Keeping Score: Seven days in autumn

Published: 10/16/2020 4:36:36 PM

Good morning!
There’s no “going home” this baseball postseason, no days off or rainouts or other momentum shifters. Just seven games in seven days, and at this writing, Atlanta and Tampa Bay were closing in on what would’ve been baseball’s first I-75 Series.

The American League Championship Series has featured the rise of Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, and the fall of Houston’s Jose Altuve.

Arozarena is batting.442 (19-43) with five home runs this postseason. His three dingers against the Yankees prompted play-by-play voice John Sterling to exclaim, “I can see Mantle or Ruth doing this, but Randy Arozarena?” He wears cowboy boots for good luck and his teammates say that “Randy” is an acronym for Rakes All Night Day Year.

The 25-year-old Cuban native was playing in Tijuana when the Cardinals signed him and promoted him to the big leagues in August 2019, after he batted .358 at Triple-A Memphis. In January, they shipped him to the Rays for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore.

His solo home run helped the Rays beat Houston, 2-1, on Sunday. Altuve made the last out, fanning with the tying run on first base. The next night he misplayed Ji-Man Choi’s two-out bouncer and the next batter, Manuel Margot, crushed a three-run blast over the center field fence. His fourth inning throwing error led TBS analyst Ron Darling to comment, “He’s got the thing. It’s in his head.”

On Tuesday, Altuve fielded a double play ball but his throw to second base skipped past Carlos Correa and fueled a five-run inning that led to a 5-2 loss. “One nightmare inning,” muttered Astros manager Dusty Baker.

Altuve’s case of the yips is alternately called Steve Blass or Steve Sax disease, two proven players who suddenly couldn’t make the easiest of throws. Former Red Sox hurler Jon Lester suffered the yips after he was traded to the Cubs. Now he fields and jogs the ball to first base.

“There’s nothing worse in the world,” Sax told MLB’s Pedro Gomez. “It’s the most lonely place to be. It’s embarrassing. It’s just awful.”

Darling dismissed colleague Brian Anderson’s suggestion that an undisclosed injury might be the cause of Altuve’s bad throws. Uh-uh, said Darling, “It’s one of those… things.”

Those “things” were critical factors in Houston’s first three losses. “One mistake,” Pedro Martinez said on Tuesday’s postgame show. “The double play didn’t happen because of the error by Altuve. It’s hard to watch.”

The Rays are playing the kind of fundamental baseball that teams strive for coming out of spring training, which this year was a 60-game regular season. Their defensive plays have crushed Houston’s spirit — Manuel Margot flipping over a railing to catch of Yuli Gurriel’s pop fly; infielders Willy Adames and Joey Wendle leaping for line drives and whirling to turn double plays; Ji-Man Choi snagging one-hop throws to first base and outfielders Keven Kiermaier and Hunter Renfroe laying out to make run-saving catches.

“Everybody’s chipping in,” said Martinez. “(Manager) Kevin Cash is moving the pieces, and the tighter it is, the better they play. This team is full of confidence.”

BASEBALL NOTES: On-field reporter Lauren Shehadi asked Dusty Baker about losing his friend Joe Morgan. “I got another angel up there,” said Baker. “I got a bunch of ’em up there, especially this year.” …. Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe was mic’d for sound on Sunday and struck out four times. “Does this mean he’s never going to wear a microphone again?” wondered TBS’s Brian Anderson. “Don’t even ask,” replied Ron Darling. … Fox TV’s Joe Buck said the Dodgers picked up reliever Brusdar Graterol from the Twins after “the Red Sox didn’t want him for the medicals.” … Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks relished beating the team from the nation’s biggest television market. “We beat their golden child,” he told the NY Post’s Greg Joyce. … Who says you need a big payroll to win? According to sportrac.com, seven of 12 teams with the highest payrolls finished under .500. The Yankees payroll this year is $104.4 million; Tampa Bay’s is $28.3 million. … Joe Maddon has gone from winning a World Series with the Cubs to managing the godforsaken Angels, who signed Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract this offseason and then watched him hit into a league-leading 10 double plays. … When Pablo Sandoval pinch hit for the Braves on Monday, the Twitter world nearly blew up. “Pablo Sandoval plays for the Braves?” Who knew? … The Yankees have given up on catcher Gary Sanchez, who’s led the league in passed balls in three of the last four seasons.

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MEMBERS ONLY: Hockey East announced on July 29 that the 2020-21 season would be for members only. “Details regarding the new schedules, including a new start date will be announced at a later date,” said the press release, but that was 80 days ago and not a peep since then.

Other conferences are similarly tightening their schedules. Mike McMahon of College Hockey News reports that the ECAC is planning a 20-game season with two divisions, including a New England Division composed of Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale and Brown, plus Princeton.

On Tuesday, CHN reported that Atlantic Hockey is planning a 24-game league-only schedule that will begin Nov. 20. Teams like AIC will play in one of two yet to be designated “pod” locations.

UMass radio voice Brock Hines sent a link from the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which reported that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference plans to begin the season in a “hub” with games played in either Grand Forks or Omaha.

Complicated as it is, these conferences need to figure a way to play hockey before the pipeline gets clogged.

