Go The Distance: How starting pitchers have changed

Matt Harvey is an example of a new age starter who has been micro managed but still had a season ending injury.

Matt Harvey is an example of a new age starter who has been micro managed but still had a season ending injury.

Today, Jacob deGrom tossed a one-hit complete game shutout in a Mets’ 5-0 win over the Phillies. During the post game on WWOR Radio, the Mets broadcaster noted that it was deGrom’s first complete game shutout at any level.

He never had one in high school, college or the minor leagues. It took until Year 3 at age 28 for deGrom to finally go the distance. He did it on 105 pitches with 67 for strikes. The only hit he allowed was ironically to counterpart Zach Eflin, who singled to center in the the third. The third-year Mets starter walked one and fanned seven in improving to 6-4 lowering his earned-run-average to 2.38. He even got a hit and came around to score on an RBI double from Jose Reyes.

DeGrom’s one-hit shutout is the first for the Mets since Matt Harvey did it on May 7, 2013 against the White Sox. In that one, Harvey fanned 12. It’s hard to believe deGrom never tossed a complete game of any kind before. It speaks to how different baseball is. The game has changed. Starting pitchers are micromanaged start to start due to pitch counts. Innings are carefully managed. Whether it’s strategically trying to win games by relying on bullpens or overall with innings limits.

Gone are the days of starters with rubber arms going a full nine consistently. Currently, San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto leads the majors with four complete games. Not surprisingly, teammate Madison Bumgarner is tied for second with three. Four other starters have three including injured Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw. The best pitcher in baseball. He remains on disabled list with a back injury. Hopefully, the remarkable southpaw will be back in August for the stretch drive. He was having an amazing season. Kershaw led the majors in ERA (1.79), WHIP (0.727), shutouts (3) and still ranks fourth in strikeouts (145).

Last year, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young winning 22 games with a 1.77 ERA and 236 K’s in 229 innings. In 33 starts, he tied for the league lead in complete games (4), also shared by Kershaw, Bumgarner and Max Scherzer. Runner-up Zach Greinke only had one complete game despite going 19-3 with a major league best 1.66 ERA with 200 K’s in 222.2 innings.

In the glory days, it was more common for starters to go the full nine. In 1968, both Bob Gibson and Denny McLain each swept the Cy Young and MVP in the NL and AL. They each had 28 complete games with the remarkable Gibson tossing 13 shutouts. The year of the pitcher saw a dominant Gibson go 22-9 with a jaw dropping 1.12 ERA in 34 starts. How did he ever lose? McLain was no slouch that year winning 31 games with a 1.96 ERA while tossing 336 innings. Like most pitchers during the golden era, each benefited from the raised mound. This article discusses the most successful pitchers of the raised mound era.

In ’69, the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10. Interestingly, the strike zone also was adjusted. A raised mound gave pitchers an advantage due to pitching downhill. It produced the lowest scoring season in modern baseball. Runs increased in ’69.

“The run-scoring environment in 1969 was much greater than it was in 1968, with teams averaging 0.65 more runs per game (going from 3.42 to 4.07), an increase of greater than 19 percent,” George Resor wrote in a 2014 piece entitled, The Height of the Hill.

Complete games didn’t disappear following the mound changing. While hitting improved, there were still dominant pitchers who were trusted to go the distance. As the yearly league leaders in complete games on Baseball Reference shows, great pitchers such as Steve Carlton, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry were able to reach the 20’s or even 30 complete games.

As the role of the closer and relief pitchers increased, starters weren’t as frequently asked to go the full nine. In 1985, Bert Blyleven led the majors with 24 complete games including five shutouts. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. In his dominant ’85 as a 20-year old in which he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, Dwight Gooden led the NL with 16. The final time a pitcher hit 20 was the following season with Fernando Valenzuela in ’86 with the Dodgers. He finished second in the NL Cy Young losing out to Mike Scott.

These days, if a starter reaches eight or nine complete games, it’s a great accomplishment. The days of the ace hitting double digits are gone. James Shields led the AL with 11 in 2011 as a Tampa Ray. Five years later, he’s a shell of himself struggling with a 6.43 ERA after the Padres dealt him to the White Sox. Is it due to the all the innings he threw up to age 33? Who knows. He’s 34 and looks done. In 2011, he threw a career high 249.1 innings. The next three seasons, he averaged 227-plus with the Rays and Royals. Do all the innings thrown catch up? In some cases, yes. Or is it just a veteran pitcher declining? The answer is probably both.

There are two schools of thought on limiting young starters. With pitch counts in some cases not exceeding 105-110, they run out of gas because they’re not used to going longer. We saw it with Matt Harvey during last year’s critical Game 5 of the World Series. Harvey had come back from Tommy John surgery last season. After missing the entire 2014, he went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in 29 starts. The Dark Knight wound up throwing 189.1 innings and striking out 188. Both he and agent Scott Boras agreed that his total innings should be limited due to the long-term impact.

Now 27, Harvey has yet to test free agency. He is making $4.325 million this season. Making money and long-term health for a successful career are primary focuses. So, it’s not surprising there was controversy surrounding Harvey in September of last year. He was almost shut down receiving negative press and fanfare when the whole innings controversy came out. Many questioned his motivation. Was he putting himself before a team trying to win a championship? The negative PR forced Harvey to change his tune. He didn’t want to disappoint his teammates or fans. He would pitch in October.

Harvey dominated the Cubs in a win fanning nine in seven-plus. The Mets swept to win the pennant and advance to their first World Series since 2000. It was Harvey’s second start in the Series that became the focus. Throwing one of his best games, he had the Royals off balance. For eight innings, he gave up virtually nothing against one of the toughest lineups. When approached by skipper Terry Collins about bringing in closer Jeurys Familia for the ninth, he emphatically told Collins, “No way. I’m not coming out.”

