The Pen is Mighter Than the Bat
First, I just have to thank John Brattain.
tirades columns are some of the best Blue Jays material out there, bar none. He always finds a way to be insightful, funny, and encapsulate many of my thoughts about Blue Jay land, while still reflecting on some of the larger moments in this franchise’s past 3 decades (this week, the flop of 1987 brings back tough memories even to those of us who, at the time, may have been more concerned about the gum that came with the cards then the cards themselves).
I tracked down an article in the NY Times from that day, that gives a little perspective for those who enjoy a
punch in the eye little refresher:
— Copyright New York Times Oct 5, 1987
It will either be remembered as one of baseball’s most inspired comebacks or one of its most embarrassing collapses. The Detroit Tigers, a team that some predicted would be among the worst in its division, captured the American League East title this afternoon with a dramatic 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays for a stunning three-game sweep of the season-ending series in the tightest pennant race of the year.
The Tigers began the season losing 19 of their first 30 games, and were as many as 11 games out of first place. Now, they will face the surprising Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series, which starts Wednesday evening in Minneapolis.
”We got the job done this weekend, but we’ve still got a job to do,” said Alan Trammell, the Tigers’ shortstop and a candidate for the league’s most valuable player award. ”We won’t take Minnesota lightly.”
In contrast to the Tigers’ resurrection, the contest was the conclusion of an ignoble collapse for the troubled Blue Jays, a team that had lived up to its billing as one the league’s strongest teams for most of the season. They owned a three-and-a-half-game lead over the second-place Tigers just one week ago, but endured one of their worst slumps of the year, suffering from injuries and an absence of timely hitting. They lost their final seven games of the season, including the final three here, where they stranded a total of 25 baserunners.
Each of those runners was crucial because each of the final seven games played between these two teams this season was decided by a single run.
”We played well, we just didn’t hit,” said Jimy Williams, the Toronto manager. ”It wasn’t for a lack of effort. Things just didn’t work out.”
The game’s only run was provided by Larry Herndon, the Tigers’ right-fielder. Herndon spoiled an otherwise outstanding three-hit pitching performance by Toronto’s Jimmy Key (17-8) with a second-inning home run over the left-field fence. The fly ball was aided by the blustery conditions that marked the entire series.
That proved to be all the offense needed by Frank Tanana, the Tigers’ 34-year-old left-hander who has learned to rely on mixed speed in his pitches as his velocity wanes. In notching his fifth complete game and his third shutout of the season, the 31st of his career, Tanana (15-10) defused the already frustrated Blue Jay hitters. He allowed just six hits while striking out nine batters, tying his highest total of the season. It was the Tigers’ third commanding pitching effort of the series, following similar performances by Doyle Alexander and Jack Morris.
Tanana’s toughest inning was the first when two of the first three batters reached base, on a single and a walk. But he ended the inning by striking out Juan Beniquez, who had replaced the slumping George Bell as the Blue Jays’ cleanup hitter, and getting Jesse Barfield to ground out.
”They slumped at a bad time and ran up against a pretty good ballclub,” Tanana said. ”After getting out of the first, I felt good.”
Tanana mastered the Blue Jays this season, holding them to two earned runs and 19 hits in more than 32 innings, while getting 23 strikeouts.
The contest ended when the pitcher fielded a weak grounder by Garth Iorg and converted an underhand toss to Darrell Evans, the Tigers’ first baseman. It was a moment that touched off a delirious celebration by the Tigers and most of the 51,005 fans in attendance.
”This series put a real strain on our hearts, our bodies and our minds,” said Lou Whitaker, the Detroit second baseman who got the only other two Tiger hits today, in the midst of the joyous champagne-soaked celebration in the locker room. ”It took us time to catch on this season, but once we got through that we put it all together. Any time we needed something, somebody in this room provided it.”
”We’ve come so far in six months because everybody in this room helped us win a game at some time this year,” said Bill Madlock, an in-season aquisition from the Dodgers. ”This has been the most enjoyable season of my career.”
It will probably prove to be the most haunting season for most of the Blue Jays. Key, their best pitcher this season, struck out eight batters, including the final three batters he faced in the eighth inning. But that was small consolation for a team that was forced to endure the stretch run without two starters – Tony Fernandez, the shortstop, and Ernie Whitt, the catcher.
”We missed them a lot, especially emotionally,” said Willie Upshaw, the first baseman. ”They were a large part of this ball club.”
Their absence did not have a major effect on the team defensively, although the Tigers’ game-winning hit on Saturday went through the legs of the replacement shortstop, Manny Lee. But it greatly altered the dynamics of Toronto’s lineup. The result had been disastrous, especially for the team’s best hitters.
Bell, who entered the series as a strong favorite for most valuable player, may have threatened that in just one weekend. He managed only 2 hits in his final 26 times at bat, and was 1 for 11 in this series. He looked worse that that, managing to get the ball out of the infield only twice in the series.
Barfield, the right fielder, finished with just 3 hits in his last 24 turns at bat. And Beniquez, the designated hitter, didn’t managed a hit in his last 15 plate appearances.
Toronto also suffered critical lapses. In the fourth inning today, Lee missed a hit-and-run signal, which caused Cecil Fielder, who hadn’t attempted to steal a base all season, to get thrown out easily at second. On the next pitch, Lee tripled to right.
”I don’t think anybody can label us chokers,” said Tom Henke, the Toronto reliever. ”They just had great pitching performances every night. It’s one of those things. You can’t blame anybody. You just have to go on.”
Sorry if that article caused anyone some serious internal hemorrhaging recalling Herndon’s homer off Key – but all is not lost as it brings us to today’s history lesson: while the bats are cold – they will never be THAT cold again.
Back to my original point – while reminding us of something terrible, John also reflected on one of the finer points of the game. This day in age with our Barry Bonds’, Michael Vick’s and our Rick Ankiels’, falling so fast so quickly, it is easy to overlook some of the Hidden Jems in the game. Cal Ripken, for one, will always be one of my all-time “nice guys”, as nobody in our time has given more back to the fans, or recognized how truly important us fans are to the game (despite all the bizzare rumors we might dream up about his wife and Kevin Costner).
I could easily get into a epic tirade about my feelings on Barry Bonds on this subject, but I think I can let him speak for himself. Personally I have always thought his speech after breaking Mark McGuire’s record was one of the most self-indulgent, ass-backward moments in baseball, even more when viewed in light of the entire steroid scandal – it can be viewed here (if you’re still feeling masochistic).
Now here is one of those Hidden Gems:
26-year-old righthanded reliever in the Padres minor league system, Dirk Hayhurst.
You can even watch him doing his thing on youtube here.
Other then his tremendous baseball talent, he is also know for his talent with the pen, writing for a local newspaper as well as a non-prospect diary for Baseball America (too bad the same can’t be said for our own Ricky Romero’s blog at MiLB):
Here is a little tidbit of his stuff from a local paper:
“The sports editor of this paper told me to mention I was a pro baseball player because people will listen to me. So be it. I am a pro baseball player, but there is nothing important about me that is not also important about you.
We are the same. We are people and need one another. Our voices should have the same power. We don’t have to be big league baseball players to save the world, because big league or not, we all have hearts and the ability to act, love, show kindness, humility and mercy.
Those things know no class distinction, nor should we.”
Here’s hoping you make it big, Dirk.