Elias Says: October 19, 2017

Tanaka’s brilliant effort has Yankees one win away from pennant

The Yankees are one win away from the World Series thanks in huge part to Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed just three hits over seven scoreless innings to earn the win. Tanaka’s final numbers were similar to those from his first start of this year’s postseason, in which he allowed three hits in seven innings without allowing a run against the Indians. Prior to Tanaka, the only Yankees pitcher to produce multiple starts with at least seven scoreless innings and three or fewer hits allowed in a single postseason was Roger Clemens, who threw a one-hit shutout against the Mariners in the 2000 ALCS and allowed two hits over eight scoreless innings in his “Subway Series” start against the Mets.

Including his Wild Card start in 2015 and his three games in the 2017 postseason, Tanaka has not allowed more than four hits or two runs in any of his four postseason starts. The only other pitcher who achieved that feat in the first four postseason starts of his major-league career was Blue Moon Odom. Odom, whose real first name was Johnny by the way, was spectacular for the A’s in the 1972 postseason, allowing no more than one run or three hits in any of his four starts, including Oakland’s victory over the Reds in Game 7 of that year’s World Series.

Bird comes through when it matters most

Starlin Castro scored the first run for the Yankees in Game 5 on Greg Bird’s RBI-single in the second inning. Almost all of Bird’s success in the 2017 regular season came with runners in scoring position – he batted .333 (15-for-45) in that situation, compared to .127 (13-for-102) in all other at-bats. Bird became the first Yankees player in nearly 50 years to bat at least 100 times in a season and produce over half of his hits for the season in at-bats with runners in scoring position. Frank Fernandez did that for the Yankees in the 1968 campaign, recording 23 hits on the year, 12 of which occurred with a runner on second or third.

Cubs win home run derby at Wrigley to stay alive

Solo home runs accounted for all of the scoring in the Cubs’ 3–2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS. Javier Baez homered twice while Willson Contreras, Cody Bellinger, and Justin Turner each went deep once. The five combined runs were the most of any game in postseason history among games in which every run scored on a solo homer. The only other postseason game with as many as three bases-empty homers driving in all the runs was Game 1 of the 1983 World Series. The Phillies outscored, and outhomered, the Orioles, 2–1, in Baltimore: Jim Dwyer went deep for the home team in the first inning, Joe Morgan’s homer tied the score in the sixth inning, and Garry Maddox provided the final blow for Philadelphia in the eighth.

Baez bounces back with pair of bombs

Let’s go back to Baez, who snapped his postseason hitless streak in a big way, homering in each of his first two plate appearances against Alex Wood. Baez, who was hitless in 20 at-bats in this year’s postseason entering Wednesday, joined Kelly Gruber and Bobby Bonilla as the only players to hit a home run immediately following a streak of 20 or more hitless at-bats in that year’s postseason. Gruber was hitless in his previous 23 at-bats before swatting a game-tying home run for the Blue Jays in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 1992 World Series. Toronto scored again in the following inning to cap the comeback win.

Bonilla’s home run was not quite as meaningful for his team – his two-run homer for the Orioles in the final inning of the 1996 ALCS snapped his personal skid of 24 hitless at-bats, but the Yankees still had the lead with one out to go. John Wetteland recovered from Bonilla’s longball, retiring Cal Ripken, Jr. on a ground ball to Derek Jeter to end the game and the series.

Arrieta ties Hall-of-Famer atop Cubs all-time postseason win list

Jake Arrieta kept the Cubs alive for one more day, allowing just one run over 6⅔ innings to record the fifth win of his postseason career, all with Chicago. Arrieta is now tied with Hall-of-Famer Mordecai Brown for the most postseason wins by a Cubs pitcher. Brown won three postseason starts for the North Siders, notching a complete-game shutout in each of three straight postseasons (1906–08). He also won earned two postseason wins in relief for Chicago, one in 1908 and the other in 1910.

Suns burned in record fashion by Trail Blazers

It was a one-sided affair in Phoenix to say the least, as the Trail Blazers thoroughly trounced the Suns, 124–76, to notch the largest margin of victory in a season-opener in NBA history. Portland’s 48-point win usurped the Nuggets from the top spot on that list; Denver defeated the Clippers by 46 points to kick off the 1987–88 season. Wednesday’s game also marked the worst loss in Suns history – Phoenix’s previous-worst margin of defeat was 44 points – as well as Portland’s widest margin in a road win.

Looks like Kevin Durant was right about him…

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 16 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Bucks pull ahead in the final minutes of their 108–100 victory over the Celtics. The “Greek Freak” matched the highest fourth-quarter point total of his NBA career, which he first reached on November 25 last season against the Raptors.

Antetokounmpo, who also led the Bucks with 13 rebounds, joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only Bucks players to produce at least 35 points and 10 rebounds in Milwaukee’s first game of a season. Abdul-Jabbar went for 41 points and 11 boards in the opener of the 1972–73 campaign. Antetokounmpo did nearly all of his damage on Wednesday from close range, as over half of his shots from the floor – 12 of 22 – came from within two feet of the basket (he went 10-for-12 on those attempts).

Spurs win opener; sky is blue

Gregg Popovich improved to 19–2 in season openers after the Spurs dispatched the new-look Timberwolves in San Antonio. Pop’s .905 winning percentage in San Antonio’s season openers is by far the best such percentage of any head coach with at least 10 such games. Phil Jackson is second-best, having led his teams to a 16–4 record (.800) in season-openers.

