Results tagged ‘ Sammy Sosa ’
What happened Monday night at Detroit’s Comerica Park fell into that “How Times Flies” category. Could it have possibly been 20 years ago that I sat in the press box at Yankee Stadium and watched a rookie named Jim Thome hit his first home run in the major leagues? The answer, of course, is yes, and I thought a lot about that when he slugged two balls over the left field fence to bring his career total to 600.
Back on Oct. 4, 1991, Thome made his very first big-league homer memorable. It was a two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium off righthander Steve Farr and wiped out a 2-1 Yankees lead and pushed the Indians toward a 3-2 victory before a meager crowd of 14,627. Farr, then the Yankees closer (he was 5-5 with 23 saves that year), entered the game with one out and a runner on first base in relief of lefthander Lee Guetterman.
Despite the fact that Thome was a left-handed batter, Yankees manager Stump Merrill brought in Farr because he preferred the gutsy veteran against the raw kid. Over the years, the Yankees would see a lot of Thome’s swing. He has hit 26 home runs in his career against the Yankees, plus another four against them in the 1998 American League Championship Series.
I was supposed to meet up with Thome in the winter of 2008 when he was scheduled to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., to present the ball he hit during the 2007 season for his 500th home run to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I had been assigned to cover the event, but it was twice canceled because of blizzards. I think he finally got to the Hall on an off-day during the season, but I was off covering something else.
Thome is only the eighth player in history to reach 600 home runs in a career. This is a special group that also has Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Junior Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa.
A-Rod, who is on an injury-rehabilitation assignment at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, probably summed up the consensus opinion about the latest member of the 600 Club by saying, “Jim is one of the easiest players of our generation to root for. It’s hard to overshadow 600 home runs, because it is a tremendous accomplishment and an exclamation point on a career bound for the Hall of Fame. But to me, the way he has treated the game – and the people in and around it – will always be the first thing that I think of when I think of Jim Thome. In so many ways, he is a legend of our game.”
Maybe it was standing on third base Tuesday night and watching four players from the Blue Jays breeze past him finishing their home run trots that got to Alex Rodriguez or perhaps he was just waiting for Wednesday, the third anniversary of his reaching 500 career home runs.
Whatever the reason, A-Rod finally became the seventh member of major league baseball’s 600 Club with a first-inning blow off a 2-0 fastball from Shaun Marcum that landed on the netting atop Monument Park.
Considering the traffic around Yankee Stadium Wednesday, there were quite a few ticket holders that had yet to reach their seats before Rodriguez went deep for the first time in nearly two weeks, ending an odyssey that had grown to epic proportions and coincided with a five-game Yankees slide down the American League East standings since July 23, the day after A-Rod got to 599.
They were a second-place club when they took the field Wednesday, but all that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was whether Rodriguez would end this drought that covered 46 at-bats that included a hitless string of 17 at-bats leading into his first plate appearance.
So the long wait is over, and Alex can now breathe freely and intake the rarified air that he shares with Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa. Exclusive company that. So now A-Rod’s team can get back to the business at hand, which is to catch the Rays and keep the Red Sox from climbing up their backs.
Oddly, Rodriguez’s quest drew scant national attention beyond the nightly ESPN SportsCenter updates. Not a single national baseball columnist flew into town to witness the event. And when Sunday’s game in St. Petersburg, Fla., was cablecast by TBS, A-Rod was not in the lineup, although he did get an at-bat late in the game as a pinch hitter.
Part of that has to do with the tight-belt budgets of newspapers these days and part with Rodriguez’s admission last year that while in his three seasons in Texas he used anabolic steroids. Nevertheless, fans were into it, even in the games last weekend against the Rays. The crowd at the Stadium went ballistic as the ball went into the air. And it was somehow appropriate that the teammate who first met Alex with a hug at the plate was Derek Jeter, who had led off the game with a single.
One more thing; it was no bum off of whom Rodriguez struck his 600th home run. Marcum took a 10-4 record into the game and was on a three-game winning streak in which he had a 2.04 ERA with one walk and 19 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. That was not some tomato can out there.
Those in the Stadium had the opportunity to purchase a special commemorative issue of Yankees Magazine entitled “All in Stride, an Extraordinary Look at Alex Rodriguez and his Chase for 600.”
