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Baseball fans should give thanks for Yogi and Willie

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Baseball fans should give thanks for Yogi and Willie

It was fitting that Thanksgiving week saw President Obama bestow the Medal of Freedom on two of the great baseball heroes of my life, Yogi Berra and Willie Mays.

Sadly, Yogi wasn’t alive to receive the honor. He died two months ago, and his granddaughter, the indefatigable Lindsay Berra, organized a petition drive to get her beloved grandfather recognized.

The honor was well deserved.

As I came of age as a fan, I became aware of Mays’ greatness. He was always doing something to beat the New York Mets, and while I loved Mickey Mantle, I knew deep down that Mays was better.

At least the Mays I watched on television was better.

By the time I started watching baseball, Mantle and Mays were both in their early 30’s. Mantle had been ravaged by injuries, and I didn’t know that he didn’t follow the advice of doctors on how to rehabilitate his knees. He had his own way.

But, Willie was still in his prime, and had arguably his best season in 1965 when he was 34. He hit a career best 52 home runs, drove in 112, hit .317 and had a phenomenal .398 on-base percentage. Oh yes, he played a magnificent center field.

You’ve seen those old clips of the 1954 World Series, of him racing to the deepest part of the Polo Grounds to catch Vic Wertz’s fly ball. Mays perfected the basket catch, letting the ball come to his midsection as he caught it with two hands.

As a child, it was Mays who was given the best chance to eclipse Babe Ruth’s home run record, but it was the regal Henry Aaron who did it instead.

It seems unfathomable to me that Mays seems nearly forgotten. He ended up with 660 home runs, trailing only Barry Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and Alex Rodriguez, who passed him last season.

He began his career in New York with the Giants. Mantle’s Yankees and Duke Snider’s Brooklyn Dodgers got more of the publicity.

The three great centerfielders, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” were immortalized in a song in the early 80’s, and they stood for a time when baseball reigned supreme in New York.

The Giants were set to move to Minneapolis after the 1957 season when Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley convinced them to join him in California.

As a result, Mays played most of his career in San Francisco before the Giants peddled the aging star to the Mets where he finished his career—playing for Yogi.

Berra’s decade with the Mets has also been overlooked. He had to deal with an old center fielder who could only play occasionally even if the fans wanted to see the great man every day.

He had to watch the once graceful Mays trip over himself in center field becoming a metaphor for every declining star.

But, that’s not the way to remember Mays, and it was great to see him and Berra honored.

Yogi became a caricature of himself. When he died everyone quoted him. He was famous for his malapropos, but his ability on the field was also overlooked.

As a player, coach and manager with the Yankees and Mets, he participated in a breathtaking 21 World Series from 1947-1981.

He caught Don Larsen’s perfect game, claimed he tagged Jackie Robinson out when he tried to steal home, played with Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and watched Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the 1977 World Series.

And, yes he managed the 1973 Mets.

After the Yankees fired him after losing the seventh game of a great World Series in 1964, he joined Casey Stengel as a coach and succeeded Gil Hodges as manager in 1972 when Hodges died suddenly.

Berra’s Mets had a forgettable first five months of the 1973 season before rallying to win the National League East with a mediocre 82-79 record and beat the mighty Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series.

Perhaps his most famous quote came from that pennant drive. “It ain’t over till it’s over,” Yogi would say.

Berra saw so much in his life. Still a teenager, he was a hero in the Battle of the Bulge, so playing in all those World Series wasn’t going to unnerve him.

Because of the humor, people don’t remember what a wonderful player he was. Baseball experts are divided on who was the better catcher, Berra or Johnny Bench.

As the Berra family has its first Thanksgiving without the wonderful Yogi, we can be thankful we were exposed to him and his wisdom, and that we got to see Willie Mays dazzle us.

About 15 years before his death, Yogi was asked to sum up his wonderful life.

“If I could do it all over again, I would do it all over again.”


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Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

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USA TODAY Sports

Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

BALTIMORE -- The Tampa Bay Rays have to wait at least one more day before taking their swings against former teammate Alex Cobb.

Cobb, now with the Baltimore Orioles, was scheduled to face his old team on Tuesday night before the game was postponed by rain.

Thus, Cobb will start Wednesday in the delayed start of this series between the only two AL East teams with losing records.

The rainout will be made up as part of single-admission doubleheader on May 12.

It was the 27th major league game to be postponed this season, the most related to weather through April since the commissioner's office started keeping records in 1986. Detroit's game at Pittsburgh was washed out later Tuesday, raising the total to 28.

Cobb, 30, spent his entire career with the Rays before signing with Baltimore as a free agent on March 21. Over six years with Tampa Bay, the right-hander was 48-35 and one of the leaders of the staff.

"He was a crucial part to this organization's success," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "He's a big-game pitcher and somebody who's very consistent, very routine oriented. The competitive nature rubbed off on me and rubbed off on the other guys in this clubhouse as well."

Cobb signed a $57 million, four-year deal with the Orioles, who will be counting on him to deliver the same kind of pitching and leadership in Baltimore.

