Sports with Chuck McGill Dedicated to the stats and the silly in sports

Jameson Taillon: Then and now

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Because we like to celebrate anniversaries around these parts, today — April 27 — is the five-year anniversary of Jameson Taillon’s professional baseball debut.

Yours truly was there for it: a rainy night at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park with Bryce Harper in town.

Taillon, for the unaware, has long been considered one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ and baseball’s most promising prospects and arms. He is big — 6-foot-5, 240 pounds — with a powerful right arm. Sadly, as sometimes is the case, his career was temporarily derailed by a series of injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He missed all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and is three starts into his 2016 comeback. We’ll get to that.

Back to the debut. Taillon, who told me that night five years ago he was 226 pounds, tossed 45 pitches in two innings before heavy rains shortened his professional debut.

Some other nuggets from that night:

— The Power hosted the Hagerstown Suns, which had Bryce Harper. Harper was 19 games into his professional career.

— Taillon’s first pitch came at 7:07 p.m., and was clocked at 96 miles per hour.

— Taillon needed 28 pitches to escape the first inning, which included a five-pitch walk to Harper.

— Taillon gave up one run on three hits, walked two and didn’t record a strikeout.

— The first inning ended on a 6-4-3 double play.

— Taillon hit triple digits — 100 miles per hour — on one pitch.

Taillon started 23 games for the Power that season, striking out 97 across 92 2/3 innings and getting his ERA to 3.98.

This season, Taillon is reminding everyone all the talent that right arm possesses.

Through three starts, he is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 16 1/3 innings. He hasn’t issued a walk.

It’s fun to watch this now 24-year-old on Major League Baseball’s doorstep.

Happy Danniversary

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Today is the two-year anniversary of Marshall announcing it had hired former Herd star and longtime NBA assistant Dan D’Antoni as its head coach.

The school’s athletic director, Mike Hamrick, tweeted the news at 2:06 p.m. We posted a full story of the hiring five minutes later. It was a whirlwind day that included this column by yours truly: D’Antoni hire shines spotlight on Marshall for a day

These paragraphs are particularly relevant today:

“Conference USA coaches are texting me at a furious rate downright giddy by the fact that Marshall hired Dan D’Antoni,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman posted to the social media website Twitter shortly after the news leaked.

The tomato tossing didn’t stop with that.

Subsequent tweets from Goodman said “everyone in NBA circles … along with C-USA coaches — killing the hire.” CBSsports.com college hoops columnist Gary Parrish noted that Dan D’Antoni hasn’t worked on a college campus in 40 years and said one text from the NBA predicted Marshall’s hire “will be the worst thing you’ve ever witnessed.”

What rubbish. Shirtless pictures of me exist that will prove Parrish’s tweet wrong.

Lewis Joseph “Dan” D’Antoni II is coming off his second season. It was a winning season, 17-16. In fact, the Thundering Herd finished in a tie for third in Conference USA. D’Antoni was in the mix to be the Conference USA Coach of the Year, and some could argue he should’ve been.

In short … this has hardly been the worst thing we’ve ever witnessed.

Marshall averaged 86.0 points per game, which fell 0.4 points per game shy of the national lead (and ranked No. 3 nationally). The Herd ranked fourth nationally in 3-point attempts. The crowds swelled inside the Henderson Center, which is what younger brother Mike D’Antoni predicted after the hire was announced two years ago today:

“The Henderson Center will be rocking with excitement,” he said.
Happy Danniversary, coach.

Programming note: former Marshall star and current Atlanta Braves pitcher Aaron Blair will make his Major League Baseball debut Sunday afternoon against the New York Mets.

Blair, 23, has been dominating this season, with a 3-0 record and 1.42 ERA in three starts. He has 22 strikeouts against five walks in 19 innings.

Blair, a 2013 pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, was part of a blockbuster that included the Braves sending All-Star right-hander Shelby Miller and prospect Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks for Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Blair.

Blair entered this season as the No. 40 prospect on Baseball America’s top 100 list.

