Opening Week 2015: Nothing beats Bartolo

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(MLB.com)

“No one has more fun playing this game than Bart,” — SNY announcer Ron Darling

Sunday was the end of the first week of the 2015 MLB season, so I figured I’d go through some of my favorite clips from the week. The top, of course, was Bartolo Colon’s RBI single in the Mets’ win vs. the Braves on Sunday.

Before 2011, the main thing that popped into my head if someone mentioned Colon was the time Alex Rodriguez hit three home runs off him in the same game. Since 2011, Colon has become one of my favorite players of all time. Colon, at this point in his career, throws basically nothing but fastballs and still finds success. He rarely walks anyone. And, since signing with the Mets before last season, he gets to hit regularly in the National League. Last year, he had two hits — including a double! — in 62 at-bats. This season, in his second game, he notched his first RBI since 2005. And his helmet fell off. JOYOUS BARTOLO.

My favorite thing about A-Rod’s latest “comeback” is how little fans feel outrage as compared to the media. Now, plenty of fans still dislike A-Rod, but I feel like most of the people who don’t like him haven’t liked him much since, oh, 2004. I’m sure some turned on him when we first learned in 2009 that he did PEDs (during those loosey goosey times), but many had already sided on the pro- or anti-A-Rod side before that even came to light.

He got caught again, he served his suspension and now he’s back. Does A-Rod deserve sympathy? No. But unless the Yanks cut/somehow trade him/he retires, fans of the team are stuck with him through 2017. So hopefully he keeps hitting A-bombs until his hips fall off.

An arrogant person who is bad at his/her job is the worst. An arrogant person who is good at his/her job is fine. Matt Harvey doesn’t have much of a track record, but he’s pretty great. This past week, he made his first regular-season start since Tommy John surgery and, even though he wasn’t at his best, Harvey still K’d nine Nationals over six innings. I hope he wins the NL Cy Young Award this year, then allows eight runs in the NL Wild Card game so my younger brother Kevin and my friend Dan can argue about how good Harvey actually is for the rest of their lives.

Extra-innings game does not equal classic game. On Friday night, I left my apartment after the start of the Yankees/Red Sox series opener and took a bus/walked to a bar to meet up with my older brother Jim. I hung out with my brother for two hours, then took a cab to the bar my girlfriend works at. I waited on line for 10 minutes, then entered the bar, where I hung out for an hour. I took a bus home, then watched the Red Sox and Yankees play for another friggin’ hour.  Before the game ended, I — while not quite sober — tweeted this:

If you’re a Red Sox fan and Boston finishes one game ahead of the Yankees for the American League East title, you might look back at this game as a classic the Sox pulled out thanks to Mookie Betts. But, right now, the No. 1 thing Betts did Saturday morning was provide the decisive run that allowed us to all finally go to bed. And for that, he deserves to have a Hall of Fame career.

A quality first week for the 2015 MLB season. And I didn’t even mention Adrian Beltre adhering to the new MLB rules about pace of play (oh, wait).

Brian Cougar

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Opening Week 2015: Nothing beats Bartolo

Love your enemy: a Yanks fan on the greatness of Pedro

I am a Yankees (and Cowboys — love me!) fan, and therefore probably shouldn’t like Pedro Martinez as much as I do. The newly elected Hall of Famer spent the majority of his career with the Red Sox, then had a memorable run with the Mets and finished up his big league tenure pitching for the Phillies against the Yanks in the 2009 World Series. But Pedro, due to his electrifying talent and charisma, was part of some of my all-time favorite baseball moments, even when they involved him beating the Yankees or beating senior citizens who worked for the club.

1: Pedro outduels Clemens, May 28, 2000

Not only am I a Yankees/Cowboys fan, I am — still — a fan of Roger Clemens. I feel like most Yankees/Red Sox/Blue Jays fans don’t really care for him anymore (although I for some reason think Astros/Sugar Land Skeeters fans still dig him), but I look back fondly on The Rocket’s career, and I think my appreciation of him started with this game.

