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

Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts

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RIGHT NEXT TO MY CAT IN BRIGHTON, MA — On Thursday night, Derek Jeter played his last game at Yankee Stadium. Captain Clutch — damn right I’m calling him Captain Clutch — came up to the plate in the ninth inning with the game tied, a runner on second and an entire crowd chanting his name. He hit the first pitch to right field — right-field hits are what will pop into my head if I’m ever asked to describe Jeter, along with jump throws and a certain flip throw — and the Yankees won the game. It was a magical end to a Hall of Fame career (yeah, I know, he might play at Fenway Park this weekend).

In the summer of 2004, right before the start of my senior year of college, I was at a baseball field in Bergen Beach with my younger brother, Kevin. He wanted to play catch, field some grounders, have me throw him some batting practice so he could get ready for his sophomore year playing baseball at the University of Scranton, noted Division III baseball powerhouse. I did not play baseball at the University of Scranton. There was a time when I thought I might play collegiate baseball, but when I arrived at the UofS my freshman year, I decided I was done with baseball. Not due to any dislike of the game, I was just 18 and figured I had better things to spend my time doing.

When Kevin and I finished practicing, I picked up a bat and stepped to the plate. I told Kev, a lefty, to throw me one pitch. If I hit it over the fence, I would try out for the Varsity baseball team my senior year. He threw a pitch. I hit it over the fence. (Kevin might deny this, but it’s how I remember it).

We returned to school, and despite my friend Steve telling me that baseball practices and games would get in the way of all the drinking I could do senior year, I tried out. And I made the team! I mean the coach told me outright that he was going to keep me on the roster because he wanted to have an extra catcher to catch bullpens and there was an outside chance he might have me catch when my brother pitched, but, either way, I made the team! No matter how shitty the team, making one is a good feeling.

And it was fun. There were early practices, I quickly realized I was not very/any good at baseball anymore, and we had to run laps on occasion, but it was fun. Playing catch, taking swings in batting practice, team parties, my buddy Dennis hating nearly everything. Despite the fact that it was, indeed, cutting into my senior-year drinking time, I had a great time. I also barely played — rightly so!

The last home game of the season, we played at Red Barons Stadium (which is now home of the Triple-A RailRiders, if I’m not mistaken). One of the cool things about playing at a Minor League stadium was the fact that the bullpen was located all the way out in right field, so the pitchers and catchers could straight up lounge with no coaches around. We goofed around, chewed on sunflower seeds (or dipped tobacco like true badasses) and, every once in a while, I had to help a pitcher warm up. Our team stunk, we were playing a team that started this 6-foot-3 dude who threw gas and we were losing. In the last inning, Dennis — who was also a senior — ran out and said, “McGrath, you’re batting this inning.”

“What?”

“You’re batting this inning.”

“Why?”

“It’s Senior Day.”

“Ohhhhh.”

“You’re definitely going to strike out.”

“Thanks, Dennis.”

So I ran from the bullpen to the dugout. I had no idea it was Senior Day, not that I would’ve asked my parents to drive up from Brooklyn for the game, despite the fact that they probably would have since my parents are great. But, hey, an at-bat is an at-bat. I had actually had one previously, but it went like so:

Me in the on-deck circle, to my buddy JP: “I don’t care if the first pitch is over my head, I’m swinging at it.”

First pitch: Over my head. Me: Swing.

Second pitch: Don’t remember, but it was a strike.

Third pitch: Pitcher threw a curveball. I thought to myself, “That’s a nice curveball.” Strike 3.

So I had experience at the plate that year, but not much. I put on a batting helmet, grabbed a bat and strolled to the plate. I was leading off. As I approached the plate, I heard one of the guys on the team, Steve, say, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I thought to myself, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I stepped in the batter’s box.

Now, as previously noted, the dude pitching was like 6-foot-3 and threw gas. I’m not gonna call him the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, but I’m not not going to, either.

First pitch: Slider. Nasty slider! I did not swing. Strike 1.

Second pitch: Slider. Garbage slider. Slider that bounces two feet before the plate. I swing. Strike 2.

Third pitch: Slider. Most garbage slider ever thrown. Slider that bounces five feet from the plate. I swing. Strike 3.

However …

The slider was so garbage and bounced so far from the plate, it bounces over the catcher’s head. I, rally starter that I am, sprint down the first-base line and am safe at first.

First-base coach: “What the hell was that, McGrath?”

Me: “Whatever. I’m safe.”

