and all year. So there you go.

Particularly grievous: Erik Aybar stole home. I hated that.


Giants Lose 2-1, of Course

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 and catcher Chris Stewart #37 of the San Francisco Giants confer on the mound in the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 20, 2011 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

Clayton Kershaw has faced the Giants five times this season, and is 5-0. Four of those contests have been against Lincecum. Here's how those games turned out:

March 31 @ LA (opening day): Dodgers 2, Giants 1
July 20 @ SF: Dodgers 1, Giants 0
Sept. 9 @SF: Dodgers 2, Giants 1
Sept. 20 @LA: Dodgers 2, Giants 1

Also, here's the only other thing you need to know about the Giants behind Tim Lincecum this year, courtesy of Andrew Baggarly:

The Giants have scored one run or fewer in 16 of Lincecum’s 32 starts.

Blech. Not a lot to say here. The Giants could have gained yet another game on the Diamondbacks last night and stayed on pace in the Wild Card hunt, but the warming glow of the 8-game win streak is done, and since Bochy's all-right-handed lineup (with Cody Ross and Pat Burrell conveniently injured) consists of Justin Christian, Mark De Rosa (batting cleanup!), and Orlando Cabrera, the inevitable just got inevitable-er. Gross.

One last thing: Chris Stewart delivered the only Giants run last night, a solo shot for his third home run of both the season and his career. Since Buster Posey died, Stewart has been platooning with Eli Whiteside under the assumption that Whiteside was much better with the bat than Stew. Here are their current slash lines:

Whiteside: .207/.276/.325, 4 HR
Stewart: .211/.291/.323, 3 HR

Whiteside has three more walks than Stewart in 51 more ABs, but he also has FORTY-ONE more strikeouts than Stewart. For dudes hitting almost exclusively in the 8-hole, it's pretty obvious that Stewart is the much, MUCH better option here out of two exceedingly lousy options. Especially when you add in the huge defensive upgrade that Stewart is over Whiteside. Whiteside has at least one catcher interference call against him per start, which is way off the league average of "never" for his position.

Stewart throws out about 40% of baserunners, while Whiteside throws out 26%, which honestly sounds WAYYYYY too high to be right so I must not be looking at the correct numbers there. Everyone runs against Whitey, and he is good for at least a few passed balls per game. He's rotten on both offense and defense, and if nothing else, Stewart's proficiency at sacrificing and making contact makes him a no-brainer in a Poseyless world.

I'm really terrified that Whiteside will be the backup catcher over Stewart or Hector Sanchez next year, and that would be just the worst thing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blue Jays 3, Angels 2 (F/10): YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHHH

Ricky Romero, who continues to own, went nine strong innings last night, with the only real damage coming on solo shots from Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter. Two runs over nine was not quite enough to earn Romero his sixteenth win, though, because aside from J. P. Arencibia's two-run single in the fourth, the Blue Jays were kind of junk with runners on the rest of those nine. Particularly poor: the bottom of the very ninth, in which E5 singled and Johnson reached on sacrifice attempt that turned into a bunt single before Lawrie sac'd, Molina K'd, and Arencibia lined out to Hunter. However! In the bottom of the tenth, Adam Lind grounded to Hunter -- who, because Mike Scosia is awesome, was playing as an extra infielder for the second straight inning -- whose throw to the plate came too late to beat the sliding Mike McCoy. I am loving these walk-off wins, let me tell you. 

Also, with the Angels in town again, my thoughts cannot help but turn to the plight of poor Vernon Wells, who is playing miserably, of course, and who has recently become the subject of internet fun owing to an interview in which he went on the record thus: "Maybe it’s just society, but people put too much on struggling." Oh, Vernon . . . 

Finally, here is an awesome picture of Torii Hunter hitting a home run. 



Monday, September 19, 2011

This A/V Club Piece on Closer Entrance Music is Imperfect but Entirely Worthwhile

"Closers are performers in the full sense of the word," Eric Freeman writes over at the A/V Club, "and their entrance music is nearly as much a part of their personas as a filthy slider or 97-mph fastball." Although closers are largely bullshit, Freeman's argument is not. After ably outlining what he sees as the key principles of closer entrance music selection -- pump up the crowd (naturally), establish a brand (vital), know your source (it is a fool who does not), sound isn't the whole story (which is to say, semantics count), don't pander (looking right at you, Papelbon), leave the metal womb (so important) -- Freeman zeroes in some notable successes an failures. "Giants closer Brian Wilson is a mix of fratty confidence, Tim And Eric weirdness, and the affectations of professional wrestling," he says, and so "House Of Pain’s 'Jump Around' is the perfect fit, standing for slightly goofy white-boy swagger and pure unfettered excitement." Well, yeah, actually, that's totally right. What about John Axford's choice of Refused's "New Noise"? "When the song plays at Miller Park and Dennis Lyxzen yells, 'We dance to all the wrong songs,' it’s a response to rote baseball personalities as much as a method of pumping up the crowd," in an act that "declares itself a tonic for a moribund genre." Jonathan Papelbon's use of "Shipping Up to Boston"? "It's shameless and embarrassing.

