Monday, November 2, 2015

The Only Way They Could: The Ninth Inning Rally, the Twelfth Inning Blowout, and the Crowning of a Champion

Darkness had set in firmly before the game had even started. The Mets gave the ball to their ace, Matt Harvey. Over eight innings, he was near flawless. In the ninth, up 2-0, Harvey stayed in to finish the game and prevent the season from ending. Lorenzo Cain stood in. To this point, the New York Mets had held out hope that they could keep another late-inning rally at bay, but then it happened.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Witching Hour: The Rise of Michael Conforto, the Fall of Daniel Murphy, and the Closing Door of the World Series

The mystique that baseball tends to carry around this time of year tends to coincide with the dark nights of autumn and the increased pressure that goes with each postseason game. What makes the 2015 World Series special is not that these natural omens occur, but that they're so backwards. In games two and three, the first team to score ended up on the losing end after nine innings. Michael Conforto, who helped keep game one interesting Tuesday night, brought his bat to Citi Field and put on an offensive show. What happened next for the National League Champions is straight out of a horror flick.

Turnabout Triumph: The Captain's Hammer and the Reversal of Fortunes in Flushing

From the first pitch of the game, the New York Mets intended to send a message. There would be no sweep, and the surprise National League Champions were not to be taken lightly. It was a ninety-eight miles per hour fastball from the arm of Noah Syndergaard over the head of Alcides Escobar, a pitch that dropped the Royals' leadoff man off of his feet. Kansas City was the favorite, but the Mets would make damn sure they had their say. The Queens, New York crowd became boisterous in support of their "Thor," a theme that seemed to echo for the rest of the roster as the night carried onward.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Kid In Town: Johnny Cueto and the Gift of Persistence

For a moment on Wednesday Night, the New York Mets held a lead. Lucas Duda had scored Daniel Murphy on a soft hit to left field. Just as it happened the night before, Kansas City made sure the Mets' advantage was short-lived. On the mound was the Royals' trade-deadline acquisition Johnny Cueto, making his career World Series debut. The man who was famously a victim of the Pirates' home crowd two years ago in the Wild Card game was given a chance to redeem himself on the national stage. At no point did Cueto seem like he was outright baffling the New York offense, but inning after inning he kept them from finding home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Until the Night Closes In: The Three Pitches That Defined the Fountain City Marathon

The Kansas City Royals scored on the first and last pitches they saw Tuesday night. At just over five hours, game one of the World Series was one of the longest and most tightly-contested fall classic openers in recent memory. One hit set the tone, the other sent us home. In the middle, a third and perhaps even more crucial hit turned the tide and canceled the Mets' upset after party. There was a delay in the game that had nothing to do with the game itself. One starter pitched, blind to the news that his father had just passed away. It was an opening night like no other, so captivating that it didn't end until the date had changed.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Final Chapter: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Mets, and the Expansion-Era World Series

Imagine taking a full year of classes, only for your grade to be determined by how well you do on a nine question exam on the last day of the school year. You may have been a perfect student- never missed a day, always participated, et cetera -but you crumble under the weight of the final test. For the eight teams eliminated from the playoffs to this point, that is the footnote that will remain beside their respective seasons in the coming years. The New York Mets and Kansas City Royals have a different chance at fate. Each team has won their league's pennant, standing four wins from immortality. A full season of games, followed by two series against top-flight opponents have led us here, to the Fall Classic, the reason the game is played. To win the season's final game.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tangled Up In Blue: The Kansas City Royals, the Toronto Blue Jays and A Thirty Year Reunion Special

Complacency is a funny thing in sports. Teams that seem to win too much go from beloved underdogs to sworn enemies of all that is decent very quickly. Often times, such as in the case of the San Francisco Giants of recent years, success is so erratic that it never comes off as entitlement. That, as it is clear, is the cross upon the backs of the New York Yankees. So what becomes of the Kansas City Royals? After twenty-nine years, they broke their postseason drought only to lose to the aforementioned Giants in a classic World Series. Yet now the Royals seem at home in the postseason. To be honest, it is kind of unnerving how normal it is to see Kansas City in October, despite their last two autumn runs being in 2014 and 1985. Toronto, on the other hand, wears the hat donned by their Royal counterparts last year. The Blue Jays are exciting, powerful, must-see television. This year marks the first postseason try north of the border since 1993 and Joe Carter's incredible walk-off home run. Eight years prior to that moment, the Jays stood in the way of the Royals' pennant hopes. Thirty years ago tonight, Toronto hosted Kansas City in a winner-take-all game seven of the American League Championship Series.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Day Blue Defeated Red

