Monthly Archives: October 2017

MEMORABLE LONG BALLS OF THE FALL CLASSIC

In a second of a three-part series of World Series memories, I turn to the long ball.  There are three individual performances that come to mind.

We begin at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx on the evening of October 18, 1977.  It was a classic match-up in the World Series as the Dodgers and Yankees met for the ninth time.  On that mid October evening the Series returned to New York with the Yankees holding a 3-2 lead.  Few people remember the fact that the Bronx Bombers sent the Boys from Hollywood home via a 7-3 victory.  Many remember that the Yankees put the finishing touches on their first World Championship since 1962.  The one thing that any baseball fan from that era would remember was the show put on by Yankees right fielder Reggie Jackson.

 

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Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees homers on three consecutive pitches in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

 

In the game in which Jackson earned the nickname “Mr. October,”  he came to bat in the second inning and drew a walk.  His second at bat was in the fourth inning.  Reggie took Dodger starter Burt Hooten’s first pitch and deposited it in the right field bleachers.  When he came up again in the fifth inning.  New York had two runners on and two out.  Jackson drilled Dodgers reliever Elias Sosa’s first delivery into the bleachers.  As Jackson emerged from the home dugout in the eighth inning, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.  Reggie didn’t disappoint.  Knuckleballer Charlie Hough was on the mound for Los Angeles, and his first delivery was deposited 450 feet into the centerfield bleachers!  Three swings, three home runs!  And, by the way, a Yankees victory and World Championship.

Now let’s back up two years and head a little further north along the east coast.  The year is 1975, the place is another iconic setting, Boston’s Fenway Park.  This was also a Game 6, with the Cincinnati Reds looking to wrap up a World Series championship.  What unfolded was one of the greatest games ever played in the Fall Classic.

The Red Sox took the early lead in the bottom of the first inning, courtesy of a Fred Lynn three run homer.  In the top of the fifth the Reds got on the board when Ken Griffey, Sr. tripled to score Pete Rose and Ed Armbrister.   Johnny Bench singled home Griffey to tie the score at 3.  George Foster gave the Reds a 5-3 lead in the top of the seventh with a two run double.  Reds’ centerfielder Cesar Geronimo’s solo home run padded the Reds lead at 6-3.

The Red Sox came up in the bottom of the eighth, and this is when things got memorable.  Bernie Carbo came up as a pinch hitter with Fred Lynn and Rico Petrocelli on base.  Carbo would tie the game with a home run to left center.  The Red Sox were alive and breathing!

 

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Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk wishes the ball into fair territory as he hits a walk off home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

 

The game stayed tied at 6 through the middle of the twelfth inning.  Carlton Fisk lead off the bottom of the inning and hit one of the most memorable and iconic home runs in World Series history.  Fisk got a hold of a Pat Darcy pitch and sent it toward the left field foul pole.  As the ball was in flight toward Fenway’s Green Monster, the Red Sox catcher was waving at the ball to go to the fair side of the foul pole.  The ball would go fair, and the Red Sox would tie the series at 6 games apiece.  Cincinnati would win the Series with a 4-3 victory in Game 7.

Now we fast forward to 1991 and go to the Metrodome in Minneapolis.  The Minnesota Twins came home after letting a 2-0 series lead slip away in Atlanta.  The Braves looked to win their first ever World Championship since moving to Atlanta in 1966.

The Twins drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning when Kirby Puckett tripled to score Chuck Knoblauch.  Puckett would score when Shane Mack singled to make it 2-0.  Terry Pendleton tied the game with a two run shot in the fifth.  Minnesota put up a single run in the bottom of the frame, but the Braves would tie the game in the seventh.

 

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Twins’ Kirby Puckett hits a walk off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to tie the 1991 World Series at 3-3.

 

The game would remain tied at 3 until the bottom of the 11th inning. Puckett would lead off the inning and hit a walk off home run to left-center field that prompted Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck to simply proclaim “see you tomorrow!”  The Twins would finish the job the following night when Jack Morris pitched ten innings of shutout  ball.  The Twins won Game 7 by the score of 1-0.