Enjoy this piece, friends. Also enjoy this .gif of Josh Hamilton running into a lady and the lady being kind of like, well hello there (.gif via Bill Baer at Getting Blanked), which is unrelated -- and yet awesome.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 0: Brandon Morrow and Adam Lind Are Kind of Awful . . . But Not Today

J.P.: hey Swish, that's three, bro
Swish: lol I know right
This was an excellent baseball game.

Brandon Morrow, who has been wretched for ages now, struck out eight and allowed only four hits in eight innings against a Yankees B-squad today (no Jeter, Cano, Granderson, or Teixeira), and three of those four hits were the merest of infield singles. The fourth hit was a Nunez ground ball through the right side that Jose Bautista scooped up all casual, and, without looking like anything was up in the least, fired a strike to E5 at first to force Nunez, who had made a big, lazy turn around the bag. Nunez proceeded to curse his lot, surely, and then attempted to advance a base, which he did not, as E5 put for an uncharacteristically accurate throw to McCoy, who applied the tag. It owned. It owned.  

Add to Morrow's fine start Adam Lind's two home runs -- or dingers -- and you've got yourself an extremely content guy over here enjoying an afternoon of Blue Jays baseball. Also Eric Thames fouled a ball off his own head. Seriously, look:

 That rarely happens! 


Giants Sweep Rockies, Make the Playoff Race Way Too Interesting

San Francisco Giants' Pablo Sandoval rounds second on a triple off a pitch by Colorado Rockies' Esmil Rogers during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011 in Denver.
Triples hitter.

Eight wins in a row. Four games back in the Wild Card race. Three games against Arizona next weekend. This is the big one.

The Giants went for their first four-game sweep in history at Coors Field. Matt Cain took the mound and was decidedly un-Cain-like, between getting screwed behind the plate by Joe West (who else?) and giving up five runs while barely going the full five innings. Luckily, the Giants hitters went absolutely bananas. The Giants hit four home runs in an inning, including a bomb from Cain himself.

Brandon Belt started three of the four games, and homered in the three games he started. Still, Bruce Bochy couldn't help but take jabs at Belt when talking about how amazing Brett Pill looked while hitting two triples last night. I don't know why Bochy hates young position players so much, but he really, really hates them.

Today's game was nuts. Pablo Sandoval had two home runs in one inning and a stand-up triple. Brandon Crawford and Mike Fontenot jacked jimmies. Justin Christian made the craziest catch of the year, leaping into the third row to catch a foul fly ball. That's not an exaggeration. He jumped halfway over the wall and caught the ball in the third row.

Brian Wilson made his first appearance since going on the DL and struck out two before Christian's nutso catch. It was decidedly un-Wilson-like.

This team is playing like their elimination number isn't "5" and it's amazing to see. The clock's going to strike midnight soon, but not for a few more games at least. I can only imagine how much this run of games is boosting the confidence of everyone on the team not named "Carlos Beltran," who couldn't look any more devoid of emotion if he was lecturing James Kirk about cheating on the Kobayashi Maru scenario.

Day off tomorrow, then I hope to be at Dodger Stadium as Tim Lincecum tries to lead the Giants to their first-ever win against Clayton Kershaw. Let's do this.

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 6: Oh Come On

Mariano Rivera: Has Some Saves
Of the many ways to lose 7-6, none of them good, this one seemed particularly bad. After jumping out to a 6-1 lead through four innings, the Blue Jays batters figured everything was cool and so stopped hitting entirely, while Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson took another approach, namely the approach of dingers. Henderson Alvarez just kind of hit a wall out there, and Carlos Villanueva, with whom I have absolutely no problem, was not at his best, and technically blew a save, even though it didn't really feel like it because it was the seventh. That Mariano Rivera came on to not blow, but in fact record a save, the record-tying 601st of his career, was unsurprising, but genuinely unwelcome. After four innings I was feeling pretty good about how the Blue Jays were totally going to win this weekend series, but now with Brandon Morrow on the mound in the rubber match I have absolutely no expectation that that is even a possibility in the least; like, not in the least.

I will say, however, that it was rad to have Colby Rasmus back and doing awesome things, like going 2-4 with a double and running down a ball drilled to deep right-centre to make a catch improbable enough that Robinson Cano, who had been speeding around the bases with abandon, actually passed Mark Teixeira (who was rightly holding up and tagging), which meant an inning-ending double play of a pretty weird kind.