Billy-Ball Daily: 2008-5-28

5/28/2008
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top of the 1st
AN AUSPICIOUS DEBUT
The Jay Bruce Era began last night in Cincinnati and it was, shall we say, “awesome?”

“It’s pretty surreal,” Jay Bruce decided what to call it according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20080528/SPT04/805280329/.

Bruce was last year’s Minor League Player of the Year named by both Baseball America and The Sporting News. This year in 49 games at Triple A Louisville this year, Bruce was hitting .364 with 10 home runs, nine doubles, five triples, 37 RBIs and eight stolen
bases. He ended his time with the Bats with a nine-game hitting streak.

Many believe he should have made the team out of spring training, but outfielder Corey
Patterson instead was signed midway through spring training. Patterson, as all the Fantasy players out there will tell you, is hitting an anemic .201 with a .242 on-base average. New Reds GM Walt Jocketty decided that now was the right time to bring him up: “It was a timing thing. The club is starting to play better. We wanted to give him a little more time there. We felt he was ready a week or two ago. We decided to wait till we got off the road.”

So there were the Reds, at home facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, and there was the 21-year old Jay Bruce batting second. Manager Dusty Baker had said about Bruce’s slot in the lineup, “I didn’t want to put the pressure on him and lead him off. Right now, the third spot belongs to Junior (Griffey). The fourth spot belong to (Brandon) Phillips. The fifth spot belongs to (Adam) Dunn. So do you put on top or underneath? I thought it would be better to put him up top. Most good hitters usually bat third in the minor leagues. People want you to insert them right into third. Junior’s got 20 years in third. Things will work out later.”

There were only 17,964 in the stands (including Bruce’s family) but Reds fans tuned in big time to see the heralded rookie, FSN Ohio did its highest rating of the season (9.7) topping the Opening Day rating of 8.7.

Heading out to the field to start the game, the Reds pulled a rookie prank and let Bruce run out by himself before they followed him out there. The first time up, with the crowd standing throughout the at bat, the lefty swinging Bruce exhibited patience and took a walk and he was on the backend of a Jerry Hairston steal so he was credited with his first major league steal. The next time up, #32 went to the opposite field and got his first major league single. His next time up, another walk. Third time up, another line drive between third and short, another single and RBI numero uno. Next time up was a run-scoring double to deep right center.

“That’s one of the best debuts I’ve seen,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “I mean overall – 3-for-3, couple of walks, couple of RBIs, stolen base. And we won the game. There wasn’t a whole bunch he didn’t do.”

It makes me think of the debut of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. On July 30, 1959, coming up to the Giants from the Pacific Coast League where he hit .377 average with 28 homers. Batting third, “Stretch,” as would be called hit third in the lineup, between Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. McCovey had four hits, including two triples, scored three runs and drove in two, playing first base (the Giants moved Cepeda to third).

Bruce’s debut in the Reds’ 9-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates was about as good as it gets and the kid ran off the field after the last out, beaming.

He spoke to reporters following the game with face covered with shaving cream (courtesy of his teammates) and said, “I couldn’t have written it any better,” he said. “I had a blast.”

Baseball feels good today.

Top of the 2nd
ONE OF THE 62
It’s my contention that of baseball’s 162 game season, there are only 62 that really determine a season. I think 50 games are easy wins, 50 games are pure losses and it is the remaining 62 that determine the quality of a season.

Last night it was one of the 62 for both the Red Sox and the Yankees and they both lost the game.

The Red Sox were in Seattle last night with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound and lost both the game and their pitcher in a 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners. First the game, the Red Sox were trailing 3-0, but Manny Ramirez hit a three-run homer in the 6th to tie the game. Ramirez, who hit his 498th career home run on May 12, ended a 45 at-bat homerless streak.

League-worst Seattle ended their seven-game losing streak in the 9th when Wladimir Balentien reached on an infield single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Jose Lopez’ two-out liner down the left field line. Mike Timlin, fell to 0-6 with a 10.29 ERA at Safeco.

