Thursday, August 27, 2015

Darryl Dawkins, 1957-2015


I met Darryl Dawkins once. The date was May 31, 1986. The place was Public Storage, a storage facility at Route 18 & Milltown Road in my hometown of East Brunswick, New Jersey.

I was a 16-year-old, 5-foot-6, 120-pound high junior at nearby East Brunswick High School, stopping off at the event on my way to see EBHS compete in the Greater Middlesex Conference baseball tournament in New Brunswick. (We beat Carteret, and went on to win the tournament.)

He was a 29-year-old, 6-foot-11, 250-pound professional basketball player for the nearby New Jersey Nets, already a legend.

In those days before sports salaries got out of control, and offseason personal appearances really did help a bee-baller's bank account, he was hired to referee a contest between E.B.'s police and fire departments, to see who could fill up a storage unit with basketballs the fastest.

He was late, and we were wondering if he was going to show up at all. Just as I decided he'd stood us up, and turned to leave and get on my bike to head out to New Brunswick, I heard this big voice say, "I gotta sign all those?"

It was the man known as Chocolate Thunder, and, no, he was not asked to sign every one of those basketballs. The event then went off without a hitch.

He was big and scary-looking, but that was just an image. He couldn't have been nicer. He was, figuratively and all-too-close to literally, bigger than life.

*

Contrary to the legend he wrote up for himself, Darryl Dawkins (no middle name) was not born on a planet named Lovetron. But he was born near a Magic Kingdom, in Orlando, Florida, on January 11, 1957.

In 1975, he led Maynard Evans High School to a Florida State Championship. This was a year after Moses Malone had been pursued by both the NBA and the ABA out of Petersburg High School in the Norfolk, Virginia area. Hoping to follow the same path, Dawkins renounced his college eligibility, and declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft as a hardship case. As Malone was selected by the ABA, Dawkins became the 1st high school star chosen by the NBA.

The Philadelphia 76ers made him the 5th overall pick. David Meyers (Ann's brother) was chosen ahead of him, but did not become an NBA star. The others picked ahead of him did: Marvin Webster, Alvan Adams, and the man known as Skywalker before anyone ever heard of Mark Hamill, David Thompson.

Dawkins' 1st game was against the Knicks. Walt Frazier, himself a legend, looked at him and said, "I bet his teachers called him Mr. Darryl."

"They wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain right away," Dawkins said. He had no college education, but he knew he was not going to be the Big Dipper at the age of 18 1/2. He didn't play much in his rookie season, 1975-76. But in 1977, the 76ers reached the NBA Finals for the 1st time in 10 years, since they had, yes, Wilt Chamberlain at center. They played the Portland Trail Blazers, who had Bill Walton healthy for one of the rare times in his career. Dawkins guarded Walton, and it certainly wasn't Dawkins' fault that the Sixers blew a 2-games-to-none lead and lost 4 straight. He earned the admiration of many basketball observers, including Walton himself.

In 1978, the 76ers traded George McGinnis, and at 21 Dawkins was the starting center for one of the NBA's greatest franchises. He became a star, and, hearing about his dunking ability, music superstar Stevie Wonder gave him the nickname "Chocolate Thunder."

On November 13, 1979, his legend truly began. The Sixers played the Kansas City Kings (now in Sacramento) at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium (as their regular home, the Kemper Arena, was undergoing repairs). He reached up for a dunk, and threw it down with such ferocity that the glass backboard shattered, sending shards of glass to the hardwood below.

Dawkins was not the 1st man to do this. During pregame warmups for one of the first games ever played by the Boston Celtics in 1946, Chuck Connors -- who also played baseball and became much more famous as an actor -- accidentally broke a backboard with a warmup shot, forcing a delay in the tipoff as a backboard was found from another arena in town. Gus Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets, one of the NBA's earliest dunk artists, supposedly broke 3 in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Before "dunk victims" got "posterized," there was Bill Robinzine. When Dawkins broke the backboard, Robinzine ducked, covered his face, and ran. After the game, Dawkins' imagination went wild, and he named the incident "The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am Jam."

(Robinzine became a tragic figure. He was a decent defensive forward who played 7 years in the NBA, but was released after the 1982 season. Unable to sign on with another team, he committed suicide. He was only 29.)

Three weeks later, at home at The Spectrum, playing the San Antonio Spurs, Dawkins broke another backboard on a dunk. Unlike the Connors and Johnson incidents, both of his breakings were caught on live television, and so they were seen by pretty much anyone who wanted to see them.

And Dawkins, like baseball great Satchel Paige naming his vast array of pitches, started naming his dunks, including the Rim Wrecker, the Spine-Chiller Supreme, and, creating an expression that became a description for big dunks in general, the In-Your-Face Disgrace.

He also gained nicknames for himself. Added to "Chocolate Thunder" were "Sir Slam" and "Doctor Dunkenstein." That last one, however, would become better remembered for Utah Jazz star Darrell Griffith.

