Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-4-24

4/24/2006
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Top of the 1st
HOME IS WHERE THE CROWD IS
I love Seattle. I really do.

Okay, I will admit my greatest pleasure there is seeing my daughter Elizabeth and my next favorite part is seeing how warmly the people there have brought her into their hearts, but even without those factors, I love Seattle. Whether it is tromping from one terrific restaurant after another (Seattle is one of the great restaurant cities of America) or tiptoeing through the tulips, Seattle has it going on.

Then there are the Mariners. Well, Seattle has great restaurants, did I mention that?

Our first day in Seattle was Easter, which fell on a Sunday this year. Our second full day was what they call Patriot’s Day back here in Boston when the Marathon is run. The Marathon is run exactly one week after the winners of the lottery in Nairobi are announced to determine who will be the victors in the Boston Marathon.

On Marathon Monday, the Red Sox host Brunch Baseball with a game that begins in the morning and feels as if it ends in the morning. It particularly felt that way this year for me because I followed the Sox-Mariner contest in Pacific Coast Time, which means the game started at 8 AM.

As per usual, the game was played in front of a full house throng of screaming Sox fans. The Sox have been selling out Fenway each game since Tris Speaker, or at least it feels that way to all the poor souls attempting to get tickets. And these fans got their money’s worth. It was a seesaw battle as it seemed as if every time the Mariners took a lead, they were matched by the hometown heroes.

Now, I don’t need to tell you folks about how to attend a baseball game. The rules are very simple: you arrive for the first pitch and you leave after the last pitch. That is because on any pitch in baseball, anything can happen. On that morning, with the Sox trailing by a run with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the 9th, Kevin Youkilis grounded a ball in a spot where the second baseman could field it but even a great throw could not stop the lumbering Youk from beating it out by a step.

Up stepped Mark Loretta. Now this is a season, when Sox fans hope for the best and expect the worst from their ragtag group of hitters. But, as the ball soared over The Monster and the Sox en masse greeted the Last Lick star, you could almost hear them singing, “Get back Loretta. Go home. Get back, get back.”

Seattle’s climate enables it to be lush and green validating its natural nickname, “the Emerald City.” Boston, at this time of the year remains grey and drab, but its fan base justifies the nickname “Red Sox Nation” because everywhere you look people are wearing Sox attire. Even Boston’s most ardent fans would admit that the people in this town are not the friendliest, but somehow if you are wearing Sox garb at least you are ignored warmly. That’s why I had to smile as we entered a convenience store in Belltown, a funky Seattle neighborhood, and the owner of the store looked at Mrs. Ball’s birthday present Red Sox jacket and with a smile said, “I should charge you double.”

So, there we were in beautiful Safeco Field this past Wednesday night to watch these very same Mariners face the Texas Rangers. Obviously, there are numerous differences between Fenway and Safeco but you notice one immediately as you enter – as you walk through the concourse at Safeco you don’t seem to squish every step through the very same grease and grime that Jimmie Foxx traversed.

The other big difference is that instead of playing in front of a full house we were among the 15,000 or so souls constituting the smallest crowd in the history of the ballpark, breaking the record set the night before. The crowd was to diminish pretty rapidly because before we finished our Ivar’s Caesar Salad with salmon filet and our garlic fries from Grounder’s, Texas had a 6-2 lead and Kevin Millwood on the mound.

This brings us back to our simple rules of attending a baseball game because as Yogi says, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Surprisingly, even with score 6-4 going to the bottom of the 9th, fans continued to depart. The two remaining fans in my section were two young ladies from Japan who were screaming each time Mariner catcher Johjima came to the plate (they were also pleased by Ichiro’s 4-4).

We were all on our feet when Ichiro led off the 9th by getting hit by a pitch. We yelled even louder when Jose Lopez doubled and advanced to third when Ichiro scored on Raul Ibanez’s sac fly. Richie Sexson’s singled tied the game while Johjima’s single put two runners on as Carl Everett stepped to the plate. Moments later I watched Rangers’ third baseman Hank Blalock walk with his head down toward the visitors’ dugout even before Everett’s Last Lick went over the fence.