The 32-page souvenir featuring in-depth articles and laden with color photographs will be available for the bargain price of $10 at the Stadium for the duration of the homestand as supplies last.
Isn’t it time for Major League Baseball to retire the Home Run Derby? What started out as a friendly competition among sluggers during the workout day on the eve of the All-Star Game has morphed into a bloated, dog-and-pony show that has often been responsible for messing up some hitters’ swings.
There is no chance of this happening, of course, because ESPN loves it and years ago turned into a prime-time attraction, if one considers listening to Chris Berman screech away all night attractive. But if this is such a big deal, how come many of baseball’s top home run hitters don’t want anything to do with it?
There was a time when the big thumpers all regularly took their cuts, from Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. But now look. Alex Rodriguez is on the verge of hitting 600 home runs, and he stays away from the Derby. No Ryan Howard, either. And this year Albert Pujols has dropped out.
Why else would Robinson Cano be offered a berth? He is not a classic home run hitter. Cano can’t be faulted for being excited about wanting to compete because he only saw the fun in it not to mention the spotlight. The Yanks wisely thought otherwise and convinced the second baseman to pass on the opportunity.
The Yankees were concerned that the strenuous nature of the event could affect Cano. Hitting coach Kevin Long expressed his unease about Cano’s involvement.
“It’s just an exhausting process,” Long said. “It takes a lot out of you. It’s taxing. You see guys come back after the home run-hitting contest, and it affects their swing.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi convinced Cano that despite the honor of being selected to compete it is not worth the risk, particularly since he has been nagged by a sore lower back recently. It could explain his first real dry spell of the season. Cano is 3-for-23 (.130) in July and has had a longer stretch of mediocre results dating to June 11 batting .236 with four home runs and nine RBI in 89 at-bats.
Robbie was out of the lineup Wednesday night for the first time this year. He was due for a rest. He’ll get another one the night before the All-Star Game. Now if MLB will just give the whole idea a rest.
With Ken Griffey Jr. having announced his retirement, Alex Rodriguez is now the active home-run leader in the major leagues. A-Rod pushed his total to 591 Thursday in the Yankees’ 6-3 victory over the Orioles. The next stop on the all-time list for Rodriguez is Sammy Sosa, very catchable in sixth place at 609. A-Rod would need to have a monster few months to catch fifth-place Junior at 630, but it remains possible. He has hit at least 47 home runs in a season five times, although not since his 54-homer year of 2007 when he won his third American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Probably most surprising about Griffey’s career is that he was an MVP only once, albeit unanimously, in 1997 when his former teammate, Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, was the runner-up. Junior somehow got lost playing in Seattle and amid a crowd of contemporaries who used performance-enhancing drugs, as A-Rod himself admitted. The Sosa home-run race with Mark McGwire in 1998 and the growing dominance of Barry Bonds dropped Junior into the background after the turn of the century.
Yet Junior remained the most exciting player to watch since Willie Mays. Yankees fans will never forget , but would like to, his dash around the bases at the Kingdome on Edgar Martinez’s double that produced a walk-off Mariners victory over the Yankees in Game 5 of the first AL Division Series. I can still see third base coach Sam Perlozzo furiously waving Junior home, and his legs churning toward the plate concluding with a picture-perfect slide.
That was a time when I looked forward to Yankees-Mariners games like no other just for the pure pleasure of watching Junior Griffey patrol center field and take target practice at the right field seats. His fence-climbing catch of a Jesse Barfield drive remains one of the best catches I’ve ever seen at Yankee Stadium. His father, Ken Griffey Sr., made one of the greats, too, in left field that is also high on my list.
In retrospect, Griffey’s decision to go home to Cincinnati 10 years ago was a career mistake. He and pitcher Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella were the axis that saved major-league ball in Seattle. All eventually left, but none was missed more than Junior. Going to the Reds was a family decision for Griffey. Among his reasons was a desire to play for a team that had its spring training camp in Florida, which the Reds did at that time.
I thought at the time that if Junior had to leave Seattle the best landing place for him would have been Atlanta. The Braves were a winning organization with a terrific general manager-manager combo in John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, plus the best pitching staff in the game and a spring training facility near Disney World in the backyard of Junior’s adopted residence of Orlando, Fla. Think of how many more World Series the Bravos might have won with Griffey. It might have been a different story for the Yankees in 1996 and ’99.
