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Posts tagged ‘Major League Baseball’

July, 1997

What were you doing in 1997?

Let me refresh your memory –
Titanic was the top movie of the year. But, if you were like me, you found Good Will Hunting to be more your speed.
The top song of the year, according to Billboard, was “Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John because it was the same year the world said goodbye to Princess Diana.
We also lost Mother Theresa, Notorious B.I.G., Gianni Versace, and Married With Children –
But we welcomed Hanson (Mmmbop), the Harry Potter series, Pokemon, America’s first female secretary of state (Madeline Albright), and Dolly the Sheep’s clone.
Bill Clinton was still president!

Back in 1997, now 20 years ago, (watch out, I’m about to admit my age here) I was a 14-year-old girl living in a small town in northeastern Ohio and had just completed the 6th grade. On July 7, I watched my first baseball game – the 1997 All Star game live from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio!

When I started watching baseball, Bartolo Colon and I were still in Cleveland – and we both weighed a lot less.

It’s funny to think about how much baseball has changed, how much the world has changed, and how much I’ve changed in those twenty years. When I watched that All Star game, I was sitting in my living room – without air conditioning – looking at a tv that only got a handful of channels and, by today’s standards, was ridiculously small. Sandy Alomar, Jr was the MVP – and a hell of a catcher for the Indians at that time (my favorite). Now, he’s the first base coach for the Indians. The first base coach for the Detroit Tigers is his former teammate Omar Vizquel.

The Indians went to the World Series that year, and lost in game seven the (then) Florida Marlins. The heartbreak I experienced during game seven of the 2016 World Series is the only thing that has softened the blow of that loss. This week, the (now) Miami Marlins drafted Joe Dunand, Jr – the nephew of Alex’s Rodriguez (who first caught my eye about 5 minutes after I started watching baseball in 1997).

This year, on July 8 – twenty years and 1 day since I started watching baseball – I’ll be returning “home” for Andrew Miller night in Cleveland, and taking my 8-year-old nephew to his first baseball game. If I was finishing my first year of middle school in 1997, Andrew Miller was finishing elementary school; he probably wasn’t 5 feet tall yet and no one in the world could have known what kind of bullpen hero he would develop into (of that he would eventually become my Hero).

What does it mean that all of these things are now a distant memory? First, it means I’m getting older… But as I’ve mentioned multiple times before, it also means I’ve seen a lot of history. And, also like I’ve said before, I’m thankful for that history.

I’m thankful to have watched baseball in the height of, and the decline of, steroid use.
I’m thankful to have seen pitchers develop into the magicians they are today.
I’m thankful to see young players like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado (my personal favorite) show up and light baseball on fire.
I’m thankful for watching my all-time favorite, Alex Rodriguez, play for 20 years, and even for his retirement, because I can appreciate his talent, his high points – and his low points – and his man he’s become after all the chaos
I’m thankful for the Cleveland Indians because without them, baseball would be just another game to me.
And I’m even thankful for not one, but two blow game sevens – because I’ve always known how emotional baseball could be, and because I needed that “coming home” moment last fall to remind me where my journey began.

July is special to me. Each year during the All Star game, I’m thankful I started watching this game. A few years ago, I joined twitter specifically to talk about this game, and two years ago started my baseball blog. This July, exactly two decades later, I will have the opportunity to share this game with my nephew Hunter.

Will he be as mesmerized by the game as I was? Will he see a player on the field he immediately knows is his favorite? Will he love the game as much as his Aunt Jess does?

Maybe none of those things happen – but you know I’ll certainly try my best to share my love of this wonderful game.

Chapman comes to New York

Since the Yankees shocked the baseball world by trading for Aroldis Chapman, I’ve been trying to decide how I felt about the trade; there’s the potential for huge reward, but with big risk. I’ve actually started this post several times trying to sort out the many thoughts in my head about the trade, the current Yankees roster, and Chapman’s personal problems.

