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Phillies Start 2015 Season on the Wrong Foot in Shutout Loss to Boston

7 Apr
Cole Hamels gave up four solo runs in the Phillies 8-0 shutout loss in Monday's 2015 Season-Opener.

Cole Hamels gave up four solo runs in the Phillies 8-0 shutout loss in Monday’s 2015 Season-Opener. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—The 2015 season opener for the Phillies was simply a continuation of the seasons since they last won a division title in 2011—a slow start by the starting pitcher and little run support from the offense.

Cole Hamels allowed five hits, four of them solo homeruns—Dustin Pedroia had two of them while centerfielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who also hit a game-clinching grand-slam home run in the top of the ninth inning off Phillies relief pitcher Jake Diekman.

On a sunny, picture postcard day in front of a sellout crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park, the Boston Red Sox came with a 8-0 shutout of the Phillies.   Well, so much for optimism and hope on opening day. What this game did was reinforce for fans why there will be little to cheer about this season.

“It definitely didn’t go the way we all envisioned,” Hamels told reporters after the game. “I know I’m one of the big culprits of that. You put a team down 1-0 in the first inning, it’s not really setting a good tone or positive message to be able to get the momentum to your side, so that’s a lot of my fault.”

Hamels had five strikeouts and allowed three walks in five innings on the mound. Giving up those homeruns put the Phillies in an early hole and considering how the Phillies offense struggles to score, it might as well be a 40-run deficit.

“Cole didn’t get away with any high fast balls,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “His command was not sharp at all and that resulted in the home runs. …No explanation for Cole, he was throwing 94 and he had his fast ball. He seemed to have long counts, they fouled off a lot of balls, they extended at-bats, he threw a lot of pitches and really didn’t into a rhythm of getting ahead of the hitters.”

It took the Phillies offense four innings to get their first hit of the game—a double by Ryan Howard. In the seventh inning, the Phillies actually got two more hits from catcher Carlos Ruiz and right fielder Grady Sizemore.

Ruiz eventually reached third, but was stranded there when shortstop Freddy Galvis struck out to end the inning. That was as close to scoring as the Phillies would get.

Sandberg said his team has to come up with ways to manufacture runs and get timely hits moving forward. For the Phillies, putting hits together and scoring runs will be far easier said than done.

“We’re just going to have to grind out at bats and make the most out of base runners,” Sandberg said. “The games that we played well and won in spring training we would do that and do some other things to advance the runners. We need to hit more and take more walks.”

Meanwhile, Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Bucholz bedazzled Phillies to the tune of nine strikeouts and allowing just three hits—two singles and a double—in seven innings on the mound for Boston.

While Philadelphia sports fans have their usual cynical, pessimistic view of the Phillies lack of hitting prowess, Phillies leftfielder Ben Revere shrugged it off and reminded folks that there are a whole bunch of games left in the season.

“It’s only one game, so it’s 161 to go. We have an off-day and we’ll be back on Wednesday,” Revere said. “It’s a long season. We have to think about Wednesday. We’ll starting getting the groove back, especially with me and (Odubel) Herrerra creating havoc on the bases.”

 

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Spring Training 2015: Phils Begin the Painful Process of Rebuilding

20 Feb
Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last year.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

 Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Phillies spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Florida this week, fans would like to believe that there would be some hope onthe horizon.

But, the Phillies are a team facing more uncertainty now than they did at the end of last season’s 73-89 finish.
Don’t get too attached to the Phillies current 40-man roster because it’ll probably change by the July 31st trade deadline or when the season ends. Heck, it may not be the same when the Phillies open the season against the Boston Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.

During the offseason, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to move veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.

But the offers weren’t there. So guys, along with second baseman Chase Utley and his un-waved no-trade clause, remain on the roster.
While most of those guys will be gone eventually, Hamels is already looking at moving companies. The team’s ace pitcher told USA Today: “I want to go to a place where I can win again. I know it’s not going to happen here.”

On the other hand, that’s not to say Amaro didn’t make any moves this off season. He managed to jettison the team’s all-time hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (Los Angeles Dodgers), rightfielder Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati) and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (Colorado Rockies).

