Charlie Lea 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 14, 2017

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Most of these cards I do for this series, I just pull out of the shoebox in my closet and write about them with no regard of order nor of placing any significance on the date posted.

Sometimes I match things up. I had Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton, Mike Stanton and Mike Stanton on 3 straight days in June. That wasn’t an accident.

Today is also intentional. It is Bastille Day, the day of French Independence. Charlie Lea was born in France and played most of his career for the French speaking fans of Montreal. He is the Frenchiest of all Frenchies who ever Frenched in baseball history.

Naturally the card I have for him is when he briefly played with the Minnesota Twins.

Like most baseball players who were born in France, like Giants manager Bruce Bochy, he was the son of a serviceman stationed there. He did most of his growing up in Tennessee and went to University of Memphis when the Expos picked him in the 9th round of the 1978 draft.

Looking back, it was a pretty solid 9th round. The Reds drafted Charlie Liebrandt and the Dodgers drafted Steve Sax in that round. Consider that half of the first 12 players picked in the first round never made it to the majors, those teams would have been better off picking Liebrandt, Lea or Sax. But I digress.

He didn’t seem to go far after being drafted from University of Memphis, he played for the Memphis Chicks in 1878, 1979 and 1980 before a quick trip through Denver and making his big league debut with the Expos on June 12, 1980. He threw 8 strong innings, allowing a single run and getting the win.

He was a contributor to the Expos team that contended until the end of the season, going 7-5 with a 3.72.

In 1981, he got off to a clunky start, throwing some game out of the bullpen and not getting out of the 5th in a pair of starts.

Then on May 10, 1981, he faced the San Francisco Giants in the second game of a double header. He retired the first 9 batters he faced including Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and solid hitters like Enos Cabbell, Darrell Evans and Larry Herndon.

He allowed a walk to Bill North, but he was caught stealing. He retired Cabell and Morgan to finish the fourth. The fifth was 1-2-3 for Lea. So was the 6th and the 7th.

Into the 8th, he faced the minimum. And because of a Tim Wallach homer and RBI doubled from Rodney Scott and Andre Dawson, Lea (pronounced LEE) had a 4-0 lead going into the 8th.

He started losing his control when he walked 3 of the first 4 batters of the 8th. But thanks to a double play off the bat of Darrell Evans and a fly out by Billy Smith, Lea finished the 8th with no runs and most importantly, no hits.

In the 9th, Lea retired pinch hitter Jim Wohlford and Bill North. With only Enos Cabell standing in the way between Lea and a no hitter, it was no contest. Lea got Cabell to fly out and clinch the no hitter. Montreal went ecstatic for the French native and his no no.

Injuries kept him off the playoff roster in 1981 but by 1982, he was back in form. He pitched 177 2/3 innings in 1982, winning 12. By 1983, he was an elite pitcher, giving the Expos 16 wins and a 3.12 ERA over 222 innings.

He won the 1984 All Star Game, throwing a career high 224 1/3 innings, winning 15 and keeping his ERA down to 2.89.

Then his shoulder went out. The 27 year old All Star of 1984 missed all of 1985, 1986 and threw a single inning in 1987 where he was clobbered.

He made a comeback attempt with the Twins the year AFTER they won the World Series. He did not pitch badly, throwing 130 innings and posting a 4.85 ERA after missing 3 seasons. But he was out of gas.

Lea returned to Memphis to be the voice of the Triple A team’s radio broadcast until he died of a heart attack in 1981.

Beloved to this day by Montreal fans, the French born Lea gives us reason to cheer VIVE LA FRANCE on this Bastille Day.

Alexi Casilla 2007 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 30, 2017

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Alexi Casilla gave the last great Metrodome memory to Twins fans.

I miss the Metrodome. I know I am not supposed to say that. I know I am supposed to call the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis an eye sore, a disgrace and poorly conceived ballpark.

I know I am supposed to look at Target Field, the new home of the Twins as a great traditional ballpark and a testament to the survival of Minnesota baseball from contraction or relocation.

But I miss it. I can’t tell the difference between Target Field in Minnesota or the new ballparks in St. Louis, Washington, Atlanta or Philadelphia. They all look the same to me now.

