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MLB 2017- THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Before I get to the highlights of the 2017 Major League Baseball season I must first turn my attention to the tragedy that occurred yesterday afternoon.  Major League Baseball, the sports world, and all of humanity lost one of its own way too soon.  Roy Halliday, winner of 2 Cy Young awards, ace of the Toronto Blue Jays  and Philadelphia Phillies passed away in a plane crash over the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida.  Halliday was only 40 years old.

2010 was Halliday’s most successful season.  Pitching for the Phillies, he won 21 games and struck out 219 batters.  The two biggest highlights of his epic 2010 campaign were his two no-hit games.  The first one was on the Saturday night of Memorial Day Weekend.  Halliday pitched a perfect game in Miami against the then Florida Marlins.  He followed up that performance in his first start of the post-season.  Halliday threw the second no-hitter in playoff/World Series history in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds.  Rest in peace Roy Halliday, and on behalf of all baseball fans and beyond, thank you for some great memories.

The 2017 Major League Baseball season began with a championship flag raising that was 108 years in the making.  It ended with a 55-year-old franchise that has played in both leagues, hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy for the first time.  There were so many other twists and turns in between.

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For the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs players raise the 2016 World Championship flag themselves at Wrigley Field.

 

There was a revival on Broadway, as the Yankees were the surprise of the American League East.  Led by rookie right-fielder Aaron Judge and his and his 52 home runs, the Bronx Bombers qualified for the post-season by winning the first Wild Card.  They would defeat the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game, eliminate the top seeded Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series, and come within a game of the World Series.  They lost to the eventual World Champions Houston Astros in seven games.  There is a bright future in the Bronx for sure.

 

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Indians fans celebrate after their beloved Tribe win their American League record 22nd consecutive game.

 

About those Cleveland Indians, despite a disappointing seven game loss to the upstarts from the Big Apple, and seeing their championship drought advance to 69 years th Tribe had a season that should still make Cleveland proud.  They led the American League with a 102-60 mark and won the Central Division by 17 games over the second Wild Card winning Twins.  The highlight of the Indians season however, was their American League record 22 game winning streak that began with a 13-6 drubbing of the Boston Red Sox on August 24th, and was snapped by the Kansas City Royals on September 15th.

Yes, there was a great season in the Bronx, but in South Florida (a/k/a the Sixth Boro) there was also plenty going on.  The Marlins hosted an epic All-Star Week in July, with lots of Yankee influence.  Aaron Judge came from 22 homers behind to hometown first baseman Justin Bour to win his first round match-up in the Home Run Derby.  Judge would go on to win the Derby.  The following night, in a low scoring All-Star Game, former Yankee Robinson Cano (currently with the Seattle Mariners) hit a solo home run in the top of the tenth inning to give the American League a 2-1 victory.  The game winning home run earned Cano the MVP award.

 

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Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton led the Majors with 59 home runs.

 

All-Star Week wasn’t the only news to come out of South Beach.  For a team that finished the season with a 77-85 record, and finished a distant second (20 games) to the Washington Nationals in the National League East, the Marlins made plenty of headlines.  Giancarlo Stanton flirted with Roger Maris’ home run total as the season came to a climax.  He fell two shy, ending the season with 59 round-trippers.  He also paced the Majors with 132 RBI.  Stanton’s teammate Marcell Ozuna finished in second behind his teammate with 124.  Miami second baseman Dee Gordon won the Stolen Base title with 60 swipes.  Finally, the Majors saw one no-hitter this year.  It occurred at Marlins Park, when Marlins’ Edinson Volquez held the Arizona Diamondbacks hitless in a 3-0 win.

In Hollywood there was another young star that burst onto the scene.  Cody Bellinger was brought up from the Minor Leagues at the end of April.  At the time the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies were neck and neck for the first three spots in the National League West.  After Bellinger’s promotion, the Boys from Hollywood went 43-7 over their next 50 games.  They would run away from Arizona and Colorado  (who would win the two NL Wild Cards) during that stretch and finish the regular season with a MLB best 104-58 record.  Bellinger finished his rookie campaign with 39 home runs and 97 RBI.

