The Month That Was in Baseball: March 2018
Thursday, March 1
Veteran pitcher Travis Wood signed a minor league contract in hopes of making the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster. Looks like that’s not happening. After being slowly worked into action due to a finger injury sustained in an offseason hunting incident, Wood tears an ACL in the midst of a rundown against Minnesota and will miss the entire 2018 season.
Friday, March 2
A couple of quarterbacks past and present get a shot at being Mighty Casey with the bat in spring training action. As it was with Casey, it doesn’t go so well. Tim Tebow, in his second year of trying to realize big league dreams with the New York Mets, faces Washington ace Max Scherzer—and strikes out on three pitches. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson, who’s currently a star QB for the Seattle Seahawks but has minor league experience, gets a guest at-bat for the New York Yankees after being invited to camp. Against Atlanta pitcher Max Fried, Wilson works the count to 2-2 before finally whiffing to end the at-bat.
Sammy Stewart, who plied his baseball trade for ten years before descending into a dark post-baseball life, is found dead at his North Carolina home at age 63. In his first appearance in 1978, Stewart did what no other pitcher had ever done in a debut: Strike out seven straight batters for Baltimore. Three years later, he became one of the more unlikely ERA titlists when he posted a 2.32 ERA for the Orioles despite a 4-8 record during the strike-shortened season. Stewart was at his best during the 1983 postseason, tossing 9.1 scoreless innings to help give Baltimore a world title. But after his career faded out in 1987, Stewart’s life collapsed; his son died, he got hooked on crack cocaine, and he ultimately became broke and homeless. One arrest after another—nearly 50 in total—eventually led him to a six-year prison sentence. In his last few years, he rebounded through old Orioles friends and taught baseball at a local facility.
Monday, March 5
Ichiro Suzuki is going home again—not Japan, but Seattle. The Mariners, for whom Suzuki starred for from 2001-12, bring him back for a one-year deal. He’ll become only the seventh position player ever to make the roster at age 44 or older.
The St. Louis Cardinals think highly enough of sophomore shortstop Paul DeJong that they extend him for six years and $26 million, including two team options that will cover his first two years of free agency. The 24-year-old DeJong hit .285 for the Cardinals with 25 home runs in 108 games, after hitting 13 homers at Triple-A over the first few months of the season.
Tuesday, March 6
Free agent outfielder Jon Jay signs a one-year deal with Kansas City for $3 million, with incentives that could raise it to $4.5 million. Jay has proven to be a reliable (if unheralded) component for most teams he’s played for, hitting for a lifetime .288 average; he currently has played 189 straight games in the outfield with committing an error.
Wednesday, March 7
Minor league deals for veteran plyers seem to be in fashion this spring because teams can get away with making them. Among those taking this contractual route toward the possibility of major league play in 2018 are 35-year-old pitcher Ricky Nolasco, signing with the Royals after going 14-29 over the past two seasons; and 33-year-old reliever Tyler Clippard, who hooks on with Toronto. Should Clippard make the Blue Jays’ roster, it will be his eighth team in five years.
Also rumored to be headed for a minor league deal is second baseman Neil Walker, which would be a real head scratcher. While he’s slightly on the wrong side of 30 (at 32), he has shown to be a consistently good batter with decent batting averages and power—but perhaps teams are scared off by his eroding defense or the fact that he made $17 million last season and seeks to earn just as much this season.
Thursday, March 8
Free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas relinks with the incumbent Royals, signing a one-year, $5.5 million that could rise to $7.7 million if performance bonuses are met; also included is a 2019 mutual option worth $15 million, with a $1 million buyout. Moustakas had a banner year in 2017, hitting a Kansas City-record 38 home runs—but that followed six years of decidedly mixed output that discouraged teams from giving him a lucrative long-term deal.
Moustakas will be making a third of what he would have earned had he accepted the Royals’ $17.2 million qualifying offer to stay one more season last Fall. You got to wonder if Alex Cobb, Greg Holland and Lance Lynn—all pitchers who were also given qualifying offers, refused and still remain on the free agent market—are having second doubts about the choice they made.
Aaron Judge is quitting while he’s ahead. The massive slugger, who took down numerous rookie records last season for the Yankees, says that he will not participate in a second Home Run Derby during the All-Star Break, after winning in his initial appearance last year in Miami. “One and done…I don’t think I really need to go out there and do it again,” he tells reporters.
