McCutchen Makes the Mountains Ring; A Word for the Babe

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Coors Field isn’t a place for faint-hearted pitchers, any fan knows that.  But some performances are special even there.  Last night Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates launched 3 long balls as his Bucks beat the Rockies 9-4. He had done this once before on August 1, 2009 against the Nationals. He had been 3 for 23 on the recent road trip so his manager Clint Hurdle sat him down Monday. He responded with a home run in the first during which the Pirates scored 3 runs. an inning later he launched another, this one into the deep center field seats. His third shot was a mighty 3-run jack that cleared the scoreboard in right. Only 3 Pirates have hit 3 home runs in a game more than once, and they’re all in Cooperstown. Roberto Clemente did it twice, as McCutchen has.  Willie Stargell and Ralph Kiner did it an amazing 4 times each. Kiner’s feat in particular is astonishing considering it was done when the Pirates played in cavernous Forbes Field, with easily the National League’s deepest outfield in his day.

Both the White Sox and Cubs have 15 wins, so early on it can be argued that Chicago is the capital of the baseball world. On the north side, the Cubs beat the Brewers 4-3 for their 15th win.  The headliner was a two-run tripple by Addison Russell breaking a 1-1 tie in the 6th.  Meantime, north of the border the White Sox whitewashed the Blue Jays 10-1 behind Chris Sale’s 5th win. The Cubs are now 15-5, the best start they’ve made since the 1907 version went 16-4. Considering they were in the NLCS and only improved themselves, this isn’t a huge surprise.  The White Sox on the other hand are a team nobody would have picked to do anything even briefly in the division that features the world champion Kansas City Royals.

The only day game, which has already started as we go to press features the Giants and Padres.  The rest of the slate will be played under the lights. Jose Quintana, with a 4-1 mark tries to match his teammate Chris Sale who won his fifth for the White Sox last night. Matt Harvey wants to return to superhero status against the Reds.  He won Friday but was hardly dominant in so doing. Last night, Yoenis Cespedes was the superhero, tying the game with a pinch-hit 3-run home run in a 4-run 7th that powered the Mets to a 4-3 win. Jake Arrieta, who threw a no-hitter his last time out faces Taylor Jungman of the Brewers and his 8.47 ERA.  The conditions will be as frigid as they were last night at Wrigley with a gametime temp of 40 degrees and a 16-mile-an-hour wind. The Twins go with their top prospect and the 16th-best overall in the game, pitcher Jose Berrios as they host the Indians.

This is the anniversary of one of the saddest occasions ever held on a baseball field.  On this date in 1947, it was Babe Ruth Day throughout baseball.  While nobody told the Babe, the world knew cancer was killing him.  Even he knew his voice, normally a powerful if not exactly melodious baritone was wrecked. In his heyday he would take a battery-powered record player and a load of records on trips whenever he could, as he loved to sing along with them.   Now, On a cold and damp day, he stepped onto the field wrapped  in a heavy top coat.  Mel Allen, the iconic Yankees’ broadcaster called the Bambino to the microphone, and in spite of a coughing spasm that took him while the crowd roared, the Babe attempted to speak.

“Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. You know how bad my voice sounds, well it feels just as bad.” This was the beginning of a speech that lasted some two minutes but must have seemed to last a lifetime to the many thousands that jammed the stadium. The opening line has been played repeatedly through the decades on TV.  There are but a few recordings of the Babe’s voice when he was in good health.  The best known are recordings of a radio series he did aimed at young boys.  These were done in the early 1940’s before he was taken ill.  On this day in 1947 the Babe gave what little of his voice he had left to his fans, young and old.  Some 16 months later he was dead.

Dodgers’ shortstop Corey Seager is all of 22 today.  He calls home Kannapolis, NC, the home of the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhart. He was called up in September and kept on the Dodgers’ roster for their playoff run. They had drafted him out of high school in round 1 of the 2012 draft. If that didn’t happen he meant to play baseball for the University of South Carolina. He was the youngest Dodgers’ position player to start a postseason game in their storied history.  When he started on Opening Day 2016 he was the youngest starting shortstop since Gene Mauch in 1944 when most of the best in the majors were slugging it out for Uncle Sam. Corey’s eldest brother Kyle plays for the Mariner while the middle brother was a 12th-round draftee in 2013.

Two players I am personally familiar with have birthdays today. Outfielder Pat Lennon is 48.  He had made the majors with the Mariners briefly in 1991 and 1992 before our paths crossed in AA New Britain in 1994. Even then at 26 he had been in the game 8 years, as the Mariners took him in round 1 in 1986.  He and Matt Stairs tried to mentor the younger players on the team, but nothing they could do was enough to help that hapless team.  Many of the things Lennon said were colorful-much too colorful to write in a family column.  With baseball behind him, he now lives in colorful Ireland with its 40 shades of green. Meantime, pitcher Bob MacDonald is 51. A native of East Orange, NJ he played for Rutgers.  On April 12, 1987 I went to the team’s field for a doubleheader against Rhode Island.  I had arranged for a play-by-play person from the college radio station to work with me, or so I thought. when he didn’t show, in desperation I asked Coach Fred Hill if he could spare me a man to call the action.  MacDonald was tagged, as he would not be pitching that day.  So as the rain poured down he and I broadcast the doubleheader into a tape recorder.  3 years later, in 1990 he came into a game pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.  With the Internet still years in the future I had no way of knowing MacDonald had been drafted in the 19th round less than two months after the games we broadcast together. He played for the Tigers, Yankees and Mets before his MLB time ended in 1996 and also played a year in Japan.

Enos “Country” Slaughter was born this day in 1916 and died in August, 2002 at 86. He put up an even .300 average with just under 2400 hits. Most of his career including all 10 All-Star appearances he made were when he played for the Cardinals between 1938 and 1953.  He played two stints for the Yankees, and one each for Kansas City and the Braves. He was on World Series winning Cardinals teams in 1942 and 1946, and  Yankees’ teams in 1956 and 1958. The Hall of Famer’s most famous moment was called his “Mad Dash” to score from first on a single by Harry Walker.  He considered it a routine play. After two years as a player-manager in the minors, he coached Duke University from 1971-77.

Another Hall of Famer, Rogers Hornsby was born this day in 1896 and died in 1963. He hit .358 between 1915 and 1937, second only to Ty Cobb’s .367 lifetime average. He was with the Cardinals when they won the World Series in 1926 but gone before they won it again in 1928. He was with  Joe McCarthy’s  Cubs who lost  the 1929 World Series, then released by William  Veeck SR’s Cubs before they lost the 1932 World Series. The players voted not to give him a dime of World Series money that year.    He was released by the Cardinals in mid-1933 and missed their Gas House Gang triumph a year later.   He won 7 batting titles and 2 tripple crowns. He hit .424 in 1924, and after Bill Terry hit .401 6 years later no National Leaguer has hit .400 again.

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