Thursday, August 1, 2013

Kuroda vs Kershaw Post-Mortem: Believe The Hype

Usually when the hottest starting pitchers in baseball match up, something gums up the works and the anticipated duel comes up a little shy of expectations. This was decidedly not the case on Wednesday night as the game went to script with former teammates Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw throwing zeros at each other all night long.

It was a thing of beauty, until the Dodgers screwed up the top of the 9th resulting in a 3-0 Yankees win. Not that I'm complaining.

On the surface, the casual observer would look at each starter's 10-6 record and see the potential in the face-off. But beneath the surface, it's hard to find two better pitchers right now.

The Kuroda and Kershaw Win-Loss records do not reflect the betrayal from their bullpens or the complete non-support from their offenses. Sure enough they each got no-decisions again last night, mostly because they faced each other. They each gave up some line drives, but they were all hit right at hyper-engaged position players.

Kershaw's ERA dropped to a microscopic 1.87 (leading NL), while Kuroda's is now 2.38 (2nd in AL). In July, Kershaw has allowed just 7 runs in 6 starts for a 1.34 ERA. And Kuroda allowed just 2 runs in 5 starts for a 0.55 ERA.

In Kuroda's case, he is one of those rare cases where he pitches only once every 5 days, but carries the team. And when he struck out Skip Schumaker with two Dodgers on base to end the 7th, he showed the fire and passion of a veteran leader in any language.

Kuroda's 2.38 mark is currently the best by a Yankee starter since Ron Guidry's legendary 1978 season (25-3, 1.74), the best season by any starting pitcher in my lifetime.

Now if we can just get him some runs...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Backtime Re-Air: Well That Was Anti-Climactic

Today is the 2013 Hall Of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown NY. And in 2013, no contemporary Major League players will be inducted, so it's really a nothing weekend in a distant upstate New York town.

It's a shame that Jack Morris was left out they year the committee decided to conspire in a protest vote against the "Steroid era." Next year will be Morris's last opportunity. Unfortunately he'll be going against first-time eligible no-brainers like Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine. Not to mention the second go-around for guys like Bonds, Clemens and Piazza.

Jack Morris doesn't relate to the steroid era, and he doesn't belong on the first ballot like a Maddux. Where he belongs is Cooperstown, and he should have had this weekend to himself.

January 9, 2013

The 2013 Baseball Hall Of Fame inductees: much ado about nothing.

I get the premise here, it's a protest vote against the crop of "Steroid Era" players who defined a generation of baseball on the field, but tainted the game in doing so.

How do you differentiate a Barry Bonds from Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza? You keep them all out? - For now? But what about Craig Biggio, who isn't linked in these circles? The Hall Of Fame ballot seems just as subjective and biased as its always been.

But I will continue to make the case for at least one more year for the most deserving name on the ballot that doesn't fall into this "generation" of players.

See, they didn't even have color photography when Jack Morris dominated a decade for the Detroit Tigers.

I don't understand how the BBWAA could bypass Morris 14 straight years. I'm not going to make the full Buster Olney/Nate Silver mathematical case, though I've done plenty of research and gathered plenty of evidence, but I am still compiling.

Baseball is a dichotomy. It's a stat-driven game, it's how we measure players against one another and history. Yet it's also a game where a lot of the contributions don't show up in the box score: moving runners, eating innings, great defense.

I believe a catcher's first job is to manage a pitching staff, then to keep baserunners from running wild, and then to hit. Mike Piazza's numbers as an offensive player at his position are unprecedented, but how did he fare in his more primary responsibilities?

Without getting into numbers (and like I said those are ready to go), Jack Morris was a horse.

First and foremost, he was the ace starter on three World Series champions. Second, he pitched 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the '91 World Series with no margin for error. Third, he was arguably the most durable pitcher and one of the most reliable for 14 years from 1979-1992.

And he did it all in the Designated Hitter era in the American League, pitching in the bandbox that was Tiger Stadium. The critics point to his moderately high ERA. He was a starter and a finisher, and in today's game with pitch count and inning counts, he is a throwback to a previous era.