I remember, after getting home from the beach, watching the entire thing in the basement of my old house in Brooklyn. Unlike the Pedro-Clemens matchup in the 1999 American League Championship Series, when Clemens stunk and the Sox ended up winning in a rout, this time, they matched each other pitch for pitch until the ninth inning. It was also in old Yankee Stadium, so the atmosphere was electric and the seats behind home plate were filled the entire game. Then, in the top of the ninth, friggin’ Trot Nixon hit a two-run homer, and the Sox went on to win, 2-0. Nixon is up there with Curt Schilling, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as my all-time least-favorite Sox players based solely on this home run.

2: Pedro chucks Zimmer, 2003 ALCS, Game 3

Clemens vs. Pedro again! Everyone remember this one. I watched this game with a few friends at Jeremy’s, a bar by the South Street Seaport known for its giant styrofoam beers and the bras that adorn the walls/ceiling. I recently rewatched the extended clip from this incident, and I had completely forgotten how messed up the pitch Pedro threw to Karim Garcia in the fourth inning that got everyone heated was. He unleashes a fastball right behind Garcia’s head, leading Garcia to, understandably, make this face:

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Then, in the bottom of the fourth, Clemens threw a pitch that was high and inside but nowhere near Manny Ramirez’s head, and things got real crazy:

I was standing at the bar waiting for a beer when Pedro threw Don Zimmer to the ground, and a random woman grabbed my arm, looked me in the eyes and yelled, “What are we gonna do?!” I had no answer.

3: 2003 ALCS, Game 7

Once more, Clemens vs. Pedro! Clearly they should have gone into the Hall of Fame together. I was a junior in college (University of Scranton 4 life), and had a night class scheduled for when this game occurred. My newswriting teacher had received an advanced copy of the movie “Shattered Glass” (Hayden Christensen in his greatest role) to show us, and she said if we missed class, it counted as two absences, which would have screwed with my grade.

I actually showed up to class early, but immediately decided my duties as a Yankees fan were more important than my duties as a Communications Major, so I left. Right move! As after a terrifying 7 1/2 innings, Grady Little left Pedro in too long, the Yanks rallied, and Aaron Boone eventually did that thing he’s famous for. I ended up emailing my teacher and told her I skipped class because I felt I couldn’t miss the game. She basically called me an idiot, but understood. I think I ended up with a B- in the class.

4: Summer of Pedro, Shea Stadium 2005

No 2004 games will be on this list, how dare you. After graduating college in ’05, I returned home to Brooklyn and spent the summer putting on a solid 25-30 pounds thanks to too many Bud Heavies and Bubba Burgers. I also went to several Mets games with my younger brother Kevin, and we tried to go whenever Pedro was pitching at Shea. I know the Mets have had several impressive pitchers since 2005 (Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon), but that first summer Pedro pitched for the Mets was the most fun I ever had watching games at glorious, gone-but-not-forgotten Shea Stadium. Two specific moments stand out:

1) In the middle of an inning that season, the sprinklers went off on the field. Most pitchers facing that situation would either run away or pout (I feel like Mike Mussina would’ve pouted), but Pedro stuck his head right in front of a sprinkler to cool off, then walked around with a goofy smile on his face.

2) On June 7 vs. the Astros, Pedro had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning. This was during the Mets’ infamous run of never having thrown a no-hitter, and a buzz was starting to build. In the break between the bottom of the sixth and the top of the seventh, a few dudes — Mets fans — sitting down the aisle from Kevin and I started discussing the fact that Pedro was throwing a no-no. Not only were they breaking the rule of “Don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening” (settle down all you “Duhh, you can’t actually jinx a no-hitter by talking about it” people), they were predicting which player on the Astros would end up getting the hit! I specifically remember them guessing it would be Brad Ausmus, Houston’s light-hitting catcher. Kevin, not surprisingly, was becoming enraged, but he, surprisingly if you know him, did not start screaming at them. With one out in the seventh, Chris Burke hit a home run. Pedro ended up throwing a complete game, striking out Burke to end it. Now that I think about it, Kev might have started screaming at them after the home run.