It was the kind of bravery you’d expect from a demanding pitcher who wanted to be the man. Harvey wanted the ball. He wanted to finish what he started. With the Mets nursing a 2-0 lead entering the ninth, Harvey came out to loud cheers from the capacity Citi Field crowd. But a walk to Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer run-scoring double cut the lead to one with no out, forcing Collins to get Harvey. Familia got the infield grounder for a 5-3 putout with Cain on third and one out. But as soon as David Wright threw across the diamond, Cain took off for the plate and scored the tying run thanks to Lucas Duda’s errant throw. The Royals would win the world championship with a five-run 12th.

Harvey’s final line:

8 IP 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 9 K 111 pitches 76 strikes

Of course, so many critics second guessed leaving Harvey in. In this town, everyone’s an expert. It is worth noting that he didn’t have a complete game in 2015. In fact, he only had one for his career. The aforementioned one-hit shutout in 2013. The most innings he went were eight-plus against the Yankees coming within an out of a complete game. The Mets won 8-2 on Apr. 25. He also went eight three other times. Only once after May.

In case you’re wondering about pitch counts, Harvey threw at least 100 pitches or more 15 times including a season high 115 in a 1-0 loss to Atlanta. However, his pitch count decreased in September going from 101 to 74, 77 and then back up to 97 and 91. In Game 1 of the World Series, Harvey threw 80 pitches over six innings permitting three earned and a home run in a no decision. Coincidentally, the Mets lost that game in 14 innings. Game 5 was his game to win or lose. He made that abundantly clear. It wasn’t to be.

Fast forward a year later and Harvey is done for the season with symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome resulting in season-ending surgery. Please keep in mind this is unrelated to his arm. It’s a vascular condition that can affect long-term health. Other pitchers have had the procedure done and returned.

Harvey’s 2016 was disappointing. He was 4-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 17 starts. Predictably, ESPN Stats & Info had this tweet:

The question is was Harvey’s bad year due to the total number of innings he threw last year. That can’t be explained entirely. Especially with him undergoing surgery to fix the vascular issue with thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms. What kind of pitcher will Harvey be when he returns in 2017? He’ll turn 28 before next season. He won’t be a free agent until 2019. His career could be on the line.

If you’re curious, Noah Syndergaard doesn’t have a complete game since entering the majors last year. For his whole career including minors, he has totaled one with Triple-AAA Las Vegas last year. A complete game shutout. After throwing 150 innings during the 2015 regular season, he added another 19 in the postseason. If you include the 29.2 innings with Las Vegas, he totaled 198.2 between minors and majors. So far in Year 2, he has 105.2 with a 9-4 mark, 2.56 ERA with 18 walks and 128 K’s. Of all the Mets young starters, he has the highest upside.

As we continue to follow young pitchers such as deGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard, should everything be under a microscope? It’s this way due to what became of Cubs’ aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Wood took the NL by storm in ’98 winning 13 games for the Cubs while striking out 233 over 166.2 innings to win Rookie of the Year. His hard throwing style featuring a lethal fastball and huge curve drew comparisons to fellow Texan Roger Clemens. After missing the entire ’99 due to Tommy John surgery, Wood returned to prominence. He continuing to strike out batters at a high rate, he fanned 266 in 211 innings during ’03. He was also wild hitting 21 batters.

The ’03 Cubs were special thanks to Wood and Prior, who at 22 went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA while walking 50 and striking out 245 in 211.1 innings to finish third for the Cy Young. After the Cubs lost in excruciating fashion to the Marlins in the NLCS, Prior never pitched a full season ever again. Both Wood and Prior threw a lot of pitches per start under manager Dusty Baker. He received heavy criticism for ruining both.

Prior was one of those rare talents who could’ve had a long distinguished major league career winning multiple Cy Youngs while challenging records. He never pitched in the major leagues after 25. Reconstructive Tommy John surgery, an Achilles tendon injury and structural damage to his right shoulder were too much to overcome. He attempted several comebacks with several teams including the Yankees. But after being released by the Reds in 2013, he retired following the season.

As for Wood, eventually he transitioned from a starter to reliever- having success with the Cubs saving 34 games in ’08 to make the All-Star team. He was an effective late game reliever for a few more years. That included a brief stint with the Yankees as a rental in 2010 where he pitched to a 0.69 ERA. After returning to the Cubs in 2011 and having one more good season, he called it quits in May 2012 due to a poor start. At least Wood had a successful 14-year career as both a starter and reliever. He averaged over 10’s per inning for his career totaling 1,582 in 1,380 innings.

It’s unfortunate that Prior didn’t last longer. He had such great mechanics. But was plagued by arm and shoulder injuries. It’s unfair to blame Baker for everything. Some pitchers aren’t built to last. Injuries to pitchers are part of baseball. It’s not always due to how many pitches or innings thrown. At any moment, a pitcher can blow out their arm or get hit by a line drive that alters their career. That’s the risk they take. There are also extreme cases like Gooden, who are derailed by substance abuse.

Pitching remains an art. When you can see a Picasso like Kershaw every fifth day, appreciate it. As far as starters finishing what they started, it’s rare these days. There aren’t many horses left. C.C. Sabathia had a rubber arm for the Brewers as a rental once tossing seven complete games including three shutouts in 17 starts after coming over from the Indians. He got a huge contract from the Yankees helping them win a record 27th world championship in ’09. Though he isn’t the same anymore, you can’t call that signing anything but a success.

Pitchers age. There aren’t as many shortcuts with performance enhancers illegal. After he swept the Cy and MVP in 2011, Justin Verlander looked like he would dominate well into his mid-30’s. But following another big year at 30 in 2012, he’s a shadow of what he used to be. He makes $28 million thru 2019 with a vesting $22 million option guaranteed if he finishes in the top 5 for AL Cy Young. There’s a better chance of me dating Rihanna.

It just goes to show you what happens. With complete games almost extinct, it’s kind of sad. Most games are managed by the book with skippers like Joe Girardi mixing and matching. A good pen is important. Mariano Rivera was a staple to their success. In some years, he could’ve won the Cy Young if baseball writers weren’t so biased. The recent Royals’ success based on Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis has influenced the Yankees. They acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds to close games- leaving flame throwers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to pitch the seventh and eighth innings. It hasn’t translated due to inconsistent starting pitching and anemic hitting.