Now, I will tell you whether there are 37,000 or 7,000 in the stands, when a walk-off homer is hit, the crowd greeting the batter is the same, large and noisy, because where ever the game is played it’s baseball and home is where the crowd is.

Top of the 2nd
THE PAPI SHIFT
I always find it interesting the way certain players are defended against. When Tampa Bay played the Red Sox, the two times that David Ortiz batted with no one on base, the Devil Rays sent third baseman Ty Wigginton to left field, pushing the regular outfielders to their right. Second baseman Jorge Cantu moved onto the outfield grass in shallow right. Only shortstop Tomas Perez and first baseman Travis Lee remained on the infield dirt. It worked the first time, with Ortiz grounding out to Perez. But Big Papi doubled off the left-field wall in his second at-bat.

Yesterday, in Boston’s 6-3 win over the Blue Jays, Ortiz went deep in the 1st. In the 6th, with Toronto’s defense heading towards right field, Ortiz executed a perfect bunt between the mound and third base. Third baseman Troy Glaus, playing short, didn’t even get a throw off. If he bunts it hard enough down the third base line, he’ll be standing on second with a bunt double.

It was Ortiz’s second career bunt, his previous was August 21, 2005 versus Anaheim.

Top of the 3rd
BALL TO THE HALL
The Boston Red Sox and their former first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, have come to an agreement to send the ball from the final out of the 2004 World Series to the Hall of Fame. Pitcher Keith Foulke fielded the ball off the bat of Edgar Renteria on Oct. 27, 2004, and threw to Mientkiwicz for the final out of Boston’s four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. Mientkiewicz held onto the ball, gave it to his wife, and then secured it in a safe deposit box and claimed it as his own, joking that it was his “retirement fund.”
The Red Sox said they were the rightful owners of the ball, and even though Mientkiewicz loaned the team the ball for a year, the team went to court last November to get permanent ownership. The suit was dropped a few days later and the sides agreed to arbitration.

In other news, the Hall of Fame announced that the ball that Barry B*nds hit for his 73rd homer seems to be suffering from “shrinkage.”

Top of the 4th
ONLY THE BALLS ARE JUICED
The balls are a flyin’ out of the ballparks these days. As Scott Miller of CBS Sportsline.com writes, “As Sunday’s games started, home runs across the majors were up more than 20 percent from the same time last year. Major leaguers are cracking them at a rate of 2.44 per game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, as opposed to an average of 2.06 through this point in 2005.”

He adds, “Homers are up almost 25 percent in the National League. Ensberg homered in a club-record six consecutive games until Pittsburgh finally snapped his streak Saturday. St. Louis’ Albert Pujols tied a major league record by crashing homers in four consecutive at-bats a week ago. Milwaukee smashed five home runs in one inning during Saturday’s 11-0 clubbing of Cincinnati, a stretch in which beleaguered Reds pitcher Brandon Claussen essentially threw BP, serving up four taters (to Bill Hall, Damian Miller, Brady Clark and J.J. Hardy) in a six-batter span.

Homers are up roughly 20 percent in the AL. Until Detroit’s Chris Shelton, no AL player ever had socked nine home runs in his team’s first 13 games. Cleveland’s Travis Hafner became Mr. 7-Eleven when he emerged as the first Indian in the club’s 106-year history to slug seven home runs in the club’s first 11 games. Chicago’s Thome, tied with Shelton, Ensberg and Tampa Bay’s Jonny Gomes with nine, equaled a White Sox club record, set by Frank Thomas in 1996, for homers in April.”

Yesterday, Joe Crede, Juan Uribe and Brian Anderson were a combined 8-for-12 with four home runs and six RBIs as the ChiSix defeated Minnesota, 7-3. It was the Sox’s eighth win in a row and 12th in their last 13 games.

Mark Teixeira, Phil Nevin and Kevin Mench all homered in the 3rd inning as the Rangers topped the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 8-3. The Rangers have won eight of 10 and completed a three game sweep of the Devil Rays.

Jason Giambi homered twice and drove in five runs, as the New York Yankees took a 7-1 victory over the Orioles. It was the 32nd two-homer game of Giambi’s career, but he’s never hit three in one game.

Morgan Ensberg and Craig Biggio homeredas the Astros won their third straight game defeating the Pirates, 7-3.

