Nine Innings: Including memories of the ‘90s with John Hart

This week we start with the caveat: All statistics are heading into Tuesday night’s game in Baltimore … 

1) It sounds as if Nick Swisher’s shoulder injury will linger all season, which is unfortunate because of two things: Hitters pretty much need strong shoulders to hit well, and clearly this issue has affected Swisher’s power and run production. Nobody is saying exactly what it is, but it sounds as if there is an internal issue that in the long run may need some type of procedure to fix but in the short run can be dealt with via treatment, therapy and training. Swisher said he went to the point of talking with pitchers about how they handle similar things, and they emphasized to him that he needed to do what he could to strengthen the area around the “issue.” Said Swisher: “It’s now a matter of taking accountability for it. Those days of showing up at 11:30 and getting ready to play I think are a little gone. I’m going to have to show up a little earlier just to get ready to play.” Clearly this lingering issue is a disappointment for a guy who badly wants to be a major contributor to a team he joined in the offseason. Swisher was well aware of the buzz his signing caused, and well aware of his O-h-i-o connections. Safe to say he was eager, excited and energized to have his typical 20-90 season. I’ve found Swisher to be everything he was advertised to be. Friendly, outgoing, bubbly, personable, accountable — he apologized for keeping the media waiting while he was getting treatment the night of the missed popup — and enthusiastic. Michael Bourn credited Swisher and Jason Giambi for keeping the team going during the 16-of-20 loss stretch, and Swisher seems to genuinely want to prove his free agent signing was a good move. In Monday’s win in Baltimore, he had two hits and an RBI — and talked after about feeling healthy. “This is an exciting team and every day that you miss, that sucks,” he said. “I hate that, because it feels like you’re missing something every day.”

2) All those who thought Corey Kluber would be tied for second on the team in wins at this point of the season and have the lowest ERA (3.68) of all active starters please come to the front of the line for your Corey Kluber Bobblehead, driven by Liberty Ford.

3) With the win Monday over a very tough Orioles lineup, Ubaldo Jimenez improved to 6-4. In Jimenez’s first four starts, he gave up 19 earned runs in 17 innings. At that point manager Terry Francona stood by Jimenez and said he wasn’t in the business of jettisoning struggling players, he was in the business of trying to help them solve their problems. Jimenez and pitching coach Mickey Callaway had some heart-to-hearts in front of the video screen. And Jimenez went out and pitched seven shutout innings in his fifth start. In his last 11 starts, Jimenez is 6-2 with a 3.06 ERA, with only 29 walks in 61 2/3 innings. This is called a rebound. It’s also called a contract year. How Jimenez handles his free agency will be interesting. Does he give the team that stood by him through some really tough times a legitimate chance, or does he go for the money, assuming he keeps pitching well? Yes, it not yet July.

4)  Former GM John Hart told a lot of tales of his days as the General Manager during the ‘90s when he was in town last weekend to be inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame. A lot of stories. One was about how close the Indians came to acquiring Randy Johnson in 1998, a pitcher who could have gotten the Indians back to the Series the team so painfully lost the season before. Hart said at 11:58 p.m. two minutes before the deadline, then-Seattle GM Woody Woodward called and asked him to add one more player in a group Hart was sending that included Brian Giles and Dave Burba. Hart agreed, and hung up thinking Johnson would join Charles Nagy, Bartolo Colon, Jaret Wright and Dwight Gooden in the Indians rotation. But a minute later, Woodward called back and apologized, saying he had good news for Hart. “I’m thinking, ‘Good news?’” Hart said. Woodward said Johnson was not going to the Yankees, he was going to Seattle. “My heart was broken,” Hart said, comparing it to the times he could not convince Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling to be Indians. “(Johnson) would have been good for us.”

5) One trade Hart said he does not regret not making was when Montreal offered the Indians Pedro Martinez for Colon and Jaret Wright prior to the ‘98 season. Wright had just come off that outstanding performance in the World Series (he won a game, started Game 7 and in 12 innings struck out 12 Marlins). At that point, the entire baseball world thought Wright would be a superstar. Of course, Martinez became the superstar (219-100 and one painful relief appearance in the playoffs against the Indians) and Wright flamed out, going 68-60 in a 68-60 career. Hart, though, has no regrets. “That one I don’t blink on,” he said. Which of course proves two things: Hindsight is always 20-20, and decisions have to be made with the knowledge at hand.

