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Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Reasons to Believe the Phillies Can Still Take NL East

At the quarter pole of the 2012 season, the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves in unfamiliar territory—staring up at the rest of the National League East.  And while the Phightins are off to their slowest start in the last five years, there’s still reason to believe Philadelphia can claim its sixth consecutive division crown.  

Here are five good reasons to believe.

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Kerry Wood: Detroit Tigers Fan Reminisces About Pitcher’s Debut at Tiger Stadium

I remember the Detroit Tigers vs. Chicago Cubs interleague baseball game in 1998 like it were yesterday.

It was June 25. And my friends and I had recently graduated high school at Southgate Anderson High School in suburban Detroit.

This was the second full season that Major League Baseball had implemented interleague play.

While I was always excited to attend a Tiger game, watching my home team play the Cubs made for an even more fun night.

Five summers before, my father took me to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field. I watched in horror as Orlando Merced of the Pittsburgh Pirates smacked a game-winning, two-run home run off Shawn Boskie.  

While disappointed, I found solace in pictures of our drive to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, prior to our journey to Wrigley.

Back to 1998, with very little money and no ballgames to play on our schedules, we piled into my friends beat-up Chevy sedan and hit I-75 northward toward Tiger Stadium.

It was nearly first pitch by the time my friend halted his squealing chunk of metal in a decrepit parking lot, just a stone’s throw from at least a one mile walk from the ticket office.

Like madmen, we hustled to the ticket booth hoping tickets were still available for the game. While the Tigers were not doing so well at 35-45, 30,000 Tigers fans came out to the ballpark that night.

For some fans, this was perhaps one of but a few opportunities remaining to watch a game at this white palace at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. It was no secret this stadium was on its last legs, as chipping bright blue paint inside the stadium could attest.

Add insult to injury, the once-powerful offense the Tigers assembled during the mid-1990s was no more. Shortstop Alan Trammell and second baseman Lou Whittaker had recently retired, leaving a gaping hole in Detroit’s hearts.

Mickey Tettleton had taken his powerful swing to the Texas Rangers. And Cecil Fielder, who thumped home runs 50 and 51 on the final day of the 1990 season at Yankee Stadium, had been traded to the New York Yankees for Ruben Sierra and Matt Drews.  

Rob Deer, Dan Gladden and Skeeter Barnes had also handed in their badges to the Tigers front office.

Yet for all the carnage, Tony Clark and Bobby Higginson still roamed the hallowed grounds for the Tigers. These two ballplayers gave the hometown fans some hope for a positive future.

Fortunately for my friends and I, the $5 center field bleacher seat tickets we wanted were still available. With hot dogs and Cokes in hand, we made our way to our favorite part of the ballpark. We loved sitting 440 feet from home plate for two reasons. First, we could heckle opposing outfielders. Second, homers looked truly majestic as they sailed past blue steel.

To say we were excited for the ballgame against the Cubs was an understatement. My friends and I had the rare opportunity to watch one of baseball’s most electrifying young pitchers at the time take to the hill for the Cubs.

His name was Kerry Wood.

Wood was our generation’s version of Stephen Strasburg—without all the social media buzz.

This 6’4” flame-throwing Texas native burst onto the scene in 1998, when he struck out 20 Houston Astros hitters in a complete game shutout at Wrigley Field.    

Coming into the game against the Tigers, Wood was 7-3 with 118 strikeouts.

Having heard the hype about Wood, we were anxious to see for this growing legend with our own eyes.

Now, sometimes youth combined with adrenaline can equal delusion.

Although the Tigers were terrible, we were convinced our home team would crush Wood that night.

That was until we heard Wood’s first fastball hiss through the hot summer air, before thumping into catcher Tyler Houston’s glove.

My friends and I just looked at one another in amazement, as we heard the fastball from center field.

This would be the first of many times Wood would do this for the Cubs that night. He ended up striking out eight Tigers in six innings of work.

But for the record, Wood did not leave this game unscathed.

