Downtown Goes Frazier–Yankees KO Brewers in 9th inning; A Treat from an Old Friend

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Sunday, July 9.

It seems like the Yankees have been walking in cement since the catastrophic injury to their promising rookie Dustin Fowler back on June 29.  They had lost 12 of 16 before that unspeakable night and haven’t played any better since.  However another promising rookie, Clint Frazier may have gone a step towards getting them out of their team-wide malaise. He also may relegate his fellow Georgian Fowler to the ranks of either Wally Pip or Moonlight Graham depending if Fowler ever plays again. Frazier is 3 months older than Fowler who turns 23 in December and has to go forward as damaged goods.  The Brewers, traditionally a baseball lightweight faced the Yankees-the Joe Louis of baseball yesterday afternoon after taking an easy win Friday night.  Frazier notched 3 hits and 4 RBIs on the day.  The coup de gras was his 9th-inning 3-run walkoff blast that carried the sagging Yankees to a 5-3 win over the visiting Brewers. Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel was the unwitting foil for Frazier’s heroic moment. He had walked Didi Gregorius and Jacoby Ellsbury before Frazier stepped to the dish.  At that point, the Georgian known to his teammates as “Red Thunder” struck mightily and sent every Yankee fan home with a song in his heart.  His team had been down 3-0 since the first inning but Frazier’s triple had drawn the game to 3-2 in the 7th. Earlier on his single in the 5th was the Yankees’ first hit off Brent Suter. The Harvard-educated Suter will never throw as fast as Ted Kennedy could drive but he kept the Yankees off balance through most of the game.   The Brewers’ total offense was a 3-run home run by Domingo Santana off Luis Severino, the Yankees’ all-star hurler. He lasted 7 giving up no more runs while striking out 10 Brewers. No rookie Yankee had hit a home run in the 9th or later to win a game since the late and beloved Bobby Murcer pulled it off in 1969. Also Frazier is the youngest Bronx Bomber to hit a walk-off bomb in 11 years. Melky Cabrera was the last young Yankee to hit a walk-off blast. Frazier will turn 23 in September. He only joined the team on July 1 and yesterday’s game winner was just his second MLB home run. The Yankees got him from the Indians for star reliever Andrew Miller.  Frazier had been taken in round 1, the fifth pick overall in the 2013 June draft by the Indians.  If they hadn’t drafted him Frazier meant to play for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Sunday papers usually feature a supplement where they run special pieces for what they hope will be a large circulation.  With that thought in mind I present to you a theme written by my old friend Andy Young. He was broadcasting professionally as early as 1983 when I was a college boy making ready for my first college baseball broadcast.  Andy would continue behind the microphone for nearly 20 years, then trade the microphone for the chalk of a schoolteacher.  My good friend’s high-pitched voice and machine-gun delivery doubtlessly limits the number of students he catches sleeping in class. Privately I referred to him as “Machine Gun Young” in the happy years when our paths crossed-first in the Florida State League and then in the Eastern league.  This theme is partly about former pitcher and broadcaster Jim Kaat and partly a proud father’s celebration of his son’s victory in Little League play.  His essay follows.

 

On Lengthy Gaps Between Championships

 

My 11-year-old son was a member of the 2017 Cumberland/North Yarmouth Little League champion Red Sox, and I was one of the coaches. It was my second involvement with a Little League championship team. The first was in 1966, when I rode the bench for the Easton (CT) Little League champion Hawks. Oddly, after the CNYLL Red Sox won their championship game last month I couldn’t help but think of a certain former Major League Baseball player.

 

Jim Kaat was an outstanding pitcher who had an exceptionally long career. I wasn’t yet potty trained when he debuted with the Washington Senators, but by the time his big league playing days concluded I was a college graduate. Kaat is one of only eleven hurlers in Major League Baseball history to have pitched in four different decades, and his 283 career wins exceed the totals compiled by any of the other ten, except for Hall-of-Famers Nolan Ryan and Early Wynn.

 

But Kaat wasn’t known solely for his longevity. The 6’4” native of Zeeland, Michigan won 15 or more games in a season eight times between 1962 and 1975, including a 25-victory effort in 1966. He amassed 200 or more innings pitched in a season 14 times, which, given changes in philosophy regarding the care and handling of pitchers, is unlikely to be equaled (or even approached) in the future. He won the Gold Glove, emblematic of being his league’s best-fielding pitcher, a record 16 times. He also reinvented himself in mid-career, morphing from a flame-throwing left-hander with high strikeout totals to a pitcher whose experience, guile, quick delivery, and ability to keep batters off stride more than made up for the inevitably decreasing velocity of his pitches.