It was deafeningly loud. Even through a cell phone speaker, the standing room only crowd echoed around my tiny studio apartment. The dreaded St. Louis Cardinals, for generations the superior side of the rivalry, were down to their last out. On second base was Matt Carpenter, a steadfast young third baseman who had established himself as one of the deadlier offensive threats in all of baseball. On the mound, Hector Rondon, the Cubs' man of consequence. He had been knocked around earlier this season, but the ball in his hand was the one to make history. The man at home was Stephen Piscotty. With three home runs to date in the series, the bat was in the most capable of hands. This was it. With two strikes, the baseball world held its breath. Rondon set with his pitch. It was to be a slider. A dangerous gamble to such a powerful hitter.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

For One Night Only, part 2: Ladies and Gentlemen, Jacob Joseph Arrieta

Dexter Fowler dove face first into the dirt that preceded second base. His arms outstretched, the play was going to be close. As Josh Harrison fielded the laser beam from his catcher, he swept the leather of his glove down to meet Fowler. Just as the Cubs' leadoff man appeared to out by mere millimeters, a spot of white appeared below Harrison's glove. The ball was free, and Fowler was safe. It was the top of the first, and the Cubs were looking to strike quickly. Nearly a minute and a half later, rookie Kyle Schwarber, nudged a two-ball, two-strike offering from Gerrit Cole into deep left field. Fowler was home free. The Cubs had scored before giving up an out. One run early on is hardly ever a death wish for a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, and with Cole on the mound, it seemed likely the damage would be minimal. The only issue the home team would encounter, was that of Cole's adversary Wednesday night- Jake Arrieta.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Death, Taxes, and Mark Buehrle: The King of Consistency and the Stretch for History

by Jimmy Bobowski

For those that know me, it’s no surprise that I’m writing about Mark. Again. After I started following the White Sox more closely after the 2000 season, I took a vested interest in the guy with the blonde cheek beard. It was mesmerizing. This guy didn’t have the physical gift that many front offices look for: a huge arm. He thusly went drafted in the 38th round of the 1998 draft after attending a junior college. Probably not a likely candidate for major league success. About two years after he was drafted, he had on a White Sox jersey, helping them win their first division title in seven years.

For One Night Only, part 1: Dallas Keuchel, Alex Rodriguez, and the Pressure Cooker in the Bronx

For the Houston Astros, 2015 has seen several of what someone may call moments of truth. After hanging on for dear life in the American League Wild Card race, a common thought of the upstart Astros was that they were backing in to the playoffs. This was a team that had led the West Division most of the year until Texas' incredible rise from the proverbial ashes knocked Houston off of the throne. Still, the Astros qualified as the road team in the Wild Card game. In the Bronx, the orange-clad kids would meet their newest moment of truth. In the sixth inning, up two runs to nil, the Yankees had runners on first and second as Alex Rodriguez stepped into the box. Houston starter Dallas Keuchel stayed in to face the legendary power hitter. It took one pitch. Rodriguez lifted the ball high to center field. The season was on the line for both teams.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

It Happened In Houston: Michael Bruce Fiers and the Moment of Consequence

When Mike Fiers threw his glove to the heavens and embraced Jason Castro, his catcher, something was realized in Houston. For most of the last decade, the Astros were descending into a joke. The team had become so bad that it felt wrong to poke fun at them. All along, in the midst of three consecutive 100-loss seasons, Houston was building beneath the surface. This year, at the trade deadline, they became buyers for the first time in what seems like forever. The trade with Milwaukee that sent Fiers and outfield savant Carlos Gomez to Houston was pretty universally viewed as a trade for Gomez, with Fiers being a toss-in to level out the prospect haul that the Brewers would receive. A few weeks later, the former twenty-second round pick out of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale accomplished something that hadn't been done this century.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Once and Future King: Colbert Michael Hamels and the Footnotes of History

