Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-4-11

4/11/2007
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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On this date in 1993, Brewer catcher Dave Nilsson catches for Graeme Lloyd and they become first all-Austrailian battery in major league history. It was a g’day, mate.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Top of the 1st
TONIGHT AT FENWAY
Last November, Daisuke Matsuzaka was asked at a news conference which batter he most wanted to face in America, without hesitation the response, “Ichiro.”

Tonight, what sounds like baseball’s version of a Texas Death Match in wrestling, will take place with the first pitch as Matsuzaka makes his second major-league start and first at Fenway Park for the Red Sox as they host the Mariners.

Matsuzaka, then of the Seibu Lions, has already faced Ichiro, then of the Orix Blue, 36 times, in Japan’s six-team Pacific League, the last times during the 2000 season. Ichiro was just 8 for 34 (a .235 average), with one home run, four RBI, a walk, a sacrifice fly and four strikeouts in those encounters. Three of the four strikeouts occurred on May 16, 1999 in Dice-K’s first game. Ichiro has struck out three times in a game on only four occasions since becoming a Mariner in 2001. The last time was May 3, 2005, against the Angels. But the Athletics’ Tim Hudson is the only major league pitcher to get him three times in a game, accomplished Sept. 19, 2003 in Oakland

Ichiro recalls, “I wasn’t vanquished, but he clearly toyed with me that first time.” The first at bat Matsuzaka got him swinging at a fastball up and away, similar to the one Josh Beckett got Ichiro leading off the game yesterday in which the Bostonians demolished the snow so rusty Mariners, 14-3. But it was the next two at bats that not only got Ichiro but helped establish the legend of Matsuzaka. “Both times, he got me with a slider like I’d never seen before,” Ichiro says. “They were great pitches. There was movement on them like I’d never seen on a slider. I can’t describe it in words other than to say it was unlike anything I’d ever seen.”

But like Dice-K, Ichiro is a man of substance not just myth. In the final at-bat of their third matchup on July 6, 1999, Ichiro belted a Matsuzaka slider over the fence for his 100th career home run.

Tonight, they will meet in the chill of Fenway, in a field that could be simply lit by the flashes of photographers’ cameras for the first time since Aug. 4, 2000. They will be like two samurai who have grown and developed new skills in venues continents apart. They have also grown friendly but each retains the utmost respect for the skills of his counterpart.

While each Mariner is curious, each member of the Seattle team looks to get his hacks and to bring his team to victory, there is only one who feels this event to his core. His words say it all, “I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul,” Ichiro says. “I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger.”

Dice-K versus Ichiro tonight at 7:05 at Fenway.

Top of the 2nd
A ROYAL BREAKTHROUGH
Don’t be confused by this story, the Kansas City Royals are a bad baseball team, however, we may have actually seen a glimmer of hope in their 6-3 victory last night in Toronto. David DeJesus and Mark Grudzielanek each went 3-for-5 with an RBI out of the top two spots in the order, but it was rookie third baseman Alex Gordon’s two-run homer, the first of his career, that is the big story. Gordon, who many people have picked to be AL Rookie of the Year has been struggling, “It felt good to finally hit a ball hard,” said Gordon, who intends to give the ball to his younger brother. “It felt good rounding the bases, coming in and slapping hands with the guys. Hopefully, there’s more to come.”
Gordon is now two for 26 on the season. Yes, that’s a .077 batting average.

The other big story is Zack Greinke who had his second straight strong outing limiting the Blue Jays to one run and six hits in six innings. He also struck out five and walked none. Greinke threw 64 strikes among his 98 pitches. As we are reminded every time Greinke pitches, he missed most of last season because of depression and social anxiety beyond that of the average Kansas City Royal.

Tonight the Royals will attempt to win their first road series with Toronto since taking two of three games Aug. 19-21, 2002.

Top of the 3rd
OVER THE LEDGE WITH LIDGE
Only an hour after saying it was too early to change closers, Astros manager Phil Garner removed Brad Lidge from the job and handed it to Dan Wheeler on Monday. Lidge has saved 29 or more games in each of the last three seasons for Houston but had a 16.20 ERA and a blown save entering Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs. Wheeler is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in three games.

“I wrestled with this all of yesterday,” manager Phil Garner said. “I feel that I have to make this move for the benefit of the team. In the situation that we are in right now, we can’t afford to lose any more ballgames late.” “I don’t know how much time this will take,” Garner said. “It may be that he throws three or four times and gets thrust back into the closing role.”

Lidge was 1-5 with a 5.28 ERA and 32 saves in 38 chances last year. If you are looking for the tipping point in Brad Lidge’s career, the date was October 19, 2005. Wait, you say, Billy-Ball, but wasn’t the date of Game 5 October 17, 2005? Wasn’t Game 5 the game in which Houston turned to Lidge to get the last three outs and send the Astros to their first ever World Series? Wasn’t that the game in which Lidge imploded giving a two out bases empty seeing eye ground ball hit to David Eckstein in the 9th? And didn’t Lidge then walk Jim Edmonds? Didn’t he then give up a game winning three-run walk-off to Albert Pujols?

Oh yes, that was October 17.

But you may also recall in Game 6, with the `Stros still up in games, 3-2, the two teams returned to St. Louis, for what was the final game ever played at Busch Stadium. That game, on October 19, the Astros, behind Roy Oswalt won handily, 5-1. That, my Billy-Ballians is the game that Phil Garner should have restored the confidence that Brad Lidge had lost the game before by putting him in to get the final outs.

