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#GoldNuggets: The Closer (And Then Some)

   10-31-2016
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The Trivia:  I was born in Bainbridge, Ga., and played college baseball for Auburn University. I transferred to the University of Florida after the 1997 season, and became one of the few players to have played in the College World Series with two different colleges! I’ve won a World Series with the Red Sox, catching for the same pitcher as I do now. Who am I?

The Closer (And Then Some)

Indians’ speedster Rajai Davis had just stolen second base, then third base and represented the tying run in the top of the eighth inning when catcher Wilson Contreras went out to speak with closer Aroldis Chapman. With Francisco Lindor, one of the Indians’ steadiest hitters throughout the postseason stepping into the batter’s box, the Cubs survival in the World Series was on the line. “Lindor has been on fire and hitting the fastball really well,” said Contreras, the rookie who works most often with Chapman. So even though Chapman has perhaps the fastest fastball in baseball, the pair decided to start Lindor with three straight low sliders. On the fourth pitch, with Lindor looking for a slider, Chapman froze him with a 101-mph fastball to get out of the inning. In the ninth, Chapman retired Mike Napoli on a grounder to short, Carlos Santana on a fly to right then struck out Jose Ramirez, who had earlier homered off Jon Lester, on three straight pitches to give the Cubs their first World Series win at Wrigley Field since 1945 and send it back to Cleveland for Game 6. Unlike Andrew Miller of the Indians, Chapman isn’t used to throwing multiple innings, but with the Cubs on the verge of elimination and an off day on Monday, it was all arms on deck.  Instead of his typical one-inning close, manager Joe Maddon called on Chapman for eight outs in Game 5. It took the Cuban-born flamethrower 42 pitches to get the job done, striking out four. “Joe talked to me this afternoon before the game,” Chapman said through the team interpreter. “He asked if I could be ready possibly to come into the seventh inning, and obviously I told him, ‘I'm ready. I'm ready to go.’ And whatever he needs me to do or how long he needs me to pitch for, I'm ready for it.”

The Indians Unruffled Feathers

The Indians have the Cubs right where they want them now. In Cleveland. They had an opportunity to win the World Series in Game 5 on Sunday night after winning the first two games at Wrigley Field but returned home one victory shy of the title following a 3-2 loss on Sunday night. And for all of the talk about the enthusiasm of the long-suffering Cubs fans, the fans in Cleveland have been just as boisterous. Heck, more than 67,000 people attended “watch parties” held at Progressive Field where the games were broadcast on giant screens while the Series was in Chicago. “It’s gonna be a lot of screaming Cleveland fans,” left fielder Rajai Davis predicted before flying home. To a man, the Indians brushed off the loss in Game 5 and looked to Game 6..  "We did what we had to do here," first baseman Mike Napoli said. "We put ourselves in position to try to win it in a crazy atmosphere. I'm happy with what we did here and we're going to get home and play in front of our fans.“ Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ dazzling shortstop who is batting .360 for the postseason and a red-hot .421 in the World Series, had the perspective of a player much older than his 22 years.  "They've got a good team. We knew we weren't going to sweep the series. It wasn't going to be easy. Nobody said it was going to be easy, so we've got to play the game the right way and take care of business." Part I of the task ahead – winning one of the next two games – will be trying to mount an offense against the Cubs’ Game 6 starter Jake Arrieta. The reigning Cy Young Award winner threw 5.2 innings of no-hit ball against the Indians in Game 2, striking out six batters before allowing two hits in the sixth and being relieved.  Asked how that might happen, Napoli said, "Hit him better. There's nothing else to it. We've just got to do what we've been doing, get guys on, run the bases, come through when we have to. We've got J.T. (Josh Tomlin) on the mound and we're confident in what he can do. He's been pitching well the last couple months and we'll see what happens.”

 

The Pending Retirement

David Ross, the backup catcher jokingly called “Grandpa Rossie” by his younger Cubs teammates, announced his pending retirement a long time ago. He was never the caliber of player to receive a ceremony in every city as he made his last stop and he won’t sniff the Hall of Fame without a ticket, but all of the players and coaches who played alongside the friendly Georgia native the past 15 years knew how valuable his presence was on the field as well as the clubhouse. Ross’ retirement is coming with something better than a farewell tour. The 39-year-old who batted .229 in his career will play his final game in a World Series. If he doesn’t appear again, Game 5 will serve his memory just fine. It was his final game at Wrigley Field, where he has become a beloved figure his final two seasons, and he caught Jon Lester, the right-handed pitcher with whom he has created a special bond, first with the Red Sox and now with the Cubs. Lester limited the Indians to two runs over six innings and the Cubs won 3-2 to force the World Series back to Cleveland in their final game together. It was his catching in which Ross always took the most pride and which made Lester want to pitch to him regularly. On perhaps his final night, Ross also hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning to drive in what turned out to be the winning run. And did we mention Ross got a shout out from rock legend and close friend Eddie Vedder, who sang the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field during Game 5. After the game, Ross had a few minutes to reflect:  "To be on the stage here, my last time at Wrigley and be catching him, it was a pretty amazing moment. There were a lot of emotions for me before the game started." The bond between Lester and Ross will be cherished by both players because they’ve been together for five seasons, 100 starts and now two World Series. "He expects so much of you that you want to almost do more to get that approval-from-your-dad-type thing," Lester said.

The Fielding Bible Winners

Two World Series players – Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs – were announced this past weekend as winners of the annual Fielding Bible Awards

For the past 11 years, the owner and chairman of Baseball Info Solutions, John Dewan, has convened a panel of 12 expert baseball analysts who use all information available to rank the 10 best defensive players at each position on a sliding scale. The player at each position who receives the most points wins the Fielding Bible Award.

Baez (multi-position) and Rizzo (1B) were both first-time Field Bible Award winners along with Kevin Pillar (CF) and Mookie Betts (RF).

Here’s the full list:

First Base – Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

Second Base – Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

Third Base – Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

Shortstop – Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves

Left Field – Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates

Center Field - Kevin Pillar, Toronto Blue Jays

Right Field – Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Catcher – Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Pitcher – Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

Multi-Position – Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

 

The Answer:  David Ross