In New York, It’s The Calm Before the Storm

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Residents of hurricane-intensive areas can tell you of the unearthly calm in their area just before a major storm hits. I was in Florida in 1992 just before hurricane Andrew, and particularly in the area south of Miami which took the brunt of the assault, the Sunday before Andrew hit was quiet like few days in that region are. On the Gulf coast 10 years ago, nobody could miss how quiet things were before Katrina.

Yesterday’s two MLB playoff games were two of the least dramatic games we’ve had this postseason, the quiet before what is expected to be a storm of uncontrolled fury by Mets fans in New York tonight. Even suspending Chase Utley for 2 games, as Joe Torre did may not be enough to satisfy New York fans, who aren’t known for gentility at any time. Who was it that started the chant “Boston Sucks,” when the Red Sox came to town? It wasn’t Twins fans or Royals fans, or heaven forbid Dodgers fans, it was Yankees and Mets supporters. While Utley is suspended, that can be appealed, which meanss he could play tonight.  Ruben Tejada’s broken leg can’t be appealed and may derail a relatively short career, where Utley’s sands of baseball time have nearly run out. Mets fans know this. Utley has reportedly received one death threat. As far as it goes, security is being tightened at Citi Field. I know policemen on horseback have been summoned in years past on nights when the Mets might clinch a pennant. They might well be on hand tonight, though nothing can be settled with this game.  The series is even at a game apiece thanks to an illegal slide and a mistake made by the umpires and upheld by the shadowy figures in New York  who review umpire’s mistakes.

As for the two games played yesterday, Texas didn’t take advantage of the 2 games to none lead and clinch the pennant. Instead, they lost 5-1 to the Blue Jays in Arlington, TX. In the visiting half of the sixth inning, with the Jays already ahead 2-0, Troy Tulowitzki hit a 3-run home run to seal the deal. He already had one RBI from a bases-loaded walk earlier on. Unheralded Marco Estrada, who had a 13-7 record on a team mostly known for its sluggers, picked up  the win for Toronto. When they meet today, just after 4 PM Eastern, Derek Holland will try to push the Rangers into the ALCS, against knuckleballer R. A. Dickey of the Jays, who is hoping he can guide his team  to a game 5 back in Toronto.  Meantime, some 240 miles from Arlington, the Houston Astros moved an inch closer to the NLCS by beating the Royals 4-2. Dallas Keuchel proved he’s human by giving up a run to the Royals, something he didn’t do against the Yankees in the wild card game. He gave up just the one run in 7 innings, and has now won all 16 of his decisions this season at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Jason Castro collected a 2-run single in the fifth, Carlos Gomez singled home a run and Chris Carter unloaded a solo home run making it 4-1. The last run was an Alex Gordon home run in the 9th to make it 4-2 Houston which was the final score. They will meet again, in the first of 4 playoff games today. It will start just after 1 PM Eastern. When it does, the Royals will face elimination, needing to win this game and a potential game 5 in Kansas City. Last year they weren’t facing elimination until game 6 of the World Series. They’re back with their best this afternoon.   Yordano Ventura comes back after a two-inning outing in game 1 which was shortened by a rain delay. He was 13-8 on the regular season. The Astros counter with Lance McCullers, who was 6-7 in the majors in a year when he pitched at AA and AAA before his ultimate promotion.  He turned 22 10 days ago. The Tampa native is even more likely than most sons  to call his dad for pitching advice. Lance McCullers SR. pitched for 7 years in the majors between 1985 and 1992. He pitched for the Padres, Yankees, Tigers and Rangers.

The earlier NLDS game tonight, starting just after 6 PM pits the Cubs against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. As good as Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha can be,  at 17-7, he’s up against the very best, Jake Arrieta who was 22-6 and keel-hauled  the Pirates in the wild card game. Compared to his tiny 1.77 ERA, Wacha’s 3.38 makes him seem almost hittable. The Cubs mauled Wacha to the tune of a 1-2 record and 6.86 ERA. Worse still, Wacha had a 7.88 ERA in September.

Then the high drama begins at 8:37 PM at Citi Field. TBS may have to move the Cubs-Cardinals to TNT or chance  starting the Mets-Dodgers game on that  channel  which I doubt is a risk they’d take.

The sound and fury from Los Angeles Saturday night no doubt had TBS executives dancing with anticipation of the highest baseball ratings they’ve had since starting to cover the playoffs in 2007. Since then their ratings have plunged like a Hollywood starlet’s  neckline. And why not? Their broadcasts  are more bland than plain vanilla yogurt. Their play-by-play announcers are not colorful, and other than Keith Hernandez their analysts don’t tell you anything you’d want to know. They’ve had technical glitches and one video SNAFU after another over the years.  My favorite one was when Cal Ripken’s name was flashed as “Carl Ripken.”  Still their coverage is the only TV coverage available for what can’t help to be over-the-top drama. Matt Harvey takes his 13-8 record against a 10-9 Brett Anderson, but that doesn’t scratch the surface. The Mets need to focus rather than seek immediate revenge. They were wise not to try anything Saturday night, with the shambles their bull pen has been in lately. It is critical that Harvey must go as long as he can tonight, and not pull a Roger Clemens circa 1990 playoffs and get ejected for stupidity. The hitters must focus and continue to play their game. This isn’t football where you are encouraged-and highly paid-to hit your foe harder if you’re running on high-octane hate. The Mets hae to leave that to the fans and leave all concern over the crowd’s  reactions to the police. If batters swing harder they swing and miss. If runners slide harder they risk further injuries the Mets can’t afford. As it is, they had to call up Matt Reynolds, an infielder who has never played an inning in the majors to back up their middle infield. Kelly Johnson is the most stalwart man they have there. Wilmer Flores can play but is coming off strep throat, and not a back injury as I erroneously wrote in this space.  A problem with him, Johnson or Daniel Murphy and Reynolds, who hit all of .267 with 6 home runs in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, will get the call of destiny.  If he does, he will be the second man since 1885 to make his MLB debut in the postseason. The only other man to do so was Mark Kiger of Oakland, who in 2006 replaced their second baseman Mark Ellis who went down with a serious hand injury. Kiger played parts of two games as a defensive replacement, never batted and was released after the season ended. Meantime, Don Mattingly feels he must play Chase Utley tonight if his suspension is still pending appeal. Utley has 6 hits in 18 tries against Harvey, which would convince any manager to play him at whatever risk. A win here and the Mets can afford to go to Stephen Matz tomorrow night looking to advance. A Dodgers win and maybe they could keep back Clayton Kershaw for game 5 in L.A. Much is at stake tonight by any standard. It’s been 16 years since Atlanta pitcher John Rocker took a poke at Mets’ fans in the media and gave them a villain to holler at. Utley did it two nights ago and a continent away. If he’s there on the field, the fans are ready for him.

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