October 21, 2016

David Ortiz Played In Serious Pain For Four Years

Rob Bradford, WEEI:
It turns out we had no idea just how long Ortiz endured the injuries that ultimately forced him into retirement after a walk-off season for the ages. Many point to July 16, 2012, when Ortiz was driven from the lineup by sore heels. That created memorable uncertainty entering the storybook 2013 campaign. It opened our eyes to the agonizing process of reaching the finish line this year.

But the reality is this problem had been building for years. It impacted not just his Achilles' tendons in isolation, but basically every bone, tendon, ligament, and muscle below his ankle. It even affected his skin.

"He was essentially playing on stumps," [Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan] Dyrek said.

That's not even the half of it. Now that Ortiz has walked into the sunset with a garage full of retirement gifts after an historic farewell season, the story of how he reached that rocking chair can finally be told.

October 18, 2016

Terry Francona Claims Middle Finger Flipping Is "Nervous Habit"

Cleveland manager Terry "Playoff Assassin" Francona was shown apparently giving the middle finger to a lingering TBS camera during last night's ALCS Game 3.

Francona, during a radio interview this morning:
God, I was so embarrassed when I heard that or when somebody asked me that after the game. I think I have a nervous habit of kind of picking my face a little bit. I would never do that [intentionally]. ... That's just a quirk of fate.
Sure, Tito. It must have been an impromptu itch. Sure.

Jays Down 0-3, Comeback Has Got To Be Impossible

Thirty-four teams have been down 0-3 in a best-of-seven postseason series.

Thirty-three teams eventually lost the series.

Only one team has won Games 4, 5 and 6, forcing a do-or-die Game 7. And that team won Game 7!

With Cleveland taking advantage of every single mistake (big and small) the Blue Jays have made and Playoff Tito firing on all cylinders, with his players doing everything right, this series is over for Toronto.

October 17, 2016

ALCS: Circumstances 2, Blue Jays 0

Toronto's Jose Bautista says there are "circumstances" working against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. What he's implying is that the home plate umpires are calling pitches against Toronto and in favout of Cleveland.
I'm having great at-bats. It's just sometimes the elements and the circumstances that we have to deal with as hitters sometimes doesn't necessarily go our way. But I'm not trying to really get into that. All you have to do is go look at video and try to count the number of pitches they have thrown over the heart of the plate. It hasn't been many. But they've been able to do that because of the circumstances.
In the two ALCS games, the Blue Jays have scored only one run (on 10 hits and two walks).

So, could Bautista be right? Are the umpires secret Cleveland fans or have they received orders from the Commissioner's office to make sure the Blue Jays lose the series because having a team from Canada in the World Series might mean lower TV ratings?

Fortunately, we do not have to guess. Data exists that can tell us how accurate - or not - the home plate umpires have been in the two games. (It is that data that should be used in the actual games, rather than relying on the imperfect eyes and sometimes questionable judgment of the umpires.)

CBS Sports looked at the ball-strike calls (as plotted by Brooks Baseball) and determined:
Home plate umpires Laz Diaz and Jim Wolf called big strike zones in Games 1 and 2. That's true. The PitchFX data confirms it. The Indians got more called [strikes] on pitches off the plate because they threw more pitches there. They took advantage of the big zone. The Blue Jays did not.
Another writer reported that the missed calls were almost exactly even for both sides. A third article looked at the pitches from a number of key Blue Jays at-bats - and found absolutely nothing suspicious. And, of course, Bautista's mention of "circumstances" doesn't explain the swings and misses by Toronto batters - Bautista, among them - at pitches out of the strike zone.

As you might expect, Cleveland is having fun with Bautista's comments. The team's Twitter page now reads:
"Official Twitter of the 2016 AL Central champions. We control all of the circumstances. #RallyTogether"
This is one of the actual circumstances working against the Blue Jays (12 batters faced, 10 strikeouts):

October 14, 2016

AL/NL Championship Series

My picks:
Blue Jays over Cleveland in 6.
Cubs over Dodgers in 5.
Game threads here, if you like.

