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  • Wednesday night's battle against the Kansas City Royals may prove to be the most anticipated game of the season for the Houston Astros. That's because top prospect George Springer finally got the call he's been waiting for since the Astros selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft, and is set to make his major league debut at Minute Maid Park.

    It almost feels like a landmark moment for a franchise that has been in full blown rebuilding mode for the better part of three seasons. Springer represents a new wave of talent that general manager Jeff Luhnow hopes will be the catalysts for their turn around and ascension up the AL West standings.

    It will take more than one piece, obviously, but Springer is the first, which adds to the buzz and, fairly or unfairly, to the expectations. It's with the former in mind that the Astros are calling Wednesday #SpringerDay in Houston. But Luhnow decided he really wanted to tap into the excitement of Springer's arrivial while also in some small way showing his appreciation to the fanbase for their patience by offering two free tickets to fans with the best responses on Twitter using the #SpringerDay hashtag.

    Some were humorous. Others were passionate pleas from die hards. But each caught Luhnow's attention for different reasons. Here's a look at the winning selections

    Aren't we all.

    The next one was also a no brainer.

    It's all about family for his third pick.

    And the diehard fan who represents at all hours of the day.

    Good picks, and a great gesture by Luhnow. He knows the Astros still have serious work to do to repair their roster and repair the trust from their fans. In one night, he's attempting to make the first necessary steps in both directions.

    BLS H/N: For The Win

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    Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • It took only three starts for New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to look like an ace and etch his name into the MLB record books.

    Tanaka turned in his first truly dominant performance Wednesday since coming to America and signing a $155 million deal with the Yankees. He struck out 10, allowed only two hits (both bunts) and kept the Chicago Cubs off the scoreboard in the Yankees' 3-0 win. In doing so, he became the most dominating new pitcher to arrive in MLB since Stephen Strasburg in 2010.

    The fact that Tanaka's gem came against the Chicago Cubs, another of his suitors when he was sold to the U.S. by the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan, only added to the Cubs' misery Wednesday. Tanaka chose The Big Apple over The Windy City, and he'll be the toast of the town in NYC soon enough if he continues to build on this early success. 

    Let's be honest. It was the Cubs he stifled, the team with the fifth fewest hits so far this season, but that's not enough to tarnish what Tanaka has achieved through his first three starts:

    • This was his second straight 10-strikeout game, and his third with at least eight Ks. He joins Strasburg as the only two pitchers since 1900 to strike out at least eight batters in each of their three first MLB starts, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

    • Tanaka's total of 28 Ks through his first three starts is a record for a Yankees pitcher. Overall, that puts him third all time for most strikeouts in his first three games. Strasburg, for what it's worth, had 32.

    • In that stretch, Tanaka's only walked two batters. Two! 

    • In Wednesday's win, Tanaka lowered his ERA to 2.05 and improved his record to 2-0.

    More importantly for the Yankees, he's looking like he'll quickly assimilate into the ace pitcher the team needs. So far this season, the Yankees starting pitching ranks 22nd in baseball with a 4.48 ERA. Supposed staff ace C.C. Sabathia has an ERA of 6.63 through three starts. 

    Tanaka was 24-0 last season in Japan with a 1.27 ERA. It was assumed he'd become the Yankees ace considering how much they invested in him — the $155 million contract, plus a $20 million posting fee paid to his former club.

    But right now he looks close to taking the ace throne three games into his MLB career. The Yankees have to be thrilled.

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    Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • Remove a playoff nightmare from the equation and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto is the unquestioned daddy of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Cueto pitched a three-hitter Wednesday afternoon, striking out a career-high 12 and walking none against the Bucs in a 4-0 victory for the Reds. Two of his three career shutouts have come against Pittsburgh. His ERA fell to 2.22 in 22 career starts against the Pirates, not counting the wild card debacle at PNC Park in October, when he literally dropped the ball on the mound not long before the Bucs ended the Reds season.

    Remember Pirates fans chanting his name until he got the dropsy?

    None of that nonsense this time on his home ground at Great American Ball Park. With Cueto's hair extensions flowing in the breeze and glistening in the sunshine, he dazzled the Pirates with his half-Luis Tiant delivery. Finish him, Johnny! He did, getting Andrew McCutchen to fly out (hard) to right in his 107th pitch.

    Cueto, as you figure he might, downplayed what happened in the past — specifically the bad time in the 'Burgh. This, from the Associated Press, says:

    ''I never think too much about those things,'' Cueto said, with assistant trainer Tomas Vera interpreting. ''That was 2013.''

    [...] Maybe it didn't mean anything extra to Cueto, but his teammates got some satisfaction from beating the Pirates. ''For us to come together the way we have, especially against the team that beat us in the playoffs, it's a lot of fun,'' third baseman Todd Frazier said.

    What Frazier said is probably closer to the truth, but if Cueto wants to play it that way, fine. If he gets another crack at the Bucs at PNC, we'll see how he reacts. Cueto says he doesn't think about the past, but he's going to have a lot of help being reminded of it.