The Metrodome however looked different. There was the Trash Bag right field wall and the jutting dimensions. There was no way to look at the park and say “Wait, which bizarre dome is this?”

More importantly there were great memories from that stadium. The 1987 World Series was a bizarre 7 game series that was the introduction to most to the strange venue.

The 1991 World Series might have been the best series I ever saw. Almost every game was an epic and the final extra inning games, the Puckett catch and homer, the Morris 10 innings, the Larkin hit, all came back as a flood of memories when I saw the Metrodome.

In 2009, the Metrodome was shutting down for baseball. Target Field, the goal of the post contraction threats, was opening the next year.

Now for all the talk of Twins contraction, they were regular participants in post season play in the 2000’s. They won the Central in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006. That last year they were in first place a grand total of one day in the season: the final day.

They lost a 1 game playoff for the Central in 2008 to the White Sox. But nobody thinks of those Twins teams as playoff teams because only once did they make it out of the Division Series. The won a single post season game in 2003 and 2004 and were swept in 2006.

In 2009, the Twins were in first place a handful of games in April and then fell behind the Tigers and White Sox. They were in third place in late August, looking to play out the string.

They slumped in mid September and lost Justin Morneau for the year. On September 12, they were 5 1/2 games behind the Tigers and a sub .500 team, sporting a 70-72 record. They were who they were with 21 games to play.

Then it happened. The Twins won 17 of their last 21 games and forced a one game playoff in the Metrodome with Detroit for the AL Central.

It was October 6, 2009. 24 year old Alexi Casilla woke up that morning not knowing his baseball legacy would be cemented that day.

He wasn’t even in the starting lineup. The promising infielder from the Dominican Republic had received several chances to be the starting second baseman between 2007, 2008 and 2009. But he struggled often and found himself being optioned to Triple A.

Nick Punto got the start in the playoff. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera homered to make it 3-0 Detroit in the third. Home runs by Jason Kubel and Orlando Cabrera gave Minnesota the lead going into the 8th and Magglio Ordonez tied the game with a shot of his own.

Casilla lingered on the bench.

In the 10th, the Tigers took the lead but the Twins countered with a lead off triple by Michael Cuddyer. When Brendan Harris walked and put the winning run on base, Casilla came into the game to pinch run.

Matt TolbertĀ  singled home the tying run and sent Casilla to third representing the AL Central crown. Punto hit a flyball to left. Casilla tagged as the throw was off line… but catcher Gerald Laird threw him out to send the game to the 11th.

Casilla would stay in the lineup in the DH slot and it would come up again. The Twins escaped a bases loaded jam and in the bottom of the 12th, Carlos Gomez singled and made it to second on a ground out. Delmon Young was walked to pitch to Alexi Casilla. With the season on the line, the Twins had the pinch runner turned batter at the plate.

He responded but tapping a hit into right. Gomez scored well ahead of the throw. The Twins were the Division Champs. The Metrodome had another game to wave hankies and go crazy.

One more game was played there, but it was the end of the Yankee sweep in Game 3. So the actual finale was anti climactic. But it would not have seemed right to have the Twins close out the Metrodome with a whimper of a losing season. It made sense that they had a wild loopy game be part of the send off.

Casilla is not a superstar. His injuries and inconsistencies have derailed his career. So in many respects he is the perfect final Metrodome hero: a scrappy hero who wasn’t always pretty butĀ  in the end, gave fans in Minnesota something to cheer for.

Frank Viola 1992 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 24, 2017

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Yesterday I did a post about Tom Lawless, who launched a homer off of Frank Viola in the 1987 World Series.

Might as well do the other side and write about Frank Viola and HIS career for today.

Viola was a Long Island kid, born in East Meadow in 1960. A star at St. John’s University, he was drafted by Kansas City in 1979 but did not sign. Who knows if he would have fit in with the Bret Saberhagens and the Mark Gucizas and Charlie Liebrandts of the world and help KC win a few more titles. We will never know.

