Tag Archives: Rusty Staub

Red October: Justin Turner beats the champs

Turner’s walkoff homer wins NLCS Game Two for Dodgers

The drama of October postseason baseball continued to unfold in a big way in Sunday night’s Game Two of the 2017 National League Championship Series.

The host Los Angeles Dodgers held a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS. Now they were battling the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the bottom of the 9th inning with the two teams tied at 1-1 on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard.
There is an old sports axiom that states “if you want to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ.” That is exactly the task in front of this latest version of what has become a perennially disappointing Dodgers ball club.
The Dodgers have not won a World Series championship in nearly 30 years. Not since a gimpy Kirk Gibson caused Vin Scully to disbelieve what he had just seen in October of 1988. Not since Orel Hershiser was acing it on the mound, rather then commenting on aces from the broadcast booth.
Ten times since, Los Angeles has advanced to the postseason. Ten times they and their fans have gone home disappointed. Six times the team didn’t even advance past the NLDS.
The disappointment has been particularly difficult in recent years. The Dodgers have now captured five consecutive NL West crowns. But their regular season successes have ended in postseason failure each of the previous four years.
The Dodgers organization and fans wear those recent years and even decades of disillusionment like an albatross around their collective necks.
So as the game rolled on still tied, the specter of a tough loss haunted their thoughts. If the Cubs pulled it out, the series would be tied at a game apiece with the next three scheduled for Wrigley Field in Chicago.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH OPENS
The mercurial Yasiel Puig led off the bottom of the 9th by drawing a walk from Cubs lefty reliever Brian Duensing. The Cuban native known as ‘The Wild Horse’ was then bunted to second on a sacrifice from pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson. When yet another pinch-hitter, Kyle Farmer, struck out swinging, there were two outs.
Farmer had pinch-hit for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who had struck out two while throwing just 13 pitches in the top of the 9th inning. The big lights-out righty from Curacao was now out of the game, a boon to the Chicago hitters.
Joe Maddon, the Cubs respected skipper, strode to the mound and took the ball from Duensing’s hand. He motioned out to his bullpen, calling in right-hander John Lackey to face a pair of right-handed hitting Dodgers bats.
Lackey is normally a starting pitcher. This was the second season in Chicago of his now 15-year career, and 59 of his 60 appearances in a Cubs uniform have come in a starting assignment.
But here in the postseason, Lackey has become the odd-man out of the rotation. In fact, Maddon had just used him out of the pen the previous day in Game One, with Lackey tossing 27 pitches over 1.2 innings of work.
Chris Taylor was the first of the Dodgers right-handers that the 38-year old would face. The two battled to a full count, and then Lackey buried a fastball low into the dirt for ball four.
Now there were runners at first and second with two outs. Striding to the plate was Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.
WHO IS JUSTIN TURNER?
Turner has hair as fire-engine red as there has been in the game in some time, perhaps since the early days of ‘Le Grande Orange‘ himself, Montreal Expos and New York Mets icon Rusty Staub. Not only the coloring makes him distinctive, but Turner also wears his hair long and wild, and he highlights the look with a long, full, red beard.
A local kid from Long Beach, California, Turner will turn 33 years old late next month. He played at Mayfair High School in Lakewood, less than an hour south of Los Angeles. Turner then became a seventh round selection of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2006 MLB Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton.
Over the next eight years, Turner bounced from Cincy to Baltimore to the New York Mets. Only once, in the Big Apple in 2011, did he see more than 100 games. He registered a career high of 51 RBI and 49 runs scored that year, and in 2013 he hit seven home runs for the Mets, also a career high.
As spring training was approaching for the 2014 season, Turner signed for $1 million as a low-cost free agent with the Dodgers. In a utility infield role, Turner played 59 games at third base, 15 at shortstop, and 14 at second base. He hit for a fantastic .340 average with a .404 on-base percentage as well.
The following year he became the full-time starter at the hot corner for the Dodgers, and set career highs with 16 homers, 60 RBI, and 55 runs scored. He also continued to hit for average with a .294 mark. And then he changed his offensive game.
A year ago, Turner began selling out a bit more for power. Though his average dipped to a still-respectable .275, he crushed 27 homers, drove in 90 runs, and became a force in the middle of the lineup. He finished 9th in the 2016 NL MVP voting following the big season.
This year, Turner has been able to find a happy medium, making him an even more dangerous and valuable all-around hitter. He slashed .322/.415/.530 with 21 home runs, 32 doubles, and 71 RBI. All that production while missing nearly a full month to injury from mid-May to mid-June.
RED OCTOBER IN DODGER BLUE
This was the setup as Turner stepped into the batter’s box to face Lackey. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth, one out away from tense extra innings. The winning run out at second base with speed in Puig. The veteran hitter and pitcher set for their confrontation.
With the game-winning run at second base, Lackey buried a first-pitch cutter in the dirt to fall behind. For his second offering to Turner, he tried to come over the strike zone with a four-seam fastball. Either Lackey was hoping that Turner would take a strike, or he simply made a mistake, or both.
Lackey’s four-seamer broke right over the center of the plate, coming down the pike at 92 miles per hour. Turner wasn’t taking. He put a perfect swing on the ball, driving it high and deep to center field. Lackey turned and looked up immediately, praying that the actual trajectory of the ball wouldn’t be what his veteran senses told him. 
Center fielder Leonys Martin, who came in as a defensive substitute in a double-switch with Lackey, was playing shallow, hoping to cut off a single and keep Puig at third or throw him out at the plate. He broke back and ran full tilt to the wall, knowing this was bad. The only chance the Cubs had now was if somehow Martin could run this one down.
Martin hadn’t even reached the warning track before he knew the effort was futile. He pulled up, hands outstretched as they touched the wall. The ball sailed an easy 10-15 feet over that wall, into the waiting glove of joyous Dodgers fan Keith Hupp.

