Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-10-4

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

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Happy birthday, Tony LaRussa

Monday, October 02, 2006

Top of the 1st
They stepped it up yesterday, didn’t they? Three future Hall of Famers led their teams and led their fans to the start of a great post-season. Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter each said, “Let me not just tell you how it’s done; let me show you how it’s done.”

“Frank came back after years of injuries and put us on his back and told us to push ourselves and show desire,” A’s outfielder Milton Bradley said. “It’s never enough for Frank, even with all the accolades and great year he’s had. He never wants to give up an at-bat. It’s amazing. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody, but he wants to keep achieving. That rubs off on people.”

Prior to the start of yesterday’s Twin’s/A’s game, Frank Thomas had said, “I didn’t play in the World Series, and that’s my dream. I’m going to continue to play this game hard until I get there.”

The Twins found out yesterday that he wasn’t kidding.

In Game 1 at the Metrodome yesterday, Barry Zito kept Minnesota off balance with his big curveball, and Frank Thomas hit two huge home runs and the Athletics defeated the Twins and the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, 3-2. Zito pitched eight outstanding innings. He gave up four hits, three walks and one run and struck out one and threw a very economical 92 pitches.

But the story was The Big Hurt. Thomas went 3-for-4, homering off of Santana in the 2nd and then again in the 9th off Jesse Crain. One out after the home run by Thomas in the 2nd, Jay Payton singled and Marco Scutaro smacked a two-out double down the left-field line to give Oakland an early 2-0 edge. The 38-year-old became the oldest player to have a multihomer game in postseason history. And with his 1st inning home run, Thomas set a major-league record in becoming the first player to go more than 12 years between postseason home runs. (His only other postseason home run had come in 1993.) Five players had gone 12 years between postseason homers: Hank Aaron (1957 to ’69), Bobby Grich (1974 to ’86), Eddie Murray (1983 to ’95), Wally Joyner (1986 to ’98) and Mark Grace (1989 to 2001).

Santana hadn’t lost at the Metrodome since Aug. 1, 2005, going 16-0 in 23 starts over that span. But Thomas is 8-for-19 with three homers and five RBIs in his career against Santana. The Big Hurt now has 50 homers and 132 RBIs in 171 career games against Minnesota, his most against any opponent and the second-most hit by one player against the Twins behind Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (51).

Santana went eight innings and finished with a career playoff-best eight strikeouts.
“Everything was working out pretty good,” said Santana, who allowed five hits and walked one. “I was throwing my fastballs in the corners. Everything was fine. Unfortunately you make one mistake, and you pay for it. Today we weren’t able to come back.”

Beane gave Thomas a one-year contract with a $500,000 base. He earned another $2.6 million by reaching all his incentives. Thomas said he wants to return in 2007 and play another three or four years. The A’s are interested in bringing him back. More interested in bringing him back than Zito. Zito, a pending free agent, in likely his last month with the team, the time might be right for the A’s to finally break through.

“We’re here to win it,” Thomas said.

Moving on to sunny San Diego and to the religious jihad between the Friars and the Cardinals.

The beeping you heard last week were the Cardinals backing into the playoff. But this is October and San Diego still can’t beat the Cardinals in October. The three-time NL Central champion Cardinals have won seven consecutive postseason games against the Padres, including division series sweeps last year and in 1996.

The Padres had their ace Jake Peavy and the Cardinals had their ace Chris Carpenter fresh for the playoff opener, the result of manager Tony La Russa’s gamble in keeping him out of Sunday’s regular-season finale. But more importantly the Cards had mucho Pujols.

The game was decided on one at bat in the 4th inning that broke a scoreless tie. Pujols connected on Peavy’s eighth pitch. “What an at-bat,” St. Louis leadoff hitter David Eckstein said. “Being able to foul off pitches, take some pitches and then do what he did, that ignited the whole club.” “It was a cutter that was right down the middle,” Peavy said. “Yeah, those go wrong a lot.” and Pujols drove it an estimated 422 feet into the Padres’ bullpen beyond the fence in left-center.

It was Pujols’ 11th career postseason homer. Chris Duncan was aboard on a leadoff single. Following Pujols’ homer, Jim Edmonds singled, Scott Rolen doubled and Juan Encarnacion hit a sacrifice fly.

Peavy allowed five runs 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings, struck out two and walked one. Carpenter, held San Diego to one run and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one. The Cards had Game 1, 5-1.

The Divisional Sereis tripleheader ended last night in New York, where Captain Derek Jeter and the Yankees welcomed the Just Happy to Be Here Detroit Tigers. Jeter not only showed the Tigers and his teammates, but he showed a nationwide audience what it’s all about. He tied the postseason record for hits, going 5-for-5 with two doubles and a home run leading New York to an 8-4 victory.