After a whole lot of thought…I think this deal is going to turn out alright.

First, there is the trade itself. At least for now, Yankee fans have seemingly forgotten they hate Brian Cashman. No one seems to miss the four young players sent to Cincinnati, because there is so much excitement about what good Chapman could bring to this team.

This deal creates an amazing back end of the Yankees bullpen. Dellin Betances. Aroldis Chapman. Andrew Miller. They are all among MLB’s best relief pitchers, and they are all together on one roster. Even if you hate the Yankees, you have to admit that is a very powerful trio.

via sportsonearth.com

 

 

We’ve seen the super bullpen work with the Royals in 2014, and even better in 2015 when they won the World Series despite losing Greg Holland to injury (and Tommy John surgery) in mid-September. We all know having a powerful bullpen shortens games, and for the Yankees, that can be extremely beneficial.

There are significant concerns about the Yankees rotation. Cashman insists the rotation is “full” and that the Yankees are not signing any big free agents – so let’s just assume they keep the starters next year. In 2015, the top six Yankee starters (Eovaldi, Nova, Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, and Tanaka) averaged 5.83 innings per start. (Tanaka had the highest average with 6.42 innings and Nova had the lowest average with 5.53 innings.) Whether the starters were unable to go deep into games was a result of their pitching ability or an overly anxious manager is a whole other debate. For argument’s sake, let’s each starter lasts approximately 6 innings per start – that leaves 3 more innings to play, and there are 3 super arms sitting in the bullpen.

Obviously the super trio cannot pitch 7-8-9 in every game, but there is some flexibility here. Last season, we saw Girardi frequently use both Betances and Miller for more than one inning. He didn’t wait for the 8th inning to bring in Betances, and he wasn’t afraid to use Miller for a 4 or even 5 out save. He pushed them – and it often worked out well for the team. Adding that third arm can (hopefully) cut down on the workload for both of them, which could then give them more opportunity to rest and stay healthy. There is always the possibility Girardi starts brining in relievers in the 5th inning as one of my friends at The Greedy Pinstripes (somewhat jokingly) suggested, but I am going to cross my fingers Girardi hasn’t totally lost his mind this offseason.

That still leaves a big question – who’s the closer? The Yankees have three potential closers, which is an excellent problem to have. Surprisingly, since I am a big Andrew Miller fan and call him my hero, I would actually chose Chapman as the closer – and the flexibility of the other two is part of the reason why.

 

So far, both Betances and Miller have been quoted saying they’re excited about the addition of Chapman, and each willing to do whatever they can to help the team win games. Miller, especially, has said since he signed with the Yankees last offseason, that he is willing to do any job given to him. He never demanded he be the closer, and he never assumed he would be the closer. Betances is a New Yorker, and wants to bring a championship home. Of the three, Betances is the least likely to be the closer (although perfectly capable). Chapman has always been a closer, while the other two have not, so I would have to assume he is the most comfortable – and obviously successful – in that role.

Which leads me to my first concern about Chapman – how long can a human arm withstand throwing pitches at such great speeds? There is a great deal of mechanics/physics that go into pitching (read some interesting articles HERE and HERE), and we see “average” MLB pitchers suffer injuries by throwing pitches significantly slower than Chapman’s. At some point, will his arm just give out?

The medical professional in me thinks about things like this. There is a certain point (the actual speed seems debatable) where the human body just cannot handle throwing a baseball any faster. Chapman is likely nearly that point. Part of me will worry with each pitch – is this the one that will tear his UCL? Betances and Miller are not throwing quite as fast as Chapman (but really, no one in baseball is). Because of that, I would feel more comfortable allowing Betances and Miller throw more pitches per outing than Chapman. Considering that along with the flexibility they’ve already demonstrated, and we could potentially see 6+ outs from just the two of them. To wrap things up, bring in Chapman for 3 quick outs on probably less than a dozen pitches thrown (3-9 pitches would be even better).

