Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Saturday, May 5.
This is truly an overloaded Saturday. Most articles will focus on Albert Pujols reaching 3,000 hits. That is still an amazing lifetime achievement. Unlike home runs which have been cheapened by steroids, tiny ballparks and putrid pitching, the base hit itself hasn’t been cheapened and Pujols now has 3,000 of them, over 600 being home runs. Cooperstown, here he comes (five years after he calls it a career.) My main focus will be the stories of two pitchers-one who achieved a milestone for himself while leading his team to victory and one who is looking for a job.
Depending on what the broadcasters in Houston choose to say, pitcher Gerrit Cole could be the new King Cole and he already has money enough to be a merry old soul whenever he grows old. For now he’s pitching even better than he did in Pittsburgh. Last night he came very close to the Astros’ record for strikeouts. Cole turned away 16 men, just two shy of the record held by the late Don Wilson. With 16 K’s in a game he’s tied with a couple of pretty good Astros’ pitchers-Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. Talk about fast company. The Astros knew they were getting an excellent pitcher when they traded 4 warm bodies to get him. While two of the men traded had big league time, neither were established. Cole had 5 years of MLB service time when this season began, and back in 2015 he had been an All-Star. In Pennsylvania, where coal mining was once a leading industry, it was said that the “Cole Train was running” if Cole was on the hill for the Pirates. They couldn’t have guessed that he might come that close to rewriting the record book. And he didn’t strike out 16 guys who should be in AAA. He wasn’t facing one of baseball’s worst teamd. No, the new King Cole made his mark at the expense of the Arizona Diamondbacks who happen to be in first place in the NL West. He had struck out 11 Rangers in early April, then 12 Athletics just last Sunday, now this. Going into May he had struck out more Astros-61-in the month of April than any Houston pitcher before him. Last night he went the distance, giving just one hit to an excellent hitting team as the Astros routed the D-Backs 8–0. Only Chris Owings could briefly solve Cole. He stroked a one-out double in the fifth, which was the entire D-Back offense. In today’s game a pitcher can only strike out 16 or more if he walks virtually no one. With managers and pitching coaches watching pitch counts as never before. Cole got his 16 K’s while walking just one man, David Peralta in the 4th inning. He now has struck out 77 men which leads all big league pitchers. All of Houston’s first 4 batters had multi-hit games. As a group they were 11 of 19 with Yuli Gurriel notching 4 hits while George Springer put up 3.
Looking back, Cole could have been doing great deeds and wearing pinstripes. The Yankees drafted him in round 1 from high school. But Cole chose UCLA and rolled the dice. The Pirates drafted him from there. He won his first 4 MLB starts with the Pirates, which hadn’t happened in the Steel city since 1907. As good as he had been through 2017, nothing could have prepared the Astros for the strikeout machine that came to them from Pittsburgh this past January. They only wish he had pitched one of the 3 games they lost against the Yankees-a team Cole rooted for as a boy after his dad educated him about the Bronx Bombers. With the 200 strikeout per batter group in the middle of their lineup-Judge, Stanton, Sanchez and the rest, Wilson’s record or even the MLB record of 20 may be in danger if Cole stays healthy and faces the Yanks.
On the other side of the coin is the sad story of Matt Harvey. It isn’t written on the transaction wire though I don’t know why. His every other deed-bad or good-has been published far and wide. The Mets felt Harvey had to go to the minors and try to straighten his act out. He refused. He has been designated for assignment, which is one step short of giving him his release outright. The Mets are hoping to get something–anything–to get their resident bad boy off their hands.
When you’re a highly successful ball player and behave badly, you’re “edgy,” (Albert Bell, Ty Cobb,) or “fun-loving (Babe Ruth.) When you can’t pitch, hit or whatever got you to the top, then you’re an “entitled child” today’s word for what would have been called “a spoilt little brat” 50 years ago. Too much of that behavior (see baseball’s Bill Bradley) and you become a vagabond. That may be Matt Harvey’s fate, and it’s former Mets’ manager Terry Collins’ fault for allowing him to behave badly and not bring the hammer down. It’s also Harvey’s fault for not mending his ways off the field when it became clear he couldn’t do the job on the field. As bad as everybody’s pitching is these days, Harvey should find work some place where they’re desperate for starting pitchers. Johnny Venters has already started a game this year, and he hadn’t pitched in the bigs in the past 6 years. Homer Bailey and Chris Medlin are still pitching after multiple arm surgeries. But they don’t give trouble off the field, as Harvey did so publicly as recently as last week.
Very early on, Harvey wasn’t behaving badly. In 2013 he was an All-Star. Though he was soon facing Tommy John surgery he tried to make the best of it and hoped to return in 2015, which he did. The whole “Dark Knight” mess grew out of a magazine cover saying he resembled Batman. His troubles really began in game 5 of the 2015 World Series where he bullied manager Terry Collins to let him pitch the 9th inning where he promptly blew the 2-0 lead the Mets had at the time. Can anybody imagine any pitcher-even Whitey Ford-bullying Casey Stengel if Casey told his pitcher to go take a shower? It was downhill all the way for Harvey, Collins and the Mets ever since. Now Collins is gone, and a new no-nonsense sheriff is in town, Mickey Callaway by name. He knew of the trouble Harvey had caused in 2017. Who didn’t? Harvey hadn’t shown up for a game and team security had to search for him. That doesn’t fly if your ERA is up around 7 as Harvey’s was by the end of the season. Again in 2018 his ERA was at 7 when he went to the bull pen and, if anything, pitched worse than he did as a starter. He became abusive with the media and, as I mentioned earlier this week, took an unauthorized trip from San Diego to Beverly Hills to party, only to give up a mammoth home run when he returned.
So now he’s on the open market. While he may not have to sell his Maserati, I wouldn’t bet on him dating any models with unpronounceable names, which he did as a Met. Being dumped by one of those models reportedly led to one of his AWOL events. He was said to be “an emotional wreck,” which an unknown blogger like me can get away with but a high-profile stud and MLB player definitely can’t. The Yankees and Red Sox are both much too conservative to deal with Harvey even if his record were spotless and his health were good. Neither of those are true statements. After his Tommy John surgeries Harvey has had two more arm operations, leaving his health as suspect as his conduct is. And yet, who knows? The Padres or Giants might be just that desperate. Even the Angels might bite if the price is right. Now that Albert Pujols has his 3,000 hits he may quietly go away and remove a large anchor from the Angels’ franchise. The only word I’ve actually heard about Harvey is that the Braves might be looking at him. They’ve done amazing things with pitchers before, but again his behavior might not be tolerable in the land of “Gone with the Wind.” He’s no Southern gentleman. Some of his more public photos say better than words what kind of trouble a team buys if they buy into him.