Wednesday night we look at three more historic World Series games.

 

 

 

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MEMORIES OF THE FALL CLASSIC

It’s that time of year, the juncture of the baseball season that raises the game to its highest and most dramatic level.  The World Series began last night with the Los Angeles Dodgers defeating the Houston Astros by the score of 3-1.  Game 2 gets underway around 8:30 tonight at Dodger Stadium.

To me there is something special about the World Series that goes above the likes of the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Finals, and the NBA Finals.  The Fall Classic has been part of American lore since 1903, longer than both the Super Bowl (1967) and the NBA itself (1946).  The Stanley Cup has been around since 1893, however, the National Hockey League didn’t take sole ownership of the trophy until 1926.  NHL didn’t  even have a franchise in the United States until 1924.

Tonight I will begin a series of some of the most memorable moments in World Series history.  I begin  tonight with three games that I personally hold dear.

 

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Florida Marlins’ Craig Counsell scores the winning run of the 1997 World Series.

 

In 1997 the World Series took on a new dimension.  As part of the Major League Baseball realignment in 1994 the Wild Card was born.  The Florida Marlins qualified for the post-season by winning the National League Wild Card.  Florida finished in second place in the Eastern Division behind the Atlanta Braves.  The Marlins defeated the Braves in the National League Championship Series to become the first Wild Card winner to make it to the World Series.

The series went back and forth, Florida won games 1,3, and 5 while the American League Champion Cleveland Indians won games 2,4, and 6.  This set up a Game 7 for the ages at Pro Player Stadium in Miami.

The Indians scored 2 runs in the top of the third inning.  This lead held up until a Bobby Bonilla solo home run put the Fish on the board in the bottom of the 7th.  The Marlins would tie the game in the home half of the ninth to stay alive.  In the bottom of the eleventh inning Edgar Renteria’s single that ricocheted off of the second base bag scored Craig Counsell with the game winning, and championship winning run!  Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Marlins walk-off World Series championship.

 

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Mookie Wilson’s ground ball up the first base line goes between Red Sox’ Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  The Red Sox were one out away from winning the series.

 

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the night that still stings throughout New England.   On October 25, 1986 at New York’s Shea Stadium, the Boston Red Sox lead the New York Mets 2-0 until the bottom of the 5th inning.  The Mets tied the game in that frame with 2 runs.  Boston would plate a run in the seventh, the Mets countered with the tying run in the eighth.  This set up one of the most memorable and bizarre endings in World Series history.

In the top of the 10th inning Dave Henderson led off with a solo home run.  Later in the inning Marty Barrett singled home Wade Boggs to give the Red Sox a 5-3 lead.  What would follow in the bottom of the 10th still amazes this childhood Mets fan.

Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez were retired in succession to begin the Mets half of the 10th.  You could hear a pin drop throughout New York City.  The most dominant year in New York Mets history seemed destined to end in defeat.  Or was it???

Gary Carter extended the game with a single,  Kevin Mitchell followed with another single.  Ray Knight would single on an 0-2 pitch (yes Boston was one strike away) that would score Carter and move Mitchell to third.  Following a pitching change that brought in Bob Stanley to replace Red Sox’ closer (and ex-Met) Calvin Schiraldi, Mookie Wilson had an at bat that will forever be at the forefront of World Series lore.  On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, the ball got away from catcher Rich Gedman!  Mitchell scampered home to tie the game at 5!  What followed next still boggles my mind to this day.  Wilson would hit a routine ground ball up the first base line.  It seemed certain that the celebration would be on throughout New England, and then it happened.   The ball went under first baseman Bill Buckner’s glove and between his legs!  Knight came home with the game winner and kept the Mets alive!  Following a rainout the following day, the Mets won Game 7 by the score of 8-5!

 

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Toronto Blue Jays’ Joe Carter hits a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.

 

The next story is extra special to me.  I really had no rooting interest in the 1993 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays. It became memorable to me when my wife went into labor with our son following Game 6.  Justin was born the next day.