Next batter: Hits into a double play. End of my baseball career.

Later that night, I was talking to my friend Dan’s younger brother, who was visiting, and he told me that he attended the game. I asked him if he saw my at-bat. He said, “Yes, that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

My baseball career ended with arguably the worst at-bat in collegiate baseball history. Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium ended with him hitting a walk-off single. Baseball is glorious.

Brian Cougar

Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts

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

Derek Jeter: Great fielder, terrible captain

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Derek Jeter’s final season playing Major League Baseball begins on Tuesday, so there will be six billion stories this year lauding his Hall of Fame career. Jeter enters the 2014 season with 3,316 hits (most all time for the Yankees). The 13-time All-Star has won five Gold Glove Awards (all 100% deserved, you swine), the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year Award and five World Series titles. Jeter’s been part of some all-time great moments (flip throw, every jump throw) in the history of baseball, and he has avoided basically any off-the-field drama. He’s also made a boatload of money and spent quality time with many lovely ladies.

When Jeter announced that 2014 would be his last season, this — #FarewellCaptain – started popping up on the Twitter. This is the name of a biography written about Jeter by Ian O’Connor. The Yankees’ official shop sells this (my favorite), this and this, among other items.

Jeter became the Yankees’ captain on June 3, 2003. Since that date, the Yankees have the most wins (1,019) in MLB. They have missed the postseason just twice during that span, and have won a World Series title. Jeter has 1,901 hits, 136 homers and 77 game-winning RBIs (important stat) since becoming captain. However, how-ev-er, it has not been only good times since Jeter was named captain. In fact, one can make a strong case that the Yankees were better off when Jeter wasn’t burdened with the captainship.

A brief, out-of-order collection of some fond memories of the Yankees with Jeter before he was captain:

World Series titles (1996, 1998-2000); Hideki Irabu joins the Yanks; David Wells and David Cone throw perfect games; El Duque joins the Yanks; Roger Clemens joins the Yanks; the Red Sox win zero World Series titles; the Mets win zero World Series titles (even losing to the Yanks in the 2000 Fall Classic); everything Bernie Williams does during this period; Don Mattingly receives a Don Mattingly arcade game at Don Mattingly Day at Yankee Stadium; old Yankee Stadium still exists; Shea Stadium still exists; Daryl Strawberry hits a homer while the Yankees play some home games at Shea Stadium; Jose Canseco plays for the Yankees; George Steinbrenner calls Irabu a fat, pussy toad; basically everyone ignores PEDs in baseball; Jeter makes the flip throw; Jeter hits a walk-off homer against the D-backs in the 2001 World Series.

Now, since Jeter has become captain, here is a somewhat in-order collection of bad memories:

2003: Pedro Martinez brutally assaults Don Zimmer; Marlins beat Yankees in World Series, smoke cigars on Yankee Stadium infield.

2004: Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte leave Yankees for Astros; Red Sox come back from down 3-0 in ALCS; this image becomes a thing; Red Sox win World Series title.

2005: Randy Johnson joins Yankees, assaults photographer; Yanks lose to friggin’ Mike Scioscia and the Angels in the ALDS.

2006: Jaret Wright starts elimination game in ALDS; Yanks are eliminated by Tigers in ALDS.

2007: Carl Pavano starts Opening Day; Joba Chamberlain is attacked by midges; Red Sox win another World Series title; Joe Torre (Mr. Torre, as Jeter calls him) is fired.

2008: Billy Crystal given Spring Training at-bat; Generation Trey is, in fact, not here to stay; Yankees miss postseason for first time since 1993; Final games at old Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium.

2009: Things went well during 2009.

2010: Randy Winn released by Yankees.

2011: Jeter does not name Bartolo Colon assistant captain.

2012: Colon no longer pitches for Yankees; Alex Rodriguez benched during postseason; Jeter fractures ankle in ALCS.

2013: Jeter can’t stay healthy; Brian Cashman says A-Rod “should just shut the f— up.”; Mariano Rivera pitches final game with Yankees; Pettitte pitches final game with Yankees; Phil Hughes pitches final game with Yankees; Joba pitches final game with Yankees; Yankees miss postseason.

2014: ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Now, could Jeter, as captain, have prevented all/any of this from happening? Outside of the Billy Crystal thing, I don’t know. But were the Yankees better off when Jeter was just a shortstop and not Captain Clutch? I think the answer is clear.

#fireable

 

Brian Cougar

Derek Jeter: Great fielder, terrible captain