Posted on: October 4, 2011 11:47 pm
DETROIT -- The scariest sentence of the summer for Yankees fans turned into the most surprising sentence of the year.
From "The season depends on A.J. Burnett" to "Good Lord above, look who saved the day!" in 81 pitches on a gorgeous night at Comerica Park for everything and everyone but the Tigers.
Mark it down. Burnett rides in on a white horse. The Yankees blast Detroit 10-1. This Division Series is headed back to New York even-steven at two games apiece, with the winner Thursday spraying champagne.
All hail A.J.
Maybe it was his 2009 World Series victory frozen in time inside of his laptop that spurred him. Perhaps it was getting kicked one too many times while he was down, getting taunted one too many times in public, getting spurned one too many times from the Yankees' brass.
Whatever it was, after a wobbly first inning in which he loaded the bases with walks -- including an intentional pass to Miguel Cabrera -- Burnett was, dare we say it, ace-like. He lasted 5 2/3 innings, the perfect amount for a bullpen that includes Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.
And the thing is, after New York's six-run eighth, the latter two weren't even needed.
"You can't count me out," Burnett had said on the eve of his latest make-or-break start. "I'm going to bring everything I've got and just let A.J. loose out there."
Good thing for him, they let Curtis Granderson loose, too. That bases-loaded first inning? Two out, and Don Kelly smoked a screaming liner dead ahead to center field. Granderson broke in at first, then quickly recovered, scrambled back and made a leaping stab that ended the inning.
It was a spectacular catch made possible by an initial misread. Bottom line, it saved Burnett at least two runs and possibly an inside-the-park grand slam.
Granderson would make another sensational catch to end the sixth. But, by then, the Yankees led 4-1 and thanks to Burnett, they were out of the rough.
"I've been proving people wrong my whole career, it seems like," Burnett had said on Monday evening. "People are entitled to their opinion.
"Obviously, I give them reasons here and there do doubt."
In Game 4, Burnett gave them reasons neither here nor there to doubt. The dude was stellar, just in the nick of time.
Tuesday was a very, very good night for the Yankees also in that the blowout allowed Robertson and Rivera to watch idly from the bullpen and maybe get some crucial rest for what should be a terrific final act to what has been a riveting series.
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:40 pm
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- This might sound funny, but the fact that Grady Sizemore has hit so well since returning to the Indians lineup on April 17 is almost a bonus. What Cleveland was celebrating upon first welcoming back the three-time All-Star was simply what he brings with him into the clubhouse.
Sizemore is one of a handful of elite players in the majors whose mere presence makes everyone around him better.
"You see the way he plays the game, the way he runs out every ground ball, the way he's diving all over the place," designated hitter Travis Hafner says. "He's the first one here every day. Him and Shin-Soo Choo are our two best players, and when they play that way, it just sets the tone."
Maybe something like a team's best talent always hustling should be taken for granted, but anybody who's watched Detroit's Miguel Cabrera "run" to first at times knows that the tone can be set in the wrong direction, too.
"Obviously, what he's done speaks for itself," outfielder Austin Kearns says. "But just his presence every day, how he goes about his business, how he plays the game ... it's the way it's supposed to be done."
Though the Indians dropped Sunday's series finale in Anaheim 6-5, they still earned a split on their West Coast trip (3-3) and have won nine of 12, and Sizemore on Sunday went 3 for 5 (including a homer and a double) and continued to spark the Tribe after a tough, tough year.
Micro-fracture surgery is not a first choice if you're an athlete facing the knife. It's a nasty injury with a long, tedious rehabilitation. Sizemore had the surgery on his left knee last June and hadn't played since last May 16 [aside, of course, from a minor-league injury rehab assignment just before being activated in mid-April].
Sizemore says, as Tom Petty once did, the waiting was the hardest part.
"I think just the time away from the team while you're rehabbing, it's frustrating," says Sizemore, 28. "The amount of time it takes.
"Every case is different. I didn’t really have a set program. You're really going month-to-month. We had a general outline, and I was constantly going back to the doctor to get re-examined and see where I'm at."