Ryan Howard homered twice as Philadelphia improved to 3-8 at Citizens Bank Park defeated the Marlins, 4-2.

Brian Giles hit a grand slam and the Padres salvaged a split of their four-game series with the Mets winning, 7-4.

Top of the 5th
WILD THINGS
Saturday, the Orioles Daniel Cabrera walked five batters in five innings against the Yankees, and he’s now walked 22 batters in 18 1/3 innings in four starts. Cabrera is the first major league pitcher with that many walks in fewer than 20 innings pitched over his first four starts of a season since 1976, when the Giants’ John D’Acquisto walked 24 batters in 13 2/3 innings in his first four starts.

Red Sox closer, Kei.err, Jonathan Papelbon, by pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings Friday night, surpassed the 10 unscored innings mark. With that, he won — but effectively lost — an odd bet with Kevin Youkilis. Papelbon’s half of the bet: begin the year with 10 scoreless innings. Youkilis’s half: hit .350 with five home runs. Though he won, Papelbon had to subject himself to having his head shaved into a Mohawk, complete with the Rick ”Wild Thing” Vaughn zig-zags on his neck.

TWO BONUS TRIVIA QUESTIONS:
1) Who played RickVaughn in the movie, “Major League”?
2) Who sang the original hit, “Wild Thing”?

Top of the 6th
“NICE GAME, PRETTY BOY!”
Mets announcer Keith Hernandez who seems to be exchanging his six-pack for a keg, should have just shoved another hot dog in his mouth during the 2nd inning of New York’s 8-1 victory in San Diego on Saturday night. As Padres’ catcher Mike Piazza homered and exchanged a high five with a woman in the dugout, listeners heard, “Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair?” the bloated Hernandez say. “What’s going on here? You have got to be kidding me. Only player personnel in the dugout.”

Hernandez found out later in the broadcast that it was 33-year-old Kelly Calabrese, the Padres’ massage therapist. “I won’t say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don’t belong in the dugout,” Hernandez said. Hernandez, a former Mets first baseman, then laughed and said: “You know I am only teasing. I love you gals out there — always have.”

Top of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM – 4/24/2006
Happy Birthday, Larry
PRINCE JOSEPH

BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA – 4/24/2006
Three New York Yankee first baseman have won Gold Gloves. Don Mattingly is one and Joe Pepitone is another. Who is the third?
Send your answers to Bill@billy-ball.com

Bottom of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM ANSWER – 4/14/06
Happy 40th birthday to his Cubs pitcher
MAD GRUDGE X – GREG MADDUX who has now won his first four starts of a season for the first time in his career.

BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA-ANSWER – 4/22/06
Entering this season, who is the all-time home run leader after his 40th birthday?
Carlton Fisk, with 72.

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
With the Yankees victory yesterday afternoon against the Orioles, the New Yorkers improved their record in day games this season to 8-0, but they’re 1-8 at night, with their only p.m. victory coming in their season opener at Oakland.

Bottom of the 8th
DO YOU REMEMBER?
Do you remember shortstop Rafael Santana, who played most of his career with the Mets including the 1986 championship team? Raffy is now the manager of the Winston-Salem Warthogs of the Carolina League; the Class A affiliate of the World Champion Chicago White Sox.

Top of the 9th
SOMETHING ELSE I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT
I know nothing about country music (I do know that I’m not a fan), but that’s not going to stop me about telling you that I don’t like Kellie Pickler and that I’ve read that Trace Adkins “is known for smart honky-tonk tunes with a little bit of attitude and a healthy helping of good, clean American fun.”

The first single from Adkins’ upcoming album, Dangerous Man is called “Swing,” a classic country tale of men at a bar taking their swings at various ladies with tried-and-not-so-true pickup lines, and failing a few times before they succeed.

According to MLB.com, “The hook is that the song is written entirely in baseball metaphor.” will appear on MLB Radio’s “Fantasy 411” at 11:30 a.m. ET today to introduce the world premiere of his new single.

Somehow, I think the song will just remind me of Daniel Powter’s Bad Day which is sung to American Idol losers.

Bottom of the 9th
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Have a great day!

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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.