Tribe Wins First Skirmish of ALCS; Dodgers face Daunting Task in Chicago Tonight

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Saturday, Oct. 15.

Before a packed house in Cleveland, the Indians took the first game of the ALCS 2-0 over the Blue Jays last night. Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ shortstop provided all the offense there would be-a two-run home run in the 6th. For the second time, Jays’ starter Marco Estrada went 8 innings, this time taking  a complete game loss for his trouble.  The Indians’ starter Corey Kluber lasted into the 7th to claim the win, after which it was MillerTime, meaning Andrew Miller from the bull pen. He struck out all 5 men he retired, after which Cody Allen closed the game out. The Jays’ had their chances early before Lindor broke the tie.  They left 5 men on board in the first 4 innings.   The Indians are making their fifth trip to the ALCS, but this is the first time they won the vital game 1.  Not  even in the two season they made the World Series-1995 and 1997 did they win game 1 of the ALCS. They lost to Seattle in 1995 and Baltimore two years later in game 1 but rallied the troops and won the series in the end. When Kluber starts again, if he should get 8 outs with nobody scoring (not easily done the way Toronto hits,) he will have the longest scoreless innings streak by an Indians’ pitcher in the postseason.  He’ll surpass a pitcher named Duster Mails who threw 15.2 scoreless in the 1920 World Series.  Neither Bob Feller nor Bob Lemon of more modern vintage had a scoreless streak in the postseason to match what Kluber has now.

The Indians and Jays have the early game, at 4 PM today.  The  Jays hope not to be hapless at the plate with J.A. Happ on the mound. He’s their 20-game winner and he did his part in game 2 of the ALDS by beating  the Rangers. Happ hadn’t seen postseason duty since 2009 when he was with the Phillies.   The Indians go with lefty Josh Tomlin who won  game 3 against Boston. This should have been Trevor Bauer’s game, but a finger injury has him on the sidelines for today at least. The Jays also lost a man last night. Their second baseman Devon Travis, whose knee had already been troubling him in the LDS, had it flare up badly enough that he left the game in the fifth. He is now scheduled for an MRI.  Ryan Goins took his spot on second base and figures to stay there until the noisy machine  that does MRI tests reveals what’s the matter with Travis’ knee.

After the Jays and Indians duke it out by Lake Erie, another titanic battle will take place, in Steve Goodman’s words “by the shores of old Lake Michigan, where the hawk wind blows so cold.” Goodman, a devoted Cubs’ fan and writer of the song “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” met the reaper at age 36 5 years before lights were installed at Wrigley Field. So tonight’s game 1 of the LDS would have been inconceivable to him.  Under the lights the Dodgers and Cubs will clash in one of the game’s oldest ballparks.          When they move to Los Angeles, they will play at the second-oldest park in the National League, Dodger Stadium which opened for business in 1962.  But fans of these two teams know, game 3 in Los Angeles is an eternity away.  Tonight’s game 1 is what counts and some 40,000 or more will bulge Wrigley Field to bursting point, pouring down Old Style beer and hollering for their Cubs. The two teams met 8 years ago and the Dodgers swept the LDS, only to lose to the Phillies in the LCS. The Dodgers reached the NLCS in 2013 and were beaten by the Cardinals.  The Cubs were swept in a memorable 4-game demolition by last year’s Mets. This year the Cubs have the pitching they didn’t have last October. John Lester, Jason Hammel, John Lackey and a vastly improved Kyle Hendricks will surround Jake Arieta who had to be a one-man gang a year ago.  The Dodgers don’t even have Spahn and Sain and two days of rain.  All they have is Clayton Kershaw and a cast of thousands, none of whom pitched well in the LDS against Washington. And yet they won that series in 5 games. The plan is for Kenta Maeda to face John Lester tonight. Lester won 19 in the regular season.   Maeda’s last two games have been, to put it kindly, awful.  He didn’t last into the fourth in either the last game of the season or game 3 of the LDS which he lost. The idea was for Kershaw to go tomorrow night, but he had to pull a Grover Cleveland Alexander Thursday night, entering from the bull pen to lock down game 5 after winning game 4 on Tuesday.  He only threw 7 pitches but it is unknown whether that will keep him off the hill tomorrow. If he can go, that would leave Rich Hill in game 3 and in all likelihood Julio Urias, the Houdini of the LDS to start game 4 unless manager Dave Roberts pulls somebody else’s name out of a hat.

