Sunday, September 28, 2008

An incredible closing day for baseball

It was an incredible "closing day" today.

It was especially so if you take off your Tribe-fan hat and view the day as a baseball fan. Or if you have some allegiance to the Milwaukee Brewers, or CC Sabathia.

First the Tribe.

The Indians finished the year with a rather ho-hum 5-1 loss, but that doesn't really tell the story.

They finished off the season at 81-81 and 7 games out of first.

In April, no one expected that kind of finish. We expected much more.

Back in July no one expected that kind of finish either. We were looking at finishing last and about 20-25 games under.

The Tribe was mugged early by injuries, but even more so by underperformance by a number of players and a horrid bullpen.

To the credit of the players and their manager, they turned the chicken crap of a first half into a chicken salad of an ending. Not quite as good as a big, juicy playoff cheeseburger, but at least a digestible ending.

With their play in the second half, the Tribe players managed to offer themselves and their fans a good deal of hope for next season. Eric Wedge should be credited with keeping the team up, and playing hard. And, after sitting out the off-season and helping to put an early kibosh on this season, Mark Shapiro should be credited with getting some legitimate talent to further bolster hopes for next year.

We'll look back - and ahead - at the Tribe in more detail in the next few weeks. But let's get back to an incredible final Sunday.

This will be a day that Brewers fans in particular, and real baseball fans in general, will remember for a while.

Tied with the Mets for the N.L. wild card spot heading into the day, the Brewers were tied 1-1 with Cubs in the 8th in their own park. CC Sabathia was through 8 innings, with 7 Ks and having allowed only 3 hits. But he was due to bat first in the bottom of the eighth and was already well over 100 pitches. The obvious move was to pinch hit for Sabathia.

But, with the season on the line, Breweres interim manager Dale Sveum went against the book and let CC bat so he could pitch the ninth. CC struck out, but three batters later Ryan Braun launched a bomb to left to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead.

At virtually the exact same time at Shea, two different members of the Mets bomb-squad bullpen gave up back-to-back homers in the bottom of the 8th, allowing the Florida Marlins to take their season from them for the second season in a row.

In Milwaukee, with a raucous crowd going nuts, CC finished off the Cubs in the 9th - putting up his 11th win for the Brewers and launching them into the playoffs.

I've watched a fair number of CC's starts since he was traded by the Tribe to Milwaukee, and I've been rooting for the Brewers - because of their small-market kinship with the Tribe- to make it into the playoffs. In spectacular fashion this afternoon, they did.

In the battle for the A.L. Central, which was also up for grabs on the final day, both the White Sox and Twins won rather routine games against the Tribe and Kay-Cee respectively.

But by beating the Sox two of three this weekend, the Tribe exacted revenge from the Sox and their wise ass manager Ozzie Guillen.

The Tribe not did not allow the White Sox to clinch against them, and they sent them into next week still a half game behind the Twins and having to beat both Detroit (in a make-up game) and the Twins (in a tie breaker) to get to the playoffs.

Good enough for me.

It's been a pleasure following the Tribe with you this season. Thanks to all who clicked on this site and especially to those who kept coming back.

Even though the season has ended, we aren't going anywhere. There are some important decisions to be made by the front office between now and the holidays and we'll be around to report and comment on those moves.

Hope you will stick with as the leaves fall and the snow starts to fly.

And hey, remember one thing. It could always be worse. You could be a Mets fan tonight.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Finally, something to play for

For anyone who has been watching the Indians for at least the last three years, there's no explanation needed as to how the headline of my post and the picture to the left fit together.

It was three years ago, the Tribe was making a surprising run for a wild card playoff birth.

All they needed was one win to get in.

The White Sox, already assured of the Central Division crown, were in town.

They were loose. And they were cocky - just the opposite of the young, uptight Tribe.

We all know what happened, and we all know just how much White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen rubbed it in.

Well, this weekend there's a chance for the Tribe to prove the old truism: "what goes around comes around."

The Tribe is in Chicago with a chance to shove the apple further down the throats of the Sox, who already have begun to choke away their shot at the playoffs after having been swept in a three game series by the Twins, who now lead the ChiSox by 1/2 game in the A.L. Central.

For months now the Tribe has been playing games that, while not meaningless, were only important for what they could mean for next year.

Virtually every position except center field is up for grabs next year and players have been auditioning for those parts.

With each player making their best case to win a spot for next year, the Indians have managed to put up an excellent second half, which brought them from their low-water mark of 16 games under .500 to their current mark of 1 game below breakeven. (They were 2 games above .500 until running into the Red Sox this week.)

So, with the other team in town seemingly dead in the water after three games, the Tribe has given Cleveland fans something to live for this weekend.

Sweet revenge.

It's not the playoffs, but it will certainly do - for this year at least.

By the way, one of my dreams has come true, though it took an injury to Andy Marte to make it happen. Jhonny Peralta is being moved to 3B for tonight's ballgame. Let's hope that is a precursor of what is to come next spring.

Well I'm off to find a loose floorboard to hide what little money I have left. I suggest you do the same.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A last father-daughter trip to Yankee Stadium

I made my last trip ever to Yankee Stadium last night, and it brought back memories of my 25 seasons of watching baseball at the game's greatest ballpark.

It was also a night that had the potential to be a moment for a father and his daughter to share a special memory. That part was not to be - but we'll get to that.

Most New Yorkers have their own special memories of Yankee Stadium.

There's Reggie Jackson's three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

Roger Maris' 61st home run in 1961.

Lou Gehrig's last day at Yankee Stadium and his long-remembered speech.

Also not to be forgotten are Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and other, more-recent, no-nos by David Wells, Dave Righetti, Doc Gooden and Jim Abbot.

But last night, in recalling my trips to Yankee Stadium while sitting in those blue seats one last time, I found that - other than Don Mattingly Day (which honored the only Yankee I ever really liked) - all of my Yankee Stadium memories are Tribe related.

The details are a little fuzzy and these are in no particular order, but my most-vivid memories of being at Yankee Stadium are quick blips of rather unremarkable occurrences, especially when compared to the huge moments that have made the stadium so rich in history.

I recall an afternoon game, for instance, sometime in the 80s after I had moved to NY from Cleveland. Brett Butler came to the plate with the go-ahead runner on base either in the 9th inning or in extra innings, put up an at-bat that had to be about 13 pitches long and then lashed a single up the middle for what would be the game-winner. The game meant little in the standings, but the memory remains fresh for me.

I remember a newly promoted Manny Ramirez, taking his first cuts as an Indian, lashing hits all over Yankee Stadium.

I can also recall going to an early-April game at the stadium in the early 90s. My parents were visiting from Cleveland and my dad and I went to the game.

My dad was already a bit frail, at too young an age.

On this night, the intermittent rain was as cold as ice. My dad's hands were shaking violently from the cold, but he insisted we stay - because he knew I wanted to.

We left midway through the game but stayed long enough to see a young Jim Thome loft one high into the upper deck in right field. About 30 seconds prior to that my dad said something like "everybody says this guy is going to be so good, but I don't like him much."

Dad - who came to his interest in baseball late in life - was not such a great judge of talent. But he was a great dad.

I can also recall, in roughly the same time period, a newly recalled Russ Branyan slam a line drive that hit the facing of the middle deck in right field at the stadium - taking about a second and a half to travel from home plate to the seats. He sure can hit, when he can hit.

I can remember some pretty majestic shots against the Tribe as well, not the least of which came off the bat of someone you would not expect.

It was a night game in 1987 - Indians and Yanks. Steve Carlton - in the getting-lit-up-every-night stage of his career - was pitching for the Tribe and was heading for trouble. The pitching coach at the time - whoever it was - came out to talk with Carlton who nodded dismissively. Seconds later, Yankee catcher Joel Skinner (yes, that Joel Skinner) launched a slop ball (probably Carlton's diminished fastball) so high and so far into the black, batter's-eye seats, that it nearly hit the back wall of the stadium in center field.

While I don't remember any single game or hit that stands out, I had the vague recollection that Brook Jacoby, the Tribe's 3B in the 80s did a lot of damage at Yankee Stadium. In looking it up, I find I was partially right - Jacoby had a .303 lifetime average against the Yanks, his highest BA against any team, But he also had an unremarkable 8 homers and 42 RBIs in 107 games lifetime against NY.

The Stadium, as we all know, has a reputation for rowdiness - well-deserved in the 70s and 80s more so than now, though it still has its moments.

One of those "moments" I happened to be there for:

Throw-Your-Yankee-Mini-Bats-At-Albert Belle Night.

That was the night the field was evacuated by the Tribe until they could be assured that that lovable left fielder could get through the rest of the game without that night's giveaway striking him repeatedly about the head.

Then there is the ever-present menace, which I have experienced in every one of my 25 years of attending ballgames at Yankee Stadium: Drunken 22-year-olds, not sober enough to even control their ability to speak, putting their nose to my face and spitting out "Cleveland sucks" just because I happened to be wearing a Tribe cap. That happened virtually every time I went to Yankee Stadium with my cap on, even when the Indians were not the opposition.

Then there was the one day that was - hands down - my single worst day at Yankee Stadium.

My town, in the northern suburbs, was sponsoring a trip to Yankee Stadium, again sometime in the 90s. The Tribe was the opposition that day and I showed up for the pre-bus-ride picnic dressed in my Tribe jersey. The folks from the town had their fun with me and we headed off to the game.

It was well into the 90s outside, and the humidity was up there too. One of the most uncomfortable weather days I can remember. That was the least of it.

Pretty much before I could down my first Coke, the Tribe was down by about 16 runs. The fans around me (not the ones I came with) were brutal - one peppering me with pieces of hot pretzel (WITH MUSTARD). About 19 and a half hours later, the game ended, the Tribe lost 20-something to 1 and I vowed never to return - a vow I kept until the next time I got my hands on some tickets.

My final trip to Yankee Stadium will be memorable to me for what didn't happen.

My 17-year-old daughter has idolized Derek Jeter for her entire baseball-watching life. They came to the Yankees together in 1995. Jeter as a rookie player and Katy as a six-year-old fan. She has been starstruck for Jeter ever since.

The first "real" book Katy read from beginning to end was Jeter's autobiography. And her room is a shrine to the Yankee SS. (Those of you with daughters in Cleveland, think Grady Sizemore.)

As you can imagine, Katy was thrilled when she learned on Sunday that Jeter had tied Lou Gehrig for most career hits by a player at Yankee Stadium. She was happy that Jeter tied the record, but thrilled that we had tickets for Monday night - the night he could (in her mind, would) break the record.

Her new digital camera in hand, my daughter snapped a shot of every single pitch thrown to Jeter last night - pitches that would result in 2 Ks, a pop out to 3B and a screaming liner that found its way into Orlando Cabrera's glove.

After the eighth-inning pop out, and with the Yanks up by two, the writing was on the wall. My daughter and Derek's brush with history was not to be. Her silence all the way home was deafening, and sad.

There are times, as a father, when you have to step in and make things right.

There are times when you know you could step in, but you also know it is better not to.

And then there are times as a dad when you just don't have the power to make it happen.

Last night was one of those times, and our shared father-daughter memory was not to be.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tribe baseball is fun again

Long time no see.

And I apologize for that.

The last two weeks have been a zoo on the job and at home - where every conceivable appliance and consumer electronic in my home has given up the ghost.

Just this week I spent three nights on the phone with my satellite provider - their technician trying to guide me through the process of sticking various wires into various holes to make my TV picture come back. After three nights of trial and error, I was able to watch the Tribe tonight.

And what a night to rejoin the fun.

The Tribe put an 11 spot on the board and Cliff Lee put up win No. 22.

I have an e-mail argument going with a colleague of mine in Toronto who is backing Roy Halladay for the Cy Young award - touting his eight complete games (for whatever that's worth in today's game.)

But even my Toronto pal - before tonight's game - admitted Lee would have to have a complete collapse in his last four (now three) starts to even have a chance of blowing the award.

If Lee doesn't win the Cy, regardless of what happens in his last three outings - than the post-season awards count for jack.

A lot has happened since I last posted.

Hafner has rejoined the team. He's 3 for 8 since coming back - all singles. He also is still unable to play DH in consecutive games. And he still has that stiff, awkward swing we got used to seeing in the early part of this season. You've got to say Hafner is very much a worrisome question mark for the Tribe next year.

The same can not be said for Victor Martinez, even though he is hitting just .222 since coming off of the
DL late in August. He's a little rusty, but he seems to have healed up nicely and has shown at least a little power since he has come back.

Some other thoughts on the Tribe, in no particular order.

Shoppach has more than proven his ability to play everyday, with his 20 dingers in what amounts to a little over half a season of at-bats. He's also got a .973 OPS for the year.

The only question is which team will he be starting for next season? Starting catchers who can hit are hard to come by. The Tribe has two.
Shoppach could bring a solid starting pitcher, or quite a haul in a package.

In addition, the Tribe has Carlos Santana - or Victor Martinez Jr. - working his way quickly through the minors. He should be ready to take over for Victor when it becomes clear the time has come for him to move to 1B.

Those are good reasons to consider trading
Shoppach. But, if the Tribe intends to contend next year, I would be strongly in favor of keeping Shoppach, letting him catch most of the time and putting Victor at 1B - where wear-and-tear on his knees, hammy and elbow will be drastically reduced.

Two other Tribesman who have shown themselves deserving of a starting spot next season are Shin-
Soo Choo and Asdrubal Carbera - both playing key roles in the Tribe's second-half resurgence.

I would start
Choo regularly next season and I think the Tribe would do fine to head into 2009 with the same outfielders they have right now. Eric Wedge has done a good job of mixing and matching out there and I see no problem with keeping the same approach next year so long as Choo is out there most of the time. A big bat would be nice, but there are too many other holes to fill (and don't forget Matt LaPorta will be coming on soon enough).

I think the Tribe has the right idea about adding a bat in the infield. My preference would be at 2B, which would force them to move Cabrera to short and Jhonny Peralta to 3B. Peralta has turned himself into a hitter who gets it - all the time - this season and my criticisms in the past of his offensive approach appear no longer valid. But I sure would love to see Cabrera's glove plugging up the SS hole.

The next comment will come as no revelation. I think we've all seen enough of Andy
Marte. Wave bye bye Andy!!

We've seen a lot of good things from the starting
rotation in recent weeks. But that key part of the club is fraught with concerns.

Fausto ever going to find the plate consistently again?

Anthony Reyes has been quite a find. Can we trust the Tribe when they play down his current injury? I'll believe Reyes is OK when I actually see him in the rotation next season.

Laffey? Two question marks for sure. Especially given Laffey's late-season injury, I'd put more money down on Buffalo's Dave Huff for next season. It seems more than clear the Tribe will sign or trade for (or both) an experienced middle-of-the-rotation guy. That is if they are serious about next season.

The best news in recent weeks
out of the bullpen has been the resurgence of Raffy Betancourt. With the two Raffy's looking to be on track and Jensen Lewis acing his test at closer, the bullpen cupboard does not look quite as bare as it did a month or so ago.

I would think the Tribe will try to find a proven closer for next season, but I'd feel better going into next year with Lewis as the closer than I did heading into this season with Joe
Borowski in that role.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Victor goes yard!!

With one swing of his bat, Victor Martinez shook off the 700 pound gorilla that has been on his back all season.

In the bottom of the second inning tonight at Progressive Field, Victor hit a towering flyball to the home run porch in left - his first homer of the season.

After playing the first two-and-half months with a sore hamstring and eventually a sore elbow, Victor was robbed of his power at the plate and became a non-entity with a bat in his hands.

All fixed and rested, Victor has had a hit in each of the three starts he's made since being activated, and tonight - for the first time all year - he went yard.

The joy and relief Victor felt was plain to see.

He stood at the plate and watched as he did what he used to take for granted for the first time in 2008 - send a ball sailing deep into the nighttime sky.

His smile in the dugout afterward was a mile wide and his teammates - especially fellow catcher Sal Fasano - seemed to enjoy the moment as much as Victor.