Like the aforementioned Paige, his baseball contemporary Dizzy Dean, and Dawkins' own contemporary, football quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Dawkins figured out that if you've got a certain image, use it to your advantage before others can use it to theirs. Possibly inspired by the man known as Doctor Funkenstein, rock bandleader George Clinton and his "P-Funk Empire," with his "Mothership Connection" stage set (the first "black people in space" most people saw, outside of Star Trek's Lieutenant Uhura), Dawkins began telling people he was from the planet Lovetron, where he had a girlfriend named Juicy Lucy, and practiced "interplanetary funkmanship."

(As far as I know, he never explained what "interplanetary funkmanship" meant. I would have liked to have found out. Clinton and James Brown were probably mad that they didn't think of it first.)

But despite having Dawkins, Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney and Caldwell Jones, and being coached by Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham, the Sixers kept falling short in the Playoffs, despite telling their fans "We Owe You One" after the '77 Finals choke. They lost the 1978 Eastern Conference Finals to the Washington Bullets (now Wizards). In the 1980 NBA Finals, Dawkins showed that he might have been from another planet, but by NBA standards, he was no superman, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers was. They blew a big Game 7 lead in the 1981 Conference Finals and lost to the Boston Celtics.

It got worse in the 1982 Finals, also between the Sixers and Lakers. Kareem absolutely abused Dawkins in that series. The Sixers finally had enough, trading Dawkins to the New Jersey Nets for a 1st Round draft pick. Ironically, considering how his career began, the Sixers also traded for Moses Malone -- and Big Mo (as opposed to Cheeks, a.k.a. Little Mo) finally won the NBA title in 1983, sweeping the Lakers.

*

The Nets, who had moved to the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford in 1981, after 4 years at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway following their Long Island tenure as the New York Nets, were a good team at the time. Dawkins joined Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong, Mike Gminski and Albert King, and in 1984, the Nets eliminated the defending World Champion 76ers in the 1st round of the Playoffs. Then they took the Milwaukee Bucks to 6 games before losing.

Dawkins' ability to get inside and dunk, but also his shooting proficiency, meant that he was always among the league leaders in field-goal percentage. And he was a good rebounder on both offense and defense. And, of course, the big dunks kept on coming. The late 1970s and early 1980s was the golden age of science fiction movies (although TV sci-fi at this point was campy as hell and not really worth watching), and every basketball fan wanted to visit Lovetron. (It had to have been a better experience than visiting Mork's homeworld of Ork.) I suspect there was more than one NBA scout who wanted to visit Lovetron, just to see if there was another Chocolate Thunder there.

But, as it turned out, that win over the Sixers would be the Nets' only postseason series win since joining the NBA from the ABA in 1976, until Jason Kidd arrived for the 2001-02 season. And injuries began to plague Dawkins. In particular, a back injury in 1985-86 (a few months before that day at Public Storage) put an end to his NBA productivity. In 1987, the Nets traded him to the Utah Jazz. The next season, he went to the Detroit Pistons. In 1989, the Pistons won their 1st NBA title, but Dawkins only played 14 games, none of them in the Playoffs, and did not get a ring.

He then bounced around, playing 5 seasons in Italy's league, then spending the 1994-95 season with the Harlem Globetrotters, where his dunks and his personality would seem to have been a perfect fit. Alas, even there, injuries frequently kept him off the court. After a pair of brief comebacks in the minor leagues, he finally hung up his sneakers in 2000.

By that point, dunking became not the province of enormous centers -- despite the actions of Shaquille O'Neal -- but quick guards like Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, and forwards like Dominique "the Human Highlight Reel" Wilkins. But Dawkins' legend never faded away.

He overcame a drug habit, and married 3 times, having a son and 2 daughters. He coached the Newark Express of a women's league, and later a pair of minor-league teams, the Winnipeg Cyclone (as a player-coach) and the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs of Allentown in the Lehigh Valley.

He stayed in the area, and coached at Lehigh Carbon Community College. He seemed to have his life together, embracing both his legend and a responsibility of teaching the game to a new generation. He was a regular Twitterer from January 2012 onward, claiming in his bio that he was still "bringing funkiness to all over the world."

His last tweet came just 14 hours before I heard that he had died of a heart attack this morning, at the age of 58.

It is hard to believe that he is dead. Men from the planet Lovetron can't die, can they?

I hope the planet gives him a state funeral.

Astros the Real Deal, Yankees Need a New Deal


I hate Texas. But if I gotta choose a Texas team to win anything, I'd rather it be a Houston team than a Dallas team.

After all, Houston's greatest sins are the 1st domed stadium and the 1st artificial sports field. They didn't kill a President in the Sixties, cheat their way to football success in the Seventies, and exemplify green on TV in the Eighties. That was Dallas.

