Can’t Beat the Hours-A Night of Marathons

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Babe Ruth once described baseball as playing for an hour or two in the afternoon, then going out on the town.  In several cities last night, the hours grew late as the innings passed and only 24-hour diners were still open when a winner was determined.  There were 2 games last night that went 13 innings and one in Washington that went 12. Before a sellout crowd of 42,000 on the manager Dusty Baker’s birthday, his Nats and the Cubs fought it out.  The Cubs gained a 4-3 lead in the top of the 12th.  To start the home half, Anthony Rendon struck out with the bat on his shoulder, made what  the umpire thought was a threatening gesture with his bat  and was ejected.  Danny Espinosa followed by being hit by a pitch.  He stole second and tied the game on a Michael Taylor base knock. After ex-Yankee Adam Warren entered the fray, Jason Werth lined a long one off the wall, scoring Taylor for the win. The Nats had been here before-in the 9th the Cubs’ Mike Rizzo hit a 2-run bomb he hoped would grease the way for a Cubs’ win.  But the Nats evened things at 3 in their half setting up the denouement 3 innings later.

In Atlanta, Freddie Freeman who is one of the few players the Braves have, hit for the cycle.  As good as that is, to him it would have been worthless without a win which his team got in the 13th inning. He can thank Chase D’Arnaud for the walkoff single that won it and buy him lunch today perhaps.   If the name D’Arnaud sounds familiar, it should.  His brother Travis is nominally catcher for the Mets when he’s not hurt. Freeman picked up a third-inning double, then a triple an inning later.  The triple is the hardest hit of the cycle, especiallly for a first baseman which Freeman is.  He homered to tie the game at 6 all in the home sixth, in a game reminiscent of the old Atlanta Stadium-the Launching Pad. He didn’t get the single to complete the cycle until the 11th. The Reds thought the game belonged to them in the 13th after a bases-full walk and a Joey Votto single made it 8-6.  But no Brave was retired in the 13th..  Six came up, 3 scored with 3 left aboard. It was a night to make pitching coaches lose their hair.  Reds’ starter Anthony DeSclafani didn’t survive the third, and Braves’ starter Bud Norris staggered through 5. Come to that, I may call my new do “The Pitching Coach,” instead of “The Princeton,” which is its name on the barber’s ad.

The last marathon ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. With the game tied at 2 in St. Pete, Logan Morrison walked with the bases full to bring the game to a yawning conclusion. The Mariners’ Nelson Cruz had launched one early on but Rays’ starter Drew Smiley struck out a dozen men to give his mates a chance. They tied it at 2 in the 6th and it stayed even until the home 13th. Oddly enough, the runner who scored was Logan Morrison.  This was possibly the first time a man named Logan drove in another Logan for a winner.

As fate would have it, all the teams who played 13 innings last night have to play early today.  Talk about a couple of snoozers.  The Reds and Braves tangle again just after Noon, and an hour later the Rays host the Mariners in the getaway game of that series. The Rays are hoping for big things from Blake Snell, their highest prospect making his second start in the bigs.  In his last AAA start he struck out 13 men. The Rangers and A’s play a matinee on the west coast, starting at 3:35 Eastern time. Both the Mets and Yankees have their big men on the hill.  The Mets’ Bartolo Colon starts against the Pirates, and the Yankees CC Sabathia is on the bump in Minnesota.  Knowing his physique I didn’t want to say he was on the mound. The Nationals, who won a 12-inning duel with the Cubs have a much less formidable task tonight, opening a 4-game series in San Diego.  Their biggest challenge is not to get lost on the way to the games and disappear, like that Raiders’ football player did before the Super Bowl some years back.

Longtime reliever Jonathan Braxton is 32 today. If it seems he’s been around forever, there’s a reason.  He began in the bigs at 21 with the Dodgers in 2005. That was when George W. Bush began his second term and Leonardo DiCaprio (remember him) won a Golden Globe. Now he’s nowhere and Broxton still pitches. The Augusta native  bled Dodger blue until the end of 2011.  Then, in the mold of today’s traveling ball player he spent part of a year in Kansas City, then 2+ years in the Queen city of Cincinnati, then on to the Brewers and now the Cardinals. Twice as a Dodger he was an All-Star, the last time in 2010. The Dodgers drafted him in round 2 of the 2002 draft right out of a Georgia high school.

If there’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway, there’s a broken-down pitcher who was once a huge prospect for every team in the bigs. One of those men, Kerry Wood is 39 today. The Cubs took him in round 1 of the 1995 draft, the 4th pick overall.  He went from a Texas high school to the bigs in less than 3 years, making his MLB debut in 1998.  Before the home run chase of that season, he was the early story. He was the Rookie of the Year that season and once struck out 20 Astros  in a game, a one-hitter by the way. But starting with Tommy John surgery in 1999 he did 14 hitches on the DL between then and 2012.  He was never truly dominant again and all thought of Cooperstown went out the window. He was an All-Star twice once after becoming a reliever in 2007.

Red Sox fans may shudder at this one. Calvin Schiraldi is 54 today. While Bob Stanley threw the fateful pitch to Mookie Wilson which he hit past Bill Buckner, the inning began with Schiraldi on the hill and the Sox up 5-3. Calvin got the first two hitters out before, … well you know.   This was in game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He also lost game 7 but nobody much remembers that.   Schiraldi, a Houston native had made his MLB debut two years earlier with the Mets who had drafted him in round 1 in 1983. He and future Red Sox teammate Roger Clemens had been the stars of the Texas Longhorns who won that year’s College World Series in Omaha. That was when the series was still played at Rosenblatt Stadium, a notorious hitter’s ball park and any pitcher who did well there could pitch anywhere.    Relievers tend to have a short shelf life, and Calvin was through in 1991. His longest tenure anywhere was with the Red Sox where he lasted two seasons. He had been sent there from the Mets for Bobby Ojeda. Calvin’s son Lukas now pitches in the Mariners’ system at class A Bakersfield in the California League, which players who’ve been there tell me is a city they just want to leave ASAP.

I’ve mentioned one of baseball’s sad stories, so on the other side of the coin I’ll mention a man’s reclamation.  Boxing has its Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson-delinquents taught to be champions.  Baseball has its Ron LeFlore, who is 68 today. Raised in Detroit, he was into stealing beers and shooting heroin as just a teen.  He landed in state prison for armed robbery,  from where he was rescued by Billy Martin, briefly manager of the Tigers.  LeFloor was signed in 1973 which allowed him to get parole. His story reads like that of Babe Ruth, signed out of a reformatory by Jack Dunn who ran the Baltimore team.  While LeFlore was no Bambino, he hit .288 between 1974 and 1982. He was an All-Star in 1976 and twice led his league in steals. The former armed robber legally stole 68 bases in 1978 and 78 the year after that.  Traded to the Expos in the NL which had more base stealers then, he copped 97 bases.     LeVar Burton played LeFlore in a CBS made-for-tv movie in 1978. Since 2011 LeFlore hasn’t had a right leg to stand on, owing to arterial vascular disease, one of the lesser-known effects of smoking cigarettes.

The original Ernie Johnson was born this day in 1924 and died in 2011. He wasn’t a bad pitcher, at 40-23 between 1950 and 1959. He spent 3 years in the Marines before throwing a pitch with intent. While his pitching is forgotten, his broadcasting isn’t.  He worked with the Braves from 1962-99 and the booth at Turner Field bears his name.  During 4 of those seasons he worked with his son Ernie JR. who now broadcasts on TBS.

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