Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-7-17

Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Countdown: Just 76 days left in the regular season.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Top of the 1st
“There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
There’s no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando.”
Abba (backwards “Abba”)

The Mets slammed the Cubs yesterday scoring 11-runs in the 6th inning behind grand slams from Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran. avid Wright added a two-run homer, just to prove he was a guy. New York sent 16 batters to the plate in the 6th and benefited from two errors by Cubs second baseman Todd Walker that led to eight of the 11 runs being unearned. The half-inning, on a muggy 95-degree night, took 41 minutes to play and saw the Cubs make 70 pitches. The Mets won the game by a football score of 13-7.

“You walk up to the plate and you have to start asking questions of the umpire and to the catcher. I know Michael Barrett. ‘Have you ever see anything like this?'” Floyd said. “He said, ‘No, I haven’t.’ It’s kind of nothing you can do, wind blowing out, you make pitches and we put swings on them and it happens.”

Well, actually we have seen something like it.

On April 23, 1999, Fernando Tatis of the St. Louis Cardinals, set a major league record by hitting two grand slams in one inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both slams were served by the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park, as Tatis also set a record with eight RBI in the inning. Following the game, Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa said, “It’s a thrill to witness big league history. I don’t care if you’re a fan or sitting in the dugout or whatever. What have they got one-hundred years of baseball and this is the first time it’s ever been done? Wow.”

Tatis was only the second National League player to hit two grand slams in one game. Atlanta Braves pitcher Tony Cloninger was the other player to go deep twice in the same game with the bases loaded. Chan Ho Park was the second pitcher to give up two grand slams during the same inning; the first was Bill Phillips of Pittsburgh on August 16, 1890, and the first to give them both up to the same batter. Park threw 49 pitches to 13 batters in the inning while an overworked L.A. bullpen was hiding and covering their ears for fear the phone would ring.

The Rangers signed Tatis in 1992 out of a tryout camp in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic after being scouted by Omar Minaya. In August, 1997, Tatis had another fairy tale story. Tatis’ father was divorced from Fernando’s mother and had left the Dominican Republic after an unpleasant incident with his second wife. The last time father and son had seen each other was when young Fernando was 3 or 4.

When Fernando came to the United States to play baseball, he began searching for his father, who he heard had been seen in the Sarasota, Fla., area. In July, 1997, he talked about his search in an article that appeared in The New York Times. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reprinted the article the next day, and the father’s brother-in-law saw it. That led to a telephone conversation between father and son.

In August, after being separated from his father for 17 years, Minaya pulled him out of the batting cage before a game and said, “We found your father. Are you ready to talk with your dad?” The father had been living a remade life in Florida. He had married once again — to a relation of Hank Aaron’s. Father and son were soon reunited in Texas. ”It was wonderful, just like he was born yesterday,” the elder Tatis said ”He’s the same little kid I knew 22 years ago.” Had he missed his son? ”Yeah, pretty much,” he said. ”I was behind from a distance, but I was never behind from my heart.”

On July 31, 1998, in a trade deadline deal, the Rangers traded Tatis and pitcher Darren Oliver to St. Louis for pitcher Todd Stottlemyre and shortstop Royce Clayton. Tatis became the Cardinals’ third baseman. The 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound Tatis had only hit 19 homers in 210 games prior to the 1999 season and had never hit a grand slam homer before that eventful 3rd inning. He followed his slams with three straight whiffs, which gave him 17 in 16 games; he finished the season with 128. But as Mark McLiar’s teammate, Tatis hit 34 home runs with 107 RBI and 21 stolen bases while posting a .298 batting average.

“I thought Fernando [Jr.] was a better hitter than Sammy S*sa,” says Omar Minaya, who scouted both players for Texas. “Sammy had more power, but Fernando always looked like he’d be a .300 hitter.”

Since that season, he was beset with injuries. He never hit more than 18 homer in the bigs again, although he did hit 15 with the Expos in 2002. ”Injuries have hurt him,” said Omar Minaya, the Montreal Expos’ general manager. ”He came back early from a real bad groin pull, hurt his knee, then his arm compensating for that injury. He should have stayed out the whole year. The last two years he tried to play hurt.”

There was more to the story because in 2002, Montreal was hoping to move Tatis and his $6.25 million salary to the Mets. But according to Murray Chass of the Times, a “person familiar with the Mets’ plans said they didn’t want Tatis, citing his reputation for being a problem in the clubhouse. ”The Mets have had enough problems in the clubhouse,” the person said. ”They don’t need more.'”

This season, Tatis tried to land a spot with the Orioles, but after hitting .200 in spring he was sent to Ottawa where he is hitting .301 with 7 homers and 35 RBI.

Tatis understands the randomness of the baseball universe. He actually disagreed when someone suggested his record would never be broken. “Baseball’s a crazy game,” Tatis said. “Anything can happen.”

Top of the 2nd
Mariano Rivera worked out of two jams, getting six outs and his 400th career save, to preserve New York’s 6-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox and complete a three game sweep of the defending World Champs. It was Rivera’s 21st save in 23 chances this season. The other pitchers with 400 saves are Lee Smith (478), Trevor Hoffman (460) and John Franco (424). The White Sox have dropped five of six to the Red Sox and Yankees while New York has won seven of eight since losing 19-1 drubbing in Cleveland on July 4. The Yankees are a season-high 17 games above .500 and trail the Red Sox by just