It’s too bad Junior had a dim view of the Yankees because he was made for the Stadium. He was reprimanded by manager Billy Martin as a youngster when his father played for the Yankees and never forgot it. It was a grudge Griffey should have dropped years ago. He paid them back over the years, batting .311 with 36 home runs and 102 RBI in 501 career at-bats against the Yankees.
The Braves couldn’t come up with a package for Griffey, so off to Cincinnati he went. I can remember when people thought he had an off year in 2000 when he hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBI. He never achieved those power numbers again. He had only one other comparable season with the Reds, in 2005 (.301, 35 homers, 92 RBI) as his career took no longer the path of Willie Mays but rather that of Mickey Mantle as injuries piled up higher than his statistics.
News of his retirement became obscured by the story out of Detroit about Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game foiled by umpire Jim Joyce’s erroneous call. That can happen to the best of them. In a Yankees game 32 years ago Thursday, Lou Gehrig hit four home runs and Tony Lazzeri hit for the cycle. Topping the sports page, though, was John McGraw’s announcement that he was retiring after 30 years’ managing the New York Giants.
Griffey’s leaving the game deserved the same attention. He passed the home-run baton to a former teammate who last year finally achieved what always eluded Griffey, a World Series championship. A-Rod remembered Junior fondly.
“I came in at 17, right out of high school, and I got to see our Michael Jordan, our Tiger Woods, the best of the best,” Rodriguez said.
If you don’t believe that, get out tapes of that 1995 ALDS, the one in which Griffey punished the Yankees with a .391 average, five home runs, seven RBI and that mad dash home in the clincher. You will not see his like again.
Sometimes, the numbers don’t lie. That is why statisticians keep them. No sooner had I looked up what Alex Rodriguez had done in his career against Twins reliever Matt Guerrier that A-Rod padded those stats big-time. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had just ordered Mark Teixeira intentionally walked to bring up Rodriguez, whose power has been under question this season what with only three home runs in 125 at-bats entering play Friday night.
In came Guerrier, whose luck against Rodriguez had been horrid. A-Rod was 4-for-6 with a double, three home runs and four RBI against the righthander. Two swings later, that was amended to 5-for-7 with a double, four home runs and eight RBI. The grand slam thrust the Yankees into the lead toward an 8-4 victory
It was another late-inning disaster for Gardenhire, whose Twins bit the dirt against the Yankees in all 10 games they played against each other last year, including three in the American League Division Series when Minnesota blew a lead in each game.
Gardenhire is one of my favorite people in the game. I have known him for nearly 30 years. We first met in 1981 when I was covering the Mets and he was called up from Triple A, a prospect from Oklahoma who had been a top college shortstop at the University of Texas. I’d see him periodically when he was on Tom Kelly’s staff as a coach with the Twins and have bemoaned his being the runner-up in AL Manager of the Year Award balloting four times.
But, Gardy, Matt Guerrier for Alex Rodriguez?
“We were aware of the numbers,” Gardenhire said later, “but Matty is our best right-handed setup guy. You have to forget about the numbers and go with your best in that situation. With their 3-4 hitters, it’s pick your poison. We put Teixeira on because we wanted to set up a possible double play and hope A-Rod hits the ball on the ground. It didn’t work out.”
What that move did in costing the Twins the game was also to take Yankees manager Joe Girardi off the hook. He played it by the book in the top of the seventh by bringing in lefthander Damaso Marte to face lefty-swinging Joe Mauer with a runner on second and two out. Mauer promptly singled to center, tying the score. Marte didn’t have any luck against lefty-swinging Justin Morneau, either. Morneau doubled home Mauer to give Minnesota a lead that was to be short-lived as so many seem for the Twins against the Yankees.
With numbers in mind, A-Rod reached heady company with the drive off Guerrier. It was career number 587 for Rodriguez, who passed Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for seventh place on the career list. No. 6 is Sammy Sosa at 609. It was also A-Rod’s 19th career grand slam, tying Hall of Famer Eddie Murray for third place on that list. The record belongs to Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig with 23, followed by the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez with 21.
Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, who followed a double by Juan Miranda with a triple in the eighth, raised his league-leading batting average with runners in scoring position to .769 with 14 RBI in 13 such at-bats.