Those exhilarating Winter Meetings

Remember all those big trade rumors that involved the Mets and Yankees attached to the Marlins over 24 hours ago?!?!?!?!?! Well, it’s come and passed as quickly as all the heated discussion over a BLOCKBUSTER between the crosstown rivals involving Noah Syndergaard, Miguel Andujar, J.T. Realmuto and top prospects.

So much for Syndergaard landing in the Bronx with Realmuto and Andujar going to Queens. It would’ve been juicy like a good steak that’s medium rare with all the trimmings. It would be like going from Emily Ratajkowski to Heather Locklear. You get the picture.

Instead, baseball fans in this town are left with the fantasy over reality. Syndergaard a Yankee with the Bronx Bombers pursuing him aggressively would be intriguing because it involves a favorite Mets starter that hasn’t quite delivered on his lofty potential. He’s an ace in name only. If he can stay healthy in 2019 and pitch to expectations, then Syndergaard becomes Synder- God in Citi Field.

As for Andujar and Realmuto, their names remain mentioned at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, which has been more fold than royal flush. The chips remain hot as GM’s work the phones and speak to teams and free agents at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Sin City.

The Marlins know they must trade Realmuto. The much coveted NL All-Star catcher who has so much value due to his defense behind the plate. Plus his bat is good for a batting average around .300 with double digits in home runs and between 70 to 80 runs batted in.

There aren’t many more complete backstops in the game. So, I understand why there are so many suitors. Derek Jeter drives a hard bargain. He was a lot of positive things as a Yankee in the Big Apple. But that was as a heady future Hall of Famer on the field. As a owner, Number 2 is ruthless. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Even if that means ruffling a few feathers with the potential threat of dealing Realmuto to a Mets rival inside the NL East, that’s who Jeter is now.

Call it heartless, but he won’t be doing anyone any favors after not getting enough in return for the All-Star outfield that now features two MVPs with Christian Yelich taking home the award in the NL by carrying the Brewers to the Central Division title and beyond. Giancarlo Stanton will enter Year Two with the Yankees knowing there will be more pressure from the fans following a disappointing October. It happens. See Rodriguez, Alex.

Marcell Ozuna was a little underwhelming in his first year with the Cardinals. Now, he’ll get help in the middle of the order with former Diamondback first base slugger Paul Goldschmidt joining St. Louis due to Arizona’s sell off. They also lost Patrick Corbin to the Nationals for a hefty price of $140 million over six years. They beat out Brian Cashman and the Phillies, who rolled the dice on Andrew McCutchen for three years and $50 million. Why? I would’ve gone only two on him. He’s on the other side of 30 and won’t get better.

So, is that the big move that MLB Network insiders Jon Heyman, Mark De Rosa, Ken Rosenthal and eternal kill joy Joel Sherman had on their phantom deck of cards? To say it’s been more like a bad day of craps than hitting it big at the slots would be putting it mildly.

Where will big fi$h Bryce Harper and Manny Machado land? It’s doubtful we’ll know until mid to late January. Both want to get paid. Plus Scott Boras is involved with Harper. They’re dreaming of the sucker who’ll give the former NL MVP $40 million per over 10 years. I say sucker because those type of long-term investments usually don’t end well. Especially for that length. Only Mike Trout is worth it with maybe Mookie Betts right behind. Max Scherzer is a rarity. Think Albert Pujols and newest Met Robinson Cano.

Harper is a enormous talent who can potentially hit 45-50 homers in the right situation. It’s amazing to think he’s only topped 40 once, doing so in his MVP year back in 2015 at age 22. He’s driven in 100 once and gone over .300 twice in his career. The soon to be former National will break the bank. Whether it’s in Philly, Los Angeles with the Dodgers or even a surprise franchise like the White Sox unless Cashman’s denial of interest was a smokescreen, there’ll be a lot more scrutiny at his next stop.

He is still only 26. There should be quite a few peak seasons ahead for the big lefty bat with the gigantic Vegas ego and personality to match. In some aspects, he reminds me of a former Yankee who played right field when I was too young to realize that the Bronx was Burning. Yes. I went there. But Reggie Jackson had a lot more credentials before he arrived in New York and stirred the drink to become Mr. October. He was big time for the Athletics dynasty in the early 1970’s.

George Steinbrenner admitted his biggest mistake was letting Reggie leave around the time Dave Winfield arrived following the crushing World Series loss to the Dodgers in ’81. Speaking of The Boss, it’s ashame he’ll never make Cooperstown while a biased Veteran’s Committee elects Harold Baines. A good professional hitter that never reached 30 home runs or won a batting crown. He didn’t even get 3,000 hits like Craig Biggio, who could play five different positions as a jack of all trades.

Nothing against Baines or the more deserving Lee (Arthur) Smith. But if they’re gonna put good players in over very good to great ones who dominated for a period like Don Mattingly, then it’s time to put the Hitman in along with Keith Hernandez and the disrespected Albert (Joey) Belle.