Friday, March 9
Will it play on Facebook? MLB announces that it will have 25 games broadcast exclusively on the social media site/app, earning a million dollars a pop in the process. Some say this is a way to reach younger viewers, but the average Facebook user is 40. Most of the games will be shown live on weekday afternoons, and will not be available anywhere else—even on mlb.tv.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has a new home, again. The 31-year-old two-time All-Star signs a one-year deal with Oakland for $6.5 million, making this his fourth team in less than two years, after stints in Milwaukee, Texas and Colorado.
Odd clause: Lucroy will earn an extra $500,000 on top of the $6.5 million…if the A’s trade him this season.
Saturday, March 10
A few more free-agent signings once again expose the current-day reality that players are losing the salary battles with MLB teams. Pitcher Lance Lynn ends up settling for a one-year deal at $12 million for Minnesota; he’ll make $5 million less than what the St. Louis Cardinals were will willing to give him at the end of last year when he received a qualifying offer of $17 million. Meanwhile, slugger Carlos Gonzalez—who was offered a three-year, $45 million extension by Colorado at the beginning of last season—returns to the Rockies on a one-year, $8 million deal. In Gonzalez’s case, the lesser money isn’t so much about the market as it is his decline in quality; the 32-year-old outfielder hit .262 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs in 135 games last year after averaging, .296, 26 and 86 in 127 games over seven previous seasons.
So let’s get to it. People are saying the system is broken and/or that owners are screwing players in times of records profit. But while any of those points are valid to a certain extent, there have been other factors at work this offseason when examining the relatively poor payouts to free agents:
This year’s class of free agents are weak; nobody was expecting Giancarlo Stanton money.
GMs are more focused on extending current players through their arbitration seasons and into free agency, skewing younger in an era where the 30-35 crowd is increasingly considered elderly due to a ban on amphetamines to keep them going through 162 games.
To that last point, many of the players on the free agent market are in that 30-35 age range. No team simply wants to be pay someone $20 million when they reach their mid-30s.
Many of the top free agents are represented by Scott Boras, who has a reputation for holding his players out to the 11th hour while trying to squeeze every possible contract dollar out of teams. This philosophy seems to have backfired and cost many of his clients potentially bigger contracts offered early on, as they were yawned upon by teams willing to move forward as spring training opened.
Whether baseball’s system is broken will truly be answered with next year’s free agent class, which includes potential monster deals for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado—both of whom will be 26. If neither of those two can generate big bucks with their next contract, then something is definitely amiss.
Kansas City outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who hit .255 with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs as a rookie in 2017, is suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a PED. Bonifacio was hitting .333 with five doubles and a home run in spring training, and was 50-50 to make the starting outfield for the Royals. “It really kind of made me sick to my stomach,” responds Royals manager Ned Yost.
Sunday, March 11
One of the last of the remaining prime free agents gets checked off the list as pitcher Jake Arrieta signs a three-year, $75 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The move clearly gives the Phillies relevance for the 2018 season and gives hope to their fans of a team that has spent years scuffling in an attempt to regain its winning footing.
Monday, March 12
The world champion Houston Astros are feted at the White House by President Donald Trump, in a ceremony attended by all but a few of the members of the 2017 championship roster. Notably absent is Carlos Correa, who’s busy helping get supplies to his native Puerto Rico—and can’t be too happy about the wretchedly slow response by Washington to help rebuild the island after a devastating hurricane last September. Meanwhile, those who do attend light up the Blogosphere only because the Blogosphere needs lighting up—focusing on the perturbed-looking expressions of Astros star Jose Altuve, standing directly behind Trump.
Strike Neil Walker off the free agent list. The second baseman signs a one-year, $4 million deal to play for the Yankees and will likely play every day unless high-ranked prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are looking too good to stay in the minors. Walker’s 2018 wages will be less than a quarter of the $17.2 million he made between the Pirates and Mets last season, after accepting Pittsburgh’s qualifying offer at the end of 2016; in 2017, he hit .265 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs in 111 games.
