Having watched Sunday night’s extra-inning thriller between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s wrong with the Dodgers. Despite banging out 13 hits, the Dodgers managed to score only two runs at the hitter’s haven of Citizens Bank Park. They also blew a ninth-inning lead, effectively capping off their third straight loss at the hands of a good-but-not-great Phillies team.
How is this Dodgers team, with its talent base of established veteran stars and prime young talent, not winning a weak division like the NL West by five or six games? The Dodgers field a lineup that includes two legitimate All-Stars in Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez, two young studs in Matt Kemp and James Loney, and two future Hall of Famers in Ramirez and Jeff Kent, the latter still a productive player. Rounding out the starting nine are Andre Ethier, who leads the team with 16 home runs, and third baseman Casey Blake, who is at least a league-average player. There is only one position that can be called a black hole; that is shortstop, where the Dodgers continue to audition the Angel Berroas of the world because of injuries to Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra.
In terms of the pitching staff, injuries have taken away Brad Penny and Takashi Saito, but there is still plenty in the way of talented arms. The starting rotation features two solid veterans in Derek Lowe and the newly acquired Greg Maddux, along with the live young arms of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. The bullpen is vulnerable without Saito, but still has Jonathan Broxton’s 98 mile-per-hour fastball and a top-shelf left-hander in Joe Biemel. Throw in the unheralded duo of Corey Wade and Hong-Chi Kuo, and a surprisingly good Chan-Ho Park, and you’ve got the makings of a very good bullpen.
And yet, in spite of this assemblage of talent, the Dodgers are now a mediocre 65-65, having lost three straight games to fall three games off the pace in the NL West. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this team is still playing only .500 ball with the calendar just a few days shy of September…
When you give up home runs to Brad Ausmus and Darin Erstad in the 10th inning of a tie game, you have to figure that you’re not very good. Mets fans had already come to that conclusion about the New York bullpen prior to Pedro Feliciano’s implosion on Sunday afternoon against the Astros; they’re now absolutely fit to be tied after Feliciano fell victim to Ausmus (he of 78 career home runs in 16 seasons) and Erstad (who hasn’t reached double figures in long balls since 2002).
So what is Jerry Manuel to do? He is facing heat from Mets fans who have criticized his bullpen use (didn’t we hear much of the same about the deposed Willie Randolph), but he doesn’t have any surefire options to lock down the opposition in either the late innings or extra innings. Feliciano is an excellent situational reliever, but has never been asked to assume the role of bullpen ace, which requires the handling of right-handed hitters, too. The same can be said for fellow southpaw Scott Schoeneweis. Aaron Heilman has the best stuff of any Mets reliever, but he is also the most enigmatic, prone to walking batters or giving up tape-measure home runs at inopportune times. Duaner Sanchez has not thrown with consistent velocity since returning from shoulder surgery. And then there’s newcomer Luis Ayala, who has made four scoreless appearances since coming over from the Nationals, but has little experience as a closer (ten saves over five seasons).
Perhaps Manuel should roll the dice with Ayala. His Nationals’ numbers were not good, but he had been a highly effective middle reliever over his first four major league seasons. It might also be time to call up Al “The Taser” Reyes, who is tuning up at Triple-A New Orleans after being signed off the waiver wire. Reyes pitched decently as the Rays’ closer in 2007 before running afoul of the organization because of his involvement in instigating a bar room fight, followed by a stretch of poor pitching. At this point, the Mets may be willing to try anything…
I’m sure I’ll get in trouble with Hunter Wendelstedt again, but that interference call by Doug Eddings against the Rays on Sunday afternoon was highly irregular. Rays third baseman Willy Aybar was called for interfering with the White Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski during a crucial 10th inning rundown, negating what would have been the second out of the inning. I saw the replay twice afterward; it seemed pretty obvious that Pierzynski initiated the contact, which was fairly minimal, with Aybar. Eddings, who made the call against Aybar, should have made no call at all, allowing Pierzynski to suffer a more legitimate fate on the basepaths.