Damian Easley took him deep for a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Tigers added two more runs off Wood in the bottom of the sixth, when Geronimo Berroa doubled Bobby Higginson and Luis Gonzalez home.

Wood went on to surrender three earned runs on four hits in a no-decision for the Cubs.

The Tigers ended up winning the game 6-4 that night, thanks to a three-run homer by Tony Clark.

I must say as a baseball fan, I truly enjoyed watching Wood pitch at Tiger Stadium. After watching Wood, my friends and I thought he would easily go on to a Hall of Fame career.

This was especially true after Wood finished the 1998 season with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in just 166.2 innings of work. He also won National League Rookie of the Year honors.

Sadly for Wood, injuries would plague the rest of his career, as he was never able to find his groove.

Although some consider Wood’s career 86-75 record, 1,581 strikeouts and 3.67 ERA respectable, others are convinced Wood by no means lived up to high expectations.

To this, I will let others debate this over the course of the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, I will continue to reminisce about Wood’s performance at Tiger Stadium that night.

Because frankly, it is a night that will stick with me forever.  


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What Can Boston Red Sox Players Learn from Today’s Tim Wakefield Tribute?

I hope that starting pitcher Josh Beckett and everybody else on the Red Sox roster was watching closely during the “Thank you, Wake” ceremonies before today’s ballgame against the Mariners at Fenway Park.

In addition to being a classy sendoff for the knuckleballer, the event showed just where Tim Wakefield‘s priorities were during his 17-year career with Boston.

Rather than showing a bunch of highlights of Wakefield’s 200 career victories, the Jumbotron featured photos of him posing with kids from Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic and Franciscan Hospital for Children. Rather than trot out a bunch of celebrities to sing his praises, the Red Sox had representatives from the different charities Wakefield has supported during the years join him on the field.

And in a moment that moved the man of honor to tears, dozens of former “Wakefield Warriors” emerged from the same center field door that past Red Sox players had used to make their entrance during Fenway’s 100th anniversary celebration last month. The Wakefield Warriors are patients from the Jimmy Fund and Franciscan Hospital who Tim invited to be his guests before each Tuesday game at Fenway, and it was clear from the look on his face as he shook their hands just what their presence at the ceremony meant to him.

The only person to speak besides emcee Don Orsillo and Wakefield himself was longtime teammate David Ortiz. Like Wake, Ortiz is a former winner of the Roberto Clemente Award given annually to the MLB player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team,” as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. “I know how much Boston means to you, and I know how much you mean to Boston,” Ortiz said, and the fans roared in agreement.

One of the few baseball moments that was referred to during the half-hour ceremony was Wakefield’s selfless gesture to give up his Game 4 start in the 2004 ALCS and pitch in long relief during a 19-8 loss to the Yankees at Fenway in Game 3. This move, perhaps more than any other, showed Wake’s character and devotion to his teammates. (It was followed up, of course, by three great relief innings and a win by Wakefield in Game 5, helping Boston on the way to its improbable pennant and World Series triumph.) 

In the wake of last September’s collapse, the chicken and beer scandal and the bad karma that has (fairly or unfairly) carried over into this Red Sox season, the ceremony was a reminder of the type of difference ballplayers can make in the lives of others—and their teammates—by carrying themselves with class and dignity.

Tim Wakefield won more games at Fenway Park than any other pitcher, but he also won the hearts of fans for what he did when he wasn’t on the mound. That’s the sign of a true hero.


Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at amazon.com and his Red Sox reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com/. You can reach him at saulwizz@gmail.com or @saulwizz.

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Cleveland Indians: The 10 Greatest Trades of the Mark Shapiro Era

Mark Shapiro is one of the most polarizing GM’s in professional sports. ‘Shap’ took over as Cleveland’s GM following the departure of John Hart, a man many identify as synonymous with the winning Tribe baseball of the 1990s.

Shapiro’s arrival and tenure as Indians GM coincided with the team’s sale to the much-maligned Larry Dolan. As Shapiro will forever be linked to Dolan, many Tribe fans are quick to associate words like “cheap” and “rebuilding” as hallmarks of his legacy.

