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September 26, 2013
What You Need to Know
Helton Leaves Home
The Wednesday Takeaway
Batting fifth in the order, Helton came up with the bases empty and one down in the bottom of the second. He dug in against Jake Peavy, a longtime rival during the right-hander’s days with the Padres, and one of Helton’s favorite pitchers to face. Helton was 16-for-46 (.348/.392/.674) versus Peavy with six doubles, three home runs, and only five strikeouts. The 1.066 head-to-head OPS was Helton’s best among all pitchers that he’d seen at least 50 times. And, as Helton prepared to say good-bye, he improved it.
On the third pitch of his first at-bat, Helton clubbed a big fly into the right-field stands, drawing the Rockies to within two. His next trip to the box came an inning later, this time with the bases loaded and one out. Helton drove in his second run of the night with a sacrifice fly, which preceded a ground-rule double by Nolan Arenado that knotted the score at 4-4.
By the time Helton stepped to the plate again, the Red Sox had surged ahead with three runs each in the fourth and fifth. But the man of the hour was undeterred. He drove a double to the opposite field, sending Michael Cuddyer, who started the home half of the fifth with a walk, all the way around for his third RBI of the night.
Unfortunately, that was all the scoring the Rockies would do. The Red Sox tacked on five more runs in the top of the eighth, four of them on a Will Middlebrooks grand slam, to take a 15-5 lead. Moments earlier, Helton entered the Coors Field batter’s box for the last time.
The last pitcher Helton faced in Denver was a former teammate, Franklin Morales, with whom the first baseman embarked on the run to the pennant in 2007. Then a 21-year-old rookie, Morales helped the Rockies to victory in six of his eight regular-season starts. Helton chipped in at least one extra-base hit all five times Morales took the hill that September. But last night, when they reunited as foes, Morales blew him away.
Thus, Helton’s Coors Field career ended with a strikeout, followed by a standing ovation as his daughters took away first base before the top of the ninth. He’ll leave behind a .345 average and 227 career home runs in Coors Field. And he’ll take with him a horse on which to ride into the sunset.
Quick Hits from Wednesday
If you don’t know the answer to that question (which you’ll find at the end of this section), it’s a little extra incentive to file this one away, in case Billy Hamilton follows in the Hall of Famer’s footsteps.
Hamilton began his big-league career 13-for-13 on steal tries, which surprised virtually no one considering the prowess he displayed on the basepaths during his trek through the Reds farm system. The center fielder made his third start in The Show on Wednesday afternoon with the Mets in town and Daisuke Matsuzaka toeing the rubber.
With a methodical approach and a relatively slow delivery from the stretch, Matsuzaka has struggled to control the running game throughout his time in the States. Coming into this outing, 85 of the 104 players who had attempted to steal with Matsuzaka on the mound made it. Earlier in this game, Jay Bruce, who singled in the second and walked in the fourth, swiped second both times he reached first.
Bruce began the day with five steals in eight attempts on the year and 34-for-60 in his career. He’s no speedster, but he took off one pitch after he saw Matsuzaka’s mechanics from the stretch for the first time. On that one, Matsuzaka gave his catcher no chance by missing two feet outside with a curveball. The second time Bruce ran, he missed well inside with a fastball. Slow mechanics are one thing; for Matsuzaka, hitting the target is half the battle.
At any rate, Hamilton reached on an infield single with two away in the bottom of the fifth. (The ball actually beat him to the bag on the play, but first-base umpire Brian Gorman decided to make things interesting.) The rookie didn’t wait long, bolting for second on the first pitch to Shin-Soo Choo. Fellow first-year big leaguer Juan Centeno wasn’t having it, which brought us this bit of analysis from Reds manager Dusty Baker:
“That’s why it’s called ‘stealing,’ sometimes you get caught stealing.”
The 23-year-old Centeno, a defensive wizard with a .661 minor-league OPS, gunned down 56 percent (34 of 61) of would-be base stealers in Double-A and Triple-A before earning his promotion. He never crossed paths with Hamilton in the minors, because the Reds’ and Mets’ upper-minors affiliates don’t share leagues. But now, they’ll forever be bound: Hamilton’s first big-league CS on the basepaths is also Centeno’s first from the squat.