Toronto came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning down a run to the Phillies.  Philadelphia had climbed back from a four run deficit by scoring five runs in the seventh inning.  Joe Carter came to bat in the bottom of the ninth with 2 runners on base.  Carter took Phillies closer Mitch Williams deep with a walk-off World Championship winning three run home run!

About an hour later my wife woke up with labor pains.  Justin was born the following evening.

There is way too much to cover in just one article.  I’ll be back on Sunday with three more stories.  In the meantime, enjoy the 2017 Series.  There are more memories to be made.

 

HISTORY OF TEXAS SIZED PROPORTIONS

To begin today’s article, I would like to congratulate the National League Champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the American League Champion Houston Astros on jobs well done.

That being said, the 2017 Fall Classic is already laden with history without the first pitch being thrown.  The Dodgers are making their 18th appearance as National League Champions, that puts them one behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the most in league history.  The Astros will appear in their second World Series.

 

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The only other time that the Houston Astros appeared in the World Series, they were the National League Champions.

 

About those now two trips to the World Series for the Astros.  Houston made history last night when they wrapped up their 4-0 shutout of the New York Yankees.  Houston has now become the only team to win championships in both leagues.  To make things even more historic, they did it by knocking off the team that has won the World Series more times than anyone else.

For those of us that have been around baseball long enough, the very fact that the Dodgers are facing the Astros in the World Series has to sound weird.  The Astros spent the first 50 years of their existence in the National League.  What’s even more bizarre about this setup is the fact that the Astros and Dodgers both competed in the National League Western Division from 1969-1993.

Due to a mid-season players strike, the 1981 season was split into two halves.  The teams that lead their respective divisions when the players struck in June were declared first half champions.  When play resumed in August everyone began fresh and the remainder of the schedule comprised the second half.

The Los Angeles Dodgers held a half-game lead over the second place Cincinnati Reds when play halted that year.  Houston finished the second half of the schedule with a game-and-a-half lead over Cincinnati.  This set up a best-of-five National League Western Division Series between the Dodgers and Astros.

 

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The Astros and Dodgers met for the National League West Championship in the strike shortened 1981 season.

 

League changing has happened twice in Major League history.  In 1998 baseball expanded to the current 30 clubs.  As a result of the Arizona Diamondbacks joining the National League and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (currently the Rays) joining the American League.  Interleague competition was in its infancy (it began a year earlier) and was an event held for a span of a couple of weeks in June.  To keep the interleague play as a novelty the Milwaukee Brewers, then owned by commissioner Bud Selig  moved to the National League.  This kept both leagues with an even number of teams, despite the fact that the NL had two more teams than the AL.

In the early part of the current decade the thinking changed.  Major League Baseball was considering evening the playing field and making interleague play a constant part of the schedule.  At the time, the Astros franchise was up for sale.  New owner Jim Crane was at the right place at the right time for his longtime National League franchise to take a very new direction.  Major League Baseball made the sale of the Astros contingent on the team moving to the American League.  The rest, as they say, is history.

If and when the Brewers win the National League title, they will become the second team to accomplish what the Astros have already done.  Here’s another fun fact, Milwaukee lost the 1982 World Series to their current divisional rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.

There is another angle to the upcoming Fall Classic.  The metropolitan area of Houston, and Southeast Texas has been through hell this summer.  The effects of Hurricane Harvey can still be seen in and around the area.  Sports has always provided a sense of healing in times of crisis.  The reaction at Minute Maid Park was deafening when a fly ball to center field wrapped up the American League Championship Series.  Here’s hoping for good times ahead for a community that has been through so much.

Good luck to both the Dodgers and Astros!

 

 

 

ANOTHER RANT ON NOT FIXING WHAT ISN’T BROKEN

You may remember earlier in the baseball season, I ran a piece on the changes being made in the game of baseball over the past few years.  After the events that occurred during Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, it’s time for another round of ranting.

The controversy arose in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night when the Dodgers’ Justin Turner singled and Charlie Culberson attempted to score from second base.  Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras did exactly what he was trained to do as a little boy, he blocked home plate.  The Dodgers runner was originally called out, but after a 2 minute and 45 second review, Culberson was called safe.  The ruling was that Contreras didn’t afford a “lane” for Culberson.