The Orioles, who have been struggling at the gate in spite of the presence of still-beautiful Oriole Park at Camden Yards, announces a new policy in which children nine years of age or under can attend for free. There are caveats; Each free child patron must be accompanied by a paying adult, and the seats only apply to the upper deck. Still, it’s a nice thought and should help to boost attendance.
Tuesday, March 13
For those of you who hoping to strike it rich after laying down money on the deep odds that Tim Tebow would crack the Mets’ Opening Day roster, sorry. The former star quarterback, who’s trying for a second year to make it in baseball, is sent down by the Mets to the Double-A Birmingham Rumble Ponies after garnering just one hit in 18 spring training at-bats. At least that will be a step up for Tebow, who played last season at the Class-A level.
Wednesday, March 14
Minor League Baseball announces that it will introduce the runner-on-second rule in extra innings in an effort to prevent marathon games. The rule, which Major League Baseball has also been audibly considering (and used in the 2017 World Baseball Classic) states that a runner will automatically placed at second to start each half-inning of if a game goes overtime. Additionally, the pitch clock already in place in the minors will be reduced to 15 seconds when there is no one on base.
Please spare us of this virus. The runner-on-second rule is a desperate and artificial attempt to keep games from going too long, and it goes against the spirit of what baseball is all about. Plus, what’s the first thing a batter will do with the go-ahead runner on second and nobody out? He’ll try and bunt him over to third. How exciting. Might as well try a home run derby instead—or better yet, how about penalty kicks?
Thursday, March 15
Ed Charles, who had a solid early career with the Kansas City A’s and won a ring in his final season as a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets, passes away at age 84. It took the Daytona Beach-born infielder, an African-American, 10 years to get out of the minors—most of them spent in the South where blacks endured major verbal abuse in racially charged times—before finally debuting in the majors at age 29, but he put together an impressive rookie effort with a .288 average, 17 home runs and 74 RBIs for the A’s. But that’s as good as it got statistically for Charles, as he steadily declined each year until 1969, when he basically rode the bench and hit .207 for the eventual champion Mets. Charles enjoyed poetry and put it to good use during and after his baseball career.
Also sadly leaving us is legendary college baseball coach Augie Garrido, who’s #1 on the all-time NCAA list with 1,975 wins. Garrido coached for a remarkable 48 years, beginning with San Francisco State in 1969 and retiring in 2016 following a 20-year stint with the University of Texas. He piloted five of his teams to national titles—two with the Longhorns and three with Cal-State Fullerton. Among those who played under Garrido’s tutelage was Mike Krukow and current major leaguers Brandon Belt, Huston Street and Corey Knebel. Garrido was 79.
Friday, March 16
AL MVP Jose Altuve, owed a relatively paltry $12.5 million over the next two seasons by the Astros, is given a five-year extension by Houston that will pay him $151 million from 2020-24. This makes it the most expensive contract in Astros history, surpassing the six-year, $100 million deal given to Carlos Lee last decade.
Also extended, for seven years and $66 million, is Cincinnati third baseman Eugenio Suarez. The 26-year-old Venezuelan native is coming off a strong year in which he hit .260 but with 26 homers, 82 RBIs and 84 walks. There is a team option for an eighth year (2025) at $15 million.
The Phillies’ signing of Jake Arrieta appears to have some prescience to it. Jerad Eickhoff, who struggled with some injury last season, will be out until at least the end of April after straining a lat muscle in a spring game.
This is where we are in baseball these days: Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler responds positively to the news of Eickhoff’s injury, because he believes it will guarantee that his arm won’t be ‘overused.’ “It’s possible the innings are limited on the front end and then in September, October, he’s strong and healthy and prepared to go through a full season,” Kapler says. Whatever happened to the good ol’ days when pitchers would build up arm strength and throw 200, 250 innings with no problem?
Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who started the year with Philadelphia and finished it with Baltimore—and finished with an overall 8-11 record and 5.43 ERA—signs a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals. The 30-year-old right-hander and 2011 AL Rookie of the Year made $17.2 million in 2017 after agreeing to accept the Phillies’ qualifying offer after the 2016 season.
Also signing a minor league deal (with Toronto) is infielder Danny Espinosa, who just a few short years earlier spurned a nine-figure extension with the Nationals. Believe us: He’s still kicking himself for that.
Saturday, March 17
Sunday, March 18
Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco, one of the Twins’ rising stars, is suspended 80 games for a positive PED test. The reactions are as expected: The Twins express disappointment, while Polanco claims he unknowingly ingested the drug, Stanozolol. “The substance that I requested from my athletic trainer in the Dominican Republic and consented to take was a combination of vitamin B12 and an iron supplement, something that is not unusual or illegal for professional athletes to take,” Polanco said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, what I was given was not that supplement and I take full responsibility for what is in my body.”
The moral of the story is and continues to be: If you don’t know what your trainer is giving you—especially if he’s based in the Dominican Republic—start.
Monday, March 19
It doesn’t make sense unless you know the rules; Ronald Acuna Jr., baseball’s top prospect who’s been killing it for the Atlanta Braves all spring after beating up the minors and the Arizona Fall League last season, is being sent down to the minors to start the season. Why? By not calling him up until mid-April, the Braves will be able to add an extra year of team control over him. It’s the same scheme used by Tampa Bay on Evan Longoria in 2008, and by the Cubs on Kris Bryant in 2015. Acuna is hitting .432 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 44 spring at-bats.
The Dodgers literally suffer a bad break when third baseman Justin Turner, one of their most reliable bats, has his wrist fractured after being struck by a pitch thrown by Oakland’s Kendall Graveman during a Cactus League game. Initial assessments suggest that Turner will miss only two weeks, but it’s more likely to somewhere between one and two months.
Philadelphia first baseman Tommy Joseph, made expendable by the Phillies’ offseason signing of Carlos Santana, is claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers. Joseph’s two-year career numbers suggests he’s a low-average, high-powered slugger—and he should fit right in with the Rangers, who have a few of those types (Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor) already on board.
The New York Times reports that President Donald Trump has signed into law, as part of his wide-ranging “tax cuts,” a provision that actually adds capital gains levies on baseball trades, whereas such taxes previously did not exist. This could potentially discourage teams from making midseason trades—though there’s confusion over how the value, and therefore the amount of tax, would be calculated on any exchange. MLB says it will lobby Congress to keep Baseball exempt from the provision.
Tuesday, March 20
Ex-Tampa Bay pitcher Alex Cobb finally signs as Baltimore nabs him for four years and $57 million. The move gives the Orioles one more badly needed upgrade to a rotation that’s been lacking over the past few years.
Ex-pitcher Greg Reynolds, whose borderline baseball career essentially ended in 2015 when he had his hand broken by a naked, LSD-fueled assailant near his Half Moon Bay, California home, wins a $2.3 million settlement. Due to pay is the assailant and a neighbor who held an “acid party” that led to the man’s bizarre behavior.
Wednesday, March 21
The Hall of Fame announces that it will no longer use the Indians’ Chief Wahoo icon on future plaques. This, after the recently inducted Jim Thome demanded that Wahoo be kept off his.
Thursday, March 22
Minimum wage is apparently too much for minor league operations. The Save America’s Pastime Act, part of a $1.3 trillion spending bill approved by Congress, will allow minor league clubs to no longer pay overtime to players who log more than 40 hours of work a week. It also supersedes several lawsuits brought against the minors by players demanding better pay. The effort to exempt the minors was said to be orchestrated by MLB, which paid $1.3 million in D.C. lobbying fees in 2017.
Don’t tell the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies that it’s spring training. The two teams get testy with one another as hitters get repeatedly thrown at, leading to five ejections including three pitchers, Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler and Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson. Detroit wins the game 6-2.
Friday, March 23
The San Francisco Giants, already without #3 rotation guy Jeff Samardzija for at least four weeks with shoulder issues, suffer an even worse loss today. Ace Madison Bumgarner, in his last Cactus League start, is hit on his pitching hand by a comebacker from the Royals’ Whit Merrifield and suffers a fractured pinky. Bumgarner is likely to miss at least six weeks.
This is not good news for a Giants team that’s trying to bounce back from 98 losses in 2017 and has the Dodgers scheduled 10 times in April.