Dice-K left the game in 5th after reaching for his back after his second warmup pitch. The Sox are calling it “shoulder fatigue” and it is too early to determine Matsuzaka’s condition or availability to make his next start. Matsuzaka, who was attempting to become only the seventh pitcher in club history to open the season 9-0, allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits in four innings, while striking out two. Dice-K didn’t walk anybody which by itself should have given everybody a clue that he wasn’t himself.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Yankees gave up two four-run leads, they slammed Orioles starting pitcher Brian Burres, who had held New York to a total of one run in two previous starts this season, for eight earned runs and four home runs, and then surrendered five homers themselves, but still had the game in the bag. In the 11th inning, the Yanks held a 9-8 lead but Mariano Rivera had already pitched two scoreless innings and was sitting on the bench expecting to pick up the win. But Aubrey Huff tied the game with an RBI double off LaTroy Hawkins and then Alex Cintron won it with a one out bases loaded walkoff single.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Orioles manager Dave Trembley in today’s Baltimore Sun. “This is the best game I’ve ever been a part of, to win. Guys came in [after the top of the 11th], and I heard more guys say, ‘Come on, let’s go. We’re going to score two to win it.’ I’ll replay this one for a long time. This one was tremendous.”

“You had two four-run deficits that you don’t ever come back from and then you obviously go down in the 11th and you never come back from that usually,” said Kevin Millar, who hit two home runs, including the 150th of his career. “You don’t want to make a living that way, but this is probably the best Orioles’ win that I’ve seen as far as a full team effort.”


One of 62 to remember for each team.

Top of the 3rd
BIG HURT, BIG HURT?
The A’s Frank Thomas celebrated his 40th birthday by doubling against the Blue Jays, who released him last month, but Thomas hurt his leg and tender knee in the process. He is scheduled for an MRI exam today to see how slight the strain is of his right quadriceps muscle where it connects to the knee.

The A’s beat the Jays, 3-1 for their fifth straight win.

Top of the 4th
MCCLURE MCROYAL
On DugoutCentral.com, I recently asked former big league pitcher Willie Fraser who he currently thinks is the most influential pitching coach (as in who has the greatest influence in improving the level of quality for the pitchers on his staff)?

Willie responded, “Right now, I’d have to say Bob McClure of the Kansas City Royals. He’s had several of his young pitchers (Zach Greinke, Joakim Soria, Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez) make significant strides in their ability to consistently make quality pitches and develop and improve their pitching plans. The Royals still have a ways to go in their re-building process, but McClure is helping them get there.”

Top of the 5th
BRAVES STILL ROAD LOSERS
The Atlanta Braves were in Milwaukee last night and held a 2-0 lead going to the bottom of the 7th. They surrendered one in each in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings and lost 3-2 (another one of 62). The Braves’ loss drops them to 2-13 in one-run games and 6-17 on the road.

Top of the 6th
BILLY-BALL-SITE-OF-THE-DAY
Check out the complete profile on Jay Bruce:
http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/news/top50/y2008/profile.jsp?t=p_top&pid=457803

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
AL
White Sox (Gavin Floyd) at Indians (Jake Westbrook), 12:05
Rangers (Kason Gabbard) at Rays (Matt Garza), 12:40
Yankees (Andy Pettitte) at Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie), 7:05
Twins (Livan Hernandez) at Royals (Zack Greinke), 8:10
Tigers (Armando Galarraga) at Angels (Joe Saunders), 10:05
Blue Jays (Roy Halladay) at A’s (Rich Harden), 10:05
Red Sox (Tim Wakefield) at Mariners (Erik Bedard), 10:10

NL
Rockies (Greg Reynolds) at Phillies (Adam Eaton), 7:05
Pirates (Tom Gorzelanny) at Reds (Bronson Arroyo), 7:10
Marlins (Scott Olsen) at Mets (Oliver Perez), 7:10
Dodgers (Derek Lowe) at Cubs (Carlos Zambrano), 8:00
Braves (Jo-Jo Reyes) at Brewers (Jeff Suppan), 8:05
Astros (Wandy Rodriguez) at Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 8:15
Giants (Jonathan Sanchez) at Diamondbacks (Doug Davis), 9:40
Nationals (Odalis Perez) at Padres (Shawn Estes), 10:05