 

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The Houston Astros celebrate after winning the 2017 World Series.

 

The 2017 season ended with a seven game epic World Series between the Dodgers and the Houston Astros.  After splitting the first four games, the two teams would have a slug-fest for the ages in Game 5 .  In a contest that ended around 1:00 am in the east, the Astros went into the top of the ninth with a 12-9 lead.  The Dodgers plated 3 in the top of the ninth to tie it.  Houston erased three Los Angeles leads in the game and won the game via a walk-off single by Alex Bregman.  The Dodgers would stay alive with a 3-1 win in Game 6 on Halloween night, the Astros would win Game 7  by the score of 5-1.

The Astros World Championship was fitting in my opinion.  The victory capped off a memorable summer in Southeast Texas.  Hurricane Harvey ravaged the area in August, some areas are still rebuilding.

This is the season finale for Wednesday Night Baseball.  I will be checking in on the Hot Stove Season from time to time on my Sunday Sports Blog.  Wednesday Night Baseball will return during next year’s Spring Training and the start of the 2018 season.  It’s been a joy to bring  you all of my thoughts and memories throughout this year.

My Sunday blog will be on hiatus this coming Sunday as I spend time with family.  I will see those of you who follow me on Sundays on November 19th.  For you baseball only fans, I’ll see you at the Hot Stove, an have a great winter!

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GREAT INDIVIDUAL WORLD SERIES PERFORMANCES

I would like to start out this morning’s article by congratulating the Houston Astros for winning one of the most memorable World Series’ in recent history.  The Astros and Dodgers took baseball fans, both devoted and casual, through a ride for the ages!  To those of you in Houston, and Southeast Texas for that matter, to quote the late Jack Buck “Go crazy folks, go crazy!”  You’ve been through so much this year, I am so glad you have something to celebrate.

Now that the World Series has concluded, I will conclude my series of Fall Classic memories.  Today I focus on individual feats.

The year was 1968, the final season where there was no League Championship Series.  The Detroit Tigers finished atop the American League standings, while the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals topped the National League standings.  This set up an epic seven game series in which Mickey Lolich was the winning pitcher in games 2 , 5 and on three days rest Game 7.  While Lolich’s performance over the course of the series was memorable, it was Cardinals ace Bob Gibson’s performance in Game 1 that stands out.

 

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Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out seventeen Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

 

In Game 1 Gibson pitched a complete game.  He scattered five hits, allowed one walk, and struck out a World Series record seventeen batters.  His record not only stands to this day but with today’s pitching relay race mentality it may never be broken.

Lets fast forward to Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.  In a prior article in this series I chronicled the events of the previous evening when Kirby Puckett’s walk off home run kept the Minnesota Twins alive.  It didn’t take long for history to occur again.

 

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Minnesota Twins’ Jack Morris shuts out the Atlanta Braves for 10 innings in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

 

Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was a pitcher’s duel between Atlanta’s John Smoltz and Minnesota’s Jack Morris.  They went toe to toe for 7 1/3 innings without either pitcher allowing a run.  Smoltz would exit in the seventh and Mike Stanton would finish the inning without a run being scored.  Alejandro Pena would finish the game for the Braves.  The game remained scoreless after nine innings, but Twins manager Tom Kelly stayed with his ace.  Morris would not disappoint.  Gene Larkin’s walk off single that scored Dan Gladden in the bottom of the tenth was the game’s only run earning the Twins the World Championship.

Morris would shut out the Braves for ten innings, allow seven hits, walked two, and strike out eight.  This rates as one of the greatest shutouts in the history of the Fall Classic.

Next up, Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.  The Los Angeles Dodgers got to the Series that year by defeating the New York Mets  in the National League Championship Series.  The Mets had beaten the Dodgers 11 out of 12 times during the regular season.  Los Angeles would face the American League Champion Oakland Athletics, the A’s had the best record in the Majors during the regular season at 104-58.

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Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson rounds the bases following a pinch hit walk off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

 

One of the main cogs in the 1988 Dodgers lineup was Kirk Gibson.  Gibson was scratched from the lineup in Game 1 due to injuries in both legs.  It was a longshot for him to play at all in the World Series.