At times, you do need your ace to give the pen nights off. That’s what Kershaw and Bumgarner do for their teams. They’re exceptions to the rule. Bumgarner proved a dominant ace can beat a great team coming out of the pen for the save to shutdown the Royals in a memorable Game 7 won by the Giants two years ago. He also won two games as a starter in that World Series.

The bottom line is there are different ways to win. Call me old school. I still prefer seeing a great starter finish what he started. Go the distance.

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A Yankee Sequel: Soriano Returns To Bronx

It’s official. Alfonso Soriano is back in Yankee Pinstripes. The much rumored deal that had the former Yankee second baseman returning for a Bronx encore finally went through earlier today. The 37-year old seven-time All-Star comes over from the Cubs for Single-A pitching prospect Corey Black. A 21-year old former fourth round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.

In his 15th year in the bigs, Soriano batted .251 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI’s with 10 stolen bases for the Cubs. He’s closing in on his 12th straight season of 20 homers or more. Since finishing third for AL Rookie Of The Year behind new Yankee teammates Ichiro Suzuki and C.C. Sabathia, he’s slugged 30+ homers in six seasons including last year when he had 32. The most since hitting 33 in ’07. His first year at Wrigley Field after signing an eight-year $136 million contract. That followed a career year with the Nationals in which he reached the 40/40 Club with 46 dingers and 41 steals.

Soriano returns to the Yankees for the first time in a decade after being dealt to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. In three-plus years in the Bronx, he cracked 98 homers, drove in 270 and stole 121 bases. Ironically, the biggest swing was a two-run homer off Curt Schilling in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series that put the Yanks ahead. But after he retired the Diamondbacks in order, legendary closer Mariano Rivera couldn’t duplicate it in the ninth, blowing the save on Luis Gonzalez’ Series clinching two-run bloop single with the bases loaded.

Now, Soriano is back where it all started. He’s batting cleanup in his first game back with the Yankees hosting the wildcard leading Rays at Yankee Stadium. He’s back in a playoff race. The Cubs are eating most of the remaining $28 million on his contract that expires following 2014. The Yanks get a much needed righty power bat they hope can give them a jolt. They trail the Orioles by two and a half for the second wild card. At the very least, he’ll protect Robinson Cano, who essentially replaced him at second. Ironically, he’s in the final year of his contract and must be re-signed. An even better player, Cano will score a huge payday.

It’s an interesting time for the Yankees. They are desperate to stay in the race and bring back the free swinging Soriano who former manager Dale Sveum praised for his work ethic and preparation. How will he do? Will it be a great sequel or a bust? The Yanks didn’t give up much with Black only in his second year as a pro. He was 3-8 with Single-A Tampa posting a 4.23 ERA in 19 starts. However, he’s a strikeout pitcher averaging over a K per inning with 88 in 82.2 IP. At the very least, the Cubs retained a power arm for the future for a guy they couldn’t wait to dump. It comes on the heels of moving ace Matt Garza to Texas for prospects Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm. Garza picked up his first win for the Rangers over the Yanks.

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The JPG Chronicles

JPG

 

This is dedicated to the one and only statmastah, John “JPG Giagnorio ;).

“The JPG Chronicles”

by Derek Felix AKA D Flex
He was born in Chicago
A happy lad who loved his teams
Dad treated him to Cubs games
At Wrigley full of crackerjack and ice cream

They just rooted for the home team 

Cheered their Cubbies from lucky seats

High fived after every Jordan dunk
Like Biggie it was all a dream

We are the champions played at home
JPG sported MJ and Pippen tees and hats
You couldn’t silence him about Da Bulls
And the Bears were his favorite cats

Built on toughness like the streets of Chicago
Dad ordered deep dish and soda pop
As they sat down in time for the game
When the ball was tipped nothing else mattered

They stared intensely at the TV
Homework would come after a Bulls win
John held onto his good luck key chain
Sure enough it worked to a tee

Nothing could stop them from a championship parade
Fans decked out in Bulls gear
School was in session as MJ took the mic
Guaranteeing a repeat to thunderous cheers

This was a proud hometown he grew up in
Nothing but positives all the way through
Before the study of scientific stats warped his mind
JPG was that enthusiastic kid you once knew

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Hamilton signs with Angels

Josh Hamilton left Texas for the rival Angels, agreeing to five years, $125 million Thursday.

 

I guess the longer it went, the more Josh Hamilton realized it was time to move on from Texas. The prize free agent outfielder who’s battled alcohol and substance abuse signed with AL West rival the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Is there a worse name in sports? I liked it better when they were the California or Anaheim Angels. This is what you get from a franchise whose mascot is a Rally Monkey.

The 31-year old Hamilton agreed to a five-year $125 million contract. For those keeping track, that’s an average of $25 million-per-season. The money is about right for the former AL MVP who totaled 142 home runs, 506 RBI’s and a .305 average in five years with Texas. The big outfielder came over from Cincinnati for starter Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. A former No.1 overall pick with Tampa Bay in ’99, the kid from Raleigh, North Carolina with the sweet lefty stroke turned his life around after battling addiction. He was out of baseball from ’03-05 before being claimed in the Rule 5 Draft by the Cubs in December, ’06.

The same day, the Reds purchased Hamilton’s contract from the Cubs, who were more interested in overpaying Alfonso Soriano. All kidding aside, it turned out to be a steal for Cincinnati with the former No.1 pick finally debuting at 26. In just 90 games (298 at bats), he hit .292 with 17 home runs and 47 RBI’s. Instead of keeping him for less than $600,000, they dealt him to the Rangers for Volquez, who was brilliant his first year winning 17 games. Since ’07, he’s won 24 and was traded to San Diego for Mat Latos. So much for that panning out.

Hamilton exploded with Texas. In his first full season (’08), he batted .304 with 32 homers and a major league best 130 RBI’s while playing in a career high 156 games. His first year included a seventh place finish for AL MVP, the first of five consecutive All-Star Games and a Silver Slugger. The biggest highlight was appearing at Yankee Stadium for as an AL All-Star. It was in that unique setting in the House That Ruth Built that Hamilton slugged an incredible 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby. He put on a show which is still one of the coolest moments in All-Star history. Considering where he came from to making it to the Bronx in the Stadium’s final year, it was storybook.

