The division races are really starting to heat up. It’s tight at the top of the AL Central and West divisions , and the Yankees are making a run at the East. In the Senior circuit, both the Mets and the D-Backs have opened up what could be decisive gaps, while the Cubs have finally overtaken the Brewers. There’s lots to look forward to over the rest of the season, but there’s also been a lot to look back on from the past week.
Cox chucked again – History will be the judge, but 2007 could well go down as one of the great record-breaking seasons. While the recent feats of Bonds, Glavine and A-Rod may have captured the most headlines elsewhere, WHGB has been following Bobby Cox’s season more closely than most. Back in week twelve, Cox tied John McGraw’s all-time record for the most ejections . After an eight-week wait, Bobby finally took sole possession of the top spot when he got chucked out of a game against the Giants. That made it career ejection number 132, all coming as a manager (McGraw’s total includes fourteen from his playing days). Cox took no pride from setting the record (“It means nothing. It just means I’ve been around for a long time. That’s all” he said on MLB.com), but his players were more appreciative. The record-breaking ejection was typical of Cox: stepping in to argue Chipper Jones’ case and taking the punishment to stop his player from being tossed instead. Yes, the record is partly down to Cox being a manager for such a long time, but the way he protects and defends his players is one of the many reasons for his longevity and success.
Glavine goodies – In last week’s edition of WHGB, I noted Tom Glavine’s achievement of winning 300 games and all that comes with it: entry to an exclusive 300 club and a one-way ticket to Cooperstown. But things got even better for Tom on Sunday when the Mets staged a pre-game ceremony honouring the starter. It looked less like Glavine had reached a tremendous landmark and more like he had just won a TV Quiz show. There were a few gifts to start with, such as a decorative plaque on which 300 golf balls spelt out “300”, a glass plate signed by his team mates, and a pair of hockey jerseys. Then came the “Bullseye” moment: two jet skis and a sparkling SUV. No doubt they made all the sacrifices seem worthwhile!
From Bullseye to “The Price is Right” – Wednesday proved to be a lucrative day for several talented young ballplayers. It marked the new deadline for draft picks to sign with their respective clubs and, as with most such deadlines, the weeks of posturing were brought to an end by last minute announcements of deals being reached. Number one pick David Price was unsurprisingly the biggest winner, banking himself a six-year, $11.2 million contract with the Devil Rays. Rick Porcello had reason to celebrate as well; he walked away with a $7.25 million deal from the Tigers. Not bad money for guys who haven’t played a single inning of professional baseball! Of course, if they live up to their potential then it will be money very well spent. Time will tell.
Big Z staying in Chicago – Judging by the money that they commanded, it’s no surprise that both Price and Porcello are potential starting pitchers. Securing even Major League average starting pitching is an expensive task nowadays, let alone young pitchers who could be number one/two starters in the future. Locking down a proven ace? That’s going to take a lucrative multi-year contract. And so it proved as the Cubs took Carlos Zambrano off the 2007/08 Free Agent market by coming to an agreement over a five-year $91.5 million deal. Perhaps it’s more accurate to state that Zambrano took himself off the market. It looks as though this is one of those rare occasions when both the team and the player have given a little to make it happen. Zambrano wanted to stay but rightly wanted a contract close to what he deserved, even if it wasn’t the biggest pay-day he could secure; the Cubs wanted to keep him and knew they would have to offer a very good deal to get it done, even if Carlos was prepared to accept a slight home-town discount. Cubs fans have every reason to be delighted and it’s a great boost for everyone on the North-side going into the final six weeks of the season.
Brewers droop! – Meanwhile, things aren’t going quite so well in Milwaukee. After enjoying a comfortable lead at the top of the NL Central for so long, the Brewers now find themselves 0.5 games behind the surging Cubs. Chris Capuano typifies their downward slide. Through his first seven starts, Capuano was 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA. In his fifteen starts since that point, he has lost ten straight decisions and upped his ERA by three whole runs. He takes the mound tonight with the hope of putting an end to his skid. He’s facing the Reds (53-69), but their ace Aaron Harang is on the mound, which kind of sums up his luck really.
The more things change, the more they stay the same – Last week, WHGB noted the impressive pitching streaks that Messrs Jenks and Webb were on and those streaks continued in week twenty. Bobby Jenks logged another three up, three down inning last Sunday to equal Jim Barr’s record of forty-one consecutive outs. A slight ankle injury has so far prevented him from trying to break the record, but few would bet against him doing so. Meanwhile, Webb blanked the Braves on Friday night, making it five straight starts without giving up a run, the last three of which were complete game shutouts. Webb is sitting on a forty-two inning scoreless streak and is chasing down Orel Hershiser’s record of fifty-nine. More importantly, the 2006 Cy Young winner is well and truly playing his role as the staff ace, with the young D-Backs team atop the NL West and in with a great chance of making the postseason.
Micah makes his mark – One of the many youngsters playing their part in Arizona’s success this year has been Micah Owings and his performance last night was the highlight of his season so far. Owings pitched seven solid innings against the Braves, giving up three hits, three runs and striking out seven. He backed this up by blasting two home runs as part of a 4 for 5 night at the plate, contributing six RBIs to his own cause in a 12-6 victory. The win-loss statistics don’t generally tell the whole story for a pitchers’ performance, but in this case I think we can say he definitely earned his sixth win of the season.
Phil Rizzuto R.I.P. – Finally, the Yankees lost a much-loved family member this week. Phil Rizzuto, the Hall of Fame shortstop and long-time Yankees broadcaster, passed away at the age of eighty-nine. By a strange coincidence, I had been reading about Scooter during my lunch-break on Tuesday before hearing the sad news when I arrived home from work later that day. It was a poignant reminder of the sort of person Rizzuto was, beyond his obvious talent on the diamond. The reference came in Jonathan Schwartz’s article “A Day of Light and Shadow”, one of a fantastic collection that makes up “Sports Illustrated: Great Baseball Writing”. The article relates to the infamous 1978 Red Sox-Yankees play-off game, prior to which Schwartz had a chance encounter with the Yankees great. Rizzuto was always unashamedly rooting for the Bronx Bombers during his commentary, something that would understandably annoy a died-in-the-wool Boston fanatic like Schwartz, but just a few minutes spent in his company was enough to convert him.
“I had never met Rizzuto before and had often imagined myself dressing him down before a large and approving assembly. Instead, when he departed to make his way to the radio booth, I found myself regretting the fact that I hadn’t told him that I had never come upon a better or more exciting shortstop. Never.”
What better testimony to Rizzuto’s character could you have?