Wayne Huizenga, the original owner of the Florida Marlins who became vilified when he completely tore apart his team after winning the 1997 World Series, dies at the age of 80. Huizenga also owned hockey’s Florida Panthers from 1993-2001, and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins from 1993-2009—but he is mostly remembered for building up a virtual All-Star lineup for the 1997 Marlins, who delivered with a seven-game triumph over Cleveland in the 1997 Fall Classic. But rather than absorb the celebration, Huizenga bitterly complained of losing millions and not getting a new ballpark—and abruptly trashed the team just before selling it for $150 million in 1998.
Saturday, March 24
The Atlanta Braves cut veteran lefty Scott Kazmir, who didn’t pitch in 2017 and whose once feared fastball has been barely topping out in the upper 80s this spring. As a result, the Braves will eat the $17.6 million they owe Kazmir in 2018.
Kazmir was part of a peculiar trade back in December in which he was packaged with Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson from the Dodgers to Atlanta in exchange for Matt Kemp. It looked like a bad deal for the Braves then, and it looks even worse now; they’re paying roughly $30 million more for the players they received, and two of them—Kazmir and Gonzalez—are no longer with the team.
The final days of spring training continue to be hazardous to those in uniform. Boston ace Chris Sale takes a liner to the hip in his final tune-up, but insists he will be ready for Opening Day; meanwhile in Arizona, Rangers coach and former major leaguer Howard Johnson takes a lined shot to the side of the head while standing in the dugout during a spring game. He is taken off on a stretcher and sent to a hospital where he is said to have a fractured cheekbone.
Sunday, March 25
It’s doubly good news for Phillies prospect Scott Kingery. Not only does he make the Opening Day roster, but the Phillies think so highly of him, they give him a six-year, $23 million contract—making him only the second player to ever receive a major league extension before playing his first game at the big-league level. The deal includes three team options from 2024-26 which, if fully realized, could bring Kingery another $41 million. The second baseman, who turns 24 at the end of April, hit .304 with 26 home runs, 65 RBIs, 103 runs and 29 steals split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017; this spring he batted .392 with four homers and four steals.
Hopefully Kingery will do much better than the only other player to receive a guaranteed, multi-year contract before logging a major league at-bat, Jon Singleton—who’s struggled with sub-.200 averages and recreational drug issues since being given a five-year, $10 million deal by Houston in 2014.
Former major league slugger Albert Belle, who’s dealt with anger and substance abuse issues over the years. Is arrested on numerous counts of indecent exposure, DUI and extreme DUI (that’s 0.15 on the blood-alcohol scale) after attending a Cactus League game.
Monday, March 26
The Yankees’ 2018 version of Murderer’s Row gets a bit less lethal. First baseman Greg Bird, whose powerful bat and imposing frame was hoped to protect fellow big guns Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in the New York lineup, is expected to miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the season after undergoing ankle surgery. The disabled list is nothing new for the 25-year-old Bird; he missed all of 2016 and parts of the 2017 campaign to injury.
The lock-up-the-youngsters trend continues as the Diamondbacks extend shortstop Ketel Marte for five years and $24 million. Two additional team options could reap the 24-year-old Marte another $22 million, three years into his scheduled free agency. Marte hit .452 in 42 spring at-bats.
Fifteen years after being fired by the Giants under less than friendly circumstances, Dusty Baker returns to the organization as a special adviser to CEO Larry Baer. Baker managed the Giants for 10 years and helped the team to a NL pennant in the last of those seasons in 2002—but was fired after a simmering feud with former owner Peter Magowan boiled over.
As the regular season nears, the roll call of Opening Day payrolls reveals that the Boston Red Sox have the most expensive roster at $234 million, followed by the Giants ($206 million), Dodgers ($186 million), Cubs ($183 million) and Nationals ($181 million). Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees rank seventh at $166 million—their lowest standing since 1992. Overall, 21 teams are now over the $100 million mark; bringing up the rear are the Oakland A’s ($67 million) and Chicago White Sox ($70 million).
Tuesday, March 27
It’s déjà Jr. at Montreal as the Blue Jays host the annual “wouldn’t it be nice to see MLB back in Quebec” exhibition. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whose Hall-of-Fame father played in Montreal from 1996-2003, belts a two-out, ninth-inning home run to give Toronto a 1-0 walk-off victory over St. Louis before 26,000 at Olympic Stadium. The younger Guerrero, who just turned 19, has hit .305 in 181 minor league games to date and will begin the season in Double-A.