It wasn’t all roses for Hamilton, who dealt with injuries which limited him to 95 games the following season. But at 29, he responded with his best year. In ’10, the man with the Roy Hobbs swing played in 133 games, hitting a career best .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBI’s. During that season, he had a .411 on-base percentage and .633 slugging percentage- combining for a major league high 1.044 OPS. It was enough to capture MVP. He also led the Rangers to the World Series, taking apart the Yankees. He hit .350 with four dingers, seven runs knocked in and drew eight walks with a 1.000 slugging. Texas lost to San Francisco in five games.

Unfortunately, he suffered a relapse. During ’11, Texas started to sour on Hamilton, who was always going to be a risk. As protected as he was by the organization, there was always a chance he could screw up off the field. Even with missing 41 games, he still hit 25 homers and had 94 RBI’s while helping the Rangers reach a second straight World Series. Unfortunately, they fell short again of delivering the franchise’s first championship. Texas was one out away in Game Six before St. Louis rallied. The Cardinals won miraculously in seven, breaking Arlington hearts. Hamilton only had one homer and received criticism.

In 2012, he was back to MVP form. In his contract year, Hamilton played in 148 games. The most since his first season with Texas (’08). He hit .285 with a career high 43 long balls and 128 RBI’s. Despite great production, his defense continued to dwindle finishing with a career worst .971 fielding percentage. His D was spotty. Never more so than with the Rangers trying to hold off the Athletics for the division. He inexplicable dropped a routine fly in the final series which Oakland swept to win the AL West. Hamilton heard boo birds from fans during a one-game AL Wildcard loss to the Orioles. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, taking the blame for how the season ended. Even club executive Nolan Ryan criticized him for quitting chewing tobacco in the middle of the season which led to a batting slump. It came off as sour grapes. You win and lose as a team.

Texas was reluctant to offer Hamilton more than three years. It looked like they would wind up back together due to not much of a market. There weren’t many teams willing to commit long-term. Seattle had interest but there was always the possibility that the other rich LA team would come calling. Last year, they handed out $300 million to Albert Pujols and still missed the playoffs, finishing third. After letting Zach Greinke go across town to the Dodgers for a mystifying $147 million (6 years), they decided to get another proven slugger who can make their lineup even scarier. How will anyone pitch a lineup that includes AL Rookie Of The Year and MVP runner-up Mike Trout, who’s teamed with Hamilton and Pujols to form a potent trio? Don’t forget slugger Mark Trumbo, Kendry Morales and Howie Kendrick.

Apparently, both Los Angeles outfits have decided to buy a pennant. They might want to talk to the Yankees to see how that’s working out.

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Say It Ain’t So Cubbies

Say It Ain’t So is one of my favorite songs and I got to see Weezer 10-11 days ago at MSG. And boy does it apply to Lou Piniella’s Cubs who were unceremoniously swept out by Joe Torre’s Dodgers last night ending yet another disappointing October for the lovable Chicago club who plays in the amazing scenery known as Wrigley Field. It’s now a full century of frustration for friends like John “JPG” Giagnorio and Mike Rosen and I really do feel for them.

Their team gave such an awful account of themselves in the three games getting outscored 20-6 while failing to hit in the clutch or field in Game Two or do anything better when they won the most games (97) in the National League- second to only the 100-win Angels who are about to be swept again by the Red Sox unless they figure out a way to solve Josh Beckett later today. Much easier said than done.

I really want to say so much about the Cubs and the lack of energy they displayed really reminding me of the Torre Yanks from a couple of years ago and how uncompetitive they were in those two losses at Detroit.

I’ll have much more on this later.

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Hard Hits: October Fest

So, tonight we’re going to do a live Hard Hits show over at blogtalk radio. I haven’t promoted this in a while here but we’ve been doing more and more shows lately. Whether it’s previewing the NFL match-ups, wrapping up, bsing or talking October playoff baseball like tonight to possibly eulogize JPG’s Cubs, it’s always fun.
We bs a lot. I’m tired as hell. I just am gonna host and put my cool co-hosts through. Now, watch me doze off during the chaos. 😆

Here’s a live link to tune in:

Hard Hits October Fest

And a Number if you wanted to call. like really:

646-652-2543


The topic shall be the miserable state of the Cubs. God. I can’t believe them. Geez. I’m not giving up. Plus other random stuff. so it should be fun. it’d be funner if i was high. lmao

We start in 3 mins from 2 here on the East coast to 3 live. So that’s 11 Pacific or something else. i’m too tired. Haha.

Come check us out if you’re bored.

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Random Thought

Maybe the Cubs forgot to set their alarm clocks for October. They can’t really be this bad. Can they?!?!?!?!?! What the heck happened to the team who won 97 games- most in the NL this season? Where are those guys? Can they awaken soon from their Halloween Dark Shadows-esque coffin before it’s too late against Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers?

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More HB: October Edition Night 2

-Or maybe I should say Day Two since that really is what it is at this juncture. In case anyone missed it, the Red Sox again took care of the Angels coming back to defeat them 4-1 out on the left coast late last night. The big blow came off the bat of Jason Bay, who delivered a sixth inning go-ahead two out two-run home run off losing Angels’ starter John Lackey. The ex-Pirate was the man they got in return for Manny Ramirez. So, it was a great night for both as they each hit homers and helped lead their respective teams to Game One victories.

The Sox added two runs in the ninth off LA setup man Scot Shields with rookie Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz adding RBI base hits for the final margin giving the defending world champs home field with Josh Beckett waiting to go in Game Three at Fenway. At worst, the Red Sox come away with a split. Game Two isn’t till tomorrow night with Dice-K taking on Ervin Santana.

Boston’s Jon Lester rewarded Terry Francona with a solid seven frames allowing only a run on six hits while walking one and striking out seven to pickup the win.