The most notable addition of the Phillies offseason was former Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Billingsley, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow surgery. He missed all of last season and a good chunk of the 2013.

That one was a bit of a head scratcher. I guess that Amaro is hoping Billingsley will be healthy enough to be a functioning part of the rotation or better yet be good enough to be a tradable commodity. From 2006 to 2013, Billingsley has an 81-61 record with a 3.65 earned run average.

Health is also concern for lefthander Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to make $25 million this season. Lee ended the 2014 season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, something that scared off potential trading partners. Amaro is hoping Lee can give teams the illusion that he’s still good enough to get some young prospects for him.

Speaking of possible pieces to trade, a big question is will Ryan Howard be healthy enough to be the slugger that struck fear in the hearts of pitchers from 2006 to 2011. If Howard has a hot start in the spring and summer, Amaro might find some willing trade partners, especially in the American League where he could help a team as a designated hitter.

But the team that does it is going to have to swallow the last two years—and $60 million—of Howard’s contract.

Rebuilding is obviously the Phillies ultimate goal. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg want to know if guys like Freddy Galvis, Ben Revere, David Buchanan, Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf are ready and good enough to eventually become perennially contenders in the National League East.

The next few seasons will probably tell Phillies fans whether or not the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel is attached to an oncoming train.

Thanks for the Memories: Phils Trade Jimmy Rollins to the LA Dodgers

12 Dec

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt on the Phillies all-time hits list  last June.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt on the Phillies all-time hits list last June. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—We all knew that Jimmy Rollins inevitable departure from the Phillies was coming back in June when he became the club’s all-time hits leader and he suggested that he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause if the Phillies were truly committed to rebuilding during the press conference.

The Phillies traded Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday night for minor league pitching prospects Zach Elfin and Tom Windle.

Rollins certainly left an indelible mark on the Phillies during his 15 years as a player and as a member of the community. He is among the team’s all-time leaders in hits, at-bats and doubles and as far as I’m concerned, Rollins is the best defensive shortstop in the team’s history and still one of the best in the National League.

But I think that Rollins’ greatest legacy to the Phillies is that he brought a swagger to the team that led eventually them to a World Series championship in 2008. That was something that I noticed about him even before 2007 when he said the Phillies were the team to beat.

When I first interviewed Rollins near the end of the 2004 season, he said it was his goal to see the Phillies become as a consistent a winner as the Atlanta Braves were during the 1990s.

Rollins was quite prophetic and he was one of the main reasons the Phillies owned the National League East from 2007-2011. During that time, the Phils won two National League pennants and a world championship.

At the start of the 2007 season, Rollins let it be known the Phillies and not the then defending division champion New York Mets. J-Roll got a lot of heat from the local and national media for making.

That season, Rollins put his money where his mouth was with an MVP season that helped lead the Phillies to the first of five straight division titles. Rollins batted .296, hit 30 home runs and drove in 94 runs. He set a major league record for plate appearances.

At just 5-foot-8, and 180 pounds, the switch-hitting Rollins had solid power from the leadoff position. He is one of six shortstops in baseball history to have 2,000 hits and four or more Gold Gloves. He is fourth on the major league career list in lead-off home runs with 46.

Last June, Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman, Mike Schmidt said the 36-year-old Rollins is a strong candidate to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“I think if Jimmy retired at the end of the (2014) season. I think he’d get serious consideration Hall-of-Fame consideration right now,” Schmidt said back in June.

Rollins will certainly have the opportunity to add to his numbers with the Dodgers, who also acquired Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

During his time in Philadelphia, Rollins was definitely a fan favorite, especially among young African-American fans, whose older relatives had bad memories of the Phillies treatment of Jackie Robinson when he broke the color-line and when Dick Allen was a member of the team.

“That’s definitely a great thing and I’ve said it a number of times, you look around you don’t see many Black faces in the ballpark from back in the Veterans Stadium days,” Rollins said back in 2011. “Now you’re starting to see quite a bit more and it’s a good thing to bring that relationship and it’s important to this ball club to bring people together.”

But in the business of baseball, the Phillies are in rebuilding mode and are looking to develop younger ball players. Rollins, like most players of his age and experience, wants another chance to play for a winner and add to his legacy and that’s why he waived his no-trade clause.