Morris is the outlier on the 2013 ballot. The protest vote shouldn't have included him.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Breaking Backtime Season 2: Now You See Them

There is no episode of Breaking Bad that ultimately defines the characters of Walt and Jesse more than Season 2's "Peekaboo." Their motivations have been documented, and we know about their lives on the surface. But it's this episode, the 13th in the series' history, that opens up our eyes to what's in their souls.

If a subtitle says a thousand words, this is the one. After Skinny Pete got robbed by junkies, Walt told Jesse to "handle it," which meant get back the money or the meth. So Jesse, a paper gangster, goes under the pseudonym "Diesel" to play the tough guy and get retribution from Spooge.

At gunpoint, Jesse gets Mr. & Mrs. Spooge to literally pull the drug bags out of their asses, and realizes there isn't nearly enough.

JESSE: So you hold the crystal and she holds the H, huh?

SPOOGE: Division of labor, yo.

While Jesse is doing the heavy lifting at the Spooge residence, Walt's "division of labor" for the day consists of compounding lies to his family and berating Gretchen Schwartz, his former partner/lover/family friend for no good reason. Unless you consider Walt's hate, spite and envy good reasons.

GRETCHEN: Let me just get this straight - Elliott and I offer to pay for your treatment - no strings attached, an offer that still stands by the way. And you turn us down out of pride, whatever? And then you tell your wife that we are in fact paying for your treatment. Without our knowledge, against our will, you involve us in your lie. And you sit here and tell me that is none of my business?

WALT: Yeah. That's pretty much the size of it.

GRETCHEN: What happened to you. Really Walt? What happened. Because this isn't you.

WALT: What would you know about me, Gretchen? What would your presumption be about me, exactly? That I should go begging for your charity? You, waving your checkbook around like some magic wand...

And Walt's bitterness and disdain only gets worse from there culminating with the dropping of an F-bomb on a lady, forcing his former partner/lover/family friend to storm out of the restaurant.

Meanwhile back at the drug den, Jesse loses his focus because of a toddler living there in squalor. He has one eye on the strangers' kid, playing "Peekaboo" when he gets jumped.

But junkies will be junkies. They get high and bicker, and after Spooge calls his woman a "skank" for the umteenth time in a row, she pushes a propped-up ATM on his head, killing him instantly and then resumes getting high.

Jesse works through his shock, wipes down all the traces of his existence, and somehow the ATM unloads for him. He calls 911 as he makes his escape, but remembers...the kid.

Jesse whisks the kid out of the house so he doesn't witness the horrific scene. Then he engages the kid on the front stoop until he hears the emergency sirens making their way.

"You have a good rest of your life, kid."

And there it is in a nutshell. Jesse cared more for a skank whore's dirty kid than Walt did for a pivotal person in his life. And that's what fans of the show love about it.

"Peekaboo" originally aired April 12, 2009.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Hiroki Kuroda Day!

After  nearly two weeks on the road, that's just what I needed on a lazy Thursday afternoon: A Yankee matinee, featuring the league's best starting pitcher.

Some others in New York might disagree. Mets fans will greet each other, "Happy Matt Harvey Day" on the day their All-Star pitcher is scheduled, the way Alabama fans greet each other "Roll Tide." But since Harvey isn't even the best pitcher in his city, I say Happy Hiroki Kuroda Day.

In 100+ degree heat in Texas, Hiroki Kuroda gave us 7 shutout innings (for the 7th time this season) and made the Yankees anemic offense look good enough in a 2-0 win.

While the Yankees plod along at 54-48, averaging under 4 runs a game, alternating Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells as their cleanup hitters, and ace CC Sabathia (9-8, 4.37) has been unreliable, Kuroda has been the team's MVP.

Nobody will gravitate to Kuroda for Cy Young because of his 10-6 record, despite a 2.51 ERA that's 2nd in the AL. But the less than stellar Won-Loss mark deserves closer examination.

> On April 20 in Toronto, Kuroda gave up just 1 ER in 7.1 IP. David Robertson blew the lead in the 8th before the Yankees won in 11 innings.

> On May 28, Kuroda outdueled Matt Harvey for 7 innings, but Mariano Rivera blew the sane in the 9th and the Mets won 2-1.

> On July 7, Kuroda gave the Yankees 7 shutout innings (again), but Rivera gave up a home run to Adam Jones in the 9th in a loss to Baltimore. Rivera's swansong season has been glorious, he's 33 for 35 in save opportunities, but both fiascos have come at Kuroda's expense.

