Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-4-4

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

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The only spin here is on a curveball

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Top of the 1st
BOB DODGES ANOTHER BULLET
This morning is unlike any other for one octogenarian couple who live in Gates Mills, Ohio. No, they are not celebrating Passover, they are celebrating the fact that a no-hitter was not thrown on Opening Day.

Why do Bob and Anne Feller care? They care only because Bob Feller’s no-hitter on Opening Day, April 16, 1940, remains the only no-hitter to start the season.

Feller, that very cold Chicago day (reports vary, many say it was 47 degrees other say it was 35 degrees at game time, irregardless everyone reported it was cold), was opening the season for the Indians and facing the White Sox at old Comiskey Park. Feller was just 21 years old but was coming off a 24-win season and while he had never thrown a no-hitter, he already had three one-hitters to his credit in a major league career that began when he was 17 years old.

Feller got off to a shaky start that day, just two days after his last exhibition start. Dan Holmes, Web Manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum wrote that in 1990, the 50th anniversary of the feat, Feller recalled, “I remember my last outing was an exhibition game in Cleveland on Saturday and I was hit hard. I had pitched very poorly, but on Opening Day I felt in good condition.”

“The first couple of innings I was pretty wild. In the second inning, I loaded the bases. Someone in the bullpen was warming up and the manager (Ossie Vitt) was getting ready to walk out to the mound. But I managed to strike out the last hitter on a full count.”

That batter was rookie Bob Kennedy, who Feller blazed a fastball by. After the game, Feller explained, “I think I’ve been faster several times. Of course, the strong wind behind me helped make me faster. But I couldn’t seem to throw a curve very well.” The fact that Feller’s curve was off was no consolation for the White Sox who could do nothing against Bullet Bob.

In the top of the 4th, the Indians’ Jeff Heath singled with one out off of the Sox starter Edgar Smith and after Ken Keltner flew out, Feller’s batterymate and best friend Rollie Hemsley tripled Heath home to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead. The run seemed to have inspired Feller as he retired 15 straight ChiSox from the 4th through the 8th.

In the stands, that fateful day were Feller’s parents and his sister, Marguerite among the 14,000 fans. Feller’s mom had seen him pitch before. The prior June, on Mother’s Day at Comiskey, with Feller on the mound, a foul ball from a White Sox hit his mother in the head and she was rushed to a hospital for emergency treatment. Feller only returned to the mound when he was reassured of his mother’s health.

But it must have been Feller’s mother who was feeling anxious that Opening Day because with two down in the 9th Rapid Robert was facing future Hall of Famer Luke Appling. Earlier in the game Appling had fouled off 15 straight pitches before he was retired. Now in the 9th, clinging to that 1-0 lead, Feller was engaged in another battle with Appling. Appling smashed four straight balls, just foul down the right field line before Feller issued his fifth walk of the game on the 10th pitch of the at bat.

The next batter was Taffy Wright and, in one of the great last licks of a no-hitter, he hit a hard ground ball to the left of Indians second baseman Ray Mack who dove and knocked it down, and picked up the ball as it rolled a few feet into short rightfield, and threw to first for the final out.

Feller finished with eight strikeouts in the first of his three career no-hitters. Feller ended his career with three shutouts in seven starts on Opening Day. That 1940 season, Feller went 27-11 with a 2.61 ERA, with 261 strikeouts in 320 innings and 31 complete games in 37 starts. He also had four saves.

Friend of Billy-Ball, John Shiffert wrote, “(Feller) generated one of the all-time (though slightly inaccurate) trivia questions… what team began and ended a game with exactly the same batting average? Actually, the Sox started the game with a team average of infinity, that is, 0-0, and finished at .000. 0 well.”

Feller is realistic about his feat, realizing it could be topped (unlike Don Larsen’s masterpiece World Series perfect game which can only be equaled). Feller, in article written by John McMurray in last July’s Baseball Digest, commented on whether he expects anyone to match his feat of throwing the only Opening Day no-hitter, “Probably somebody will someday. Sooner or later, it’ll happen sometime, no doubt. You pitch so many innings, you don’t allow a hit, you get nine of them in a row, you’ve got a no-hitter.

So somebody probably will do it again sometime. I’d just as soon keep the record, but if somebody ties it, he’d have my congratulations.”

Bob and Anne can rest easy for another year.

(To see the box score of Feller’s no-hitter, visit, http://billy-ball.com/documents/BobFellerOpeningday_000.pdf)

Top of the 2nd
OFF THE SCHNIDE
Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn had this to day about Opening Day, “An opener is not like any other game. There’s that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can’t lose ’em all.”

Here are yesterday’s winners in the AL:
* Boston behind Curt Schilling and homers by David Ortiz and Mike Lowell defeated Texas, 7-3. No infielder who started a game for the Red Sox during the 2005 postseason remains with the team. It’s the first time in major-league history that a team has begun a season without its entire starting infield from the previous postseason.
* Luis Matos and Melvin Mora hit back-to-back home runs and Miguel Tejada and Jeff Conine also connected for the Orioles, who defeated Tampa Bay, 9-6.
* Jim Leyland, back with the team that signed him in 1963, won his first game as the Detroit Tigers’ manager as Kenny Rogers combined with two relievers on a four-hitter, Chris Shelton homered twice, and the Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals, 3-1.
* Orlando Cabrera’s two-run single in the 9th inning lifted the Angels to a 5-4 win over the Mariners. Kenji Johjima, playing in the first major league game for a Japanese catcher, homered in the fifth inning for Seattle.
* Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam and drove in five runs, Johnny Damon drove in a run in his Yankees’ debut, and Randy Johnson was outstanding as New York demolished barry Zito and the Oakland Athletics, 15-2. Hideki Matsui homered on opening day for the second straight year, hitting a three-run shot in the fourth. He finished with four for four with four RBI.