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees concluded a 3-game home series with the Houston Astros, who are the real deal after as bad a 4-year stretch as any team has had in the Divisional Play era. (Draft picks paying off, I suppose, but it takes brains to assemble a team properly.)

You might remember the Astros' very unofficial theme song from 1969, their 1st Pennant race season, quoted in ex-Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton's book Ball Four, to the tune of Tom Lehrer's "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier:

Now, the Astros are a team
that likes to go out on the town.
We like to drink and fight and fuck
'til curfew comes around.
But then we'd better make the trek.
We've got to be back by Buddy's check.
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Buddy was Buddy Hancken, a coach under manager Harry Walker, a former all-star with the St. Louis Cardinals. Bouton said that the song was "sung with great gusto," and that catcher Johnny Edwards said that the last verse is the most popular:

Now, Harry Walker is the one
who manages this crew.
He doesn't like it when we drink
and fight and smoke and screw.
But when we win our game each day
then what the fuck can Harry say?
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro!

Those Astros were in the National League West race until September 15, then took a nosedive (after eating some dodgy chicken a la king -- presaging the "Tottenham lasagne" by 37 years) and finished 81-81. The team wouldn't reach another Pennant race until 1979, won the NL West for the 1st time in 1980, made the strike-forced Division Series of 1981, scared the shit out of the Mets in the 1986 NL Championship Series, then won NL Central Division titles in 1997, '98, '99 and 2001. They made the NL Wild Card in 2004, and finally won their 1st Pennant in 2005, before getting swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox. After 4 straight 100+ loss seasons, including a shift to the American League, they are now leading the AL Western Division.

*

And they showed the Yankees why, dropping the 1st game of the series by a mere 1-0 score, before taking 2 away games in a span of 18 hours.

Collin McHugh started for the 'Stros, and was very effective. The Yankees got only 5 hits and 2 walks off him in 6 innings and change.

Michael Pineda returned from the Disabled List for the Yankees. Maybe he should have had 1 more rehab start: He allowed a home run to Evan Gattis in the 2nd, and was only trailing 1-0 going into the 5th, when he imploded: Single, single, RBI single, walk, RBI sacrifice fly. Joe Girardi brought in Chasen Shreve, and he allowed RBI single, walk, run-scoring wild pitch, before getting the last 2 outs.

The game was effectively over. The Yankees got exactly 5 baserunners the rest of the way, including a home run by Didi Gregorius in the 7th inning (his 6th of the season).

Astros 6, Yankees 2. WP: McHugh (14-7). No save. LP: Pineda (9-8).

*

So the Astros are the real deal. The Yankees? As that great New Yorker Franklin Delano Roosevelt would say, they need a new deal. Here's the situation from the Yankees' perspective:

* If the current standings hold to the end of the season, the Yankees would get the 1st AL Wild Card slot, facing the Minnesota Twins in a play-in game.

* The Yankees are now 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East, including in the loss column.

* There are 36 games to go.

* Alex Rodriguez is not hitting.

* Mark Teixeira has been hurt, and not playing, but not being put on the DL, either. So the Yankees are essentially playing with a 24-man roster (at least until roster callups on September 1).

* The Yankees still have a hole in their starting rotation. If Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka don't get hurt (or aren't hurt now -- it's hard to tell sometimes), that's 2 reliable starters. But those are both big ifs. But Ivan Nova has been hurt and shaky, and CC Sabathia is hurt, and hasn't been effective when healthy. Luis Severino has looked great in his 1st 3 starts, and serviceable in his 4th, although it was only in his 4th that he's gotten a win. Can we count on him down the stretch? Nathan Eovaldi is solid, so that's 1 guy we're sure we can count on... but only 1. If Pineda, Tanaka and Nova shake off their injuries, and Severino is for real, that's 5. But 4 out of 5 Yankee starters are big ifs. You'd have better odds with 5 dentists.

* And then there's the bullpen. Both closer Andrew Miller and 8th inning man Dellin Betances have dropped a level after being great for most of the season. As for the guys between the starters and "Betiller," I don't want to see them. (But I will, because Girardi sees them in his damned binder.)

The Yankees have today off, and travel to begin a long roadtrip in the Confederacy. They visit the Atlanta Braves for 3. Here's the projected starters:

* Tomorrow night, 7:35: Tanaka vs. Williams Perez. Sounds like the name of a law firm.
* Saturday night, 7:10: Severino vs. Matt Wisler. Not to be confused with soccer player Matt Besler.
* Sunday afternoon, 1:35: Eovaldi vs. Julio Teheran. That's right, the Braves have a starting pitcher whose name is the capital of Iran.

Then, on Monday, just what the Yankees didn't need: They go from the Confederacy to Scum Town for 3 against the Red Sox. As bad as The Scum are right now, I am not looking forward to this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Yankee Position Players Who Pitched


Occurrence. Date: Name, usual position. Pitching performance on that day.