One thing is for certain filling in Rollins shoes at shortstop will be a monumental task.

Done With Cooperstown and Hall of Fame Shenanigans

12 Dec

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

 

Gil Hodges let the New York Mets to a World Series title in 1969.

Gil Hodges let the New York Mets to a World Series title in 1969.

The Baseball Hall of Fame lost a friend on Monday. Thanks to its arrogant, shortsighted vision, it won’t miss me or the many thousands who were stunned by another goose egg turned in by this year’s Golden Era Committee vote. But then the Hall never did get it right.

No one gets 100 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote? A joke. But no one on a strong ballot of nine players and one executive (Bob Howsam) gets even 75 percent? Far worse and thus my decision to never again justify the Baseball Hall of Fame’s existence by entering its doors.

In particular, there is no joy in Mudville, where Gil Hodges has been emphatically shut out (receiving three or fewer votes of the 12 required), quite possibly forever, by a committee that seems to be applying 21st Century standards to a 20th Century icon.

You remember Hodges, right? The manager of arguably the most remarkable turnaround in the history of the game, the 1969 New York Mets?

As a Brooklyn Dodger, Hodges was, at one point,  late in his career 10th all-time in homers (370), with seven years of 100 or more and eight All-Star appearances. He was one of the rocks of the Boys of Summer, part of seven pennant winners and three world championships (two as a player and one as manager).

But what makes Hodges’ omission particularly galling is that he represents everything in terms of character that baseball claims to be about, while far transcending the numbers you might find in a media guide or on a website.

Hodges was a World War II hero, who lost two of his formative years to the game. At the time of his service (1944 and 1945), he was 19 years old and had already played in one game for Brooklyn in 1943.

After not stepping on the field for some 30 months because he was in the Pacific serving his country, he had to start all over again in 1946 and by the next year was stuck in a situation where the Dodgers (who had gone on with life while he was away) had to figure out what to do with him. So by the time he became a regular in 1948, he lost arguably 1,000 plate appearances and the kind of counting statistics that Veterans Committee members appear determined to use to keep him out of Cooperstown.

‘Determined’ is the operative word here given the great injustice that befell Hodges in the early 1990s when committee chairman Ted Williams disallowed a 12th vote by Roy Campanella on the basis that Campy was sick and not present at the committee meeting.

With Campanella’s vote, Hodges was a Hall of Famer, earning the required 12 of 16 votes. Without it, Hodges was left with 11 of 15 votes or just shy of inclusion (a similar predicament to Tony Oliva and Dick Allen yesterday, only they didn’t have any votes nullified).

Add that to the highest number of votes ever received by a player not voted into the Hall of Fame (over 1,000) and one has to wonder what Hodges did to antagonize people over the years.

One vote shy. And it appears as if the man who drove in the only two runs in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series will never get that vote.

How could a figure who received 50 percent or more of the BBWAA vote 11 times (of a possible 15 tries), not have his day in the sun, while so many who finished behind him eventually get included?

And it only gets worse if you look at his defensive legacy, which is greatly understated.
Hodges won three Gold Gloves at first base with the Dodgers at a point when baseball only awarded one for all of baseball (1957-59).

This was the beginning of the award and the twilight of Hodges being an elite player, which raises the question: How many Gold Gloves might he have won had the current rules of the award applied?

If we are going to punish the man for being part of the pre-steroid era (he has dropped to 75th all-time in homers in the last half-century), what is the other side of the coin?

Hodges became an elite first baseman defensively in 1949, when he led the National League in putouts, fielding percentage and double plays and was second in assists. He was first in at least one major defensive category six more times before the creation of the Gold Glove meaning he could have won as many as 10 Gold Gloves with at least a half dozen extremely likely.

Undeniably,  any conversation of the 10 greatest defensive first basemen of all-time must include Hodges. But technicality, rather than accomplishment, rules the argument against him.

Then again Hodges never was a master of timing.

He died two days before his 48th birthday, a year before a Mets team he largely made relevant won its second pennant under Yogi Berra. With Hodges as manager would the 1973 Mets have won a second world title? More importantly in this discussion, with Hodges in the public eye, might he have gotten those few extra votes to have made this a moot point?

