The Red Sox Made the First Move; Look for the Yankees to Make a Bigger One

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By Lenn Robbins

A fascinating dynamic has emerged recently in baseball: There are 30 franchises that begin the season chasing the World Series. Two of them – the Yankees and Red Sox – spend the entire calendar year chasing each other.

The Red Sox blinked first in the Great Chase, acquiring pitcher Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles for minor leaguers Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero on Saturday. Neither are considered elite prospects but that’s never stopped either franchise in their Desperate Franchises drama to outdo the other.

With World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi about to come off the injured list and work out of the bullpen, Cashner will become the Sox’s fifth starter. The 32-year-old veteran righty knows exactly what he’s walking into.

“It’s such a rich history with baseball there,’’ Cashner told reporters. “David Ortiz has been one of my favorite players growing up. They’re still the champions from last year. It’ll be fun to help them get to where they want to go.”

Where the Red Sox want to go is ahead or around the Yankees. The Bombers pushed their lead over Boston to nine and one-half games and six over Tampa Bay Rays with a 4-2 win over the Blue Jays.

It was a win-win for the Yankees. They got a first-hand look at Marcus Stroman, one of the starters Yankees reportedly are eyeing to bolster their rotation. Stroman turned in a quality start, allowing three earned runs in six innings with seven strikeouts and three walks.

It was an important start for Stroman and the Yankees. He last pitched on June 29th when he suffered a pectoral cramp. There’s no place for damaged goods in a pennant race so a healthy Stroman remains a top option.

The question, of course, is what are the Yankees willing to part with in a trade for Stroman, Madison Bumgarner, Trevor Bauer or Zach Wheeler? There’s a neon LED sign flashing, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.’

The Red Sox basically gutted their farm system by trading prospects for the likes of Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz. This has been GM Dave Dombrowski’s M.O. He gutted Detroit’s farm system in exchange for the Tigers winning two pennants and four consecutive AL Central titles.

 The Sox now have just one prospect in MLB.com’s Top 100.

Cashner was a smart move. He’s 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts for the Orioles, but he’s pitched great ball of late, posting a 1.41 ERA in June. He didn’t cost Boston much, not that they have much to offer.

The Yankees have built one of baseball’s best farm systems. There are prospects they can offer, but again, at what cost? And let’s remember that not every established player can pitch in New York. We offer Sonny Grey and People’s Exhibit A.

The Yankees potentially have some reinforcements on the way. Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Sunday that Luis Severino and Dellin Betances are ready to begin throwing programs after lengthy shutdowns. No timeline has been set for their returns but both are expected to throw on Monday.

The addition of those two would significantly bolster the starting rotation and bullpen. But with the July 31 trade deadline staring the Yankees and Red Sox in the face, don’t expect the Bombers to stand pat.

The Red Sox have made the first move. The Yankees will make the bigger one. Why? Because the Red Sox won the World Series last season, which means the Yankees mandate is to win it this year.

Not convinced? Consider this: On the day the Sox acquired Cashner, the Yankees reportedly were scouting Mets starter Noah Syndegaard in Miami.

Doc Gooden Can Still Be Heroic, but Not a Hero

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By Lenn Robbins

The biggest mistake fans make, especially young ones, is to affix labels such as “hero” to a favorite athlete.

Those sports stars possess the same foibles and face the same demons as any of us. When you throw in the megabucks, pressure to perform, social media nonsense, media attention, it’s a wonder more star athletes don’t succumb to the pitfalls that is being human.

Still, it hurts when one of your favorite athletes, one of the stars, and a truly decent human being, trips. Again and again and again.

The latest revelation, reported by the New York Post, is that Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden had once again been arrested for possession of cocaine and driving under the influence on June 7th in New Jersey.

It’s hard to be a Mets fan in this town but Gooden was the player fans of the Amazins could hold up and stare down the Yankees. Until of course he threw his only no hitter for the Yankees in 1996.

That was about the only accomplishment he didn’t record for the Mets. He led them to the World Series championship in 1986, a year after becoming the youngest winner of the Cy Young at age of 20.

In that magical season of 1985, before he first tasted the drug that haunts him to this day, he went 24-4 with 268 strikeouts and a 1.53 ERA in the live ball era. He won the pitching version of the Triple Crown by throwing a National League best 16 complete games (yes, starters threw complete games once upon a time) and 276 and two-thirds innings.