1. 1908: Hal Chase, 1B. Pitched to 1 batter and got him out. I have no further information, not even an exact date. This is the same Hal Chase who was accused of throwing multiple games and ultimately banned from baseball, one of the most disreputable characters in the game's history.

2. May 11, 1909: Charles "Butch" Schmidt, 1B. Pitched 5 innings, finishing the game. 8 runs, but only 4 earned. 10 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts. Later won a World Series with the 1914 Boston Braves.

3. June 1, 1920: Babe Ruth, RF. Appropriate that he's Number 3 here. Made 5 appearances as a pitcher for the Yankees, after having been a really good pitcher for the Red Sox from 1915 to 1918. But by 1919, he was almost a full-time pitcher, so this counts.

On June 1, 1920, he started, pitched 4 innings, gave up 4 runs, 2 earned. According to the rules of the time, he got credit for the win. On June 13, 1921, he started, pitched 5 innings, gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, hit 2 home runs, and got the win. On October 1, 1921, he pitched 4 innings of relief, and got the win, despite allowing 6 runs and causing the game to go into extra innings. All 3 of those appearances were home games at the Polo Grounds. (The original Yankee Stadium didn't open until 1923.)

He didn't pitch again until September 28, 1930, another late-season performance, a complete-game victory over the Red Sox, who, knowing the former Sox start might bring in a huge crowd, asked the Braves to borrow Braves Field, instead of playing it at Fenway Park. His mound finale was another end-of-season job, October 1, 1933, his only outing as a Yankee pitcher at Yankee Stadium. He was shaky, but he went the distance in a 6-5 win over the Red Sox.

Then it didn't happen for the Yankees again for 33 years -- and then it happened on back-to-back days.

4. August 25, 1968: Rocky Colavito, RF. The Bronx native starred for the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers, but was only a Yankee for the last 3 months of a career that saw him hit 374 home runs and showcase a rifle arm in right field.

He pitched most of the 4th inning, plus all of the 5th and the 6th, against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium, allowing no runs on a hit and 2 walks, striking out 1, and ended up the winning pitcher as the Yankees won, 6-5 at Yankee Stadium. He had previously pitched 3 innings in a 1958 game for the Indians, and in 5 2/3 career innings pitched, his ERA was 0.00.

5. August 26, 1968: Gene Michael, SS. The very next day, "Stick" went 3 innings, in relief of Al Downing, against the California Angels, and allowed 5 runs -- none of them earned. Ironically, it was the man substituting for him at shortstop that day who made an error that led to a 4-run 8th inning: Ruben Amaro Sr., father of the current Philadelphia Phillies' general manager. (Both Rubens also played for the Phils.) Stick allowed 5 hits, but no walks, and struck out 3. The Yankees lost, 10-2. This was the last time a position player pitched for the Yankees at the old Stadium.

6. August 6, 1991: Alvaro Espinoza, SS. The last long-term Yankee shortstop before ol' What's His Name, he got 2 outs in the 8th inning of a 14-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox in Chicago.

7. July 18, 1996: Mike Aldrete, OF. The last player to wear Number 20 on a Yankee title team other than Jorge Posada, he pitched the last inning of a 16-4 loss away to the Milwaukee Brewers. It was his last season in the majors, but he got a ring.

8. August 19, 1997: Wade Boggs, 3B. The Yankees were in the middle of what used to be a traditional bad August trip to the Coast -- some of them were "Borg roadtrips," where we lost seven of nine and resistance was futile -- losing 12-4 to the Anaheim Angels (as they were then known), when Joe Torre brought Boggs in to pitch the 8th inning. He threw 16 knuckleballs and didn't allow a run. He would also pitch a scoreless inning for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

9. April 13, 2009: Nick Swisher, RF. The Yankees got off to a rough start in their 1st season in the new Yankee Stadium, before losing badly in 2 of their 1st 3 games in it. This was a 15-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, after trailing 9-0 after just 2 innings. Swish pitched the 8th and final Yankee inning in the field,and allowed a hit and a walk, but no runs. Meaning that, at that point, he was the Yankees' best pitcher of the season. Things did settle down, and the Yankees won the World Series.

10. June 30, 2012: Dewayne Wise, OF. This was the 1st time it happened for the Yankees at the new Stadium, in a 14-7 loss to the White Sox. Wise throws lefthanded, so it's surprising that Joe Girardi didn't pitch him over and over and over again to pitch to 1 lefty batter and then take him out for a righthander. Of course, he had Boone Logan for that, to every Yankee Fan's dismay. Wise got 2 outs in the 9th, without allowing a run.

11. May 15, 2013: Alberto Gonzalez, IF. Got the last out of a 12-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

12. April 19, 2014: Dean Anna, SS. Another whacked-out move that couldn't possibly have been in Girardi's Binder Full of Strategies, he allowed the last 2 runs of a 16-1 battering from the Rays in St. Petersburg. As with the last day on this list, the shelled starter was Ivan Nova.