How many times? Too many to count, Sizemore says. But it was every five or six weeks for the past year.
Baseball-wise, the most difficult part of coming back after missing so much time, Sizemore says, is, "it's all difficult. The hardest part was probably stuff you can't simulate in games -- balls in the gap, rounding the bases hard, having to come to a complete stop when you're running."
Of course, by roaring off to a 10-4 start before Sizemore's return, the Indians didn't make it any easier on the poor guy.
"It was fun to watch, but it made the time I had left to return that much harder," Sizemore says, smiling.
But now, it makes things that much easier -- except, perhaps, where the outfielder's future is involved. In the final season of a six-year, $23.45 million contract, the Indians hold an $8.5 million option on him for 2012 (with a $500,000 buyout), though that becomes a player option if he's traded.
Though his long-term future in Cleveland seems doubtful, at this point, he's probably safe from any stealth July deals.
"I'm just trying to get through the weeks right now," Sizemore says. "It's the furthest thing from my ming right now. My biggest thing was to get back on the field, and not look past tomorrow."
Likes: Hitting streaks. ... Derek Jeter passing Cal Ripken Jr. for most games played at shortstop with one team. And after his two homers Sunday and boosting his average up to .276, maybe now he's earned another grace period. ... Rookie phenom debuts, and Eric Hosmer's mother, father, brother, aunt and uncle all flying into Kansas City from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for his debut on Friday night. ... Tom Hamilton, now in his 22nd season as the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians. Always great fun talking with Tom. ... Friday Night Lights back on television. Four shows into its final season and I'm still debating whether to just pick up the entire season on DVD. If I get the DVDs, I can rip through all 15 episodes. But not having the DVDs slows down the process and forces me to savor each episode for just a little longer. It's such a great show.
Dislikes: Awful, awful stuff in post-tornado Alabama. Here's a list of ways you can help.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
-- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sweet Home Alabama
Posted on: February 25, 2011 9:42 am
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Before we get too much deeper into spring, I need to correct something.
When I was with the Tigers in Lakeland last week writing this column on Miguel Cabrera, I joined a clubhouse interview with young catcher Alex Avila in mid-stream. Avila, who, along with Magglio Ordonez, spent much of the winter working out with Cabrera in Fort Lauderdale, was discussing those workouts with a small group of four or five reporters. But I misunderstood the context of the conversation when I first walked up and was under the impression that Avila was discussing Cabrera.
As such, I quoted Avila saying, "He's an animal. He was always a couple of minutes late [to the gym]. We were like, 'Where have you been?' And he was like, 'Oh, I've been riding my bike 15 miles.' And this was BEFORE the three of us would work out really hard."
Problem was, the quote is accurate, but the subject is not. As an alert reader pointed out when she noticed a discrepancy between my column and that of Jason Beck, the fine Tigers beat man for MLB.com, Avila at that point was discussing Ordonez, not Cabrera. I've since double-checked this, and it's true. I stand corrected.
A moment later, the interview with Avila shifted to Cabrera -- whom Avila, Ordonez and manager Jim Leyland all agreed worked out really hard this winter and is in terrific shape. It just wasn't him who already had been on a 15-mile bike ride before joining his two teammates at the gym.
Posted on: February 18, 2011 10:25 am
Edited on: February 18, 2011 10:30 am
LAKELAND, Fla. -- As an uncertain Tigers club waited Friday morning to see what turn the Miguel Cabrera case will take next, manager Jim Leyland fiercely proclaimed that saga will have no bearing on his team and that Cabrera, "in the best shape of his life", remains primed for a great season.
"I think Miguel Cabrera is probably going to have the biggest year of his life," Leyland said Friday morning before the Tigers' pitchers and catchers worked out.
Cabrera, arrested for suspicion of drunken driving in Florida on Wednesday night, still is not in camp and it is not known when he will arrive. The Tigers do not hold their first full-squad workout until Saturday.