Oakland’s tall, fireballing pitching prospect A.J. Puk, who some believe to be the second coming of Randy Johnson, instead becomes the second A’s starting pitcher this month to undergo Tommy John surgery, with Jharel Cotton having already gone under the knife.
Wednesday, March 28
Welcome home, Salvador Perez—and be careful with that suitcase. Oops! That’s right; on the eve of Opening Day, the Royals’ All-Star catcher suffers a sprained ligament in his left knee while trying to carry a suitcase up a stairway. He is initially ruled out for four-to-six weeks. Drew Butera, a 34-year-old career back-up catcher with a lifetime .203 batting average, will fill in to start the season.
Thursday, March 29
The 2018 regular season begins with all 30 teams scheduled to play—except there are rainouts at Detroit (for the Tigers and Pirates) and Cincinnati (for the Reds and Nationals). Had those games not been postponed, it would have marked the first time in 50 years that every major league team all began play on the same day.
The Yankees’ new iteration of Murderer’s Row gets off to a lethal start in Toronto. First-year Yankee Giancarlo Stanton belts two home runs and a double, and sophomore slugger Aaron Judge adds two hits including a double as New York rolls over the Blue Jays, 6-1. Only one other Yankee—Roger Maris, in 1960—had enjoyed a multi-homer game in his pinstriped debut.
For the Blue Jays, Stanton and Judge may be the least of their problems; All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson shows an utter lack of velocity in his throws to first as it’s feared he’s suffering from a “dead arm.” If that isn’t depression enough for Toronto fans, there’s this: Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who seemingly can’t stay healthy for two days in a row, is placed on the 60-day disabled list with bones spurs in both feet.
The Marlins, Stanton’s former team, know they has a tougher opponent on tap than the University of Miami team they routed 22-2 a few days earlier in their spring finale as the Cubs come to help kick off the season in Miami. Sure enough, Chicago jumps on Miami starter Jose Urena, who allows a first-pitch home run to Ian Happ and later in the inning hits three Cubs to tie a major league record. The Cubs net four runs in the frame, then pull away late to defeat the Marlins, 9-4.
In Arlington, the defending world champion Astros get off to a solid start with a 4-1 victory over the Rangers. Contributing is Justin Verlander, who throws six shutout innings, while George Springer becomes the first major leaguer ever to hit leadoff home runs on Opening Day in consecutive seasons. (It’s also his fifth straight game with a homer, if you include last year’s World Series.)
The Astros field an unusual defensive alignment when the Rangers’ all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo comes to bat; third baseman Alex Bregman moves to left and becomes a fourth outfielder, while the three other infielders are positioned to the right of second. Despite having the entire left side of the infield to do as he pleases, Gallo tries to fire away and ends up going hitless in four at-bats. The moral of this story: Gallo needs a crash course in bunting.
After spotting Kansas City four first-inning runs in the first inning, the Chicago White Sox roar back and then some—blasting an Opening Day record-tying six homers, including three from DH Matt Davidson, to pound the Royals on the road, 14-7. Only the Mets, in their 1988 opener against Montreal, had previously put six over the fence; Davidson’s hat trick matches similar Opening Day feats by George Bell (1988), Tuffy Rhodes (1994) and Dmitri Young (2005). With the exception of Rhodes, all three-homer efforts were against the Royals.
Davidson is also the first White Sox DH with three homers in a game, making the team the last in the AL to achieve such a hat trick.
The last major free agent is pulled off the market as St. Louis signs closer Greg Holland to a one-year, $14 million deal. It’s a somewhat essential move for the Cardinals, who are without a legit closer after an injury to veteran Luke Gregerson—who some believe wasn’t a prime choice for the ninth inning to begin with.
The popular and durable Rusty Staub, who played 23 seasons in the majors for a number of teams and amassed 2,716 career hits, passes away at the age of 73. Debuting at age 18 for a 1963 Houston team that included fellow rookies Jim Wynn and Joe Morgan, Staub evolved into a tough out—hitting .333 with a NL-high 44 doubles for the Astros in 1967. He became a matinee idol with the expansion Montreal Expos, setting career highs in homers (30) and walks (112) in 1970 and gaining the beloved nickname “Le Grand Orange” after his carrot-colored hair. Moving on to the New York Mets in 1972, Staub saw his only postseason action in 1973 by going 3-for-15 in the NLCS—all three hits were home runs—and 11-for-26 in the Mets’ seven-game World Series defeat to Oakland. Staub later became a dependable DH for Detroit in the late 1970s, and after brief spells back at Montreal and Texas returned to New York where he served as a pinch-hitter all the way to his retirement in 1985. He is the only major leaguer to collect at least 500 hits for four different teams.