That confidence is still missing and that is why Lidge went over the ledge.

Top of the 4th
A-ROD MVP
Right now Billy-Ball is sitting pretty with his Alex Rodriguez MVP prediction. After last night’s 10-1 thrashing of the Minnesota Twins a voice in the clubhouse said, “C’mon! Six homers in seven games? He’s supposed to do that,” pitcher Mike Mussina said. “Just ask you guys.” Johnny Damon added a three-run shot off Boof Bonser (0-1) in a four-run fifth, and Andy Pettitte (1-0) gave up four hits in six shutout innings for his 150th victory with the Yankees, and his first since 2003.

Rodriguez homered in his fourth straight game to back the solid performance by Pettitte, who clearly prospered after his emergency relief appearance over the weekend. The clubhouse was giddy, “Alex has been swinging the bat as well as I’ve ever seen him,” Alex’s new best friend Derek Jeter said. “I asked him if there was anything wrong with him when he flew out.”

Rodriguez became the ninth major leaguer, and first Yankee, to hit six homers in his first seven games of the season. Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt, who hit seven homers in the first seven games of the 1976 season, is the only player to hit more in that span.

Jeter was 2-for-5 and moved into a tie with Joe DiMaggio in seventh place on the Yankees’ career list with 6,821 at-bats. He also stole his 250th career base in the fifth.

Top of the 5th
THINGS WE DON’T WANT TO EAT
One of the new snacks at Busch Stadium this season is the “bratzel” which is a bratwurst wrapped in pretzel dough. This heart unhealthy dish is actually a signature dish of Gus Koebbe Jr., the owner of Gus’ Pretzel Shop, which sits on Arsenal Street near the Anheuser-Busch brewery. But is Koebbe providing the Cardinals with his bratzels? Uh-uh. They took his idea and his product’s name and made it themselves.

In the world according to Koebbe, representatives of the Cardinals came to him earlier this year about potentially selling his sausage sandwiches at the ballpark. To satisfy the anticipated demand, Koebbe even bought a new machine for several thousand dollars. After the initial meeting, Koebbe didn’t hear anything back until he learned that Busch Stadium would be selling its own version of the bratzel.

Jeramie Mitchell, executive chef at Busch Stadium, said he had already discussed with his staff about adding the bratzel to the menu when he went to Gus’ to “see how it was done.” And the rest is thievery, I mean history.

By the way, Gus’ bratzel is $2.50 compared with $6.50 at the ballpark.

Top of the 6th
THE COUNSELL HONOR
As part of the Marlins’ season-long celebration of the 10th anniversary of their 1997 World Series championship, they will honor the Brewers’ Craig Counsell before their game today. Counsell scored the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians on a base hit by Edgar Renteria.
“Every time I walk into this stadium, I flash back to it,” said Counsell, who considers his crowning moment in that game the sacrifice fly off closer Jose Mesa that tied the score in the bottom of the 9th.
“You feel like you’re part of the highlight of the World Series that gets shown. It’s a cool thing.”
Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
The Dice-K/Felix Hernandez match-up is a beauty. It will be on ESPN2 tonight or you can wait for my in person account tomorrow.
Away Home Time (ET) Away Probable Home Probable
Cardinals Pirates 12:35 p.m. Wainwright (1-0) Maholm (0-1)
Astros Cubs 2:20 p.m. Rodriguez (0-1) Hill (1-0)
White Sox Athletics 3:35 p.m. Buehrle (0-0) Kennedy (0-1)
Angels Indians 7:05 p.m. Saunders (0-0) Westbrook (0-0)
Tigers Orioles 7:05 p.m. Verlander (0-0) Loewen (1-0)
Brewers Marlins 7:05 p.m. Bush (0-1) Mitre (0-1)
Mariners Red Sox 7:05 p.m. Hernandez (1-0) Matsuzaka (1-0)
Royals Blue Jays 7:07 p.m. De La Rosa (1-0) Chacin (0-0)
Phillies Mets 7:10 p.m. Eaton (0-1) Perez (1-0)
Nationals Braves 7:35 p.m. Williams (0-1) James (1-0)
Devil Rays Rangers 8:05 p.m. Shields (0-0) Tejeda (1-0)
Yankees Twins 8:10 p.m. Mussina (0-1) Ortiz (1-0)
Reds D-Backs 9:40 p.m. Belisle (1-0) Owings (1-0)
Giants Padres 10:05 p.m. Lowry (0-1) Maddux (0-1)
Rockies Dodgers 10:10 p.m. Hirsh (1-0) Penny (1-0)

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Orlando Hudson has scored a run in all nine games the Diamondbacks have played this season. He’s the first National League player to score a run in the first nine games of a season since Billy Hatcher had a nine-game streak for the 1988 Astros. He scored again in the 5-4 Arizona win over the Reds. By the by, it was the Diamondbacks’ sixth straight win and seventh overall, most in the majors. Reds outfielder Josh Hamilton, who was out of baseball for three years as he struggled with cocaine addiction, started his first major league game and got his first big-league hit for Hamilton, a two-run homer.

Top of the 9th
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELIZABETH!
If you could put together a fantasy team, with all the players who you think were not just the best in their field, but would make the best teammate, you would be very proud to say you had something to do with assembling that team.

On my team, I would choose my daughter Elizabeth, who turns 24 today. Granted she doesn’t play baseball very well, but all her other talents more than compensate for that.

Happy birthday, sweetheart. I love you and I’m incredibly proud of you.

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.