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Help us, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale, you’re our only hope


Yesterday I wrote about how, though these playoff games don’t conform to my preferred brand of baseball, we should do our best to put that aside and enjoy the moments they provide all the same.

I absolutely stand by that and, as far as moments go, it’s hard to top a relief pitcher who was a career 6-for-61 hitter with no extra base hits smacking a huge two-run triple. Two sluggers then hitting back-to-back homers off of that same reliever the very next inning are quite a couple of a moments themselves. A slow-footed, poor-hitting catcher dropping a bunt off of one of the game’s top closers to plate an insurance run in the bottom half of that inning is next-level unexpected and unexpectedly exciting. Yes, Archie BradleyNolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Jeff Mathis gave those of us who stayed up until midnight to watch the N.L. Wild Card game some loopy and unexpected thrills.

With that acknowledged, would it be too much of me to ask for a baseball game in which a pitcher actually does his freakin’ job?

Nothing personal against Luis Severino, Ervin Santana, Zack Greinke and Jon Gray, but it’s one thing for me to set aside my love of good starting pitching and it’s another thing altogether for me to sit through another stink bomb like the ones those guys dropped over the past two nights. Their combined line: 7.1 inning pitched, 20 hits, 15 runs, all earned, four walks, three strikeouts and five homers. These are number one starters for playoff teams, mind you. I’m willing to set my personal tastes aside as much as I need to, but two games started by four putative aces with 31 combined runs over seven hours and forty-five minutes is . . . a bit much to ask right out of the gate.

Today, however, there is hope. Today, just after 4pm Eastern, there is a matchup of two of baseball’s best starting pitchers. Two men who, at least theoretically, can provide us a respite from all of this sloppy–, er, I mean exciting baseball. Enter Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.

While the four fellows who pitched the past two nights are fine men, and while Zack Greinke is most certainly an ace, Sale and Verlander are, without question, two of the game’s top arms and are most definitely on the top of their games. Verlander had a solid enough season overall, but he put it into high gear after being traded from Detroit to Houston at the end of August, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five starts with a K/BB ratio of 43/4 in 34 innings pitched. Sale, who was the top AL Cy Young candidate for much of the season, led the league with 308 strikeouts over his league-leading 214.1 innings. He was the first AL pitcher to strike out 300 batters this century.

Sale averages over six and two-thirds innings per start. Verlander: just shy of six and a third. Sale has no playoff experience by virtue of his years with the White Sox, but Verlander has been there. His last trip to October came before this new age of ultra-quick hooks and heavy bullpen use, so he’s averaged over six innings a postseason start. On paper at least, this matchup gives a fighting chance at a pitchers’ duel. Though, being honest, after watching starting pitchers shoot themselves in the foot for two nights, I’d settle for a spirited pitchers argument. I’d take a battle of pitchers’ “yo momma” jokes or a pitchers’ slap fight.

Nothing is certain, of course. Houston’s offense is the best in baseball. More intriguing than just their fire power, however, is their lack of strikeouts. Indeed, despite all of those runs, they struck out fewer times than any team in the game, so something will have to give as they face off against the game’s K-king in Sale. For his part, Verlander has faced the 2017 Red Sox twice, handling them well both times, allowing only three runs in 12 innings. They were patient against him, however, drawing six walks. Both of those games came before the All-Star break, however, and the Sox did win the second game.

All of that said, if you don’t know by now, predicting a playoff game’s outcome is impossible, so it’s beyond presumptuous to predict or to hope for a certain style of game. I want to see Sale and Verlander trade goose eggs for seven innings or so, the tension building every frame. We could quite easily see both of these guys knocked out of box before the third, however, with this all being decided by, I dunno, Chris Devenski and Heath Hembree.

But c’mon, guys. Do something good for me, will ya?

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

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There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.