-Meanwhile for the Angels, the question becomes can they overcome Boston’s psychological edge which has seen them take 10 straight, matching a major league record for consecutive wins in the postseason over one opponent tying Oakland’s dominance over Boston (1988-03). Ironically, it was in 2003 when the Red Sox overcame an 0-2 deficit winning three straight over the A’s including the deciding game on the road advancing to the first of two memorable ALCS versus the archrival Yankees.

Can the Halos recover psychologically to get back in this series or will they continue not to hit in money situations stranding 14 Wednesday. They need Santana to deliver tomorrow but must deliver big hits as well to take pressure off. We’ll see what Mike Scioscia’s ballclub is made of

-The Rays got off to a good start today in their first ever postseason in the franchise’s 11-year history posting a 6-4 Game One home win over the White Sox. The big story was rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, who hit homers in his first two at bats off losing Chicago starter Javier Vazquez. With the game scoreless, he started the second inning by taking Vazquez’ first offering deep to left center for his first career postseason dinger.

The White Sox responded thanks to Dewayne Wise’s three-run homer off Tampa starter James Shields in the third to go ahead 3-1. However, the pesky Rays came right back with three in the bottom frame thanks to Akinori Iwamura’s run scoring triple, replacement first baseman Willy Aybar’s sac fly (came in for Carlos Pena who left with eye injury) and then Longoria drilled a two out solo shot for his second homer in two at bats allowing the Rays to reclaim a 4-3 lead.

The former 2006 No.3 overall pick’s big day wasn’t done. With two runners on, he drove home his third run of the day with an RBI single plating B.J. Upton increasing the lead to 5-3. Carl Crawford singled home Aybar making it a three-run lead. What a brilliant start to Longoria’s playoff career!

Shields, who settled down after Wise’s homer ran into trouble in the seventh walking a couple to load the bases with one out forcing Joe Maddon to go to his pen calling on hard thrower Grant Balfour to get out of it. It proved to be a great move as Balfour dialed up his mid-90’s heater striking out an overmatched Juan Uribe and Orlando Cabrera with the latter allowing the reliever to get extra pumped up due to the White Sox shortstop’s foolish kicking of the dirt after ball one as the two exchanged heated words. Balfour responded by getting him swinging and telling him to take a seat. Good to see such intensity under big circumstances. Though we’re still not sure what provoked it. But it made for entertaining playoff baseball like you’ve seen in Major League I and II.

With veteran closer Troy Percival unavailable for this round, the Rays got a 1-2-3 eighth and two K’s from J.P. Howell and then veteran Dan Wheeler worked around a leadoff Paul Konerko solo blast retiring the next three for the save in their 6-4 win.

The Rays aim to go up 2-0 sending Scott Kazmir against Mark Buehrle in a battle of lefties tomorrow.

-In the second game today, so far it’s been mostly Phillies as they used a Shane Victorino two out second inning grand slam following a Pedro Feliz RBI double to score all five of their runs off Milwaukee ace C.C. Sabathia, who’s shown some exhaustion in his fourth consecutive start on three days rest. Staked to a one-run lead on a J.J. Hardy RBI walk off Philly starter Brett Myers, the potential NL Cy Young ran into trouble having a loss of control with two outs in the second. With a run already in on Feliz’ two-bagger, he lost Myers walking him and then walked Jimmy Rollins on four straight pitches loading them up for scrappy center fielder Victorino. I could tell he was in trouble and when he fell behind, I told buddy Brian Sanborn I felt a bases clearing triple coming. With the count 2-1, Victorino did one better drilling the next pitch over the left field wall for a huge grand slam suddenly making it a five-run inning to put the Phils in control up 5-1.

That’s where they still are after a scoreless fourth from Myers, who settled down after loading the bases early walking in one before getting Corey Hart to chase grounding into a 1-2-3 inning ending twin killing.

Entering the fourth, Sabathia’s thrown 72 pitches. We’ll see if he can keep the deficit at four and give his team a chance.

-In other MLB news, no surprise as both Brian Cashman and Omar Minaya were renewed by the Yanks and Mets respectively a day apart. Yesterday, Cashman re-signed for three years, six million and today, Minaya got his much rumored four-year extension through 2012 that includes options for 2013 and 2014.

After seeing his team miss on the final day of the regular season against the Marlins at home a second straight year blowing another division lead with 17 left, Minaya’s being given yet another opportunity to make fans forget this mess and improve the team enough to finally get back to October and compete for a World Series.

Ditto for Cashman, who saw the Yanks miss the postseason entirely for the first time in 15 years with him passing on Johan Santana, who performed very well in his first season at Shea even overcoming a torn cartilage in his left knee to toss one of the best games in Met history- shutting out Florida on three hits while fanning nine on the second last game of the season giving his team a chance. The 29 year-old veteran southpaw underwent successful knee surgery yesterday and is expected to be ready for Spring Training. He finished 16-7 with an NL best 2.53 ERA with 206 strikeouts in 234 and a third- eclipsing 200 K’s for a fifth straight time.

A quote from Mets owner Jeff Wilpon pretty much applies not just to his team’s situation but to Cashman’s as well as he attempts to restore order in the Bronx moving forward in what promises to be a busy offseason for both NY teams:

“Hopefully, the fans understand that as owners, we’re here as the voice of the fans, and we’re asking all these questions. And after some intense review this offseason, we’re going to find out why we fell short the last two seasons. And it’s up to Omar and his staff to correct that. But we are asking those tough questions.”

-The Phils have them loaded again with a gassed Sabathia coming out. We’ll update what happens later.

-Don’t forget a must win for the Cubs who send Carlos Zambrano to the hill tonight against Dodger 16-game winner Chad Billingsley. Sweet Lou’s club needs a win for their psyche.

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More HB: October Baseball

-The baseball playoffs kickoff today with three of the four Division Series starting up with the Phillies hosting the Brewers, the defending champion Red Sox visiting the Angels and the Cubs taking on the Dodgers.

Last night, the White Sox became the eighth and final participant thanks to splendid pitching from John Danks, who limited the Twins to two hits over eight shutout frames en route to a 1-0 win in their one-game playoff last night in the Windy City to clinch the AL Central. Jim Thome’s 34th home run of the season off Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn which ledoff the seventh was the difference in a game that saw both teams combine for a run on seven hits.

