Keeping Score: Of pennant clashes and June swoons

Friday, June 22, 2018

Good morning!

The Red Sox and Yankees both have 50 wins and have been within two games of each other since May 1, but are the Yankees about to take command of the AL East? They swept the Mariners three straight this week, including Wednesday when they overcame a 5-0 deficit and tore the M’s hearts out with two late-inning home runs.

In Minnesota, on Thursday, the Red Sox avoided being swept by the Twins with a 9-2 win in the finale of their 10-game, six-win road trip.

Rick Porcello’s one-hit gem and home runs by Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi interrupted the team’s recent June swoon. “Now, this is more like it,” exclaimed NESN’s Jerry Remy.

Despite the 16-hit attack, manager Alex Cora’s revolving corps of Rafael Devers, Edwin Nunez, Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart at the bottom of the order are batting a combined .217. Toss out Swihart’s lowly 10-for-68 and the needle inches up to .222.

The Red Sox led the Yankees by 7½ games on April 20, but New York won 17 of 18 and they’ve been trading punches ever since. Next weekend’s three games at the Stadium will be a glimpse of what everybody’s hoping will be their first postseason clash since 2004.

All things being equal — pitching, bullpen and batting average — New York has emerged as the dominant power-hitting team of the two. At this writing, they led the majors with 122 home runs to Boston’s 107. (Stats by mlb.combaseball-reference.com and espn.com).

Newcomers Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are outslugging Boston’s lone offseason acquisition J.D. Martinez by 42 to 22. Martinez wasn’t signed until Feb. 26 and felt he’d been low-balled. Consequently he can opt-out of his five year, $110 million deal after next season, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman has his best hitters locked in for the long term. 

On Dec. 11, they acquired Stanton who’s signed through 2028. He arrived from Miami for second baseman Starlin Castro. The contract dump by owner Derek Jeter stunk of 1976 when Oakland’s Charlie Finley sold Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn blocked that deal, but Cashman was smart enough to throw Castro into the mix. At this writing, he was batting .272 with three home runs.

Hand it to Cashman, who traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs and got him back four months later as a free agent. The Cubs were desperate for a closer and Chapman delivered. He appeared in 13 playoff games, fanned 21 batters in 15.2 innings, saved four games and won one. Afterward, he criticized manager Joe Maddon for overworking him and happily agreed to return to New York.

The player the Yankees got from the Cubs was Torres, who blew out his elbow last June and had Tommy John surgery. Luckily, his non-throwing arm recovered quickly and the Yankees called him up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 21. He’s batted .291 in 52 games with 14 home runs and 35 RBIs.

Andujar, meanwhile, stepped in for injured third baseman Brandon Drury and Wally Pipped himself into a starting job. He’s batting .298 with four errors in 124 chances at the hot corner. (Boston’s Rafael Devers has 15 errors in 211 chances).

One caveat with rookies is that they cool off (see Devers), but Stanton is a proven slugger, and the Aaron Judge-Stanton tandem is as formidable as Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were in the 2000s.

Sure, starters CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are fragile, but Cashman has plenty of talent down on the farm if he needs to trade for another starting pitcher.

It’s Boston GM Dave Dombrowski who’s on the hot seat, and he’ll  need to get a hitter like Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos or the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre for those final three games versus New York to be relevant.

As Yogi Berra would say, it’s getting late early.

Golfing purists couldn’t believe what Phil Mickelson did at the US Open on Saturday. Lefty watched his putt roll past the cup on the 13th green, then sauntered over and whacked it back toward the hole.

While it was still moving!

Two local golfing devotees were consulted. “I’ve always been a big fan of Mickelson and I think he was fed up with the (course) setup,” said Greenfield’s Forbes Byron. “He was good with the media and didn't duck any questions. I might’ve done the same thing.”

Leverett’s Jay Frost was less forgiving. “His mano a mano duel with Henrik Stenson in the 2016 British Open was classic, but what he did at Shinnecock Hills was bush league and over the top.

“Maybe it’s time for him to cede the stage to some of the younger stars,” added Frost. “I don’t think he has it anymore anyway.”

Mickelson took a two-stroke penalty but earned $27,952 for finishing tied for 48th.

On the same sport, Turners Falls’ Fran Togneri worked as a volunteer ranger this winter at Okeeheelee, a 27-hole public course in West Palm Beach. “I rode the course backwards telling people to keep up with the group in front of them,” said Togger. “What we got for that was to play any of the five public courses in Palm Beach County for five dollars.”

“Tommy Lozier asked me to go fishing with him,” added Togneri. “He was the former Athol fire chief.”

Maybe they’ll rent an airboat and catch the gator that kept Togneri looking over his shoulder near the pond.

George Etzweiler, the retired 98-year-old professor from State College, completed last week’s Mt. Washington road race. “He finished in about four hours,” said Greenfield’s Tom Van Den Broeck Raffensperger. “Timing stopped at 3:05 so he doesn’t appear in the timed results, but he’s recognized as having completed the run. His reception far exceeded the acclaim offered to even the winners. I am in awe of the man.”

SQUIBBERS:  The Astros won their 12th straight and 50th of the season on Alex Bregman’s walk-off double versus the Rays this week. “Altuve told me he’s not bringing his bat to the on-deck circle so I’d better get the job done,” he told USA Today. …  World Cup viewers got to hear Andres Cantor’s signature call “Goooooooooaaaaal!” during Colombia’s 2-1 loss to Japan. Cantor’s nicknamed El Cantante del Goal — The Goal Singer. … Kudos to WEEI’s Kirk Minihane for calling out Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen for his “being there” embellishment of the Patriots Day bombing. Cullen was suspended six months without pay. … A belated Happy 65th anniversary to Garry and Mary Brown of Wilbraham, two folks straight from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” … Don’t use flour instead of Bisquick unless you want to have strawberry hockey pucks. … Broadcasters, please stop the “first-of” blather: “The Red Sox are 21–2 when they score at least one run in the top of the third inning in domed stadiums on Saturday afternoons when pigeons are sitting on the left field scoreboard.” I mean really, who cares? … The South Beach Business Journal reports that Hanley Ramirez’s home off I-75 near Fort Lauderdale is on the market for $3.99 million. Was Han-Ram on the juice? “The vesting option has nothing to do with it.” Dave Dombrowski said at the time he was released. Why else then would Han-Ram be ignored by other teams? … Hoops coach Bob Kieras gives a birthday shout-out to two of his fans: “South Deerfield’s Stella Connor turned 103 on June 19 and her friend Bertha Markowski turned a youthful 99 on May 4. Stella still drives and Bertha wants to hit the casino.” … Hard to believe that Yankees’ announcer John Sterling turns 80 on July 4. His sidekick Suzyn Waldman remains 39.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.