Doc owned this city like few athletes before or after.

If you looked up in Midtown (I know, redundant) you couldn’t miss the 102-foot-tall Sports Illustrated cover mural of Gooden with the caption, “How does it feel to look down the barrel of a loaded gun?”

Tabloid headline writers had a blast with Gooden: Doc Operates. Doc Makes a House. The Doc is in.

But the Doc also was out.

He missed the team’s ticker tape parade on Oct. 28, 1986 because he spent the previous night after the Mets won the World Series in a drug dealer’s apartment, cocaine reducing him to zombie. He watched the parade from his home on Long Island.

Win the World Series. Miss the parade.

“As my teammates rode through the Canyon of Heroes, I was alone in my bed in Roslyn, Long Island, with the curtains closed and the TV on, missing what should have been the greatest morning of my life,’’ Gooden wrote in his autobiography, “Doc: A Memoir.”

It was the beginning of a lifelong battle for Gooden, one he apparently has not won.

Doc was in rehab by 1987 after testing positive for cocaine. He was suspended for the 1995 season after failing another drug test. He was under the influence of drugs when he crashed his car in 2010 when driving his 5-year-old son, Dylan, to school. He was jailed for eight months in 2006 when met his probation officer high on coke.

Isn’t that the epitome of addiction? You go to your probation appointment high on the very stuff that landed you on probation?

Here’s my mistake. When he wrote that memoir in 2013, it seemed as if Doc had exorcised the ghosts. The memoir has been described as brutally honest.

“Warning: It is not an easy read,” wrote one reader. “Honestly it made my head spin to listen to all his relapses,” wrote another.

Heads are spinning again. Gooden is sick again.

Doc said one thing about cocaine in an E60 interview in 2011 that could make him heroic.

“It was love at first sight, unfortunately,” he said of the white power.

If one young fan reads that and opts not to try cocaine, then yes, we can say Gooden is heroic if not a hero.

Would the Mets Help the Yankees Win a Pennant?

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#45 NY Mets Zach Wheeler file photo Neil Miller /nysportsextra copyright 2019

By Lenn Robbins

  If playoff baseball was about offense the Yankees wouldn’t have a care in the world. But it’s not. It’s about pitching. Always has been. Always will be.

  As the Yankees begin their quest for a 41st American League pennant and 28th World Series championship, look for GM Brian Cashman to add at least one starting pitching before the July 31 trade deadline.

  Cashman already went after Dallas Keuchel who signed with the Braves. But there are other – and possibly better – options.

 “I’d love to add pitching if I can,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters in London. “Whether it’s bullpen, rotation. Just reinforce our pitching, and get our pitching that’s hurt healthy, and then have the pitching we currently have stay healthy.”

  Now, about those options.

Trevor Bauer: What’s not to like? He’s 28 and under club control until the end of the 2020 season. He leads the majors with 132 innings pitched. He’s having a terrific season (3.61 ERA, 149 K’s, 51 walks).

  Makes you wonder why the Indians, who are a season-high 12 games above .500 and have gotten within five and one-half games of the Twins, would trade him. The Indians are pitching rich and the Yankees are prospects rich.

 The question, of course, is which prospects or current players, would the Yankees be willing to give in any trade. Which leads us to Detroit’s Matthew Boyd. Boyd, 28, is having a breakout season with a 3.87 ERA (4.84 for his career) with 142 strikeouts and just 20 walks. Wow. He’s under club control until 2022. Wow. Wow.

  So, what’s the hangup? The Tigers know exactly what they have and the asking price might be too high. The New York Post reported in late-June that the Yankees and Tigers discussed a Boyd for Gleyber Torres deal. Can’t imagine the Yankees pulling that trigger. If you’re Detroit, might as well ask for the moon and go from there.

 Madison Bumgarner has been a postseason stud, as long as he stays off his dirt bike.

 Bumgarner, 29, has established himself as one of the best postseason pitchers in history, winning MVP honors in the 2014 World Series and NLCS. He’s pitched in a big market. It’s hard to imagine Bumgarner having trouble pitching in New York. In fact, according to The Atheltic, the Yankees are one of the teams he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause.

  He turns 30 at the end of the month and is a free agent after the season. The Giants have been horrible since 2016 and need some major rebuilding. Bumgarner has a ‘For Sale’ on his back.

  Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays is another option. The Long Island native is having one of his best seasons, with an ERA of 3.18.

  Stroman, 28, would be under the Yankees control until after the 2020-21 season, making him very attractive, and potentially very expensive to get. He hasn’t pitched since suffering a pectoral cramp on June 29. A lot of teams will be watching when he makes his first start of the second half.

 “I’ve come to terms with it,” Stroman recently told reporters about a possible trade. “It doesn’t change what I am doing in the moment. It doesn’t change that I am trying to win as many games as possible for the Toronto Blue Jays. I actually do love playing for the organization and the country. I am focused in on the moment. And what happens happens. That is my mantra right now.”

The last name the Yankees have interest in might make the biggest splash in town. Mets starter Zach Wheeler reportedly has been on the trading block. Would the Mets help the Yankees win a pennant? Sports talk radio would have a field day if this trade got done.

Wheeler, 29, threw 182.1 innings last season and already has thrown 119 this season. His ERA (4.69) is a little high but he has 130 strikeouts and just 34 walks. He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season but that has never stopped the Yankees. Obviously, Wheeler can pitch in the Big Apple.

Pete Alonso: The Polar Bear Worth Rooting For

NY Mets #20 Pete Alonso file photo nysportsextra/Neil Miller copyright 2019

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

In this latest trainwreck of a Mets season, the light at the end of the tunnel is not on the front of the train.

Pete Alonso just might turn out to be the greatest slugger in franchise history. Best of all, he seems like a kid in a candy store, not an entitled athlete that’s been showered with praise since T-Ball.

 After winning the Home Run Derby Monday night in Cleveland and earning a cool $1 million bonus – almost twice his base salary – Alonso said he would donate 10% of his winnings to two charities – the Wounded Warrior Project and Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

NY Mets #20 Pete Alonso file photo nysportsextra /Neil Miller copyright 2019

“I have the utmost respect for the people that put their lives on the line every single day — and I just wanna show my gratitude, because a bad day for me is a lot different than a bad day for the servicemen and women that serve this country,” Alonso told reporters.

 Now if this isn’t a guy you want to root for, who is?

Need more proof that Alonso is worth the root? Unlike former Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, who dubbed himself the Dark Knight, Alonso’s nickname was bestowed upon him by teammate Todd Frazier in spring training.

Frazier took one look at the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Alonso and announced, ‘You look like a Polar Bear.’

NY mEts #20 Pete Alonso nysportsextra ?Neil Miller copyright 2019

“If any of you guys know Todd Frazier, he’s a loud mouth from Jersey,’’ Alonso told reporters. “He tells it how it is.

“But I love that guy. He’s a great teammate. But he’s quite the character. He’s a clown. But definitely got it from him.”

            Alonso came into the Derby with the most impressive first half in Mets history. On a floundering Mets team (40-50) Alonso hit 30 home runs before the All Star break, tied with Mark McGwire (33) and Aaron Judge (30), for the second most in MLB history by a rookie.

            He’s 11 home runs shy of the Mets team record for homers (41) set by Todd Hundley in 1996 and equaled by Carlos Beltran in 2006. And his 68 RBIs before the All Star break is National League record for a rookie.

NY met #20 Pete Alonso file photo nysportsextra ?Neil Miller copyright 2019

Despite these accomplishments, Alfonso isn’t a household name outside the metropolitan area. That’s changing by the minute.

In winning the Home Run Derby by edging fellow-rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alonso became the favorite son of Ohio by calling the Buckeye State the greatest state ever. His parents were high school sweethearts in Lancaster. Ohio. Seems as if the Polar Bear is a bit of a romantic.

Alonso is the first Met to win The Derby since 1986 when Darryl Strawberry shared the honor with Wally Joyner. He’s got another 72 games to play and by the end of the season every Mets power-hitting record probably lay in ruins.

Monday night, he sounded like the kid in the candy store.

“That was a blast. Oh my god, that was a blast,” Alonso told reporters. “I’m gonna remember that for the rest of my life.”

Denial and Delusion Describe the Mets

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#36 mickey callaway in the dugout in the 3rd inning nysportsextra/neil miller copyright 2019

By Lenn Robbins

  There’s denial and then there’s delusion. Mets manager Mickey Callaway lives in the latter space, or he’s the one of the great patsies in baseball history.

