Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-9-7

9/7/2007
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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The only spin here is on my screwball – happy birthday, Mark Prior

Friday, September 07, 2007

Top of the 1st
SPARKLERS
When I was a kid I always loved sparklers. You know, those bright silver flashing sticks that you lit and held on 4th of July? You know, the ones that my overprotective mother wouldn’t let me play with because she was afraid I might burn myself or actually have fun? Wait, this isn’t a note to my shrink.

What I loved about sparklers was the brightness of the light, which was so intense that you couldn’t take your eyes from them.

There are certain ballplayers like that as well – Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Johan Santana, Roger Clemens are a few who have maintained their light and fascination. It is always very exciting when you see that first spark and just want to see more.

Red Sox rookie pitcher Clay Buchholz is the current sparkler du jour. Buchholz, as you know in his second major league start, threw a no-hitter against the Orioles. Last night, in his first major league relief appearance, also against the Orioles, he shone brightly as well.

Entering a tie game in the 6th inning he walked Brian Roberts, allowed a single to Tike Redman, then walked Nick Markakis to load the bases with no one out and Miguel Tejada at the plate. Miggy, grounded an 0-2 curveball to third baseman Mike Lowell, who went to the plate for the force, and then on to first for a double play. He then struck out. The O’s went down 1-2-3 in the 7th and 8th.

When the Sox took a 7-6 lead, the sparkling Jonathan Paplebon quickly retired the side for a save and another win for Buchholz. Clay has now thrown 143.1 innings this season but has room to sparkle some more before he reaches the 155 inning limit the Sox have set for the youngster.

Terry Francona, who handles the media as well as any manager, in his post-game interview knew how to handle the sparkler. “I know everybody will have a million questions about Clay, and deservedly so, but we did some really good things,” Francona said in trying to commend Coco Crisp. “Now I’ll answer the questions about Clay. It worked out about as well as it could.”

There is another sparkler out there these days: Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals. Like Josh Hamilton of the Reds, he’s one of baseball’s feel-good stories of the season.

Ankiel has sparkled before. He was USA Today’s 1997 High School Player of the Year. In 2000, his first full season, the 20-year old lit up the sky with 11 victories for the Cardinals. But one of the reasons my mom kept me away from sparklers is that they can suddenly blow up. That’s what happened to Ankiel in the 3rd inning of Game 1. With no warning he walked four batters and threw five wild pitches. In the NL Championship Series a week later, against the Mets he threw 20 pitches, five of which went straight to the backstop. He started the 2001 season in the majors, quickly found himself in Triple-A, and by the end of the year was playing in the Rookie League.

Ankiel missed the 2002 season with an elbow sprain, and underwent “Tommy John” ligament-replacement surgery in July 2003. Ankiel returned to the Cardinals as a reliever in 2004, pitching in only five games, and had a 5.40 ERA.

He then re-made himself into an outfielder and this season he hit 32 home runs in Triple-A before the Cardinals recalled him Aug. 10, and the sparkler re-ignited as he hit three home runs in his first three games. Yesterday, Ankiel homered twice, hit a double and had a career-high seven RBIs, sending the Cardinals to a 16-4 victory. He has nine home runs in 81 at-bats.

But when you play with sparklers, you can get really burnt, right mom?

The New York Daily News reports today that Ankiel got eight shipments of human growth hormone from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando from January to December 2004, including Saizen and Genotropin, two injectable drugs. Florida physician William Gogan signed Ankiel’s prescriptions, providing them through a Palm Beach Gardens clinic called The Health and Rejuvenation Center, or THARC, the newspaper reported.
The drugs were shipped to Ankiel at the clinic’s address, the paper said. The 28-year-old Ankiel lives close by in Jupiter.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the Daily News. “If it’s true, obviously it would be very tragic, along with everything else we’ve had happen to us this year.” The year began with manager Tony La Russa’s DWI arrest in March, followed by the drunk-driving death of reliever Josh Hancock in April and the loss of ace Chris Carpenter for the season in June. Ankiel, dubbed “The Natural” in St. Louis, had been the one bit of unrestrained good news.

Major League Baseball doesn’t test for HGH, and the sport didn’t ban human growth hormone until 2005. But a player who possessed it or used it after it was banned can be suspended for 50 games.