Talk Of Curses

With the Chicago Cubs having advanced to the National League Championship Series and former Red Sox manager Terry Francona heading to the American League Championship Series with Cleveland, there has been a lot of talk in the sports media about "curses" - i.e., the Red Sox's 86-year World Series drought that Francona held end in 2004 and the 108 years that have passed since the Cubs were champions of baseball.

However, the C-word is often not presented in quotes; most writers are not typing "alleged curse" or "mythical curse" or "so-called curse". No, the hex is presented to the reader as though it was/is real. If you asked these sportswriters, do you truly believe that the Red Sox were cursed by a dead man's ghost or that the Cubs were cursed by a bar patron's goat back in the mid-40s, what would they say?

This is nothing more than lazy writing.

Andy Martino, New York Daily News, October 1, 2016:
Ever since his days as the wunderkind GM of the Boston Red Sox — he was just 30 years old when that team broke its own 86-year curse to win the 2004 World Series — Epstein has always belied his new-school reputation by taking tradition into account as well.
Bill Ballou, Providence Journal, October 5, 2016:
In his first season in Boston, the Red Sox broke an 86-year curse by winning the World Series, and doing so by coming back from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
Evan Grossman, New York Daily News, October 6, 2016:
So proven curse-breaker Theo Epstein was hired as president of baseball operations five years ago and, according to plan, he has the Cubs 11 wins from exorcising some serious demons.
John Ruane, Chicago Now, October 7, 2016:
During the next four weeks ... We will also know if the Chicago Cubs, the team with the best record in Major League Baseball during the 2016 regular season, will win the World Series and end the 108-year drought, curse and frustration of generations of Cubs fans.
New York Post Headline, October 9, 2016:
Cubs' Ugly Win May Be First Sign Their 108-Year Curse Will End
Doug Padilla, ESPN, October 10, 2016:
The Cubs are the story of the year, with the best record in baseball, a team full of dynamic young budding superstars and a 108-year curse they need to vex on the corner of Addison and Clark streets on the city's Northside.
Hunter Felt, The Guardian, October 11, 2016:
It would have been a powerful moment if Ortiz were merely the last remaining Red Sox player from that 2004 team, the one that so memorably broke Boston's 86-year curse by winning the World Series for the first time since 1918. As spectacular as that achievement was, it was merely the beginning of Ortiz’s reign as the face of the franchise.
Jerry Crasnick, ESPN, October 14, 2016:
Nineteen years after he made his managerial debut with a 68-win team in Philadelphia, Francona is mingling with more elite company. He has two titles in his portfolio -- the first of which broke an 86-year-old curse in Boston.

October 12, 2016

Blue Jays Announcer Refuses To Use Cleveland Nickname

Toronto Star:
Don't expect to hear the word "Indian" when Jerry Howarth calls the play-by-play in the Blue Jays' American League Championship Series against Cleveland starting Friday.

The longtime Blue Jays announcer said on The Jeff Blair radio show Tuesday that he made a decision more than two decades ago never to use the term because it is found offensive by many First Nations people.

Howarth told Blair that he has also made it a practice to not use "Braves" for the Atlanta baseball team, or phrases like "a powwow on the mound" for talks between coaches and pitchers.

Howarth said he made the decision back after the 1992 series, when the Blue Jays won their first World Series against Atlanta.

October 10, 2016

It's The End Of A Glorious Era

"I want people to remember me as the guy who made the impossible possible."
David Ortiz, April 29, 2016

ALDS 3: Cleveland 4, Red Sox 3

Cleveland - 000 202 000 - 4  7  0
Red Sox   - 000 011 010 - 3  8  0
After David Ortiz's remarkable, record-setting batting performance in the final year of his legendary Red Sox career, it would have been a storybook ending for Boston to win the pennant and possibly win a fourth championship during Big Papi's tenure. It wasn't supposed to end like this, abruptly and frustratingly, with Cleveland celebrating a Division Series sweep on the Fenway infield.

After the victors retired to their clubhouse to celebrate, a tearful Ortiz came back out on the field and tipped his cap to the remaining fans, who had been chanting "Thank You, Papi!" and "One More Year!" since the end of the game.