"It's not going to affect the team at all," Leyland said. "All of these people getting dramatic about this s---, all this negativity, it's not going to affect this team one bit. Trust me. That's all reading material. Everybody is going to get all upset, get real dramatic ... do you think Magglio Ordonez and those guys are going to go about their business any different?
"Nobody's going to do anything different. They're going to bust their ass. I know for a fact, without getting into this situation [in detail], I know for a fact that Miguel Cabrera is in the best shape of his life. He's stronger than he's ever been and he's quicker than he's ever been. It has no effect.
"It might make some dramatic reading material. Everybody's projecting all this crap, it's not going to do s--- along those lines. Believe me. Nothing."
Leyland had started his morning session with reporters by saying that he would not address the Cabrera situation, that general manager Dave Dombrowski would be the club spokesman on it. But he relented some when asked specifically about how Cabrera's troubles will affect the team.
As for the rest, Leyland said, "I'm not going to talk about that. Dave will speak for that. I'm the field manager. I manage the players on the field. Our clubhouse will be great, and our team has a hell of a chance to be an outstanding team, and that's going to have no bearing on that one way or another. Trust me when I tell you that.
"He's going to be welcomed with open arms by his teammates and they're going to want to see him hit that son of a bitch over the right-center field fence. I'm just telling you. So don't get all excited about 'Aw, I wonder what it's going to do in the clubhouse, to the chemistry, and all of that bulls----.'"
Posted on: February 17, 2011 6:50 pm
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There is no surefire, guaranteed path to success for the Atlanta Braves this season. But one sure way to make things easier is center fielder Nate McLouth bouncing back from a miserable 2010 and again becoming the player he once was.
McLouth last summer suffered a concussion, played in only 85 games and batted a career-worst .190 with a .298 on-base percentage. Both were career lows.
"I'm thankful for a clean start," McLouth says. "I'm ready to get this season kicked off and move on. Last season was tough, but the minute I stepped out of the clubhouse, I left it behind.
"I actually backed off of hitting a little this winter because you get so many swings down here. I backed off what I've done in the past."
The hope, he said, is less is more. No more paralysis by analysis. Even in baseball, sometimes there is such a thing as overpreparing.
"I'm definitely guilty of that," says McLouth, whom the Braves project as their center fielder and No. 2 hitter (behind Martin Prado). "When I don't feel right, I tend to overdo it. Last year, I wasn't feeling right and I almost paralyzed myself I was working so much."
McLouth, whom the Braves acquired from Pittsburgh in June, 2009, for pitcher Charlie Morton and two minor leaguers, suffered the concussion last June 9 (he was hitting .176 with a .295 on-base percentage at the time) and didn't return until July 21.
"The main thing I noticed was, I wasn't ever close to full strength after that in terms of endurance and body strength. For a month or two after, I couldn't lift of work out. I felt slow.
"It was nice to be able to work out this offseason."
There's no guarantee that McLouth will be able to return to his 2008 form, when he hit .276 with a .356 OBP and led the NL with 46 doubles, but if he can get close, the Braves will take it.
"I think we're all optimistic that Nate's too good a player, and has been over the course of time, to think what we saw last year is what should be expected," Atlanta general manager Frank Wren says. "He's another guy where we've seen him over the course of the winter, and his demeanor and his presence ... everything's changed from a year ago."
Sunblock Day? There already have been more nice days in the first week in Florida than all of last spring combined. Sunny and mid-70s. Pass the sunblock.
Likes: Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. on Hall of Famer Stan Musial and what he means to St. Louis: "To think of what he has meant to the Cardinals, not only during his playing days, but subsequent to when he played. And every time he comes on the field and makes an appearance, the place reveres him and lets him know that." ... The Sweet Potato-Encrusted Yellowtail and the Pumpkin Coconut Whatever at the delicious Leftovers Café in Jupiter, Fla. The fish was excellent, and with a name like that, you had to order the dessert. Think pumpkin pie without the crust. ... The ribs and bread pudding at Lee Roy Selmon's Barbecue in Tampa. Mmm, mmm, mmm. ... Really liked True Grit. The girl, Hailee Steinfeld, was incredible, especially given all of the difficult dialog she had to deliver. ... Dog show in Lakeland, Fla. Over 4,000 dogs here. Not going, just like hearing it. My dog, Slugger, would be so proud.
