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Albert Makes History at Chavez Ravine
ALSO: DAN'S FEARLESS PICKS FOR 2022 POSTSEASON
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Did you know…
The Dodgers in 2022: most wins in franchise history, fewest runs allowed in the majors, most runs scored (by nearly a quarter-run per game!), highest run differential since the 1939 Yankees (and nearly the highest in modern NL history) . . .
The #Braves are the only team in MLB that was not swept this season. They're the sixth team since 1990 to go an entire season without being swept and the first to do so in a full season since the 2004 Braves. NL East champs for the fifth straight year, they never lost more than three games in a row . . .
Since the 1969 advent of divisional play, this is Atlanta’s 22nd title, most in MLB history . . .
The vanquished New York Mets, who led the NL East for 175 days, are the first team since the 1995 Angels to enjoy a lead of 10 1/2 games (or more) and not finish first . . .
According to Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Fenway South, the spring training grounds 12 miles inland from the Florida coast, and its stadium, JetBlue Park, was spared the worst from Hurricane Ian and Red Sox staff in the area was safe as well . . .
Atlanta outfielder Michael Harris II, NL Rookie of the Month three times after his May 28 promotion to the majors, closed with a strong September, batting .324 with six home runs, 19 RBIs, five doubles and four steals and helping the Braves go 20-8 to storm back and take the lead in the NL East . . .
Luis Severino of the Yankees averaged 97.8 mph with his fastball while throwing seven hitless innings against Texas in his third start back from the injured list.
Witnessing History: Albert Hits #700
By Dan Freedman
On a Saturday afternoon in 2002, I walked into Pacific Bell Park to watch a pre-game montage of Barry Bonds’ milestone home runs, culminating with #600, which Bonds had reached the night before. I was 18 hours too late to witness history. And when Bonds proceeded to go 0-1 with three walks, I didn’t even get a chance to see #601.
When I ventured into Dodger Stadium a few Friday nights ago, I had a hope – but not a ton of confidence – that this time I would be luckier. Truth be told, I didn’t really believe Albert Pujols had a chance to hit two home runs on a cool(ish) night at Chavez Ravine. I figured he might get one, at which point we would have seen history, but all of us in attendance would have been left on the cusp of immortality.
In my years going to ballgames across the country, I have been lucky enough to see some pretty cool things – many of which I didn’t expect. Dennis Martinez throwing a perfect game on a scalding Sunday afternoon; Big Papi hitting a walk-off dinger at Fenway; the wind playing tricks at Candlestick; a Justin Turner walk-off in the NLCS; my son catching a foul ball at Comerica Park; the longest World Series game ever played; and a wild 10-inning, 13-12 World Series Game 5 in Houston. Not to mention seeing my beloved Red Sox clinching the World Series with Manny Machado bending the knee.
Many of these moments were jaw-dropping and scream-inducing. Many had me leaving the park with a perma-grin that could not be wiped off for hours if not days. But what I witnessed a few Friday nights ago was something else. It was surprising, but not totally unexpected. From 2001 to 2010, there may not have been a better, more consistent hitter on the planet than Albert Pujols. And even when that run ended, he posted six additional seasons with an OPS+ between 113 and 148.
But when the mighty fall, they fall hard. Since 2017, Pujols has been a shell of himself, and that of an average ballplayer. When the Angels released Albert in May of 2021, many thought that was the end of the line –- a Hall of Fame career ending with a whimper. But the Dodgers – as they so often do – breathed new life into someone else’s castoff, and got the most out of Pujols’ aging bat. In 189 at-bats over 85 games for the Dodgers, Pujols socked 11 home runs and posted a 99 OPS+. But, more importantly, in his new role as “Tio Albert,” he re-found his love of the game.
Going into 2022, signing back with the Cardinals, we all wondered if Albert Pujols could –- like Billy Chapel, his fictional counterpart -– “push the sun back up in the sky and give us more day of summer.”