As for the big meet up in Vegas, it’s been more glow than show. Unless a big name signs or a Corey Kluber gets moved, then it is a big letdown.

Look. This isn’t the old days where the Yankees and Mets gambled on Danny Tartabull and Bobby Bonilla. I’ll never forget it because of that ultracool cover on Sportscard Trader when I was getting into collecting baseball cards as a teenager. Only back then, $25 million over five years was a lot.

Neither player ever lived up to the hype. Bobby Bo showed ’em da Bronx at Shea while Tartabull was dealt for Ruben Sierra around the time the Yankees were becoming good. Only Bonilla still collects deferred payments of $1.19 million until July 1, 2035. Yikes.

That was back in 1992. Not even three full decades later, it’s insanity. That’s the cost of doing business these days in sports. There will always be someone that overpays. Will it be worth it in the end? Whether it’s Corbin, Craig Kimbrel, Harper or Machado, it’s up to them to earn the πŸ’°.


Fun 80’s Metal Wacky MTV Videos and Cubs banner raising 108 years in the making

The Cubs line up during player intros on banner night before defeating the Dodgers 3-2 in an NLCS rematch at Wrigley Field. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Cubs.

So, I was sitting downstairs in the entertainment room with the TV on. A flat screen like so many other spoiled people. But we’re a family. So, we take turns watching and share.

I was mostly locked in on the Cubs epic banner raising ceremony 108 years in the making. Rain delayed the game about an hour at Wrigley Field. Once it got going, boy was it something to behold. I’m not a Cubs fan. I’m not from Chicago and have never been there. But watching the festivities along with the nice scenery at one of the oldest ballparks, I concluded I need to get to Wrigley. Bookmark that.

My favorite part was following the awesome player introductions for both the Dodgers and Cubs in an NLCS rematch, seeing all-time Cubs greats Fergie Jenkins, Billy Dee Williams and Ryne Sandberg help raise not one banner but two. They first did a banner for 1908. The last one before they came back to defeat the Indians from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series in 2016. Then as every great sports movie soundtrack played including favorite themes from Rudy and The Natural, up went the 2016 World Championship banner by the ivy on ESPN. Wow.

Maybe it’s the historian in me. When it comes down to it, I appreciate the history of sports. Seeing the Cubs finally get to do a banner raising was one of the coolest moments. I can only put it on par with the Rangers finally raising the Stanley Cup banner honoring ’93-94 after waiting 54 years for their fourth championship. Think about this. That is half as long as Cubs fans waited. That defines crazy and explains the fandom. They have a great team capable of repeating. We’ll get into that another time.

What’s great is that you had Anthony Rizzo marching out the World Championship trophy as the Cubs all came down the stairs following the ceremony in from the outfield. It was really well done. Even more appropriately, Wayne Messmer performed an unreal edition of the star spangled banner. He used to be a regular at Blackhawks games along with the White Sox and Bears. To hear Dad tell it, there was no one better than Messmer when it came to our national anthem. I had never seen him perform live. But watched classic videos on You Tube. My favorite current anthem singers are John Amirante and Jim Cornelison. Amirante used to do O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner frequently at MSG before being phased out. He’s 82. Cornelison replaced Messmer at Hawks games. He is terrific.

If there is one more thing I loved, it was the organ playing during the intros. It really gave it an old school feel. The organ is something that isn’t used enough at games. I have always enjoyed it. Now, arenas and stadiums blast music through the sound system as if it’s some deejay event or concert. It’s a game. The organ has a nice touch. It’s soothing and whispers to you that a good event is coming, building anticipation.

As for the game, eventually it was played. The Cubs won 3-2 over the Dodgers on Rizzo’s walk off single in the home half of the ninth plating Jon Jay. His first run batted in of the season was a clutch two out game-winner. What you’d expect from one of the National League’s best players. He finished in the top four for MVP last year. An award won by teammate Kris Bryant, whose double plated the game’s first run off Alex Wood.

The Cubs scratched out an unearned run too due to an E9 from Yasiel Puig. Chicago ace Jon Lester’s RBI fielder’s choice put them ahead 2-0. But the Dodgers were able to come back late. Corey Seager’s RBI double scored Joc Pederson in the sixth. They would tie it in the eighth with an unearned run due to an E6 from Addison Russell. Two of the game’s best teams combined for five errors.

Seager is an emerging star who won NL Rookie Of The Year and finished third for MVP. He’s a unique talent at short with great bat speed and terrific instincts. He’s everything Pederson isn’t. I would know. I drafted Joc in the first year of my Franchise League in the minors before trading him and then getting him back and keeping him. I keep thinking he’ll figure it out. But he still can’t hit lefties batting way down in the lineup when he starts. He also had a key at bat with the bases loaded and nobody out against Justin Grimm. Pederson let Grimm off the hook missing his pitch on a 3-2 count with a weak pop up to short right which prevented a run from scoring. He should’ve crushed it. Instead, Grimm escaped a bases loaded no out jam getting Carl Edwards, Jr. off the hook when he induced an inning ending 4-6-3 double play.

