CTB: Live from the Winter Meetings

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We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold . . .

Wait. That was a different trip. This is Indianapolis, not Vegas, and it’s the Winter Meetings, not the Mint 400. Still, there’s that same “what in the hell am I doing here” feeling that Raoul Duke and the good Doctor Gonzo had on their fateful journey into the heart of the American Dream.  Every executive and agent I’ve slammed in print in the past three years is here.  The writers too. It’s enough to make a fellow wonder about his place in the world. 

Just kidding. I’m gonna keep slamming those worthy of slamming, keep calling the smart moves smart and the dumb moves dumb and let the chips fall where they may.  There’s a definite class reunion feel to this event and I’m just going to pretend that I’m that foreign exchange student no one thought would show.  If they don’t like it, hey, maybe they shouldn’t have credentialed the blogger. 

In the meantime, let’s talk baseball.  On tap this week:

  • The Mariners may go crazy.  They’ve already got Figgins. They’re reportedly in on Bay and Lackey.  They’re talking extension with King Felix.  Are they gonna put the 2010 AL West away in December 2009?

  • Jason Bay, Matt Holliday and John Lackey still freely roam the market. My guess is that they still will by the end of the week, but recent history shows that the earlier you sign, the better off you are. Of course now the teams know that too. But maybe the players know that the teams know that. But maybe the teams know that the players know that the teams know that and . . . wait, deep breaths. Just follow Rosenthal around. He’s gonna report it first anyway.

  • More likely to see action is the second tier of free agents, populated by the likes of Marlon Byrd, Jermaine Dye, Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre, a metric crap-ton of relievers and whatever catchers the Mets haven’t yet signed. I think Benito Santiago is still available.

  • Roy Halladay is still the alpha-trade chit, but one has to think that the Yankees and Sox and whatever dark horses may present themselves are gonna make Toronto sweat that Halladay-imposed spring training deadline a bit.  More likely to move this week: Milton Bradley.  Baggage handlers standing by.

  • The BBWAA will be meeting, and a subset of those guys will be casting Hall of Fame ballots for managers, umpires, pioneers, and executives.  Go Marvin Miller and Whitey Herzog. Also, the Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday.

  • There will be a trade show during which vendors will try to convince teams that, yes, they really do need new LCD “No Pepper” signs for the backstop.

  • A job fair for those looking to break into the biz will take place.  Wanna be the assistant to the assistant ticket taker for the Mudville Tea Totallers of the Western League? Now’s your chance, Bunk.

There will be a ton more happening, some official, most non-official, some transaction-related, some not (for team-by-team previews, check out Matthew’s posts on the NL and the AL).  I’m going to do my best to sniff out the news as it happens and, failing that, I’ll certainly be grokking the scene and passing along my observations to you.  All I know for certain is that (a) I have a press pass that has not yet been revoked for cause; (b) I have a laptop with a wireless connection and a hella-long lasting battery; and (c) I know a lot of lawyers in central Indiana in the event I need someone to bail me out.

Refresh often, my friends. Refresh often.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).