A Bronx Tale Hollywood Wouldn’t Buy; Cards think Pittsburgh is the Steal_ City

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Wednesday, September 7.

Under the new double wild card system introduced in baseball a few years back,  a lot more games in late August and September carry more weight than they would have even a decade ago.  As a result, when one of those games has an exciting ending, it means more than it would if one of the teams was already eliminated from contension.  There were a couple of those games last night, one in the Bronx and one in Pittsburgh. The Cards literally stole victory at the 11th hour from the Pirates and the Jays tried their level best to do the same to the Yankees.

While the Yankees’ chances of seeing October are slim, they sure know how to put on high drama, even at the new Yankee Stadium which doesn’t rock on its foundations like the old House that Ruth Built. While the focus since early August has been the “Baby Bombers,” one of the men considered  in trade rumors saved last night’s 7-6 win over the Blue Jays, though  he didn’t save it from the bull pen.

Much like Sunday’s unlikely Indians’ 6-5 win over the Marlins, last night’s Yankees-Toronto game was nothing to write about through 7 innings.  The Yankees were ahead 3-2.  A needed win but not the stuff of Hollywood melodrama.   However, the excitement really began when The Jays put up a pair in the visiting 8th.  Kevin Pillar drove home two with a booming double.  That made it 4-3.  The Yankees countered with 4 in their half of the 8th. Didi Gregorius tripled home the tying run, Starlin Castro broke the tie with a scoring fly ball and a two-run home run by Chase Headley made it 7-4.  Usually that’s all the insurance Dellin Betances would need as he started the 9th.  But wait.  On this Tuesday night, the New York native didn’t have a thing.  To his credit he had worked in both Sunday and Monday’s victories and even the best closer seldom works 3 days in a row outside the postseason.  But with Aroldis Chapman working for the Cubs and Andrew Miller in a Cleveland uniform , Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi didn’t have a man he could trust with a 3-run lead-including Betances.  40 pitches in, one man was out, two runs were in and Blue Jays perched  on every base. Enter Blake Parker.  Blake who? He’s a 31-year-old righty who has been with the Cubs and Mariners. The Cubs released Parker, and the Mariners put him on waivers. The Yankees claimed him from baseball’s scrap heap and here he was on the biggest stage outside of the postseason.   With the bases full and one out, he struck out the first man he saw, none other than Kevin Pillar who had doubled home two men the inning before.  But Justin Smoak lived up to his name, smoking one high and deep to left field. Enter Brett Gardner, who has taken a lot of heat the last couple of seasons for his subpar performances. Talk was that he and Jacoby Ellsbury would be unloaded in the firesale of August 1 with Chapman, Miller and Carlos Beltran.      Gardner  leaped as high as he could go, and above the fence he reeled in Smoak’s bid for a grand slam, ending the game with the Yankees winning 7-6. With the win the Yankees are 7 games above .500, the highest they’ve been all season long. They’re still 3.5 games out of the wild card hunt but only 4.5 behind the first-place Blue Jays.

The night’s other thriller with wild card implications happened at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.  Before the Pirates quit losing in 2013, PNC meant “Pirates not Contending,” or “People Not Coming.”  Now, people are coming and the Pirates have been contending since 2013.  Last night they thought they’d made a mighty comeback and would raise the Jolly Roger against the Cardinals.  Very early on the Cards had jumped ahead 5-0. The big blow was a rare grand slam for Yadier Molina. Also Matt Adams had launched one some 436 feet into the drink-the Allegheny River to be exact. A golfer wouldn’t want to put one in the drink, but in Pittsburgh only a rare hitter can do it.   But the homestanding Buckos had gained a 6-5 lead in the last of the fifth. Jordy Mercer had turned the tide with a two-run double to give the Pirates the lead.   If they won it would have been their largest comeback win of the year.   going into the 9th inning  Tony Watson was coming in.  It was elementary-he would save the game and the fans could go home and have a last Iron City beer of the night.  But nobody sent the memo to the Cardinals. With two out and two strikes on him in the 9th, Matt Carpenter unloaded the first of what would be 3 Cardinals’ home runs. That tied the game at 6. The Cardinals’ catcher of renown Yadier Molina doubled to left, followed by a home run by Randall Grichuk. For a little icing on the cake JHonny Peralta (yes, that’s how he spells it) hit the third blast of the inning and fifth of the night for the Red Birds.  While the home team put one up in their half it was too late, and the Cards left with a 9-7 win. Playing in what has never been a hitter’s park, the Cards have 201 home runs, of which 22 belong to Grichuk. The Pirates have now lost 8 in a row and look to be out of the playoff fight.