For the first half of the season, he couldn’t. Through July 2nd, Pujols was hitting .192 with four dingers and a .325 slug. At that point, forget Alex Rodriguez, forget 700, all we were hoping for was an ending slightly better than Willie Mays falling down in the Shea Stadium outfield.
But then something happened. Maybe it was Independence Day BBQ in St. Louis, or maybe Albert just began guzzling from a fountain of youth at the Gateway Geyser.
Either way, as Ben Linbergh wrote about, from July 4th to the end of the season, Albert hit .321, and pounded 20 home runs with a .695 slug. To bastardize Vin Scully twice in the same paragraph, when the Cardinals arrived in Los Angeles on September 23rd, what once seemed impossible, became improbable, became possible, and then simply became.
Prior to the game, Albert and Yadier Molina were honored and gifted with custom Dodger golf bags. Albert addressed the Dodgers, thanking them for giving him a new lease on life last season (after the game he was quoted as saying: “If they didn’t give me that opportunity [last season] I don’t think I would be sitting here today or you [would] have seen history tonight”), and thanking the Dodger fans for embracing him after his ignominious departure from the team to the south.
When Albert batted in the first inning, everyone stood, and nearly everyone held a camera hoping to document history. Alas, it was not to be.
Albert didn’t disappoint when he came to the plate in the top of the third, crushing a 1-2 fastball more than 400 feet into the left-field bleachers. The place exploded. The Dodgers had already clinched the NL West, so the fans didn’t care about the score. And when Pujols pointed to the sky upon touching home plate, we all collectively did the math: it’s the third inning, he potentially has three more at-bats. Could he? Would he? Was that too much to ask?
In the last 49 years, only 42,256 fans have seen a 700th home run in person. That was the attendance in San Francisco 18 years ago when Bonds joined the Hammer and the Babe. Now an additional 50,041 sat on the edge of their seats hoping to join a pretty exclusive club of fans.
Albert didn’t keep us waiting long. In the top of the fourth, after the Dodgers swapped lefty Andrew Heaney for righty Phil Bickford, Albert blasted a cement-mixer slider high and deep into the Los Angeles night. This one did not travel nearly as far as the first, but there was something romantic about the towering nature of the drive.
No. 699 was hit so hard and so fast, we didn’t have time to appreciate it –- we just hollered and watched Pujols circle the bases.
But No. 700 was wholly different. It was majestic; it gracefully hung in the air, allowing us to track its flight, to give us hope, to build our anticipation, and ultimately to exult in its final resting place in the glove of an ecstatic fan in the first row of the left-field pavilion. If a professional athlete and his fans can ever truly share a moment, the arc of this particular home run allowed for it to happen.
I cannot say that the Dodger Stadium crowd reached the same volume level as it did in after JT’s shot in the 2017 NLCS, or Max Muncy’s in the 2018 World Series, but it was damn close. If you love the roar of the crowd, the shower of cheers (to paraphrase Vinny, once again), then you could not help but be delighted by “what we just saw” (h/t Jack Buck).
Upon crossing home plate, Pujols sprinted to the backstop to give a high 10 to Adrian Beltre, a fellow Dominican and dear friend, who made sure he had a literal front-row seat for history. And then he offered a bunch of high fives before fully embracing Yadi –- his teammate for nine seasons —both of whom are enjoying a pretty righteous send-off.
Tim Kurkjian, the Hall of Fame baseball writer, likes to say that what he loves about baseball is that you never know what you are going to see when you go to the ballpark.
Those of us fortunate enough to be at Dodger Stadium on September 23, 2022 got the chance to witness history; it was not something we ever thought we would see, and something we as baseball fans may never see again.
Dan Freedman is the Executive Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs at Lionsgate Films. His writing about baseball stems from his unique (?) perspective on the game, his desire for people to love the game as much as he does, and how the game often relates to life. His musings can be found at www.baseballcraziness.com. Follow him on Twitter @dffreedman or write email@example.com.
Picking the Winners Of Every Postseason Series
By Dan Schlossberg
Bobby Cox used to call the best-of-five Division Series “a crapshoot.” Now that the playoffs have been expanded to a football-like tournament, that view could be expanded to the new Wild-Card round too.