Turner put out both arms, both index fingers extended in celebration as he rounded first base. The Dodger Stadium crowd was roaring the whole way, and Turner was mobbed by his delirious teammates as he reached home plate.
WEIGHT OFF LA – FOR NOW
The three-run walkoff home run gave Los Angeles a 4-1 victory, and put them ahead by two games to none as the series now heads to Chicago.
Just as importantly, the blast gave the Dodgers some mental and emotional breathing room. They still need to win two more games. But the task just went from doubtful to something more than hopeful. 
Los Angeles will now take the field in Chicago buoyed by that Turner long ball. The man with the flowing red hair and beard had turned would could have been a Dodger blue nightmare into his own red October dream.

Nationals / Expos All-Time 25-Man Roster

The Washington Nationals emerged for the 2005 season after the relocation of the original Montreal Expos franchise.
Major League Baseball expanded by four teams and split into a divisional format beginning in 1969. 
The Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers) went to the American League. The Expos and San Diego Padres were  assigned to the National League.
The Montreal team was named after the successful World’s Fair “Expo 67” held there in 1967 during the Canadian Centennial celebration.
After a decade of losing, a young core of players emerged in the late 1970’s to turn the team into a contender for the first time. Then from 1979-94 the Expos were consistent winners.
There were 11 winning Expos campaigns and another two .500 seasons during that 16 year stretch. However, Montreal reached the MLB postseason only one time in its history.

EXPOS REACH THE POSTSEASON

A strike in 1981 caused Major League Baseball to split the season into two halves. The teams who finished in first place in each half would then advance to a best-of-five “League Division Series”, a first for baseball.
The defending champion Philadelphia Phillies won the first half, and the Expos won the second half. Montreal then upended the Phils in a dramatic five-game NLDS to move within a step of the franchise’ first World Series.
In the best-of-five NLCS, the Expos took a two games to one lead. The Dodgers tied it up, and the two clubs moved to a decisive Game Five. On a two-out home run by Rick Monday in the top of the 9th, the Dodgers won 2-1 to advance to the World Series.

THE STRIKE OF 1994

In 1993, the Expos re-emerged as a division power. However, the Phillies put together a magical worst-to-first season, holding Montreal off by three games to win the NL East crown.
The following year, the Expos entered the season as favorites, not only in the division, but also to win the World Series.
Montreal won 20 of 22 games beginning on July 18 to take the division lead. With a 74-40 record, the Expos led the Atlanta Braves by six games.
And then it all suddenly ended, not in defeat, but with the longest work stoppage in the history of Major League Baseball. A player strike began on August 12 and would last into the following year, cancelling the rest of the season, including the postseason.

GOODBYE, CANADA

The Expos franchise would never recover. They dropped to 5th place in 1995, recovered to win 88 games and finish in 2nd place in 1996, but then plummeted to five straight losing seasons.
An inability to get funding for a new ballpark led to rumors of a move constantly swirling, and then to MLB purchasing the club in 2002. Those relocation nightmares actually became a reality for Montreal baseball fans when the move to Washington was announced.
In their final year north of the border the club finished a dismal 67-95 and in last place. The first season in D.C. resulted in a .500 finish, but the losing continued with six straight seasons below the .500 mark.
Finally, the new Washington Nationals began to contend with a 98-64 record in 2012, winning the first division title in franchise history.
With a new group of young stars, the Nationals have now become perennial contenders in the National League. The 2016 season resulted in their third NL East crown in the last five years.
One thing continues to elude the franchise in Washington. The club remains one of eight current Major League Baseball teams to never have even reached the World Series.

NOT MAKING THE CUT

Selecting a 25-Man roster for the franchise was a difficult proposition. They have had an abundance of strong, interesting outfielders and first basemen in their history.
Aside from their obvious Hall of Famer, selecting a backup catcher was a tough chore. There are a handful of decent options.
There were a number of players who you won’t find, but who contributed mightily to the history of the organization.
Included among these are shortstops Chris SpeierOrlando Cabrera and Tim Foli. Catchers Brian Schneider and Darrin Fletcher are not selected.
Outfielders Warren CromartieRondell White, and Jayson Werth fell short. So did infielders Larry Parrish and Andres Galarraga. I opted for versatility and projection in the infield.
Since I forced myself to carry at least two relievers, getting down to the 7th-9th best starting pitchers leads to difficult decisions. That was again the situation here.
On the mound, not making the cut were arms such as Steve RenkoBill StonemanBill GullicksonScott SandersonCharlie LeaJeff FasseroChad CorderoUgueth Urbina, and John Wetteland.
So who did make the cut? The Nationals / Expos All-Time 25-Man Roster includes 11 pitchers (two true relievers), two catchers, six infielders, and six outfielders.