Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Derek Jeter resumes his role as a living Rorschach test for sports writers

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Derek Jeter was famous for a lot of things, but one of his more underrated contributions over the years was his service as a living, breathing Rorschach test for sports writers. He never said or did anything particularly controversial. He, more than any player I can think of, stuck to the script. In so doing, he made himself into whatever a person talking about him wanted him to be. Or needed him to be.

If they were angry at some brash young athlete they could hold up Jeter as an example of how the brash athlete should act. If they needed to bash Alex Rodriguez, they could use Jeter as a counterexample. If the modern game was getting them down, they could hold up Jeter as an example of old school baseball, despite the fact that the behavior of the old school guys was not at all like what they wanted us to believe.

The key part here, is that Jeter himself almost never spoke out on such things. People just assumed that he agreed with their particular take on whatever issue of the day was raging, in reality or just in their minds. He was pretty savvy in allowing that dynamic to persist, of course, but he didn’t start it, let alone perpetuate it the way sports writers have over the years.

With Jeter buying the Miami Marlins, he’s back to serving as the personal avatar for whoever needs one. Like Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, who has decided that Jeter will stop all of the things he hates about modern baseball:

Derek Jeter is going to rock baseball’s world as boss of the Marlins. Jeter believes in scouting, talent, heart and soul, and he will look to fill the Marlins roster with the same kind of winning player he was during his 20-year championship career with the Yankees. In doing so he will slow down the rush to analytics that is now being portrayed the answer to all of baseball’s questions . . . In his heart, Jeter wants to run a baseball team that crushes what he views to be over-the-top analytic-based teams. As simple as it sounds, he wants to bring the game back to the players . . .

Kernan specifically believes that Jeter will cut back on shifts and relief pitcher usage and will encourage his Marlins teams to rely less on home runs and hit the ball the other way. He believes he’ll be the anti-sabermetic executive:

Perhaps it will translate this way: Perhaps pitch counts will grow. Perhaps, if a pitcher is throwing a shutout after six innings, maybe the pitcher will go an extra inning. Perhaps it just won’t be a bullpen-by-numbers situation. If a reliever is doing well, maybe he will get an extra out, an extra inning.

Perhaps his team will not shift as much. The 14-time All-Star shortstop was never a big fan of the shift on his way to five World Series rings.

Perhaps everything will not be geared to hitting the home run. There will be room for a batter who inside-outs a pitch the way Jeter was known for as a hitter and his 3,465 hits.

Fundamentals will become vital again, cutoffs, too, and making sure to follow the ball like his famous flip play.

Importantly, Kernan does not believe this based on anything Jeter said after voicing his interest in becoming an owner or having his bid accepted by Jeff Loria. He bases it on a throwaway quote Jeter gave him about numbers ruling the game “at his locker several years before he retired.” Really. That’s it.

I suppose it’s possible that Derek Jeter’s approach as a team owner will be to stand athwart baseball history yelling “STOP!” thereby mirroring the inferences Kernan has made based on a vague conversation they had several years ago. It’s far more likely, however, that Jeter will hire professionals in their field and that he and they will practice baseball management at, more or less, the state of the current art.

I am dead certain, however, that whatever Jeter does, sports writers will continue to attempt to use Derek Jeter as a delivery vessel for their own grouchy grievances, just as Kernan is clearly doing here.

Watch a Yankees fan have his heart broken in real time

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The late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote that baseball “. . . breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” That bit, which is widely quoted, came in his essay “The Green Fields of the Mind.” People tend not to quote much of the rest of that piece, but almost everyone knows the stuff about baseball breaking your heart.

That essay was inspired by the final day of the 1977 season when Giamatti’s Red Sox saw their summer end as the Yankees sat at home, once again preparing for the playoffs and eventual World Series glory. It’s a testament, then, to once ubiquitous Red Sox failure in the shadow of once ubiquitous Yankees glory.

That script has changed over the years, of course, as Boston has won three World Series and the Yankees have scuffled and tried to rebuild on the fly of late. This year the Yankees have been surprisingly successful, however, with that rebuild bearing earlier-than-expected fruit. The Yankees hosted the Red Sox this weekend, trailing Boston in the standings, but hopeful.

Last night New York had a chance to win the rubber match of the series. They took a 2-1 lead on a Todd Frazier sac fly in the eighth and, in the ninth, brought in fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman struck out Hanley Ramirez on three pitches when in stepped rookie Rafael Devers, who himself went down 1-2 to Chapman. The excitement in Yankee Stadium was palpable. Chapman was about to strike out Devers for out number two and then he’d no doubt get out number three to secure the Yankees victory.

Let’s watch how excited the fans were as Chapman prepared to put away Devers:

Oops. Devers homered, sending the games to extra innings where the Sox would eventually win.