6) Finally, Hart admitted he has never watched Game 7 of that World Series loss to Florida, the one where the Indians had the lead in the ninth and Jose Mesa and all that stuff that’s too difficult to bring up happened. Hart was in the stands late in the game when officials from Major League Baseball told him he had to go to the clubhouse. He said no, he was superstitious and didn’t want to leave before the game ended. But MLB made him, so he and Dick Jacobs watched the ninth, 10th and 11th in manager Mike Hargrove’s office. When it ended, Hart described himself as “shattered,” but he remembered Jacobs getting up, walking to the door of the clubhouse and shaking hands with every player and thanking them as they walked in. As Hart talked about Game 7 in Progressive Field, the banner on the wall behind him fell. Twice.

7) Recognizing that everyone has their “Cleveland loses” story, it seems like a good time to bring up a unique one from that night. In a past life, a certain writer was working as a national writer for a national news service and was slated to cover the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan (Hey … someone has to do it!). The U.S. Olympic Committee had a pre-winter games media gaggle in Salt Lake City, where, during a World Series with the Indians representing the American League, a certain writer from Cleveland was talking to bobsledders and aerial skiers. At that time in Salt Lake, too, a certain writer from Cleveland could not just walk into an establishment to buy a beer and watch a game; a certain writer … well every writer … had to join a “club,” (NO, not that kind of club … in those days a club meant a place that served alcohol with food), which then allowed them to purchase a beverage while watching Game 7 of his hometown team’s World Series. So certain writer joined other writers in joining a club, but in the 10th inning of Game 7, the club decided it had to close. So certain writers sprinted to the next club, paid yet another membership fee and watched the painful ending. As the Marlins started to celebrate, a certain writer from Cleveland walked outside to stand in the cold of Salt Lake City. The streets were empty (this was Salt Lake City and the day of clubs, mind you). So the writer stared blankly into the cold, straight ahead, then right, then left at deserted streets and sidewalks. After pondering this turn of events to yet another Cleveland sports team, a certain writer turned to the left again, where from seemingly a gentleman in a scraggly raincoat, long, full beard and shoulder length hair was pushing a shopping cart filled with bags of random things overflowing from it. Said scraggly person approached a certain writer and from nowhere blurted out in the most cartoonish of voices possible: “Welp, who won the World Series?” The absurdity of the question seemed too much; here’s a man with all his belongings in the cart asking about the World Series. Nevertheless he deserved an answer. “Florida,” the certain writer said. “Welp,” said the man as he walked by the certain writer. “Cleveland blew another one.” Keep in mind, it was all said in the most Looney Tunes-ish voice possible. When said writer heard this he had to laugh. And when he turned to look to his right to see this gentleman … the gentleman was gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Completely. He was there, he made his Cleveland comment and he was … gone. The street he walked on was long and deserted, but he was nowhere to be found. Naturally the certain writer shook his head, stepped back into the club smiling at what he had just seen, and availed himself of the club membership regarding certain beverages. It seemed the sensible thing to do. For those wondering, this story is 100 percent factual and true. It is exactly what happened. And it remains one of the most amazing and inexplicable experiences of a certain writer’s life.

8) Like to see John Hart try to top THAT story.

9) Since this “Nine Innings” thing is supposed to be about baseball, it should be said that relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano may never do another live interview in the dugout. Not after his experience Saturday. With the game on FOX, the network had Pestano talk during the game. As Pestano talked, the barrage started. First came handfuls of sunflower seeds. Then some more, tossed at Pestano as he was talking, in handfuls of 20 or 25. Eventually Justin Masterson came over and wiped Pestano off with a towel, and Pestano covered his head with the towel, thinking it might protect him. No matter, more seeds flew. As the interview wound down, Masterson came over and poured a cup of water on the towel on Pestano’s head. “These are the guys who turned the interview down,” Pestano told FOX. Masterson and Zach McAllister took part in the hijinks, though Pestano said anyone was involved who was in arm’s reach of a cup of tossable material. “They originally wanted to do (the interview) in the bullpen,” Pestano said. “I thought I’d be getting it worse out there from the bullpen guys. … Maybe next time I’ll stick out there.”

And we go extra innings for one bonus item:

10) Things were tough a week ago for Carlos Santana when it came to blocking pitches in the dirt, and he took some written criticism for it. Including from a certain writer who saw a man disappear on the streets of Salt Lake City so many years ago when the Indians lost the World Series. It must be said, though, that Saturday in the ninth inning Santana made two excellent stops of would-be wild pitches. Those stops won the game for the Indians. It also must be said that on Sunday Yan Gomes saw four wild pitches get away from him. This seems to show two things: Santana’s extra work paid off, to his credit, and there may indeed be a reason they are called wild pitches.