 

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Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras seemingly tags out Los Angeles Dodgers Charlie Culberson at the plate in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.  The call was overturned after a review.

 

Chicago manager Joe Maddon was livid following the reversal and came out to argue with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.  Maddon would be ejected from the game for arguing the call.

The new age of plate collision management in Major League Baseball arose from an incident that happened in a game between the then Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants.  On that play, Giants catcher Buster Posey also did what he learned as a boy, HE blocked the plate.  Scott Cousins, the Marlins runner did what HE was trained to do in such situations, he attempted to bowl over the San Francisco catcher to reach home plate.  As a result of the collision, Posey broke his leg and didn’t return the rest of the year.

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Marlins’ Scott Cousins bowls over Giants Buster Posey at the plate attempting to score 5/25/11.  Posey suffered a broken leg as a result of the play.

 

Posey’s injury, unfortunate as it was, came from a textbook play.  As a result of that collision, Major League Baseball changed a long-standing and exciting part of the game.  Beginning in 2012, a catcher can no longer seal off access to home plate for the base-runner.  He must provide a lane for him to score.

Getting back to the play on Saturday night, Contreras did exactly what Posey did back in 2011.  He also did the same thing as any other catcher would have done prior to 2012.  This is a natural reaction for anyone playing the position.  Both Joe Madden and pitcher John Lackey were incensed by the reversal of the call.

As I wrote back in May, why are we changing a rule that affects the very way ball-players are taught to play the game at a young age?  Injuries, unfortunate as they are, are  part of any sport.  Players get injured from time to time.  Nobody got hurt, nor was there a collision at the plate on Saturday.  Contreras defended his territory and tagged the runner, that should’ve been the end of the story.

 

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Dodgers Chase Utley takes out New York Mets’ shortstop Reuben Tejada during the 2015 National League Division Series.

 

Two years ago this same subject came up during the National League Division Series between the Dodgers and New York Mets.  Los Angeles’ Chase Utley took out Mets shortstop Reuben Tejada at second base to break up a double play.  This play resulted in Tejada suffering a broken leg.  Utley was accused of playing dirty.  This writer believes he was guilty of playing hard-nosed baseball.

In reflecting on the softening of the rules in Major League Baseball, as well as in other sports, I wonder about some things.  Are we finished with the by-gone era of the likes of Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Don Drysdale and their in your face inside pitching?  Consider what would happen if a batter crowded the plate today and the Hall of Fame Cardinals hurler played chin music?  Would he be warned for defending his part of the field?  Would the likes of Pete Rose be allowed to run over Bud Harrelson or Ray Fosse?  Would Harrelson be fined for fighting back?

It’s a new era in baseball of avoiding contact and counting pitches.  Maybe I’m too old school to get it.

THE NEXT WAVE OF CHAMPIONSHIP DROUGHTS

As the League Divisional Series’ wrapped up this week, we saw the continuation of the Cleveland Indians’ World Championship drought advance to an agonizing 69 years.  With the 108 year dry spell of the Chicago Cubs ending last year, much has been publicized of the plight of the Indians.

At closer look, there is a new generation of dry spells in Major League Baseball.  The Expansion Era of baseball began in 1961 when the American League expanded to Washington and Southern California.  The clubs that began play that year were the current day Angels and Texas Rangers (who moved from our Nation’s Capitol following the 1971 season).  In 1962, the National League expanded to New York (Mets) and Houston (current day Astros).  1969 saw both leagues expand when the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals joined the American League. The San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos also joined the National League.  The Pilots would move to Milwaukee the following spring and become the current day Milwaukee Brewers.  The Expos franchise relocated to Washington in 2005 and became the current day Washington Nationals.

The expansion era continued in 1977 when the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays joined the AL.  In 1993 it was the NL’s turn to welcome the Florida Marlins (now the Miami Marlins) and Colorado Rockies.  The expansion era ended in 1998 when the Arizona Diamondbacks joined the National League and the Tampa Bay Rays franchise joined the American League.

 

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The 2005 Houston Astros celebrate after winning the National League Championship.

 

Now that I gave everybody a baseball history lesson I’ll get to the point.

