Scenes from Spring Training: Manny Acta is on MY side

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Yeah, it’s another equipment bag shot. I can’t help myself. If you threw a bunch of equipment bags on someone’s front lawn on a cloudy day in November, I’d still take pictures of it.

Hanging around the Indians complex here in Goodyear has been great fun today.  For one thing, the place is crawling with Ohioans, and that’s good juju. I mean, we can’t cook that well and the coasts and big cities frighten and confuse us, but we’re really nice. Oh so pleasant.

Also pleasant: the Indians’ staff.  I came in this morning with an idea to interview someone, and they gave me (a) the general manager, Chris Antonetti; and (b) the Opening Day starter, Justin Masterson. Each of whom were kind and patient with my sub-par interviewing skills. Of course, as I noted this morning, that means that I’ll never write anything honest about them again. Sorry!  Look for the Antonetti interview on NBC SportsTalk tonight at 6PM Eastern.  I’ll write something up about Masterson later.

I wish my interactions with the media were so cordial. Sitting next to me for much of this morning was Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. Oh, we’re friendly with one another. He’s a good reporter and has always been nice.  But today our friendship ended when he — after noting his premature gray hair — said “I’d rather look like Anderson Cooper than Craig Calcaterra.”  I tweeted about it and even Gleeman took Bastians’s side. The anti-baldness sentiment in this country is intolerable. We’re the only minority people feel comfortable slamming. You’re all savages in that way and should be ashamed of yourselves.

But I’m not one to be a victim. I took my fight to the top. When I saw this man warming up before throwing some batting practice:

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That, my friends, is Manny Acta. Who is himself bald. And by good fortune, Jordan “anti-baldite” Bastian was standing there too.  So I told on him:

Me: Jordan said that he’d rather be gray than bald.

Manny: Nothin’ wrong with being bald. My wife says I look good this way.

Jordan: My wife says I look good gray. Wives are good at lying like that.

Me: you should probably take Jordan’s media credentials away.

Manny just smiled.  But then he talked about how he could get hair if he wanted to — “get that surgery” — but that “I’m comfortable in my own skin, man.”  Of course he is. Because he’s Manny Acta and Manny Acta is (a) bald; and (b) bald is beautiful and bald people just understand the world better than the rest of you ugly, covered-up-headed people.

Oh well. And now for no particular reason, I give you a picture of Stevan Pope. The man who has been my cameraman this week.

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Stevan is really good at not making fun of me for not knowing a damn thing about being in front of a camera.  Nice guy.

Going to the Angels-Indians game here shortly. Talk to you later.

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

Associated Press
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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.