Eric Thames is a stranger. He’s 30 years old. His hat is crooked. And that beard.
It’s probably why folks need him stopped, you know, right this damned minute, because of all that and the 11 home runs he’s hit in three weeks, before he causes any real harm.
And now, meanwhile, everybody gets to play a part in the glorious story that is Eric Thames.
You are a believer, and therefore a romantic, an idiot, a sap and quite possibly living in Milwaukee.
You are suspicious, and are therefore callous and, in all the wrong conditions, reckless. Or worse.
Can we trust this gentleman, this hulk of a late-blooming slugger who left five years ago a .250 hitter with 21 homers in 633 at-bats, who went away and returned to have a month even great hitters only dream of?
On Tuesday night, in the moments after home run No. 11 for the Brewers, he told reporters, “If people keep thinking I’m on stuff, I’ll be here every day. I have a lot of blood and urine.”
And as a friend, a guy who played minor-league ball for years, commented at about the same time, “If someone accused me, I’d say, ‘Thank you.’”
It’s baseball, man. That means our instinct is to watch and enjoy and note that if Amir Garrett is going to hang a curveball and some dude — in this case Thames — is going to knock the hell out of it, then that doesn’t seem so weird.
And yet baseball comes with a warning. His name is Chris Colabello. Goes by Dee Gordon. AKA Bartolo Colon. Has a passport that reads Rafael Palmeiro. Neighbors knew him as Alex Rodriguez. Has a shirsey with “MARTE” across the shoulders. On and on.
If it’s too good to be true, maybe it is. Unless it’s not. So when a pitcher for the Cubs gets walloped and then goes coy with the “makes you scratch your head” stuff, and his pitching coach is only too happy to tag along, even noting — erroneously, recklessly — “his body has changed,” the conversation gets loud and sometimes very dumb.
We do wonder where everybody was 20 years ago, when a question about body chemistry amounted to borderline libel. This, however, is not that. There’s testing. There’s awareness. There’s an honest effort to have the game as clean as it can be, if, granted, that doesn’t make it clean at all.
Which is to say, it’s not your fault. This is the new world. I’m not here to persuade you to believe in Eric Thames. He’s a grown man, a grown ballplayer, living on a bed made by the previous generation. He can handle himself. The problem with Eric Thames is not Eric Thames. In fact, there’s no problem at all. It’s wonderful. It’s fun. It’s baseball. That’s where you’ll have to leave it. Meantime, if you’re going to be suspicious of anyone, you can start with those two Cubs who couldn’t take their beating, fair and square.
Until you know otherwise.
***Starling Marte’s been gone a week, plenty of time then for the Pirates obituaries to be crafted. Marte in the batter’s box and in center field were things that had to go very well in Pittsburgh, and now they most definitely will not.
So Andrew McCutchen goes back to center field. The right fielders since have been Adam Frazier, John Jaso and Jose Osuna. Jaso had not started in right field in the major leagues. Osuna, the 24-year-old rookie, had not started in the big leagues, any position. And maybe the lasting image of this time and place in Pirates history is McCutchen making a running catch and reminding folks – pounding his chest, pointing to the turf in center field, shouting, “This is my spot!” (weird, because they were in St. Louis, but OK) – that he’s the guy who’s been there – literally, figuratively — for the organization for nearly a decade. Not Marte. Not anyone else. Just McCutchen.
With the best intentions, the Pirates reconfigured their outfield this winter. That lasted a couple weeks, thanks to a decision made by what was supposed to be the next generation in Pittsburgh. Players come and go. What’s best for the franchise sometimes makes those players feel bad, even disrespected. Point being, he’s not who he was, and Marte was better, and a trade could be coming, but don’t forget who showed up every day and made good decisions for a long time. As he said, “This is my spot!”
We’ve forgotten about the true victim of the Pedroia-Machado-Barnes dust-up, and that is Steven Wright, the poor guy whose 84-64 fastball-knuckleball combo was deemed inadequate to even be part of the conversation.
There is a bubbling conversation about accepting tie games as outcomes, which sounds more like sports writers wanting to get home before midnight — which, in practice, I’m all for — and less like an effort to save pitchers’ arms. If, however, we’re considering something as radical as a third column in the standings, first give some radical thought to determining a winner. The WBC method — runners at first and second to start the 11th inning — didn’t play nearly as horrendous as it sounded. Make it the 13th or 14th, whatever. Get a winner.
There are few better evenings annually than Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation event in Los Angeles, which last year produced an oral history of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run and last week featured “Showtime” Lakers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. A particularly poignant statement from Torre: “Whether the children possess our last name or not, it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re on the right path.”
Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy – four starts, 2.08 ERA, career-best WHIP and hits per nine, due $49 million from 2018-20. Your move, contending GM’s.
Released by the White Sox in spring, Brett Lawrie is working back to full health in Arizona, hitting on his own and preparing to consider offers. A soft tissue ailment behind his right knee had proven bothersome last summer and into spring. Lawrie is just 27.
Tim Lincecum, who wobbled through 2016, continues to throw and expects to pitch again.
What’s what in the AL East? Not a week after winning two of three against the Red Sox, the Orioles get three at Yankee Stadium, starting Friday night.
Friday: Jayson Aquino vs. Michael Pineda
Saturday: Kevin Gausman vs. Jordan Montgomery
Sunday: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Luis Severino
A note: Gausman is 6-3 with a 2.24 ERA in 84 1/3 career innings against the Yankees. The issue in 2017? Fifteen walks and 34 hits in 24 innings.
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