The Boston bats were held quiet by Josh Tomlin (5-4-2-1-4, 68) for four innings, but they finally stirred in the fifth. It was in the eighth inning, however, when they made their move. Trailing 4-2, down to their final six outs and facing Bryan Shaw, the Red Sox brought up the top of their batting order. Dustin Pedroia was called out on strikes. He protested the call, but the strike three pitch was called correctly. Pinch-hitter Travis Shaw grounded a single into right field. Mookie Betts scorched a grounder to third. Jose Ramirez backhanded it and got the force at second. Cleveland manager Terry Francona then called on his closer Cody Allen. Ortiz, who had driven in a sixth-inning run with a line drive sacrifice fly to center, walked on four pitches, putting the potential tying runs on base.

At first base, Ortiz motioned to the crowd several times to get up and make some noise. (But why did they need to be prodded?) Hanley Ramirez looked at two balls and then drove a hard grounder into left. Betts scored and it was 4-3. Marco Hernandez went in to pinch-run for Ortiz at second base. Xander Bogaerts, with two singles in three earlier trips, hit the ball very hard, but right at second baseman Jason Kipnis, for the third out.

After Craig Kimbrel made quick work of Cleveland in the top of the ninth, the Red Sox came up for what would be their last inning of the season. Chris Young flied to left and Sandy Leon struck out for the third time in the game. Jackie Bradley (0-for-9, with 7 strikeouts to that point) was Boston's last hope. Allen fell behind 3-0, but fought back to a full count before Bradley lined a single to right. Allen fell behind Pedroia 3-1 and ended up walking him, also on a full count pitch. Allen also fell behind Shaw 3-1, the crowd roaring on each wayward pitch, but after Shaw fouled a pitch off, he lifted a routine fly to right. Lonnie Chisenhall squeezed it - and the ALDS was over.

Boston starter Clay Buchholz (4-6-2-1-4, 75) worked most of the time with at least one opponent on base, but he kept Cleveland off the board until the fourth. In that frame, he allowed a single to Ramirez and a walk to Chisenhall. After Coco Crisp sacrificed the runners to second and third, Tyler Naquin brought them in with a single to right.

Boston closed the gap to 2-1 in the fifth. With one out, Bogaerts singled to center. Andrew Benintendi lifted a fly to deep left that scraped off the Wall on the way down. Bogaerts read the play perfectly and scored all the way from first, sliding across the plate head first.

Drew Pomeranz, who had retired the side in the fifth, walked Ramirez to start the sixth and then gave up a one-out home run to Crisp. It was a crushing blow, especially since the Red Sox had just scored in the previous inning. (Crisp was actually Cleveland's last base runner of the night, as Joe Kelly, Koji Uehara and Kimbrel retired the last 11 men to come to the plate.)

Tomlin allowed a leadoff single to Pedroia in the bottom of the sixth and was pulled. Andrew Miller struck out pinch-hitter Aaron Hill (who was batting for Brock Holt). Betts doubled off the Wall and Pedroia went to third. Ortiz lined out to center, scoring Pedroia. Hanley Ramirez struck out.

Boston managed only a one-out walk in the seventh. Then came the rallies in the eighth and ninth, when the AL East champs very nearly pushed this series to a fourth game. Instead, it is Cleveland who will host Game 1 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays.

Despite its sudden ending, the 2016 season was far from a disappointment. After two last-place finishes, this season ranks as an unqualified success. David Ortiz turned in one of the best seasons of his soon-to-be-Hall of Fame career, we witnessed the emergence of Mookie Betts, and we won the goddamn division. While we will no longer have the pleasure of watching #34 spit in his big mitts and get in the box, ready to put a hurting on some opposing pitcher, the future looks extremely bright.
Josh Tomlin / Clay Buchholz
Pedroia, 2B
Holt, 3B
Betts, RF
Ortiz, DH
Ramirez, 1B
Bogaerts, SS
Benintendi, LF
Leon, C
Bradley, CF
Despite the Sunday rainout, both managers are staying with the same starting pitchers. (Interesting: Buchholz and Tomlin were teammates at Angelina College, a community college in Lufkin, Texas.)

The Red Sox got off to a slow start in this series, but:

Don't let us win tonight!