Tag Archives: World Series

Southpaw Flashback: The Curious Comeback of Scott Kazmir

Editor’s Note: In honor of Scott Kazmir being traded From the Oakland Athletics to the Houston Astros we take a look back at the curious rise and fall of the Houston native who rebuilt his career and became an All-Star when many thought he had nothing left in the tank in a column that originally appeared last July.

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012.

While the Skeeters represented a chance for Kazmir to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and excelled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

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Orioles and Royals kick off Championship Series Tonight

The American League Championship Series kicks off tonight in Baltimore between the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals.

When people were making their predictions at the start of the season I am sure there were very few, if any who saw that particular match up in the cards for the American League Pennant.

While the last few decades have not been kind to the fan base of either franchise, in the mid eighties they were among the teams to beat in the American League led by a pair of Hall of Famers in Cal Ripken, Jr. and George Brett for the Orioles and Royals respectively.

I saw my first live baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.  Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers are in the National League but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a pennant winning season as the Orioles were the 1983 World Series Champions. Photo R. Anderson
I saw my first live baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers. Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers are in the National League but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a pennant winning season as the Orioles were the 1983 World Series Champions.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles last went to The World Series in 1983 where they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies.

I saw my first ever in person baseball game in 1983 at Memorial Stadium when the Orioles hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.

Memorial Stadium is gone now and the Brewers moved to the National League, but I can forever say that my first baseball game occurred during a World Series winning season.

While I was fortunate to witness a World Series title come to Baltimore, Orioles fans who were not alive during 1983 have had very little to cheer about.

While the 1997 season showed promise and included a trip to the American League Championship Series, it was the Cleveland Indians who made the trip to the World Series instead of the Orioles.

Starting tonight the fans clad in orange and black filling Oriole Park at Camden Yards will know that the O’s are once again four victories away from the World Series.

Standing in the way of that trip to the World Series are the Kansas City Royals. The Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series and had not made the playoffs since until this season.

The last time I saw the Royals play the Orioles neither team was at their peak. This year, four wins are all that stand in the way of a trip to the World Series. Photo R. Anderson
The last time I saw the Royals play the Orioles neither team was at their peak. This year, four wins are all that stand in the way of a trip to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

I last saw the Orioles and Royals play against each other on March 23, 1991 during a Spring Training game in Baseball City, Florida.

The Royals won the game but 1991 was not a good season for either team as most of the mid eighties mojo was already starting to fade.

The Orioles and Royals each finished in sixth place in their divisions in 1991 and both teams fired their managers during the season.

The Orioles have had a couple of more playoff appearances than the Royals over the past 30 years, but both teams are hungry for another World Series title which makes this year’s American League Championship Series much watch television.

Over in the National League Championship Series the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are battling for yet another World Series appearance.

Since that 1985 World Series loss to the Royals, the Cardinals have made five additional trips to the October Classic with a pair of championships to show for it.

Over in San Francisco, the Giants have made four trips to the World Series since 1985 claiming two World Series Championships.

The 1991 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals started with promise in Spring Training and ended with both teams in sixth place in their divisions after firing their managers.  Photo R. Anderson
The 1991 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals started with promise in Spring Training and ended with both teams in sixth place in their divisions after firing their managers.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact, since 2010 the National League representative in the World Series has been either the Cardinals or the Giants with each team making a pair of trips. This year’s NLCS winner will take a 3-2 advantage in that ranking.

So with the National League turning into a tale of the same two teams year after year, the American League Championship series offers a chance for fresh blood to hoist the Pennant.

Only six members of the Baltimore Orioles active roster were alive the last time the team made a World Series appearance.

Of those players only Nelson Cruz, born in 1980, is likely old enough to remember it as the other five players were under a year old.

The Royals offer a slightly older roster and have 11 players who were born before the Royals last went to the World Series.

And if that does not makes one feel old enough consider this, when the Orioles were last in the World Series the top movie at the box was “Return of the Jedi.”

In 1985 when the Royals won it all fans were flocking to see “Back to the Future.”

Of course this time around one does not need the power of the Jedi or a time traveling DeLorean to see the Orioles and the Royals face off in the ALCS. They just need access to the TBS broadcast.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Bo Porter Era in Houston Ends on Labor Day

Today, September 1 is Labor Day.

