Billy-Ball Daily: 2008-6-24

6/24/2008
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

Billy-Ball – From the diamond to your desktop…
By Baseball Newstalgist, Bill Chuck

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The only spin here is on my screwball

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Top of the 1st
A TRIP TO THE MINORS
Last night, I received the last part of my Father’s Day present as Mrs. Ball, Jen and I went to Pawtucket to see the Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Richmond Braves 7-6 in 10 innings at McCoy Stadium. Now I love minor league baseball and a favorite family outing for us is going to visit the Rox in Brockton, MA and enjoy the confines of Campanelli Stadium and watch an independent CanAm League game. If I were the marketing folks in Pawtucket (full disclosure, I am one of the marketing folks for Brockton), I would head to Brockton at the first opportunity because it was dead in Pawtucket last night.

McCoy has a pretty field, with lots of foul territory, which is one of its chief liabilities – the fans are too far from the action. Then again, the PawSox do nothing to take advantage of that space to make it a fun, family friendly experience. Other than the mascot once, power shooting soft baseballs into the stands, there were absolutely no between innings experiences. No kids on the field racing or wearing costumes or involved in guessing games. Nothing, nada, zilch.

Perhaps that’s why it was morgue-like for most of the game. I am not a yeller at ballgames. I prefer to watch, keep score, eat my peanuts and talk to the people around me. But last night, Jen and I were out there loud trying to encourage the Sox. I was trying to create nicknames, I tried “Let’s go PawSox” chants, but the 4,600 fans simply could not be bothered. They were too busy living up to a Quohogian stereotype.

Even when the music was played to rouse the crowd, it was done in a half-hearted way. It seemed that the music would stop too soon; as if the ownership had to pay more if they played it another 10 seconds.

As for the game itself, it was exciting enough to be enjoyed by the three of us. The Red Sox grabbed a 2-0 lead in the 1st on a two run single by catcher George Kottaras. The Braves tied the game in the 2nd off starting pitcher Charlie Zink with the damaging blow being an error by second baseman Joe Thurman who had a horrible night. He looks closer to being headed to Portland than to Boston. In the 3rd, the very impressive Jeff Bailey doubled a run home and the skilled Jed Lowrie knocked one in with a single to give Pawtucket a 4-2 lead. Richmond again tied the game in the 6th on back-to-back home runs by Scott Thorman and Jason Perry. Thorman is a major threat at the plate and I mean “major” as in “Major League.” In the bottom of the inning the Red Sox tied it on another RBI double by Bailey. Richmond rallied for a third time in the 7th to tie the game at five on a Thorman sacrifice fly. Following the very first chant in the park, Thorman smashed his second home run of the game to give the Braves their first lead, 6-5 in the 10th (maybe that’s why they don’t yell).

Then came the bottom of the 10th with Pawtucket trailing by a run and Richmond brought in a pitcher that brought a smile to my face. If I were a betting man, I would have placed money on the Sox at that point – Does the name Jorge Julio strike a familiar note?

I have now seen this guy (referred to by a Braves blogger as Jorge “Gasoline Soaked Matchbook” Julio) blow saves in the American, National, and International Leagues. The Braves signed Julio about 10 days ago as backup for Rafael Soriano. Julio, 29, had a 5.60 ERA in 15 appearances for Cleveland before he was released at the end of May. He has a 13-33 career record and a 4.40 ERA with 99 saves in 131 opportunities (.755 save fulfillment percentage), including 83 saves in a three-season span with Baltimore in 2002-04. If the Braves call him to the majors, they would be his sixth major-league team in the past three seasons.

Leading off, DH Chris Carter (0-5 with 2 Ks) smashed a shot to second, deftly fielded by Derrick Arnold. Now with one out, third baseman Keith Ginter (1-4, double and a walk) lined out very deep to center. Two outs, no one on base – that’s Julio time. George Kottaras looped a single to left and left fielder Bryan Pritz dropped another to center. The next batter, pinch-hitter Dusty Brown, was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

After a coaching visit to the mound (Oh, Jorge, you make me laugh) Jonathan Van Every grounded a ball up the middle that Arnold fielded then dropped and the game was tied. Then all I had to do was yell to Jeff Bailey to be patient and on a 3-2 count Julio walked Bailey to bring in the winning run on a walkoff walk.

Charlie Zink struck out a career-high 10 batters, working 8 and a third for Pawtucket. The win went to Jon Switzer (3-0). The PawSox are 48-31 and a perfect 6-0 in extra inning games in 2008.

We had a very good evening and for us there were many laughs, in spite of the moribund atmosphere. Baseball is enjoyable at every level and this summer you should make it a priority to go to a minor league game. Our next one will be in Brockton and I hope to see you there.

Top of the 2nd
WHO’S THE BEST?
For those of you keeping track of my own personal interleague suicide watch – the Rockies/Royals series is the one in which I may ask the missus to pull my plug.

In last night’s contest, Mark Teahen hit a three-run homer and Kansas City beat the Colorado 8-4 for their eighth win in nine games. The Royals’ hot streak has all come against National League clubs, and their 10-3 record is the best in interleague play.

3-2-1-PULL!

Top of the 3rd
BAKE ME A CAKE AS FAST AS YOU CAN
The Reds’ Jeff Baker is a man without a position, but was selected as the National League Player of the Week for June 16-22 after hitting .435 with two doubles and home runs in a club-record- tying four games in a row. Baker primarily has been getting playing time at second base in the absence of Clint Barmes, who rejoined the Rockies’ active roster Monday.

Top of the 4th
KING FELIX
The Mariners Felix Hernandez hit the first grand slam by an American League pitcher in 37 years, then left with a sprained ankle before he could qualify for a win in last night’s battle of interim managers as the Seattle Mariners defeated the New York Mets, 5-2.

Facing a fellow Venezuelan countryman, Johan Santana, in his first plate appearance this season, King Felix connected to give Seattle a 4-0 lead. Hernandez clapped his hands when the ball cleared the fence and rounded the bases in glee. After the game, he said he figured it was his first homer since Little League.

“My approach? Just swing. I closed my eyes,” Hernandez said. “I was happy and I was thinking that’s all I need — four runs.”

The opposite-field shot to right-center was the first home run by a pitcher in Mariners history, and the first slam by an AL hurler since Cleveland’s Steve Dunning went deep against Oakland’s Diego Segui on May 11, 1971, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That was two years before the AL began using a designated hitter — and six years before the Mariners’ expansion season of 1977.
The last NL pitcher to hit a grand slam also did it at Shea Stadium. Dontrelle Willis, then with Florida, accomplished the feat on July 7, 2006.

Three innings later, Hernandez sprained his left ankle while covering home plate on a run-scoring wild pitch.

You know, the Yankees’ Kyle Farnsworth gashed his hand on Sunday trying to field a ground ball. Between Farnsworth and Felix Hernandez I’m surprised we haven’t heard Hank Steinbrenner demanding, “It’s time for the NL to get out of the 19th century and adopt the designated fielder.”

Top of the 5th
THE GREEN, GREEN GRASS OF HOME
Some of the Giants think the infield grass at AT&T Park is too slow and are being hurt by the number of grounders that never make it to the outfield. Aaron Rowand is batting .375 on the road and only .248 at home and the whole Giants team is batting .257 at home, and a majors-best .268 on the road. Yes, the Giants.

Rowand notes that the Giants staff now uses more fly-ball than ground-ball pitchers. Moreover, as the too-old Giants move on or get hurt, the club is naturally getting younger and faster and might be better served by a quicker surface.

“It works both ways,” starting pitcher Matt Cain said. “Sometimes it wouldn’t be as easy for us to turn double plays. Obviously, that would be bad for us when we’d need a ground ball.”

Top of the 6th
BILLY-BALL-SITE-OF-THE-DAY
Want to go to a Brockton Rox game?

Here’s their site: http://www.brocktonrox.com/

Top of the 7th
PROBABLE PITCHERS
Brewers (David Bush) at Braves (Charlie Morton), 7:00
Diamondbacks (Doug Davis) at Red Sox (Justin Masterson), 7:05
Giants (Jonathan Sanchez) at Indians (Aaron Laffey), 7:05
Cardinal (Braden Looper) at Tigers (Kenny Rogers), 7:05
Yankees (Darrell Rasner) at Pirates (Tom Gorzelanny), 7:05
Reds (Bronson Arroyo) at Blue Jays (A.J. Burnett), 7:07
Angels (Jon Garland) at Nationals (Shawn Hill), 7:10
Mariners (R.A. Dickey) at Mets (Oliver Perez), 7:10
Rays (Andy Sonnanstine) at Marlins (Scott Olsen), 7:10
Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie) at Cubs (Sean Marshall), 8:05
Rangers (Eric Hurley) at Astros (Brian Moehler), 8:05
Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa) at Royals (Zack Greinke), 8:10
Phillies (Jamie Moyer) at A’s (Joe Blanton), 10:05
Twins (Kevin Slowey) at Padres (Jake Peavy), 10:05
White Sox (Mark Buehrle) at Dodgers (Derek Lowe), 10:10

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Bill Mazeroski, who hit the greatest walkoff homer in World Series history in Game 7, 1960, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the opener of the Yankees series in Pittsburgh tonight.

Maz’ home run recently was voted by nearly 58,000 Pittsburgh sports fans as the city’s best sports moment, topping Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception and the Steelers’ five Super Bowl victories.

Top of the 9th
HAWK THAT BALL
Zack Hample guesses he has snagged 3,456 baseballs in his 18 years of “ballhawking” at major-league stadiums – catching them during batting practice, pleading with players to toss one into the stands and chasing down home runs and foul balls. In fact, he has written a book entitled, “How to Snag Major League Baseballs, More Than 100 Tested Tips That Really Work.”

Included are these tips:
Always bring a glove. – It proves to the players that you really want a ball. And if he sees your glove, he’ll feel safer throwing one to you.

Wear baseball caps. – Hample brings two caps to every game, for the home team and visiting team. A player on the road, he says, often will give a ball to a fan showing allegiance to his team.

Study the game. – Hample moves to different parts of the outfield, based on a left-handed or right-handed batter. He knows foul balls tend to go the opposite way of the batter’s stance. He also gets to know the pitchers, realizing that batters usually foul off fastballs and curveballs and hit more fouls when they have two strikes.

Get an aisle seat. –
Sitting at the end of a row maximizes the ability to move up or down stadium steps.

My suggestion is bring a very cute kid – I haven’t been successful as a short, fat, ball, old guy.

Bottom of the 9th
BUY THE BOOK
Bill Chuck is the creator of Billy-Ball.com and, with Jim Kaplan, is the author of the book, “Walk-Offs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – Baseball’s Grand (and not so Grand) Finales,” with a Foreword by Jon Miller available now from ACTA Sports.

Autographed first editions are available by contacting, Bill@billy-ball.com or order directly from Acta Sports, http://www.actasports.com/detail.html?&id=3427 or from your favorite bookstore worldwide.

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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.