The White Sox got a big defensive play by veteran center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. who with the game scoreless tossed out Michael Cuddyer at the plate on a short fly to complete a 9-2 inning ending double play. The much likable future Hall Of Famer deflected attention paying homage to veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski for catching the ball and in one motion applying the tag on a throw which he caught on the third base side of the plate:

“That play, all I had to do was make a good throw. The credit is all A.J. I put a two-hopper in there and he was able to get it and block the plate. That’s the key there. He put his body on the line for us.”

“He did a heck of a job,” Thome added of Griffey, who’s making his first postseason appearance since 1997 with Seattle. “I’m so happy for him, too.”

Closer Bobby Jenks came on to work a perfect ninth for his 30th save.

For the Twins, who dealt away ace Johan Santana for a four-player package which included speedy center fielder Carlos Gomez, it was a disappointing conclusion to what was a good year where they came oh so close to still making October.

“You never want to put 162 games all into one game, but that’s what ended up happening,” Twins first base slugger Justin Morneau lamented despite a great second half finishing one RBI shy of AL leader Josh Hamilton. “It’s going to hurt for a while and it’s going to be a long night for sure.”

Even in not the most productive lineup, the 27 year-old former 2006 AL MVP had a terrific season finishing at .300 with 23 dingers and 129 RBI’s- one shy of his career best two years ago. Morneau’s proven himself as one of the best young sluggers in the game and along with great hitting catcher and teammate Joe Mauer, whose .328 mark was good enough for the batting title should continue to lead Minnesota forward into their new stadium.

Ron Gardenhire did another tremendous job and should merit some AL Manager of The Year consideration though ultimately, Tampa’s Joe Maddon will justifiably take it home. One of these years, it’s all going to come together for the Twins which is a credit to Gardenhire and his staff.

-In assessing the four series, here’s who I like:

A.Cubs vs Dodgers- LA matches up well despite getting in via the most pathetic division. Their potent lineup has vastly improved since Manny Ramirez came over strengthening teammates James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The key will be for Cubs pitchers to keep the guys in front of Manny off base so he can’t do much damage. Lou Piniella won’t let him beat them. So, it will be up to Manny’s teammates to come through.

The Cubs have a balanced attack with Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa and certain NL ROY Geovany Soto. The pitching is about even with the red hot Derek Lowe taking on Ryan Dempster, who went 14-3 at Wrigley Field this year. Chad Billingsley faces Carlos Zambrano in Game 2 with Rich Harden battling Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3 and Greg Maddux getting the ball against Ted Lilly for Game 4. If it goes five, Lowe and Dempster would face off again.

The pens are about even with Chicago using the trio of rookie Jeff Samardzjia, setup man Carlos Marmol and closer Kerry Wood to shut the door. Rookie Cory Wade sets up while either Jonathan Broxton or Takashi Saito closes depending on Joe Torre.

The Cubs should have an edge in experience which could be huge at the plate if some of the younger Dodgers aren’t patient. This shapes up to be a good series but there’s too much at stake for the Cubs here.

Series Prediction: Cubs in 5

B.Phillies vs Brewers- Last year, the Phillies had a remarkable run to their first division title in 14 years stunning the Mets. The euphoria from that comeback was too much as the Rockies swept them. This October should be different because of last year’s experience. The goal wasn’t just to get there again but to win. This time, the Brewers are playing that role after winning five of six to slip past the Mets for the wild card clinching their first playoff berth since 1982 when they were in the AL East.

With C.C. Sabathia unable to pitch until tomorrow, that should be an edge for the Phils who even seem to have an advantage in starters with ace Cole Hamels dominating today’s first game fanning nine in eight innings. Not surprisingly in just his fourth outing this season, Yovani Gallardo struggled allowing a three-run third with Chase Utley’s two-run double and Shane Victorino’s bases loaded walk the difference. With Ben Sheets out for this round, the pressure falls on Sabathia who again will go on short rest against Brett Myers tomorrow. Jamie Moyer faces Jeff Suppan in Game 3 and Hamels returns for Game 4 against Dave Bush. If it goes five, it would be Myers against Sabathia with all bets off.

It’s hard not to like the Phils in this series due to a lethal attack of Utley, possible NL MVP Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins along with underrated contributors Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino. They should hit. Taking nothing away from Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart but this just isn’t their time.

Philly’s pen is also stronger with Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero setting up closer Brad Lidge, who took NL Comeback Player of The Year by going 41-of-41 in save opportunities. It’ll still be interesting to see how the ex-Astro fares in October with memories of Albert Pujols taking him yard. He didn’t look great today giving up a run while putting the tying runs in scoring position before K-ing Hart to save it for Hamels. The Brewers rely on Guillermo Mota to setup closer Salomon Torres who was very shaky in September. It might be wise to use Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice more. Starter Manny Parra also is available.

All signs point to the Phillies. They have a better offense, more pitching, a solid bench and valuable experience.

Series Prediction: Phillies in 4

C.Angels vs Red Sox- This is the hardest match-up to call as it pits the experienced defending champion Red Sox against baseball’s best team during the regular season, the Angels who hit the century mark in wins.

For Mike Scioscia’s club, the pressure is on to get the monkey off their back versus a team that’s historically owned them in October. Dating back to 1986 when they rallied from 3-1 down to advance to the World Series, Boston’s won nine straight postseason games against the Halos. Something’s gotta give.

Their lineup is improved with first base slugger Mark Teixeira added to a middle of the order featuring vets Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero trying to get in table setters Chone Figgins and Garret Anderson. They better hit because even post-Manny, a Red Sox lineup that includes MVP candidates Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis along with always dangerous slugger David Ortiz will. They also got good news as J.D. Drew pronounced himself ready to go if needed for tonight’s first game. Mike Lowell probably should be back too. Toss in deadline pickup Jason Bay and speedy rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Boston’s loaded.

The pitching match-ups are intriguing with John Lackey facing Jon Lester tonight, Dice-K versus Ervin Santana Friday and Joe Saunders taking on Josh Beckett in Game Three. Lackey and Lester will also go in Game 4 and ditto for Daisuke Matsuzaka and Santana if it goes the distance. Both teams possess good starters but I’ll give a slight edge to the Red Sox trio.

The Angels will have an edge in the pen with Scot Shields setting up record setting closer Francisco Rodriguez (62 saves). Rookie Jose Arredondo and Darren Oliver also are frequent contributors. Terry Francona will rely heavily on the duo of Hideki Okajima and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was up and down in the final month due to coming in a few games in the eighth. He might be gassed. Manny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez should also be called upon out of the pen along with promising rookie Justin Masterson.

This series could depend on if the Angels hit. They never have had much success against Boston. Either way, it shapes up as a five-game series.

Series Prediction: Red Sox in 5

D.Rays vs White Sox- You have the new kids on the block against a very experienced bunch who have been here before. If the AL East winning Rays aren’t fazed by their first ever October, they should have enough to get through the White Sox.

Joe Maddon’s scrappy bunch pitch better and find ways to win games despite only two consistent power threats in certain AL ROY Evan Longoria and 101 RBI man Carlos Pena. The good news is that Carl Crawford is back which should give the lineup a boost. Speedy center fielder B.J. Upton (67 SB) and backstop Dioner Navarro also are part of the mix. Veterans Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske provide leadership. Hinske usually comes off the bench as does utility specialist Willy Aybar.

The White Sox will have a huge power advantage with veterans Ken Griffey, Jr., Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Nick Swisher all threats to go deep. Toss in talented rookie second baseman Alexei Ramirez (21 HR, 77 RBI, 13 SB) and Ozzie Guillen’s club has plenty of offense. A.J. Pierzynski might be universally hated but can get the job done. Just imagine if they had first base slugger Carlos Quentin.

The question is are the White Sox too reliant on the home run? The Rays boast a good pitching staff with 14-game winner James Shields matching up against Javier Vazquez in Games 1 and 5. Scott Kazmir goes against Mark Buehrle in a battle of southpaws for Game 2. Game 3 pits Matt Garza against Gavin Floyd in what promises to be a good match-up between young hurlers. Andy Sonnanstine gets the ball in Game 4 versus White Sox hero John Danks.

The White Sox pen is basically Octavio Dotel handing off to closer Bobby Jenks. Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink also contribute. Tampa has a distinct edge with the trio of Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and veteran sidearmer Chad Bradford setting up for veteran closer Troy Percival. There’s also Dan Wheeler who saved 13 while Percival was out. Plus lefty Trever Miller. If a starter gets into trouble, Maddon can also bring in former 2007 first overall pick David Price, who was very sharp after being recalled posting a 1.93 ERA fanning 12 in 14 innings with opponents hitting just .176.

If a game is tight late, you have to like the Rays.

Series Prediction: Rays in 4

Here are the rest of my October picks:

ALCS: Red Sox over Rays in 6

NLCS: Cubs over Phillies in 5

World Series: Cubs over Red Sox in 7

WS MVP: Aramis Ramirez, Cubs

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More HB: The Day After

-And so, the New York baseball season is over and it really does feel weird that both the Mets and Yankees won’t be playing meaningful baseball as October gets ready to hit. I just can’t remember what this felt like. Sure. The two teams both finished with identical records winning 89 games which meant they didn’t stink by any stretch but when you have the kind of payrolls they do, so many expectations come with it for this spoiled city which makes it all the more disappointing.

In the end, both teams despite big names proved to be flawed which was why they fell short in their postseason bids. Injuries aside, the Yankees didn’t have enough pitching or timely hitting. For some reason, they never hit the way they could’ve and too often couldn’t deliver in the clutch. That along with being a very streaky team which sometimes lacked energy kept them from putting together that run with their best ball coming way too late when the season was already lost.

The Mets also had their share of injuries but severely underperformed the first 10 weeks getting Willie Randolph axed before waking up under Jerry Manuel to get back in the race. Despite no pen to speak of, they persevered and once again were in great position to win their division before it all came crashing down in the final couple of weeks though not as badly as last year. While the pen could never be trusted and cost them a ton of games, what was most baffling was the offense which at times disappeared. How do you explain getting shutout 1-0 against the majors’ worst team the Nats? And what about scoring only five runs in the do or die weekend series against the same Marlins who danced on their field eliminating them last year? Questions will continue to linger about David Wright and Jose Reyes until they stop disappearing and carry this team back to October and beyond.

Now, it will be a long offseason for Omar Minaya with plenty of angry customers wondering why next year will be different at Citi Field. Getting a real second baseman while unloading Luis Castillo along with revamping the bullpen are just a couple of topics he must address with new record closer Francisco Rodriguez at the top of the list. It’s also likely Pedro Martinez pitched his final game as a Met after struggling mightily. And then there’s Oliver Perez, who will be seeking a deal in the neighborhood of $12-16 million per year under greedy agent Scott Boras$. Is he really worth that kind of money longterm? I say no. He’s just too unpredictable to get to that next level. What about Carlos Delgado? Do they pick up the $12 million option rewarding him for his brilliant second half or do they try to get younger going for better defense? If they let him go, it won’t be easy to replace his big bat.

As for the Yankees, they will need to decide on center field moving forward along with what they intend to do with Joba Chamberlain. If they make him a starter, then they must continue to shore up their pen. Bringing back 20-game winner Mike Mussina should be at the top of Brian Cashman’s list. Figure Andy Pettite to either retire or go elsewhere following a dismal second half. The Yanks of course need a real ace and should be in the running for C.C. Sabathia, John Lackey or A.J. Burnett with him expected to opt out of Toronto. There’s also the first base situation where they could be competing with the Angels and Mets for Mark Teixeira. Figure Jason Giambi to go elsewhere after a productive season proving he can still be a valuable DH somewhere. As for Bobby Abreu, he’s a solid run producer who gets on base but leaves something to be desired for in right which is why we see Xavier Nady shifting.

Whatever transpires over the next three months, New York baseball fans know full well their rosters won’t look the same following a quiet October.

Get ready for chaos.

