On a Night that Defies Description, Marlins Win for Jose

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Some events are easily described by men like me who sit before our computers and write, hoping we reach an audience.  Then again, some events are impossible to describe.  What happened at Marlins Park in Miami last night was one of those that words can’t do justice to.  Grantland Rice or Roger Angell  could capture the event,  but it would tax even their cleverness at the wordsmith’s art to manage  it.

The events of  last night at Marlins Park began on Sunday morning at about 3:30 AM when the body of star pitcher Jose Fernandez was discovered with the bodies of two other men who had been killed in a boat accident off Government Cut in Miami Beach. While Sunday’s game was cancelled, it was announced  from the start that last night’s  game with the Mets would go forward as planned. Of course, it didn’t go forward as planned. It couldn’t have.  The game was played but the circumstances were as far removed from normal as they could be.  The Marlins’ radio station in Miami began its broadcast a full half-hour earlier than usual, and most of that was a tribute to Fernandez including many calls from games in which he had pitched since 2013. This bucks a modern trend to fill any pre- and postgame time with as many commercials as can be squeezed in.   After the special broadcast, there followed an on-field ceremony with the Marlins’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Van Horn talking about Fernandez.  Every Marlin was wearing his number 16 on his back with the name Fernandez.  It was announced even before the ceremony that number 16 will be retired, meaning no Marlin will wear it again.  After Van Horn said his piece, all went silent for a full minute, and  a lone trumpeter played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  If that merry song  can sound like a dirge it did last night.  The Mets’ tv broadcasters were in tears.  There wasn’t a dry eye in all the wide reaches of Marlins’ Park. The Mets did nothing in the first inning.  Bartolo Colon took the hill in the bottom half.  Yesterday in this space I opined that if any Met could handle the emotion of the night it would be he, the old man of 43 whose career began when Fernandez was all of 1 year old.  But even Colon couldn’t produce the effort the Mets needed on this night.  Dee Gordon was the leadoff hitter.  For the first pitch, in tribute to Fernandez he batted righthanded, not his normal position.  After taking a ball, he reverted to his normal lefty stance, took a second ball,  then launched the next pitch he saw from Colon into the heavy air of the Miami night.  But unlike so many long balls that die on the warning track, his left the yard and finished in the second deck.    Tears streaming, he circled the bases, and was met and greatly hugged by his mates in the dugout. There was no damage beyond his home run in that inning but Colon had nothing in the next two innings and left with the score 7-0 Marlins.  For all anybody cared, it ended up 7-3 with Gordon collecting 4 hits and Justin Bour claiming a single, double and triple.

With the game safely won, the players and coaches of the home team gathered in a circle at  the mound like church congregants do at the time of benediction. Giancarlo Stanton, the team’s star outfielder took the mike and made a short speech while the team stood shoulder to shoulder and the crowd chanted Jose, Jose. That done, the players doffed their caps and left them on the bump that Fernandez had made his own since his arrival in 2013. a number 16 had been painted there before the game in homage to their star.  The defeated Mets meantime watched in silence from their dugout, rather than retiring to the clubhouse as they normally would. In the wild card chase The Mets are still half a game ahead of the Giants, who didn’t play last night.