Of course, the biggest concern about Chapman is a possible suspension for domestic violence. Before I go any further, it’s important to mention I am against violence of any kind, against anyone. However, from a legal standpoint, Aroldis Chapman has never been charged with domestic violence.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t a shit human being. The entire story makes me uneasy – and the fact that he was ever in such a volatile situation at all – but the fact is the investigation did not bring up enough evidence to charge him. He may be a bad person, but he certainly wouldn’t be the first in baseball.

If MLB does find cause to suspend him, a few things can happen. There is the possibility he is suspended long enough to delay his free agency eligibility until the end of next season. If that happens, Brian Cashman will look like a genius for getting two years of Chapman at the cost of four young players. There’s also the possibility the suspension is shorter, or maybe there is no suspension at all.

Suspension or not, there will be a lot of attention focused on Aroldis Chapman. Of the two teams, who would you expect to handle the possible media circus better – the Cincinnati Reds, or the New York Yankees? Remember, the Yankees are a much larger organization and were recently very involved with the longest suspension MLB had ever given, and all the public spectacle that went along with it.

The key to this working as well as it can is keeping the three pitchers together. The Yankees bullpen already lost two of their best pitchers (Adam Warren and Justin Wilson) this offseason, and aside from Betances/Miller, there were a lot of question marks. Adding Chapman is almost enough to make fans forget Warren and Wilson are even gone, but removing any of these three puts the Yankees back into that same position. There have been rumors all offseason that the Yankees have been listening to trade offers for Andrew Miller. Honestly, it’s a smart thing to do – the Yankees could be blown away with an offer they can’t refuse. But trading Miller for a starter? That doesn’t make much sense to me either. Even the best pitcher, who would assumingly go deep into games and take stress off the bullpen, is only going to pitch every five days. The Yankees have six starters and, while it’s not ideal, it looks like those are the six they will have going in to Opening Day. Trade Miller for even the best starter available and you’re left with seven starters, two reliable relievers, and still a whole lot of question marks.

It will be interesting to see how Chapman fits into the Yankees organization, what his punishment will be (if any) and how it will all play out in New York and MLB. For the time being, we Yankee fans can smile because our team has the Betances/Miller/Chapman trio.

If the whole season falls apart, I’m fairly confident at least those three will still keep things exciting.

The All Star Game Identity Crisis

When you really think about it, the MLB All Star game has gotten complicated – and a little confusing.


In some ways, the game and the festivities (such as the Home Run Derby) are a lot of fun. I always think of Ken Griffey, Jr. in the Home Run Derby, standing in the batter’s box with his hat on backward, while the other all stars sit on the foul territory grass (often with their children) and watch. Or Cal Ripken’s last ASG when Alex Rodriguez made him move over and play shortstop one last time.

But in an attempt to build excitement around the game (and hopefully recruit more fans), things have become a little more serious. The game actually counts for something (the winning league earns home field advantage in the World Series). The fans, players, and managers all choose the all stars. There are scheduled releases for vote totals and hour long shows dedicated to announcing the all star reserves.

So which is more true?

Quite honestly, I think the All Star Game is having an identity crisis. I don’t know whether this game is meant to be a fun break or another important game in an already long season?

If it were up to me, I would make the entire All Star break fun – for the players, the fans, and even the coaches/managers. Yes, baseball is a business and it is the job of all the players (even if they’re being paid ridiculously well) to play 160+ games a season. But remember, baseball is a long, difficult season – there are few true days off during the season (some are travel days) and most, if not all, of the all star position players are playing nearly every game during the season. And long before they were ever professionals, they were fans too. Let it just be fun.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. There’s a lot that goes into the ASG to take into consideration.

First – the where. As is typically the custom, alternate between American League and National League host cities. There is really no need to have a league host back-to-back seasons. At times, the ASG is more than just a game, but recognition of a new park, or an anniversary at an existing park – these things don’t sneak up on you. New stadiums aren’t constructed overnight and special anniversaries don’t happen in unusual years. Plan ahead!

