Scenes from Spring Training: Hall of Famers out the wazoo

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The original plan was to head out for the Dodgers-Cubs tilt. But as I was considering it last night I decided that I just wasn’t in the mood. I didn’t want to go clear out to Glendale, I wanted to go to a park with character and not one of the new mega-complexes and I didn’t want to have to think too hard about McCourt stuff, because that’s just depressing. So I called the audible and decided to come to Scottsdale for the M’s-Giants.

It was a good call, because I got to meet Gaylord Perry, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, all before 9AM. Holy Hall of Famers, Batman!

These legends were just sitting in the Giants clubhouse, reading newspapers and shooting the breeze. I talked to Perry for a while and then just listened to the others. You’ll note that Willie Mays had prime rib last night. It was “not bad.”

A few minutes later Giants announcer Jon Miller came in, and some actual baseball talk went down. Miller was a fountain of facts and figures, asking Perry and Mays if they remember such-and-such a game from 1960-something.  Perry was as sharp as a tack, remembering details like the 23-inning, seven-hour plus game in 1964 where Mays played three innings of shortstop against the Mets while Perry pitched ten innings of shutout ball in relief, getting the win.

I’m guessing that game stands out, so maybe remembering it wasn’t that big a deal. But standing right there while Perry talked about it, Mays added some details, and Ernie freakin’ Banks just nodded and enjoyed the story is one of the highlights of my baseball life.

Standing near me, also soaking it in, was Dave Dravecky. I walked over to him and joked about it just being another boring day in the clubhouse. He laughed, but then got serious and marveled at how awesome it is to have this sort of thing go down and how fortunate the younger players are to have resources like Mays and Perry just sitting there, drinking coffee and standing ready to talk baseball.

I’ll try to get a pic of those guys when they’re wandering around later, but I really wish there wasn’t a firm no-photos-in-the-clubhouse rule, because seeing them just sitting there was a sight to behold.  And one I’ll never, ever forget.

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).