On September 9th, 1965, Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs. He had become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and obliterating the hapless Cubs was one of his crown jewels. It was the last time the team from Chicago's North Side would go without a hit. For nearly fifty years, seasons came and went, each without a World Series title, but every game played saw the Cubs manage at least one safe base hit. That was, until Cole Hamels took the mound on Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Fairer Game: Melissa Mayeux, Mo'ne Davis, and the Rise of the Female Ballplayer

The funny thing about history is that it can only be viewed in retrospect. While the redundancy of that statement is rather blatant, what I mean by it is veiled a bit. Certain milestones in our culture seem inevitable, but there will always be a level of uncertainty to their happening until the day finally arrives. Integration was inevitable in the 1940's, but it took the risk and guile of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson to make it happen. Larry Doby and others followed soon thereafter. In a much less socially turbulent manner, Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player to make the Major Leagues in 1964, nearly a century after the inception of professional baseball. Robinson, Doby, and Murakami were not the primary trailblazers, though. Many men had tried and were held back by any number of disadvantages. They were the men to break through. Fifteen and a half years into the twenty-first century, the paradigm of baseball and American sports is much different, and two very young women are kicking up dirt on another cultural inevitability.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Tall Tale of Toledo: Michael Steven Hessman and the Long and Winding Road

To label Mike Hessman as a tragic figure would be a mistake. It is easy to assume that a thirty-seven year old with only 109 Major League games under his belt would be long past his dream of a baseball career. Not so for Hessman, who has spent nearly as much time in the Minor Leagues as Derek Jeter did in Yankees pinstripes. He is the all-time International League home run king, and if he can stay healthy for a few more years, the all-time Minor League record of 484 is within reach. Friday night in Indianapolis, Mike Hessman hit the 423rd home run of his career. It was a grand slam, scoring the only four runs of the night for the struggling Toledo Mud Hens. It went largely unnoticed, however Mike's dream of big league stardom has now changed to that of a mentor to the young players of the game he loves.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Because A Vision Softly Creeping: The Baltimore Orioles, The Chicago White Sox, and the Hollowed Hall of Camden Yards

The crack of the bat. The whip of a pitch into the catcher's mitt. These are the common sounds of a ballgame romanticized for over a century. The purity of these noises is always sullied by the third and most obvious sound of a ball park- the roar of the crowd. Thursday afternoon, there was no crowd. There was no beer vendor bellowing out whatever overpriced lager he happens to carry. There were no aromas of hot dogs, popcorn or peanuts. But there was a game. The Chicago White Sox visited the Baltimore Orioles amid civil unrest following the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of the Baltimore police. Major League Baseball needed for the game to be played, and the best option for player and public safety was for the contest to go on in front of a completely empty house. For the first time at baseball's highest level, no fans would be allowed in to the ballpark.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Right Where We Left Off: The Open Book of Opening Day

Stories never truly begin. Any tale of merit is an extension and convergence of plot lines months, years, decades in the making. So goes the baseball season. Sunday night, the 2015 season will begin under the unconventional lights of Wrigley Field. Over the subsequent seven months, the same game that has been played professionally nearly 150 years will ebb with the tide of America's infatuation with relaxing summer days and communal activity. New story lines and surprises will appear almost daily. Underdogs will rise and favorites will crumble. Ultimately only one team can win the final game of the year. Last October, the San Francisco Giants survived the Kansas City Royals in a seven game classic after a wild postseason. There isn't a soul alive who can look you in the eye and say in all truth that they could foretell that match-up before the season started. So here we are again with a clean slate, another summer of possibility and hope.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Banished to the Pen: Chicago Cubs 2015 Preview

I volunteered to write about the 2015 Cubs season for the community-blog Banished to the Pen. Check it out HERE and be sure to read the other, surely more thorough previews on that site.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Banished to the Pen: Chicago White Sox 2015 Preview

I volunteered to write about the 2015 Sox season for the community-blog Banished to the Pen. Check it out HERE and be sure to read the other, surely more thorough previews on that site.

Carpe Noctem: The Geoff Blum Story

A baseball season can seem so long that a single plate appearance can seem largely insignificant. As summer's long days turn cold and th...