Thus far, it hasn't gone well. Cobb got off to a late start because he missed most of spring training, and since his return he's gone 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA.

"Abbreviation has affected that," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's going to get going here. Hopefully he can wait one more start before he does."

Brad Miller was down to bat cleanup for the Rays on Tuesday night before the game was called. Miller knew better than to chat with his old friend beforehand.

"Definitely wouldn't talk to him on his start days," Miller said. "Thought about maybe texting him just to rattle him a little bit, but ... ."

Miller won't know what to think when he sees Cobb wearing the orange and black of the Orioles.

"It's definitely going to be weird seeing him on the mound," Miller said. "I miss Cobb a lot. He was the ultimate competitor."

And that, Miller contends, is what sets Cobb apart from most pitchers.

"He's a bulldog. Really intense, kind of an old-school throwback starting pitcher," Miller said. "He's going to go out there and do anything he can for his team. So that, for me, is obviously his biggest trait."

The rainout came at an opportune time for the Orioles, who are hampered by injuries and have lost nine of 10 games to fall 11 games under .500 (6-17).

Baltimore's projected starting lineup did not include infielder Tim Beckham, who's been bothered by a groin injury and is expected to land on the 10-day disabled list.

With Beckham out and Trey Mancini playing with a tender right knee, manager Buck Showalter would have been operating with a short bench.

Help is on the way: Baltimore claimed utility infielder Jace Peterson on waivers from the New York Yankees. He's expected to arrive Wednesday.

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Indians' 14-hit victory hands Orioles 8th loss in 9 games

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USA TODAY Sports

Indians' 14-hit victory hands Orioles 8th loss in 9 games

BALTIMORE — The Cleveland Indians figured it would only be a matter of time before their struggling offense provided some support to a solid starting rotation.

Jose Ramirez and the rest of the batting order finally got into a groove Sunday, and the result was a 14-hit attack that carried Corey Kluber and the Indians past the Baltimore Orioles 7-3.

Cleveland came into the game with a .211 team batting average and ranked second-to-last in the AL in runs scored. On this day, however, Ramirez hit a solo shot in the fourth inning and a two-run drive in the ninth, and Yan Gomes had three hits to lift his batting average 41 points to .261.

"When things are not going my way, I stay positive and work it," Ramirez said through a translator. "I know eventually I'm going to break out."

Ramirez has three homers in two games and a team-leading seven for the season.

"I try not to do too much," Ramirez said. "I just look for a good pitch and then I hit it somewhere."

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Kluber yielded two home runs to Manny Machado, but the Indians twice came from behind before tacking on three runs in the ninth.

"I thought we did a pretty good job," manager Terry Francona said. "When they came back, we came back at them. We kept pushing and took some better swings."

Kluber (3-1) allowed three runs and six hits over seven-plus innings. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner walked none and struck out four to move past Charles Nagy into sixth place on the Indians' career strikeout list with 1,238.

"It doesn't matter if you feel you pitched well or didn't pitch well. The goal is to end the game with more runs they do," Kluber said. "That's what we did."

Machado's third multihomer game of the season wasn't enough to prevent the Orioles from losing for the ninth time in 10 games, a skid that has dropped them 10 games under .500 (6-16).

"You know what? There's no excuse for what's happening," Machado said. "We need to play better overall. Nobody is in here pointing fingers. We are in here together, and we are going to ride or die together."

Andrew Cashner (1-3) gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings, walking two and striking out seven. He's 0-3 with 7.41 ERA in three lifetime appearances against the Indians.

After Machado connected in the first inning, Cleveland went up 2-1 in the fourth when Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso hit successive doubles following a leadoff homer by Ramirez.

Baltimore regained the lead in the bottom half. After Machado homered, Adam Jones doubled and scored on a single by Chris Davis.

A pair of walks and run-scoring singles by Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley put the Indians up 4-3 in the fifth.

"Once you get the lead, you can't give it up," Cashner lamented.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Indians: CF Bradley Zimmer was a late scratch with a mild right ankle sprain. He was replaced by Rajai Davis.

Orioles: LF Trey Mancini missed a second straight game with a swollen right knee. ... DH Mark Trumbo (strained right quad) will begin a three-game stint with Double-A Bowie on Monday, then play three games with Triple-A Norfolk later in the week, manager Buck Showalter said. He won't be rushed to return. "It's important we get it right the first time," Showalter said.

WELL RESTED

Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin threw a side session Saturday and is expected to start Tuesday against the Cubs. Francona opted to skip Tomlin's last scheduled start Wednesday to reset the rotation after Cleveland had two straight games postponed last weekend.

UP NEXT

Indians: Carlos Carrasco (3-0, 3.48 ERA) starts the series finale Monday night. The right-hander is 9-0 with a 1.75 ERA over his past 11 starts since Aug. 27.

Orioles: RHP Kevin Gausman (1-1, 5.57) makes his fifth start of the season after allowing 27 hits -- including six homers -- over 21 innings.

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