Scenes from Spring Training: Random Notes from Tempe Diablo

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Doing my standard wander-and-observe thing this morning.  Among the highlights so far:

Mike Scioscia opened up his office for the media at 10AM.  When we came in he noticed a video camera from a member of the Japanese media and said “if I knew there was gonna be cameras here I would’ve fixed my hair.”  One of the other writers — one who, unlike Scioscia, has a full head of hair — sarcastically asked him what, exactly, fixing his hair entailed.  I interjected that I didn’t much care for his arrogantly hirsute tone. Scioscia chuckled. I’d like to think we bonded over that.

When things got serious Scioscia, in response to a question about the readiness of Jordan Walden, the Angels’ potential future closer, said “just because a player is experienced doesn’t mean he’s better. And just because a guy is inexperienced doesn’t mean he isn’t ready.”  That has to make Angels fans happy about the prospects, no?

Something else fun from his press conference: Trevor Bell is starting today, but Scioscia was asked who would start the next two days. Scioscia wouldn’t say. In fact he said “I’ll let you guys know that when I feel … you guys need to know that.”  On the walk out of the office an Angels media person said that Scioscia knows, of course, but he just doesn’t want his upcoming starters advertised.  I walked immediately back to the press box and within two minutes of Scioscia’s deflection I looked at MLB.com’s Game Notes page and saw that Scott Kazmir is pitching tomorrow and Joel Piniero is pitching on Monday.  Scioscia needs to get better at the cloak-and-dagger bit.

After that the Angels took the field. Scioscia and some of the veterans started in on some kind of signs drill, in which third base coach Dino Ebel flashed signs and the hitters and base runners carried the play out with a live batting practice pitcher.  Once, when Kendry Morales was up, he laid down a bunt. Scioscia, standing nearby, said “was that the squeeze?”  Morales said yes, it was. Scioscia, unconvinced, yelled down to Ebel “was that the squeeze?”  Ebel confirmed. Scioscia said “I’ll be damned. He caught it.”

Before the drill, coach Ebel made a signal up to the press box for the staff to cut off the music playing over the PA system.  It went off for the duration of the drill. As soon as it was over Vernon Wells — who wasn’t there when Ebel cut if off — realized that no music was playing, turned to the box and yelled “MUSIC!”  Within three seconds “When the Levee Breaks” came blasting out of the sound system.  Vernon Wells would be useful to have around for that sort of thing. He’s like Fonzie.

The pic to the right is a bucket full of balls, ready to be smacked around during BP.  I’m sad to see that the good people at David’s Sunflower Seeds actually encourage all that shell spitting.  Shameful, David’s. Shameful.

About a half hour until game time.  I’m going to get some grub.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.