Sadly, we will never know the answers to any of these questions and as the likelihood that Hodges is ever inducted begins to become extremely remote, we are left to ponder this: What good is a Hall of Fame without celebrating its game?

Every year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts a minimum number of candidates. The powers that be in that sport lock themselves in a room until they come out with at least four people (and usually more). They build on the legacy of the past, refresh our love for the game, all without cheapening the award. Included on that list are Veterans Committee choices
Baseball, long ago stunned by cronyism and possible over-induction of candidates, has swung far too wide in the other direction, not only applying new statistical analysis to keep older players out, but suspicion of wrongdoing (see steroids) to create a backlog of worthy candidates that cannot be rectified.

Dick Allen? Should have been in long ago. Tony Oliva, one of the great hitters of the 1960s and a three-time batting champion? Same thing. And don’t get me started on Luis Tiant (a four-time 20-game winner, who has the most career shutouts of any non-Hall of Famer) or Jim Kaat (winner of 283 games and a 16-time Gold Glover) or Ken Boyer.

Once the BBWAA fails (which it has often this decade by not resolving the steroid argument) and the Golden Era Committee fails (which it has done twice consecutively by applying more difficult standards than it ever has in the past) then we arrive at this sad epitaph for the Hall of Fame itself.

Any shrine too snobbish or indecisive to celebrate itself is not worthy of our recognition and even more sadly, not worthy of the game we call our National Pasttime.

Today, there is no joy in Mudville because Cooperstown itself has struck out.

Ryan Howard’s Lawsuit Settlement Another Example of How Athletes and their Money are Soon Parted

21 Nov

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—To say that 2014 hasn’t been a good year for Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard would be an understatement.

Not only did he have a bad year on the field, Howard’s off field life became a bit of a mess due to a series of dueling lawsuits he and his twin brother Corey filed against each other.

The recently settled lawsuit was sparked by Ryan’s decision to terminate the personal assistant contract he had with Corey in 2013. It was a decision spurred by the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Broke” and based in the desire to let his family be family, not employees.

It did not go over well.

Ryan was paying his twin $7,975 every two weeks for handling his business affairs through his RJH Foundation so that they he could concentrate on baseball. Their parents Ron and Cheryl Howard, his brother Chris and his sister Roni Cowley, were also members of the foundation’s team despite having no financial stake of their own in it.

Prior to Ryan taking control of the foundation in 2012, family members enriched themselves to the tune of over $2 million, some of which was poured into luxury cars and other items, according to the counter suit Ryan filed against his twin.

It’s sad to see that things got this bad for the Howard family because I remember how close they seemed during happier times.

I met Howard’s family in 2006 when he won the MVP Award and again in 2009 in Kansas City when I was receiving the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum. On the surface, they seemed like your typical middle-class family and you could understand why he would trust them with his finances.

The problem was that none of Howard’s family members had experience in the business of sports and the greed bug bit and bit hard.

Or as Mase and Diddy put it “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Multimillion dollar athletes often find themselves not knowing who to trust. For example, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, whose story was featured in “Broke” talked about how trusting family with his money nearly ruined him financially.

Sound familiar?

No one was really qualified to handle all that money. Seemingly nice people like your family members end up becoming greedy when millions of dollars are on the table. Family members can sometimes end up becoming as unscrupulous as one of those knuckleheads an athlete meets in the streets.

“Getting money sometimes is like turning the lights on in a dark house in the ghetto,” said former Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott during his segment in “Broke.” “It exposes all the roaches and the rats.”

While his family may not like him in the short term, Ryan Howard may have saved himself from further heartache and even worse relations with his relatives by taking control of his foundation.

Howard, who will make $50 million over the next two years, needs to find someone he can trust to manage his money. He’s 35, injuries are taking their toll, and another contract like the one he currently has with the Phillies probably isn’t in the offing.

The obvious lesson here is that even the people who love you, people who are seemingly grounded and have the noblest of intentions, can become people you don’t recognize when millions of dollars are involved. I hope that Howard and his mom, dad, sister and brothers can heal and go back to being “just family.”

