Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)
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The Cardinals open a potential World Series preview with a three-gamer tonight at U.S. Cellular Field against the White Sox.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Top of the 1st
THE TIGERS ARE “IT”
This is about the Detroit Tigers who are for real. It is officially summer and that makes it official, Jim Leyland’s gang is the “IT” team of the year. Each year there is a team that exceeds even their greatest fans expectations, a team with magic, esprit de corps, a team that has “IT”. That team, this season, unquestionably is the Detroit Tigers.
Last season, three teams had “IT” – the Cleveland Indians, the Houston Astros, and the World Champion, Chicago White Sox.
2004, was an ultimate “IT” year for the Boston Red Sox.
2003, the Kansas City Royals finished 83-79 and were the “IT” team, even though the Giants won their division by over 15 games and the Cubs won their division as well. Of course, the World Champions Marlins, proved that they had more “IT” than any team that year.
“IT” is practically indefinable. Whatever it is, we know that “IT” is good. It’s not like “Oobleck”, the fictional form of green precipitation created by Dr. Seuss. Nor is it like “Cousin Itt,” the hairy character in the TV series The Addams Family. And, while the “IT” team is often in first place, having “IT” is not like being “IT” as in the distinguished player in tag and related chasing games.
No, “IT” is definitely a good thing. “IT” is like sex appeal. But good sex appeal, not pornographic as described by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who famously stated, in 1964, that although he could not precisely define pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
A team that has “IT” is like an “It girl” in movies. “It girls” have good looks, charm and sexual magnetism, and describe a young starlet who has recently broken into mainstream cinema. The term originated in 1927 to describe the first “It girl”, actress Clara Bow when she appeared with success in the Hollywood silent film “It.” Today female and male celebrities have their “people” do all they can to get on to Entertainment Weekly’s “It List” The trouble with that is if you work to get on an “IT” list, you don’t have “IT.”
No, “IT” is something that happens. “IT” is a chemical reaction. “IT” is the follicly challenged Terry Francona leading a bunch of hairy, self-described “idiots.” This year, “IT” is Jim Leyland coming out of retirement to lead a bunch of kids who throw 100 mph. “IT” is watching catcher Pudge Rodriguez beat out a grounder for a base hit and then exhort the energized Detroit fan base to yell even louder…and they do.
Pudge is part of the mix that enables teams to have “IT.” Doubeters of “IT” say that “IT” is simply great pitching. The Tigers have veteran Kenny Rogers, the photographer’s nightmare, winning his 200th game. At 41, he and Tommy Glavine are baseball’s first 10-game winners. He won number 10 in the Tigers’ 70th game, making him the first Tigers pitcher since Jack Morris and Dan Petry in 1984 to win 10 games by June 18.
Mike Maroth is 5-2. You might remember him in 2003 when the Tigers won only 43 games, he lost 21 times. Jeremy Bonderman is 7-4. Bonderman in 2003 lost 19 times. Lefty Nate Robertson, a 16-game loser last season, is 7-3 with a 3.43 ERA. Justin Verlander throws heat and his 8-4 record and 3.21 ERA is the proof. The other rookie who makes the fans insane with excitement is set-up man Joel Zumaya, who is averaging more than one strikeout per inning and regularly throws between 99-101 mph. And, while many fans call for Zumaya to replace walrus-like Todd Jones, Jones still is the closer with 19 saves.
But “IT” infects this team. Marcus Thames, Chris Shelton, Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez, and Curtis Granderson have all come through for this team. Shortstop Carlos Guillen has “IT”as well and sees what is going on, “We’ve got a different hero every day,” he said. Those heroes, he said, can come from everywhere: “We have good starting pitchers and a great bullpen. And in our lineup, we get contributions from everyone. Everyone can hit a homer, double or single.”
“IT” means “It’s gum time!” Pitcher Nate Robertson, started it during a late May game against the Yankees whenever the Tigers had runners in scoring position, Nate started stuffing Big League Chew into his mouth and “IT” happened, the Tigers responded with RBI. FSN Detroit picked up on it and now fans all over the ballpark, all over the Tiger viewing audience are stuffing there mouths with bubble gum in the hopes of inspiring their team. The Rally Chew is part of “IT.”
Everyone has “IT” but the only one who understands “IT” is Jim Leyland, “One night, we’re the ’61 Yankees. We win another one, we’re still the ’61 Yankees. If we lose one, we’re the ’62 Mets. I don’t want to discourage enthusiasm, but we’re not going to win every night. We’re not the ’61 Yankees. I’m not going to go on this emotional roller-coaster that people around here want to go on. Win two or three in a row, we’re the greatest thing since Post Toasties. Lose one, and everybody is like, ‘Oh, my God, what are we going to do?’ We’re not going to do anything. We’re going to come back tomorrow and play.”
Who knows what “IT” is and who really cares? Detroit is embracing this team that has had sole possession of first place in its division for 36 days, after being atop the division alone for just eight days from 1994-2005. All I know is that it is great to see the rebirth of the Tigers and that you can’t spell DETROIT without “IT.”