While originally established in the 19th Century as a way to honor workers, through the years the first Monday of September celebration has turned into a time of barbecues, beach getaways and appliance sales.

In fact Labor Day weekend is often called the last weekend of the summer even though fall does not officially arrive until September 22.

For fans of the Houston Astros, Labor Day will forever be known as the day that the manager and bench coach were asked to turn in their uniforms and leave the building.

Earlier today the Astros announced that Manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley had been relieved of their duties. Tom Lawless will serve as interim manager through the remainder of the 2014 season.

Last Labor Day Bo Porter was managing the Houston Astros in a day game against the Minnesota Twins. Fast forward a year and Porter was fired by the Astros during an off day. Photo R. Anderson
Last Labor Day Bo Porter was managing the Houston Astros in a day game against the Minnesota Twins. Fast forward a year and Porter was fired by the Astros during an off day.
Photo R. Anderson

While no one ever likes to be fired part of me thinks that Porter and Trembley are relieved to be let go from the tire fire of a team that is the Astros. Plus, by being let go now Porter and Trembley have more time to line up jobs for next season.

Neither Porter nor Trembley should be held to blame for the performance of the Astros under their tenure. One can only manage with what they are given and few can argue that the front office has been very stingy in what they are giving the field staff to work with.

The company line for the Astros continues to be, “just wait we are getting better every day and are bolstering the farm system for continued success.”

While there has been slight improvement in the on field performance of the team this season there also has been a marked increase in stories about player discontent and mismanagement by the front office.

There was also the whole situation regarding failing to sign the first pick in this year’s draft and the release of confidential front office communications regarding trade negotiations.

Also, who can forget the absolute disaster centering on the team’s broadcast rights that has prevented much of the Houston area from being able to watch the games on television?

Of course with such spotty on field performance the last couple of years not being able to watch on television might be a blessing in disguise for those fans who do not get the games.

By many accounts the Astros front office did not give Bo Porter  much to work with during his nearly two seasons at the helm. The team will now look for a manager to share in the slow rebuilding process. Photo R. Anderson
By many accounts the Astros front office did not give Bo Porter much to work with during his nearly two seasons at the helm. The team will now look for a manager to share in the slow rebuilding process.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted no team is perfect but with each story that comes out it seems more and more like the Astros front office does not seem to have much of a clue on how to run a Major League Baseball team.

As Fox Mulder would say, “I want to believe” that things will get better in the not too distant future and that the Astros will once again be a playoff contender but with each day I fell more like they will be a Major League pretender.

Earlier this season it was announced that the Astros were going to raise ticket prices to help cover expenses. Asking fans to pay more to see a less competitive team does not seem like a sound business strategy.

Of course through their dynamic pricing model the Astros charge even more when the marquee franchises like the Yankees and Red Sox are in town to help cover the losses on the other games.

I do understand that there is a business side to baseball but continuing to fleece the fans will end up biting them in the end.

With the arrival of football season it is likely that even fewer people will pay attention to the Astros as they limp to the finish line of the 2014 season. While it is likely that they can avoid their fourth consecutive 100 loss season in the grand scheme of things it might be too little too late.

More and more I hear people say that Houston is a football town and not a baseball town.

While I do not yet believe that baseball will fail in Houston in the same way that Arena League Football, minor league hockey and Indy Car did, it is certainly a possibility under the current management team based on the recent track record of activities.

Thankfully there are the Sugar Land Skeeters to watch for a reasonably priced baseball fix. With the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball planning additional teams in the Houston area over the next few years there very well could come a time where fans grow tired of paying for the Astros antics.

While this is an entirely unlikely scenario the people of Houston could watch the Astros leave the fourth largest city in America and find themselves with two large empty sports complexes.

The fact that Houston is the fourth largest city in America is often brought up when people question how the Astros could be so bad. And while it is best saved for another column on another day, I believe that a city’s size does not guarantee success in sports. One need only look at the Los Angeles area and their inability to get a NFL team after 20 years as proof of that. Sometimes sports work better in a smaller market where there are less options for the fans to spend their money on.

