Scenes from Spring Training: It’s hard not to like Mike Quade

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I got down to the clubhouse a little late — and entered through the wrong door, oops! — but my timing ended up being pretty good, as manager Mike Quade was just opening up his office for the media gaggle.  I walked in and, as I usually do, hung in the back to take it all in.  My takeaway: Mike Quade is an impressive freakin’ individual.

It’s hard to point to a specific reason why. It’s just his manner and demeanor.  He’s a confident guy — really commands the room — but he has a self-effacing sense of humor you tend not to see from guys like that. Like Scioscia, he made a crack about his bald head. When asked about the lineup he said “I dunno guys, you have any ideas?” Based on his calendar, some photos and a sheet of postage stamps on his bulletin board, he really, really likes dogs.

And he was impressive and seemingly effortless on the normal baseball stuff that a lot of managers seem to struggle with.  He was asked about when you get on a guy for a mistake in the spring and when you don’t and his answer was immediate and straight forward (one mistake, you let it go; you deal with patterns).  He was asked a question about pitchers hitting 8th that, while I may be wrong, seemed to be calculated to get him to say something about Tony La Russa. He neither dodged it nor slammed La Russa. He said what he thought — he puts his worst hitter ninth and that’s usually his pitcher — and acknowledged that La Russa does what works for him and there’s no problem with it.

The point isn’t about the specifics of anything he said.  It was just the manner.  He seems like he has no time for baloney, but he isn’t so stridently anti-baloney that he’s going to bull through things that may seem minor with some sort of businesslike false bravado. He talked about delegating authority to coaches and being mindful of how hard it is for the marginal guys in the roster this time of year, but also made it clear that his job is to get his starting nine and pitching staff ready for the regular season.

When Lou Piniella stepped down last year and the search was on for his permanent replacement, a guy with close ties to many Cubs players told me that the strong preference of the players was for Quade to get the job. And he got the job.  And based on what I’ve seen from him, he was the right damn choice.

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).