Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-7-18

7/18/2006
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Top of the 1st
HOT TOWN, SUMMER IN THE CITY
The summer is hot. No surprises there. It’s supposed to be. The ballpark was even hotter. The vendors just waved their hotdogs above their heads and let the steamy air cook them the same way the Red Sox would cook the Royals.

I was there last night, the fabulous Mrs. Ball by my side, my beat was Fenway, and I heard they were expecting…a murder. Tim Wakefield stood on the hill for the hometowners. His ball floated like a butterfly with one broken wing. Before long, he was down 4-0. Before long, he was gone…with a knife in his back…at least that’s how he described his pain.

By the bottom of the 7th the score was still the same. The fans were getting restless. Very restless. A bead of sweat appeared on Mrs. Ball upper lip. I don’t know whether it was the heat or the pressure, but it worked for me.

I remained calm even though I felt like a pastrami in a steamer in my blue serge suit. Suddenly, single shots rang out from Ramirez, Lowell and Crisp. Trust me, that’s no law firm. They chased Luke Hudson like he was cold beer on hike through the desert.

Joel Peralta came in to put out the fire, but “Arson” is his middle name. That’s “Jo-el” like he comes from Krypton, but there was nothing invulnerable about him. Peralta threw a 3-1 pitch and Mirabella starts heading to first but stopped four steps along the way. Home plate umpire Jim Joyce called it a strike. Mirabella looked at him in shock. If looks could kill, Jim Joyce would have drowned in a stream of consciousness.

Dougie boy stepped back into the batter’s box. He was as steamed as the night.

Peralta delivered the pitch. In one instant, Peralta knew that Joyce had made the wrong call. With one swing, Mirabelli brought the relief the mob had been seeking from the summer’s night stagnant air.

The ball was gone. Swallowed by the Monster. The score was tied but the Royal Rooters knew now it was just a matter of time before their gang would vanquish the misfits from KC. The clock was striking midnight for this town that has “some crazy little women there” even though the actual time was barely 10 pm. In the 8th, the Sox went ahead for the good when Manny hit a fly and the Royals were sacrificial lambs.

The 9th brought in the closer and Little Papi sealed the deal…bang…bang…bang. Three up, three very down. Over. Over and done. the Royals were over done. Not over easy, they were over hard…like a corpse.

As the celebration spilled out on to Lansdowne Street, that bead of sweat, over Mrs. Ball lip was gone now. It was wiped away when our lips met. She deserved that kiss. So did I.

The crowd was celebrating. They were singing. They loved their “dirty water.”

Everybody had a smile.

Everybody but me and Mike Hammer.

The headline on the nightly news rag said it all – Mickey Spillane was dead.

Top of the 2nd
SLAMMED AGAIN
Is it too soon to say goodbye to the Braves? Atlanta crushed the cardinals last night,15-3, ending the St. Louis seven-game winning streak. Wilson Betemit was 4-6 with a homer and 5 RBI, Adam LaRoche was 4-for-4 with a homer and three RBI, Jeff Francoeur had three hits and reliever Jorge Sosa homered for the Braves, who have won a season-high six straight and scored in double figures the last four games, totaling 51 runs in that span.

Brian McCann got things started for Atlanta with a grand slam. It was the fourth slam that Jeff Weaver has allowed over the last two seasons (2005-06), the most given up by any pitcher in the major leagues over that period. Weaver did not allow a grand slam in his first six seasons in the big leagues (1999-2004).

It was Weaver’s debut with the Cardinals who picked him from the Angels. Weaver is now 3-11 with a 6.60 ERA.

Speaking of the Angels, Garret Anderson and Orlando Cabrera hit two-run homers, Maicer Izturis had a career-high four hits, and the Angels won their season-high seventh straight game defeating the Indians, 10-5. The two-time defending AL West champs have won 12 of 13 overall to climb within a half-game of division-leading Oakland. The Indians have lost eight of 10 to fall a season-worst 10 games under .500 and 21 games out of first place in the AL Central.

