Four Top Teams Ready to Play “Can You Top This?”

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, Oct. 13.

For a dozen years there was a radio show called “Can You Top This,” where listeners would send in jokes, a few of which would be read on the air while 3 top comedians tried to tell a funnier joke on the same subject.  Now, following two crazy wild card games and a handful of league division series which all provided great moments, 4 teams from America’s biggest cities begin the League Championship Series, with the two winners to meet in the World Series. And they’re trying to top an awesome series of acts that have been highlights of this postseason.

Los Angeles played in the least competitive series sweeping Arizona 3 straight.  Boston was blitzed in 4 with only the last game being competitive. Chicago ended a terrific battle with Washington with an outstanding win last night, 9-8 in a game that ended in the wee hours of this morning.  And of course the Yankees, who I believed were dead and buried after a humiliating loss to Cleveland in game 2 pulled off the unthinkable.  The team with the least starting pitching to speak of got brave efforts from Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino to tie things in New York.  Then Wednesday night in Cleveland, aging CC Sabathia returned to the scene of his greatest triumphs and for a few innings turned back the clock.  While he was pretending to be his old self, shortstop Didi Gregorius hit a pair of home runs putting the  Yanks ahead 3-0.  Like most older fellows, lack of stamina betrayed old CC and had him in the showers before 5 innings were played.  This time though, unlike in game 2 when his bull pen and his manager let him down, the relievers held the Indians at bay.  The Yankees scored two insurance runs to take a 5-2 lead into the 9th, a lead closer Aroldis Chapman would protect.

Last night’s game looked briefly like a Washington winner.  Michael A. Taylor, who had hit a grand slam on Wednesday night to insure the Nationals’ victory hit a 3-run home run giving the home team an early lead of 4–1.  The Cubs rallied for two in the 4th and 4 in one of the more amazing 5th-inning rallies you’ll ever see.  There were no mighty blasts, everything done by the Cubs was done with small ball.  With his team ahead 6-4 one of the Cubs was hit by a pitch with the bases full, making it 7-4.  The teams  traded runs the rest of the way but the Cubs never gave up the lead, finally winning 9-8 behind closer Wade Davis.

The Cubs and Dodgers will begin play tomorrow, while the Yankees travel south to meet Houston tonight.  Masahiro Tanaka is the Yankees’ starter.  The sad truth is, some of his worst moments have happened when he faced Houston.  This is a rematch of the 2015 wild card game where he faced Dallas Keuchel (KyKall for you JAWS users.)  Keuchel embarrassed Tanaka and the Yankees in that game 2 years ago.  Also against Houston, on Derek Jeter Night, Tanaka put up a brutal performance, giving up 8 runs in less than 2 innings.  He can only hope to save face by pitching as he did Sunday, and as he did on a few other occasions this year.  He needs to beat the rap about his bad road ERA, which is nearly 7 compared to a 3 ERA at Yankee Stadium. Keuchel, Tanaka’s worthy foe has an ERA less than 1 in 3 postseason starts.  He started game 2 of the LDS as Houston wiped out Boston 8-2, one of 2 8-2 thrashings the Astros handed out to the Old Town Team. Keuchel, who will turn 30 in January is a lefty from Tulsa who has been nothing short of amazing against the Yankees. He’s been an All-Star twice-in 2015 and this season.  He took home the Cy Young award in 2015, the year he came into his own and led his league in wins.

The day the LCS starts has been the day at least two World Series ended.  One was the very first World Series, played in 1903.  It wrapped up with Boston’s American League team (now the Red Sox) beating Pittsburgh in game 8 of the best 5 of 9 series.  In fact the Bostons won games 5, 6, 7 and 8 after falling behind 3 games to 1 against the Pirates.  Boston, still years away from gaining the Red Sox nickname played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds which are now part of Northeastern University.  Fenway Park was 9 years away. Meantime Pittsburgh was still playing at Exposition Park, with Forbes Field 6 years from opening its doors. Under an odd rule strictly for that series, if a ball rolled under a rope which was holding back the crowd, the ball was ruled a triple.  Thus, in 4 games played in Pittsburgh 17 triples were hit.

On another October 13, this time in 1960 the Pirates claimed the World Series in the 7th game.  The Yankees had won games 2, 3 and 6 by resounding scores of 16–3, 10–0 and 12–0 respectively while the Buckos had won 3 close games by 6-4, 3-2 and 5-2 scores.  Game 7 went back and forth at gigantic Forbes Field.  Early on the Pirates built a 4-0 lead but a Yogi Berra 3-run home run made it 5-4 Yankees.  They put up two more in the 8th to make it 7-4.  Playing on a notoriously hard and rocky infield, a bad hop nailed the Yankees’ Tony Kubek in the throat to ignite a Pirates’ rally for 5 runs in the 8th.  The big blow was a home run good for 3 runs by spare catcher Hal Smith. For their part the Yankees tied it in the 9th before one of baseball’s more memorable home runs was hit.  In the last of the 9th, the Pirates’ second baseman Bill Mazeroski launched one over the fence in distant left field for a 10-9 Pirates’ win. The radio call of that home run has been played repeatedly down through the decades.  It contains one vital mistake.  Senators’ broadcaster Chuck Thompson, handling radio for NBC mistakenly said Art Didmar was the Yankee pitcher who gave up Mazeroski’s home run.  In truth it was Ralph Terry who would be the hero of the World Series 2 years later.  The network offered Thompson a chance to do a re-creation of the Mazeroski call for later broadcast but he wouldn’t have it.  He admitted the mistake and wanted it to stay around so he would know he wasn’t perfect.  The Yankee cheerleader broadcaster Mel Allen called the home run on TV, with the Pirates’ broadcaster Bob Prince assigned to cover the action in the winning clubhouse after the game.  The great irony is he never saw Mazeroski’s home run.  With the score tied at 9 he had stationed himself in the Yankees’ clubhouse.  When he heard the Pittsburgh crowd lose their collective mind he set out on a dead run for the Pirates’ clubhouse all unknowing of Mazeroski’s momentous wallop.

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