Shapiro has the dubious distinction as being the only GM to trade away successive reigning Cy Young winners. The trades of CC Sabathia in 2008 and Cliff Lee in 2009 will live forever in Cleveland Indians infamy.

Cleveland fans were encouraged to remain patient after both deals were made, as the Tribe obtained a total of seven prospects for Sabathia and Lee. Three and four years removed from both trades, however, only Michael Brantley is an everyday player for the Tribe, and he’s had his own struggles with inconsistency.

Despite the perceived ineptitude, however, Shapiro and his protégé Chris Antonetti have laid the groundwork for a competitive young Indians team that is currently atop the AL Central.

Setting aside the Sabathia and Lee deals, I’m going to focus strictly on Mark Shapiro’s history of successful trades, many of which go unnoticed by the pitchfork-wielding mob of nay-saying Tribe fans.

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New York Mets: Pitchers Who Have Come Closest to the Team’s First No-Hitter

The Mets reached a dubious milestone on Friday night against the Miami Marlins. A first-inning triple by Jose Reyes thwarted the possibility of a no-hitter for the 8,000th time in Mets history.

The no no-no’s streak is surprising not just for its 50-year span. The Mets have had any number of pitchers capable of blanking an opponent for nine innings.

In fact, seven pitchers have thrown no-hitters after leaving the Mets, according to NoNoHitters.com, a website that keeps a running update of the Mets’ futility. Another 10 came to the Mets with no-hitters under their belts.

Nolan Ryan, of course, posted seven no-hitters in his post-Mets career. Tom Seaver threw one for the Cincinnati Reds in 1978, the season following his departure from New York. Dwight Gooden and David Cone added further insult by pitching no-hitters for the Yankees.

Hideo Nomo and Mike Scott also chalked up no-hitters after leaving the Mets. The most recent Mets alum on the list is Philip Humber, who pitched the 21st perfect game in major league history for the Chicago White Sox last month.

The Mets have come close to breaking into the no-hit club. There have been 35 one-hitters in team history. In some of them, an early inning hit was followed by pitching perfection.

Many others were denied in the late innings. Here are six that were stopped in the eighth and ninth innings.

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Chicago White Sox: The Great Chris Sale Panic Reflects Poorly on Front Office

Last week, Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale was a starter. As of today, Sale is a starter.

In between, Sale got bounced around like a rubber ball and we got treated to a good old-fashioned soap opera. Who needs Ozzie Guillen when we have this cast of characters?

Sale experienced some soreness as well as tightness in his pitching elbow after his last start May 1. The club’s reaction was not to simply skip a start but to announce that Sale was now the White Sox’ closer. After one bullpen appearance, a blown save in Cleveland one week later, it was announced that Sale would be undergoing an MRI.

But wait, there’s more!

Before undergoing the MRI, Sale gets on the phone and pleads his case to White Sox GM Kenny Williams. When the team returned to Chicago, everyone got together and decided that Sale would be starting Saturday night against Kansas City.

Ventura, the man who dubbed Sale the closer a few days before, told mlb.com’s Branford Doolittle that the young left-hander was back in the rotation. Williams also confirmed that fact:

MRI is clean and pristine. He’s going to pitch. We are very conservative in our approach with regards to the care of particularly our pitchers. I think our history, when you look at all the injury reports over the last dozen years, will show you that.

The course of action that we’ve taken with [Sale] has not been unlike the course of action we’ve taken with many of our Minor League guys in such situations.

If that’s truly the case, it’s not surprising the White Sox aren’t developing a lot of arms. I’m fine with being conservative, but what transpired in the last week with Sale was ridiculous.

Management seemed to give up on a course of action, then plot another one before really sitting down and thinking about it. If Sale’s arm doesn’t respond to starting in the long-term, explore some other options.

Aside from the single inning he threw on Tuesday, Sale had about a week off from game action, or slightly more that the time he would have had off if he had simply skipped a start. Couldn’t that have just been done in the first place without the intrigue and the phone calls?