“He was great,” Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said. “It was good because it was a tough game.”

In the 3rd, Johnny Damon’s slow roller dribbled for a single. Jeter followed with a double, Bobby Abreu hit a two-run double and Jason Giambi hit a two-run homer and Nate Robertson was in big trouble and Chien-Ming Wang had a 5-0 lead.

The Tigers made it 5-3 before Abreu added a two-run single in the 6th and Jeter hit his 17th postseason home run, an 8th inning drive off Jamie Walker that upped his postseason career average to .315.

Jeter became only the second player in major-league history to go 5-for-5 in a postseason game, and the first to do it with a home run. The only other 5-for-5 game in postseason play was turned in by Marquis Grissom for Atlanta vs. Colorado in Game 4 of a 1995 Division Series. This isn’t the first time that Jeter has started a postseason by getting hits in each of his first five at-bats; he started the 2002 postseason by getting hits in each of his first five at-bats (over two games) against the Angels. (Jeter, with two by himself, equals the total of all other players in major-league history who started a postseason with at least five straight hits. Will Clark started with five hits for the Giants in 1989 and Jeter’s current teammate, Miguel Cairo, started with seven straight hits for the Cardinals in 2002.) Jeter also scored three of the Yankees’ eight runs, lifting his career total of postseason runs scored to 84. That broke the all-time major-league record for postseason runs scored, previously held by Bernie Williams at 83. With 48 postseason RBI, Jeter tied Reggie Jackson and Manny Ramirez for third, trailing only Bernie Williams (80) and David Justice (63).

Six of New York’s RBI came from Abreu and Giambi, who was on base four times, also getting hit by pitches twice and walking.

Wang got the win by allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings. Of the eight hits off him, five were doubles and one was a home run, a drive by Craig Monroe that started Detroit’s three-run 5th inning. Curtis Granderson added a solo homer in the 7th off Mike Myers, who faced just one batter. Scott Proctor got Magglio Ordonez to pop out with runners at the corners, Kyle Farnsworth threw six straight balls starting the 8th but got out of it without a hit, and Mariano Rivera finished.

Robertson gave up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings and took the loss. But the worst news for the Tigers was Jeter’s assessment, “When the team has a night like this, you’re able to relax a little bit,” Jeter said. “But it’s a short series. You can’t relax.”

Top of the 2nd
AL Division Series
Game Matchup Day Date Time ET TV
Gm 1 OAK 3 @ MIN 2 WP – Zito, LP – Santana
Loaiza, (0-0, 0.00) at Bonser, (0-0, 0.00)
Gm 2 OAK @ MIN Wed Oct. 4 1 pm ESPN
Gm 3 MIN @ OAK Fri Oct. 6 4 pm ESPN
Gm 4* MIN @ OAK Sat Oct. 7 TBD
Gm 5* OAK @ MIN Sun Oct. 8 TBD
* – if necessary

Game Matchup Day Date Time ET TV
Gm 1 DET 4 @ NYY 8 WP – Wang, LP – Robertson
Verlander, (0-0, 0.00) at Mussina, (0-0, 0.00)
Gm 2 DET @ NYY Wed Oct. 4 8 pm ESPN
Gm 3 NYY @ DET Fri Oct. 6 8 pm ESPN
Gm 4* NYY @ DET Sat Oct. 7 TBD
Gm 5* DET @ NYY Sun Oct. 8 TBD

Game Matchup Day Date Time ET TV
Gm 1 STL 5 @ SD 1 WP – Carpenter, LP – Peavy
Gm 2 STL @ SD Thu Oct. 5 4 pm ESPN
Gm 3 SD @ STL Sat Oct. 7 TBD
Gm 4* SD @ STL Sun Oct. 8 TBD
Gm 5* STL @ SD Mon Oct. 9 TBD
* – if necessary

NL Division Series begins today
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets: The Dodgers finished even hotter than the Padres, winning their final seven games to seize the wild card. The Mets, meanwhile, were devastated by the loss of Pedro Martinez, on whom they’ve long been counting for an October revival. Now, the may start the series without El Duque as well. Not that the Dodgers are all that healthy either with Nomah and Jeff Kent hurting. I continue to love the Mets starting lineup and I’m just hoping that Julio Franco comes up with a big pinch-hit after Dodger manager Grady Little doesn’t pull his starting pitcher in the 7th inning of Game 5. Billy-Ball picks the Mets in 5.
Game Matchup Day Date Time ET TV
Lowe, (0-0, 0.00) at Seaver, (0-0, 0.00)
Gm 1 LAD @ NYM Wed Oct. 4 4 pm ESPN
Gm 2 LAD @ NYM Thu Oct. 5 8 pm FOX
Gm 3 NYM @ LAD Sat Oct. 7 TBD
Gm 4* NYM @ LAD Sun Oct. 8 TBD
Gm 5* LAD @ NYM Mon Oct. 9 TBD
* – if necessary

