Albert Pujols and the legendary blast that should never have happened

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lidge-100315.jpgI remember when I first realized that Albert Pujols was GREAT. I already knew he was great, mind you, but there came a time when the simple lower-case modifier was no longer good enough to describe the St. Louis Cardinals slugger. Sort of like calling the Grand Canyon big, or the Pacific Ocean wet, it didn’t quite measure up.

Anyway, the moment when Pujols became GREAT for me came in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, when he slugged a game-winning home run of such Hobbs-ian proportions that it nearly derailed not only the train at Minute Maid Park, but Brad Lidge’s career along with it.

Lidge was filthy that night, with high-90s gas, a high-80s breaking ball and a bucket-full of confidence. But Pujols changed that with one effortless, violent flick of his wrists. It’s not a wonder it took Lidge three years to recover.

[For those of you with a fuzzy memory, you can relive the moment here. As for Astros fans, you may comfort yourselves in knowing that your team eventually advanced to the World Series despite Pujols’ heroics. Then, you may cry yourselves to sleep knowing it’s not going to happen again anytime soon.]

Morgan Ensberg, the third baseman on that Astros team, gives readers some insight into that game in his blog – which is quickly becoming a must-read. In a post on Monday, Ensberg writes that Pujols shouldn’t have had the chance to play hero in that game, that if he had been positioned properly at third base, Pujols would not have even come up to bat.

In the ninth inning, Lidge started out by striking out John Rodriguez and John Mabry, with leadoff hitter David Eckstein coming to the plate. A light-hitting contact hitter, Eckstein was simply looking to get on base and was highly unlikely to pull the ball down the line. Ensberg, recalling this, says he was positioned too close to the line by manager Phil Garner.

But you should know that there is a optical illusion at Minute Maid Park. Phil Garner (manager) sits in the first chair of the dugout protected by the handicap elevator in the first base dugout. From his vantage point, it looks like the third baseman is directly inline with him.  However, the view from the third baseman’s vantage point is off to the left by about 5 feet. This is a problem.

Garner is lining me up according to the spray chart, but I am not where he thinks he is moving me.  I am actually closer to the line then he would want due to the illusion but there is nothing that can be done.  From his view I am in the exact spot that I need to be.

Eckstein ends up singling into the hole past Ensberg, Jim Edmonds follows with a walk and Pujols makes history. Baseball, ladies and gentlemen, is a game of details.

If Phil’s view wasn’t off-set, I could have made the play and the game would have been over. [Instead] Lidge throws a fast ball that Eckstein hits in the 5-6 hole for a base hit.
Two batters later, Pujols makes history and there is no optical illusion involved there at all.

Ensberg gives some other interesting details in his post, so go head on over and check it out. I find it fascinating how the simplest of mistakes can change the course of baseball history. But seeing as how in this instance Pujols gave baseball fans such an unforgettable moment, I’m perfectly OK with how things turned out.

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Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.

Michael Bourn to miss four weeks with a broken finger

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 6:  Michael Bourn #1 of the Baltimore Orioles looks out of the dugout as he waits to get on deck to bat during the sixth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 6, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Orioles’ center fielder Michael Bourn is expected to be sidelined for four weeks while he rehabs a broken ring finger on his right hand, according to reports from the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. Bourn broke the finger while playing catch with a football after a spring training workout.

The veteran outfielder re-signed with the club earlier this week on a minor league deal and was prepared to compete for a bench role this season. He’s in line to receive a $2 million salary if he makes the major league roster and can make an additional $3.5 million in incentives based on a set number of plate appearances. Now, however, his chances of cracking the roster out of spring training look considerably diminished, as his current timetable gives him an approximate return date of March 25 if all goes well.

Bourn had an impressive, if short-lived run with the Orioles following his trade to Baltimore last August, batting .283/.358/.435 with two home runs and a .793 OPS in 55 PA. While still somewhat removed from the totals that brought him an All-Star nod with the Braves in 2012, his defensive chops should give the Orioles some depth in center once he’s healthy again.