While Pederson remains an unfinished product, leave it to me to not insert Michael Pineda on the one day he pitched up to his talent. On Yankees Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in the home opener, Pineda was the story taking a perfect game into the seventh inning. Yankee killer Evan Longoria broke it up with a double down the left field line. Pineda was brilliant pitching into the eighth inning allowing only one earned run on a solo shot from Logan Morrison while fanning 11. That is the kind of quality outing that can get Yankee fans on his side. It’s about finding consistent. The talent is there. Let’s hope this gives him the confidence boost he needs.

The Yankees had plenty of offense. Aaron Judge went yard for the second straight day for home run number two, driving a hanging curve into left field 10 rows back. With Gary Sanchez officially sidelined a month, the Bronx Bombers need Judge to produce along with Greg Bird, who should be good to go in a couple of days. For now, quality backup catcher Austin Romine is starting with prospect Kyle Higashioka up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Down two starters on the infield with shortstop Didi Gregorius also missing April, the Yanks have gotten nice contributions from 24-year old utility man Ronald Torreyes. He’s filled in admirably at short while hitting a home run and driving in eight to lead the team.

For now, skipper Joe Girardi has gone back to the 1-2 of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the order. They’re both off to good starts with Gardner swiping two more bases to hike his total to five while scoring two runs. Ellsbury is hitting .348 with a homer and two RBI’s. Matt Holliday, who recently became a member of the 2,000 hit club, had a pair of hits and his fifth RBI. So far, so good for the proven veteran. Starlin Castro went yard for the first time parking one to right center. One of three long balls the Yanks hit. Chase Headley got the other for number two. With two straight wins, the Yanks are 3-5 and at least can cool off some of the panic from the April Mattahs crowd.

The Mets won in Philadelphia 4-3. Jay Bruce continues to swing a hot bat going deep twice. That included the go-ahead game-winning two-run bomb for his fourth dinger. Remember all that talk about them dumping him in the off-season. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make. Even though Terry Collins must fit Michael Conforto into the lineup when he can. Jacob de Grom got a no decision despite grinding out six innings while allowing two earned with two walks and three strikeouts. Addison Reed earned his second save in two nights pitching around a solo home run from Brock Stassi in the Phils’ ninth.

Among the notables, Bryce Harper went 4-for-4 with with two runs and three RBI’s along with six total bases in a Nationals’ 14-6 win over the Cardinals. Stephen Drew had three hits and four RBI’s. Seriously. Khris Davis is up to four homers already as Oakland shutout Kansas City 2-0. Wil Myers became just the second Padre to hit for the cycle highlighting a 5-3 win over the Rockies. He hit his third home run and is up to seven RBI’s.

As the Cubs and Dodgers moved at a snails pace, I flipped on MTV Classic between breaks to catch Metal Mayhem. Just your classic hour of cheesy and classy metal videos full of electric guitar shredding, drum beats and edgy lyrics. I still can’t believe they mixed in Suicidal Tendencies in a weird video where the lead singer talked in gibberish like a pre-Henry Rollins. It had its moments. A throwback Guns N’ Roses live concert from 1988 with the original band performing a stirring rendition of “Welcome To The Jungle.”

There also was the underrated “Fallen Angel” from Poison along with “Youth Gone Wild” from Skid Row in their debut album with Sebastian Bach screaming his lungs out. I had never seen this one from Twisted Sister before. It was released as a single in 1987. It’s called “Hot Love” featuring Dee Snider’s hot wife Suzette:

What would a Metal Mayhem be without an appearance from Diamond Dave? You betcha! David Lee Roth when he went solo after a bad break up with Van Halen. It’s Yankee Rose. A hilarious satirical look at immigration in the intro along with stereotypes. Imagine if this video aired now. The ridiculous overreaction it would get. Music shouldn’t be censored. That whole thing with Tipper Gore and Snider testifying in court was crap.

Anyway, you get all these crazy characters in a convenience store with an immigrant behind the register. Then David Lee Roth recites the classic line:

“I’ll take a bottle of anything and a glazed donut to go!”

Of course, the scene shifts to Diamond Dave on stage shouting, “Whoa!!!!! She’s beautiful!” What a comedian he was. Great presence. He had fun. Eddie Van Halen didn’t. Remember that reunion disaster as presenters at the VMA’s? Here is the song from Mr. Roth:

Yeah. 80’s metal was epic. πŸ˜€

Hard Hits talks big October Football Weekend

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw will be facing Max Scherzer in a battle of aces in a great match up between the Dodgers and Nationals in the NLDS. That and plenty more was covered on Hard Hits from Derek, Colin and John. AP Photo by Jeff Chiu/Getty Images

Hard Hits is my internet show that can be heard on the airwaves of BlogTalkRadio. Originally started in February 2007, the Hard Hits Network has been around for nine years in some format or another. A sports themed show that also mixes in the current events and music from time to time, it’s our way to express ourselves.

