Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a plan: even with his team facing elimination in Game 5 against the Rangers, Leyland said Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde were off limits and that he wanted to get through the game with Justin Verlander and left-hander Phil Coke going the distance.
Which is exactly what happened in a 7-5 victory. Leyland rode Verlander for 7 1/3 innings, allowing him to throw 133 pitches before Nelson Cruz’s two-run homer knocked him out of the game. Coke took over after that and allowed one run before getting his fifth and final out to finish the Rangers.
It looked like Leyland’s intention to stay with Coke could backfire in a big way. After two quick outs to start the ninth in a 7-4 game, Josh Hamilton doubled. The Rangers, of course, follow Hamilton with four straight right-handed hitters, each arguably more dangerous than the last: Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz.
Leyland had his third-best right-handed reliever up in the pen in Ryan Perry. He also had starter Brad Penny up as sort of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.
Leyland, though, opted to keep going with the lefty, even after Young singled in Hamilton and Beltre walked with two outs. Fortunately for the Tigers, it turned out just fine, as Napoli grounded out to end the game with the tying run on. Cruz, the hottest hitter in either lineup, was left on deck and awaiting Game 6.
SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo hears from a source that former major leaguer Jonny Gomes has decided to retire from baseball. The 35-year-old spent the 2016 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League, but he struggled at the plate, batting .169/.280/.246 in 75 plate appearances. Gomes left the Eagles by mutual consent back on May 11.
Gomes won a championship with the Red Sox in 2013 and the Royals last year. He ends a 13-year major league career having hit .242/333/.436 with 162 home runs in 4,009 trips to the plate.
Gomes was known as a clubhouse leader during his playing career, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up coaching or managing in some capacity in the future.
The pitching match-ups aren’t at all exciting, sadly, but there are a few streaks to pay attention to tonight. Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. is on a 28-game hitting streak, tying him with Wade Boggs for eighth-most in Red Sox history. Teammate Xander Bogaerts is on a 17-game hitting streak as well.
Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna has reached base in 31 consecutive games. And to think that owner Jeffrey Loria would have traded him during the offseason if not for manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds speaking up in favor of keeping Ozuna.
Frisco RoughRiders manager Joe Mikulik got his money’s worth last night. He was ejected after arguing an automatic double play on an enforcement of the slide rule, and he didn’t go gently into that goodnight.
Rather, he threw things, kicked things, threw things and then subsequently kicked those same things, gave overly-demonstrative slides and safe signs and basically went all Earl Weaver/Lou Piniella on everyone.
Double-A baseball is the best minor league because you tend to see more prospects there than you do at Triple-A. But it’s also the best because, when you’re a manager who is not quite a heartbeat away from getting your shot at the big leagues, you’re a little less uptight about things. Or at least Mikulik was. Or maybe he was more uptight. I don’t know. He just went with it, and going with it has its charms.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the nation with their epic chase of Roger Maris’ home run record. But it has been, and after years of reaction, counter-reaction and, of course, baseball’s reckoning with the performance-enhancing drugs which helped fuel the chase, it’s probably finally time to do our best to contextualize it historically.
Today one of my favorite news outlets does that with an oral history. All of the key figures weigh-in on it, from McGwire and Sosa to Bud Selig to Tony La Russa. Randy Johnson makes an appearance as well, reminding us that it wasn’t just the sluggers who had an amazing year in 1998. Indeed, his story, including his being traded to Houston and going on an amazing second-half run, has almost been lost to history.
This is bookmark material, my friends. For savoring later if you can’t read it now. And for revisiting at another time given the depths to the drama which justifies multiple readings. I’ll just warn you that there is some adult language in the story, but that’s to be expected given the passion the 1998 baseball season inspired.