I currently live in Boston, and over the past few months I’ve occasionally had people commenting on my Yankees gear while I’m out and about. The conversations have tended to be them going, “I hate the Yankees, but Derek Jeter is all class.” With me responding, “I don’t care what you think about Jeter, as long as you love and respect Bernie Williams.” That second part might not be true.

As fans, it’s natural to hate the players on rival teams, but in the case of guys like Pedro Martinez, it’s OK to love them a bit, too.

— Brian Cougar

Love your enemy: a Yanks fan on the greatness of Pedro

Pineda, if you’re gonna play dirty, follow the lead of the dirtiest player in the game

Now, this blog — considering it’s an MLBlog — once focused on baseball. The topics covered on it this year have generally been about pro wrestling (because pro wrestling is the best). However, on Wednesday night, I believe I’ve found something that bridges the two:

Michael Pineda being ejected from the Yankees-Red Sox game due to a foreign substance on his neck.

First off, two things: 1) I am a Yankees fan. 2) Even before he joined the Yankees I was a Pineda fan, mostly due to this quote from 2011 when he was asked what his reaction would be if he made the All-Star team:

Asked last week what it would mean if he were named to the All-Star team, the Dominican native’s eyes grew wide.

“Oh wow,” Pineda said. “I don’t know. I might just die. Maybe Pineda dies.”

Pineda was traded to the Yankees before the 2012 season, but this year has been his first actually pitching for the big league club after he missed time due to a major shoulder injury. He had a strong Spring Training, won the fifth-starter’s job and was off to a good start this year (2-1, 1.00 ERA in his first three starts). After he beat the Red Sox on April 10, it was brought up that cameras had caught a shiny substance on his pitching hand. Many assumed it was probably pine tar, Pineda said it was dirt and the issue seemed to blow over. Until Wednesday night.

In the second inning of Wednesday’s game — again against the Red Sox — Boston manager John Farrell came out to talk to the home-plate umpire, the ump went over to Pineda, and after finding something on Pineda’s neck, the umpire tossed him from the game.

Baseball has had a long history of players trying to cheat — hitters using corked bats, pitchers cutting the baseball for extra movement, teams stealing signs, and everyone’s favorite, PEDs. While cheating of course isn’t right, it’s long been part of the game.

One of my favorite parts about the Pineda thing is the fact that the Red Sox seemed to be less annoyed about the fact that Pineda was using pine tar (it was cold, so the pine tar would help him grip the ball, which means he might not accidentally have a pitch slip out of his hand and possibly hit a batter), and more so were annoyed by how blatant he was about using it.

However, no matter what the “unwritten rules” are, the actual MLB rule — 8.02(a)(2) — says: “The pitcher shall not have expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove.” So Pineda was breaking the rules and will likely be suspended by MLB/vilified by many (especially in Boston).

While cheating in baseball is almost always frowned upon, pro wrestling embraces cheaters. For without cheaters, how would we know who to hate (and then eventually love for their ability to make us hate them)? The late Eddie Guerrero’s slogan — Cheat 2 Win — even blatantly embraced the art of bending the rules. So, while I’m thinking Wednesday was the last time Pineda will attempt to pitch with an illegal substance on his hand, he probably could’ve avoided all this trouble had he checked with a wrestling legend first about how to pull it off without getting caught. That legend: Ric Flair.

Known by most as “The Nature Boy,” Flair also has another — well, he has a few — nickname: “The dirtiest player in the game.” My favorite example of Flair’s cheating ways comes from my favorite match of all time: Flair vs. Macho Man Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 8. If you have WWE Network, here’s the direct link to that Mania. And now, let Flair — and his executive consultant, Mr. Perfect — show Pineda the right way to cheat without being detected.