13. May 23, 2015: Garrett Jones, 1B. Got the last 2 outs of a 15-4 home throttling at the hands of the Texas Rangers.

14. August 25, 2015: Brendan Ryan, 3B. Coming 47 years to the day after Colavito's mound appearance, in a 15-1 home disaster inflicted on us by the Houston Astros, he pitched the 8th and 9th innings, pitching to 8 batters, allowing 2 hits, no walks, and no runs. 

Brendan Ryan Stops the Bleeding, But a Lot of Blood Lost


Brendan Ryan is a classic good-field-no-hit infielder, a jack of all trades and master of none.

Last night, in the Yankees' game against the Houston Astros, he added pitching to his trades. Maybe he finally got a bachelor's degree in one, if not a master's.

He pitched the 8th and 9th innings, pitching to 8 batters, allowing 2 hits, no walks, and no runs. A good performance.

That was the only positive from last night's game, as bad a game as the Yankees have played in the modern era. Ryan stopped the bleeding, but a lot of blood was lost.

Ivan Nova started, and he got the 1st 2 outs of the game, then allowed walk, RBI triple, walk, RBI double, 2-RBI double, RBI single, walk, before finally getting out of the inning. The Astros had hung a 5 on the board before the Yankees even got to bat.

Actually, after that, Nova got the Astros out 1-2-3 in the 2nd and the 3rd, and stranded 2 runners in the 4th. But he allowed a double and a home run to start the 5th. That's when Joe Girardi decided to take him out, and brought in Nick Rumbelow. He allowed 2 more runs in the inning.

Then Girardi looked in his Binder Full of Strategies, and brought in Chris Capuano. Trusting Chris Capuano to stop a team that's already scored 7 runs off you is like electing a Tea Partier as your State's Governor. He pitched well in the 6th, and got the 1st out in the 7th, but then the inevitable happened, and he allowed 6 more runs.

That's when Girardi brought Ryan in. This is what it's come to for Chris Capuano: Brendan Ryan is a better pitcher. (He might as well be a pitcher: Since becoming a Yankee in September 2013, he's batted .196.)

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom of the 9th with a single to right. Chris Young was hit by a pitch. Brett Gardner grounded into a force play that got Ellsbury to 3rd. Greg Bird grounded out, scoring Ellsbury. But Stephen Drew struck out to end the comeback. (Go ahead and laugh.)

Astros 15, Yankees 1. WP: Dallas Keuchel (15-6). No save (as if). LP: Nova (5-6).

The series concludes this afternoon. Michael Pineda returns from the Disabled List, and Collin McHugh starts for the Astros in this rubber game.

The Yankees scored 1 run in the 1st game, the Astros none; the Yankees scored 1 run in the 2nd game, the Astros 15. Good thing this stuff isn't decided on aggregate. Today, "rubber game" means the Yankees need to bounce back big-time.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yanks Walk Off vs. Astros In Old-Fashioned Pitching Duel


The site of last night's game between the Yankees and the Houston Astros was a stadium built during the Obama Administration, blasting recent hit songs from its loudspeakers. It was broadcast on a classic baseball station (WPIX-Channel 11), rather than on the YES Network, but was also available on the Internet.

The Astros are in the American League, something that wasn't true just 2 years ago, and are leading their Division, something that would have been ridiculous as recently as 8 years ago. Someone who'd forgotten that the Astros had been bumped out of the National League would have seen this game on the schedule, and presumed that it was an Interleague game, something that would never have happened in the regular season as little as 19 years ago.

The starting pitchers were born in the Administrations of the elder George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Players from all over the world participated. Neither starter entered this season as anything resembling a star, and neither went the distance. Both, however, were paid enormously by the standards of the reserve clause era -- or even the 1st few years of free agency.

In spite of all this, the game was an old-fashioned pitching duel.

Nathan Eovaldi started for the Yankees. He's 25, and a native of the Houston area. In fact, he's from Alvin, Texas, hometown of another fireballer who actually did pitch for the Astros: Nolan Ryan.

Eovaldi hovered around 100 miles per hour all night. He seems to have 3 speeds: Fast, faster, and, "You wanna see it again? Oh, that's right, you didn't see it the first time." Nasty Nate, he's being called, although by all appearances he's a decent guy if you don't have to bat against him. Nor does he specialize in brushbacks or purpose pitches.

Pitching the way he did last night, he didn't have to. He went 8 innings, throwing 109 pitches, allowed 4 hits and 3 walks, and no runs. He struck out 7 -- a bit short of another Ryan parallel, but effective. Three Astros got as far as 2nd base, none as far as 3rd.

Scott Feldman started for the Astros. He's a 32-year-old 6-foot-7 native of Hawaii, but grew up in the Bay Area, in Burlingame, which some of you will recognize as California wine country, and others as the hometown of football coaching legend Dick Vermeil.