I’m not knocking the White Sox for being cautious. It’s just seems like an organization that has the kind of history Williams claims would have handled this situation with cooler heads.

By the time all was said and done, even Sale’s agent, BB Abbott got into the fray in an e-mail to Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Gonzalez. 

In short, yes I am extremely concerned about the way the White Sox have approached this entire situation with Chris and his future. It is his future, isn’t it?

One would hope that Sale’s future figures into the White Sox future. Hopefully WIlliams and company have a plan for that future.

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Josh Hamilton: Texas Rangers OF Erupts for 4 Home Runs Against Baltimore Orioles

Josh Hamilton hit for the “cycle” Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles. But when the ball flies out of the park, they don’t let you stop at first, second or third.

Hamilton hit four two-run home runs against the shell-shocked Orioles. He finished a perfect five-for-five with eight RBIs.  He now sits at 14 homers on the year with 36 RBI and appears to be steam-rolling toward another MVP award.

The first two long balls came at the expense of Orioles starter Jake Arrieta, who was coming off eight shutout innings against the New York Yankees in his last start. Hamilton’s third came off Zach Phillips and the fourth off of Darren O’Day. 

It’s somewhat surprising the O’s lost by a final tally of only 10-3.

Hamilton also set a new American League record with 18 total bases in one game and he set a personal best with those eight driven in. He also doubled in the fifth inning as he was perhaps pacing himself, taking a moment to rest at second.

The Rangers are now 20-10 and have tied the St. Louis Cardinals for the best run-differential in baseball at +65 (going into the Cardinals late game against Arizona).

He is the first player to have a four-homer game since Carlos Delgado did nine years ago with Toronto.

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Chicago White Sox: How Committed Was the Team to Chris Sale in the Rotation?

The Chicago White Sox have cried uncle in their attempt to use Chris Sale in the starting rotation. Forget Sale’s goal of a 200-inning season. The White Sox are ending the ruse after just 32.

Am I suggesting that Chicago was never serious about the notion of Sale returning to the role of a starting pitcher? I’m not sitting in the White Sox clubhouse, but I’m sifting through the early details of this move and something doesn’t add up.

Scott Merkin of mlb.com reported Friday evening what was hinted at earlier in the day. Due to soreness and tightness in his pitching elbow, Chicago is scratching Sale from his scheduled start Sunday. He will be available to start closing duties on…Monday?

Wait a minute.

If Sale is experiencing soreness, why the quick turnaround? Why not simply skip the start and rest what appears to be a flareup? After spending the offseason preparing to pitch every fifth day, why throw in the towel so quickly?

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper spells it out pretty clearly:

It’s not disappointing to us. It’s disappointing to him because this was something that he’s always wanted to do.

That doesn’t sound like a guy who was behind Sale’s bid to start.

According to Cooper, the team is making this move strictly for Sale’s long-term benefit. Again, why have him throwing heat so soon if there’s a question of arm health here?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Hector Santiago has been moved out of the closer’s spot? Cooper goes on:

We’re doing it because we feel it’s best for him, his career and his health. It’s the best way to keep him healthy and strong. It gives us the best opportunity to do that. It’s easier to maintain that and keep tabs on this in the bullpen than it is as a starter. We already know he’s a good left-handed reliever. That’s been proven over the past 1 1/2 years.

Now we’ll be trying to make him one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball, not just in the American League. That’s all we’re at with it. Chris is going to be fine. He was upset. He wanted to continue to do this. But sometimes we have to make decisions based upon what we feel is best for that individual, and that’s what we did.

So…Sale is still healthy enough to pitch in three days but not healthy enough to start? Sale has been one of the rotation’s most effective starters (3-1, 2.81 ERA) but Chicago is giving up on him starting after just one month?

Addison Reed has yet to give up an earned run this season. If the team was really behind Sale starting, why not give Reed a shot to close before making the move?