Perfect enters the ring after breaking up a pinfall following an elbow drop by Savage. While the ref is distracted, he reaches into his pocket for brass knuckles and eventually tosses them to Flair

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While the ref is still dealing with Perfect, Flair puts on the brass knuckles. He then punches Savage in the face and successfully hands the brass knuckles back to Perfect without the ref noticing.

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However, Savage kicks out of the count at 2, and eventually wins the match — and the title — by himself cheating with a HAND FULL OF TIGHTS.

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You see, in pro wrestling, even the good guys occasionally have to bend the rules.

So, next time Pineda’s preparing for a start, instead of looking up video of his opponents’ swings and pitch tendencies, he should be Fair to Flair and look to the Nature Boy for guidance.

Brian Cougar

Pineda, if you’re gonna play dirty, follow the lead of the dirtiest player in the game

HBP just the start for Jeter? MAYBE

He steps to the plate for the beginning of the end. Yankees captain Derek Jeter, in his final season, is hitting No. 2 — how fitting — in the lineup on Opening Day against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. After taking the first pitch for a strike — he did say he wanted to take it all in this year, after all — Jeter digs in. Astros starter Scott Feldman rears back, unleashes an 88-mph fastball and …

Is this how it’s going to be for Jeter during his farewell tour? Mariano Rivera was honored in opposing ballparks all of last year while he wrapped up his career, but is this a sign that it’s going to be different for the Kalamazoo Kid? Tuesday in Houston was just an HBP, but could things escalate in other road ballparks?

Upcoming trips:

Rogers Centre (Friday-Sunday): Blue Jays invite the Ultimate Warrior to return to the site of his greatest victory and throw out the first pitch/gorilla press slam Jeter.

Tropicana Field (April 17-20): Rays invite Jeter to a private tour of the Rays Touch Tank. Push him in Rays Touch Tank.

Fenway Park (April 22-24): For every Jeter at-bat, the Red Sox play Bronson Arroyo’s rendition of “Dirty Water” for his walk-up music.

And that’s only April.

The main questions people were asking entering Jeter’s final year were: Can he stay healthy? Can he still perform on the field? Are the Yankees good enough to send him out with one last World Series title?

But maybe we ignored the major question: Will Jeter get no respect?

Brian Cougar

HBP just the start for Jeter? MAYBE

Opening Day ushers in new season of dread

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The dark cloud of Opening Day is upon us. Will your favorite team go 0-162? Will your favorite player bat .000? Will your favorite pitcher never record an out? Probably.

No more news on early arrivals to spring camp. No more reports on how your favorite veteran, coming off a down year, is in the best shape of his life. No more backup catcher and fifth-starter competitions. No more Spring Training game play-by-play on Twitter.

The arrival of Opening Day brings with it the sad reminder that this seemingly never ending winter will soon come to a close. The arrival of Opening Day means the Yankees are beginning what could be an unsuccessful attempt to claim their 28th World Series title. It means the Red Sox are beginning what could be an unsuccessful attempt to become the first repeat champions since 2000.

Hawk Harrelson, back in the booth. Michael Kay, back in the booth. Rex Hudler, back in the booth.

A-Rod, banished.

Instead of letting his son play hooky and taking him to the game, a father will send him off to school. Instead of calling out sick and taking his father to the game, a son will head to work.

For many fans, this Opening Day will be their last.

Terence Mann once said baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

He lied.

Brian Cougar

Opening Day ushers in new season of dread

Beckett bringing the high, stinky cheese

Yes, I am typing this while watching “Rookie of the Year,” because I obviously have not watched enough baseball this weekend (fireable). However, “Rookie of the Year” is a tremendous movie with a great soundtrack (Bill Conti of “Rocky” fame … at least I’m pretty sure it’s the same Bill Conti. The movie is not listed on his Wikipedia page, and that’s obviously the most reliable source of information for getting one’s facts correct), and while I would have liked for Josh Beckett to have pitched like Chet Steadman during the first half of that movie tonight, he instead looked like Henry Rowengartner during the second half (minus the floater, of course).