On Sunday, we did two live broadcasts. Each was 30 minutes live with 15 minutes of overtime. Until we go back to Premium, it’ll be a shorter format. Once we do renew for Premium, longer shows shall return. Featuring John “JPG” Giagnorio, Colin Cannaday, Rob “Retirement” Davis, Brian David Sanborn, Justin “JNF” Felix and hosted by yours truly, Derek “Flex” Felix, it’s always entertaining back and forth banter. No matter what the topic, it is “hard hitting.”

In Part 1 of a two show special edition, the guest of honor JPG showed up to discuss his relocation to Las Vegas. Naturally, he stopped in Chicago for hometown before completing the trip with his Cubs primed for a big October run. Derek predictably figured out what John ordered for dinner. Plus more interesting discussion from the statmastah who joined Derek and Colin for both college football, NFL and baseball wildcard predictions.

Who will win? The Orioles or Blue Jays. The winner gets the Texas Rangers. The other AL Division series is set between two evenly matched teams with the Indians hosting the Red Sox in Big Papi’s final year. Can Cleveland overcome Boston’s lethal lineup?

Meanwhile, the Giants are back in in another even year. Can they make another improbable run? They’ll visit the Mets Wednesday with a great match-up between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard. Find out who Colin and John like. Also why Derek went against his original prediction. The winner takes on JPG’s Cubs.

In the other NL Division match-up, it features two of the game’s best pitchers with the Nats’ Max Scherzer taking on the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. It shapes up to be a great series. For more breakdown on this series, tune into Part 2 where Derek, Colin and John made their predictions.

Catch Part 1 of Hard Hits A JPG Tribute here:

Hard Hits Part I: A JPG Tribute

Among the topics covered were two unbelievable college football games including the hail mary which allowed Tennessee to stun Georgia. Plus a pro style classic with Clemson and Louisville going toe to toe with Heisman quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson putting on a show.

NFL Week 4 highlights are discussed with Colin pretty pumped about his Falcons led by record performances from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in a dismantling of the suddenly struggling Panthers. Plus why Derek feels sorry for Phil Rivers following the Chargers’ latest collapse. The Bills pull off a shocker in New England. They’re back.

Derek also makes a prediction into the future on baseball.

Teixeira channels Roy Hobbs

One Final Tex Message: A jubilant Mark Teixeira rounds the bases celebrating an emotional walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth to beat the Red Sox. AP Photo via Getty Images

Picture the setting. It’s the bottom of the ninth. The New York Knights are trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. They’re one out away from losing the pennant. The rest is the perfect ending to a fairy tale with a two out rally allowing a injured Roy Hobbs facing his younger self.

A tall lefty with a blazing fastball, Youngberry enters to face the flawed aging rookie superstar. Hobbs nearly takes him deep just missing down the right field line only to see his symbolic bat he made as a kid, Wonderboy break. A emotional moment takes place between him and the bat boy Bobby.

“Pick me out a winner, Bobby,” Hobbs tells him.

Then Bobby unveils his own homemade bat called Savor Special. Made similarly to how a younger Hobbs made his following a storm where a lightning bolt cut a tree in half. The moment where Bobby presents the bat to Hobbs is one of my favorite scenes from The Natural. The look from both. There is a happiness and excitement over a kid’s game even with the stakes so high.

Either Hobbs delivers the knockout blow and wins the pennant for Pop or the sinister Judge buys Pop out and celebrates with crooked gambler Gus and Harriet Bird clone Memo.

Down to his final strike, the plate umpire notices blood coming through Hobbs’ jersey. He asks, “Roy, are you okay?” To which Hobbs replies, “Let’s play some ball.” The Pirates catcher picks up on it and puts down the number 1 sign for Youngberry.

In the novel, Hobbs strikes out and the game ends. But in the movie, that can’t happen. It’s not storybook. A flawed Hobbs, who has the silver bullet removed at the hospital for pregnant woman after Memo put something in his drink, knows he is risking his life. The doctor warns him that it wouldn’t be wise to play. But Hobbs needs to. He knows it’s his final game. A last chance to be a heroic figure and win one for Pop after they lost three in a row without him. The Judge notes that as he tries to pay off Hobbs with another “key person” part of his contingency plan. He leaves an envelope with $20,000.

Of course, Hobbs pays a visit to The Judge and returns the envelope which causes a stir. Gus calls him a loser. As they argue, Memo pulls a gun and fires a shot after Gus says, “I like the action.” Hobbs then replies, “Then let it ride.” Then comes the gun shot. She then cries and says she hates him. That’s how much not playing and having Gus stake them to a lot of money and buying into a company meant to her. This is Pop’s niece. Someone he refers to as “a jinx.”

Hobbs struggles throughout the game to get his timing back striking out badly twice. When his former girlfriend Iris pens a letter with her son at the game having an usher get it to Hobbs in the dugout, it reveals the truth. That it’s his son watching from the stands. An emotional Hobbs looks around at the crowd in the dugout. As that happens, a Knight tries to stretch a single into a double but gets pegged at second to end the seventh.

They have one last chance. Following a Knight just beating a long throw from third by jarring the ball loose, the Pirates’ ace gives up another hit putting runners on the corners. It sets the stage for Hobbs’ final at bat. One last chance to be the hero or goat according to the annoying Max Mercy. Poetically, Hobbs fouls off a pitch through the press box shattering the glass where Mercy is perched. This movie is all about symbolism. The acting is top notch and the characters are excellent. It is my favorite baseball movie and ranks second all-time in sports behind Hoosiers.

Down to the final strike, Hobbs steps back in bloody uniform and all. Youngberry delivers a heater that Hobbs crushes. You can hear the radio announcer saying, “It’s still going…He did it! He did it! Hobbs did it! The Knights have won the pennant!”

The best part is when he came up, a lightning bolt struck. As the ball carries, it hits the lights turning an epic scene into fireworks as a stunned Judge and his cronies watch helplessly. Hobbs touches all the bases and is mobbed by teammates. The scene then darkens and shifts to a father having a catch with his boy on a farm with his wife. Just the way it once was for him with his Dad.

So, what does all this have to do with Mark Teixeira hitting a dramatic walkoff grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth off the beleaguered Boston bullpen to give the Yankees an exciting 5-3 win at Yankee Stadium? Just this. It’s Teixeira’s final season. It’s been a tough year for the once great first base slugger who has been tremendous throughout his career which has included the final eight years spent in the Bronx, including a World Series title in ’09.

There haven’t been many magical moments for Teixeira in his last year. When he decided this would be it at a press conference, injuries were a factor. Still an above average defensive first baseman, he just can’t stay healthy. The thing is he hit over 30 home runs last year before an injury ended his season. So, he didn’t look done. But injuries have a way of changing things for older players. Case in point, a now retired A-Rod.

Not everyone has a happy ending. But on Wednesday night in the Bronx, Teixeira gave Yankee fans something to remember. Most notably, he gave himself one final big moment he will never forget. The Red Sox were ready to celebrate clinching the AL East on the field. Toronto had already lost to Baltimore. But if Boston held the 3-0 lead in the ninth, they would’ve gotten to celebrate some on the field before popping the cork in the locker room, which they still did.

It was bad enough that Boston basically ended the Yankees’ season with that four-game sweep at Fenway Park. A Yankee loss combined with an Oriole win would’ve officially eliminated the Yankees. However, they showed tremendous character rallying off Jekyll & Hyde closer Craig Kimbrel. He didn’t have it giving up a base hit and walking three including a bases loaded RBI walk to Brian McCann that made it 3-1.

That was enough for manager John Farrell, who pulled Kimbrel for Joe Kelly. A flame thrower who can hit 100 on the radar gun and has a good breaking ball. The last time Farrell replaced Kimbrel with Kelly, it worked. It almost did again with Kelly striking out Starlin Castro on three pitches and then getting Didi Gregorius to pop out to third for the infield fly rule. He had one man left to get. Up stood Teixeira.

Watching the final half inning on TV, I was hoping for Teixeira as well as wanting to see the Yankees finally pull one out and not strand runners. They’ve left a village on the base paths all season. The Red Sox were one out away from getting out of it. But then Teixeira took a hard swing and connected for a deep drive to right center. The ball kept carrying and carrying until Jackie Bradley, Jr. ran out of room. It was gone. Teixeira did it! He did it!

You may as well have cued Randy Newman’s theme from The Natural. Something WFAN’s Steve Somers made sure to do. When it comes to production, nobody is as good as The Schmoozer. Always dripping with sarcasm but also using the well produced clips to provide even more entertainment to the listener.

Seeing an emotional Teixeira mobbed by excited teammates and get a Gatorade bath was awesome. You felt good for the guy. He is up to 15 homers with dingers in consecutive games. Something that hasn’t been a frequent occurrence. He believed it was his last home run. If it was, what a way to go out.

Here’s hoping he’s got at least one more Tex Message against the Orioles this final weekend. Teixeira channeling Roy Hobbs. That’s what makes baseball great.

RIP Jose Fernandez (1992-2016)

An awful tragedy struck baseball this morning. As I flipped on ESPN for SportsCenter, they confirmed the tragic death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. He was only 24.

It was reported that Fernandez was in a boat accident along the Miami Beach coast. Two other people died in the tragedy. Seeing the reporters on ESPN discuss it including the renown Hannah Storm made me feel empty. It’s still hard to believe a few hours later as they play baseball that a talented and special pitcher is gone at such a young age. The magnitude is a huge blow to baseball.

Sports tragedies have a way of bringing everyone together. Baseball is close knit. The decision was made by the Braves and Marlins to cancel today’s game. One that was easy to conclude. How could they play? Our thoughts and prayers go out to Fernandez’ family. He was a great story. A Cuban defector who saved his Mom’s life after she went overboard, he became an 11th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.

At 20, Fernandez was in the majors throwing heat. He went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA while fanning 187 in 172 and two thirds innings, only allowing 111 hits. He captured NL Rookie of The Year and finished third in the NL Cy Young. The only young flamethrower similar was Dwight “Doc” Gooden, who took the league by storm his first two years winning the Cy Young in his second year with a 24-4 record.

Unfortunately, arm problems limited Fernandez the next two years with Tommy John surgery costing him most of 2014 and 2015. He still returned last year and was 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 64-plus innings. He only made a combined 19 starts spanning ’14-15.

This season, Fernandez showed flashes of greatness that made him a dominant starter. He recently won his 16th game against the Nationals going eight shutout innings and fanning 12 on Sept. 20. Fatefully, it would be his final start. Expected to pitch Sunday, he was pushed back to tomorrow to face the Mets.

Then came the sad news this morning that he was gone. A big right-handed pitcher who had every tool to become the next great starter. We’re talking Cy Youngs and possibly 300 strikeouts in a season as well as 20 wins. Instead, we’re left wondering why he was taken so soon.

Fernandez was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA with 55 walks and 253 K’s in 182.1 innings while permitting 149 hits. He was amazing. In only four years, he was 38-17 for his career with a 2.58 ERA. In 471 innings, he gave up 357 hits with 140 walks and 589 strikeouts.

It’s hard to put into perspective just how special he was. I loved watching him pitch. I always believed he’d become the best pitcher in baseball, eventually supplanting Clayton Kershaw. When you learn about how good a person and teammate he was, it makes it even sadder.

I’m reminded of the Spring Training boating accident that Bobby Ojeda was involved in with two other Indians. He survived while teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed.

There’s rarely a happy ending when such tragedies strike. This is the worst case scenario. I am sure baseball and the Marlins will donate and raise money for Jose Fernandez’ family. But it doesn’t take the pain away. They lost their baby.

RIP Jose Fernandez (1992-2016) 😦

Bautista bomb sends Yankees to third straight shutout loss

Despite getting shutout three straight and falling out of the wildcard race, the Yankees future is bright due to future stars such as catching sensation Gary Sanchez. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Baseball Tonight on Twitter.

As John Sterling just said on the radio following the latest Yankee loss, “If you don’t score, you can’t win.”

Astonishingly, a great run at the playoffs has been replaced by not being able to score a run. Jose Bautista’s three-run bomb off losing pitcher Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning sent the punch less Yankees to a depressing 3-0 defeat. Their third straight shutout loss. It’s the first time since 1975 they have been shutout in three consecutive games.

That’s 27 innings without scoring a run. It’s definitely a sad way to go out. The four-game sweep at Boston was bad enough. I am not gonna bother reiterating my frustration. Despite it all, these new look Baby Bombers give us hope for the future. Gary Sanchez is chasing American League Rookie of The Year with a remarkable 19 home runs in his first 43 games. A modern day record. Even with being shutout, Sanchez remains at .330 with 19 blasts and 38 RBI’s.

The fact Sanchez could even win AL ROY despite coming up in August is remarkable. The top prospect has done more than anyone could’ve possibly envisioned. Hitting 19 homers in less than two months is insane. Even in the final two losses at Boston, Sanchez blasted two dingers to go on another streak. He ripped three more homers in consecutive wins over the Rays before the offense went ice cold. In fact, he drove in 13 over a five-game span where the Yanks lost three of five.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox’ offense is the best in baseball. When the off-season hits, Yankee pitchers will be seeing Hanley Ramirez in their nightmares. The sizzling first base slugger beat the Yanks with a three-run blast to dead center off a flat Dellin Betances which set the tone last Thursday. One of Joe Girardi’s screw ups. He’s a very good manager but the over managing can drive fans nuts. Like leaving C.C. Sabathia in for another inning after he served up a game-tying three-run bomb to Ramirez. He was over 100 pitches and facing the Red Sox. It turned into a disaster.

Maybe if they had split the big series, we’d be singing a different tune. They could have. But that doesn’t cut it. They still gave themselves a chance after taking the first two from Tampa. But then were shutout in the series finale. What’s followed is 18 more innings of frustration. No one has been able to drive in a single run. And so, they have the dubious distinction of not scoring a run in three straight games.

In the process, they wasted a great effort from Sabathia, who went seven scoreless reducing his ERA to 4.02. The veteran southpaw has given a good account of himself all year proving he still can be a serviceable back of the end starter who gives the Yanks innings. He’s made 29 starts and is up to 172-plus innings. With one start left, he could reach 180.

Sabathia has a vesting $25 million option for 2017 which hinges on not finishing the year on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or spend 45 days or make six relief appearances due to a left shoulder injury. There also is a $5 million buyout. But it looks like the salary is guaranteed with Sabathia staying healthy. If so, he has earned it. That would mean one more year for the gritty lefty who has bounced back from how last season ended with him checking into rehab for alcoholism. If he can be bought out, I would still like to see him return.

It’s hard to get upset over the Yankees falling short. That they even made a run and played meaningful games this late in the season despite selling and reloading the farm system shows how well they played. They never gave up. A credit to Girardi and the coaching staff. For all of my issues with his by the book stuff, he’s done an admirable job. If he was ever let go, plenty of teams would be after Girardi.

As the season winds down with the Yanks now 79-75 and four behind the Orioles and Tigers, playoff extinction looms. But in a year where Alex Rodriguez went out with one final memorable night and Carlos Beltran proved he still has it, Brian Cashman finally was allowed to make game changing deals that could have a long term impact on the club’s future.

He turned Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller into Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. Torres and Frazier are top prospects while Sheffield could have a place in the Yankee rotation. Warren returned to form after struggling with the Cubs. He’s been part of a solid 1-2 punch with Clippard getting the ball to Betances. Funny enough, he was sent to Chicago over the winter for Starlin Castro. Who won that one. πŸ˜‰

Cashman also got three minor leaguers (Nick Green, Erik Swanson and Dillon Tate) for Beltran after sending him to Texas. Here’s hoping he has an impact and maybe even reaches the World Series.

As far as what’s transpired, I can’t help but feel proud. Expectations weren’t high. Especially when they sold at the deadline. But seeing some of these kids and the continued improvement of Didi Gregorius has shed a new light. The future is bright.

AL MVP: The case for David Ortiz

David Ortiz smashes another long home run at Camden Yards. At 40 in his final season, he’s in the hunt for AL MVP. But the Red Sox designated hitter remains a long shot due to stronger candidates who play positions. AP Photo via Getty Images by Deadspin on Twitter.

Normally, when you play in your final year, you have nothing left. That clearly isn’t the case with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The popular 40-year old designated hitter is having a final season for the ages. In slugging his team-leading 37th home run during Friday night’s 2-1 win over the Rays, he passed Shoeless Joe Jackson for the most runs batted in in a final year.

Ortiz now is tied with Blue Jays’ slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the American League lead with 124 RBI’s. His 37 dingers rank eighth. The 47 doubles leads the junior circuit. Big Papi is hitting .319 which ranks him third in the AL trailing teammate and MVP candidate Mookie Betts by two points. Betts is having quite a year. Having started at lead off and now hitting third in the best lineup in baseball, the star right fielder is .321 with 31 homers, 108 RBI’s and 25 stolen bases. His 117 runs are tied with Mike Trout for second trailing 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson by one. Betts also leads the AL in hits with 207- one better than AL batting leader Jose Altuve, who’s hitting .338.

The common denominator with each player is they all are legit MVP candidates. Most experts believe it’s between Betts, Altuve and Trout. All three are strong position players who have the edge in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Trout leads all contenders with a 10.2 followed by Betts (9.5) and Altuve (7.6). That would explain why DH’s don’t win MVP. Voters don’t just put stock in offensive statistics. But defense. Honestly, all three candidates are superb defensive players. It’s possible that each could win Gold Gloves. Only Altuve has won one earning his first last year. Astonishingly, Trout has never won one despite terrific defense. Partially due to the outfield being crowded. Though it’s hard to explain how Yoenis Cespedes won one for his time in the AL with the Tigers before carrying the Mets to a pennant.

In 2015, Trout’s teammate Kole Calhoun won a Gold Glove along with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier. A great defensive center fielder who gets high grades. Other contenders this year are Jackie Bradley, Jr., Kevin Pillar and Betts, who leads in defensive WAR with a 2.9- just ahead of Kiermaier and Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2.7).

The question with the value put on defense is how much of an impact does it have on baseball writers who vote? If you’re nerdy, you can probably find runs saved. Maybe that’s why Manny Ramirez never won despite being a dominant offensive player for both the Indians and Red Sox in his prime. But Albert Pujols was never what I’d call a great defensive first baseman. It was mostly his offense that carried him to three MVP’s with St. Louis. He did win a couple of Gold Gloves. So, his defense was solid. But let’s be blunt. His statistics were what separated him.

Realistically, Ortiz remains a long shot to win MVP. He did finish runner-up to Alex Rodriguez during a memorable ’05 when they went at bat for at bat creaming the ball. Rodriguez took home the award due to his defense at the hot corner. Big Papi had superior situational stats but fell short. Between ’03-07, he had five top five finishes. Since then, he hasn’t come close ranking a distant 10th in 2013.

It’s hard to ignore his AL-leading slugging (.634) and OPS (1.040). Trout ranks second at .992. However, Trout continues to be at the top of the leader board in key categories such as on-base percentage (.437), Offensive WAR (9.5), walks (108), adjusted OPS+ (173), runs created (141), times on base (283), offensive win percentage (.799) and situation wins added (6.3).

What does it all mean? Trout plays for a bad team that’s 18 games under .500 and 23 behind AL West repeat winner Texas. Does playing on such a bad team hurt Trout’s candidacy? I would say so. Meanwhile, Betts is on a first place team running away with the AL East. Boston boasts the most lethal lineup top to bottom with five players having at least 20 home runs or more along with four hitting over .300. Three have driven in over 100 including Hanley Ramirez, who has been on a tear the last two months. His four home runs highlighted a four-game sweep of the Yankees, basically ending their wildcard chances.

Altuve plays on the fading Astros. A favorite to reach the World Series, bad pitching has put them on the brink of missing the playoffs. Consecutive losses to the Angels have them two out of the second wildcard. Baltimore and Detroit are in a flatfooted tie. Seattle has been streaking and are a game and a half back. The Astros must finish strong to make it. None of this falls on Altuve. The excellent second baseman leads the AL in hitting with career highs in homers (24) and RBI’s (94). If he can get to 100 RBI’s, that should solidify his candidacy. He also has 27 steals, a .935 OPS and 206 hits. A terrific player, the 5-6, 165 pound Altuve is one of the game’s most complete players. He has one batting title and paced the AL in hits the last two seasons.

The interesting aspect about this year’s race is you have other players who have had monster years. Particularly the O’s Mark Trumbo, who smashed a walk off home run in extras on Friday for his major league-leading 44th. Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier set the record by clubbing his 42nd home run. After a bad first half that saw him hit only .246 with 14 dingers and 43 RBI’s, his second half has been arguably the best. Despite playing on the worst team in baseball, Dozier has hit .312 with a remarkable 28 homers and 56 RBI’s in 66 games. That’s brought his overall totals up to .277-42-99 with 100 runs scored. The 42 jacks are a career high along with the 99 base knocks.

You also have Encarnacion in Toronto tied with Dozier for second in the AL with 42 long balls and tied with Ortiz for the league lead in RBI’s with 124. Rangers’ ageless third baseman Adrian Beltre has flown under the radar. A future Hall of Famer, he’s had a great year. At 37, his 100 RBI’s pace Texas and 31 homers are tied with teammate Rougned Odor for the team lead. Beltre has also hit .298. While he’s not in the same category as Betts, Altuve and Trout, it’s easy to ignore what the dependable veteran has done in helping lead the Rangers to a second straight division title. He’s always been consistent and deserves recognition.

If the Tigers make it, Miguel Cabrera will have a say. The former AL MVP who won the triple crown in 2013 to edge a then rookie Trout. The first base slugger has quietly had a strong second half helping Detroit back into contention. They did lose in gut wrenching fashion today blowing a two-run lead to the Royals with Eric Hosmer crushing a three-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez. Cabrera is hitting .307 with 34 dingers and 94 RBI’s. The 33-year old remains one of the game’s most dangerous hitters pitchers don’t want to face. With a career .320 average, 442 home runs, 1,539 RBI’s and 2,504 hits, he’s a lock for Cooperstown. Too bad the Marlins didn’t keep him. How long before they unload Giancarlo Stanton or lose ace Jose Fernandez?

The Indians will win the AL Central. They are up to 90-63 and eight clear in the loss column to the Tigers. Pitching, defense and hitting have Cleveland ready to be back in October. While Mike Napoli leads them with 34 homers and 100 RBI’s, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have been the most consistent. In his second season, the 2015 Rookie of The Year Lindor is hitting .303 with 14 homers, 72 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases. He paces them in hits (179) and runs (96). A complete player who plays a superb shortstop, the only reason he might not win the Gold Glove is due to the outstanding Simmons with the Angels.

Ramirez has developed into one of their most trusted players. A versatile player who can play third as well as the outfield if needed, the 24-year old has come from nowhere to lead the Indians with a .315 average and 44 doubles. He has 11 homers and 75 RBI’s along with 22 steals, 170 hits and an .836 OPS. Considering that the Indians have been without Michael Brantley, Ramirez has more than made up for his loss. Brantley was developing into one of the most complete players in the AL. How much better could Cleveland be if he were healthy?

Manny Machado is the forgotten man. The Orioles’ all world third baseman is having another great season. Even though he’s tailed off down the stretch, the 24-year old who should win the Gold Glove again for his tremendous range and defense has already set new highs in home runs (36) and RBI’s (93). Right near .300 with 103 runs scored and 182 hits, Machado remains an emerging star who could one day win MVP. Had he not faded along with Baltimore, who are clinging onto that second wildcard, he would be right in the conversation.

Whoever wins AL MVP will have really earned it. Between Trout’s strong finish and Betts’ sensational season- Altuve’s best overall year- and Ortiz’ amazing final year- there are plenty of worthy choices.

Big Papi will likely fall short due to being a DH. But his final year is one for the record books. You do wonder if there’ll be some emotion when the votes come in. Ortiz could be a sentimental choice. It might be closer than you think.