Results tagged ‘ National League Championship Series ’

Gardner pulled off an ‘Endy Chavez play’

I remember the first time I walked out on the field at Citi Field the year it opened in 2009 and looked at the left field wall and thought what a mistake the Mets made. Instead of an eight-foot high fence such as the one at old Shea Stadium, the same area at Citi Field had a 16-foot wall that resembled the old San Diego Stadium, later known as Jack Murphy Stadium and Qualcomm Stadium.

Whatever name the San Diego yard had, it was a lousy idea to have such a wall around the outfield because it took away the possibility of an outfielder making a home run-robbing catch. I remember Dave Winfield making a fence-climbing grab in left field at Yankee Stadium during a playoff game in 1981 and telling me afterwards, “I couldn’t have done that in San Diego.”

In the same vein, one of the Mets’ greatest postseason moments at Shea could not have occurred at Citi Field in its first three seasons. Left fielder Endy Chavez’s leaping, glove-extending grab of a drive by Scott Rolen denied the Cardinals third baseman a two-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

I covered that game for MLB.com and recall writing a story that rated Chavez’s play with those of other New York outfielders in postseason play, such as the World Series catches by the Dodgers’ Al Gionfriddo off the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio in 1947, the Giants’ Willie Mays off the Indians’ Vic Wertz in 1954, the Dodgers’ Sandy Amoros off the Yankees’ Yogi Berra in 1955, the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle off the Dodgers’ Gil Hodges in 1956, the two beauties by the Mets’ Tommie Agee off the Orioles’ Elrod Hendricks and Paul Blair in 1969 and the Yankees’ Paul O’Neill’s hamstring-straining, game-ending rundown of a drive by the Braves’ Luis Polonia in 1996.

Although the Mets eventually lost the game and the series, Chavez’s catch has been defined as the greatest defensive play in Shea’s history, with only Ron Swoboda’s belly-flop snaring of a Brooks Robinson liner in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series qualifying as a rival, another play to which I referred in the 2006 NLCS story.

All of this came to mind Monday night when Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner took away a potential two-run home run by Daniel Murphy in the sixth inning that preserved at the time a 1-0 lead for the Bombers. Gardner was able to make such a smashing play because the Mets had the good sense to change the dimensions prior to the 2012 season.

Part of the reason for the change was that Mets right-handed hitters, particularly David Wright, the face of the franchise, were getting psyched out by the unfriendly distances. Wright and his pals would continually watch well-struck drives turn into 400-foot outs. But the best part may have been the erection of an eight-foot fence in front of the previous one. It created a party deck that has been a featured seating section and has allowed the outfielders to have a chance to act like Jesse James once in a while.

“Thank goodness it’s a part of the park where it’s a fence, not a wall,” Gardner said after the game. “The poles out there have got some pretty good pads in front of them, so I’m fine. It wouldn’t be as difficult if I was a little taller [5-foot-10]. You’ve just got to hope that you’re able to get a good clean jump. You want to get back there close to the fence as possible, but you don’t want to run into the fence or hit the fence on the way up. I was able to time it just right.”

It was a gem of a play, one that pitcher Phil Hughes called the best catch he ever saw from the mound. It certainly was reminiscent of the play Chavez made. Unfortunately for the Yankees, it was also similar to Chavez’s play in that the opposition came back to win the game.

Ripken interviews Jeter on TBS

Yankees fans prefer their television coverage of the team’s games on YES or Channel 9, but they may want to tune into TBS Sunday. The Sunday MLB on TBS pregame show this weekend will feature a special preview of an interview of Derek Jeter by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., a studio analyst for the cable outlet.

The clip will provide a glimpse into a candid conversation between the shortstop legends during a half-hour edition of MLB on Deck airing at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. This summer, Jeter allowed a TV crew to follow him around for an HBO special that was cablecast after he got his 3,000th career hit July 9. Now there is this sit-down with Ripken, The full interview of Jeter by Ripken will be aired during TBS’ exclusive coverage of all four Division Series and the National League Championship Series.

This is no surprise, really. Jeter has long been an admirer of Ripken and his work ethic. I recall during Jeter’s rookie season of 1996 the first time he was with the Yankees at Camden Yards. Four hours before the first pitch of that night’s game, Ripken was taking part in an early batting practice session. After getting in his swings, Riken went out to his shortstop position and fielded ground ball after ground ball as several teammates got in their extra BP session.

All the while, Jeter in street clothes observed all this from the top step of the visitors’ dugout. I raced downstairs to get a comment from him. He turned to me and said, “So that’s how you get to be Cal Ripken, huh?”

I told Ripken that story, which was a cogent description of the dedication it takes to be a great player, the day he was elected to the Hall of Fame. “Derek is one of my favorite people,” Ripken said. “I’m sure there are plenty of other young players who have said the same thing about him.”

Dark day for Yanks at Wrigley Field

Let’s face it; the Yankees-Cubs matchup at Wrigley Field has a lot less juice than it did eight years ago when the two legendary teams met for the first time in 65 years. Back then, you had the Yankees in the Friendly Confines for the first visit since Lou Gehrig’s final World Series in 1938, Derek Jeter patrolling shortstop and Roger Clemens going for his 300th career victory.

In addition, there was the idea that the pairing might have been a preview of the 2003 World Series, which was quite nearly the case before a Cubs fan named Steve Bartman unwittingly aided the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series and ruined the Cubs’ chances for a trip to the Fall Classic. The Yankees don’t have fond memories of that World Series, either, because they also lost to the Fish.