Prior to coming to Houston Bo Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are having a much better year than the Astros and could reach their first World Series. Photo R. Anderson
Prior to coming to Houston Bo Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are having a much better year than the Astros and could reach their first World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

As for the next antics for the Astros front office they will in the words of general manager Jeff Luhnow seek “a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization.” If one was to read between the lines of that statement they could surmise the Astros are seeking a yes man manager who does whatever the front office asks of them and does not have an opinion of their own. Rarely does that sort of micro managing create a good working environment.

As for Porter and Trembley’s former teams, the Nationals and Orioles respectively, things could not be looking better as each team holds a commanding lead in their respective divisions and seems poised for deep postseason runs.

A beltway series between the Nationals and the Orioles would be a very nice thing and the way the teams are playing it very well could be a reality. Of course there are still several teams that could prevent that from occurring but one thing is clear it should be a very fun postseason with the inclusion of some teams that have not been there in a while.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Skeeters tickets to buy and a beltway World Series to prepare for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

October Classic Starts Tonight

Tonight marks the start of the 2013 World Series pitting the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals against the American League Champion Boston Red Sox.

With the American League winning this year’s All-Star Game, home field advantage falls to the Red Sox which means that Fenway Park will be host to yet another Opening Game of the Fall Classic.

The fact that the Red Sox made it to the World Series and have home field advantage should not be that big of a surprise to anyone who paid attention to the standings this year.

For most of the season the Red Sox were the most dominant team in the American League. And as champions of the American League East they played one of the toughest schedules in all of baseball with numerous games against the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees.

It should almost be a given that the winner of the American League East goes directly to the World Series each year since the competition in the division is that tough year after year.

After winning the East the Red Sox still had to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series.

While the Red Sox were the best team in the American League for most of the season the Cardinals were setting the pace in the National League.

So while many times the best teams do not always make it to the World Series few could argue that the most dominant teams from the past season made it to the ultimate championship round this year.

And while I pretty much gave up watching baseball this season when the Rays lost in the Playoffs, I will likely tune into the World Series.

That is the magic of the World Series where people watch the games for the history and the excitement regardless of what teams they follow during the regular season.

And while I will watch the World Series I have yet to decide who I will be rooting for.

Nothing against either the Cardinals or the Red Sox but they really just are not teams that I can get excited over. I do not have ties to the New England region or the Midwest so there is no geographical link that would pull me one way or the other.

Also, can I in good faith root for the team that eliminated my team from the Playoffs? There are some that say that rooting for the team that eliminates your team allows you to say that your team lost to the eventual champion so that is a good thing.

There is another school of thought that says to root for the team that did not beat your team since one doesn’t want the team that knocked out their team to be crowned champion.

Of course there are other factors at play that would have some conspiracy theorists saying that the fact that the Red Sox are in the World Series has less to do with them playing better than the other 14 teams in the American League and more to do with the Hollywood element of what happened in Boston a few months back and the need to wrap things up with a pretty little bow.

For those who may have forgotten there was an attack during the Boston Marathon this year.

Following the attacks, the Boston Red Sox became a symbol of the region’s resolve and determination to fight back against senseless attacks.

Throughout Major League Baseball teams showed their solidarity for the people of Boston by among other things playing Sweet Caroline, a Fenway Park eighth inning staple in their ballparks as well.

As if that weren’t enough, there were even live performances by Neil Diamond pretty much everywhere you looked.

And of course there was David “Big Papi” Ortiz standing on the field at Fenway reminding people whose town it was with colorful language that any other time would have garnered a fine from the FCC for obscenity but was deemed okay as heat of the moment impassioned speech.

So with all of the factors listed above some would have just said then and there that the other American League teams were foolish if they thought that anyone other than the Red Sox would be in the World Series.

In fact I mentioned to several friends at the time how I figured that the perfect ending to the season in most people’s minds would be a Boston Red Sox Championship.

The only question remaining was which parts would Mark Wahlberg and Ben Affleck play in the inevitable movie about the Red Sox bringing the people of Boston together.

Of course the last time the Hollywood ending was put in play during the World Series it did not really go to plan.

Following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, the Yankees made it to the World Series with even the biggest of anti-Yankees fans pulling for them since they represented the region and carried the memories of both those who had perished as well as those who were trying to rebuild their lives. The Yankees were even given permission from Major League Baseball to wear special caps honoring the fallen police and fire fighters.