Authorities have not accused Ankiel of any wrongdoing, the newspaper said. According to the Signature records the News cited, he stopped receiving HGH just before baseball banned it in 2005.

THARC also provided a shipment of steroids and growth hormone to former major league pitcher Steve Woodard, who pitched for Milwaukee, Cleveland, Texas and Boston during a seven-year career that ended in 2003, according to records. Woodard and Ankiel were teammates with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in 2004.

Damn sparklers, the next thing you know is that Apple will do something to take the sparkle off the iPhone, like lowering the price and screwing all their early, loyal adopters.

But Steve Jobs wouldn’t prove my mother right, would he?

Top of the 2nd
POST-HASTE
As we hurry to the end of the season, we rush to judgment:

AL EAST
Pinch-hitter Jason Varitek singled in the go-ahead run in the 9th inning, and Boston got home runs from David Ortiz and Coco Crisp in a 7-6 victory at Baltimore. Crisp had three hits and scored three runs. Boston has been in first place for 142 games, its longest streak since 1986. Doug Mirabelli was forced to exit the game with an injured left hamstring. He pulled up lame while rounding first base on a single. He was making his first start since coming off the disabled list. Mirabelli had been out with a strained right calf.

AL CENTRAL
Sean Casey and Placido Polanco hit run-scoring singles against closer Bobby Jenks in the 9th inning to lead host Detroit to a 3-2 victory. The Tigers trailed by 2-1 entering the inning. Gary Sheffield was activated from the DL yesterday and was back in the starting lineup for Tigers, batting third and serving as the DH. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts after having not played since Aug. 21 because of an injured shoulder.

AL WEST
The Angels’ Garret Anderson extended his streak to a club-record 11 games with at least one RBI, knocking in three runs and leading Los Angeles past the Cleveland Indians, 10-3. Anderson has hit nine of his 15 homers in the last 16 games. The Angels’ career RBI leader had broke the previous franchise mark of 10 consecutive games with an RBI that was shared by Fred Lynn and Wally Joyner. Lynn had his streak of 10 games with an RBI in 1984 and finished that season with 79 in 142 games. Joyner had his run in 1986 and finished with 100 in 154 games. Anderson has only 68 this year, but he missed 46 games during two stints on the disabled list. Anderson has 21 RBI during his streak, which began five games after he set another team record with 10 RBI in an 18-9 victory over the Yankees on Aug. 21. The three-time All-Star, who leads the majors with 56 RBI since the All-Star break, was moved from the cleanup spot to the No. 3 hole Thursday after right fielder the Angels were forced to play without Vladimir Guerrero. He was scratched from the lineup due to an inflamed right triceps. Cleveland lost for just the second time in 13 games.

The Mariners released reliever Rick White. He joined the Mariners late last month but became expendable after he posted an 8.40 ERA in six appearances.

NL EAST
The Mets rank sixth in runs scored and homers, fifth in walks, fourth in batting average and third in on-base percentage. The Mets’ staff ranked eighth in strikeouts, fifth in earned run average (seventh among relievers), and third in opponents’ batting average. They lead the league in stolen bases. Mets pitcher Orlando Hernandez threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and reported no problems with the sore tendon in his right foot. “I feel better,” he tells the New York Post. “No pain… I think I’m ready for my next start.” Hernandez will throw another session on Friday or Saturday and start sometime next week.

The Phillies have pushed Adam Eaton’s next start from Saturday to Tuesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

NL CENTRAL
Despite a 2.45 ERA over his last three starts, the Cubs’ Sean Marshall won’t make his next start until Sept. 15, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Giving Marshall a little bit of a breather will be good for him,” manager Lou Piniella said. Marshall will work out of the bullpen in the meantime. In other Cubbie news, Steve Trachsel, who allowed three runs in six innings against the Astros on Tuesday, will make his next start on Sunday against Pittsburgh, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Rick Ankiel homered twice and had a career-high seven runs batted in as St. Louis defeated visiting Pittsburgh, 16-4, in a game shortened to eight innings because of rain and lack of continued interest. Bryan Bullington (0-1) made his first major league start five years after he was the No. 1 overall pick in the amateur draft.

