They Feel Like Playoff Games in August; Mets’ Surprise Winner Neds to Buy a Vowel

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Wednesday, August 24.

In St. Louis and Los Angeles last night, regular August baseball games felt like late September games, if not playoff games.  For the Mets, no Neal Walker? No John Niese after 4 batters? No problem!  The Mets grabbed a 3-0 lead early on a Wilmer Flores 3-run home run in the very first inning.  But in the last of the first, Niese only got one man out, put 3 men on and allowed what would turn out to be 3  runs to tie the game.  Then he begged off, blaming a knee he’s been coping with for weeks.  So what could the Mets do?  Matt Harvey and Steven Matz are on the DL. Zack Wheeler won’t be back this year following Tommy John surgery in his past. Enter Robert Gsellman.  Of all the Mets’ pitchers as this season began, he was the last you thought you’d see in a pivotal moment. He just turned 23 in July. The Mets’ front office knows him far better than we do-they took him out of high school in round 5 of the 2011 draft. He had spent this season in Vegas, but on Monday when Steven Matz went on the DL, the call came and it was for RG.IV, if you will.  You pronounce the hard G in his name and pretend there’s an E after it, so it comes out Guess-Sell-Man.  He got the win as the Mets, reeling from the Cards’ game-tying rally in the first inning put up two of their own, one in the 4th and an insurance run in the 9th for a 7-4 win. After Gsellman’s performance the entire bull pen got into the act. Terry Collins didn’t try to push Gsellman beyond the 4th.  Josh Smoker pitched 2 and recovered from getting smoked for a home run by Randall Grichuk.    Jerry Blevins went 1/3, then Jim Henderson pitched 2/3.  Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia pitched an inning each to lock the win down. The Mets still have a mountain to climb, trailing the Cards by 3.5 games for the second wild card spot and being blocked by Pittsburgh and Miami, but every step counts and a missed step last night would have meant risking the start of a bad tumble from which this team might not recover. The top 4 in their order-Jose Reyes, the recently returned Asdrubal Cabrera and  Yoenis Cespedes, and Wilmer Flores had 9 hits and 5 runs scored combined. Besides Flores’ bomb, Justin Ruggiano hit a tremendous drive that went 461 feet, even longer than any Cespedes has put up as a Met. Yadier Molina walloped a double on the first pitch Gsellman threw as a big leaguer but he showed his grit by recovering and continuing. Molina got two more hits but they weren’t enough for a Red Birds’ win. Niese was put on the DL immediately after leaving the game, and Eric Goeddel was summoned from Vegas to fill his spot.

Meantime in Los Angeles, the Dodgers administered a rare beating to Madison Bumgarner in a 9-5 win that left the home team two games ahead of the Giants in the NL west race. Two rookies-Andrew Tolles and Rob Segedin homered for the Dodgers while veteran Adrian Gonzalez collected 3 RBIS, two on a single in the fifth to break a tie.  Bumgarner gave up 5 runs in 5 innings which is as badly as he’s done all season long. Segedin, who homered in the second inning is 28, hails from Old Tappan, New Jersey and played his college ball at Tulane in New Orleans. Bumgarner fell to 12-8 while Dodgers’ starter Kenta Maeda goes to 13-7 giving up 4 runs in his tenure.  While it was a good win for the Dodgers, two of their pitchers went on the DL.  This team, like the Mets needs every warm body they can find who can pitch, and the Dodgers had to put Brett Anderson and Scott Kazmir on the DL-Anderson with a blister on his pitching hand and Kazmir with inflammation In his neck. They brought back Ross Stripling and Luis Avilan, both of whom had pitched in Dodger blue this season. The Giants have their own troubles because left fielder Gregor Blanco had to go on the DL with shoulder trouble. Meantime, if anybody wants a former MVP who has been a deeply troubled man over the last decade and a half, there’s one on the market.  The Rangers released Josh Hamilton, At 35 he’s already lived nine lives or more, suggesting he may have been a cat in a prior life.  I won’t see he’s had as many chances as Steve Howe got, but he’s had a few and sometimes paid off in a major way.  Especially with rosters expanding a week from tomorrow I can see him wearing somebody’s colors to round out this season.

