The Teflon Closer Remains in Washington

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As I see it.
The word for today is a great big “HUH?”  Jonathan Papelbon not only remains in Nationals camp but has been penciled in as their closer.  Can you say “Mixed message?” I knew you could.  This guy choked his teammate_ Bryce Harper in front of TV cameras.  The pictures went beyond viral, up toward pandemic.  The planet knew this happened.   On the one hand, articles are being written comparing Harper to a young Mickey Mantle. On the other they are keeping on their pay roll a man who tried to rid them of their chosen heir to the Commerce Comet.  Anybody want to guess how long a has-been relief pitcher would have lasted if he tried to choke Mickey Mantle at any stage of The Mick’s career?  In my opinion The over/under is about 5 minutes, particularly when George Weiss ran the show in the Bronx. I won’t pretend he liked Mantle, especially when the Mick would raise Hell as only he could, but George Weiss liked making money, and anybody choking the Mick could be choking off a major source of income. In the modern world, the Lerner family who owns the Nationals saw no need to unload the incendiary closer. The first known time he took a swipe at a teammate was in 2009, although the swipe was in a magazine article rather than on the field. He criticized Manny Ramirez for selfishness and not working well with teammates. think about that for a moment. In 2014 he was booed off the mound by Phillies fans. He’d been pitching there since 2012 so he should have known something about the uncharitable nature of the fans in The  City of Brotherly Love.  Instead of shaking it off, he showed the fans an obscene gesture and got confrontational with umpire Joe West. The Harper fiasco happened while Papelbon was appealing a suspension for tossing at the skull of the Orioles’ Manny Machado.  All this being considered, he’s still got his spot in Washington. Only Ted Kennedy could behave worse in that city and keep his gig.
The first of today’s birthdays belongs to Luis Severino of the Yankees. He’s 22 today and at such a tender age might just be the number 2 starter in their rotation behind Masahiro Tanaka. He was 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA with the Yanks starting on August 5, 2015. When trying to obtain David Price, Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline, all teams wanted Severino and the Yanks would not make the deal. Like all young players Only time will tell if hanging onto him is a wise move. Just ask the Mets whether they might have held on to a wild fireballer named Nolan Ryan at the end of 1971.
Severino’s battery mate Brian McCann is 32 today. This is the start of his third season in pinstripes. He’s theirs until 2018 at a cost of $85 million.  He’s been an All-Star 7 times but all were while he played for the Braves.
Justin Verlander is 33 today. He was Rookie of the Year in 2006 and threw 2 no-hitters in 2007 but his last 2 seasons have been decidedly down years, leading in part to the decline of the Tigers. What’s frightening is, he’s theirs for huge money until 2019.
Livan Hernandez is 41 today. He was an All-Star twice with the same franchise-in 2004 when it was the Expos and in 2005 when they became the Nationals. Before that he had already been NLCS and World Series MVP in 1997 with the Marlins, his first team. He fled Cuba in 1995, followed two years later by his half-brother Orlando El Duque Hernandez. My broadcast partner and I  saw Livan with the Portland Sea Dogs in 1995 just after his defection.  As a minor leaguer one of his first discoveries in America was McDonalds. It was said he gained 50 pounds eating their food in his minor league days.
St. Louis pitching coach Derek Lilliquist is 50 today.  On a May afternoon in 1987 in Atlanta, two major prospects faced each other in an NCAA regional game. They were Pete Harnish of Fordham and Derek Lilliquist of Georgia.  While Harnish won that day, Georgia advanced to the College World Series that year.  Both men made the bigs, though neither did especially as well as players. Lilliquist has been far more successful these five years as Cardinals pitching coach, including a World Series title in 2011.
Roy Face is 88 today. To say that Elroy Leon Face was the “face of the bull pen” for the Pirates would be more than a bad pun. It would be a fact. He was an All-Star 6 times and a member of the 1960 World Series winning Pirates. His 18-1 mark from the bull pen in 1959 will never be challenged in this era of specialization. He was the first pitcher to save 3 World Series wins, done in 1960. That has been matched but only bettered once-by John Wetteland who saved all 4 Yankee wins in 1996.
Tommy Henrich, whom Mel Allen nicknamed “Old Reliable” was born this day in 1913 and died in 2009. He only wore 2 uniforms in his career-that of the Yankees and that of the US Coast Guard between 1943-45.  The nickname came from a regular train Mel Allen knew of that ran from Henrich’s home state of Ohio to Allen’s native Alabama. He was at bat when Mickey Owen dropped the third strike that would have given the Brooklyn Dodgers a 3 games to 1 World Series in 1941.  From that small fumble grew a 4-run inning, a Yankee win and the next day a lost World Series for the Dodgers.  Henrich also hit the first walkoff home run in a World Series game, in game 1 in 1949.

  • Tom M. Thomas
    February 20, 2016

    Another World Series relieving stat of interest was Larry Sherry’s, working out of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 1959, and posting two wins and two saves against the White Sox.

    • Don Wardlow
      February 22, 2016

      Well said. I had forgotten, though Heaven only knows why. Byrum Saam and Mel Allen didd that series on radio and I have some of the games.

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