Next – the who. In my opinion, it’s absolutely fitting the managers of the World Series teams are the managers for the ASG (even if they are no longer with that team). They will likely chose a coaching staff from their own team, and that’s also okay. Without managers & coaches, the team wouldn’t make it to the World Series. If that manager and coaching staff was successful enough to lead a team through the post season, it makes sense they might be successful in the ASG too.

I’m a big supporter of fans choosing the starting position players. We all think we would be a better manager/GM than our team’s, so why not let us has this small taste of it? If MLB is so set on players choosing other players, they should be able to chose the pitchers: they know better than anyone who is the most difficult to hit. Fans could, however, help chose the starting pitcher. Of course there will be limitations on who can pitch depending on when they last threw, but if it’s narrowed down to a few potential starters, let fans vote. We already think we know better than the managers do anyway. The managers should still be allowed to chose the reserve players. And…get rid of the final vote! It’s just annoying. How would you like to be the guy who got picked last? And half the fans can’t figure out how and when to vote – hashtags mean nothing until Friday, people!!

That being said, fans and managers will have a tendency to vote for their favorite teams’ players – which is not wrong, but it’s not always right. Fans, when you vote…use your head. There is always that one guy on your team who is not as good as the others – so don’t vote for him! Just because he wears the same jersey doesn’t mean he’s the best at the position. I didn’t vote for Stephen Drew, and the millions of Royals fans who appeared out of seemingly nowhere should not have voted for Omar Infante!

The game – the big what. As I said before, just let it be fun. Give the millionaire baseball players one game to just go out and have fun. Once upon a time they were all little boys playing for fun – it just happened they were all insanely talented and it became their jobs. One game out of 160 (give or take) without any pressure is really not so bad. Let them enjoy the experience of playing with and being among the best of the best in Major League Baseball, even if the final score is 17-14 or something equally as ridiculous.

Do not make the game count for anything other than bragging rights. While it certainly adds drama and makes things more interesting, awarding home field advantage to the winning league will not always be the fair and right thing to do. Imagine a scenario where a team has the best record in baseball – no one else is even close – and they go to the World Series, but the other team – a Wild Card team that barely made it into the playoffs at all – has home field advantage. It would only be worse if one (or even both) of the team’s players had little or no involvement in the ASG – but rather the World Series is dependent on one game in July that had nothing to do with them. Of course, this would be rare, but I can’t imagine many fans of the first place team being pleased if it happened just once.

Personally, the All Star Game has a special significance for me because it was (in 1997) the first baseball game I watched – by choice – start to finish. Admittedly, it’s because they were playing in my home city (Cleveland), but I remember it being such a fun game to watch. Each year year during the ASG, I think of that game and count how many years it’s been since I started watching baseball. It’s a great way to see a mix of the best players in each league having fun, playing with some new (or old) friends for one game only.

If you’re curious who my All Star votes went to – since I asked fans to use their heads – here they are (I only voted for AL; I don’t know NL well enough):

C – Brian McCann, NYY
1B – Mark Teixeira, NYY
2B – Jose Altuve, HOU
SS – JJ Hardy, BAL
3B – Manny Machado, BAL
OF – Brett Gardner, NYY
OF – Adam Jones, BAL
OF – Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY
DH – Alex Rodriguez, NYY

As an intelligent (I hope) baseball fan, I have no complaints about the players chosen as starters or as reserves. Even if they weren’t my first choice or not on my favorite team, I can recognize good baseball talent, and the AL has a lot of great players on that team.

No matter what the circumstances of the ASG are, I’ll still watch the game and be cheering for all the American League players…because I voted for some of them, and because I don’t understand the National League. (Who are half these guys? Do the pitchers really like hitting?)

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Happy (almost) All Star break, everyone!…and go American League!!