Brett Gardner is 33 today. He hails from Charleston, South Carolina and went to College of Charleston, which actually plays its games in Mt. Pleasant because the city stadium belongs to the Citadel. When Gardner played there, some of his games were broadcast on local radio and I was lucky enough to listen to them.  He was clearly miles above his competition. Though he was a walk-on he started for 3 seasons and hit .447 in 2005, the year he was drafted.   His team, the Cougars  never had any pitching, and consequently lost a lot of 10-9, 12-11 and even 15-14 games even though they didn’t play in a particularly small ball park. At least as a collegiate, Gardner shrunk any park and launched balls out of them all. The Yankees took him in round 3 of the 2005 draft and he made the show in time to play on their most recent World Series winner in 2009. He led his league in triples in 2013 and was an All-Star two years later. He is the longest-tenured Yankee and he scored the last run in the old Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008. In 2011 he and Coco Crisp tied with 49 steals to lead the league. His first walk-off home run came off a Tigers’ pitcher named Jose Veras, who as “Enger Veras” had played for the 2000 Charleston RiverDogs with Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton. That was our first season broadcasting in Charleston. Gardner and his family still live in Summerville, a Charleston suburb rather than the glitzier suburbs in northern New Jersey where many of the Yankees reside.

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken JR. is 56 today.  He was taken in round 2 by the Orioles in 1978. Who could the owners  possibly have seen ahead of Cal Ripkin and how did he come to be available in the second round? In the first, Bob Hoerner and Mike Morgan were chosen and went right to the top at once. Lloyd Moseby, Hubie Brooks, Andy Hawkins, Kirk Gibson, Tom Brunanski, Rex Hudler, my future field boss Buddy Biancalana and a lot of guys who never even got a whiff of the coffee were taken while ripken waited.   Would you choose any of those guys, even up for Cal Ripken JR?  To quote Andy Griffith, “You know for a ever-lovin’ fact that you wouldn’t.”  While he was no Iron Horse, (that title can only go to Lou Gehrig)  he did break Lou’s streak thanks to an extended break Gehrig never had when the union struck in 1994-95. Ripken  had over 3000 hits and a .276 batting average in 20 years. Ripken had more than 400 home runs which would have been  unthinkable for a shortstop when he broke in. The Orioles were used to a .220-hitting Mark Belanger in that spot. The prototype shortstop then was Ozzie Smith, a glove wizard who wasn’t expected to hit and any hitting he did would bbe gravy.    Ripken would have been Hall of Fame material on talent alone without rubbing out Lou Gehrig’s name in the books. He was an All-Star 19 times.  Gehrig only had 6 chances because the All-Star game only began in 1933, 6 years before his career would end tragically. When Ripken went to Cooperstown he attracted the biggest crowd the Hall of Fame has ever seen. He owns baseball teams in Port Charlotte, Florida; Aberdeen, Maryland; and Augusta, Georgia. Since 2007 he has  been an analyst on the forgettable TBS broadcasts of the playoffs.

Former Yankee Johnny Ellis is 68 today (or he may have been this past Sunday, depending on your source.)  Officially he’s called John Ellis but  Phil Rizzuto called him Johnny on Yankee broadcasts. I was young  and impressionable, he could whack one now and then and I liked guys who could do that.  so Johnny Ellis he remains in my mind. He began in the show with the Yankees in 1969 and ended with the Rangers in 1981.  He went to Cleveland after the 1972 season so I only had two seasons to listen to him as a member of the Yankees. The Indians gave up Graig Nettles in the package that include Ellis. Ellis was the first DH the Indians ever employed. His son John J. Ellis was a star for the University of Maine Black Bears after their two College World Series appearances. Before my voice changed I would routinely shove a jawbreaker over to one side of my mouth (where my denture is now,) and impersonate Phil Rizzuto announcing the Yankee batters as I played wiffle ball with neighborhood kids who must have thought I’d lost my marbles. Phil said “Felipe Alou” as if it was “Felee Fallew.” There were Danny Cater, Horace Clark, Jake Gibbs and Jimmy Lyttle, to name a few.  Gibs and Ellis shared catching duties for that team that ended 82-80.

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