Oakland lead Game 1 by the score of 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.  Future Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley took the mound to pitch the ninth for the Athletics.  With two out in the inning and the pitcher due up, Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda called on his injured star.  What happened next is etched in World Series lore forever.  Gibson would hit a two run walk off home run that had him hobbling around the Dodger Stadium basepaths!  To this day the calls on both CBS (by Jack Buck) and the Dodgers Radio Network (by Vin Scully) are legendary.

Buck’s call “I don’t believe what I just saw!  I don’t believe what I just saw!

Scully simply proclaimed “Its a fly ball…She is…Gone!”

Finally, this last individual achievement happened before I was born, but I would be remiss not to include it.

 

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Yankees catcher Yogi Berra leaps into the arms of pitcher Don Larsen after he completes the only perfect game, or no hitter for that matter, in World Series history.

 

It was Game 5 of the 1956 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Yankees pitcher Don Larsen authored a performance not seen  in the Fall Classic to date.  Larsen would set down all 27 Dodgers that he faced, including 7 strike outs.  The Yankees won the game by the score of 2-0.  It is, to date, the only no hitter, or perfect game ever pitched in World Series history

I thoroughly enjoyed the past two weeks, and all the memories that I discussed.  I know there are so many that I didn’t mention.  Next year I’m sure I’ll find room for this year’s epic!
I would like to add a postscript to this article.  There are 2 other memorable achievements that weren’t mentioned because they were discussed at length earlier in this series. They are Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs on three consecutive piches in 1977, and Carlton Fisk’S 12th inning walk off home run in 1975.

 

 

THE DRAMA OF A SEVEN GAME WORLD SERIES

When I set out to write this three-part series of moments and memories in the World Series so many memories came out of the woodwork.  I have taken suggestions from friends and family along with those of my own and I have come to realize that I’m going to need a bigger blog!  I have decided to extend the series to a fourth part which I will publish this coming Sunday.

Tonight at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, it will be winner take all!  The Dodgers and Astros go into tonight tied at three games apiece, tonight’s winner will be the 2017 World Series Champion.  There is nothing like a Game 7 in a World Series, Stanley Cup Final or NBA Final.  The Super Bowl in and of itself in a winner take all championship competition.  Somebody will be crowned the Kings of Baseball, someone will go home a little short.

Tonight’s game gave me an idea for tonight’s article.  I’ve come up with three of the most memorable seven game World Series’ in my lifetime.  These aren’t necessarily about Game 7 itself, some of these moments caused a Game 7.

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The St. Louis Cardinals celebrate a victory in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

 

Our first stop is the year 2011, the Texas Rangers won their second consecutive American League title that year.  The Rangers lost the 2010 Series to the San Francisco Giants in five games.  Their opponents in 2011 were the St. Louis Cardinals who were making their first appearance since 2006.

The story here is not about the seventh game, history was made in Game 6.  The Series returned to St. Louis on October 27th with the Rangers holding a 3-2 lead after taking 2 of 3 at home.  The game was originally scheduled for October 26th but was rained out.  The score was tied going into the seventh inning when Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn was greeted by back to back homers by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.  This gave Texas a 6-4 lead.  Ian Kinsler would add an RBI to put the Rangers up by three runs.  Allen Craig would hit a solo home run for the Cardinals in the bottom of the eighth to make the score 7-5.

Rangers closer Neftali Feliz came on in the bottom of the ninth to seemingly nail down the Rangers first ever World Championship,  this is where history started to be made.  Albert Pujols took the Texas closer’s first pitch and deposited into center field for a double.  After intentionally walking Lance Berkman, Feliz got Craig to strike out.  This brought the Rangers within one out of a World Championship.  David Freese took a 1-2 pitch (the Cardinals had been down to their last strike) and hit it off the wall for a triple to tie the game at 7-7!