Indiana off to the races with Oladipo

Victor Oladipo was one of eight Pacers players to reach double-digits in points in Indiana’s 140–131 win over the Nets. Oladipo scored 22 points in his first game with the Pacers, representing the most points in a Pacers debut by someone who played college ball at Indiana University. The previous leader among former Hoosiers was George McGinnis, who scored 14 points in his first game in a Pacers uniform in 1980. It should be noted that Adrian Dantley, who scored a team-record 34 points in his first game for the Pacers in 1977, attended the University of Notre Dame, which resides in South Bend, Indiana.

Eight 10-point scorers for the Pacers matched a high for any NBA team in its first game of a season. Eight other teams started a season in that fashion, most recently the Mavericks in the 2015–16 campaign.

No hangover for Rockets in Sacramento

A pair of road games on back-to-back nights to start the NBA season? Not a problem for the Rockets, who shocked the Warriors in Oakland on Tuesday and improved to 2–0 with a 105–100 win over the Kings in Sacramento on Wednesday. Houston was also the last NBA team to start a season with a pair of road wins on back-to-back days. The Rockets began the 2014–15 campaign in that fashion, winning road contests against the Lakers and Jazz on consecutive days. The only other team in the last 10 seasons to win each of its first two games of the season on the road in back-to-back days was the 2008–09 New Orleans Hornets.

20-20 vision for Whiteside in opener

The Heat dropped its first season opener in seven years despite a monster effort from Hassan Whiteside. Miami’s starting center led all players from both sides with 26 points and 22 rebounds. Among all the great big men in Heat history – Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Chris Bosh – it’s actually Rony Seikaly that has posted the most games with 20 points and 20 rebounds for Miami, doing so 12 times. Whiteside is second in team history with eight 20–20 games.

A strong opening act from the “steal of the draft”

Dennis Smith, Jr. has been referred to as the biggest steal of the 2017 NBA Draft, and he looked as good as advertised for the Mavericks on Wednesday, dishing out a team-high 10 assists while also tying for the team-lead with 16 points. At age 19, Smith became the youngest player in league history to distribute 10 or more assists in his NBA debut. The previous-youngest with such a debut was Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas, who racked up 31 points and 11 assists in his first game for the Pistons in October 1981 at age 20.

Wizards backcourt leads the way to victory

John Wall and Bradley Beal helped the Wizards spoil the NBA debut of 76ers number-one picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, with Washington holding on for a 120–115 win over Philadelphia. Wall led the Wizards with 28 points, while Beal contributed 25 of his own. It had been 10 years since the last time a pair of Wizards players scored 25 points in Washington’s first game of a season. Gilbert Arenas (34 points) and Antawn Jamison (27 points) did so for Washington in Indiana on Oct. 31, 2007.

Brooks looks good in first NBA action

Dillon Brooks provided a huge boost from the Grizzlies bench, scoring 19 points in his NBA debut to help Memphis defeat the Pelicans. Brooks, who was born in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, had the highest-scoring debut by any NBA player born in Canada. Brooks surpassed Toronto-native Rick Fox, who scored 13 points in his first regular-season game in 1991.

A comeback win sounds good to Jazz

The Jazz overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat the Nuggets, 106–96, to win their first season-opener in five years. In the last 20 seasons (1998–99 to 2017–18), the only other time Utah finished a game with a double-digit margin of victory after trailing by at least 15 points in the second half was on Nov. 10, 2010 – the Jazz went on a 24–2 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to erase an 18-point deficit in a 104–94 win at Orlando.

If that’s what it takes to win…

Stanley Johnson’s 0-for-13 night didn’t hurt the Pistons, who won by a comfortable margin over the Hornets. Johnson became the first player in the shot-clock era – that is, since the 1954–55 season – to attempt at least 12 field goals in his team’s first game of a season without making one.

Assuming Johnson plays every game for the Pistons this season and continues to miss shots at his current rate, he’d go 0-for-1066 for the 2017–18 season. Not to worry though, because the one player with that many unsuccessful field-goal attempts last season walked away with MVP honors. That’s right – Russell Westbrook led the NBA with 1117 missed field-goal attempts last season, almost 30 percent more misses than the next-highest player (861, Andrew Wiggins).

Schwartz nets hat trick versus Blackhawks

Jaden Schwartz completed the third hat trick of his NHL career with the empty-net goal that wrapped up the scoring in the Blues’ 5–2 win over the Blackhawks in St. Louis. It’s the first hat trick by a Blues player versus the Blackhawks in the regular season or the Stanley Cup playoffs since Nov. 10, 1998, when Pierre Turgeon tallied three times in another 5–2 home-ice victory for the Blues. Schwartz’s two previous NHL hat tricks (against Arizona and Dallas) came in the 2014–15 season when he scored a career-high 28 goals.

Matthews continues to score against Red Wings

Auston Matthews scored his sixth goal in seven games this season as the Maple Leafs beat the Red Wings, 6–3, in the teams’ first meeting this season. As a rookie last season, Matthews led all NHL players with five goals (in four games) against Detroit. That was the most goals scored versus the Red Wings by a rookie on any NHL team since 1986–87, when Toronto’s Vincent Damphousse tallied five goals (in eight games) against them.