On Catchers…

Before this year’s ALDS Game 3 between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, I was running errands and listening to the local Orioles radio network pregame coverage between stops. They were doing a typical interview with manager Buck Showalter, but one segment in particular caught my attention. As transcribed by asapsports.com:

Q. Can a guy like Caleb [Joseph], he’s had a long career to get to this point and he struggled offensively September into now. What do you do with a guy like that to keep him centered? And how important is it to have Nick Hundley around?
BUCK SHOWALTER: They both had their periods. I think they understand that we’re not just lip service about where their priorities are. You’re going to take four at bats a game and you’re going to make 100 and 200 decisions behind the plate.
The math is real easy on that, how do you impact the game more?
What we get from them offensively is just a luxury. It’s still one of the amazing things to me in baseball, a quality offensive catcher that is an offensive force in today’s game.
The way it is played it is so challenging for catchers physically, mentally, and emotionally because all this information now about pitch sequence, stuff that they have to constantly be rebooting the computer in their mind.
I think they know, would we like for them to crutch in an RBI or hit here and then? Sure, but that’s a luxury the way we look at it, and I think they know that. And they’ve both brought that very consistently.
Fortunately for Caleb, he showed us glimpses of why he should have won the Eastern MVP last year and almost drove in over 100 runs.
He’s a better offensive player than he’s shown us here lately, which he’s shown us at times this year. He got going there and helped us offensively for a while, but it wasn’t his priority.

This really made me think about catchers – what their role is for the team and just how much is required of them. At about this same time, the Yankees season had ended and the debate on whether or not Brian McCann had met expectations for his $17million/year salary. The general opinion was that he had not lived up to his potential as a Yankee, especially considering the short distance from home plate to the right field wall. He managed to finish 2014 with 23 homeruns and 75 RBI in 140 games, both improvements from his 2013 numbers with the Atlanta Braves (20 homeruns and 75 RBIs in 102 games). In my opinion, not bad numbers – but when I thought about those numbers compared to the 2014 season as a whole, it took on a new perspective.

Yankees pitching in 2014 turned out to be a strength, but was somewhat of a revolving door of uncertainty throughout the season. Only four out of the five starters lasted the entire season. New pitchers – both starters and relievers – were brought on by trades, waivers, and the minor leagues. I don’t know how many pitchers actually wore pinstripes this season, and frankly I haven’t counted. What I do know is that there were just four catchers for all season long – usually McCann and occasionally Francisco Cervelli, with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine filling in for injuries to either of the catchers – or when a catcher floated over to first base to fill in for an injured Mark Teixeira.
I’ve often said that catchers have to be tough players. Anyone behind home plate has to be prepared to take a beating; there is a reason they wear so much protective gear. Not only do you have to remain in a squatting position for nine innings (assuming you don’t go into extra innings), but you have to be prepared to be hit by balls and by bats, and you might even wind up in a collision at home plate (although that is less likely due to the change in rules for plays at home). And don’t forget about that special glove. We as baseball fans love to see the pitch tracker counting into the 90-100mph zone – but someone’s got to catch that fireball being thrown. During an ALCS game, Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez actually switched out his glove in the middle of an inning, likely because it was no longer giving his hand enough protection.

During my short time as a softball player in my youth, I was catcher for exactly one game – and hated it. It was the middle of summer in northeast Ohio, and even though home plate was shaded by a big tree and summers in Ohio are not that humid, the whole game felt like torture. I hated the weight of the protective gear, I hated squatting for the whole game, and I played the whole game with a constant fear of being hit in the head with a wild pitch – or a wild bat from the girl on the other team. My catching hand was sore at the end of the game, and I walked away wondering how did professional players do this – willingly – for a paycheck. At the time, Sandy Alomar, Jr was my favorite player, but after a day “in his shoes” I figured he had to be a little stupid to be 6’5” and crouching for 9 innings to catch a baseball.