Perhaps "not anything resembling a star" is a little unfair in Feldman's case. In 2009, he went 17-9 for the Texas Rangers, although he didn't do so well in 2010, as he wasn't included on their postseason roster. He was injured much of 2011, but did appear in the postseason, including the World Series. He's only topped 8 wins once since 2009, and was 5-5 with a 3.75 ERA coming into last night's game.

But last night, Feldman was, effectively, Eovaldi's equal. He stranded Brian McCann after a leadoff single in the bottom of the 2nd inning. He allowed opening singles to Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew in the 3rd, but allowed no run. He got a double play to erase McCann's leadoff single in the 4th. He got a strikeout and a double play to erase leadoff singles by McCann and Carlos Beltran in the 7th. That's right: McCann led off 3 innings with hits, and didn't score. Feldman allowed 6 hits, but no walks, and no runs.

It began to look like one of those games for the Yankees, where their lack of hitting would come back to bite them. Especially after Joe Girardi looked in his binder, and saw, "If your starter crosses 100 pitches, never, ever, EVER let him pitch the next inning." So he brought in Andrew Miller, the closer, to start the 9th, and he immediately allowed a single to Evan Gattis. But he then induced a double play on Luis Valbuena, and struck out Chris Carter, to send the game to the bottom of the 9th scoreless.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch also went to his bullpen, bringing in Oliver Perez. Yes, the same Oliver Perez who first thrilled, then appalled, fans of that small club in Flushing. Admit it: You didn't know he was still in the major leagues.

Brett Gardner led off with a walk. Met fans would probably consider that typical of Perez, to walk a leadoff batter. Then he threw a wild pitch, to get Gardner to 2nd. Then, with Alex Rodriguez up, Hinch ordered an intentional walk to set up the double play. After all, in this instance, the lead baserunner was all that mattered, so a 2nd baserunner did the Yankees little good, but could have helped the Astros.

But Perez issued a very unintentional walk to McCann (his 4th time reaching base in the game), and now the bases were loaded with nobody out in a tie game in the bottom of the 9th.

Oliver Perez, ladies and gentlemen. He faced 3 batters and walked them all. Feldman faced 28 batters and walked exactly none.

Hinch had seen enough, and he pulled Perez for Chad Qualls.

The batter was Carlos Beltran. In 2004, he was a trade-deadlin steal and a postseason hero for the Astros. Last night, he was a hero for the Yankees, sending a fly ball to center field. Carlos Gomez caught it, but knew he had no chance to catch the speedy Gardner, and didn't even throw. Gardner tagged up, and ballgame over.

Yankees 1, Astros 0. WP: Miller (2-2). No save. LP: Perez (2-2).

The Yankees celebrated by dumping bottles of water on Beltran's head. It looked like Poland Spring brand.

Water? I guess A.J. Burnett took the pie franchise with him when he left.

The series continues tonight. Ivan Nova starts against Dallas Keuchel, who started the All-Star Game for the American League. Yes, his name is Dallas, and he pitches for Houston.

*

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 1, tomorrow night, at 8:30 PM Eastern Time, away to the Chicago Fire.

Days until Arsenal play again: 4, this coming Saturday, 7:45 in the morning our time, away to North-East club Newcastle United. Yesterday, in a driving rain, Arsenal and once-mighty Liverpool played to an atrocious 0-0 tie, perhaps the sloppiest game I've ever seen 2 "big clubs" play. Arsenal got robbed, as an Aaron Ramsey goal was incorrectly ruled offside.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 5, this Sunday night at 7:00, home to arch-rival D.C. United, at Red Bull Arena. The next game against the New England Revolution will be on Wednesday night, September 16, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The next game against the Philadelphia Union will be on Sunday night, October 18, at Red Bull Arena, the regular season finale. They've already played their 3 regular-season games against expansion New York City F.C., the team playing its "home" games in Yankee Stadium until they can get a new stadium built, and won them all. Small club in Da Bronx. The teams could, theoretically, meet in the Playoffs. The Red Bulls currently hold the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference, 5 points behind DC with 4 games in hand. But NYCFC are in 7th, level on points with the Montreal Impact, yet with inferior goal difference, and Montreal have a whopping 6 games in hand. So the chances of "Man City NYC" are not good.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 6, next Monday night, at 7:00 PM, at Fenway Park.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 10, on Friday night, September 4, in a friendly with Peru at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 11, on Saturday afternoon, September 5, home to Norfolk State.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 17, on Friday night, September 11, home to Piscataway. (I previously had that listed as Thursday, September 3, away to Woodbridge. Apparently, that's a preseason scrimmage. We've played Woodbridge in most regular seasons since 1963, but not, apparently, in this one.)

Days until the Devils play again: 45, on Friday, October 9, home to the Winnipeg Jets. Under 7 weeks.


Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: 45, also on Friday, October 9, against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Or, to put it another way, "61 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, despite having definitively played their last competitive game in the Nassau Coliseum, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 54, on Sunday, October 18, away to the Rangers.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 90on Saturday, November 7, at the Emirates Stadium. Just 3 months. (Most likely, at least the time -- currently 10 AM U.S. Eastern -- and possibly the date of this game could be moved to accommodate television. It could be moved to the next day, Sunday.)

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 93
on Thursday morning, November 26, at 11:00 AM, at Jay Doyle Field in East Brunswick. About 3 months. (I previously had it starting at 10 AM, but it's going to start at 11. Knowing EB, and knowing OB -- and you can't spell "SLOB" without "OB" -- it'll be over quickly, as they always seem to humiliate us.)

Days until the Copa América Centenario begins on U.S. soil: 
283, on June 3, 2016. A little under 10 months. The tournament will be between teams from the North American, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) and South America (CONMEBOL, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary). Although it's a member of CONCACAF rather than CONMEBOL, the U.S. is the host nation, and thus qualifies automatically, as it does for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 290, on Friday, June 10.


Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 346, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Under 1 year.

Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 
1,028, on Friday June 8, 2018. Under 3 years.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Yankees' Bats Quiet, Fall Out of 1st Place

The Yankee bats remained mostly cold over the weekend, having lost the opener of a 4-game home series to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.

Masahiro Tanaka started for the Yankees on Friday night, and he went 6 innings, allowing 4 runs (1 of them unearned) on 7 hits and a walk. A team that backs up its starting pitcher would have made that good enough to win.

It wasn't. The Yankees struck out 11 times against Indian starters Carlos Carrasco in 6 innings and change. The Yanks got a run in the bottom of the 4th when Carlos Beltran doubled and Greg Bird singled, but were down 4-1 going into the bottom of the 8th.

Then they got our hopes up by mounting a comeback. Brett Gardner led off with a single, Chase Headley got another, and Alex Rodriguez got another to bring home Gardner. After flyouts by Brian McCann and Beltran, Bird reached on an error that scored Headley. 4-3, the tying run on 3rd and the potential winning run on 1st, but Stephen Drew flew out to end the threat.

Justin Wilson -- not to be confused with the late Louisiana chef, or the British auto racer who crashed at Pocono Raceway last night and remains in a coma, both of the same name -- was brought in to pitch the 9th, and he turned a decent shot at winning the game into a disaster. He allowed 2 singles, a double and an RBI groundout, and it was 7-3 Cleveland. The Yanks went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 9th.

WP: Carrasco (12-9). SV: Cody Allen (25). LP: Tanaka (9-6).

*

Saturday afternoon was Jorge Posada Day. Hip Hip Jorge got his Monument Park Plaque -- his long Latin name of Jorge Rafael De Posada Villeta just barely fitting on the Plaque -- and the retirement of his Number 20.

"I can't believe I'm standing up here right now," the one-club man told the Stadium crowd of 47,032. "And I can tell you, I've never been nervous on a baseball field... Being here seems surreal... "I can honestly tell you, this is one of the happiest days of my life."

The Yankees have this nasty habit of losing on Monument Park days. Not this time, as Posada's happy day got happier.

Luis Severino finally got his 1st major league win, in his 4th start. Oddly, it was probably his weakest performance thus far. He allowed a home run to Francisco Lindor in the top of the 1st inning. But the Yankees bailed him out in the bottom half, with a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury, a home run by Gardner, and another homer by, appropriately, the new Yankee catcher, McCann. (The homers were the 12th of the season for Gardner, and the 22nd for McCann.)

The Yankees scored 2 more in the 2nd, and another in the 8th. Yankees 6, Indians 2. WP: Severino (1-2). No save, although the bullpen pitched 3 scoreless innings. LP: Danny Salazar (11-7).

*

Sunday was Andy Pettitte Day. The Hooded Hawk got his Plaque, and his Number 46 was retired, in front of a crowd of 46,945.

"I was talking with my kids out there -- 100 years from now, I'm going to be dead and gone and people are going to be walking out there and seeing this," Pettitte said. "This is crazy."

As seemed appropriate at the time, a very accomplished pitcher who had been a Yankee postseason hero started, CC Sabathia.

But, sad to say, the Big Fella looks done. He allowed a 2-run homer in the 1st inning, got into trouble again in the 2nd, and again in the 3rd, and then had to leave the game with an injury. Clearly, he never should have been sent out there.

Michael Pineda will return from injury this week, but the Yankees are still 1 good starter away from being a Playoff-worthy team. Tanaka (if healthy), Pineda (if healthy), Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi are a good top 4, but you gotta have a 5th, and CC just hasn't been it. Maybe Severino is the answer -- if, that is, Tanaka and Pineda can stay healthy down the stretch. If not, we'll need another, maybe 2 more.