Top of the 2nd
The Giants’ rookie Matt Cain carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning, until the Angels’ Chone Figgins lined a clean single to center on Cain’s 128th pitch of the game, a 3-2 fastball,with two outs, but Cain and the Giants defeated the Angels, 2-1.
It was the longest no-hit bid in the majors this year. Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs no-hit the Houston Astros for 7 1/3 innings earlier this month. Looking for baseball’s first no-hitter in more than two years, Cain struck out a career-high 10 batters on the way to winning his fifth straight decision, striking out the side in the 7th. The 21-year-old Cain (6-5), a first-round draft pick by the Giants in 2002, allowed only that hit, didn’t give up an earned run and walked four in a 131-pitch outing. Armando Benitez allowed the only other hit in the 9th before finishing for his first save since June 3 and fifth overall.
John Montefusco pitched the Giants’ last no-hitter in a 9-0 victory at Atlanta on Sept. 29, 1976. Randy Johnson pitched the majors’ last no-hitter, throwing a perfect game for Arizona in a 2-0 win at Atlanta on May 18, 2004.
Top of the 3rd
GONZO GOING GONZO?
Arizona left fielder Luis Gonzalez reacted angrily after the Diamondbacks’ top executive, Ken Kendrick, told a newspaper there have been “whispers” about whether the five-time All-Star used performance-enhancing drugs. Rumors that have swirled around outfielder Gonzalez since he hit 57 home runs in 2001, a figure Gonzalez has never approached before or since.
Kendrick told the Arizona Republic. “Can you make that decision based on the facts that we have? I think you need more. And how do we get more? We get more by the testing protocols that we now have . . . It’s just a long, hard, complicated process, and you just have to be dedicated to it and say we’ve got to work at this because it’s slowly undermining what we are.” Asked if the D-Backs would have cut ties with Gonzalez if he’d been a lesser player, Kendrick said, “That’s a possibility. I can’t say that it’s not something you shouldn’t do. But should you, at any time a player’s performance spikes . . . just automatically say the only way that could possibly happen is because he is doing something illegal, so we need to move him on? Because that is a self-defeating philosophy if you do that.”
Meanwhile Gonzalez has a homer-less drought of over 50 games, close 200 at bats. Right now it is very unlikely that the Diamondbacks are going to pick up the $10 million option year remaining on his contract next season.
I just want to know if it’s time to whip out the asterisk for G*nzo?
Top of the 4th
BELATED FATHER’S DAY GIFT
Junior Griffey tied Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt on the career home run chart as Bronson Arroyo pitched a complete game to lead the Cincinnati Reds past the New York Mets, 4-2. Griffey’s 548th homer put the 12-time All-Star in 11th place alongside Schmidt.
The 36-year-old Griffey and his father, Ken Sr., have now combined for 700 major league homers. Junior got the ball back as a souvenir and said he would give it to his dad.
“Which one am I prouder? Probably 700 with my dad,” Griffey said. “Now I can say, ‘Happy Father’s Day — here you go.”‘
Next up on the career list is Reggie Jackson with 563.
Top of the 5th
TOUGH CHOICE – PITTSBURGH OR THE GRAND BAHAMAS?
Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the early leaders among outfielders in the fan balloting for the National League starters for the All-Star game July 11 at PNC Park. But Griffey has a family vacation in the Grand Bahamas planned for the All-Star break — a trip on which teammate Adam Dunn is invited. “If you go to Pittsburgh,” Dunn told Griffey, “I’m still going to the Bahamas on your boat with your family, and I’m going to call you four times a day.” According to the Dayton Daily News, Griffey replied: “I may insist that you come with me to Pittsburgh.”
Top of the 6th
A HOUSE IS NOT HOME
Over the winter, Paul DePodesta ended two stormy seasons as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like a witness under protection, the terms of his settlement agreement following his dismissal, he cannot discuss any aspect of his time in Los Angeles. DePodesta still keeps his home in Los Angeles, and he finds time for volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, mostly construction. Incognito, he pours concrete, puts up drywall, tends a hammer, or does “whatever else they tell me to do.”
I personally feel that DePodesta is better suited for demolition than construction.
Top of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM – 6/20/2006
Happy birthday to this former Astros shortstop
HOT, NICE KID
BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA – 6/20/2006
Who was the last member of the Baltimore Orioles to hit for the cycle?
Send your answers to Bill@billy-ball.com
Bottom of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM ANSWER – 6/19/06
Happy birthday, Hoot.
BOBBING SO – BOB GIBSON
BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA-ANSWER – 6/19/06
Who were the two pitchers involved in the only double no-hitter in baseball history?
Fred Toney and James “Hippo” Vaughn playing for the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs
Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
The San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, have never had a player hit for the cycle.
Top of the 9th
JULIO FRANCO’S TEAMMATES
We’re tracking Julio Franco’s career, year by year, using his teammates as a frame of reference.
In 1997, with the Indians, Franco’s teammates included Sandy Alomar, Matt Williams, Bartolo Colon, Jaret Wright and Jose Mesa.
Bottom of the 9th
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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.