Dislikes: Oh, Miguel Cabrera. ...
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"May the good Lord shine a light on you
-- Rolling Stones, Shine a Light
Posted on: November 23, 2010 5:34 pm
Edited on: November 25, 2010 11:03 am
Victor Martinez may not instantly catapult the Detroit Tigers onto the AL Central throne, and sometimes when he's behind the plate, the basepaths do tend to become like the autobahn for opposing runners.
That said, if the report out of Venezuela is true and Martinez is about to re-join his old division, only this time a couple of hundred miles north of Cleveland up in Detroit, the Tigers already are off to a roaring start this winter.
The Tigers had no public comment Tuesday on the report -- from ESPNdeportes' Ignacio Serrano -- of Martinez being poised to sign a four-year, $50 million deal, pending a physical exam. But neither did they shoot it down.
The key here is this: The Tigers mostly would deploy Martinez as their designated hitter (Alex Avila is projected as the everyday catcher). And together with Miguel Cabrera, who finished second in the AL MVP voting announced Tuesday, Detroit would have a couple of serious bruisers in the middle of the lineup.
For the Red Sox in 2010, Martinez batted .302 with a .351 on-base percentage, a .493 slugging percentage, 20 homers and 79 RBIs. In their emphasis on run prevention, Martinez never was going to carry value beyond a certain point behind the plate for the Red Sox. Plus, he'll be 32 next opening day.
In Detroit, you can argue that $12.5 million for a designated hitter, at those offensive numbers, is a pretty steep price to pay.
You also can argue that in a weak free agent market with few difference-makers available, the Tigers made a savvy quick, preventative first-strike. Teams with money to spend this winter out-supply the free agent market. Some will be left standing with nothing at the end.
Of the most desireable free agent position players available -- a list that also includes Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth -- Martinez by far is the best fit in Detroit. Not only can he DH and catch, he also can play first base if Cabrera needs a day off or is injured. And, he's a switch-hitter, giving manager Jim Leyland more versatility in his lineup.
The Tigers know Martinez well from some six seasons of competing against him in the AL Central. He knows the division well. It's a move that makes sense for both sides.
Posted on: December 8, 2009 7:54 pm
INDIANAPOLIS -- Here's the world in which we live today:
Now, understanding that they're different players, and Cabrera produces more offense. ...
Granderson was highly popular among Tigers fans, a pillar of the community in Detroit and an incredibly impressive representative for both the Tigers and major league baseball.
He is signed to a five-year, $30.25 million deal through 2013.
Cabrera, on the final weekend of the season with the Tigers fighting to hang onto a shrinking AL Central lead that they would eventually lose, stayed out all night drinking and was picked up by police at 6 a.m. on a Saturday on a domestic dispute call. Cabrera, according to police, had a blood-alcohol level of .26 and police named both Cabrera and his wife as aggressors in the assault.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski picked Cabrera up at the police station early that morning, and the slugger then went hitless in his next two games -- which, as things played out, were Detroit's two most important games of the season.
He is signed to an eight-year, $152.3 million deal through 2015.
The Tigers blew a three-game AL Central lead with four games to play in 2009, and now, as a few bad contracts (Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson) and the poor Michigan economy squeeze them, they must cut costs.
Granderson was a beloved figure in Detroit, and now he's gone.
Cabrera, after a spectacularly selfish act that undoubtedly hurt the Tigers as the playoff race culminated, after essentially flipping off die-hard Tigers fans -- many of whom are either struggling to stay employed or already laid off -- remains. Largely because, with his contract, he's virtually untradable.
It's just the way it is. The sports world today, hard at work.
Posted on: October 5, 2009 12:28 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2009 12:31 pm
I think it's a very good thing for the Tigers that they're getting out of town and playing the one-game playoff with Minnesota in the Metrodome.