After all, blood should be thicker than money, right?

October Surprise: KC’s Guthrie Joins List of Unlikely World Series Heroes

26 Oct

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

Righthanded pitcher Jeremy Guthrie led Kansas City to a win in Game 3 of the 2014 World Series. The series is now tied at 2-2.

Righthanded pitcher Jeremy Guthrie led Kansas City to a win in Game 3 of the 2014 World Series. The series is now tied at 2-2.

The Kansas City Royals moved to within two wins of baseball’s world championship Friday night largely on the efforts of Jeremy Guthrie.

Jeremy who? That’s not Woody or Arlo or even Janet. For those who don’t recognize the name of the 11-year journeyman who owns a career record of 83-100, there are the following dubious distinctions:
1.      Led American League in losses twice (2009, 2011).
2.      Led AL in homers allowed (2009).
3.      Led AL in hits allowed (2013).
4.      Led AL in hit batsmen (2014).
5.      Led AL in errors by a pitcher (2014).

In all, not exactly a glowing resume, but then one of the beauties of the World Series has often been this cardinal rule: hot trumps better. It usually doesn’t apply in the NFL and almost never applies in the NBA (see a pair of lower seeds reach the NBA Finals lately?), but the joy that is October has its own set of rules, where the wave of a magic wand can bring unforeseen gifts.

New York Mets second baseman Al Weis hit a three-run homer against Baltimore 's Dave McNally in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series. Photo by Newsday.com

New York Mets second baseman Al Weis hit a three-run homer against Baltimore ‘s Dave McNally in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series. Photo by Newsday.com

In this world, Al Weis trumps Davey Johnson. Brian Doyle beats Davey Lopes. And Billy Hatcher? If you’re not careful, in a given year he can trump just about anyone.

The cynics can call it random and unjust. When teams with 88 and 89 wins, respectively, match up, images of John Mahoney screaming at John Cusack while incarcerated in ‘’Say Anything’’ – and lecturing about championing mediocrity – comes to mind.

The horror! And if dynasties are your bag, the ugly possibilities are limitless.
Would Tom Brady succumb to Ryan Fitzpatrick in a conference championship? Can you imagine the Bill Russell Celtics losing a playoff game to the Cincinnati Royals with Oscar Robertson’s sub playing the starring role?

Not on your life, but then baseball has so often been the one pastime where you can proverbially have your cake and eat it too, where conservatism can find a middle ground with the dreamer. In this world, we can tout the Yankee dynasties, while still noting that Derek Jeter only won one world title in his final 14 seasons, a democratic statistical correction by the baseball gods that the other sports cannot match.
October and occasionally a few days before and after grants a starring role for Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Mariano Rivera, but also shines its light upon Moe Drabowsky, Al Gionfriddo and John Stuper. And that’s what we have loved about it for over a century.

Hot trumps logic, invites imagination.

How else do you explain Guthrie outpitching perennial stud and four-time All-Star Tim Hudson in San Francisco in the game history tells us was probably the most important in the series? It’s Gary Gentry outpitching Jim Palmer to a lesser degree all over again, just a few years after a still-developing Palmer outpitched Sandy Koufax at the peak of his powers.

The game invites us to look a little bit closer, noting that while Guthrie’s won-loss record wasn’t all that scintillating (13-11) in 2014, the club was 19-13 in games he started, strong if not imposing. And since a July hiccup in which he went 1-3 with a 10.07 ERA over four starts, Guthrie has been 8-2 over 12 starts, following up a good Game 3 in the ALCS against Baltimore with another rock-solid outing against the Giants.

Peaking at the right time? Good scouting? A manager understanding his pitcher’s limits?
Theories will abound with a little bit of truth in many. But as any magician will tell you, the tricks of the trade are best not revealed, if they can be at all.

Who knows why a Cookie Lavagetto or Don Larsen shine, albeit briefly? But every fall their spirits are resurrected at this time, providing the kind of hope that only can be found in love, the hottest player of all.

2014 Royals Taking Their Place in Baseball’s History of Improbable Post Season Runs

17 Oct

By Barry Federovitch

For the Chris Murray Report

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas makes an incredible catch in the stands in Game 3 of the 2014 American League Championship Series.