He made a name for himself dueling Ron Darling in a classic game. Darling held St. John’s hitless until the 12th. Viola pitched 11 shutout frames to win it 1-0. Darling and Viola would later be reunited.

Viola, known as Sweet Music, would be drafted by the Twins in 1981 and was on the big league squad in 1982. He did not light up the world in his first two seasons, posting a 5.21 ERA in 1982 and a 5.49 ERA over 210 innings in 1983.

In 1984, the 24 year old Viola turned a corner, winning 18 games and throwing to a 3.21 ERA, finishing 6th in the AL Cy Young voting.

In 1985 and 1986, he was a steady workhorse for some forgettable Twins teams. Always good for win totals in the teens, he threw a ton of innings, even if the ERA was sparkling.

In 1987, he stepped onto the big stage. He had his best season to date, winning 17, lowing his ERA to 2.90 and seeing his ERA+ grow to a robust 159. He would finish 6th again in the Cy Young vote and his fine season went under the radar as the Twins won a weak AL West and faced the Tigers, fresh off their dramatic regular season finale, in the ALCS.

The Twins stunned the Tigers for a 5 game victory. Viola was not one of the big factors. He gave up 5 runs in his Game 1 no decision and got the win in Game 4 but could not make the 6th inning in his start.

For the World Series, Viola missed his brothers wedding so he could pitch the opening game. I guess he didn’t think he would have plans in October.

He pitched brilliantly in Game 1, allowing a run over 8 innings to earn the win. As I wrote in the Lawless piece, he got clobbered in Game 4, allowing 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings.

Perhaps this is where perception is strange. I always remembered Viola as dominating in October of 1987. But going into Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, Viola had 1 quality post season starts, two mediocre starts and one blow out. His post season ERA going into Game 7 of 5.01, which is terrible.

And lest we forget, the Cardinals were rallying in the second, where they took a 2-0 lead. Bert Blyleven was warming up to come into the game in the second when Viola got Vince Coleman to end the inning. Had Coleman got a hit, Viola’s Game 7 would have been remembered as a disaster for him. He would have been a bust in the post season.

Instead he settled down, the Twins got two blown calls go their way and he pitched through 8 until Jeff Reardon closed out the game and the World Series.

Frank Viola got the World Series MVP, based mainly on his Game 1 and 7 wins. I would have given Kirby Puckett the MVP with his .357 average and .884 OPS, but what do I know.

With the glow of World Series glory surrounding Viola, he went on to capture the AL Cy Young award in 1988. (Basically one bad month kept Roger Clemens from winning 3 in a row. ) Viola went 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA, which is what people looked at when they voted.

The next season, as the A’s were dominating the AL West, Viola suddenly found himself on the trade block. The Mets, unable to land Mark Langston in a deal, focused on the Long Island boy.

The Mets were doing a remodeling of their team, dumping away Lenny Dyktra, Mookie Wilson, Rick Aguilera and other members of the 1986 team. Viola arrived and pitched OK but not great as the new look Mets fell short of the post season.

Their post season hopes in 1990 fell short as well, but don’t blame Viola. He had his best season since winning the Cy Young Award. Winner of 20 games, he led the NL with 249 2/3 innings, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 7 complete games. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young behind Doug Drabek and Ramon Martinez. The Sabermetric community would have given it to Ed Whitson who had the highest WAR for pitchers but received zero Cy Young votes. Different times.

He made his third All Star team in 1991 with the Mets, but the team was falling apart by then. He signed with Boston, hoping to make an unstoppable 1-2 punch with Roger Clemens. The two aces pitched well but little else worked in Boston as they faded from contention in 1992 and 1993. Injuries derailed his 1994 and ultimately finished his career in 1996 with cameos in Cincinnati and Toronto.

Since his retirement, Viola has been a coach in the Mets organization, dealing with open heart surgery in 2014. He has a daughter who participated in the 2012 Olympics as a diver and a son who pitched in the White Sox farm system.

But he will be best remembered for that Game 7 performance that led to the Twins first ever title in Minnesota. It was the kind of start that wipes out all memories of disappointment. It was the living example of how those who laugh last laugh best.

Sweet music indeed.