Sonny Gray debunks need for playoff experience with stellar outing

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The ALDS Game 2 narrative between the Tigers and Athletics involved the experienced ace in Justin Verlander and the rookie in Sonny Gray. Verlander, with over 70 post-season innings under his belt, would be calm, cool, and collected with all the TV cameras pointed in his direction. Gray, who spent most of the year with Triple-A Sacramento, would be  in the pressure cooker for the first time in his career, certainly a burden for a 23-year-old.

Gray flipped that narrative on its back with eight stellar innings of work against the American League’s #2 offense, averaging just under five runs per game during the regular season. He was rarely in trouble, and when he was, he nearly perfectly executed his pitches — a mid-90’s fastball and a dazzling curve — to escape unharmed. The right-hander held the Tigers to four hits, all singles while walking two and striking out nine, matching the seasoned Verlander pitch-for-pitch in the most important game of his career.

The pitch of the game for Gray came in the bottom of the eighth. Don Kelly led off the inning with an infield single, then moved to second base on a ground out by Jose Iglesias. With the winning run in scoring position and Austin Jackson (who hit .300 last year) at the plate, Gray fed him a steady diet of curve balls. Jackson saw six of them consecutively, falling behind 0-2, working it back to 3-2, and ultimately striking out looking. Torii Hunter then popped up to end the eighth inning, Gray’s final frame before Athletics manager Bob Melvin turned to his bullpen.

The Athletics needed Gray to be exactly this good because Verlander was on point from the start. Verlander did not allow a base runner until the fifth inning after recording two outs. Like Gray, Verlander did not surrender an extra-base hit. He allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out 11 batters in seven innings of outstanding pitching.

Had Gray relented even once — and no one would have blamed him if he did — the Athletics would have been feeling the pressure, just like they did from the start of Game 1 against Max Scherzer. And they might not have had the chance to walk off in the bottom of the ninth, the way they did thanks to Stephen Vogt’s bases loaded, no out, walk-off RBI single against Rick Porcello. Thanks to Gray, the Athletics are ecstatic as they board their plane en route to Detroit for Game 3 on Monday.

Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

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This Sunday three players will be honored in Cooperstown as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez become the 313th, 314th and 315th members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Executives Bud Selig and John Schuerholz will be inducted as well, making it 316 and 317.

Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87.  WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy, all of whom got more plaudits at the time. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that period and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Rickey Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). That Raines had to wait until his last year of eligibility was in large part due to him being a very similar player to Henderson. Which is kind of an unfair comparison — Henderson is one of the best players of all time — but that’s how the voters operate sometimes.

Bagwell likewise had to wait a bit longer than he should’ve, mostly due to thus far evidence-free beliefs that he used PEDs. On the merits, Bagwell was one of the best first basemen of all time, with a career line of .297/.408/.540, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI. Between 1994 and 2001, he averaged — averaged! — a line of .306/.428/.589, 37 homers and 120 RBI while playing in perhaps the worst hitters park in history in the Astrodome.

People whispered about Rodriguez and PEDs just as much as they did Bagwell, but he got in on the first ballot, suggesting that the BBWAA is getting over its hangups. He is also clearly deserving of induction. Rodriguez, the 1999 AL MVP, was named to 14 All-Star teams and he won 13 Gold Gloves. He finished his career with a .296/.334/.464 line, 311 homers and 1,332 RBI. His 2,427 games caught is a major league record. He was, without question, the best defensive catcher of his era and many believe he was the best of all time. If he’s not, he’s in the top two or three.

As for the executives: we’re long on record as believing that Bud Selig’s induction is a disgrace. It was nonetheless a foregone conclusion, as the Hall of Fame has tended to view induction as part of retiring commissioners’ severance package. If there was any remaining doubt about him getting in, the fact that the committee which elected Selig was, more or less, hand-picked by people loyal to Selig and/or Major League Baseball put it to rest.  John Schuerholz is clearly deserving as he was one of the top executives of the past half century, starting out with the Orioles and then building winners in both Kansas City and Atlanta, sustaining those organizations’ success for far longer periods than most teams experience it.

Beyond those two, ESPN’s Claire Smith will be on the stage to accept the 2017 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. She is the first woman to be given baseball writing’s highest honor.  Athletics broadcaster will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting. Smith passed away in 2005.

The ceremony will be held on a big lawn a mile south of the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the neighborhood, admission is free and lawn chairs and blankets and things are welcome. If you’re not in the neighborhood, the festivities will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at http://www.baseballhall.org.

Aaron Judge broke a tooth celebrating the Yankees walkoff win

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Brett Gardner hit a walkoff homer last night, giving the Yankees a dramatic 11-inning win. A grand celebration ensued. And then a trip to the dentist presumably ensured for Aaron Judge.

Seems that Judge broke a tooth during the scrum, as Gardner’s helmet — which was bouncing around, not on Gardner’s head — bounced up and smacked Judge in the mouth. Judge quickly went to the clubhouse and wasn’t available for comment afterward. If he was, he likely would’ve said “Thith wath a great win. Gardner juth looked for hith pitch and put a good thwing on it.”

Judge is expected to make the start tonight for the Yankees.