How is it even possible that we’re already five weeks into the baseball season? Teams are already over 20% through their schedules. Before you know it, the All-Star Game will be here and we’ll be talking about 100 years of memories of Yankee Stadium. But for now, let’s take a look at what’s going in baseball this week.
· This past Sunday, the Oakland A’s played one of those “throw-back” games that has become all the rage in the past several years. But they did something a little different. They changed the price of their tickets as well. At least one section of them. For every hit the A’s got in last Thursday’s game against the Angels of Southern CA, the price of the regularly priced $24 Plaza Level seats was reduced by $1. The team’s bottom line took a bit of hit on this promotion as the A’s picked an odd night to have their best night since 1983 against the Angels and pound out 20 hits, lowering the price of all 2500 tickets in that section to $4. All 2500 seats sold out.
· In case you hadn’t heard, long-time veteran Julio Franco has finally retired. Franco made his Major League debut in 1982. That would be 26 seasons ago for those of you who have trouble with the higher math. He was teammates with Phillies greats Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, and Michael Jack Schmidt. He played at the same time as legends Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount, George Brett, Jim Palmer, Reggie Jackson, Fergie Jenkins, the immortal Jay Johnstone (of “you can call me Jay, or you can call me Jay” fame) and even Jim Kaat. While Franco was never a HR hitter, he did hit for average and hit .319 twice. Once in ’87 and again in ’94. But his best season was in ’91 when he hit .341 with 15 HR while playing for the Texas Rangers. He also had 201 hits and 108 runs that year, both career highs, as was his .408 OBP. Franco finished his remarkable career with a .298 career batting average, 173 HR, 1193 RBI in 2527 games played. His longevity is what we will always remember. Last year, at the age of 48, he became the oldest player in Major League history to hit a HR when he belted one off of Randy Johnson, who ironically, was almost as old (43).
Of Julio Franco’s 173 home runs, only 2 were hit off of Hall of Fame Pitchers. Who were they?
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Answer and winner in next week’s Around the Bases
· Last week, in a small, 300-seat stadium, a lucky group of people got to see a very special act of sportsmanship that none of them will ever forget. They were watching Western Oregon play Central Washington in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Division II NCAA tournament. Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky, a part-time outfielder who had never hit a HR in her college career, sent one over the Central Washington left field bleachers. In her excitement, Sara missed the bag rounding first base. As she pivoted around to correct her error, she tore her ACL and went down in a heap on the field between first and second base.
Due to the odd rules of both baseball and softball, any assistance by another player or coach would be considered interference and therefore ruled as an out. They could substitute another runner for her, but according to the umpire at the time, that runner couldn’t have advanced past first base and only the two runners on base at the time would have scored, resulting in a two-run single.
Then, Mallory Holtman, Central Washington’s team’s Captain and all-time HR leader as well as holder of nearly every other Central Washington offensive record, approached the umpire and asked if it would be ok if she and a teammate carried Sara around the bases. There were no rules against that, apparently, so that’s exactly what they did, stopping at each base so Sara could touch her left foot to it. As they neared home plate, they received a standing ovation from the fans. According to Holtman, as she looked up, she was very surprised to see so many people with so many tears in their eyes. She thought she was just doing what anyone else would do. The umpire was even choked up, saying that he was proud to be associated with people of that caliber. By the way, Western Oregon won, 4-2, not that anyone who was there will probably remember that.
· As much as I hate to go from such a wonderful story to such dreck, I just want to point out that it was one year ago this week that Roger Clemens stood in George Steinbrenner’s owners’ box in Yankees Stadium and made the grand announcement that he was returning to the Yankees. Wow, what a difference a year makes. Has any greater athlete fallen faster? In just the past month alone we’ve heard more sordid details about Clemens’ life than we could even think possible. Now we’re talking about his three separate affairs, one with country music star?? Mindy McCready (which allegedly started when she was 15!!). I heard her on the radio the other day, and while she couldn’t confirm anything, all she kept saying was, “I can’t dispute that”, everytime the host asked her a question. Then we heard about an alleged affair with a stripper. Then an alleged affair with golfer John Daley’s ex-wife. Man, Roger has got to be afraid to open closets by now with all the skeletons that keep falling out.
· OK, back to baseball: What is going on in the AL Central? Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland were all supposed to be fighting for the division this season. Instead, all of them are under .500 and Minnesota is the only team in the division over .500, barely (17-16). And they’re playing each other pretty well. Against the rest of the division, the Twins are 13-8, the White Sox are 9-7, the Indians are 7-6, KC is 7-7, and the Tigers are 4-12. It’s the rest of the AL they suck against. The Twins, for example, are 3-7 against the AL West, while Chicago is 6-9 against the AL East. In fact, almost every team in the AL Central is at .500 or below against every AL Division besides the AL Central, with the exception of the Tigers, strangely enough, at 4-2 vs. the AL West and KC, who is 4-3 vs. the AL East.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
RED SOX vs. TWINS
Both teams come into this four-game series hot. Boston is 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Twins are 7-3. Also, both are currently leading their respective divisions, although the Red Sox have a more comfortable lead at 3.5 games over the Rays versus the Twins’ much tighter 1 game lead over the White Sox.