Kobe’s farewell vs. Longo’s walk off

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In the wee hours of Sept. 29, 2011 — long after my wife had fallen asleep — I grabbed a post-it note and started to scribble a thought. It read something like this:

Wake me up so I can tell you what happened last night

I pressed the post-it note against our bathroom mirror so I know she’d see it. I didn’t go to sleep until after 4 a.m. that night, but I didn’t care if she shook me awake a few hours later. I had to tell her about the night in baseball, one where the Red Sox fell out of the playoffs and an Evan Longoria home run pushed the Rays into the postseason. The Rays won that night to finish 91-71 and earn the wild card. The Red Sox lost to fall to 90-72.

It was a wild ending that concluded in a matter of moments. The Red Sox blew a 1-run lead just moments before Longoria, at 12:05 a.m., ripped a ball down the left-field line for one of the shortest walk off home runs in history. Mayhem ensued. In fact, one of my favorite sportswriters, Joe Posnanski, described it like this:

Elation. Sadness. Mayhem. Champagne. Sleepless fury. Never been a night like it.

Kobe Bryant’s farewell night has to come close.

Like that September night of 2011, the events started on one day and ended after midnight. I am older now and it was me who had fallen asleep early. When my wife came to bed, it woke me up. Thank goodness, because I grabbed my glasses and phone and headed to the living room to watch Bryant conclude a 20-year career and the Golden State Warriors pursue 73 wins. I just hoped I hadn’t missed it all.

Sure enough, both games were headed to the fourth quarter. The Warriors were comfortably ahead in their pursuit, so I switched the TV to ESPN2 and watched Kobe Bryant take a chunk of his 50 shot attempts.

As the commercial break ended, Lakers coach Byron Scott asked if they could get Kobe Bryant 50 points. “We’re going to try,” he said.

Bryant finished with 60 points … including 15 of the Lakers’ final 17 … including the go-ahead jumper with 31 seconds left … all of which resulted in a come-from-behind win I didn’t think possible because, clearly, Bryant’s teammates were intent on him shooting the ball every possession. That’s a tough way to win, but it also upped the degree of difficulty for the all-time great.

He rarely had a clean look. Everyone in the building knew he was going to shoot — 50 times! — and yet here he was, crossing people over, burying jumpers, draining 3s, leading the Lakers to a win in a season where those were few and far between.

When I was a kid, I was a Lakers fan. Not really by choice. My dad was a Lakers fan, so I was a Lakers fan. I adored Magic Johnson. I’d grab the Charleston Gazette in the morning and if I saw the Lakers were going to be on TV late at night — always that 10 p.m. game — I’d ask my parents if I could stay up past my bedtime, well past my bedtime, to watch Showtime in Los Angeles.

Last night took me back to my childhood when I’d be willing to cheat sleep in the chase of catching something incredible and unforeseen in sports. Like Longo’s walk off. Like the Warriors’ 73. Like Kobe’s 60.

Something so incredible that it makes me want to leave a post-it note for my wife so I can tell someone all about it.

 

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The West Virginia Power open their first homestand of the 2016 season Thursday. You should go because, well, it’s baseball … and it’s supposed to be clear and warm … and you are likely to see this pitching staff continue to roll.

The Power is off to a 3-2 start with road games looming Tuesday night and Wednesday night before the team returns to the Mountain State. The two losses came when the Power allowed three runs (two earned) in the season opener at Greensboro, and two runs in Monday night’s shutout at Greenville.

Overall, the Power has allowed just nine runs through five games this season — only six of which were earned. That puts Charleston’s low-Class A minor league baseball team among the top pitching staff’s for team EERA in ALL of the minor leagues. Here’ the list:

Oklahoma City (AAA, Dodgers), 0.78 ERA (46.0 IP)
West Virginia Power (low-A, Pirates), 1.17 ERA (46.0 IP)
Frisco (AA, Rangers), 1.31 ERA (48.0 IP)
Corpus Christi (AA, Astros), 1.31 ERA (48.0 IP)
Hartford (AA, Rockies), 1.76 ERA (41.0 IP)
Pensacola (AA, Reds), 1.88 ERA (48.0 IP)

This list excludes any teams that have yet to play at least five games, but only Oklahoma City ranks better than the Power. West Virginia has allowed earned runs of 2, 0, 1, 1, 2 in its five games. Pretty impressive.

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