Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-4-18

4/18/2007
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Top of the 1st
A NATIONALS SALUTE
There is not a person amongst the elite group who reads Billy-Ball that was not moved by the tragedy at Virginia Tech on Monday. And I dare say for those of us who don’t have a direct connection to the individuals whose lives were lost or who were shot and injured or simply (and this is by no means minimal) traumatized, we still feel the pain but as a parent the hurt seems greater. Once you are a parent, all you first want to know in this world is that child is safe from harm. Then, when you know your child is safe, your heart reaches out to the other parents.

Last night, the Washington Nationals wore Virginia Tech baseball caps during their game against the Braves as a tribute to the victims of the shooting rampage at the school. I found this simple gesture so moving. The Nationals said the idea of wearing the Virginia Tech caps came from Dave Lanham a fan from Calvert County, Md., who e-mailed team president Stan Kasten. Kasten didn’t see the e-mail until after his afternoon meetings. With about 90 minutes before first pitch, Harolyn Cardozo, executive assistant to General Manager Jim Bowden, was on the phone calling sporting goods stores. She dialed the number to the Sports Authority’s store in Alexandria, and when she heard a voice, she had one simple demand: “Give me the smartest guy in the store who can get something done fast.”

Paul Schneider, a department manager, soon was scouring the store for Hokies hats. Cardozo asked for 40 of them and they needed to be at the stadium before the Nats took the field. Schneider found about 20 on the rack and discovered a box full in a storeroom. He talked his managers into donating the 38 hats of various styles, then jumped in his car to weave through rush-hour traffic to get to RFK.

This did not take the weeks of planning that enabled the Jackie Robinson salute to be so effective; it was the spontaneity that made this such a special moment. Fifteen minutes before the first pitch, Major League Baseball gave the team approval. Even the fact that Schneider arrived at the stadium during the 1st inning, and the caps made it to the Nationals’ dugout in time for the team to take the field with them for the 2nd inning enabled the impact to be even greater.

Nationals’ third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is from Virginia Beach and went to college at Virginia Tech rival Virginia. “It was special, especially for me, them kind of being the school we always wanted to beat, more than anybody else,” Zimmerman said. “It kind of shows you how little sports mean. … It makes you realize how lucky we have it and not to take any days for granted.” But when team officials approached the players during batting practice to ask them about wearing Virginia Tech hats, Zimmerman didn’t hesitate.

“I was honored to wear it,” he said.

It’s a really sad moment, that type of thing goes on in this world,” Nationals outfielder Ryan Church said. “It was an honor to wear that hat. Our thoughts and prayers are going out to the victims’ families.”

Outfielder Chris Snelling donated his hat to the Baseball Hall of Fame, where it will go on display alongside the caps of New York’s police and fire departments used by the Yankees and Mets after 9/11. At least six other game-worn caps were signed by players and will be sent to the Virginia Tech athletic department.

Zimmerman signed his hat with a simple message: “God Bless! From the Nats and Cavaliers!”

As I looked at the names and faces, and especially the ages of those killed in Virginia, I could not help but think of the names listed that I see each week in the “In Memoriam” section on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” Each week he lists the names, homes, and ages of the soldiers and marines who lost their lives the previous week in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like those who were killed in Virginia, they are all too young.

All children.

Top of the 2nd
DARN THOSE SOX
After needing 39 pitches for the first three innings, Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 38 in the 4th gave up two runs and lost to the Blue Jays, 2-1. Gustavo Chacin became the second straight Venezuelan (Felix Hernandez was the first) to outpitch Dice-K.

Dice-K’s 1-2 record is not reflective of how well he has pitched. His 10 strikeouts in six innings last night means he has now struck out 24 batters in three starts. Tim Hudson is the only active pitcher with as many strikeouts in his first three career starts as Matsuzaka. Hudson also struck out 24 batters in his first three career starts.

On the other hand, Dice-K seems to be less effective when pitching from the stretch and does seem to show cracks in his placid demeanor at key points. All three of his walks came in the 4th when his dominating slider went everywhere but the strike zone. He clearly didn’t react well to a close call, a missed ground ball through Julio Lugo that Alex Gonzalez would have turned into an inning-ending double play, and a simple tactic to disrupt his timing, which led to loss of concentration, the slimmest of leads, and ultimately, the game.

Matsuzaka righted himself after that, striking out four straight hitters starting in the 5th.
“He had temporary amnesia for a couple of minutes,” manager Terry Francona said. “He was so good before and after, but for about four or five hitters there, he just really lost his touch.”

Pitching from the stretch eliminates the hitch in Matsuzaka’s delivery. Since it’s virtually nonexistent among U.S. and Latin pitchers, it’s jarring to see in the majors. This is another reason why Johjima was so effective against him last week in Boston. The Mariners’ catcher was more accustomed to seeing that delay at the top of his wind-up.

Wily Mo Pena’s huge homer was the only offense for the Sox.

Top of the 3rd
TIME OF THE SEASON
Between tonight and May 10, the Astros will play 21 consecutive games in the NL Central including nine against the Reds and six against the Brewers.