Friday, March 30
The defending NL champion Dodgers are déjà screwed by the Giants and second baseman Joe Panik, who for the second day in a row goes deep to give San Francisco the only run it needs to win at Los Angeles, 1-0. It’s the first time that a team has won its first two games of a season by 1-0 scores since 1943, when the Cincinnati Reds got by using the deadened balata ball put in play by baseball as materials ran scarce in World War II. For Panik, he becomes the first player ever to homer in consecutive games—at any time of the year—won 1-0 by his team.
After being postponed the day before, the Pirates and Tigers get it on at Detroit and put on quite a wild show. After scoring twice in the eighth to tie the game at 6-6, the Pirates rack up four more runs in the ninth—but then give them right back as the Tigers take advantage of erratic Pittsburgh closer Felipe Rivero (four runs allowed on a hit and three walks) to send it into overtime. Detroit thinks it has it won in the 10th when JaCoby Jones’ single brings home Nick Castellanos—but as Tigers players whoop it up, celebrate and hug one another on the field, umpires reverse the call at home, call Castellanos out and the game resumes, leading to the ejection of angered Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire in his first game as Tigers skipper. In the top of the 13th, Gregory Polanco’s three-run homer decides it as Pittsburgh grabs a 13-10 win.
One strike away from defeat at San Diego, the Milwaukee Brewers bounce back via Ryan Braun’s three-run blast—on a 0-2 count, no less—to overcome the Padres, 8-6.
The Marlins get in the win column, but they literally have to make twice the required effort against the Cubs to do so. After each team exchanges single runs in the third, they’ll both remain scoreless all the way to the 17th when Miguel Rojas’ RBI single gives the Marlins a 2-1 triumph. Not getting the win but earning great satisfaction is Miami reliever Jarlin Garcia, who tosses six extra innings of one-hit shutout ball.
Saturday, March 31
Minnesota’s Kyle Gibson has a no-hitter going through six innings at Baltimore—but it’s a grind, throwing 103 pitches and walking five. For that, he is removed from the game and is deprived of a shot at nine no-hit frames. Twins relievers take the no-no until two outs in the eighth and settle for a 6-2 win over the Orioles.
The Blue Jays avoid a third straight loss to begin the season as they outpace the Yankees at Toronto, 5-3. Adding insurance with the final run in the eighth is the Jays’ Kevin Pillar, who becomes the first American Leaguer since 1996—and the first Blue Jay, ever—to steal second, third and home in the same inning.
Stay healthy, Adam Eaton. That’s what the Nationals are hoping after they squash the Reds at Cincinnati, 13-7, behind Eaton’s five hits (including two doubles and a home run) and four runs. Last season, the outfielder had scored 24 times in his first 23 games before suffering a season-ending ACL tear.
In Boston’s 3-2 win at Tampa Bay, the Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts homers and doubles to become only the second player to begin the season with multiple extra-base hits in each of a team’s first three games. Adrian Gonzales was the first, playing for the 2015 Dodgers.
It’s a rough night for the Phillies—and rookie manager Gabe Kapler, in particular—in Atlanta as the Braves roll to a 15-2 rout, notching the most runs and hits (19) at SunTrust Park since beginning play there a year earlier. Philadelphia starter Vince Velasquez lasts only 2.2 innings, and when Kapler comes out to remove him, he realizes with embarrassment that he has no one warming up to replace him; Hoby Milner is rushed into the game and ordered by the umpires to shorten his warmup routine, as Phillies fans and media swarm the blogosphere wondering just how Kapler ever got hired. Not helping is the performance of the relievers, and by the eighth Kapler faces a new problem: He has no one available left in the bullpen, so he resorts to using infielder Pedro Florimon to pitch in the eighth (allowing two runs on a walk and home run).
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