You had to assume that Victor's power would return with his health. I'm sure most of us felt that way. But it sure was nice to get a little evidence during the heat of battle.

Having said that, it would also be nice to see a little consistency from Fausto Carmona.

Fausto also has recently returned from a lengthy injury, and although he's shown flashes of his old self in his recent outings, he seems to be unable to put it all together for a full game.

It looked like tonight might be the night, as Fausto had a shutout through 5. But in the sixth Carmona lost his control and his poise and allowed 3 runs before departing with two outs in the inning.

In 8 starts since returning to the rotation, Carmona is 3-3 with tonight's decision still in doubt. He's thrown 41 2/3 innings and has allowed 31 earned runs. He's walked 22 batters in the process.

For a guy who is being counted on as No. 2 next year, I sure hope we see a bit more of the good Fausto the rest of the way.

Back to the good news.

Raffy Betancourt continued his late-season resurrection, getting out of a second-and-third, two-out jam left for him by Carmona in the sixth and going on to pitch another 2/3 of an inning in the 7th before giving way to Raffy Perez, who was brought in to get Jim Thome.

While Betancourt has been one of the poster boys for the Tribe's underachievement this season, his work since the middle of August has him looking like a decent bet to be a positive factor again next year.

Continuing in the good-news-bad-news vein, the Tribe today said it will shut down Aaron Laffey for the year due to elbow soreness.'s Anthony Castrovince reports and MRI showed no structural damage but the Tribe thought it best for Laffey to just call it a year.

Six minor leaguers did get the call-up to the bigs - second baseman Josh Barfield, first baseman Mike Aubrey, right-handers Brian Slocum, Tom Mastny and John Meloan and left-hander Rich Rundles.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lee ends 34-year drought with 20th win

Cliff Lee, with another dominating performance tonight at Progressive Field, became the first Tribe hurler in 34 years to win 20 games.

Lee boosted his record to 20-2 on the year, tossing a five-hit shutout - getting 21 White Sox in a row from the first inning through the first out of the eighth after giving up two singles to lead off the game (there was on DP thrown in making it 22 OUTS in a row).

Lee has won 9 of his last 10 starts - with the other being a no-decision - going back to mid-July. His best month of the season was April when he won all five of his starts and had an 0.96 ERA. August was just about as good - as Lee went 5-0 with a 1.96 ERA.

The worst month of the season for Lee - June 3-0, 3.41

Gaylord Perry was the last Indian to win 20 - going 21-13 with a 2.51 ERA for the Tribe in the 1974, the year this blogger graduated from Cleveland Central Catholic High School.

Perry's brother Jim was back with the Tribe that year, contributing 17 wins of his own, with a 2.95 ERA.

Unfortunately everyone else in the rotation was above 4.00, which for the time period was a sub-par number. The Tribe finished the season at 77-85, in fourth place in the A.L. East, 14 games behind the division-winning Orioles.

In addition to Perry's outstanding season there were a number of other noteworthy events in 1974.

There was, of course, 10-cent beer night, on June 4 of that year.

About six weeks later, on July 19, Dick Bosman - the only other starter on the team with a winning record at 7-5 - threw a no-hitter against Oakland at Cleveland Stadium.

Chris Chambliss started 1974 as the Tribe's first baseman. But he didn't make it through April, having been traded to the Yankees along with Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw for Fritz Peterson, Steve Kline, Fred Beene and Tom Buskey.

Tidrow found a home eventually in the bullpen of the Yankee pennant winners later in the decade and we all know what Chris Chambliss did for the Yanks.

Buskey became the Tribe's closer in '74, posting 17 saves. Fritz Peterson was famous for trading wives with former Yankee teammate Mike Kekich and not much good came from Freddie Beene or Kline.

1974 was also the year The Big Mon - Rico Carty - joined the Tribe, after rehabbing his career in the Mexican League.

And, Frank Robinson was picked up late in the season as a precursor to his taking over the club next year as baseball's first African American manager.

I took this little trip in the memory mobile to help illustrate just how rare the 20-win season has become in baseball.

So hats off to Cliff and hope you've been appreciating each and every outing Cliff has made this year.