The Yankees picked up a run in the bottom of the 3rd, after a bad throw turned a double steal into a score. But the Indians got that run back in the 5th. Beltran brought home 2 runs on a ground-rule double in the 7th, tying the game.

Hope didn't last long, as Dellin Betances gave up a homer to Lindor. Headley singled in the 8th, but got stranded, and the Yankees got nothing in the 9th.

Indians 4, Yankees 3. WP: Bryan Shaw (2-2). SV: Allen (26). LP: Betances (6-3).

*

To make matters worse, those pesky Toronto Blue Jays swept the suddenly-hopeless Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and took over 1st place.

So here's how things stand, with 6 weeks to go in the regular season:

The Jays lead the Yankees by half a game, although they're even in the all-important loss column. The Baltimore Orioles got swept at home by the Minnesota Twins, and have faded to 6 1/2 games out (6 in the loss column). They had a decent shot at the American League East, but they've most likely thrown it away. The Tampa Bay Rays are 7 back, and the Boston Red Sox are where they deserve to be, dead last, 13 games back.

The Kansas City Royals have just about wrapped up the AL Central, leading the Twins by 12 1/2.

The Houston Astros lead their cross-State rivals, the Texas Rangers, by 4 games in the AL West, but only 3 in the loss column.

Currently, the AL Wild Card berths would go to the Yankees and the Rangers.

The Mets, shockingly, still lead the National League East, by 5 games over the Washington Nationals. I suppose that will make it all the more stunning when they do blow it and miss the Playoffs completely. But at least they'll be "playing meaningful games in September."

The St. Louis Cardinals still have the best record in baseball, but by no means do they have the NL Central wrapped up, as the Pittsburgh Pirates are breathing down their red-feathered necks, 3 1/2 games out (3 in the loss column). The Chicago Cubs are hanging in there, 6 1/2 games out (6 in the loss column).

The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the NL West by a game and a half (2 in the loss column) over their hated rivals, the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants.

If the current NL standings hold to the end of the season, the Wild Card berths will go to the Cubs and the Giants.

*

The Yankees begin a 3-game home series against the Astros, who have rebounded superbly after 4 straight 100+ loss seasons. Here are the projected starting pitchers:

*Tonight, 7:05: Eovaldi vs. Scott Feldman.
* Tomorrow night, 7:05: Nova vs. Dallas Keuchel, who started for the AL in the All-Star Game last month.
* Wednesday afternoon, 1:05: Pineda vs. Collin McHugh.

Come on you Pinstripes, get some runs!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stephen Reached 3 Times, But Yanks Drew Blank


The Yankees began a 4-game home series with the Cleveland Indians last night. Since the Indians beat the Yankees 2 out of 3 in Cleveland during a dry spell with the bats last week, we wanted to show them we were ready for them.

Ivan Nova did his best to show them. Joe Girardi only pitched him for 5 innings, and he allowed 3 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks. But his binder said, "94 pitches means take the starter out."

Actually, that wasn't a bad decision: Adam Warren and Chris Capuano, 2 of the most reviled Yankee pitchers in recent memory, each pitched 2 scoreless innings, allowing just 3 baserunners between them in 4.

But, again, good Yankee pitching was betrayed by poor Yankee hitting. Here are all the Yankee baserunners:

* 3rd inning: Chase Headley led off with a double. After an out, Stephen Drew walked. Both were stranded.

* 4th: Alex Rodriguez hit a home run, his 26th of the season.

* 5th: Drew, well, he drew another walk. He was stranded.

* 8th: Drew singled with 1 out. Again, he was stranded.

* 9th: A-Rod led off with a single. He stole 2nd. After Brian McCann struck out, Carlos Beltran singled him home, and it looked like a walkoff comeback was in the making. Chris Young was sent in to pinch-run for Beltran. Greg Bird drew a walk, and the tying and winning runs were on base with 1 out. But Headley grounded to 1st, and Didi Gregorius flew to left.

So there you have it: Last night, the Yankees had 8 baserunners, and Stephen Drew, whose on-based percentage -- not his batting average, his OBP -- is just .263, was 3 of them, and didn't score any of those 3 times.

Indians 3, Yankees 2. WP: Josh Tomlin (1-1). SV: Cody Allen (24). LP: Nova (5-5).

The series continues tonight, with Masahiro Tanaka starting for the Yankees, and Hector Carrasco for the Indians.

Tomorrow afternoon is Jorge Posada Day. Laura's husband gets his Monument Park Plaque, and his Number 20 will be retired. Oh yes, there will be a game. The starting pitchers will be Luis Severino and Danny Salazar.

Sunday is Andy Pettitte Day. The Hooded Hawk gets his Plaque, and his Number 46 will be retired. As for the game, the starting pitchers will be CC Sabathia and Trevor Bauer.

Come on you Pinstripes! Do it for the recent Yankee Legends!