The Cards’ Scott Spiezio has been out for nearly a month while taking part in a rehabilitation program for substance abuse, but manager Tony La Russa thinks it’s possible that Spiezo will return to the Cardinals sometime this year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s still possible we’ll see him before this season is over,” La Russa said.

NL WEST
Andre Ethier hit a three-run, pinch-hit homer in the 9th against closer Ryan Dempster in the Dodgers’ four-run rally at Wrigley, giving LA a 7-4 victory against the Cubs. Alfonso Soriano hit two home runs for the Cubs

The Diamondbacks Chad Tracy, out with a right knee injury, is still at least a couple of days away from taking swings, according to the Arizona Republic.

Top of the 3rd
WHY I THINK THE PADRES WILL WIN THE WEST
You look for the little clues at this time of the season; the moments that will give you a hint as to how a team will fare at the end. Yesterday, the Padres did something that gave me that insight…they played golf.

At a golf course in Denver, more than half the players joined manager Bud Black and coaches for a Padres golf tournament. Pairings were set along the lines of a Ryder Cup format. At this time of the year I love to see a team operating as a team even on their off day.

The Padres had played 16 games in 16 days. They went 10-6, winning series against the Mets, Phillies and Dodgers before losing two of three at Arizona and will play 20 games in the season’s final 20 days. In the 16-game run against NL playoff contenders, the Padres hit 24 home runs, batted .294 and averaged 5.7 runs. Since Aug. 1, the Padres have hit 48 home runs in 34 games and averaged 5.3 runs.

Top of the 4th
CHUMP CHANGE
A Honus Wagner baseball card has been sold for a record $2.8 million, a little more than six months after it was bought for a then-record $2.35 million. Referred to as the Mona Lisa of baseball cards, it is in the best condition of the few known T206 Wagner cards, released in 1909 by the American Tobacco Company. It was purchased by an unidentified private collector (with the initials B-B?)

I wonder how much my autographed Don Zimmer card is worth.

Top of the 5th
CLEMENTE NOMINEES
The 2007 Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet, is given annually to the Major League Baseball player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community. The award perpetuates Clemente’s memory and character by recognizing current-day players who truly understand the value of helping others.

A donation of $30,000 will be made by Chevrolet to the national winner’s charity of choice and an additional $30,000 will be donated by Chevrolet to Roberto Clemente Sports City, a not-for-profit organization in Carolina, Puerto Rico designed to provide recreational sports activities for children regardless of economic circumstances.

Additionally, Chevrolet will donate $7,500 to the charity of choice of each of the 30 Club recipients (can they spare it?)

For the first time, fans can participate in the selection process of the national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. From September 5th through October 5th, fans can log on to mlb.com/chevy21 and vote for one of the 30 Club nominees. The fan vote winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by the selection panel, which includes Vera Clemente, wife of the late Hall of Famer, and Commissioner Selig. Participating fans will also automatically be registered for a chance to win a trip to Game Three of the 2007 World Series where the national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet will be announced.

The 30 Club recipients of the 2007 Roberto Clemente Award are:
Arizona Diamondbacks – Orlando Hudson
Atlanta Braves – Tim Hudson
Baltimore Orioles – Jamie Walker
Boston Red Sox – David Ortiz
Chicago Cubs – Derrek Lee
Chicago White Sox – Jim Thome
Cincinnati Reds – Aaron Harang
Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner
Colorado Rockies – Matt Holliday
Detroit Tigers – Curtis Granderson
Florida Marlins – Miguel Cabrera
Houston Astros – Craig Biggio
Kansas City Royals – Mike Sweeney
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Vladimir Guerrero
Los Angeles Dodgers – Derek Lowe
Milwaukee Brewers – Jeff Suppan
Minnesota Twins – Torii Hunter
New York Mets – Paul Lo Duca
New York Yankees – Jorge Posada
Oakland Athletics – Nick Swisher
Philadelphia Phillies – Jamie Moyer
Pittsburgh Pirates – Jack Wilson
San Diego Padres – Jake Peavy
San Francisco Giants – Russ Ortiz
Seattle Mariners – Raul Iba