Josh Hamilton’s two run blast in the top of the tenth gave the Rangers a 9-7 lead going into the bottom of the inning.  Ryan Theriot grounded out with runners on second and third scoring Daniel Descalso to bring St. Louis to within a run.  Following an intentional walk to Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman ran the count to 2-2.  The Rangers once again were a strike away from winning the Series.  Berkman singled on the next pitch to score Jon Jay with the tying run.  Texas had now blown two chances to close out the Cardinals.  Freese would hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eleventh to send the series to Game 7.  The Cardinals won the series the following night.

 

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The Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate winning the 2001 World Series over the Yankees in seven games.

 

The year was 2001, the United States had been the victims of the deadliest terrorist attack on its soil on September 11th.  It was fitting that the Yankees won the American League Championship that year.  The Arizona Diamondbacks joined the National League as an expansion team in 1998.  After only three years, Arizona had a National League Champion!  What followed was arguably one of the greatest World Series’ of all time.

Every game of the 2001 World Series was won by the home team.  The Diamondbacks took games 1 and 2 by uneventful scores of 9-1 and 4-0.  When the series shifted to Yankee Stadium in New York it got interesting.

President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch prior to Game 3 as a commemoration of the awful events that occurred in New York barely a month earlier.  Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera limited Arizona to three hits in a 2-1 Yankees victory to close the gap to 2-1.

The following night was Halloween, and the ghosts of Yankees past were looking down on the men in pinstripes.  The Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the ninth down by the score of 3-1.  The Diamondbacks were three outs away from a commanding 3-1 series lead.  Then the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, and Mantle awoke.  With one out in the inning, Paul O’Neill got New York going with a base hit.  Bernie Williams struck out and brought Arizona within an out of a win.  Tino Martinez extended the game when he deposited Arizona closer Byung-hyun Kim’s first pitch into the center-field bleachers to tie the game at 3-3!  Derek Jeter would earn the nickname “Mr. November” when he came to bat after midnight (making it November 1).  With two out and a 3-2 count, the Yankee captain hit a walk off home run to tie the series!

Game 5 seemed a lot like Game 4.  The Yankees again came to bat in the ninth down two runs.  This time it was Scott Brosius’s turn to be the hero.  He tied the game with a two run shot to send the game into extra frames.  Alfonso Soriano’s RBI single in the bottom of the twelfth gave the Yankees a 3-2 series lead heading back to the desert.

The Diamondbacks forced game seven with a 15-2 blowout in game six.  This set up one of the greatest Game Seven’s in World Series history.

Game 7 began as a pitcher’s duel between Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.  It remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning when  Danny Bautista’s RBI double put Arizona on the board.  New York would plate single runs in the seventh and eighth to take a 2-1 lead.  That would hold up going into the bottom of the ninth.

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera took the hill in the eighth inning.  Rivera was arguably the greatest closer in Major League Baseball history, so the Yankees were seemingly in good hands.  This night, however, would be different.  Mark Grace lead off the ninth with a single.  Rivera would throw wild to second base after a bunt attempt to move David Dellucci (who came in to run for Grace) to second.  As a result, Arizona had runners on first and second.   Jay Butler would bunt to move the runners over.  Rivera threw  Dellucci out at third, but third baseman Scott Brosius held onto the ball rather than complete the double play with a throw to first.  Tony Womack would double to tie the game, giving Rivera a very rare blown save.  Rivera’s troubles continued when he hit Craig Counsell to load the bases.  Luis Gonzalez lofted a single over a drawn in infield that reverberated across the Arizona desert!  The Diamondbacks were World Champions!

Finally, we go back one year ago for a World Series that matched the battle of lovable losers.  The Chicago Cubs reached the World Series for the first time since 1945.  The Cubbies hadn’t actually won the Series since way back in 1908.  The Cubs would face the Cleveland Indians, a team that last won a World Championship in 1948.

 

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After 108 long years the Chicago Cubs win the 2016 World Series.

 

In a series that culminated with an epic Game 7, it appeared at one point that it would become a 109 year drought.  The Indians won 3 of the first four games, but a three run rally in the fourth inning of Game 5 kept the Cubs alive.  The only problem was, they needed to go back to Cleveland with their backs to the wall.  Game 6 turned out to be all Cubs as they won 9-3.  This set up one of the all time epic Game Sevens.

