Shutouts Rule the Day Thursday; Happy Birthday Say Hey

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The best game Thursday in my opinion turned out to be a shutout.  You could declare a tie for the Game of the Night between the  Yankees-Orioles game and the Cubs-Nationals game  and neither one was on the MLB Network.  In Baltimore, both Masahiro Tanaka and Kevin Gausman threw 8 scoreless innings for their sides.  Somebody who has never been at a game like that, much less sat upstairs behind a microphone could say a 0-0 tie through 9 innings and beyond is boring. Not so if you’re caught up in the tense atmosphere of the moment. I recall a South Atlantic League game that was scoreless through 13 innings until the visitors scored the game’s only run in the 14th.  It would have been nice to win that one. It would have been nice  for the Yankees to follow up Wednesday night’s win with another victory, but it wasn’t to be. Both teams ran their way out of possible runs in  the 9th. With two out in the top half Zack Britton picked Starlin Castro off second base.  Then in the home half, Matt Wieters hit a disputed fly ball that turned into a double play because Joey Rickard was way off first base when the ball was caught at the wall.  The catch was upheld on review and the duel continued. After a walk the next 3 Yankees struck out swinging against Britton. Off reliever Johnny Barbato the first two Orioles singled. Andrew Miller came in too late, as Pedro Alvarez hit a scoring fly ball to end it.

In the other possible game of the night the National League’s best kept rolling as the Cubs beat the Nationals 5-2. The Cubs were ahead by just a 2-0 score when they got 3 insurance runs which they would need in the home 8th. Ben Zobrist, who had collected a two-run single in the 4th hit a 2-run blast in the 8th.   In the Nats’ 9th Jason Werth hit a 2-run home run accounting for all their offense.

For the second time in 6 days the Giants gave up a monster inning they’d rather forget.  You would have thought nothing could top the Mets’ 12-run outburst last Friday night at Citi Field. However, in San Francisco  last night the Rockies amassed a 13-run fifth inning en route to their 17-7 win. 17 Rockies came to the plate in the fifth when a baker’s dozen of them came across the plate.  Gerardo Parra put up 2 hits and 3 rbis during the record-setting inning.  The Rockies had scored 11 in an inning in 1996 which had never been topped. Last Friday night, Jake Peevy and Mike Broadway (who is now in AAA) took the heat during the Mets’ 12-run inning.  Last night it was Matt Cain giving up the first 8 runs and Vin Mazzaro gave up the rest in just a third of an inning. By then a 4-3 close game had become a 17-3 football game.

Today’s one day game has begun as we go to press.  The Cubs have John Lackey on the hill against the Nats’ Max Scherzer. The Mets hope the Nats will lose and that they can rebound in San Diego.  The Flushing 9 threw in a real clanger to open their 11-game road trip, a 5-3 loss that only looks good because of a furious 9th-inning rally that fell short. The Mets play the late one tonight in San Diego.  Meantime the Red Sox throw Rick Porcello at the Yankees’ Michael Pineda. In Toronto, the Jays’ hitters and fans get their first look at Kenta Maeda, the talk of the Dodgers.  He faces Marcus Stroman. He has never faced the Dodgers but struck out 9 Rays in his last outing. Jordan Zimmerman faces Cole Hamels in what should be on paper a good Tigers-Rangers matchup.  But Hamels has struggled while Zimmerman was pitcher of the month with an 0.55 ERA.  He’s won his first 5 starts.  The last  Tiger to do better was George Uhle who won his first 6 starts in 1929. Aaron Blair of the Braves faces the D-Backs, the team who sent him to Atlanta in the winter. His foe is Zack Greinke, one of the game’s best. The Pirates-Cardinals’ matchup is a good one, as Francisco Liriano faces Carlos Martinez, last seen as a pinch-runner for the Cardinals.

Mallex Smith of the Braves is 23 today.  This week against the Mets he got his first big league home run.  But power isn’t his game.  Bob Murphy would have said of him “He can flat out fly.” He was a 5th-round Padres’ pick in 2012. In the minors where stealing bases is still part of the game, he stole 64 for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League where I have no doubt the pitchers called him Maalox Smith because the thought of his speed spoiled their digestion. He was traded to Atlanta at the end of 2014 in the Justin Upton deal. He made an insane catch against the Mets the same night he hit his first home run.

Jose Altuve of the Astros is 26 and with Carlos  Correa is rapidly becoming one of the game’s young stars. The man from Venezuela plays second base for the Astros. He’s been with them since 2011 and already has been an All-Star 3 times. He has won a batting title and twice led the league in hits and steals. Not bad for a guy who’s two inches shorter than I am-and I consider myself a short guy.

Gerardo Parra, mentioned above with the Rockies is 29. Like Altuve, he too is from Venezuela. As a .277 hitter there was much talk about where he would go this past winter, and his final destination turned out to be Denver. He copped two gold gloves during his time with the Diamondbacks which lasted from 2009-14. He signed with the Rockies for 3 years in January 2016.

My very first player idol, the Say Hey Kid Willie Mays   is 85 today. As a boy of 8 in 1971 I thought Willie Mays was the best thing going. I honestly can’t remember why.  Grandpa teased me about Mays being 40 years old. Even when i found this to be true I didn’t understand what it meant for a ball player to be 40.  I found out two years later, when as a Met Willie stumbled around in the outfield-once the most familiar territory for him. From  1951 until the end of 1973 he put up a .302 average and over 3200 hits. His 660 home runs are the more amazing because of all the years he played in Candlestick Park, where the wind knocked down many a shot. He was an All-Star 24 times over, counting 4 years when two All-Star games were played each year. He led the league in both steals and home runs 4 times and had a dozen gold gloves. While Yankee scouts thought he couldn’t hit a curve ball the Braves and Dodgers actively sought him but the Giants signed him. He was on deck on October 3, 1951 when Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard Round the World.” 3 years later Mays made an equally iconic catch where even seeing it was hardly believing it.  Veteran broadcaster Jack Brickhouse on TV said the catch “must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people.”  Center field in the Polo Grounds was a ludicrous 483 feet from the plate.  Mays had to run a good 460 of it to catch the ball  hit by Vic Wertz in game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The Giants won the series in 4.  8 years later they lost to the Yankees in 7. Mays’ last World Series was in 1973 when the Mets lost to Oakland in 7. The next 6 seasons he was the Mets’ hitting instructor.

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