The Nub

‘Dark Contours’ in Pittsburgh and the Ukraine

(Posted 5/13/14)

Baseball’s counterpart to a hockey “enforcer” has kept a low profile.  He’s Pirates righthander Charlie Morton, whose brush-back pitches that go slightly awry have made him a protector to teammates, a provocateur to opponents.  Morton, described locally as having learned “to negotiate the darker contours of what it takes to play (in) the major(s)”, put his education to work with these MLB-leading stats: eight batters hit in eight games so far; 16 hit in 20 games last season.  Morton mostly manages to time his suspected retaliation until long after a teammate is plunked to avoid ejection.

To provoke without penalty is likewise a Team Obama achievement in the violence game now unfolding in the Ukraine.  Late last month, the Skipper pitched what the NY Times called “an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment” aimed at Russia. The surprise head-hunting delivery was greeted with either yawns or cheers by political players, left and right, and by the mainstream media.  The O-team’s hidden-ball play on the cause of the deepening Ukraine crisis worked: Vladimir Putin was out-ed as the game’s prime head-hunter.  He would do whatever it takes to recreate the old Soviet empire.

But suppose, says The Nation this week, that we check out the game from Team Moscow’s side of the diamond:  “That 20 years of NATO’s eastward expansion has caused Russia to feel cornered.  That the Ukraine crisis was instigated by the West’s attempt, last November, to smuggle the former Soviet republic into NATO.  That the West’s (complicity) brought to power in Kiev an unelected (anti-Russian) regime…uncritically embraced by Washington.”  Under those circumstances, Putin’s “aggressive” reaction should be understandable.

Possible reasons for Team Obama’s belligerence and the lack of U.S. media balance: It is an election year, and toughness attracts more votes than tempered responses; the defense industry, which thrives on international turmoil, has big-money clout in Washington.

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Stat City:  The Rockies remain in an RISP league by themselves, delivering runners in scoring position at a .313 clip.  The Orioles, Tigers and White Sox are bunched more than 30 points behind.  The Brewers are roughly 20 points further down the line.

Missing Clutch: With the Cardinals close to 100 points lower in RISP than they were when they hit .330 last season, ESPN’s John Kruk said Sunday, “You know that after losing close games, they’re saying in the clubhouse, “It wouldn’t be like this if Carlos Beltran were still here.”  Beltran, on his and the Yankees’ sluggish hitting so far, “We’ll be okay.”

Sombre Status Report: With Michael Pineda injured in the (maybe not so) short term, Ivan Nova injured in the long term and Hiroki Kuroda looking every one of his 39 years – the (Yankees) appear to have exactly one dependable starter, Masahiro Tanaka… For the Yankees to contend, they will need (the now on DL) C.C. Sabathia to pitch like some version of his former self.  His return to Milwaukee Saturday night (four runs, eight hits, including three HRs, in 5.1 innings) suggested that there might be no turning back the clock.

Hail to the Keith:  Four HRs propelled the Mets to a rare comeback win last night against the Yankees.  But two defensive plays by first baseman Lucas Duda may have been the most significant part of the victory.  He started two key double plays, described by YES color man Ron Darling as “Hernandez-esque”.  That was a nod to his co-broadcaster Keith Hernandez.

Late Scores: Nationals 6, Arizona 5; Texas 4, Houston 0; Oakland 5, White Sox 4; Dodgers 6, Marlins 5; Seattle 12, Tampa Bay 5; Giants 4, Braves 2.

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  (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

About Richard Starkey

Dick Starkey handled media for former NY Governor Mario Cuomo, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and many other office-holders and candidates. He was sports editor of the Paris-based Herald Tribune. Perfect Pitch partner Robert Sullivan was the first to adapt focus groups to politics and has been called by Cuomo and others one of the "best" pollsters in the country.