Chicago center-fielder Dexter Fowler lead off the game with a solo home run that echoed around the Windy City.   Cleveland would tie the game in the third, courtesy of a Carlos Santana RBI single.  The Cubs would take the lead back in the top of the fourth inning by scoring two runs and each team would plate two runs in the fifth.

Cubs catcher David Ross hit a solo home run in the sixth to give Chicago a 6-3 lead.  In the bottom of the eighth, Indians center-fielder Rajai Davis tied the game with a home run off of Aldoris Chapman.  You could hear a pin drop on Waveland Avenue in Chicago, as the Cubs had blown a 3 run eighth inning lead.

The game would remain tied through the end of the ninth inning.  The baseball gods would throw one more curve into the hopes and dreams of the Cubs and Indians faithful…a 17 minute rain delay!

When play resumed, Kyle Schwarber  led off the tenth with a base hit.  Schwarber would be lifted for a pinch runner (Albert Almora).  After Kris Bryant hit a long fly to center-field, Almora tagged up at second and advanced to third.  Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked and Ben Zobrist lit up the Windy City with an RBI double to give the Cubs the lead.  Addison Russell was intentionally walked, and Miguel Montero followed with an RBI single to give Chicago an 8-6 lead.

Nothing comes easy on the Near North Side, the Indians would counter in the bottom of the tenth.  Rajai Davis was the hero again with an RBI single bringing the Tribe to within one run.  The city of Chicago would explode when Michael Martinez grounded to Kris Bryant at third base.  Finally after 108 long years the Chicago Cubs were World Champions!

I hope you enjoyed tonight’s blog as much as I enjoyed writing it.  What chapter in history awaits us tonight?

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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!

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!

THE FALL SPRINT IS IN FULL SWING

It’s been three weeks since we last talked baseball.  Part 2 of a football preview and Hurricane Irma put America’s pastime on the back burner.  Miss three weeks, you miss a lot!

Since we last talked baseball, the Indians won 22 in a row, and the Dodgers lost 11 straight.  The Dodgers have cooled off for the first time since June and have gone 5-16 since my last baseball blog.

 

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The Cleveland Indians set a modern-day record with a 22 game winning streak.

 

Since we last spoke, the Indians have clinched the American League Central, the Astros rebounded from Hurricane Harvey and clinched the American League West.  The Washington Nationals sewed up the National League East, and those Dodgers, despite their recent skid have nailed down a playoff spot.  The Dodgers magic number now stands at one.  They have failed in two attempts this week to clinch the National League West.

The American League East race could add yet another chapter in the fabled Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.  As of this writing, Boston leads the Yankees by 2 1/2 games.  The Sox still have eleven games to play,  New York has ten contests remaining.  They have already concluded their season series.  The Yankees  hold a comfortable seven game cushion in the American League Wild Card race.

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The Yankees and Red Sox are looking at another epic battle for the American League Eastern Division Championship.

 

About that American League Wild Card race, the Yankees (or Red Sox) will win the fist Wild Card, past that it remains a free for all!  As of this writing, the Minnesota Twins are clinging to a one game lead over the Angels.  A total of FOUR games seperate those Angels and the Baltimore Orioles.  The  Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays stand in between the Angels and O’s.  As the late voice of the New York Mets, Bob Murphy used to say “fasten your seat belts!”

The Milwaukee Brewers refuse to fold.  The Brew Crew has been hanging around both the National League Central and National League Wild Card races all year.  With eleven games remaining, Milwaukee trails the defending World Champions Cubs by 3 1/2 games in the Central race.  The Brewers are also 1 game behind the equally surprising Colorado Rockies for the second Wild Card spot.  The Arizona Diamondbacks consistent lead in the NL Wild Card race was also unexpected.

 

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The Milwaukee Brewers are still hanging around in the National League playoff hunt.

 

So here we are on September 20th with 3 divisions still undecided, a number of possibilities in the American League Wild Card chase, and a playoff appearance from two of three surprise teams in the National League.

Oh, and Giancarlo Stanton is now sitting on 56 home runs.

I will be back next Wednesday, barring any natural disasters.  It should be an interesting week in the 2017 pennant chase.