Top of the 3rd
Probable Manager of the Year in the NL, Marlins manager Joe Girardi is now ex-Marlins manager Joe Girardi. After producing 78 wins with baseball’s lowest payroll ($14,998,500), the Marlins fired Joe Girardi, and five hours later introduced as his replacement Fredi Gonzalez, third-base coach for the Atlanta Braves the past four years. Girardi’s departure after only one season had been expected after his rift with owner Jeffrey Loria boiled over two months ago in an on-field confrontation over the owner’s heckling of an umpire. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Gonzalez became the first manager in the Marlins’ organization when they hired him to run their first minor league team in Erie, Pa., in 1992. Gonzalez becomes the fourth manager hired by the Marlins since Loria bought the team in 2002.

The Marlins decided to fire Girardi not because of the umpire incident, but because he failed to mesh with others in the organization, general manager Larry Beinfest said. “Joe is not returning because it was not a good fit,” Beinfest, who’s keeping his job, said. “I will take some of that blame. I’m in charge, and it’s my job to make sure everything runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible.”

The owner berated an umpire while sitting behind the plate. From the dugout, Girardi asked Loria to stop. “The gist of the conversation to Jeffrey was, ‘I preach to my players about not arguing with umpires, and this is not going to help us,’ ” Girardi said. Loria angrily left his seat and confronted Girardi after the game during a 90-minute clubhouse meeting. The owner has refused to comment on the episode or respond to published reports that he fired Girardi that day, then changed his mind.

Girardi said he was fired during a short, unemotional meeting in his office with Beinfest, assistant general manager Mike Hill and team president David Samson. “They came in and said, ‘We’re going to make a change,’ ” Girardi said. He said no reason was given, and he didn’t ask for one.

The Marlins became the first team to climb above .500 from 20 games under. They also became the first team to have four rookie pitchers win 10 games, and they set a record for most home runs by rookies with 112.

“I’ll land on my feet,” he said. “I talked to one of my mentors last night and I said, ‘I’ve never been fired before.’ And he said, ‘Welcome to the club.’ ” Girardi declined to identify the mentor. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who served as a mentor to Girardi, said he talked to his former catcher Sunday.

“There was no anger,” Torre said. “He understood that managing is not always based on how well you do. There are certain things you need to do, and people you need to please.” Girardi would do well to sit by Torre’s side this coming season.

Top of the 4th
Paul Richardson, the organist for the Philadelphia Phillies for 35 seasons, has died following a long illness. He was 74.

“Paul was a character who was more than just a gifted organist,” said Phillies chairman Bill Giles, who hired Richardson in 1969 after he had performed at the team’s Christmas party. “He was an entertainer extraordinaire.”

A part-time real estate agent and organ teacher, Richardson began playing at Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium in 1970 and was with the club until after the 2005 season at Citizens Bank Park, when he stepped away due to health problems. He was also the weekend organist at Yankee Stadium from 1978-82 when the Phillies were on the road.
In his final years with the team, Richardson was slowly being replaced by thunderous rock songs, canned sound effects and elaborate advertisements.

“I was the entire musical background for the first 20 years,” Richardson told the Associated Press in February. “But we found I was playing less and less. I didn’t influence the game anymore.”

Many of Richardson’s songs were recorded, and his rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame was played at the ballpark this season and will continue to be played.
Richardson’s time with the Phillies included 33 seasons at Veterans Stadium, where he worked in a small booth next to the scoreboard operator and public address announcer.

Top of the 5th
You worried about the Twins being down 0-1 to the A’s?

The Twins began this season 25-33, then went 71-33.

The Twins’ recovery from a 12-game deficit in July to win the American League Central title is the third-largest post-All-Star Game comeback since the major leagues began division play in 1969. The only other better comebacks were the 1978 New York Yankees who trailed first-place Boston by 14 games on July 19 but tied the Red Sox for the AL East title and the then won a one-game playoff and the 1995 Seattle Mariners who trailed first-place California by 13 games on Aug. 2. The Mariners went 35-20 over the final 55 games to tie for the AL West title and then beat the Angels in a playoff.

The 2006 Twins were 12 games behind Detroit on July 15 and still 10