The bullpen situation improves with Sale’s move to the pen with Jesse Crain still a ways from making a return. It gives Robin Ventura another left-hander to use late in games. It just sounds too convenient to fathom making the switch solely on Sale’s behalf.

The White Sox are letting Sale close because that’s what they’ve wanted to do all along. If Cooper wants to come out an say that, I wouldn’t have a problem seeing the logic in such a move.

Sale has worked well out of the pen since coming up in 2010. The coaching staff is playing to win now, which you have to respect. Just come out and say it instead of making Sale’s health an issue.

Otherwise, it looks suspiciously like a move made to cover for not having a closer in place this winter.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Orioles Chris Davis Overcomes Heckler, Drives in Winning Run Versus Red Sox

I could not help but chuckle at the obnoxious Boston Red Sox fan shouting obscenities at Orioles first baseman Chris Davis Friday night at Fenway Park.

As Davis stepped to the plate in the top of the 13th inning, with the game tied at four, all I could hear was, “Go home Davis! Go home, you’re horrible!”

Two pitches later, Davis slipped a sharp ground ball past Boston’s first and second basemen to give the Orioles the lead.

This increasingly confident club never looked back, and after scoring another run in the top of the 13th, the Orioles defeated the Red Sox, 6-4.

In a positive development, Mark Reynolds, who had struggled mightily to this point in the season, went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and two RBI. Reynolds also had a double and a walk. Matt Wieters also had a pair of hits for the Orioles.

Wei-Yin Chen did not have his sharpest outing for the Birds, giving up three earned runs and five hits in five innings of work. But once again, the Orioles bullpen cashed in winning chips. Using five hurlers, the Orioles bullpen gave up zero runs in the next eight innings of play. Jim Johnson earned his eighth save for the Orioles.

On Boston’s side, Jon Lester had a bumpy starting go of it as well. He gave up three runs in six innings. The Red Sox bullpen matched the Orioles bullpen inning for inning. Or at least until the 13th inning when left-hander Franklin Morales gave up the winning runs to the Orioles.

Offensively for the Red Sox, Adrian Gonzalez went 3-for-6. Dustin Pedroia added two hits with an RBI. David Ortiz, who had been scalding hot at the plate prior to this game, went 0-for-5 with an RBI.

With the victory the Orioles move to 17-9, which is good for second place in the American League East.

The Red Sox fall to 11-14, seven games behind the first place Tampa Bay Rays.

The Orioles and Red Sox play again Saturday afternoon at 1:00 pm ET at Fenway Park.

Basebook me!

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New York Yankees: Tracking Progress of Top 5 Active Draft Picks from Last Year

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was the first day I opened my first pack of baseball cards. The pack was 1989 Topps. The first card I pulled was a Randy Johnson baseball card from when he was with the Seattle Mariners.

I thought, “Sheesh, this man looks scary…I wouldn’t want to face him on a bad day.”

Dante Bichette’s rookie card was also in this pack. It was significant because my dad said rookie cards were a baseball player’s most significant cards.

But after looking at Bichette’s rookie card, all I could think was, “Who would want to play for a team that boasts pink colors?” (That was in reference to the pink banner at the bottom of the card that said Angels.)

That was stupid of me, since it was just part of the Topps design.

Little did I know at the time Bichette would go on to have a solid 14 year career in the big leagues with the Angels, Brewers, Rockies, Reds and Red Sox.

All I knew was to get the thing in a plastic sheet. Too bad overproduction deemed this rookie card worthless (tear).

Moving on. Nearly 25 years after Bichette made his major league debut, his son—same name but add a Junior to the end—was a first-round pick of the 2011 Major League Draft.

Dante Bichette Junior thus marks the beginning of this slideshow, which tracks the progress of the New York Yankee’s top five active draft picks from 2011.

This takes into account that the Yankees second-round draft pick Sam Stafford did not sign with the Yankees. He will miss all of 2011 because of a tear in his throwing shoulder.

It also takes into account that Jordan Cote, the Yankees third-round pick, still has not made his professional debut (though he will this spring in the GCL).   

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