Top of the 3rd
IT’S COOL WHEN YOU WIN
Tom Glavine, started yesterday for the Mets at Shea Stadium against the Nationals, said: “There’s something about Opening Day that’s always special. It’s not an easy game to pitch because there’s so much going on. But being an Opening Day starter is a cool thing.”

Here are yesterday’s winners in the NL:
* Glavine outpitched Livan Hernandez as Mets newcomer Xavier Nady went 4-for-4 and David Wright homered to help New York edge the Washington Nationals, 3-2.
* Jeff Cirillo delivered a pinch-hit, two-run single in the 7th and Milwaukee won 5-2, spoiling Jim Tracy’s debut as Pittsburgh’s manager.
* Matt Murton homered in a five-run 1st inning, and Todd Walker singled home a pair of runs in a seven-run 6th inning as the Cubs defeated Cincinnati, 16-7. The Reds hadn’t given up so many runs on opening day since 1877, in a 24-6 loss to Louisville during the third month of Rutherford B. Hayes’ presidency. President George W. Bush threw a ceremonial pitch at the invitation of new Reds owner Bob Castellini, one of his former ownership partners in the Texas Rangers. No current president had ever thrown an opening day pitch in Cincinnati. In a pre-game sweep, the Secret Service could find no weapons of mass destruction in Cincy other than the Cubs bats. Bush is now considering invading Chicago.
* Albert Pujols homered twice, Scott Rolen hit a grand slam and the St. Louis Cardinals’ pounded out 17 hits in a 13-5 victory over the Phillies. Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard homered for the Phillies, who ended up with their worst opening-day loss since the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 12-3 victory in 1935. Jimmy Rollins doubled in his last at bat in the 8th to keep his hitting streak alive at 37.
* Matt Holliday dashed home on a grounder and dived in ahead of the throw for the winning run in the 11th inning as the Rockies defeated Arizona, 3-2.
* Adam LaRoche and Andruw Jones hit three-run homers off Derek Lowe but it was Ryan Langerhans leadoff homer in the 8th that provided the difference in the Braves 11-10 vicotry over the Dodgers and disappoint a crowd of 56,000, the largest single-game regular-season attendance in Dodger Stadium history.
* Mike Piazza and Khalil Greene homered for the defending NL West champion Padres as they defeated the Giants, 6-1. Barry B*nds, who was booed from start to finish hit a ground-rule double and a fan tossed a syringe near Bonds as he came off the field after the bottom of the 8th. The syringe apparently did not have a needle. Bonds picked it up with his glove for use later.
* Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge combined on a five-hitter, Craig Biggio doubled and scored on Joe Borowski’s wild pitch in the 7th inning, and the Astros beat the Florida Marlins and new manager Joe Girardi, 1-0.

Top of the 4th
WBC SPILLOVER
For those Florida communities counting on revenue as the result of spring training, it should be noted that three of the four teams that have spring training sites on the Treasure Coast, only the Los Angeles Dodgers had more fans attend spring training games in 2006 than in 2005. The New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins all dropped in average attendance compared to 2005.

It’s understandable with the Florida Who Are Theys?, who nonetheless played without stars Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, the World Baseball Classic definitely seemed to have an effect on the Mets and Cards. While the Dodgers did not have any key players in the “Classic”, the Cardinals played without last season’s National League MVP Albert Pujols. The Mets were without Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado.

On the other hand, all the clubs drew well – with the Dodgers drawing over 70,000 fans, the Mets, over 80,000 and the Cards over 90,000. The eleven fans who went to see the Marlins play reported no problems finding parking.

Top of the 5th
ROLLINS KEEPS ROLLIN’
According to Elias, Jimmy Rollins hit a 3-0 pitch in his final at-bat of the game with his team losing, 13-5, to extend his hitting streak to 37 games. Rollins had swung at a 3-0 pitch only once in 157 previous chances in his career (not counting intentional walks). That was in June 2001, his rookie season.

Top of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM – 4/4/2006
Happy birthday to the man dubbed “Superjew” by rival manager Rocky Bridges after he led the California League in batting and home runs in 1965.
MEEK IN SPITE

BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA – 4/4/2006
Where and when did Hank Aaron make his major league debut?
Send your answers to Bill@billy-ball.com

Bottom of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM ANSWER – 4/4/06
This birthday boy homered in his first major league at-bat, as a Cardinal in 1954 and scored the last run at the LA Coliseum as a Dodger.
WOOLLY MAN – Wally Moon

BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA-ANSWER – 4/4/06
Off which Reds pitcher did Hank Aaron hit his 714th career home run on Opening Day 1974 to tie the then all-time career record of Babe Ruth?
Jack Billingham. Aaron’s historic homer, a three-run blast, came off Billingham in the top of the 1st. The Reds went on to win, 7-6 in 11 innings.

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
At two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 tomorrow morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06. At that moment, the Kansas City Royals will unofficially be eliminated from winning the AL Central.

Bottom of the 8th
MUSIC TO MY EARS
During the week of April 4, 1964 The Beatles occupied the first five slots of the Billboard Hot 100, #1 – “Can’t Buy Me Love,” #2 – “Twist and Shout,” #3 – “She Loves You,” #4 – “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and #5 – “Please Please Me,” the only group in rock and roll history to achieve this feat.

Top of the 9th
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CRAIG
Happy 20th birthday to my nephew Craig; it seems like only yesterday that you were a teenager. Have a good year and a good season and continue to represent Red Sox Nation out in Colorado.

All the best,
Uncle Billy-Ball

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.