Wednesday means matinee baseball, and the Mets are in the earliest game.  At 12:30 in Cincinnati the Mets face the Reds who they’ve now beaten 13 times in a row.  Last night’s 5-3 win turned in their favor by yet another home run by La Potencia, Yoenis Cespedes. Today Noah Syndergaard takes to the hill for the Mets. He has an ERA lf 1.23 in his last 3 outings though he lost the most recent one. Anthony Desclafani pitches for the Reds, where no matter who starts the bull pen loses it for him as often as not. The Orioles face the Rays in St. Pete at 1:10 PM. The Tigers and White Sox have a matinee an hour later in Chicago. The Angels face the A’s at 3:35 Eastern in Oakland, a lunchtime game on the west coast. The A’s start Jahrel Cotton in his MLB debut. They got him from the Dodgers. To paraphrase the old song, if them cotton balls get rotten, the other team’s in high cotton.  In the first night game, Stephen Strasburg comes off the Dl for the Nationals against the Braves.  The powers that be in Washington will be holding their breath, considering Strasburg had just signed a $175 million contract before going on the shelf with pain in the same elbow that already has survived one Tommy John surgery. Mike Leake of the Cardinals comes back to the hill after a bout with the shingles-a rarity in such a young man. The Yankees hope to start Bryan Mitchell who broke a toe and needed surgery during spring training and hasn’t thrown an MLB  pitch with intent since.

One of the Royals’ vaunted bull pen of last year, Wade Davis is 31 today. He has the classic looks of an intimidating closer, at six feet five and 220 pounds, and is a native of the West Palm Beach area in Florida. The Rays took him in round 3 of the 2004 draft. Had they not done so he meant to play for the Florida Gators, a perennial college power.   It took him 5 years to reach the show, and that was as a September call-up in 2009. He was a starter for the 2010 and 2011 Rays but flourished in their bull pen in 2012. He’s pitched for the Royals since 2013. The last two seasons he’s been an All-Star and his Royals won the last World Series. He’s been the closer since September, 2015 when the former closer Greg Holland needed Tommy John surgery.

Former pitcher Jason Isringhausen is 44 today.  The Mets drafted him in the 44th round in 1991, so it was a long shot he would ever throw a pitch in the bigs. He not only made it, he lasted from 1995 to 2012. While his record was 51-55 he had 300 saves. His longest run with any team was 7 years with the Cardinals from 2002-2008. As a Met, he survived tuberculosis (a rarity for a baseball player,) a broken wrist and 3 arm operations.  When pronounced healthy he went to the bull pen after a handful of starts.  Delicate as he was, his manager Bobby Valentine said putting him in the bull pen was like using an Indy car (known for fragility) as a taxi cab. With Oakland he played in the postseason in both 2000 and 2001.    He was an All-Star wiile with Oakland in 2000, and again in 2005 as a Cardinal. He led his league in saves in 2004 while with St. Louis. He was a key figure as the Cardinals lost the 2004 World Series. When the Cards  won it two years later he couldn’t participate in the playoffs.  His hip injury which required a second operation led to Adam Wainwright being chosen as closer for the playoffs.

Joe Rudi is 70 today.  He’s best remembered for a catch he made in the 9th inning of game 2 of the 1972 World Series with the Oakland A’s.  The Reds’ Tony Perez was on first when Denis Menke hit a long one to left. He leaped and made a backhanded catch to save a 2-0 lead the A’s had at the time.   He had begun with the Athletics  when they played in Kansas City in 1967-their final  year there.  He remained until 1976, then put in 4 years with the Angels, then parts of one in Boston and back in Oakland. He was an All-Star 3 times between 1972 and 1975. His A’s won all 3 World Series between 1972–74.

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