This poor man, whoever he is, now knows that “. . . it breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” Even Yankees fans’ hearts.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Giants 4, Nationals 2; Nationals 6, Giants 2: In Game 1 of the day-night twin bill Chris Stratton struck out 10 in six and two-thirds shutout innings and the Nats couldn’t break through until Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer in the eighth, but it was too little, too late. Game 2 was much more dramatic as the clubs took a 2-2 tie into the 11th — Pablo Sandoval of all people tied it up with a homer to send it to extras — before Howie Kendrick hit a walkoff grand slam. Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman also homered and Max Scherzer struck out ten in seven innings.

Blue Jays 7, Pirates 1: Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer and Darwin Barney and Justin Smoak each hit solo shots. J.A. Happ won his third in a row. Manager John Gibbons won his 700th game. Not in a row, though. That would be a record.

Indians 4, Rays 3: Corey Kluber won again, striking out nine in seven innings and working around trouble. Austin Jackson made him a winner by hitting a solo homer to break a 3-3 tie in the top of the eighth while Kluber was still the pitcher of record. Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana hit RBI doubles and Edwin Encarnacion hit his 24th homer.

Twins 6, Tigers 4Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano homered to help give Minnesota a 4-0 lead. They blew it, though, before Byron Buxton singled in a run to put the Twins up 5-4 in the eighth. The Twins win their seventh of eight. The Tigers, ah, who cares, lose their 64th in their last 117.

Marlins 5, Rockies 3: Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Giancarlo Stanton homered again. It was his 42nd. He’s hit homers in the past four games and his 21st in his past 33 games. Even worse for Colorado was Nolan Arenado leaving the game in the fifth inning with a bruised left hand after being hit by a Vance Worley fastball. Imagine how bad it’d be if Worley actually threw hard.

Mets 6, Phillies 2: Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson hit two-run homers as the Mets take three of four from the Phillies. Odubel Herrera singled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. That’s the longest hit streak for a Phillies player in seven years. He’s also hitting .342 with a .970 OPS since June 1. Nonetheless, he was booed the rest of his at-bats following a brain lock on the base paths in the fifth inning, helping to kill a rally, with some fans yelling at him that he should go back to the minors. I get the anger at the mental mistakes, but I’ll never understand why, on crappy teams, the best player tends to draw the most ire. Fine, he’s frustrating. He’s also better than anyone else out there, so maybe cut him some slack?

Royals 14, White Sox 6: Merrifield hit a three-run homer and drove in a five and Drew Butera had four hit. Jason Vargas bounced back from a terrible start, allowing three runs and six hits in six innings, stricking out seven and walking two. He got his 14th win, which ties his career high.

Brewers 7, Reds 4: Neil Walker got traded from the Mets to the Brewers on Saturday, got three and a half hours of sleep after making it to Milwaukee, was penciled in at third base, which he doesn’t play often, and knocked a couple of hits and scored a run. Domingo Santana got more sleep, presumably, and hit a three-run bomb. Joey Votto‘s 17-game hitting streak was snapped.

Braves 6, Cardinals 3: The Cardinals eight-game winning streak ends — as does the Braves’ five-game losing streak — as Brandon Phillips hit a two-run homer and R.A. Dickey allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings.

Astros 2, Rangers 1: Keuchel took a shutout into the sixth inning and ended up allowing one run over six-and two-thirds as Jose Altuve homered and Carlos Beltran knocked in a run to end the Astros’ five-game losing streak. It was still just their third win in 12 games, but they still hold a 12-game lead in the West.

Athletics 9, Orioles 3: Baltimore took a 2-0 lead, but Matt Chapman hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in a five-run fourth inning as the A’s won going away. Wait, Kansas City comes in to town tomorrow. The A’s aren’t going anywhere.

Angels 4, Mariners 2: That’s six straight wins for the Angels. Parker Bridwell allowed one run over six, C.J. Cron homered and Martin Maldonado hit a two-run single. Andrelton Simmons did this:

Dodgers 6, Padres 4: Justin Turner hit two homers and drove in four. The Dodgers won for the 28th time in 33 games. They now lead the NL West by 18 games, which is the largest lead the team has had in its franchise history. They are 16-0-3 in their last 19 series, and haven’t lost one since June 5-7 to Washington.

Cubs 7, Diamondbacks 2: Jake Arrieta allowed one run in six innings and Javier Baez and Ian Happ hit back-to-back home runs in the Cubs’ four-run eighth inning and Kris Bryant went deep in the ninth. Chicago’s win and the Cardinals’ loss gives the Cubs a one-game lead in the central.

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2:  Rafael Devers homered off of Aroldis Chapman — it was a fastball that clocked in at 103 m.p.h. — to tie the game up in the ninth and force extras and Andrew Benintendi singled home the go-ahead run in the 10th. Chris Sale didn’t figure in the decision but he struck out 12 in seven innings of one-run work, and that definitely figured in the result. Boston took two of three from New York in the Bronx and now have a five and a half game lead in the East.