The catchers Buck Showalter made reference too aren’t small guys either. Caleb Joseph is 6’3” and 180lbs, while Nick Hundley is a little smaller at 6’1” and 200lbs. The Orioles regular catcher Matt Wieters (on the disabled list following Tommy John surgery) is as big as Alomar – 6’5” and 240lbs. Brian McCann is 6’3” and 230lbs. Salvador Perez is 6’3” and 240lbs. On average, catchers are the second largest players, behind only first basemen.
It’s important to mention the size of catchers, because agility is a huge part of their defense. A large stature is beneficial to block pitches that miss a catcher’s target, but is can be a challenge if a pitch goes wild. Assuming there is at least one runner on base and a pitch goes wild, a catcher has an extremely short period of time to jump up from the plate, grab the ball, and (hopefully) hold or throw out the runner. The same agility and quick movement is required when attempting to throw out a base stealer, making a play on a bunt, or when a runner advances from third to home. Maybe a catcher even sees a gutsy player like Jacoby Ellsbury who actually stole home in 2009 as a member of the Red Sox.

Going back to the point Showalter made, any player is going to have four or five at bats per game, depending on the length of the game and batting order. Compare those few at bats to the number of pitches a catcher sees during a game, which can vary a lot. Starters are frequently throwing around 100 pitches in a game before the call to the bullpen. Let’s say each game totals approximately 150 pitches, give or take. As Buck said, even for a poor math student like myself, the math is simple. There are roughly 5 at bats and roughly 150 pitches in every game (again, those numbers can vary). Which number has more value to a team and the outcome of a game? I would say the 150 pitch count.

When considering the number of pitchers the Yankees had this season, and even if all the pitchers stayed healthy and lasted the entire season, it’s also important to remember that each pitcher is different. They have different pitches, some stronger than others, and they all have a slightly different throwing style. For position players, whoever is on the mound doesn’t change how you play your position a whole lot. You may expect more ground balls or fly balls depending on who is pitching, but the fielding doesn’t change much. However, with every pitcher who steps on the mound, the catcher has to adjust to that pitcher. The pitcher-catcher battery is incredibly impressive to me, and just think for a minute how much it requires mentally – on both sides – for every pitch. Together, they’re not just playing catch between pitcher’s mound and home plate. They’re making logical decisions for each pitch based on each batter’s strengths and weaknesses, and considering any other batters who have reached base. If that’s not one of the most impressive aspects of baseball, I don’t know what is.

Catchers a big guys, and their job is tough physically and mentally. Would I love to see catchers, especially Brian McCann, be offensive monsters? Absolutely – it makes for exciting baseball. But if given the choice, I’m inclined to take a strong defensive catcher with average offense versus a strong offensive catcher with average defense.
All things considered, I am content with Brian McCann’s first season in the Bronx. He’s had a full year to settle in to New York. With a (hopefully) more consistent starting rotation and bullpen roster next season, I am optimistic McCann’s offense will pick up for next season. Above all, I have incredible respect for everything required of a catcher during each game and throughout the season.

The Final Curtain

Just over twenty-four hours ago, I wrote that I didn’t have appropriate words to write a tribute to Derek Jeter. I was able to write a little something personal about what his career meant to me, but it was nothing special. There are a million other people out there who could write far better tributes to a legend than I can. But here I am again, writing about the same guy I couldn’t write about yesterday, because he played such an emotional final game in New York I couldn’t possibly ignore it.
Prior to last night’s game, I never thought any player could possibly top Mariano Rivera’s exit from the game a year ago. There was perfect weather and a wonderful ceremony for Mariano Rivera Day. A few days later, he was pulled from the game by his friends Jeter and Andy Pettite in a fitting end to his career. The whole experience, in my opinion, was perfect. I believe in God, and I believe all things happen for a reason – and I believe God blessed Mariano Rivera in 2013 with such a beautiful final series and exit from baseball.
Jeter’s last game looked like it might end up a disaster. Rain hit New York all day and was expected to go all night. There were doubts as to whether the Orioles and Yankees would even be able to play. The same rain storm hit DC the night before, cancelling the Mets and Nationals game I had tickets for. It didn’t look promising for Derek Jeter’s last game in the Bronx.
Looking back, there’s no doubt that God blessed another departing Yankee.
Joe Girardi said he had planned for Jeter to walk around the field, eventually joining former teammates to leave the field for the last time. It would be a symbolic way for his friends, who he considers his brothers, to say “the end is here, it’s time to come with us.” That ending would have been beautiful, and undoubtedly Yankee fans would have loved it. Some fans speculated that Jeter’s parents would somehow pull him out of the game – very fitting for the two who raised him, and who have been through every game of his life right along with him. But neither was meant to be.
Hiroki Kuroda (in maybe his last game ever?) started out by giving up two solo homeruns in the top of the first. Luckily, the Yankees answered right back and scored two runs of their own in the bottom of the first. Kuroda somehow goes on to pitch a magnificent game, as though it was completely normal to start a game by giving fans a heart attack and then be untouchable the rest of the game.
The homeruns go to right, and right center. Seeing Ichiro Suzuki in right field, I can’t help but wonder if this is his last game too – or maybe just his last game in pinstripes? He needs less than two hundred hits to reach 3,000 career hits in the MLB (not counting his hits in Japan). Does he call it quits now or make a push to reach that milestone? But that’s a thought another thought for another day.
We all know the rest of this story – even if you weren’t watching the game you have heard the rest of the story. Admittedly, I am a big fan of David Robertson, I think he’s done great job trying to replace the world’s best closer, and I want him back next season. As he gave up the two homeruns, blowing the save and potentially costing my team the game, I started to feel unsure about that. But that inning – the walk to Nick Markakis, the homeruns by Adam Jones and Steve Pearce – were meant to be. David Robertson was meant to fall apart on the mound. As pissed as Yankee fans were about Robertson “ruining” Jeter’s last game, their glimmer of hope was that The Captain would bat in the bottom of the 9th for (maybe?) one last time. We don’t know if we’re going to extra innings for bonus Jeter or not. Maybe he’s got a little more magic for the Bronx?
And as it goes, Jose Pirela hits a single. Antoan Richardson is the pinch runner who moves to second on Brett Gardner’s double, then scores the winning run on Jeter’s base hit. Ballgame over – history made.
Some people theorized that Evan Meek, Buck Showalter, and the Orioles played soft so Jeter would get the hit and his big moment. I am absolutely certain that did not happen – just as certain that no one on the Orioles team did any favors for Derek Jeter, the Yankees, or this historic night. This Orioles team plays hard no matter what the circumstances; that’s why they have been so successful this season, and that’s why they’re headed to the playoffs. (And good luck to them!)
More significant than Jeter’s hit – and it was a fantastic one! – was Richardson crossing home plate safely. Obviously he needed to score the run for Jeter to have the game winning RBI. But, I live in Orioles territory, have seen many Orioles games this season, and I thought for sure Richardson would be thrown out at the plate – because of Nick Markakis. Richardson certainly had the speed to make it – otherwise he wouldn’t have been the pinch runner – but Markakis has a cannon of an arm in right field. The throw he made to the plate was just about in time, but just a little off target up the third base line, and was merely average. I don’t consider Nick Markakis an average right fielder. (I’ve seen him throw runners out at the plate from a lot deeper.) I do not believe Markakis slacked on the play at all – but the throw wasn’t meant to be a typical Nick Markakis defensive throw.
The rain stopped. Robertson blew the save. Jeter hit a single. Markakis’ throw was uncharacteristic. Richardson crossed home safely.
Say what you will about the events that happened, but I believe it was a force bigger than anything on earth. If you ask, it was an act of God that so many things should line up so perfectly. No one could have scripted a better ending to Derek Jeter’s career in pinstripes, in the Bronx, and at shortstop.