If Hamilton sticks around long enough to one day surmount Henderson’s total of 1,406, Centeno will usurp the historical footnote presently owned by six-time Gold Glover Jim Sundberg, who nailed Henderson on July 1, 1979.
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Hamilton being caught with Matsuzaka on the bump is that the right-hander worked around both of the steals he permitted to log 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a perilous ballpark. With that effort, Matsuzaka outdueled Reds ace Mat Latos in a 1-0 decision that could prove pivotal to the Reds’ bid for home-field advantage in the wild card playoff game. The Pirates also lost, 4-2 to the Cubs, but the Reds squandered an opportunity to gain ground and remain a game back with only three—all head-to-head showdowns with the Bucs—left to be played.
Speaking of relishing the spoiler role—Kyle Lohse did on Wednesday, too. The first-year Brewers notched his first shutout in a Milwaukee uniform by two-hitting the Braves. Best of all, Lohse needed only 89 pitches to do it.
Carlos Gomez’s first-inning long ball was all the help Lohse would need, and the swift, two-hour-and-31-minute contest might’ve been over even more quick were it not for the scuffle that ensued. Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann took umbrage with Gomez for hot-dogging the blast, and McCann blocked the outfielder’s path to the plate. That cleared the benches and resulted in Gomez and Freeman getting the boot from home-plate umpire Paul Nauert.
With one of the Braves’ best bats done for the day, Lohse sliced through the rest of the lineup with only a couple of harmless hiccups. Andrelton Simmons’ bunt single leading off the first and Evan Gattis’ knock in the home half of the seventh were the only baserunners he allowed. Lohse struck out five along the way.
Not only was this Lohse’s first gem of the year, it was also only his second complete game since April 21, 2011, when he two-hit the Nationals. The 34-year-old has now gone the whole nine innings in two of his last three starts, giving the Brewers some late-season return on their three-year, $33 million pre-season investment.
BREAKING: The A’s have lost two straight games.
Seriously, though, that’s big news these days. When Oakland last dropped back-to-back contests, Bob Melvin’s team was 3 ½ games behind the Rangers, Coco Crisp had only 12 home runs, and Kurt Suzuki’s return from the nation’s capital was a day away.
More precisely, it was August 23, and the Orioles had just downed the Athletics 9-7 at Camden Yards. Since then, Suzuki has rescued his first big-league organization from a precarious lack of depth behind the dish, Crisp has swatted 10 more long balls, and the A’s have turned the Rangers, division favorites just five weeks ago, into wild-card hopefuls on the outside looking in.
Jered Weaver, always a tough customer at Angel Stadium, ground Melvin’s offense to a halt yesterday afternoon, permitting just five hits, all singles, in seven innings of one-run work. Weaver, who skipped his previous start with forearm tightness, fanned only two, but he also issued just one walk, threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 27 hitters he faced, and kept the visitors off the board until the top of the sixth. Fourteen of the 21 outs he recorded came on fly balls tracked down by a Mike Trout-less outfield that featured J.B. Shuck, Collin Cowgill, and Kole Calhoun from left to right.
The Angels got on the board first in the last of the fourth on an RBI fielder’s choice by designated hitter Josh Hamilton. But the winning tallies came two innings later, the fruits of a small-ball attack helped along by a fielding miscue from the league’s most efficient defensive team. Dan Straily issued a leadoff walk to Chris Iannetta, after which Andrew Romine put down a sacrifice bunt. The A’s failed to grab the out the Angels were offering them, as first baseman Daric Barton mishandled the throw. Then, with two runners available to be moved up, Scioscia gladly offered the A’s another out. This time, Oakland successfully took it, but after Iannetta was erased at the plate on a fielder’s choice, Erick Aybar singled home Romine and an infield hit by Hamilton plated Shuck.
That was all the support Weaver, Dane De La Rosa, and Ernesto Frieri needed to clinch the series for the home team, which won Tuesday’s middle match behind a four-hit shutout from Jason Vargas. The wins were meaningless for the Angels, who were long ago eliminated from post-season contention, but their efforts could make the Athletics’ task more challenging next month.
Among American League squads, only the Red Sox, 53-28 at Fenway Park this season, boast more home victories than the 52-29 A’s, whose skipper emphasized the benefit of playing in friendly confines to CBS Sports’ Scott Miller. Oakland is now two games behind Boston in its quest to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Defensive Non-Play of the Day
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