Jeff Weaver’s brother Jered, who pitches for the Angels and is briefly sidelined with biceps tendonitis, made a special request to a team official to have the video crew show brother Jeff’s first start for the St. Louis Cardinals on the scoreboard during batting practice so he could see it. They did it just in time for Jered to see Jeff give up the grand slam to McCann.

Top of the 3rd
SPEEDY PAPI
There were two very funny moment at Fenway Park last night. One was Will Ferrell throwing out the first pitch while doing his very best Luis Tiant imitation. The other was David Ortiz stealing second on a botched hit and run play. It was his sixth career stolen base, his first since July 10, 2005.

Big Papi is becoming a bit of a speed merchant. Saturday, Ortiz tripled. Just the 10th triple in 3,455 major league at bats. But Big Papi’s rate of one triple for every 345.5 at-bats is hardly the lowest in big-league annals. Among the nearly 1,300 players who have had as many at-bats as Ortiz, the lowest rate belongs to former Orioles second baseman Rich Dauer, who collected just three triples in 3,829 at-bats, or one for every 1,276 at-bats. Second place overall, and first among active players, belongs to Mike Piazza, who has had six three-baggers in 6,438 at-bats (one every 1,073 at-bats).

Just to let you know, when Manny Ramirez won it for the Red Sox with a sacrifice fly it was the 12th time since joining Boston in 2001 that he has had a game-winning RBI in the 8th inning or later. Thirty-four players have more 8th-inning-or-later game-winning RBI than Manny over that period, including the major-league leader, David Ortiz, with 26.

Top of the 4th
FAMILY TIES
Tony Gwynn Jr., son of the former San Diego Padres star, made his major league debut and grounded out as a pinch hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers against the Diamondbacks on Saturday night in Arizona. In 86 games in the Pacific Coast League, Gwynn hit .305 with two home runs and 35 RBI.

Stephen Drew, brother of J.D. and Tim, was called up by the Diamondbacks, and went 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored in his first big-league game. Last night they faced each other for the first time since they were kids. J.D., the veteran right fielder, was hitting fourth for the Dodgers, while Stephen, the wunderkind shortstop was batting eighth for Arizona. The Arizona Diamondbacks sent the Los Angeles Dodgers to their fifth straight loss, 8-3. Stephen, called up on Saturday to replace injured Craig Counsell, got his first major league hit with a one-out single in the 4th and made two spectacular plays at shortstop — a diving stop to his left and a play deep in the hole to his right. J.D. had an RBI sacrifice fly.

Top of the 5th
AS WE APPROACH THE TRADING DEADLINE
Here’s a little story for everyone to remember as we watch teams mortgage their future for a quick fix this trading deadline.

At the deadline in 2002, the Blue Jays were trying to move outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. and his .227 batting average at the break with 13 homers and 45 RBIs. The New York Mets were interested offering a minor-leaguer playing his first full season at class-A. But Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi decided against taking the minor-leaguer for Cruz. The Jays also refused the Seattle Mariners’ offer of prospect Rafael Soriano for Cruz, after the Mariners refused to move reliever Clint Nageotte.

The Jays held on to Cruz, who finished the 2002 season with a .245 average, 18 homers and 70 RBIs. After the season the Jays decided not to tender Cruz a contract and he signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants.

That class-A kid was just 19 and at class-A Capital City, that season, he hit .266 with 11 homers and 93 RBIs. He had 76 walks, 114 strikeouts.

Not exactly all-star credentials. But in the All-Star game this season, that slightly older kid homered in his first at bat and it would take a helluva lot more than Jose Cruz, Jr. to now pry David Wright loose from the Mets.

Top of the 6th
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOE TORRE
Joe Torre turns 66 today. Only two managers, Felipe Alou and Frank Robinson, are older.

