Scenes from Spring Training: Red Sox Nation South Part 1

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City of Palms Park.jpgI haven’t been to Steinbrenner Field yet so this may be a bit
premature, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Red Sox
spring training game is about as close to a major league experience as
you’re going to get in the Grapefruit League. For better and for worse.

of Palms Park is really just a ballpark and not part of a larger spring
training facility. The Sox actually do their training at a player
development complex a couple of miles away, thus depriving the visitor
of that campus-like setting most places have.  If you’re parking at the
ballpark you’re there for a game, not to gawk at a lot of pitcher
fielding practice and shuttle runs and stuff.

The park is also
more squarely in the city than either the Mets or Twins parks are, so
you’re basically just parking your car, walking up a sidewalk and
heading on in to the stadium. No Mike Greenwell Drive or Troy O’Leary
Street. Just a meat and potatoes ballpark. Oh, and if you’re visiting
media you have to pay to park just like the fans do.  I love the smell
of democracy in the morning.

I’ve not been inside a real big
league press box, but I’m guessing City of Palms’ press box is a lot
closer to what one looks like than either Hammond Stadium’s or
Tradition Field’s. It’s huge, and rather than being set apart in some
narrow booth, it’s part of a giant suite of offices, kitchens and
conference rooms.  There are two really, really long rows of seats for
the reporters, but rather than a wall and a hallway behind the seats,
the room opens up to a large area of tables and counters where the
pregame lunch was going to be laid out and where reporters and
photographers sit, drank coffee and futz with their equipment.

else was set up in there too: a press conference table.  No one knew
what it was for when I arrived there early yesterday morning, but word
soon spread that it was about Nomar’s retirement.  I’ll admit my first
thought upon learning that wasn’t about Garciaparra’s career. It was
about how interesting it was that, when big news hits the Red Sox, they
bring the news up to where the reporters are rather than make the
reporters go down to where the news is.

But it makes sense given
the sheer number of reporters covering this particular beat.  The Sox’
press corps. dwarfs that of the Mets. There are multiple newspapers and
multiple radio stations with credentials, and each has multiple writers
on assignment. Add in the smattering of Japanese media, the visiting
contingent of Rays’ reporters and a handful of interlopers like me and
you’ve got quite a party.

I don’t like being in the middle of a
room, so I made my way down to the far end of the box and set up shop
at one of the handful of spaces marked “visiting media.”  As I set up
my laptop, an older gentleman came over and started setting up in the
only seat closer to the wall. Turns out it was Jonny Miller of WBZ
radio, who I ended up talking with all game long.

As I sat down he asked me where I was from. When I told him Columbus,
Ohio he rattled off a half dozen sportswriters he knew from Columbus at
one time or the other, most of which had moved on to that great press
box in the sky. Then he asked me if I knew who Dorothy Kilgallen was.
When I said I didn’t know, he explained to me her role in the JFK assassination coverup
When I asked him who he thought shot Kennedy he said he didn’t know who
pulled the trigger, but that he was pretty sure LBJ was behind it all. 
“Who became president?” Miller asked me rhetorically.  I’m 97% certain
he was messing with me to see if I’d tell him he was full of it. Not
that I cared. He’s a fun guy and I enjoyed sitting next to him during
the game.

Not sure he’d say the same about me given something that happened
during the game, however, but I’ll save that for a bit later.  In the
meantime, I had to get down to the field and walk around a bit.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.