In the Hollywood version of the 2001 World Series the Yankees would win in four games and the nation would rejoice and start the healing as Major Rudy Giuliani declared it Yankees day.

In the actual World Series of 2001 however the Arizona Diamondbacks were victorious in seven games proving that the Hollywood ending does not always happen the way people expect it to.

Fast forward to this year and the stage is once again set for a Tinsel Town take on the Classic. Of course there is still the whole matter of needing to play the games first to see who comes out on top.

So, time will tell whether the 2013 World Series ends with a Red Sox victory and ensuing Hollywood treatment or if it is another example of the underdog team winning against the will of all of those proponents of fate.

The only thing that is certain is that there will likely be mentions of the Boston Marathon attack tonight and there will be Neil Diamond; lots and lots of Neil Diamond.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball to get ready for.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Fall’s Arrival More Obvious for Some

Yesterday was the first day of fall, or autumn if you prefer.

Fall is the time when temperatures and leaves both start to drop.

Fall is also the time when pumpkins and nutmeg make their yearly appearance in everything from pies to beverages at various restaurants.

Fall is also a time when the summer clothes get put away and the sweaters and jackets come out.

Of course despite the calendar saying that fall is here and temperatures should be falling it tends to arrive in different parts of the country at different times.

I was recently reminded of this fact over the weekend while watching some college football games.

While the fans in the stadiums of many of the games were wearing their fall best as temperatures were likely in the 60’s I was sitting in shorts and a t-shirt and experiencing 80 degrees outside.

Despite fall’s arrival throughout much of the country for Gulf Coast residents fall does not arrive until late October or early November most years.

As much as I would love to be enjoying the flavors of fall such as soups and pumpkin flavored coffees it is still way to hot to even think about any of that here. With temperatures still forecast to hit the 90’s this week the calendar telling me it is the first day of fall does not really mean anything to me.

So while I still need to wait a bit for the fall temperatures to arrive there is no lack of excitement on the baseball schedule to keep me entertained while I wait for the autumn chill.

Time will tell if DJ Kitty and the Tampa Bay Rays make it back to the postseason for the for the fourth time in five years. Photo R. Anderson
Time will tell if DJ Kitty and the Tampa Bay Rays make it back to the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
Photo R. Anderson

Starting today there are only seven days left in the regular season of Major League Baseball as teams jockey for position to be included in the Fall Classic known as the World Series.

Some teams have already clinched a spot in the postseason while others are still battling for their ticket to the postseason.

Perhaps no where is that neck and neck race more intense than in the American League Wildcard race.

The Tampa Bay Rays hold a half game lead over the Cleveland Indians for the top spot in the Wildcard race. So, if the season ended today the Rays would host the Indians in a one-game winner takes all wildcard showdown at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

Of course, the season does not end today and the Rays have seven games left to play in the regular season. After finishing the series with the Baltimore Orioles today the Rays have three games against the Yankees in New York and three games north of the border against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Indians have six games left in the season with a home set against the Chicago White Sox and a road series against the Minnesota Twins.

The Tampa Bay Rays are seven games away from getting to add to their banner collection. Photo R. Anderson
The Tampa Bay Rays are seven games away from getting to add to their banner collection.
Photo R. Anderson

On paper the Rays have a more difficult schedule remaining over the Indians who were able to pad their push to the Wildcard with a sweep over the Houston “yes, we really are still a Major League team” Astros.

World Series Banners
Photo R. Anderson

The Texas Rangers who were the second Wildcard team until a few days ago will hope that a series against the Astros helps restore their postseason hopes as they have been in a tailspin in Kansas City falling to the Royals on consecutive days.

While the Wildcard round certainly allows more teams to make the postseason it certainly makes for some long fall nights watching the games and pulling for teams to win and others to lose.

So while the rest of the country takes out those fall sweaters and windbreakers I will be rolling out the Tampa Bay Rays rally t-shirts and polo shirts and watching a lot of games on television.

Once the dust is settled and the playoff teams have been identified there will be time to think about all of those fall scents and flavors. Until then it is still time for the Boys of Summer to play a little longer.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about the flavors of fall has me craving a pumpkin flavored beverage.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson