Sunday, June 29, 2008

Don't Count Out the Dodgers Just Yet!

As of this morning the LA Dodgers are just 2.5 games behind the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the underachieving National League West. It is amazing when you think about all the troubles the team has gone through this season. With injuries to brittle old veterans and mistakes made by unseasoned youngsters, the Bums have had multiple problems with pitching and scoring runs.
But, don’t count out the Dodgers just yet. Last night they didn’t get a single hit and still beat the Angels, 1-0. It is only the fifth time in modern baseball history that something like this has happened.
Believe it or not, this team could be coming together at just the right time. Up-and-coming stars like James Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Andre Ethier have displayed moments of brilliance. Injured former stars like Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Brad Penny and Andruw Jones will be returning to the team soon. If they are healthy and can contribute at all, it could get interesting.
Maybe I’m dreaming, but who knows? Stranger things have happened, last night’s game being a prime example.
This account of the game appeared on
Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined to no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night -- and it still wasn't good enough for the Los Angeles Angels.
The Dodgers became the fifth team in modern major league history to win a game in which they didn't get a hit, defeating the Angels 1-0. Weaver's error on a slow roller led to an unearned run by the Dodgers in the fifth.
Weaver downplayed the fact the Angels lost without giving up a hit.
"Any loss, no matter what, is tough," he said. "I'm sure you guys are going to eat this up a lot more than I am. I don't call it a no-hitter for me. I only went six innings."
The Dodgers' Joe Torre thought it might've been his weirdest win as a manager.
"I'd really have to reach down, and I don't really remember too much, but that's about as bizarre as you can get," he said.
With the Angels trailing in the interleague game at Dodger Stadium, Weaver was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning after throwing 97 pitches. Arredondo pitched the next two innings.
Because the Dodgers didn't have to bat in the ninth, the game doesn't qualify as a no-hitter. It was only the fifth such game since 1900, and first since Boston's Matt Young in 1992, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Angels' Torii Hunter said he has never been involved in such a strange game.
"Never," he said, "not even in Little League."
The Dodgers' Chad Billingsley (7-7) scattered three hits over seven innings, then Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito shut out the Angels for the next two innings.
Weaver (7-8) was victimized by his own fielding error with one out in the fifth inning that allowed Matt Kemp to reach first.
Kemp's spinning squibber rolled to the right of the mound and Weaver rushed toward first base to grab the ball, but bobbled it. The ruling on whether it was a hit or an error was a close one, since Weaver would have had to field the ball cleanly -- and first baseman Casey Kotchman was off the bag. Official scorer Don Hartack ruled it an error.
"I believe if he just picked it up with his bare hand and flipped it, he gets him by a good step and a half," Hartack said. "So my thinking was, it really wasn't a bang-bang play. I looked at the replay once and it looked like Kemp was a good seven steps away, so my thinking was Weaver had plenty of time to make the out."
Kemp completely agreed with the scoring.
"I hit it off the end of the bat and it had a little funky English on it," he said. "He could have made the play, but he just dropped the ball. It was an error. I mean, if they'd have given me a hit, I'd have been happy. But it was an error by far."
Kemp stole second and continued to third on catcher Jeff Mathis' throwing error, then scored on Blake DeWitt's sacrifice fly.
Weaver struck out six, walked three and hit a batter in his six innings. Chone Figgins pinch-hit for him in the seventh with two outs and a runner on second, but grounded out.
Baseball's other no-hit losers were Andy Hawkins of the Yankees in 1990, Steve Barber and Stu Miller of Baltimore in 1967, and Ken Johnson of Houston in 1964.
Billingsley struck out seven and walked three.
The Angels, shut out for the second consecutive night, had six hits but didn't get a runner as far as third base. They had runners on first and second against Saito with two out in the ninth, but he struck out pinch-hitter Reggie Willits to earn his 12th save.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

I know, I know, Willie got fired, Strahan retired—it’s all too much for me to process at the moment. So in the meantime, did anyone see this? A little on the lighter side—what an amazing pitcher! From today’s New York Times:

Double-Barreled Pitcher Provides Shot of Confusion

by Vincent M. Mallozzi
June 21, 2008

It was a lefty-righty matchup for the ages.

Make that a righty-lefty matchup for the ages.

Pat Venditte, an ambidextrous pitcher for the Staten Island Yankees, eventually got the matchup he wanted: right-hander vs. right-hander, which resulted in a game-ending strikeout after a long and bizarre pitcher-batter sequence—make that batter-pitcher sequence.

On Thursday night at KeySpan Park in Coney Island, the Yankees led the Brooklyn Cyclones, 7-2, when the 22-year-old Venditte, making his professional debut, strolled to the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning and took part in his own version of the double switch.

Venditte, a switch-pitcher from Creighton who can reach 90 miles an hour from the right side and the high 70s from the left, retired the first two batters he faced while pitching right-handed.

Still pitching right-handed, Venditte allowed a single by Nicholas Giarraputo. Up next was designated hitter Ralph Henriquez, and he and Venditte engaged in a routine more vaudeville than Mudville.

As Henriquez walked to the plate, Venditte, assuming Henriquez would bat left-handed, stood behind the pitching rubber with his glove on his right hand and the ball in his left. Henriquez, looking out at Venditte, then stepped across the batter’s box, determined to hit right-handed and gain a righty-lefty advantage. Seeing this, Venditte quickly switched his custom-made glove to his left hand and put the ball in his right, hoping to gain a righty-on-righty advantage.

Henriquez stepped out and began asking the home-plate umpire, Shaylor Smith, to lay out his options, then summoned his third-base coach. With the matter unresolved, Henriquez again stepped across the batter’s box in an attempt to bat left-handed. Again, Venditte switched glove and ball. The cat-and-mouse game reached full comedic gear when Henriquez again strolled across the batter’s box to hit right-handed, and Venditte responded by with the old switcheroo, setting up as a righty.

“My interpretation of the rule is that we each get to switch once,” Venditte said before Friday night’s Yankees game against Hudson Valley at Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island. “After that, I thought I had the final decision.”

Pat McMahon, the Staten Island manager, and Edgar Alfonzo, the Brooklyn manager, trotted onto the field for a discussion with Smith, setting off a series of separate discussions by confused members of the teams, which are Class A affiliates of the Yankees and the Mets.

In the midst of those discussions, Venditte tossed warm-up pitches—with both arms.

“I don’t think the umpires really knew how to handle it,” Venditte said. “It’s not something you see every day.”

After a seven-minute delay, Smith ordered Henriquez to step into the box as a right-handed batter, and Venditte, now pitching right-handed, proceeded to strike him out, swinging.

When asked before Friday’s game if he had ever seen anything like it before, McMahon paused before uttering softly, “Uh, no.”

But Venditte, drafted this month by the Yankees in the 20th round, said he was involved in a similar situation during his sophomore year against Nebraska. In that game, umpires ruled that Venditte had to declare which arm he would use before throwing his first pitch and could not switch until the at-bat ended. Venditte decided to pitch left-handed, and a right-handed batter “hit a laser,” he recalled, “but fortunately, it was caught.”

McMahon, who said Friday that he was waiting for an official ruling from higher baseball authorities on the subject of switch-pitching to switch-hitters, said that the way he understood it, “the rule dictates that the hitter establish the box and the pitcher establish the throw, and then each team can make one move, and then it’s play ball.”

“That’s the rule that we got from the rule book of minor league baseball,” he said.

McMahon, who said he shared that interpretation with Smith before Friday night’s game and would go over it with umpires as part of ground-rules discussions before every game, tipped his cap to Venditte.

“I thought Pat handled it very well,” he said. “Here you had a switch-hitter facing a young man who throws with both arms. It’s a unique experience and one that players and umpires will probably take a little time to get used to.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

So Close, Yet...My interview with Stefan Wever

Stefan Wever is a guy I know who owns a bar in San Francisco I frequent now and then. For the longest time, I bought drinks from the man, knowing him only as a big guy who knows a lot about sports and is fun to talk to. I saw him around town, at SF Giants games and in North Beach and he was always pleasant. I didn’t know his story until a buddy of mine told me the details.
I find his tale fascinating, because he came so close to baseball stardom at the highest level, only to have it come crashing down with one pitch. And yet, he’s completely okay with the entire experience. Stefan is a really smart, very honest and extremely likable individual.

When I sat down to talk to him about his brief career in the major leagues, Wever was candid and sincere. At the end of the interview, I asked him to tell me some of his funniest baseball stories. He winced and declined, saying that all of his really funny stories were X-rated. “Maybe one day,” he told me. He also said that if I hang around enough, he might also show me the tape of his one and only major league appearance.

Here’s a little background on Stefan, compliments of Wikipedia:

Wever graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1976. After dominating the San Francisco section in high school, Wever lettered at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he garnered interest from numerous professional scouts. At 6’8”, 240 lbs., Wever was an imposing, fire baller with a great fastball, curve and changeup. When he was on his game, he was virtually unhittable.

After finishing his career at UCSB, Wever was drafted into the New York Yankees organization. In 1982, after winning the Southern League(AA) Pitcher of the Year award, accomplishing the rare Pitcher's Triple Crown (leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts) he made the rare jump from AA to the major leagues.

Wever’s first and only major league appearance came against the Milwaukee Brewers on September 17, 1982. He pitched for 2⅔ innings, but tore his rotator cuff in the process, ending his career. He is one of the few pitchers to face two future Hall of Famers as his first two batters—Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.

Wever continued his education during the off-season while rapidly climbing through the Yankee system at the University of California at Berkeley from where he received a BA in English Literature.

Now retired from the game of baseball, Wever owns the Horseshoe Tavern, a popular and legendary San Francisco bar, is an accomplished pianist, voracious reader, doting father to his 15 year old daughter, and coaches teenage boys in the science and art of baseball.

On his injury: “What if Pavarotti ruined his voice on his first night singing as a tenor? That’s how I felt when I hurt my rotator cuff. It might be an egotistical way of looking at it, but that’s how I feel. I keep myself going by knowing in my heart that I was one of the very best there was when I was 100%. I could have had a great career, but it didn’t happen. I can’t dwell on it, although when it first happened, I must admit that I was shocked and bitter.”

On his call up to the Yankees: “We had just won the Double-A championship for Nashville and I won 18 games that season for them. I figured the season was over and I was headed back to San Francisco. But, my manager at the time, (the late Johnny Oates) called me into his office. My pitching coach was Hoyt Wilhelm, the great knuckleball pitcher, and he was there too. When I saw them sitting there, I figured I was going up to the Yankees’ Triple-A club in Columbus. But they told me, ‘You’re going to New York.’

On his arrival in the Big Apple: “The taxi pulled up to Yankee stadium and I couldn’t believe how awesome the place looked. As I walked through the players’ entrance, a bunch of fans were waiting around, and they yelled out my name and some of my stats in Double-A. I was surprised that they could be that knowledgeable about a player who had never played in the Bigs. Then when I entered the locker room, it was pretty surreal. The first person I met was Pete Sheehy, the legendary Yankees clubhouse guy. I figured, I’m some kid from Double-A, I’ll probably get some locker in the corner with number 99 or something. But my locker was in the middle of the room and they gave me number 25, which was Tommy John’s old number. I looked to my right and there was Dave Winfield. I looked to my left and there was Goose Gossage. What more could a rookie ask for? The guys were great and really made me feel at home. Ron Guidry came up to me and said, ‘Welcome to the New York Yankees.’ Dave Winfield took me aside and started telling me about all of the high-end men’s clothing stores in the big cities in the American League.

On a poker game that first night: “The team went on the road that next day so we flew to Baltimore. When we got to the hotel, they gave me a really nice, big suite. Rookies never get rooms like that, but a catcher for the Yanks, a guy named Barry Foote, had left the team for personal reasons; so they gave me his room. Pretty soon, the word got out—‘the rook got the suite.’ I ended up hosting a poker game that night and it didn’t finish up until 6 am. I thought, wow—this is fun. I like it up here in the majors.”

On his one and only MLB start: “It was my sixth day in the majors and we were in Milwaukee playing the Brewers. They called them ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’ back then, because Harvey Kuenn was their manager and they had a great lineup. They were on their way to the World Series that season. It had rained during the day and the mound at County Stadium was muddy. The first two guys I faced that day are now in the Hall of Fame—Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. I don’t know if that’s a record or not. Well, Molitor hit a six-hopper through the right side for a single and Yount hit a double, scoring Molitor. The next batter was Cecil Cooper and I threw him a really good changeup, but he hit it to centerfield, where Jerry Mumphrey misplayed it. That should have been the first out. Ted Simmons was up next and he hit a ground ball through our shortstop’s (Andre Robertson) legs. That should have been the second out. The next batter was Gorman Thomas and he hit it a mile—a 3-run homer. That’s when I felt a twinge in my shoulder. But, hell if I was coming out. I kept pitching and they kept hitting, and by the time they took me out I had pitched 2 2/3 innings, gave up six hits, nine runs (eight earned), walked three, struck out two, gave up one HR and threw three wild pitches. We lost, 14-0. It just wasn’t a good game for us. But I had no idea it was my last game.”

On the aftermath of his injury: “I didn’t pitch again in 1982 and I began to feel pain the first time I picked up a ball over the winter. The Yankees told me to take it easy, which I did. When I went to spring training in ’83, Billy Martin was the new Yanks’ manager. He told me that I was going to be his #5 starter. Billy liked big, hard throwing guys and that’s what I was. Or had at least been at one time. What we didn’t know until a little later was that my arm was done. I used to throw 95 and now I was maxing out at 85. I went to see an expert and in two minutes he knew that my rotator cuff was fully torn. I tried to make a comeback at AAA, but I was simply delaying the inevitable. My baseball career was over.”

On his recurring dream: “ I still have this dream all the time, and sometimes it’s really vivid. I’m on a field, but it’s more like a cow pasture. Don Mattingly’s there. Buck Showalter’s also there. All my teammates are there. And I’m there, trying to get back into the major leagues. But, I never quite make it to the field.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Why can’t Willie Randolph manage? What has happened to him?

Randolph is a name perennially associated with winning. Not only that, but he is associated with winning “the right way,” with class, dignity, and sportsmanship.

So what is going on with Willie’s Mets this year? Why can’t Randolph, one of baseball’s great winners in his years as a player and coach with the Yankees, get this team to play—as expected—like winners?

The team is deeply loaded with talent. Even taking into consideration the aging starters and oft-injured veterans who might be past their primes, there’s no reason why the players should be performing so far below their capabilities. The owner of the team, Fred Wilpon, and his COO son Jeff, both have said they have certain expectations for the team this year—especially after last year’s historic collapse to miss the postseason.

Drama already surrounds the team. There have been team meetings and front-office meetings and closed-door meetings. Randolph’s job came into question during one particularly bad stretch, and he had the poor sense to introduce race into the conversation. I’m not saying that race is not a factor in how Willie is viewed, and he is welcome to his opinion—what I question is the timing of bringing up such a sensitive subject, creating a distraction when the team really needed to focus.

Still, just when you thought Randolph was only keeping his job on a game-by-game basis, the Mets went on a little tear and won seven of nine, including series victories over division-rival Florida, the Dodgers, and the Giants. Fans were finally starting to think the team was on a bit of a streak.

Then they got swept in a four-game series by a pretty rotten San Diego club. The panic began anew. And the sword above Randolph’s head was poised to fall.

Through a lifetime of Yankee-hating, I’ve always liked Willie. He was a great ballplayer and a class act. I always thought he had the skills to manage and that he could manage under the spotlights of New York. I agree with his approach: Treat your players like men—if they need their manager to spark them to try to earn their salaries, then they are poor teammates and should be on another team. It is astounding to think that the players on the Mets don’t have enough to motivate them on a daily basis to try as hard as they can every time they go out on the field. If nothing else they should be motivated to silence the merciless boos that rain down on them whenever they play at home—a great final season at Shea, indeed. But the boos only appear to fluster these great stars who are making so much money—nary a clutch hitter or fielder among them, it seems.

In today’s paper, New York Times writer Ben Shpigel outlines key differences between the Mets and the division-leading Phillies, who seem to truly be the team to beat in the NL East. He writes, “Consider what happened in Philadelphia last Thursday afternoon, when Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel yanked Rollins from the game for not running hard on a pop-up that was eventually dropped. Rollins said he was wrong and openly backed Manuel’s decision to take him out of the game. When Randolph removed Reyes from a game in Houston last season for not running hard on a ground ball, Reyes sulked and spiraled into a two-month slump.”

At what point do the players have to shoulder some of the blame? Why should Willie have to change his managerial style to prod a bunch of overpaid spoiled brats to play to win? Just because he hasn’t won a World Series doesn’t mean he has no idea what he is doing. And when does some of the blame start falling on GM Omar Minaya, who assembled this fragile team (both mentally and physically) in the first place?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Got No Beef with Kobe! Lakers in 7!!