Now, most people have naturally compared Beckett’s performance tonight to how he pitched against the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, but the thing I found most impressive was the fact that, unlike then, when he was a fresh face to New York, tonight’s performance came in his 25th career start against the representatives of Pride, Power and Pinstripes. Beckett’s career stats against the Yanks — not including the World Series, of course — aren’t all that impressive (10-7, 6.26 ERA, 92 earned runs on 155 hits in 132 1/3 innings), which isn’t all that surprising (at least to me) because New York always has a loaded lineup and has faced him so many times. So to be as overpowering as he was tonight against a team that’s seen him a ton of times and has a strong lineup, even with A-Rod out (hell, A-Rod’s replacement, Eric Chavez, got one of the Yanks’ two hits off Beckett), sort of blew my mind. It’s one thing to blow away a team when they’ve never seen you before and you throw in the mid-90’s with a ridiculous 12-to-6 hook like Beckett does, but to dominate them when they’ve already seen you at your best  … I begrudgingly (as a Yankees fan) tip my hat to Beckett (Pedroia gets no hat tip, even though he was piling up the big hits all weekend. Guy is clearly a dirtbag. Hate hate hate.).

Now, speaking of pitchers with overpowering stuff (at least at one point in the past), Joba (Joba Joba) Chamberlain had one of his performances tonight that hurt my head. I know young Kevin brought up Joba’s additional pounds in his post below this one, but that’s not what bothers me about Joba. A large belly didn’t stop David Wells, Bartolo Colon (Free Bartolo!) or Hideki Irabu from being top-notch pitchers (OK, Irabu was only a top-notch pitcher in my childhood fantasies … that sounds creepy). Joba’s problem, as always, is his lack of control (leadoff walk to Big Papi in the seventh) and dumb pitch selection (walking J.D. Drew that same inning on a 3-2 slider). Three of the four balls to Ortiz were fastballs: you can’t be an effective pitcher in the big leagues if you can’t control your fastball, and Joba’s tendency to throw 3-2 sliders is something that’s bothered me about him since the 2008 season.

So, decent first week for the Yanks — outside of some poor bullpen performances and whatever is going on with Phil Hughes’ right arm. And this upcoming week brings two more interesting matchups in the Orioles (are they for real?) and the Rangers (off to a red-hot start, and will they continue where they left off against the Yanks in the 2010 ALCS?). I also might head out to Citi Field tomorrow or Tuesday to give some support to Kev’s boy, Izzy. Funky buttloving.

— Brian Cougar

Beckett bringing the high, stinky cheese

A.J. Burnett has more wins than the Red Sox

The fact that we’re six games and two Burnett starts into the season and the title for this blog entry is true is amazing. Was that available as a prop bet in Vegas? Do I know what a prop bet really is? Loyal readers will have to help me out on that question (I will NOT google it).

But it is true, and while Burnett hasn’t been amazing, he has been closer to “Good A.J.” than “Bad A.J.,” which is (sadly) all most Yankee fans ask from him. Should a person being paid $82.5 million over five years be expected to simply keep his team in games? Nope, but as Kurt Vonnegut said, “so it goes.” (Vonnegut hoped that phrase would be used to justify mediocre performances from subpar pitchers, right?)

Back to the Red Sox … this first Yankees/Boston series, which gets overhyped as it is, will now be hyped through the roof due to the fact that the Sawx are going into it (home opener no less) winless. SEASON ON THE BRINK! Are the Red Sox buckling under the pressure of being the team to beat heading into this season? (And were the Yankees smart by pretending to be $200 million underdogs?) Will Boston sweep and immediately return to being most people’s pick to win the AL East? Will the Yankees sweep and cause Red Sox Nation to despair about a season already lost in April? However it ends up, the Red Sox will be happy to know they get to face the Rays starting Monday, and that team is in much worse shape than they are right now (seriously, that offense is little league).

— Brian Cougar

A.J. Burnett has more wins than the Red Sox