Picking winners in advance is an impossible task. Four teams reached 100 wins this season, with the Yankees missing by one, and a strong case could be made for each to reach or even win the World Series.
That being said, no world champion has repeated since the 2000 Yankees won their third in a row. And no National League team has gone back-to-back since Cincinnati’s 1976 Big Red Machine.
After topping 100 wins for the first time since 2003, the Atlanta Braves would like to become the next. They’re a lot better than the 2021 team that won 88 games, then went 11-6 in the postseason to claim their first world title since 1995 — and just the fourth in franchise history.
The youngest team in the National League, the Braves are virtually certain to have both the Rookie of the Year and the runner-up in Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider. If Strider is over his oblique injury and Ozzie Albies also returns from a fractured pinky, the Braves could be unstoppable again.
It’s worth noting that Ronald Acuña, Jr. does his best work when buddy Albies is also in the lineup. Strange but true.
So here’s how we see this postseason, with strong advantages to home teams (all series listed by where they start):
Wild Card Series (best-of-3)
Tampa Bay at Cleveland (AL) — The Guardians, the AL’s youngest team, are also the hottest team. This best-of-five battle of low-budget contenders should have low scores but good speed and defense. Cleveland in 2.
Seattle at Toronto (AL) — Out of the postseason since 2001, the Mariners remain the only team that has never won a pennant. Not this year either, since the Jays will overpower them. Toronto in 3.
Philadelphia at St. Louis (NL) — The Phils have more power but a bad bullpen and erratic defense. The Cards offer speed, rock-solid relief, and a hometown crowd cheering the last stand of Pujols, Molina, and maybe Wainwright. St. Louis in 3.
San Diego at New York (NL) — Even if they hold Jacob de Grom for the next round, the 101-win Mets are a contact-hitting team with solid starters and a magnificent closer. New York in 2.
Division Series (best-of-5)
Cleveland at New York (AL) — No way the Tribe contains Aaron Judge, Gioncarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo at Yankee Stadium. New York in 4.
Toronto at Houston (AL) — Lots of home runs are likely with that short wall at Minute Maid Park but the experienced Astros have better overall pitching. Houston in 4.
St. Louis at Atlanta (NL) — The Braves have better power, pitching, and experience. Atlanta in 3.
New York at Los Angeles (NL) — Those cross-country treks can be a killer. Just ask the 2021 Dodgers, who also wound up as a 100-win wild-card team. L.A. in 4.
Championship Series (best-of-7)
New York at Houston (AL) — We’ve been there, done that. Even with Aaron Judge, these Yanks don’t compare to Dusty Baker’s crew. Houston in 6.
Atlanta at Los Angeles (NL) — The Braves beat the Dodgers in 6 last year and could do it again. The superior Atlanta bullpen could be the difference. Atlanta in 7.
World Series (best-of-7)
Atlanta at Houston — The Astros had home-field advantage last year too. But the Braves produced the power, clutch hits, and lights-out relief that made the difference. Atlanta in 6 — again (Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic agrees). Still no ring for Dusty Baker as a manager despite taking five different teams into postseason play.
“I am a fan of Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani as well. I appreciate what they do and admire it. I know I can’t do it. I don’t think I have 60 homers in my body.”
— Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor
Pursuing No. 700 while Aaron Judge was chasing No. 62, Albert Pujols hit as many home runs (16) as Judge after August 14 . . .
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who has never won a Cy Young, yielded 10 homers over a six-game span to match his previous one-year high of 31 allowed but still broke Ron Guidry’s single-season club strikeout record . . .
Javy Báez signed with Detroit last winter for six years and $140 million — the biggest deal in Tigers history for a player not named Miguel Cabrera — but nearly finished the season with more errors (26) than walks . . .
Pete Alonso hit his first 40 home runs while batting fourth in the batting order . . .
With 69 hits in his first 52 games, Joey Meneses proved more productive than any rookie in the history of the Washington Nationals.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.