I still have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that the Houston Astros are competing for the American League championship.  After 50 years in the National League, including a National League championship in 2005, the Astros moved to the American League in 2013.  That trip to the Fall Classic in 2005 was the franchise’s only appearance.  They would be swept by another drought-beater, the Chicago White Sox.  That World Championship was the Pale Hose’s first title since 1917, they haven’t been back to the Fall Classic since.

Getting back to the Astros, their drought is now going on 55 years without a World Series title.  Can the Astros be the drought-enders this year?

 

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The Washington Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention by the Chicago Cubs in 5 games.  The Expos/Nationals franchise has never appeared in the World Series.

 

With so much being made of the Indians early exit, there was another team that is almost under the radar.  When the Washington Nationals lost the National League Division Series to the Cubs, that made 48 consecutive years without an appearance in the World Series.  The closest this franchise has come to a Fall Classic berth was a dramatic five-game loss to the Dodgers in the then best-of-five NLCS in 1981.

 

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The Seattle Mariners won an MLB record 116 games in 2001.  The Mariners have yet to appear in the World Series.

 

There is another franchise that has not seen the Fall Classic.  The Seattle Mariners drought began with their inception in 1977.  That’s forty years and counting in the Pacific Northwest without a trip to the World Series.

Looking at the rest of the expansion classes that I mentioned in the opening, the Rangers, Astros, Padres, Brewers, Rockies and Rays have all made Series appearances and have lost.  The Rangers (2010 & 2011) and Padres (1984 & 1998) are the only two of these franchises to appear more than once.  The Brewers won the 1982 American League title, they have been members of the National League since 1998.

Will the drought of the Houston Astros, the team that switched leagues after half a century, come to an end this year?  Will a metropolitan area that was ravaged by a hurricane in August finally see the top of the baseball heap this fall?  To be continued!

IT’S ICE TIME AGAIN-PART II

When I left you on Sunday, I had finished off previewing the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League.  Tonight, I turn my attention to the Western Conference.

Last season, the Nashville Predators won their first Western Conference title in franchise history.  The Predators claimed the final playoff spot and went on a playoff stretch for the ages.  Can Nashville repeat this year?

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The Nashville Predators celebrate their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history.

All-World goaltender Pekka Rinne will once again lead the boys from the Music City, however Mike Fisher will not return.  Fisher announced his retirement over the summer.  The big free agent splash for Nashville came from the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins when center Nick Bonino signed a four-year deal.  Will Bonino replace Fisher as a leader in the clubhouse?  That remains to be seen.

It could be a fun year in Texas as the Dallas Stars hired Ken Hitchcock as head coach.  In May the Stars acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from the Los Angeles Kings, and signed him to a six-year contract extension.  Can Bishop be the force in Big D that he was in Tampa Bayearlier in his career?

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Can Ben Bishop return to All-Star form in Dallas?

The St. Louis Blues are off to a flying start.  The Blues began the 2017-18 campaign with a four game winning streak.  Will this be the year that the best regular season team of the past fifty years actually skates away with Lord Stanley’s Cup?  Will the Chicago Blackhawks rebound from last year’s early playoff exit?  These story lines will play out in the Central Division as the year progresses.

The major story in the Pacific Division so far has to be in Las Vegas.  The Vegas Golden Knights have begun play as the NHL’s 31st franchise.  The boys from Sin City are wasting no time in making themselves heard.  Vegas won their first three games in franchise history, they are the first expansion team in league history to get off to a 3-0 start.

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The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a historic start, winning the first three games in franchise history.

 

Will there be a passing of the torch from Sidney Crosby to Connor McDavid this year?  Will the Edmonton Oilers return to the big stage for the first time since 2006 and hoist the Cup for the first time since 1990?  In my opinion, Edmonton might have the most well built lineup in the Western Conference.

 

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Will Connor McDavid lead the Edmonton Oilers to the promised land?

 

So it is now prediction time.

Eastern Conference Champion:  Montreal Canadiens

Western Conference Champion:Edmonton Oilers

Stanley Cup Champion: Montreal Canadiens

 

Yes, the Stanley Cup will return to Montreal for the 25th time in franchise history.  The Habs will be the first Canadian franchise to win the Cup since they, themselves won it in 1993.  It will be the first all-Canadian Stanley Cup Finals since 1989, when Montreal lost to the Calgary Flames.

To the new fan base in Las Vegas, welcome aboard!  To all hockey fans, enjoy the ride!

 

IT’S ICE TIME AGAIN!

We are now a week into October, the first full month of fall.  Leaves are changing colors, the weather is turning cooler, and summer’s warmth is beginning to fade.  Do you know what that means?  It’s time for NHL hockey!

When last we left the National Hockey League, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins were skating around the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville with the Stanley Cup.  The six-game victory over the upstart Nashville Predators was the first repeat since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.  Can the boys from Steeltown become the first franchise to three-peat since the legendary New York Islanders of 1980-83 (who were on their way to a four-peat)?

 

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Can Crosby and company bring a third straight Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh?

 

The truth is that the Penguins came out on the losing end of the summer of 2017.  Three blaring subtractions headline the 2017-18 edition of the reigning two-time champs.  Gone are Chris Kunitz (signed with Tampa Bay), Nick Bonino (signed with Nashville) and Marc-Andre Fleury (selected by Vegas in the expansion draft).  Many believe that Matt Murray has become the heir to Fleury’s goal crease, given his success in the past two playoff seasons.  The truth is, in my opinion, that Fleury was the steady hand during the season that enabled the likes of Murray to grab the headlines in the playoffs.  If the first two games of this year is any indication, it could be a rough road for Murray.  The Pittsburgh netminder allowed eleven goals in the team’s first two games.

Speaking of success in the regular season, but not so much during the playoffs, the Washington Capitals come to mind.  The Caps did little to improve themselves over the summer, but could still finish on top of the Metropolitan Division.  Can Ovechkin and company get past round 2of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?, That remains to be seen.

 

Can Steve Stamkos return to form and lead the Lightning back to the Stanley Cup Finals?

 

After being the kings of the Atlantic Division in 2015-16, both teams from the Sunshine State failed to make the playoffs last year.  Can the revamped Tampa Bay Lightning return to the playoffs, and possibly the Finals?  A healthy Steve Stamkos and the addition of the aforementioned Chris Kunitz could make for an interesting season on Florida’s west coast.  Over in Sunrise, there is a new coach in Bob Boughner, and a new, younger attitude.  Gone are Jaromir Jagr (signed with Calgary) and Jussi Jokinen (signed with Edmonton).  The core of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathon Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad are expected to take the torch and lead this team.

In the northern part of the Atlantic Division there are many questions too.  Will “Le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge” repeat as champs behind All-World goaltender Carey Price?  Will Auston Matthews continue to bring in a new era in Toronto?  Were the Ottawa Senators for real last year?

  • The Detroit Red Wings will probably miss the playoffs this year, but they usher in a new era this season.  The Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings won four Stanley Cups and qualified for 25 consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs closed its doors following last season.  The Red Wings opened their new home, the Little Ceasers Arena with a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild this past Thursday.

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The Detroit Red Wings opened the Little Caesars Arena with a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday Night.

 

Speaking of newness, I offer my congratulations to the brand new Vegas Golden Knights for beginning their existence with a 2-1 victory in Dallas on Friday night.  Good luck to the NHL’s newest franchise!  More on the Golden Knights and the rest of the Western Conference on Wednesday when I conclude the NHL preview.

 

A program note.  Due to the Major League Baseball post-season, and the beginning of the hockey and basketball seasons, football will be put on the back burner for now.  If anything major happens in the football world as the season progresses I will be addressing it.  As for now, I will conclude the NHL Preview with the Western Conference this coming Wednesday.  Beginning next Sunday, through the conclusion of the World Series the focus will be on Major League Baseball.  Football will return in early November.

THE ROAD TO THE FALL CLASSIC IS OPEN

I would like to begin tonight by offering my thoughts, prayers, and condolences to all of those that were affected by the unthinkable events that unfolded in Las Vegas on Sunday night.  I’m still dumbfounded by the demented thinking of some members of the human race.

Here we are in the first week of October.  Football is now in full swing, hockey begins this evening, and basketball training camps are now open.  October means that the warmth of summer will give way to the cooling of autumn and leaves will put on a color show before falling off the trees.  But above all October means one thing in the world of sports, baseball is going to be on its biggest stage!

The 2017 Major League Baseball post-season kicked off last night with a slug-fest at Yankee Stadium in New York.  The American League Wild Card Game got off to a roaring start when the Minnesota Twins darted out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning.  The Twins were the biggest surprise in the American League this year.  They won the second Wild Card while rebounding from a 100+ loss season last year.  The Yankees came up with three runs in the bottom of the frame, and really never looked back, winning the game by the score of 8-4.  Next up for New York, the Cleveland Indians.

Tonight the National League begins its road to the World Series in the desert where the Arizona Diamondbacks will host the Colorado Rockies in their Wild Card Game.  Like the Twins, both of these teams were long-shots to be playing in October.  Arizona had a very solid year, finishing with a 93-69 record, good for a six game advantage in the Wild Card standings.  The Rockies held off a charge by the Milwaukee Brewers to claim the second wild card on the next to last day of the regular season.  The Los Angeles Dodgers await the winner of tonight’s game.

 

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The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate clinching the first National League Wild Card.

 

I have to be honest, when Major League Baseball added a second Wild Card spot to the playoff format, I wasn’t a fan.  This further weakened the mystique of finishing in first place, which has always carried more weight in baseball than any other sport.  I will admit the concept has grown on me.  Something about a one shot, winner take all game adds a lot of drama and excitement.

Let’s take a look at the Division Series’ that will follow after tonight’s National League Wild Card tilt.

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The Los Angeles Dodgers won 104 games this year.  They will own home field advantage throughout the post-season.

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers owned the best record in the Majors this year at 104-58 and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  They await the winner of tonight’s game between the Diamondbacks and Rockies.  The danger that lurks for the boys from Hollywood is the familiarity between all three teams involved.  Both National League Wild Cards came out of the west this year, these three teams know each other very well, this could be a recipe for a possible major upset.

The second seed in the National League belongs to one of two franchises that has never been in a World Series, the other one being the Seattle Mariners.  Could this be the year that the Montreal/ Washington franchise breaks their drought?  Speaking of drought beaters, the Nats will face the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the Division Series.  Will it be another year without being on the big stage for Washington?  Will the Cubs repeat or start another drought?  This should be an interesting series.

 

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Will the Chicago Cubs repeat, or begin another drought?

 

The subject of droughts runs deep into this year’s post-season.  The Cleveland Indians, who lost to the Cubs in last year’s Series now own the longest World Championship drought in baseball.  The Tribe last won the World Series in 1948, that’s 69 years ago, folks!  The Indians enter the American League playoffs as the number one seed.  Cleveland’s 22 game winning streak was one of the highlights of the regular season.  The Yankees, hot off of their Wild Card win, will oppose the Indians in the first round.  Can this be the Indians turn to make history?  They need to get past a franchise that has won more championships than any other team.

 

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Will 2017 be the Cleveland Indians turn to make history?

 

What a year it has been in Houston!  Can the Astros be a bright spot in a metropolitan area that was devastated by Hurricane Harvey?  Houston had a very solid season, and came up a game and a tiebreaker short of catching the Indians for the top seed.  The Boston Red Sox will be the Astros opponent in the first round.  Boston sputtered a bit down the stretch, but held off the Yankees to win the American League East by two games.  Will we see the next chapter of the Red Sox and Yankees?  Will the Astros claim their first American League title since switching leagues in 2013?

Baseball is a laid back game until it comes to October.  What memories await us this year?  Pull up a chair as Vin Scully used to say, history is waiting to unfold.

