Beating the streak meaningful to McCann, NL

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The American League’s dominance in the All-Star game had become such a joke that David Ortiz was free and easy with some pre-game trash talk, albeit of the good-natured variety, and Ichiro was pressured yet again into giving his annual pre-game inspirational speech – against his will.

The AL players clearly had a swagger about them, and relished their run of success. But the 13-year streak was put to rest on Tuesday night when Brian McCann turned on a Matt Thornton fastball for a three-run double in the seventh inning, sparking the NL to a 3-1 victory.

It was the first win for the NL since 1996. And while seven of those losses were by two runs or less, including a 4-3 defeat last season in St. Louis, the streak was on the players’ minds.

“We’ve had to answer that question the last five times for me,” said McCann, who was named the game’s MVP. “To be able to come through in a big spot was something I’ll never forget.”

NL manager Charlie Manuel, whose Phillies have been in each of the last two World Series, says he stressed the importance of the game to his players, and that home-field advantage in the Fall Classic was indeed a carrot worth reaching for.

“The last two years the Phillies have been in the World Series and it was big,” Manuel said. “Two years ago we won it when we played the Devil Rays in Philly and won three straight, we definitely did not want to go back down to Tampa and play. I think home-field advantage, definitely, it’s a big deal.”

Manuel managed the game in an unconventional manner – at least for an All-Star game. Bringing in left-handed middle reliever Hong-Chi Kuo in the fifth inning to face a string of AL left-handers, leaving established stars like Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright and Tim Lincecum (who did not pitch) on the bench.

Then in the sixth inning, Manuel removed his own ace Roy Halladay after just 17 pitches — granted Halladay was struggling — in favor of Washington Nationals reliever Matt Capps.

Both moves were unusual considering the All-Star setting, but even though Kuo allowed an unearned run as the AL took a 1-0 lead, the moves worked out in the end.

Manuel said he thought that the streak didn’t weigh too heavily on his players’ minds, that it was of more interest to the fans and the media. But McCann’s comments on the matter were a little more revealing.

“Everybody knows that it counts,” he said. “We want to win it. We don’t come out here just to play like it’s OK to lose. Everybody in there is competitive and that’s why we’re here. We’ve been like this our whole lives. We want to win.”

And with his Atlanta Braves sitting atop the NL East, he admitted that home-field advantage was on his mind.

“It means a little more to me this year than in the past because we’re in first place,” he said. “You think about it more when you’re in that position, instead of coming here 10 games out, 12 games out.”

And for AL manager Joe Girardi, whose Yankees are among the favorites – if not THE favorites – to reach the World Series in October, he knows this was an opportunity lost.

“It’s extremely important, and whoever is in the World Series is going to have to work hard,” he said. “And ending the streak is disappointing as well, but we have an opportunity to start a new one next year.”

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Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Associated Press
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.

Puerto Rico official calls MLB’s likely series cancellation “an act of touristic terrorism”

Ricardo Arduengo -- Associated Press
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On Tuesday it was reported that Major League Baseball is on the verge of cancelling the upcoming series in Puerto Rico between the Marlins and the Pirates due to Zika concerns. Puerto Rico is not particularly pleased with that.

As this story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review makes clear, their displeasure is being expressed in totally calm and rational terms:

“It’s an outrageous situation,” Rep. Angel Matos, head of the tourism commission for Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, told the Tribune-Review. “The reality is that this cancellation is unfair, disproportionate, and makes our country look bad. It’s an act of touristic terrorism.”

I will grant that a cancellation wouldn’t be great for Puerto Rico. I will also grant that an expert cited in the same article claims that the odds of any players contracting Zika are very, very long. Indeed, he compares it to someone hitting 20 homers in a single game. Which, sure, Giancarlo Stanton is involved here so you can never totally rule it out, but it’s super unlikely.

But MLB, the union and the players involved aren’t in the business of dealing with the probability of disease contraction. They’re dealing with a bunch of players being really nervous about something vs. a two-game series in May that, while carrying big meaning for Puerto Rico, is sort of meaningless to them in a lot of ways, even if they won’t say so publicly. They’re weighing this a lot differently than tourism commission executives.

My guess is that it still gets cancelled. My guess is that, even if it does, Puerto Rico will survive this act of alleged “touristic terrorism.”

Yasiel Puig caught a big fish

Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig looks to the dugout for signs as he steps out of the batter's box while facing Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jordan Lyles in the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 24, 2016, in Denver. Puig drew a walk, the first of three in a row yielded by Lyles. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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I know I’m in the tank for Puig and have been for years now, but it’s a pretty fun tank so I don’t care.

Lately I’ve been taken with his hashtag game. Last week we encountered #PuigYourFriend. This one is not as good, but #PuigHungry is pretty solid too.

I just hope this isn’t ruined by word that he’s hired some social media professional to curate his feed. It’s possible and maybe likely, but I just don’t want to hear about it if it’s the case: