Saturday, April 2, 2011

Once again, it begins with a win for the Pirates

It's a shame, shame, shame that this is as good as it's going to get for the Pirates. At least it's better than the Mets! (PS: Ratt's drummer, Bobby Blotzer, is from Pittsburgh. See? Informative!)

The Pittsburgh Pirates are that out-of-shape guy who shows up every year for the local five-mile race. Nobody knows why he’s there, he’s completely ill-prepared and in no condition to run, and all he’s going to do is embarrass himself, but goddamnit, he’s there at the starting line. And he’s always the one who sprints out and takes the early lead over the first 200 or so meters before reality and a lack of fitness sets in. He eventually falls to the middle of the pack, then the back of the pack, and then race organizers are impatiently checking their watches and wondering if they should call 9-1-1 when he finally stumbles, wheezing and limping and dry heaving, across the finish line long after everyone else.

But hey. For a few seconds, he was in first place. And so are the Pirates, who are in the midst of the worst run in American professional sports history (18 straight losing seasons and counting) yet continued to OWN Opening Day yesterday by beating the Cubs (of course) 6-3. It’s the Pirates’ fifth straight Opening Day win, which ties them for the longest streak in the majors with fellow 2010 last-place finishers Seattle and Arizona. Is that irony? No, Alanis, it’s coincidence.

The Pirates, Mariners and Diamondbacks moved into a tie for first place thanks to our favorite team the Mets, who saw their five-year streak of Opening Day victories snapped when they were routed by the Marlins, 6-2. But hey. At least they weren’t no-hit. No idea whether or not Terry Collins will pen another letter to Mets fans this morning, this one simply stating “We’re fucked.”

In the end, the Pirates, Mariners and Diamondbacks will likely jockey with the Mets for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. But let them have their moment for now—especially the Pirates, whose famously absentee and cheap ownership has turned one of baseball’s most storied franchises into a joke with a seemingly endless laugh track.

Even with all those Opening Day wins the last five years, the Pirates are 255-393 since the start of the 2007 season. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, the Pirates have spent $25 million in the amateur market the last few years and are confident better days are ahead. And come Opening Day 2016, Pedro Alvarez will be manning third base for the Red Sox.

This is how long the Pirates have been awful: Their Opening Day lineup in 1992, their last winning season, included right fielder Kirk Gibson, who is now managing—holy crap!—the Diamondbacks, and starting pitcher Doug Drabek, whose son, Kyle, is pitching for the Blue Jays. You know you’re old when the kids of pitchers whose baseball cards you collected are now collecting big league paychecks.

One of my favorite college basketball sites is The Mid-Majority, whose creator, Kyle Whelliston, declares that it always ends in a loss for the smaller schools he covers (this year, of course, might be different, with VCU or Butler guaranteed to play in the title game Monday night) For the Pirates, it always begins with a win. Alas, the losses are coming, as sure as that fat guy hitting the wall less than a quarter of a mile into the race.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mets’ pennant pursuit ends before the season begins

The Mets are going to suck so much this year, and I am going to savor every second of it. Why I hate the Mets is a long story best told over the course of six months and more than 100 losses, but suffice to say it has to do with incompetent and quite possibly criminal ownership and learning what life is really like behind the looking glass. Yum yum yum, I do love Schadenfreude.

In the meantime, enjoy the fact that the highlight of the Mets’ season came and went before they even took the field on April Fools Day (this stuff just writes itself). The Braves and Phillies have already won, meaning the Mets’ share of first place lasted mere hours. That Seth MacFarlene is freakin psychic!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Great blown saves in Opening Day history

Why Shotgun Messiah? Because they pulled a Michael Bolton and tried going industrial after hair metal perished. Don't try this at home, John Axford.

Thanks to the beauty of the Interwebs, I know a bunch of Brewers fans. And by a bunch I mean two. Which is one more than I knew before Al Gore invented the Internet sometime between the year in which Mark Gubicza blew out his arm and the year he got a haircut.

Anyway. Those Brewers fans are a sad bunch tonight after John Axford suffered the first blown save of the season by giving up four runs—including Ramon Hernandez’ game-winning three-run blast, no, I will not use the term walk-off—as the Reds came back to edge the Brewers, 7-6, in Cincinnati. That’s a lousy way to begin the season, but Axford’s implosion (which I just decided would be a GREAT name for an industrial rock band) inspired me to research some other Opening Day blown saves.

The good news for Axford is this doesn’t stop him from going to the Hall of Fame, and may even encourage him to grow back the handlebar mustache he had last year (let’s hope it doesn’t inspire him to piss off the IRS though). Rollie Fingers opened up the 1984 season for the Brewers by blowing a save against the Oakland A’s in which he gave up three runs without recording an out in the ninth inning as the A’s came back to win 6-5.

That boxscore, by the way, is chock full of awesomeness. Don Sutton started for the Brewers while Pete Ladd—another famously mustached closer—gave up the winning hit to make a winner out of Tom Burgmeier, who was just days shy of his 75th birthday. The game featured three other Hall of Famers in addition to Sutton: Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson and Joe Morgan, who presumably pushed Jim Gantner in a puddle before the game and told him he couldn’t have played for the Big Red Machine. Dave Kingman made his Oakland debut, and probably sent a rat to a female reporter afterward. Good times.

I’m rambling again and Shotgun Messiah is ringing in my head. Here are some other memorable Opening Day blown saves. Thanks as always to Baseball-Reference, which would have ensured my virginity well into a fourth decade if it existed back in the late '80s or early '90s.

Braves vs. Cubs, 1988: Bruce Sutter, just beginning the back end of a six-year, $10 million deal that no doubt inspired Chicken Littles everywhere to declare baseball was doomed, gives up two runs in the ninth and the Cubs win in extras. Braves never recover, finish 54-106. Probably would have been at least 55-105 if Sutter held on.

Marlins vs. Expos, 2002, and Mets vs. Reds, 2005: This is the Braden Looper double play. Can’t imagine there are many closers who have imploded on Opening Day for TWO teams. He retired after failing to make the Cubs this spring. Probably for the best. Not sure humanity could have withstood such a perfect marriage of misery.

Pirates vs. Expos, 1989: Jeff Robinson blows a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth as Tim Raines draws a bases-loaded walk to complete the Expos’ 6-5 win. Barry Bonds, distraught after going 4-for-4 with a homer, triple, two singles and a stolen base as the Pirates’ leadoff hitter, drowns his sorrows in steroids. No, no, I made that up. He never did steroids. Greg Anderson is just a very good friend who happens to be a mime.

Mets vs. Rockies, 1995: Quite possibly the greatest meltdown in Opening Day history. The Mets blow leads in the ninth, 13th and 14th innings before fist-pumping Dante Bichette caps the first game at Coors Field with a game-winning homer off Mike Remlinger. The most amazing thing: Armando Benitez, still four years away from landing in Queens, had nothing to do with it.

Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers, 1999: Gregg Olson is saddled with the blown save in the ninth as the Dodgers tie it with three runs to rob Randy Johnson of a win in his Diamondbacks debut. Dodgers win it in the 11th. Things turned out pretty well that year for the D-Backs, who won 100 games in just their second season.

Padres vs. Rockies, 2005: Trevor Hoffman gives up four runs in the bottom of the ninth as the Rockies storm back to win 12-10. Fortunately, nothing bad would ever happen to Trevor in Denver ever again.

Red Sox vs. Devil Rays, 2003: The Red Sox’ closer by committee concept gets off to a rollicking start as the Devil Rays—I can call them that, that’s what they were called then!—score five runs off Alan Embree and Chad Fox to stun the Sox 6-4. Carl Crawford hits a two-run homer to win it, but Theo Epstein—who, to be fair, never coined the term closer by committee—gets the last laugh seven years later by throwing silly money at Crawford. (PS: Hi Theo!)

Orioles vs. Rays and Jays vs. Rangers, 2010: Grouping these together because Mike Gonzalez and Jason Frasor would soon lose the trust of their managers and their closer gigs. They combined to end the season with a total of five saves. And now, Kevin Gregg, who took over for Frasor in Toronto, is closing in Baltimore, where Gonzalez remains a set-up man. Isn’t it ironic? No, Alanis, it’s coincidence.

A’s vs. Twins, 1980: Bob Lacey blows the save in Billy Martin’s first game as Oakland manager and the Twins end up winning in 11. Billy, forever scarred by the experience, tells his starters to man up as the A’s finish with 94 complete games. Roll that over on your tongue: Ninety-four complete games. In related news, Rick Langford (33 starts, 28 complete games) can’t even write his name anymore.

Of middle-aged angst, mullets, hair metal and baseball

A blog about hair metal and baseball opens with one of the finest songs of the alternative rock era. Is this irony? Can we get a ruling, Alanis?

Happy Opening Day and welcome to Mark Gubicza’s Mullet, the first-ever (that I know of) blog paying homage to the two greatest things to ever come from the sandlots of America: Baseball and hair metal.

Why baseball and hair metal, you may ask? Because there are too goddamn many baseball blogs written by middle-aged men and I had to be different. Also, because I am qualified to write about only three things in this world: Baseball, hair metal and Hofstra University basketball, and I already cornered the market on the latter.

And actually, it might only be two things I can write about: I was once asked by a general manager if I knew what the fuck player development meant. I did in fact know what the fuck player development meant, and he sure didn’t seem to question my intelligence when I spent years blowing smoke up his ass about what a great job he was doing at it. But I digress.

My back story goes a little something like this: Baseball and hair metal were my constant companions during my teenage years, filling the void that would normally be filled by, you know, girls, and stuff. During the glorious summer of 1988, baseball and hair metal converged when Poison and Dokken blasted out of the boom box as I refused to get a haircut and tried to play an entire season’s worth of Major League Baseball games on my Nintendo. Mark Gubicza went 14-0 for the Royals. He had a mullet. Imagine how well Orel Hershiser could have done if he'd grown out his hair that summer.

I used to cover Major League Baseball, where I wrote about player development and a lot of other things. Now I don’t, and this blog is one way to deal with the crippling depression generated by no longer spending my days and nights at the ballpark. I wrote two books, one of which I’ll brag about to anyone who is listening. The other is to my resume what Everybody’s Crazy is to Michael Bolton’s. Oh it’s true. The man who introduced classic R&B soul to white suburban boys used to open for Ozzy Osbourne.

Oh my God, that was awful. If you’re still here after that, I promise you, nothing the rest of time will be that bad. But see? As awful as it was, you learned something new. That will be my goal here this year: To inform you with lots of baseball talk (topics new and old) and lots of hair metal videos and references (old and, umm, older), all woven together as tightly as the hairpiece perched atop Bret Michaels’ head. It will all make sense. Like gum and nuts. Tune in, tune out and turn it up, man.