 

I dedicate tonight’s article to a very special fan of the Cleveland Indians.  Robin and I joined a group of some very amazing people this year as a result of Justin’s passing.  The Healing Hearts organization has been a means of tremendous support for us in dealing with the tragedy in our family.  Through Healing Hearts we became friends with this Indians fan’s mom.  Matthew Graham lost his life one year ago this past Monday.  Matthew was a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians.  If the Indians do in fact break their 69 year championship drought this year Matthew will certainly be celebrating in heaven.  Here’s to you Matthew Graham!  Rest well.

 

WHEN AMERICA’S PASTIME BECOMES DRAMATIC

Major League Baseball, the green grass, the white lines, the hot dogs and cold beer!  The night that families can enjoy each other while watching the calm and patient American sport.  That’s all well and good on a Saturday night in July, but something happens to the grand old game at the end of September and into October.

With the field  down to a precious few as the weather turns cooler and the leaves change colors, games become bigger and moments become more dramatic. Fans and players alike keep their eyes on the scoreboard while their heads are in the game at hand.

The waning days of the 2017 season haven’t disappointed.  The only drama left today when all fifteen games are contested at 3:05 EDT will be whether or not Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins ties or passes Roger Maris’ 61 home run plateau.  Twenty-four hours ago the story-lines were completely different.

 

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Giancarlo Stanton is sitting on 59 home runs, 2 shy of Roger Maris’ 61 in 1961 on the final day of the 2017 regular season.
The final Saturday of the 2017 regular season began with the American League Eastern Division up for grabs. The American League top seed still had not been decided, and their was one last National League Wild Card berth to be filled.

At 1:00 in the afternoon, at two iconic ballparks, the two scenarios in the American League played out.  While the Yankees hosted the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium the Houston Astros were at Fenway Park visiting the Red Sox.  Were we headed for the latest chapter in the lore that is the American League’s oldest rivalry?  The Yankees began the day 2 games behind the hated Bosox.  Were we headed for “Bucky Dent, The Sequel” on Monday afternoon?

In The Bronx, the Yankees and Blue Jays were tangled in a low scoring pitcher’s duel.  Aaron Judge put the Bronx Bombers on the board with his 52nd home run of the year.  New York would hold on for a 2-1 victory.

Following the victory in The Bronx, the scoreboard watching continued.  The Yankees and their fans left the fabled ballpark in mild disappointment.  The Red Sox had wrapped up the American League East with a 6-3 win vs. the Astros.

As for those Houston Astros, that loss at Fenway Park cost them the top seed in the American League Playoffs.  The Cleveland Indians clinched a tie with the Astros as a result of their loss to the Red Sox.  Since the Tribe swept the season series vs the Astros they locked up the number one seed.

 

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The Cleveland Indians celebrate the 2017 American League Central Division championship.  They locked up home field advantage in the American League Playoffs yesterday.

 

There was still one piece left to fill in the National League puzzle.  Coming into play on Saturday, the Milwaukee Brewers trailed the Colorado Rockies by two games for the final Wild Card spot.  Things were looking pretty good for the Brew Crew in the middle of the third inning of their game with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Milwaukee darted out to an early 6-0 lead over the Redbirds.  Then the roof caved in on the Brewers.  The Cardinals scored four runs in the bottom of the third and added three in the bottom of the eighth to win the game 7-6.  The Milwaukee loss ended their surprise run at the post-season, and nailed down the final spot for the Colorado Rockies.

 

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The Colorado Rockies unexpected trip to the National League Post-Season was completed with the Milwaukee Brewers loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

 

So there will be no Yankees-Red Sox one game playoff this coming Monday.  There will be no Brewers-Rockies either.  All eyes will be on Marlins Park in Miami on Sunday.

Giancarlo  Stanton tries to catch Roger Maris at 61 home runs.  Also, Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon trails Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton by one stolen base in the National League Stolen Base race.

The American League Stolen Base crown is a three-way race going into the final day.  Houston’s Cameron Maybin is tied with the Royals’ Whit Merrifield.  Maybin’s Astros teammate Jose Altuve trails them by one.

Altuve and Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies have already nailed down the batting titles.  Stanton and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees are already the home run kings.

So enjoy the finales today amid today’s NFL games. Major League Baseball’s second season begins on Tuesday in The Bronx.  I will be previewing the post-season on Wednesday night.  See you all then!