Granted, there are still some story lines. Yankees manager Joe Girardi grew up in Illinois and began his major-league career with the Cubs. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild had the same post at Wrigley for 10 years. Nick Swisher’s father, Steve, was a catcher for the Cubs. And the guys in the Cubs’ front office had to love the sight of 42,219 people going through the turnstiles. The latter situation, however, is one element that hurts this series. The Cubs are on the downside and trying to keep their heads above water in the post-Lou Piniella era.

Jeter’s stint on the disabled list also hurts the series. He might have gotten his 3,000th career hit here. Then again, he may have suffered the same fate as Clemens in ’03 and been turned away in his shot at the milestone.

So it is what it is, and Friday it wasn’t much of anything for the Yankees, who looked awfully flat in a 3-1 loss. Lefthander Doug Davis kept them off-balance for seven-plus innings with an assortment of off-speed junk, aided by the wind blowing in which derailed the Yankees’ power strokes. Davis was a winner for the first time in more than a year and in six decisions this season.

The Cubs struck for three runs in the first two innings against Freddy Garcia, who then got quite stingy and retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced through the seventh. It might have been 15 in a row had second baseman Robinson Cano covered first base on a bunt by Tony Campana that was fielded by Garcia, who had to eat the ball because there was no one to throw it to on the bag.

Swisher doubled in the eighth and scored the Yanks’ run on a two-out single by Mark Teixeira, but flame-throwing closer Carlos Marmol came in to strike out Alex Rodriguez. Reed Johnson, a defensive replacement in left field, made a sprawling catch on the line to rob Cano of a possible extra-base hit leading off the ninth and deserved as much of the save as Marmol. No one could imagine regular left fielder Alfonso Soriano, whom Johnson replaced, being able to make such a play.

Cano had already gotten a hit earlier to keep alive his streak of having hit in all 22 of the day games the Yankees have played this year. Friday was only the fourth time they lost without the lights on, ironically, in the last ballpark in the majors to accept night baseball.

Giants push Lee off cliff

Cliff Lee’s invincible reputation as a post-season pitcher took its first hit Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. The lefthander spit out a 2-0 lead and watched from the dugout after being knocked out in the fifth inning as the Giants rolled to an 8-2 spread on the way to an 11-7 victory.

Given his previous work in the post-season this year for the Rangers and last year for the Phillies, Lee seemed in total control at 2-0. He even helped build the second run with his bat on a double off a butcher-boy swing that got tortoise-slow Bengie Molina to third base from where he scored on a fly ball by Elvis Andrus.

Door closed, everybody might have thought considering that Lee had won three starts on the road in this post-season (two at Tropicana Field and one at Yankee Stadium) with a 0.75 ERA and had a career post-season mark of 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA.

The Giants’ comeback started with their starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner with the violent delivery who settled in effectively after a shaky first two innings. Mitch Moreland, who doubled and was stranded in the fourth, was the only base runner off Lincecum after the Andrus sac fly until two out in the sixth when Ian Kinsler walked and scored on a double by Molina.

The Giants began chipping away in the third when an error by third baseman Michael Young opened the gate for a rally which Lee fed into by hitting a batter and giving up the second of three doubles to Freddy Sanchez. It looked as if Lee righted himself with two called strikeouts to end that inning followed by a perfect fourth. But he failed to stop San Francisco’s merry-go-round in the fifth after one-out doubles by Andres Torres and Sanchez tied the score.

After striking out Buster Posey, Lee, who never walks anybody, put Pat Burrell on with a wayward 3-2 pitch and gave up two-out singles to Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff as the Giants moved ahead. Lee was at 104 pitches, which is usually where he is in the ninth.

Juan Uribe, whose home run against the Phillies in the National League Championship Series got the Giants into the World Series, greeted reliever Darren O’Day with a three-run shot.

For Yankees fans, there was a dual pleasure in watching what happened to Lee after the way he had tormented them in the World Series last year and the American League Championship Series this year. The Yankees nearly traded for Lee in July, and it is no secret that he is high on their off-season shopping list. Should the Rangers triumph in the Series with Lee playing a major role, Texas may be able to persuade him to stay with a club on the rise located only a 40-minute flight away from his Arkansas home.

If the Rangers don’t win the Series, however, Lee might find rejoining his former Indians teammate CC Sabathia a better option. Much was made this week of a story in USA Today in which Lee’s wife, Kristen, complained about rude behavior toward Rangers family members in the stands at Yankee Stadium in which she said beer was tossed at them and that some fans in the upper deck spat upon them.

Lee said he could not blame the Yankees organization for the oafish behavior of some fans. Still, a wife’s view can be important to where a player signs. One of George Steinbrenner’s many strengths in the pursuit of free agents was his penchant for charming players’ wives in convincing them there was no better place to play, or shop, than in New York. The current front office could find Mrs. Lee to be quite a challenge.

At the seventh inning stretch at AT&T Park, Tony Bennett sang “God Bless America.” The singer, 84, has long been identified with the Bay Area because of his 1962 hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He is, however, a native New Yorker. The former Anthony Benedetto grew up in Astoria, Queens, in the same neighborhood as a guy named Edward Ford, who would find success with the Yankees by the nickname of “Whitey.”