  After the Mets lost for the 50th time this season – an 8-3 destruction at the hands of the Phillies – Callaway said he still believes the Mets can make a wild card run.

#36 mickey callaway neil miller nysportsextra copyright 2019

  This might be the last we hear from Callaway in his current capacity. Although chair-throwing GM Brodie Van Wagenen has professed his support for Callaway, you don’t have to be a GM to know when a club is performing as poorly as the Mets, the manager is the first to go.

  Heck, it might be kind to give Callaway his walking papers at this point.

  The New York Post reported earlier this summer that Callaway has been instructed on how to use pitchers, at times getting texts from the GM in the middle of a game. And, The Post reported that the GM threw a chair in a dressing down of Callaway and his staff after Friday night’s loss to the Phillies.

  So, when Callaway gave this summation of the Mets position at the halfway mark, you have to wonder if his lips were moving but someone else was doing the talking.

“I feel like we can make a run at this thing,” Callaway told reporters after Sunday’s loss. “We can sneak into that wild card, sneak back in this division. Look what the Nationals have done in a 2 1/2-week period.”

“Anything can happen in baseball, I’ve seen it all. We need to have a sense of urgency because of the possibilities. And in my mind, anything’s possible.”

 Mets fans know that. They have 1969 to point to. Speaking of delusion, no Mets’ fans worth his Mr. Met Bubblehead Doll believes the 2019 Mets can replicate the second-half heroics the way Amazins did 40 years ago.

   The Mets went into the season with visions of a wildcard playoff berth. They end the first half of the season 13.5 games out of first place in the NL East and seven games out of the wildcard. Only Derek Jeter’s Marlins, at 13 games out of the wildcard, are in a worse position.

 The bullpen is the worst in baseball and on this day in Queens, starting pitcher, Zach Wheeler didn’t come out for the sixth inning after giving up six earned runs. The Mets were being no-hit by Aaron Nola until the Pete Alonso homered in the sixth.

#45 zack wheeler nysportsextra /neil miller copyright 2019
#27 aaron nola nysportsextra/neil miller copyright 2019

   It was his 30 th home run of the season. He has 68 RBIs, a National League rookie record going into the All -Star Break. That’s the extent of Mets highlights for the first half of the season.

#20 pete alonso nysportsextra /neil miller copyright 2019
#27 jeurys familia nysportsextra /neil miller copyright 2019

  Most observers are beginning to catch on to the fact that Van Wagenen’s failed attempt at assembling a winning team has more to do with the Mets woeful first half than the manager. But GM’s don’t replace themselves. They simply remain in denial.

Why Women Athletes Are More Fearless Than Men

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credit twitter

By Lenn Robbins

  I’m a big fan of the slogan, “I’m a Feminist,’ that you see on T-shirts, crop tops and sweatshirts.

 But I’ve got another slogan: “Women Are More Fearless Than Men.” I know this reeks of bandwagon jumping but this sentiment has little to do with Sunday’s championship win by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in the FIFA World Cup.

 It seems that women are more fearless than their male counterparts.

 Let’s start with star Megan Rapinoe, winner of the Golden Ball, given to the best player in a FIFA World Cup final, and the Golden Boot, which goes to the player that scores the most goals.

 It was Rapinoe’s penalty-kick goal in the 61st minute that broke a scoreless tie and propelled the U.S. women to a 2-0 win over overmatched Netherlands. But she has shown herself to be as fearless off the pitch as she is impressive on it.

  Rapinoe thrust herself in to the role of team lightning rod by celebrating effusively in the team’s record-setting 13-0 win over Thailand and stating that the team wouldn’t go to the White House if it won the title.

  “I’m not going to the fucking White House,” Rapinoe told the site Eight by Eight. “We’re not gonna be invited…. I doubt it.”

  Of course, the spiteful, misogynist, bigot we call President invited the team, but as Rapinoe correctly said after the match, it’s doubtful any of the players will accept the invite. Rapinoe said she won’t. Bravo!

  Why any woman who would step foot in the home of a man trying to repeal a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body is mind boggling.

  Some professional men’s and women’s teams have opted not to go to the White House after winning championships. According to Business Insider, half of the 20 championship teams in major sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, WNBA, college football, men’s and women’s college basketball) have not visited the White House either because they weren’t invited or declined the invite since Trump took office.