 

How did Jim Kaat feel on June 17, 1957, when he signed his first professional contract with the Washington Senators at age 18, or on August 2, 1959, when he made his major league debut at Chicago’s Comiskey Park against the World Series-bound White Sox?

 

What it was like a little over a year later when his team uprooted all its employees and moved from the nation’s capital to a new home in the Upper Midwest, rechristening themselves the Minnesota Twins?

 

How great was it on June 19, 1962 when, again in Chicago, he walloped the first of his 16 major league home runs off Dom Zanni of the White Sox?

 

Was the elation he felt after Game 2 of the 1965 World Series, a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax, more intense than his disappointment of losing Games 5 and 7 to Koufax and his Los Angeles teammates four and seven days later?

 

Was Kaat nervous taking the mound for the American League in the 4th inning of the 1966 All-Star game in St. Louis, when the first six batters he faced were future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Ron Santo, and Joe Torre? He was probably calmer nine years later when only the first three hitters he faced, Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench, were Cooperstown-bound.

 

After more than 17 years with the notoriously stingy Senators/Twins organization, getting waived in August of 1974 had to hurt. Was being released for the final time, on July 6, 1983, worse?

 

Stealing a base at age 41 during a complete game victory had to be great, but was it better than the 16th and final home run of his big league career, which came two months later?

 

But maybe the most rewarding thing about Kaat’s career was returning to the World Series 17 years after his only other appearance in the Fall Classic, and helping his team win it.

 

Let’s face it: I never played pro baseball, and as a consequence I have no way of really knowing how Jim Kaat felt when he signed to play professional baseball, got uprooted when his team moved, hit unexpected home runs or stole even more unexpected bases, won (and lost) World Series games against Sandy Koufax, pitched in front of millions of viewers in two All-Star games, or got unceremoniously dumped by his team in the middle of a season after 17 years with them.

 

But thanks to simple math I believe I know how he felt when he and his St. Louis Cardinal teammates won the World Series 17 years after his only previous appearance there.

 

About one-third as good as I did when the CNYLL Red Sox earned their title last month, 51 years after the Easton Hawks won theirs.

Thank you Andy for sharing that piece.  A reminder-I’ll be off the grid during the upcoming Little League World Series in Williamsport-the first time I’ve missed that spectacle in more years than I care to think about. Anybody who wishes to post about the Little League World Series or any other baseball topic while I’m off the grid is welcome to do so by joining my Facebook group whose name is also

Baseball As I See It. Postings concerning the LLWS will be added here when I return to action.

As always the bulk of today’s action will be in daylight. With the Marlins out of town, the All-Star Futures Game takes place today in Miami. Among regular games the Brewers and Yankees have the earliest start at 1 PM.  Masahiro Tanaka who has 2 wins in 3 decisions since his horrific stretch earlier in the season faces the Brewers and Jimmy Nelson. The Red Sox trot out David Price in St. Pete against his former team. He faces Chris Archer, arguably the Rays’ best with Price gone. The Cubs, who normally start at 1:20 Central start at High Noon CST today as they host Pittsburgh. As Jameson Taillon battles John Lester, it’s doubtless the first time two cancer survivors faced each other mano a mano. Johnny Cueto starts for the Giants as they host the Marlins.  He missed a scheduled start earlier this week with an inner ear infection.  I know from bitter experience how bad the pain of one of those can be, but if nothing else the treatment isn’t as painful as it was 40 years ago when my ears troubled me on a regular basis. Clayton Kershaw starts for the Dodgers today making him ineligible for Tuesday’s All-Star game.  That’s nothing but a crime against baseball.  His team has a safe enough lead that manager Dave Roberts could call up somebody from AAA to let Kershaw start the All-Star game as Sandy Koufax did in 1966. The Tigers and Indians play the night game on ESPN.  If you watch or attend any of today’s games, don’t be surprised if the pitchers work more quickly than usual.  As the All-Star break looms, anybody who isn’t_ an All-Star will relish the upcoming days of inactivity.

 

 

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