Top of the 4th
FROM THE TRAINER’S TABLE
Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano expects to miss about a week after suffering a strained left hamstring while diving for a ball against the Padres. – Sorry Fantasy League players, right now no DL for Alfonso who has been a no-show so far this season.

Los Angeles placed right-hander Jason Schmidt on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation, retroactive to Sunday. “We are going to give it a few days to let it calm down. Hopefully it’s just a short term thing,” Dodgers manager Grady Little said. – That can’t be good.

The White Sox placed outfielder Scott Podsednik on the 15-day DL because of a pulled groin muscle. Those usually seem to take longer to heal.

Top of the 5th
THE WEAVERS
In Jeff Weaver’s first two starts for the Mariners, he has gone a total of eight innings allowing two home runs, a triple and eight doubles, not to mention six singles. One of the homers last was Torii Hunter’s seventh career grand slam, sending the Mariners toward to an 11-2 defeat. Jeff Weaver has now allowed six slams since the 2005 season, the most by any pitcher over that span. No other pitcher has allowed more than four slams over that time.

Younger brother Jered pitched better, but did not fare any better. Weaver, slowed this spring by shoulder tightness, gave up one hit through three innings but ran into trouble in the 4th when Eric Chavez led off with a double and Mike Piazza walked, with Chavez taking third on a wild pitch.

Todd Walker flied to left, Chavez holding, but Crosby drove a 2-and-1 hanging curve over the wall in left-center for a 3-0 lead. The A’s defeated the impotent Angels, 4-1.

The Halos eked out just four hits in their fifth loss in a row and seventh in eight games since a 5-1 start. The Angels have been outscored 41-16 on their roadtrip and are batting .222 with 19 runs in their last nine games, an average of 2.1 a game. They’re batting .163 (14 for 86) with runners in scoring position during the stretch and .207 (24 for 116) with runners in scoring position on the season. Last night, Angels hitters were retired 11 times in two pitches or less. In an 8-0 loss to Boston and ace Curt Schilling Saturday, the Angels had 10 one- or two-pitch at-bats.

Goodnight, Irene.

Top of the 6th
WALK THIS WAY
The Milwaukee Brewers launched their Walk Off Wednesdays promotion this month. T-shirts of select Brewers players will be available for sale, and if a player whose T-shirt was purchased hits a walk-off home run, the fan will receive an autographed bat from that player. The first Walk Off Wednesday this month sold 455 T-shirts, more than three times the usual sales.

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
* Depending on which Gil Meche shows up this afternoons Bobderman matchup could be a good one.
* Want to see two of the best young pitchers in the AL? Check out the Eric bedard/Scott Kazmir matchup this afternoon.
* The second of three straight rookie starters goes for the Yanks today. Chase showed the Wright stuff last night.
* Two good young pitchers tonight in the NL will have John Maine against Dontrelle Willis.
* Cubbies need a good start from Zambrano tonight. Same with the Phils with Eaton.

Away Home Time (ET) Away Probable Home Probable
Royals Tigers 1:05 p.m. Meche (1-1) Bonderman (0-0)
Orioles Devil Rays 3:10 p.m. Bedard (2-1) Kazmir (1-1)
Angels Athletics 3:35 p.m. Lackey (2-1) Haren (0-2)
Indians Yankees 7:05 p.m. Sowers (0-0) Igawa (0-0)
Mets Marlins 7:05 p.m. Maine (1-0) Willis (3-0)
Phillies Nationals 7:05 p.m. Eaton (1-1) Bergmann (0-1)
Red Sox Blue Jays 7:07 p.m. Wakefield (1-1) Ohka (0-1)
Astros Reds 7:10 p.m. Sampson (1-0) Harang (2-0)
Cubs Braves 7:35 p.m. Zambrano (1-2) Davies (0-0)
Pirates Brewers 8:05 p.m. Maholm (0-1) Vargas (0-0)
Rangers White Sox 8:11 p.m. Millwood (2-1) Buehrle (0-0)
Dodgers Rockies 8:35 p.m. Lowe (2-1) Lopez (1-0)
D-Backs Padres 10:05 p.m. Webb (1-1) Wells (0-1)
Twins Mariners 10:05 p.m. Silva (0-1) Hernandez (2-0)
Cardinals Giants 10:15 p.m. Keisler (0-0) Morris (2-0)

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Randy Johnson, who has been rehabbing to return from October back surgery, will make one more minor league start — Thursday for Class AAA Tucson — before being activated from the disabled list. That should happen Friday, and his first start for the Diamondbacks could be April 24 at Chase Field against San Diego.

“I’m feeling good about everything, and I want to have one more productive start and know that it’s my last start,” Johnson said.

Top of the 9th
OH NO, YOU DON’T!
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s frustration was evident after his team went down 8-1 to the Mets. The normally mild-mannered Manuel challenged a radio talk-show host to a fight and had to be restrained by hitting coach Milt Thompson at one point.

“We’re going to win,” Manuel could be heard yelling in his office.

The Phils are 3-9 – their worst start in a decade .

Time for the meds, Charlie.

Bottom of the 9th
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