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
This is becoming a unique baseball season. In the last two weeks, we have seen a no-hitter, two grand slams in one game, an unassisted triple play, and last night a triple steal. The Cleveland Indians pulled it off in their 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. The last triple steal came on Oct. 1, 1987, by Atlanta against Houston according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

With the bases loaded and Ben Francisco batting, White Sox pitcher Ehren Wasserman faked a throw to third and threw to first, which caught Jamey Carroll off the bag. First baseman Paul Konerko got Carroll in a brief rundown. David Dellucci broke from third and Konerko’s throw to catcher Toby Hall was in the dirt, allowing Dellucci to score. Dellucci, Carroll and Grady Sizemore, who was on second when the play began, were given stolen bases. The last Indians player to steal home was Grady Sizemore on Aug. 26, 2005 in Toronto in a straight steal of home.

The last and only time a team executed two triple steals in the same game was on July 25, 1930, when the Philadelphia Athletics executed the heists against the Cleveland Indians. Pete Jablonowski was on the mound for the Indians. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that Jablonowski had “a leisurely delivery” enough so that with Jimmy Dykes at the plate with the bases loaded in the 1st, Al Simmons stole home and “Dib” Williams and Bing Miller stole second and third to complete the triple steal.

By the 4th inning, Jablonowski was long gone and Milt Shoffner was on the mound with the bases full and Bing Miller was at the plate. This time Mickey Cochrane stole home while Simmons and Jimmie Foxx stole third and second, respectively. The Athletics won, 14-1, on the six-hit pitching of Lefty Grove.

Top of the 9th
PREMATURE EJECTIONS
It’s getting to be the time of the season when umpires are getting a little touchy. Perhaps its because of all the calls for instant replay or perhaps its because its that time of the season. Sunday, the Rangers’ Triple Crown candidate Josh Hamilton was ejected in the 6th inning. Hamilton, after getting called out on a checked swing, mimicked third-base umpire Dale Scott, only to get kicked out by home plate umpire Bill Hohn.

Last night, in the 5th inning of the Red Sox loss to Mariners, Raul Ibanez made a checked-swing offering at a 1-0 pitch, drawing an appeal by catcher Jason Varitek to third base umpire Angel Hernandez. Hernandez called it a non-swing, Julio Lugo, who certainly knows about errors, objected from his position approximately 40 feet away. Hernandez immediately ejected the shortstop.

“I don’t know if he has anything personal against me right now or what,” Lugo said after the game to reporters. “I don’t have any problem with him.

“The only thing I said on the checked swing was `check, check.’ I looked over there and he was staring at me. I said, `Why are you staring at me?’ He called time out and threw me out.”

Manager Terry Francona came out to support his player and also ended up being ejected by the hot-tempered Hernandez. Jeff Horrigan in this morning’s Boston Herald (http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/baseball/red_sox/view/2008_05_28_Sox_fall_back_to_old_ways:_Lose_late_despite_Manny_s_499th/srvc=home&position=1) points out that Lugo and Hernandez also had a run-in on April 25, 2007 at Baltimore, when Lugo asked for time before Daniel Cabrera delivered a pitch, only to have Hernandez ignore him. Cabrera’s pitch was called a strike and Hernandez encouraged the pitcher to continue to work, even as Lugo attempted to gain an explanation, leading to another called strike.

Lugo said after that game that Hernandez doesn’t respect players and was quoted as saying that “something’s wrong with him.” Horrigan adds, “Umps, of course, tend to have long memories.”

Bottom of the 9th
THERE’S ONLY 19 DAYS UNTIL FATHER’S DAY
Show Dad where his memories rank among the greatest baseball moments of all time

Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs: Baseball’s Grand (and not-so-grand) Finales
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The greatest postseason finishes of all-time
The last moments of the most distinguished old stadiums
Heroic (and not-so-heroic) endings to Hall of Fame careers
Boxscores and linescores for some of the greatest games ever played
A slew of career statistics, ballpark data, and photographs
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To take advantage of this optional special offer, mention the “Father’s Day Special” when calling (800) 397-2282 or enter the name of your favorite team under “Additional Comments” when checking out online. One team per book.
http://www.actasports.com/detail.html?&id=3427

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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.