So Kuroda should really, legitimately, be 13-6. And in the 6 losses, the Yankees have scored a grand total of 10 runs, so maybe a couple of those should be wins as well.

And he carries himself like an ace with presence and swagger, on a staff that boasts prolific types like Sabathia, Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.

It's going to be a tough job for the Yankees the rest of the way with 60 games to go. They're 6 games back in the AL East, and 3 games out of an AL Wild Card Playoff. But it's good to know that once every 5 days the man is on the mound.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2103 Road Trip Day 13: An Oxford Education

I don't normally text while I'm driving but I felt compelled to take this shot while cruising at about 15 miles an hour off Exit 165. As you can see on the edge of the frame the recommended speed is 20 so I'm OK.

The dinged-up 2013 Pilot went about 3300 miles in 2 weeks. There were no accidents, no speeding violations, not even a parking ticket. We had a handful of traffic delays and a couple of storms but we were never really lost, and the kids didn't get to drive.

Anyway, when we last left our hero he had dropped off the kids and had followed the GPS down the Alabama backroads...

I spent the night alone with my Hilton points last evening in Oxford AL, approx 4 hours and 40 minutes from home. It's a pretty popular stopover between Birmingham and Atlanta, and sometimes I shack up there after a Tuscaloosa gig. It's got a ton of hotels and chain restaurants, but the only bar open as late as midnight is the scariest Applebee's in America.

When I say scary, I don't mean that I feared for my life or anything. I mean scary like a rollercoaster or a horror movie: sickly entertaining. This was my second time at that particular joint at that hour, and the scene was pretty much the same.

The bartender was yapping to the regulars about his trials and tribulations with his multiple babies and baby-mamas. One of the waiters was talking about how he freaked the first time he smoked methamphetamines. A girl at the bar frequently plagiarized Chris Rock quotes, passing them off as her own wisdom. The tough-looking, strangely-attractive tattooed woman next to me had a rough night working at the Anniston County Jail.

On the way out to my car, some dude tried to sell me some weed and I got the impression he was shopping his girlfriend too.

Talk about your Crazy-Ass Crackers! That's a reality show right there. I'm going back the next chance I get!

Maybe I'll circle Oxford, Alabama for the next road trip.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 12: Fuel Dump

Only on this road trip would one go from Atlanta to Nashville to Alabama on the way home. But that was actually the plan. That and getting gas every day.

We had marked the Nashville Zoo from our truncated trip there 3 years ago when my son had an upset stomach that day and we had to leave abruptly. It is of course home to the Jungle Gym, the world's largest outdoor playground structure.

So after the kids ran and climbed around for an hour in the 95-degree heat, we walked the grounds and saw the tigers, elephants, giraffes, and other exotics on display.

I was a little disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing the Kangaroo Kickabout, which was scheduled to open this summer but doesn't look anywhere near ready.

When we left Nashville we had essentially completed our own kickabout of the eastern United States. The kids had been drained of their energy before being jettisoned off to their Alabama relatives for a week of more fun.

And having removed a lot of excess cargo, my ride seemed a lot lighter. The drive home will be a lot more peaceful but it won't be the same.

Monday, July 22, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 11: Take The Long Way Home

We knew this would be the longest day trek on our trip. Today began in Staunton VA, with scheduled stops in Charlottesville VA and Charlotte NC, before ending the day crashing at a friend's pad in Johns Creek GA.

We left the hotel at 8:45 AM and ultimately arrived at our destination at 7:35 PM to get within striking distance of the finish line. If it sounds like a long day, it was. But it was made even longer by unplanned traffic snafus.

Three different times on a 110-mile stretch on I-85 between Spartanburg SC and Commerce GA, we were faced with at least a 15-minute standstill. There were torrential rains which undoubtedly played a leading role in this drama.

First, your run-of-the-mill three-car pileup. Then, there was a scary scene as a tractor-trailer had gone off-road, tore up the cabling in the median, and needed to be towed out of the mud. And on the third one I don't know what happened, but as you can see above a Georgia State Trooper and his vehicle made us all take an impromptu detour off the interstate, where we wouldn't return until about 7 miles down the road.

The kids were troopers themselves and they were rewarded with good food and friends upon our arrival.