Joe’s record in his first 14 years as a manager:
With Atlanta, 486 games, 257-229 .529
With the Mets, 709 games, 286-420 .405
With St. Louis, 706 games, 351-354 .498
His career record was 109 games under .500. In November 1995, he was hired to manage the Yankees.

It took Torre about 2 1/2 years to reach the .500 mark, as he evened his record at 1,168-1,168 on Aug. 11, 1998. Friday night. Torre moved past Casey Stengel for sole possession of 10th place with the Yankees win, improving his record to 1,927-1,673, 254 games over .500. Only one manager has ever come back from further below the .500 mark to even his career record — Stengel, who was 166 games under .500 before turning his career around with the Yankees. Torre has a 1,036-670 record with the Yankees and six World Series appearances and four championships. Torre needs 31 more wins to move past Miller Huggins into third place on the Yankees’ all-time wins list. He needs 79 more victories to tie Leo Durocher for ninth-place on baseball’s all-time list.

To celebrate this birthday, Joe and his wife, Alice bought a house on Lake Mahopac in Putnam County, NY. The price, according to public real estate records, was $1.1 million on the 1,600-square-foot home with three bedrooms and a small boathouse. Torre said it is a summerhouse and that he is still living in the 4,300-square-foot home in Harrison that he bought for $999,000 in 1997.

Top of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM – 7/16/2006
Happy Birthday to the 1971 NL batting champ.
ROOT? JEER?

BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA – 7/16/2006
Name the three players who have hit 50 home runs in a season and fewer than 300 for a career.
Send your answers to Bill@billy-ball.com

Bottom of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM ANSWER – 7/17/06
Let’s shift to wish this late player-manager a happy birthday.
OUR LOUD BEAU – Lou Boudreau
“He (Lou Boudreau) is easily the slowest ballplayer since Ernie Lombardi was thrown out at first base trying to stretch a double into a single.” – Sportswriter Stanley Frank

BILLY-BALL-TRIVIA-ANSWER – 7/17/06
Name the three left-handed batters who won the American League home run title between 1985 and 2005.
Ken Griffey Jr., Fred McGriff and Darrell Evans

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Greg Maddux has won the Gold Glove for pitchers 15 of the past 16 seasons. The exception was 2004, when Mike Hampton was the winner.

Top of the 9th
GARNER’S IDEA OF “PLAYING TO WIN”
Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun helps us bring closure to Phil Garner’s oft repeated statement that that his NL squad was “playing to win” in the All-Star game.

Here are some of Elliot’s points:
With a 2-1 lead in the 9th inning, most managers would have their best defensive team on the field. Garner did not. Especially with a ground ball pitcher such as Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres on the mound. As ESPN’s John Kruk pointed out, Paul Konerko’s leadoff single to left, which slithered past third baseman Miguel Cabrera, would have been hoovered by Gold Glover Scott Rolen of the St. Louis Cardinals, who was sitting on the bench. Kruk also said if Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves had been in left rather than Carlos Lee of the Milwaukee Brewers, the 0-1 changeup hit by Troy Glaus for a ground-rule double is caught. That perhaps is an exaggeration.

Elliot continues by pointing out that with men at first and second Garner allowed Hoffman to face Michael Young, who hit an 0-2 pitch for a game-winning triple. He could have walked Young intentionally, allowing Hoffman to face Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins. During interleague play just before the all-star break, the Padres and the Rangers hooked up and Young batted against Hoffman. Mauer never had faced him.

Since the start of the 2005 season no major-leaguer has a better average than Young, the former Jays farmhand, with two out and men in scoring position. He owns a .430 average (40-for-83) in that situation.

Hoffman, who had converted 24 of 25 save opportunities in the first half of the season, has an overall all-star ERA, over five appearances, of 12.46.

Garner’s record this season with the Astros is 45-48 and 0-1 with the NL All-Stars.

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.