-Just in case we forgot, there’s still one more regular season game to be played later today when the Twins visit the Windy City against the White Sox, who earned the one-game home playoff by getting a grand slam from overlooked rookie second baseman Alexei Ramirez in an 8-2 win over the Tigers in a makeup game Monday. They get the game despite winning their first in six thanks to the Twins dropping two of three to the Royals despite sweeping three from Ozzie Guillen’s club to pull half a game up. It’ll be John Danks going on three days rest against Nick Blackburn to decide the AL Central for the final playoff berth.

One team will advance to play the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series while Boston travels to California to meet the 100-win Angels.

The NL of course is all set with the Cubs taking on the Dodgers while the Phillies host the Brewers, who are in their first postseason in 26 years.

We’ll have more playoff stuff later on.

-It’s hard to choose one between each but our pick for NL MVP would be Ryan Howard for how he carried the Phillies the final month having one of the best Septembers eerily similar to when he clubbed 58 home runs and knocking in 149 to win the award two years ago. I’ve always been a huge fan of Manny Ramirez and he sure stepped up carrying the Dodgers in the final two months impacting their lineup while coming back to win the NL West. But it’s hard to pick him over Howard with how well the first base slugger finished leading his team to a 13-3 record over the final 16 pressure packed games in a very tight race.

-The same could be said for the NL Cy Young where worthy candidates like Johan Santana, Brandon Webb and Tim Lincecum all are in the running against Milwaukee rental Sabathia, who tossed a remarkable seven complete games pacing the league while turning in a money performance following Santana’s gem to get the Brewers in. For that, we’ll give the nod to Sabathia over Lincecum with Santana third and Webb fourth.

-AL MVP is a little easier and could depend on if the Twins win with Justin Morneau once again in the running against Boston tandem Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. It’s hard to ignore Carlos Quentin’s impact with the White Sox, who haven’t been the same since he went down. To be honest, he would’ve been a lock had he not broken his wrist. If the Twins get in, Morneau should win his second MVP in three years this time edging another do everything infielder Pedroia, who resembles a young Derek Jeter. If not, give the award to Pedroia because he’s been his team’s best player since the Manny trade.

-As for AL Cy Young, Cliff Lee should get the nod handily edging out K-Rod, Dice-K and Roy Halladay. I know he won’t get a lot of consideration but Moose deserves a few votes for how well he pitched in the Bronx this year.

-What else can Joe Girardi be two-faced about and purposely hide from the media?

-It’s nice to see Brett Favre finally be allowed to open it up and get on the same page with Laveranues Coles, who caught three touchdowns for the first time in his career- half of Favre’s career high six in the Jets’ 56-35 win over Kurt Warner and the Cards. I just wonder if Gang Green fans can be pleased about their D turning a 34-0 halftime cushion into a game by allowing three straight TDs in the third quarter before Favre and the Jet offense put it away.

-Did anyone ever think the Bills and Titans would both be the only remaining unbeatens in the AFC looking like playoff locks?

-How come Terrell Owens always blames Dallas defeats on not getting him involved enough when it was about as believable as anything Sarah Palin says? Can’t he ever give credit to the opponent because the Redskins played a heck of a game and have certainly turned things around since the NFL Opener defeat to the Giants? But hey. T-Ho will always be a selfserving primadona who doesn’t care about the team concept despite his talent which is why I’d never take him on my team.

-I could do a better job than Scott Linehan did with the Rams.

-It sure took long enough for the Lions to realize Matt Millen wasn’t a good Team President. I wonder what keyed them in on that.

-When someone takes shots at the Yanks and Mets for not qualifying, just remember you could be the Tigers who gave up the world for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, who now looks like a serious rebuilding project. Tell ya one thing. Cameron Maybin sure looks good in center for the Marlins. And if Andrew Miller pans out, that’s gonna be one heck of a rotation in 2009. The Mets and Phillies might have some competition for the NL East.

-Just how ridiculous is Jim Dolan? Idiotic enough to continue bringing back Allan Houston while refusing to payoff Stephon Marbury to get him off the Knicks roster. That’s why no matter who’s running it, they’ll always be the same laughingstock.

-Now would be a good time to tell the Rangers that the NHL regular season begins in a few days over in Europe cause they have looked really bad so far. I wonder what Glen Sather thinks now of investing six years and six and a half per on Wade Redden. Just wait till the season starts up. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

-What I like about the Giant organization is they stick to their rules disciplining Plaxico Burress for missing two straight days of practice even if it was due to a personal family matter. The wideout still should’ve communicated better this way he wouldn’t be fined and have to sit out next week’s home game versus Seattle. However, there aren’t any excuses and no exceptions under Coach Coughlin which is why I believe this team can repeat. They get it!

-Someone might want to tell Jerry Jones that this isn’t the 50’s anymore when he last played organized football. He doesn’t belong on the sideline.

Boomer and Carton are a fun listen on WFAN in the morning because they work well and have solid chemistry. Listening to them rant over the Mets’ latest disappointment was good radio. Loved Carton’s nickname for Wright for failing to deliver in the clutch: “D-Rod.” A reference to Alex Rodriguez.

-I feel bad for diehard Met fans like Steve Somers, Tony Paige, Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno, who live and die with their team all year long. You can feel the emotion and terrible bitterness in their voices. Particularly Somers, who last week coming back from a great Weezer concert sounded heartbroken over a costly extra inning defeat to the Cubs. You could really tell how badly he wanted to see them get in and reverse last year.

They all did and showed so much. Maybe if the Mets had played with as much energy as they brought to the WFAN airwaves, they wouldn’t be sitting home instead getting ready for Lou Piniella’s Cubs. They might get paid to talk sports but they wear the Mets’ logo as a badge of honor as did outstanding play-by-play man Howie Rose.

Nobody ever likes to get their hearts broken. Especially by their favorite sports team which is what can make following sports so crazy. One minute, you’re as high as the sky and the next you feel like burying yourself under the sand.

It’s the real diehards who never abandon ship who shall always get my sorrows. Cause it takes a lot sometimes to stay with a team that constantly gives you heartache.

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