Felix Hernandez’ history-making grand slam on Monday night put him in exclusive company, as he became the first American League pitcher in 37 years to hit a bases-loaded home run. The last man to perform the feat was Steve Dunning, a name with which many of you are not familiar, or have already forgotten. For me, Dunning’s name always brings a smile to my face, mostly because of his nickname, “Stunning Steve.” Baseball people called him Stunning Steve Dunning not only because it rhymed, but because he had a dazzling fastball that at one time made him one of the top pitching prospects in the game. In fact, he was just about as highly touted as Hernandez was when “King Felix” first joined the Mariners. And just like Hernandez, Dunning had to settle for a no-decision in his grand slam game. Dunning couldn’t hold a 5-1 lead for the Indians, giving up five runs on ten hits through four rocky innings against the American League West champion A’s.
After Dunning won The Sporting News‘ 1970 College Player of the Year award, the Indians made him their No. 1 choice in the June draft that spring. Foolishly, the Indians rushed the Stanford product to the major leagues right away, completely bypassing the usual minor league apprenticeship, thereby making the same mistake the Rangers would commit three years later with left-hander David Clyde. On June 14, Dunning made his big league debut. He pitched reasonably well, lasting five innings while giving up two runs to the light-hitting Brewers. Dunning picked up the win, supported capably by Bob Miller’s four innings of shutout relief.
The highlight reel didn’t end there; unfortunately, the highlights just came too few and far between for Stunning Steve. He would win only three of his remaining 12 decisions in 1970, flatlining with an era near 5.00. He pitched a bit better in 1971, striking out 132 in 184 innings, but also walking over 100 men along the way. (Throughout his career, a lack of control would remain Dunning’s biggest pratfall.) The highpoint to his season, other than his grand slam against Diego Segui, came on April 18, when he one-hit Ted Williams’ Washington Senators. After the game, Williams held little back in proclaiming that Dunning’s “going to be some pitcher some day.”
Dunning became only a journeyman pitcher. In the spring of 1973, the Indians gave up on the wild right-hander, trading him to the Rangers, where he became part of Mike Shropshire’s infamous “Seasons in Hell” teams. A subsequent trade sent him to the White Sox, though he never actually appeared in a game for Chicago. Then came trades to the Angels, Expos, Cardinals (another team he never played for), and finally Charlie Finley’s A’s, with whom he ended his seven-year vagrancy in 1977.
Even though Dunning’s career ended in obscurity and disappointment, he’ll always have that grand slam–and Ted Williams’ endorsement–to fall back on…
I have no idea what Carlos Beltran said to home plate umpire Brian Runge during Tuesday night’s game between the Mets and Mariners, but it sure does seem like Runge baited the player, prolonging an argument that likely would have ended quickly. There’s absolutely no doubt that Runge later bumped manager Jerry Manuel (I saw the replay twice, and there’s no question that Runge initiated contact), an incident that should bring swift discipline from the Commissioner’s Office. If MLB officials are going to punish managers for pushing or shoving umpires (and they absolutely should), then umpires should be disciplined for making similar contact with managers, as Runge clearly did. A fine would appear to be the minimum appropriate punishment; a suspension of a game or two would more suitably fit the crime…
Former major league slugger Nate Colbert will visit Cooperstown this weekend, headlined by an appearance at the Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. The featured guest in a Hall of Fame “Legends Event,” Colbert will discuss his ten-year career with the Astros, Padres, Tigers, Expos, and A’s, most notably his five home runs in a 1972 doubleheader against the Braves. With his powerful but compact swing, Colbert emerged as very good player for some dreadful Padres teams. For example, during that same 1972 season, he drove in 111 runs, representing a stunning (there’s that word again) 23 per cent of San Diego’s runs scored that summer. That still ranks as the highest single-season percentage for any player, relative to his team, in major league history. And to think that Nate accomplished that while wearing those horrific yellow-and-brown double-knits that made the Padres the bane of the early 1970s fashion industry.