August 27, 2009
All around the majors, it seems, teams are unloading and/or acquiring senior-level big-name pitchers at a breakneck pace. The Red Sox acquired 38-year old Billy Wagner from the faltering New York Mets, who used him in only two innings this year. He had been their closer for the last three years, and a superb one at that, with an ERA well under 3.00. He had Tommy John surgery last year, however, and his career seemed to be over. Now he's on a comeback. He will serve in the Red Sox bullpen, and he is so eager to play again that he said he'd be their water boy if necessary. To make room for Wagner, Boston released Brad Penny. See MLB.com.
The Cardinals will put John Smoltz on the mound when the Washington Nationals arrive in St. Louis tomorrow evening. Smoltz had a rough time in Boston earlier this year, going 2-5. One of those losses was in Washington, on June 25, when he gave up four runs to the Nationals in the first inning. His career hangs in the balance, but bounced back from near-oblivion once before, missing the 2000 season due to an arm injury and starting over as a relief pitcher for the Braves -- the only team he ever played for from 1988 through 2008.
The Washington Nationals are desperate to get better, more experienced pitchers, so it made perfect sense when they signed veteran starter Livan Hernandez, who had just been released by the New York Mets last week. He was the Nationals' ace for their first two and a half years, back when pitching was their strong point. Livan was a reliable workhorse who could routinely go seven or eight innings -- exactly the kind of pitcher the Nationals need right now! To make way for Hernandez, Collin Balester was demoted from the starting rotation to the Syracuse farm club. The Nationals front office is looking to acquire a veteran to anchor the pitching staff for next year. See MLB.com. In his first game with the Nats, on Wednesday night, Livan went six innings and allowed only two runs, but then of course the bullpen collapsed and the Cubs won, 9-4.
Welcome back, Livan!
The Nationals' recently-acquired outfielder Nyjer Morgan suffered a broken hand while sliding into third base today, and he will miss the rest of the season. It's a tough break for him and for the team, which has benefitted immensely from his hustle since he came over from Pittsburgh in a mid-season trade, but his replacement Willie Harris has just as much spunk, and considerable talent as well. See MLB.com.
The Nats took two of three games from the Cubs in Wrigley Field, as the slugging trio of Dunn, Zimmerman, and Willingham continue to pound away home runs. Both teams are in desperate straits, and I had mixed feelings. Tomorrow the Nats begin their first and only series they will play at Busch Stadium (III) this year.
It was a real letdown when the Cubs practically gave away the game that I saw with my father in Denver two weeks ago, but that was rather typical of how the North Siders have been playing this year. In fact, the Cubs may soon drop out of postseason contention unless something changes real fast. Manager Lou Pinella can't seem to figure out what to do. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell finds there is plenty of blame to go around, including:
Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley, three toxic outfielders with 40 homers and 131 RBI. Those would be great numbers for one player. Unfortunately, those are for the whole outfield combined. If this were a house inspection, the Cubs would have termites, mold and lead paint; you could cancel the contract.
By now just about every fan know that, at Citi Field last Sunday, Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett recorded one of the rarest feats in all of baseball: an unassisted triple play. It was only the 14th time such a thing had ever happened, and was only the second time that it was the game-ending play. And so, the Mets lost again, 9-7. Bruntlett had a great day hitting, but committed a key error on defense, so that clutch play was important for him. For a full report and some historical background, see MLB.com.
Bruntlett's amazing play happened during a particularly busy time for me, or else I would have mentioned it sooner on this blog. I remember when Rafael Furcal achieved this remarkable feat in August 2003 (as shortstop), and since then, Troy Tulowitzki (of the Rockies, April 2007) and Asdrubal Cabrera (of the Indians, May 2008) have repeated the feat. It's odd how (relatively) frequently such plays have happened in the last few years, given that for 41 years (1927 to 1968) nobody did it! When I visited the ruins of League Park in 1998, I learned that Bill "Wamby" Wambganss execute an unassisted triple play on October 20, 1920, helping the Cleveland Indians defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers five games to two in the World Series. (See the historical marker photo .)