Jon Lester (2-2, ERA 3.94) vs. Boof Bonser (2-4, ERA 4.29)
Boston lefty Jon Lester has steadily improved over his past few games. His ERA has dropped from 5.40 to 4.31 to 3.94. In his last two outings, he gave up only 5 hits and 1 run (a HR) with 11 K and 7 BB in 14 innings pitched. He hasn’t faced the Twins this season yet, and last season only pitched 2 innings against them where he didn’t give up a hit and had 2 Ks. He has, however, faced outfielder Delmon Young 12 times and Young has not fared well, getting only one hit off of him and striking out 3 times.
The Twins are still waiting for Boof Bonser to live up to his potential. He didn’t do it last year and he probably won’t do it this season either. Last season, he was a dismal 8-12 with a 5.10 ERA. My guess is he won’t do any better this season. His record against the Red Sox is a good one: 2-0 career. Last season he went 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA. He gave up 3 runs in 5 innings, but still got the win. DH David Ortiz is 5 for 6 against Bonser (.833) with a double and 2 HR, and 2B Dustin Pedroia is 4 for 6 (.667) against him.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (5-0, ERA 2.43) vs. Glen Perkins (0-0, ERA 3.14)
This is the Daisuke the Red Sox were banking on when they posted $53M to buy him from his Japanese team in 2006. Last season, Dice-K just needed to work out some of the bugs and become accustomed to American baseball. It seems that he’s done that. He currently has the 4th best ERA in the AL, as well as being undefeated. Almost as impressive as his undefeated record is his BAA of .158 (2nd in Majors). He’s also given up the least amount of hits (22) of any pitcher with at least 40 innings pitched. Dice-K faced the Twins once last season (1-0, 2.35 ERA). He gave up 6 hits and 2 runs in 8 innings, but had 8 Ks.
Twins’ lefty reliever Glen Perkins is making his first career start on Saturday Could it be anymore daunting then going up against the defending World Series Champions, who have the best record in the AL, and against a pitcher who is undefeated? To top it off, this is Perkins’ first appearance in the Majors this season. Last season, he pitched in 19 games, 28.2 innings, and gave up 23 hits (one of those to David Ortiz in 3.1 innings faced against the Sox). He had 20 Ks and 12 BB.
Tim Wakefield (3-1, ERA 3.33) vs. Nick Blackburn (2-2, ERA 3.65)
Like most knuckleballers, Tim Wakefield just may pitch forever. Now in his 14th season with the Red Sox, he is one of the longest tenured players in all of baseball. His last game, an 8-inning, 2-hit gem against Detroit, was a masterpiece. He threw in more fastballs and curveballs than he usually does, and that really kept the Tigers off-balance. Of course, the Tigers have been off-balance most of this season anyway, so it didn’t take much, but still. Last season, Wakefield went 17-12, but was 8-4 after the All-Star game. He was 2-0 against the Twins with a 1.93 ERA. Catcher Joe Mauer is the only Twins batter who has had any real success against Wakefield, going 5 for 10 (.500) career against him.
Rookie pitcher Nick Blackburn is not having a very easy go of it. He’s getting batted around pretty good. He’s already given up 53 hits in 44.1 innings, and he’s very lucky to have only given up 18 earned runs out of all that. In almost the same amount of innings (21.2 vs. 22.2), he has given up 4 runs at home vs. 14 on the road for a 1.66 home ERA and a 5.56 road ERA. Blackburn did face the Red Sox for one inning last season when he was called up in Sept and he was lit up for 4 runs on 4 hits, including a 3-run HR by outfielder J.D. Drew.
Clay Buchholz (2-2, ERA 4.50) vs. Livan Hernandez (5-1, ERA 3.83)
Buchholz has been fairly inconsistent so far this season. His last outing he only lasted 4 innings before being removed after giving up 5 runs on 10 hits to the Tigers. But, 2 games before that, he gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in a CG against the Rays, but took a loss. Last season, in a brief stint with the Sox, Buchholz went 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA, including a very memorable no-hitter. He’s never faced the Twins or anyone currently on the team.
At 5-1 the first week in May, Livan Hernandez is having one of the best starts of his 12-year career. His last game he went the distance against the White Sox and gave up only one run on 9 hits. The game before that, he went 7 innings against the Tigers and gave up only one run again, this time on 8 hits. Both times the single run was given up on a solo HR. Hernandez was on the Diamondbacks last season and did not face the Red Sox, however, he has faced several of them over the course of his career. Mike Lowell is 17 for 47 (.362) against him with a HR and 7 doubles, and Julio Lugo is 6 for 18 (.333) against him.