  Yes, men as a group take a stand at times. But as individuals, they don’t seem as fearless as women.

  It might be an unfair criticism. Men risk far more in endorsements and face an utter bloodbath on social media if they utter anything even slightly controversial. Yet wouldn’t it be ground rattling if an elite men’s soccer player stood up and shouted, “Women Deserve Equal Pay!”

 In March, 28 members of the USWNT sued the US Soccer Federation for allegedly discriminating by paying the women less than members of the men’s team. The suit also sites unfair training and travel conditions, and demands equal promotion of games and support and development for their games.

  For the women, this was their fourth World Cup victory. They became the first team to win back-to-back titles since Germany did so in 2003 and 2007. The U.S. men have never won a World Cup. They didn’t even qualify for this year’s World Cup.

  The prize for the 2018 men’s World Cup was $400 million. The prize money for the 2019 women’s World Cup is $30 million. No wonder they have to be more fearless.

Knicks Plan B Might be Better Than the Clippers Plan A

file photo nysportsextra Neil Miller copyright 2019

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  It’s been said many times that patience is a virtue. It can be a tortuous one.

  The Knicks, under the guidance of president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale, have vowed to be patient, vowed not to part with No.1 picks, vowed to build a team that could sustain success.

 In other words, they vowed not commit the foolish Knicks blunders of the past.

 Some say this is an impossible path to take in the metropolitan area. New Yorkers love superstars, crave instant gratification from their teams and, shoot, why worry about the future if there’s even a sliver of a chance of winning today.

  This is how that mindset has played out for the Knicks:

  They last won an NBA Championship in 1973.

 Not every management team committed the same blunders as the most one headed by Phil Jackson. But there have been enough mistakes made to fill every seat in The Garden.

 Finally along came what was supposed to be the summer of redemption, of celebration, of rebirth.

  The possibility of the No.1 pick in the draft, a Fort Knox amount of salary cap space, and the outdated notion that New York and The Garden are enough to lure free agents, had Knicks fans believed their decades of wandering in the NBA desert were over.

You know what came next. The first pick became the third. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant chose the Nets over the Knicks. And if you read the fine print, owner James Dolan is an obstacle that must be overcome, or bought out.

 The news that broke early Saturday morning that Kawhi Leonard was signing with the Clippers, who also are acquiring Paul George, might have tasted like a latte with spoiled milk to Knicks fans. Not only is Brooklyn more desirable than Manhattan, but the Clippers are a more favorable franchise than the Knicks.

 That last statement might be a bit unfair but when did fairness go into the fans’ though process. The Knicks never had a chance at signing Leonard.

 But at the least the Knicks Plan B was better than the Clippers Plan A.

 The Clippers reportedly will send four unprotected future first round picks (2021, 2022, 2024, 2026), a protected first round pick (2023) to the Thunder in addition to Oklahoma’s right to swaps picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.

  In poker parlance, this is the epitome of all in.

  As we learned from the Toronto Raptors, who gambled on trading for Leonard a year ago, a championship trumps any hand. Although Leonard didn’t resign with Toronto, he gave the city, heck, the entire nation of Canada, it’s first NBA Championship.

 If Leonard and George bring a title to other NBA franchise in LA – the Clippers – than this trade might be worth the Herschel Walker-like haul that Oklahoma City is obtaining for Paul. But if they never manage to win it all (they might not be the best team in LA) than the Clippers are going to be golfing in June for a long time to come.

  This is where tortuous patience paid off for the Knicks. Having lost out on one of the greatest free agent classes of all time, the Knicks went to a smart Plan B. They signed Julius Randle (three years), Reggie Bullock (two years), Bobby Portis (two years), Wayne Ellington (two years) and Elfrid Payton (two years).

  Add in RJ Barrett and the Knicks will be significantly better than they were last season. They might even sneak into the last playoff spot if Barrett plays like the former No.1 high school recruit and second-year swingman Kevin Knox takes the next step.

 Regardless, the Knicks didn’t overspend for Boogie Cousins and other second tier free agents. They didn’t hand out any absurdly long contracts. They kept their first round picks.

  What the Knicks need is for Barrett or second-year center Mitchell Robinson to emerge as first team All NBA players. Than they will have the cache that Leonard, Durant, James, Irving and George have – elite players that can attract other elite players.

  It’s a matter of patience. Tortuous patience.