Before I get to today’s lone birthday celebrant,  30 years ago today a game was played that I have no doubt is the greatest game I ever listened to as it happened.  The Mets were facing the Astros in game 6 of the NLCS at the Astrodome in Houston. Yes, the Astros were a National League team until a few years back.   If the Mets didn’t win they would face Mike Scott, the future Cy Young award winner in his home park.  For 8 innings it appeared certain that the Mets wouldn’t win, as they were down 3–0 following a 3-run burst by Houston in the home first. Bobby Ojeda gave up the 3-spot but kept the Astros there until he was replaced by Rick Aguilera in the 6th.  Aguilera  also gave nothing to the Astros. But Bob Knepper was showing the Mets no quarter through 8 innings. Things changed when Len Dykstra nailed a triple. Mookie Wilson singled him home and current Mets’ broadcaster Keith Hernandez doubled home Wilson. That was it for Knepper. Dave Smith came in and walked two men, Gary Carter and Daryl Strawberry.  With the bases full Ray Knight tied the game with a scoring fly ball and the trench war began. Roger McDowell began the 9th and over 5 innings gave the Astros just one hit.  Smith was followed to the mound for Houston by current Phillies’ broadcaster Larry Anderson who allowed nothing to the Mets’ batters. Then came the 14th inning. Like Napoleon calling in the old guard at Waterloo, the Astros turned to 38-year-old Aurelio Lopez.  Two years earlier he had been 10-1 with 14 saves for the 1984 Tigers and was known as Sen~or Smoke.  He was also known as “El Buitre,” which means “The Vulture.” He had gotten 4 Mets out in game 2, but in game 6 he had nothing but nerve. He gave up a 14th-inning run making it 4-3. Wally Backman singled home Strawberry.  However In the last half of the 14th  in a notorious pitcher’s park and facing closer Jesse Orosco, Billy Hatcher tied the game with a home run. Lopez pitched gamely in the 15th and neither team scored.  But in the 16th Strawberry doubled and Knight singled him home. With Lopez’ tank on Empty, Jeff Calhoun replaced him and two more Mets scored against Lopez’ record.    Against Orosco in the 16th the Astros put up two and had two men on before the lefty struck out Kevin Bass to put the Mets in the world Series. For the brave Lopez, the most cruel cut of all came six years later when he was killed in a car crash in Mexico the day after turning 44.  What made this such a special game for me to listen to was the lengths I had to go to hear it.  This was before the Internet, and the Mets’ radio station was far from the behemoth it would become.  In 1986 the Mets’ flagship station was at 1050 AM, at best a 10,,000-watt station in the daytime with a directional signal. Today it broadcasts sports talk in Spanish.  To build their audience the Mets were then on a number of small stations throughout the tri-state area. I was in college in Glassboro, New Jersey which was a long way from any of those stations. With no TV in my dorm room and a desperate battle being waged in Houston, the only choice was to keep twisting the dial from 1050 AM in New York to AM 920 from Trenton which also had the game.  When one would fade out I would try for the other hoping I could get it. In this way I followed the later innings once AM 1050 changed the direction on its signal. This included the 9th and all the extra innings.  The excitement was such that no matter how hungry I was, I couldn’t leave for the student center to get a bite to eat. It never occurred to me to order delivery  considering I mostly did that on Sundays and this game was played on a Wednesday. I sat transfixed trying desperately to hear Bob Murphy call a win, hoping there would not need to be a game 7.  Ultimately he did call the win and no game 7 was played.  For a few seasons after, WFAN which moved to AM 660 and now carried 50,000 watts of power would broadcast the game either on Christmas Eve or during the All-Star break.  In the decades since, ESPN Classic and now the MLB Network have broadcast at least portions of this incredible game which, when played live took nearly 5 hours.

First Ballot Hall of Famer Jim Palmer is 71 today. He reached the majors at age 19 in April, 1965. His career, all spent with the Orioles ended in May 1984.  He put up an insane 268-152 record with an ERA under 3 and more than 2200 strikeouts. 6 times he was an All-Star and his teams won the World Series in 1966, 1970 and 1983 while losing it in 1969, 1971 and 1979.  His Orioles were beaten in the LCS by Oakland in 1974. He claimed the Cy Young award 3 times between 1973–76, the only year missing being 1974. He fired his only no-hitter in 1969 and reached Cooperstown in 1990. Born a New Yorker he lacks the accent of his home turf. He has broadcast for ABC, ESPN and the Orioles as well as doing commercials. This second career began in the 1978 postseason while he was still active but his team was not involved. He was at Candlestick Park for ABC when the 1989 World Series earthquake hit.  ABC was on shaky ground as it was, and lost the rights for baseball to CBS, ending Palmer’s national exposure on free TV.  enter ESPN and the Orioles’ cable-TV broadcasts.

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