Indians Win AL Central

Last week the Rangers clinched the American League  West. Last night it was the Indians’ turn as they clinched the Central with a 7-4 win over the Tigers. Four of the last 5 Central Division crowns have gone to the Tigers, and the Indians haven’t won a division since 2007. Starter Corey Kluber only lasted 4 innings and had to leave with groin tightness.  The Indians will need him once the postseason opens. In another game with postseason position riding on it, the Yankees salvaged one game in a four-game series by scoring 5 in the 9th to win 7-5 over the Blue Jays and cut Toronto’s wild card lead to just a game. I’m sure they’d had just about enough of that stupid horn that honks when the Blue Jays hit a home run. That kind of schlock works in hockey, where scoring is still relatively limited but not in baseball and especially not in a hitter’s park like Rogers Center.  The Yankees for once took advantage of the small dimensions as both Mark Teixeira and Aaron Hicks homered in their 5-run 9th. The Orioles, who are the Jays’ closest rival are coming to Toronto for a 3-game series starting tonight. J.A. Happ didn’t get his 21st win in spite of 7.1 strong innings. The Yankees, meantime lost their starter Luis Severino in the second after he hit a Blue Jays’ hitter in each of the first two innings.  Happ also plunked a Yankee.  two bench-clearing incidents happened before the game was 2 innings old. The fans, who are used to hockey fights were chanting incoherently as the sides went to it.   The 5 runs in the 9th were as many as the Yanks had scored in the last 35 innings, which is to say the entire series against the Jays. With a 7-3 lead in the last of the 9th Dellin Betances couldn’t get a man out.  With two runs in and the bases full Tommy Layne bailed him out, which almost never happens to a closer.  Layne got a grounder off Russell Martin’s bat for a force play at the plate. He then retired Troy Tulowitzki on a fly to Brett Gardner in left to close it out. It was the first save for the lefty Layne.

Among a full slate of games tonight, the Red Sox will face the Yankees with the chance of celebrating an Eastern Division title on the Yankee Stadium grass. They send out David Price, and other than their 20-game winner Rick Porcello, Price is their best bet to do it. Only during the postseason does Price look like anything but a Cy Young candidate. As mentioned above, the O’s play the Jays in Toronto.  The visitors send Kevin Gausman to the hill against Aaron Sanchez whom the O’s haven’t beaten all season in 4 tries. The Tigers still think they have a shot, and they send Justin Verlander to the mound against the Indians in Detroit.  The Mets trust Noah Syndergaard will be back on his game.  He had to miss Saturday’s start with strep throat.  He faces New York native Tom Kohler for the Marlins. You don’t often see a matchup of pitchers who both have no-hitters under their belts.  One such matchup happens in Houston tonight, where king Felix Hernandez goes for the Mariners against Mike Fiers for Houston.  Felix’ no-no was in fact a perfecto some years back, while Fiers no-hit the Dodgers in  August, 2015. The Rockies face the Giants in San Francisco as the home team tries to keep its wild card standing.

Angels’ pitcher Matt Shoemaker is 30 today. The Michigander went undrafted but has made the show in spite of that nearly insurmountable obstacle. As bad as the Angels are he still has a 32-27 record since joining them late in 2013. Along the way one of his stops was the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the California League.  Anybody who gives me the chance to write about Rancho Cucamonga deserves a mention. In 2014 he went 16-4, breaking the Angels’ rookie record for wins. On Sept. 4, he took a liner to the head, giving him a small skull fracture and cancelling the rest of his season.

First ballot Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt is 67  today. Phillies fans probably know him better as “Michael Jack Schmidt,” which is how Harry Kalas, the iconic Phillies’ broadcaster referred to Schmidt particularly after one of his 548 home runs. The Dayton, Ohio native  was a late call-up in 1972, Kalas’ second year at the mike.  Back then it was still Byrum Saam’s show with Kalas and Richie Ashburn as second and third bananas.  But by 1976 when the Phillies started to win, failing eyesight had ended Saam’s career and Kalas was king, and Schmidt was who Harry told us he was.   Schmidt  was an All-Star a dozen times. He led his league in home runs 8 times, the last being 1986. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1995. Few major leaguers played college ball then, but Schmidt was one.  He led Ohio U. from Athens, Ohio to the College World Series in Omaha.  The Phillies took him in round 2 of the 1971 draft. He never played lower than AA ball. Against the Cubs at Wrigley he once hit 4 home runs in a game and the Phillies needed all 4, as they won 18–16.  He hit a pair 3 years later in a 23-22 Phillies win also over the Cubs at Wrigley.  He won his only World Series in 1980. On May 26, 1990 I was at Veterans’ Stadium among 56,000 on a freezing, rainy night to watch Schmidt’s number 20 being retired, along with Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. Before the ceremony there were performances  by a string band and a high school band. I met Schmidt at a charity golf event in Charleston in 2002 and found him to be quite a good interview.

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