Tonight the NBA Championship Series begins. The Lakers and the Celtics, old foes who have not been on top recently, are ready to do battle before the entire world. It’s a story with all of the right characters—from the sage coach (Phil Jackson) to the cagey veteran (Kevin Garnett) to the most talented player since Michael Jordan displaying his incredible skills (Kobe, of course!)

When Los Angeles defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the West finals, Lakers fans were heard chanting: “Bring on the Celtics!” Boston knocked off the Detroit Pistons in six games to make all those wishes come true.

In the end, after a very tough and physical series, I believe that the Lakers will win it in 7. Both teams will be victorious on the road through the first six games, but then the Lakers will do it twice to capture the crown.

Both Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics fans have been anticipating a final showdown between their two teams. The NBA and the media are just as excited. It’s big-name marquee basketball and it’s creating electricity throughout the country.

According to their regular season records, and head to head match-ups, the Celtics are favored to win the series. Boston was the best team in basketball this year and no one will argue that. But, they limped through the playoffs and showed that they can be beaten.

If we are talking about the Lakers, it is a no-brainer that they win the battle at shooting guard. Kobe Bryant is the best there is in the NBA. The comparisons with Michael Jordan are beginning to reach new heights. He simply is the best closer in the game right now. A deadly weapon that was able to single handedly elevate the Lakers from a 20 and a 17 point deficit in the conference finals.

On the other side you have Ray Allen. When his shot is on, he is so hard to stop. He has an incredibly quick release on his shot that it is hard to alter it, let alone block it. The key for the Celtics will to get Ray going early, as that would make Bryant use more energy on the defensive end. Still, that would merely slow Kobe a little bit, but no one can stop him.

The balance of power shifts at the small forward spot. Lamar Odom is a crafty player. Probably the best third option in the league right now. Alas, he is no match for Paul Pierce. Pierce could match Bryant point for point in a game, he is that good. Unfortunately his low-post game (or lack thereof) can be exploited, and Odom is the right man for the job.

Coach Doc Rivers had better devise a plan of what to do when the Lakers make Odom go to the post to abuse Pierce with some low-post plays. One viable solution would be to make Pierce guard Vladimir Radmanovic, and allow Garnett to go up against Lamar.

Speaking of which, the straight up power forward battle will be weighed by KG and Radmanovic. This one, of course is a no contest. Radmanovic has provided some steady defense at times, but his lack of aggressiveness will not allow him to cause too much trouble for Garnett.
KG simply is the best all around big man in the league. He also gives 100% effort every time. Too bad he has been settling for his jumper too often in this post-season. For the Celtics to win this, he is going to have to take his game into the post more often (much like he did against the Lakers in both of their meetings in the regular season).

The center spot is tough to judge. Pau Gasol definitely has the edge, but every now and then Kendrick Perkins puts in a performance that even Hall of Fame greats would be proud of. He is a young talented big man who can lock down the middle when his game is on. His offense is mostly limited to dunks and put backs, but he is a streaky scorer, and if he can get a few shots to fall, the increase in his confidence definitely improves his game.

Gasol is another proven winner within the Lakers. The leader of the world champion Spanish national team has a different role with his NBA squad, where he is merely the second option. Of course this bodes well for him, as his basketball IQ is high, and he can pass and score with the best of them.

The battle of the benches will be critical. It’s basically Los Angeles’ bench mob vs. the retirement center of the Celtics. The Lakers bring in young guys who can up the tempo of the game, and create crucial runs. The Celtics? They have opted for the veteran savvy of guys like Sam Cassell, James Posey, PJ Brown. These guys will definitely not crumble against pressure, but can they keep up with the pace of the Lakers offense? At this moment I am not too sold on this idea.

The coaching battle is probably the most one sided affair. Doc Rivers has yet to prove he belongs with the top coaches in this league. His decision making in the play-offs has been questionable at best. Yet he has managed to guide the Celtics this far, and a finals victory might just be the proof of his coaching acumen. Phil Jackson has more rings than any other active coach. He is considered to be the best currently at his job, and he probably has some extra motivation from losing his last final.

In all, this will be a closely fought finals that is hard to predict. It will all come down to whether the Lakers can win one of the first two games in Boston. If they can do so, I don’t see the Celtics fighting back. It should go a full seven games, with the Lakers taking Game #7.

(Portions of this article were taken from and