Comment of the Day: Baseball faces, baseball heels

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On both the blog and on Twitter (@craigcalcaterra if you’re into that sort of thing), I’ve made a zillion professional wrestling references this week. I don’t know why. Something in the air I guess. The fact is that I was huge wrestling fan from, oh, age 9 to age 15, so mid-80s wrestling is just burned into my head like the iron claw of Kerry Von Erich.

My recent obsession — especially this morning’s reference to Nyjer Morgan’s “heel turn” — inspired some readers as well.  Notably reader Wings, who tried to cast modern baseball players in either face or heel roles a la pro wrestling. It’s long so I won’t use annoying block quote fontage, but all that follows until the mention of Ozzie Guillen’s name is Wings talking:

As one of the few “legitimate” sports fans willing to admit that I also enjoy the illegitimate spectacle that is pro wrestling, I have often found many heel (bad guy) and face (good guy) qualities among my favorite baseballers. I submit to you this line-up of possible MLB heels/faces:

Faces:

C-Joe Mauer
1B-Gabby Sanchez
2B-Orlando Hudson
3B-Pablo Sandoval (Maybe a stretch, but with a nickname like his, how could he not be a George “the Animal” Steele type kid-friendly fan favorite?)
SS-Derek Jeter
OF- Josh Hamilton/Torii Hunter/Ichiro
DH-David Ortiz
SP-Dallas Braden
Closer-Mariano Rivera
MGR-Bobby Cox

Heels:

C-A.J.Pierzynski
1B-Miguel Cabrerra
2B-Brandon Phillips
3B-Alex Rodriguez
SS-Hanley Ramirez
OF-Nyjer Morgan/Manny Ramirez/Milton Bradley
DH-Hideki Matsui (another nickname-stretch thing)
SP-JohnnyCueto
Closer-Francisco Rodriguez
MGR-Ozzie Guillen

Not a bad list. I’ll take issue with Cox as the face manager. I mean, he did hit his wife once. I think Jeter is way more likely to be a Ric Flair kind of a guy who goes back and forth from popularity to villainy, and is often popular because he’s a villain.*  Torii Hunter has to be a heel in the Roddy Piper mode, no? I mean he’s a lot of fun, I realize, but he says some pretty outrageous stuff (but nothing as outrageous as “just when they think they have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!!”  Piper was the best, man).

The heels list is better, though I think Matsui would be a face jobber in the S.D. Jones/Sam Houston mode. Likable. Enough moves to make people think he has some chops, but really there to get beat up by a bad guy. Ozzie Guillen as Jimmy Hart is pretty damn perfect.

Um, OK, this post is getting a little out of control now.  I had better get back to baseball.

*I am forced to admit that I once subscribed to “Pro Wrestling Illustrated.” In the back were wrestler rankings, including “Most Popular” and “Most Hated.”  I recall one month — in the mid 80s, when Hulkamania was still running wild — that Ric Flair simultaneously topped both lists.  Woo!

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.