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The first American taken in last week’s NHL draft was Jake Sanderson of Whitefish, Montana, chosen fifth overall by Ottawa. Stoneham sniper Sam Colangelo was the first New England skater to be drafted. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound right wing was taken in the second round (36th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks. Currently a freshman at Northeastern, the 18-year-old Colangelo played two years ago at Lawrence Academy, and last year for the USHL’s Chicago Steel. In the two seasons combined he scored 47 goals and had 59 assists in 72 games, according to eliteprospects.com.

UMass defenseman Matt Kessel was drafted in the fifth round by St. Louis, together with three future Minutemen who came off the board. Lucas Mercuri of Lachine, Quebec, was taken in the sixth round by Carolina. The 6-foot-3 forward de-committed from UVM after he helped Salisbury win the 2019-20 New England prep school championship and will skate for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers this year.

Defenseman Noah Ellis of Urbandale, Iowa, was drafted in the sixth round by the Vegas Golden Knights. Ellis has played the last two seasons for Des Moines and won’t be ready to crack the UMass lineup until next year. Same goes for Russian forward Timofey Spitserov, taken by San Jose in the seventh round. Spitserov plays at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy and has scored 122 goals in 130 games.

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UMASS FOOTBALL: Georgia Southern is a 31½ -point favorite to beat UMass in Statesboro today (4 p.m., ESPN2). The Eagles had an open date after their game against App. State was moved to December. They contacted the Minutemen, who have plenty of room on their dance card. The game was originally set for broadcast on ESPNU, but after the Florida-LSU tilt was postponed earlier this week, UMass climbed up to ESPN2.

Georgia Southern lost by two points to No. 19 Louisiana, held off the Campbell Fighting Camels, 27-26, and beat the University of La.-Monroe, 35-30. Their primary threat is senior running back J.D. King, who’s averaging 123 yards per game.

The UMass that came out this week featured three quarterbacks. Senior Mike Fallon sat atop the list, which also included redshirt sophomore Josiah Johnson, who played tight end last season, and true freshman Will Koch. Redshirt junior Andrew Brito, a 5-7, 170-pound New Jersey native has presumably healed from the licking he took last year from a defensive linemen who crashed past the inept UMass offensive line, will travel with the team, according to head coach Walt Bell, but isn’t listed on the depth chart.

Presumably stifling a laugh, Eagles coach Chad Lunsford told the Savannah Morning News that UMass is a “very dangerous team… We’ve got to be ready for a defense it didn’t show last year.”

Ah yes, the vaunted UMass no-show defense that allowed more points last year than any team in the history of the world.

They do have a few new recruits who could help lower the score. Keep an eye out for No. 44, defensive lineman Aaron Beckwith. The 6-4, 285-pound Maryland native joined the Minutemen after de-committing from Central Michigan. Beckwith is listed among three defensive ends on the UMass depth chart, but according to one insider, “He is an excellent athlete. When he gets a chance to eat three meals a day and lift properly, he’ll be a Power 5 talent.”

Also watch for No. 96 Josh Atwood, the 6-3, 360-pound Baystate Conference MVP from Natick High School who’s listed as a nose tackle along with junior Taishan Holmes and sophomore Wilson Frederic.

For the time being, this is the only game on the UMass schedule, meaning a win translates to an undefeated season. Stay tuned.

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SQUIBBERS: Only Dish Network subscribers got to see BC’s 31-30 win over Pitt in overtime last Saturday. Comcast doesn’t carry the ACC Network, which doesn’t help the team’s exposure. … With NHL the category, Alex Trebek announced Tim Stützle was the Oilers’ first pick in last week’s draft. The 80-year-old Jeopardy! host is an Ontario native and longtime Oilers fan. … The UMass hockey team lost longtime fan Maryanne Ciesluk last week. Maryanne watched every game with her husband Frank. They sat in fold-out chairs behind the UMass net on the mezzanine level. When Frank passed, she joined daughter Sue and son-in-law Tom Antonellis, who are now left to carry on the tradition. … BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec leads the FBS in touchdown passes with eight and is seventh with 1,181 passing yards. … Forgot to mention Charlie Weis’ summation of Brian Hoyer’s performance against the Chiefs two weeks ago: “Appalling, so (pause) un-Patriot-like.” … As per the Dan Patrick Show, LA sports fans were asked which team they’d pick — the Lakers or Dodgers — if only one could win a title, and 84 percent took the Dodgers. … The NFL Network’s Rich Eisen reports that Sunday will be the first time since 1994 that the Steelers and Browns play each other while both are three games over .500. … Tuesday was the 60th anniversary of the Pirates’ 10-9 win against the Yankees at Forbes Field, and Sirius-XM’s Chris Russo played the radio call of Bill Mazeroski’s home run that won it in the ninth inning. Broadcaster Chuck Thompson said Art Ditmar was on the mound when it was actually Ralph Terry who threw the pitch that Mazeroski belted over the fence. Ditmar was so upset to be involved in such ignominy that he sued Thompson for defamation of character. … COVID-19 aside, the Giants are 0-5, the Jets are 0-5, and the Yankees tanked in the playoffs. In the words of John Sterling: “You can take this year and throw it in the East River.”

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 at chipjet95@yahoo.com




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