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas makes an incredible catch in the stands in Game 3 of the 2014 American League Championship Series.

The most natural inclination when the Kansas City Royals stunned the Baltimore Orioles in four straight to sweep the 2014 American League Championship Series was to draw comparisons to the 1969 Mets.

Inferior team wins. Said team catches lightning in a bottle, fueled by a bevy of incredible defensive plays. And yet it’s important to remember several pieces of data in the comparison beginning with the realization that the Mets didn’t sweep that series. The Orioles won Game 1 and one of the great what-ifs in baseball history is what might have happened had Baltimore won just one of the four games the Mets juggernaut snagged that week.

New York Mets outfielder makes a diving catch against Baltimore in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Kansas City Royals made similar plays against the Orioles in the 2014 American League Championship Series.

New York Mets outfielder Tommy Agee makes a diving catch against Baltimore in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The Kansas City Royals made similar plays against the Orioles in the 2014 American League Championship Series.

Would the Orioles, with Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar slated to go in games 6 and 7 at home, won the series in seven? Or would the Mets have won anyway with more magic from players like Tommie Agee, Donn Clendenon or Al Weis?

To that question we will never know the answer. But as remarkable as that week was, it wasn’t the standard for postseason sweeps, which ironically happened exactly 100 years ago. Since then we’ve had a bevy of great lightning-in-the-bottle stories this time of year and the 2014 Royals may not even rank near the top.

You decide.

1914 Boston Braves: Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s were a dynasty, fueled by great pitching and their $100,000 infield (yeah, that was a long time ago). They were heavy favorites against the Boston Braves, whose manager George ‘’Tweedy’’ Stallings is best remembered for wearing out the seat of his suit pants on the bench. The Braves were in last place on the Fourth of July and then proceeded to go 60-16 to not only win their first pennant, but do so in double digits.

That should have been a warning to pundits of a potential upset, but both the A’s and experts were stunned over four days as Hank Gowdy (an underrated catcher whose career lasted until 1930) hit .545.

1966 Orioles: Once upon a time the Orioles were on the other side of an incredible four-game sweep. This is often forgotten in history since Baltimore went on to win three pennants and another world title only a few years later with much of the same cast. But understand the rep of the 1966 Dodgers: led by 27-game winner Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers were defending champs and had won their third pennant in four years. The Orioles were making their first postseason appearance. But paced by Moe Drabowsky’s amazing relief performance in Game 1, the Dodgers’ offense was shut down, never to reawaken in the most stunning display of four-game pitching in World Series history.

1980  Kansas City Royals: The 1980 Yankees won more regular-season games (103) than either the 1977 or 1978 teams that won it all. Both teams defeated the Royals en route to the crown and the Bombers had a run going of three consecutive postseason series victories over KC. So this was the ultimate grudge match. With homefield advantage, the Yanks were leading at home in Game 3 until George Brett’s long homer off Goose Gossage cemented the three-game sweep.

The 1990 Cincinnati Reds: Lest we forget. The 1988-1990 A’s were very close to being recognized as one of the great dynasties of the last 30 years. But they ran into a hot Dodger team in 1988 and even hotter Cincinnati team two years later. Reds pitchers held the Bash Brothers to only eight runs in four games, but the MVP was Billy Hatcher, whose .750 mark represents one of the great short-series hot streaks in postseason history.

2014 Royals: KC trailed 7-3 late in the wild-card playoff before stunning Oakland. Since that point, they have hardly trailed in their first postseason appearance in 29 years. They wiped out a veteran Angels team, but the nature of their four-game sweep over the Orioles was invigorating and incredible: Baltimore hit well in two games (games 1 and 2), but not enough.

Then it pitched well in the next two, but again it wasn’t enough as the Royals won two games by two runs and two others by one each. Lorenzo Cain was the Royals series MVP, but collectively KC played perhaps the best series defense since the 1969 Mets, using several diving or unlikely catches to shut down every potential Baltimore rally. Can the Royals sustain this momentum into the World Series? A national bandwagon of underdog lovers await in what is becoming one of the great October sagas in recent years.