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    David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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  • If any Minor League Baseball team is going to do a "Salute to Seinfeld Night," it oughta be the Brooklyn Cyclones, a short-season Single-A team. They're an affiliate of the Mets, Jerry Seinfeld's team of choice, and they're not terribly far away from Manhattan, where Seinfeld was mostly set.

    It's not like they're a team from Florida.

    Even with their territorial rights to "Seinfeld" — which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer — the Cyclones are going all out to create a night that might even make a Soup Nazi smile.

    At the top of the "cool things" list is a Keith Hernandez "Magic Loogie" bobblehead that the first 2,500 fans will take home. Hernandez, of course, cameo'd on "Seinfeld" and was accused of spitting on Kramer and Newman.

    From there, the Cyclones have a thorough list of special happenings scheduled for the game, including puffy shirts and Festivus poles. From their website:

    • MCU Park will be known as Vandelay Industries Park for one night only.
    • Mailmen in uniform get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch ("Hello Newman!")
    • Anyone who has a business card indicating that they are in fact a "Latex Salesman" will also receive a free ticket to the game. If we call the number and it's some apartment on the Upper East Side, you won't qualify for the freebie.
    • Fans can visit the information table for an "airing of grievances."
    • Closest to the pin / whale's blow hole competition ("Is that a Titleist?")
    • The foul poles will be known as Festivus Poles.
    • "Low-Talking" PA Announcer.
    • Elaine Dancing Contest
    • Everyone Runs the Bases Post-game...but anyone named Jerry gets a head start (Take that Duncan Meyer).
    • Game of "Risk" on the Concourse
    • Cereal eating contests
    • Anyone named George Costanza will be allowed to join our radio broadcast as a color analyst for an inning
    • Players in puffy shirts for batting practice.

    And somewhere in the middle of that, there will be a baseball game. The Cyclones' "Seinfeld" night is July 5, the same day as the 25-year anniversary of the show's premiere. 

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    Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • George Springer got the call. The 24-year-old outfielder is joining the Houston Astros on Wednesday, the first of their prized prospects to get a big-league call-up. From an on-the-field perspective, Springer probably should have joined the team out of spring training, but the Astros kept him down to limit his big-league service time and buy themselves another year of club control.

    The Astros are calling Wednesday #SpringerDay, so obviously the expectations are huge with their new outfielder.

    In The Stew's new "Learn the Name" feature, we introduce you to Springer and project what kind of player he might be. 

    Why you should care right now: Springer is immediately the most interesting player on the Astros, with all apologies to Jose Altuve. Springer is a five-tool player with a combination of speed and power that draws some Mike Trout comparisons. Those aren't completely warranted, but more on that later. Springer tore up the minor leagues last season. The Astros like him so much, they tried — and failed — to sign Springer to a long-term contract extension before he even played an MLB game.

    Where'd he come from? Springer was a first-round pick by the Astros in the 2011 draft. He played three seasons before that at the University of Connecticut, which is about 40 miles from his hometown of New Britain, Conn. 

    The numbers: As we said, Springer had a heck of a 2013 season in the minors, between Double-A and Triple-A. The numbers are eye-popping: .303/.411/.600, with 37 homers, 108 RBIs and 45 stolen bases. He only played 13 games in Triple-A this season, but hit .353/.459/.647 with three homers, nine RBIs and four bases swiped. But there's one more number that is a cause for concern — 161, that's how many times Springer struck out last season. That would have ranked him 10th in MLB in 2013, tied with Justin Upton. Obviously, Springer still hit for average in the minors despite the strikeouts. He walked 82 times last season — a good number that keeps his OBP high. As he adjusts to MLB pitching, both of those will be important to watch.

    Best case: Springer, if he somehow figures how not to strikeout, and maintains his power and speed numbers, could be a 40/40 threat. He could Mike Trout Lite. Having them both in the AL West for years to come would be great fun to watch.

    Worst case: Springer doesn't fare as well against big-league pitching. His power numbers go down, his strikeouts stay up and his batting average dips. Instead of a Mike Trout-type player, Springer becomes an Austin Jackson/Lorenzo Cain type of player.

    Will you care in a month? You certainly will. The Astros don't have a ton of star power at the moment, and Springer is the worth-the-price-of-admission type of player the club needs. Even if he struggles adjusting to the big leagues, he should be a fun player to keep an eye on this season and into the future.

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    Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • She could never be Royal. He couldn't possibly be any more Royal. Finally, pop icons from different generations, connected by a picture of a man wearing a Kansas City Royals jersey almost 40 years ago, have met in person.

    International recording artist extraordinaire Lorde met the inspiration for her song "Royals," Hall of Famer George Brett, on Tuesday night before her show at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, TMZ reports. Her people had reached out to his people for a meeting, but a potential connection missed in Kansas City when Lorde performed there recently. Brett instead sent her an autographed jersey as an offering of respect.

    (Thank goodness the concert didn't take place at the Bellagio, or there might have been a conflict of a NSFW and "double-tapered" nature.)

    Here's another shot, in which Lorde looks happier:

    Brett's golf tan, it's overwhelming in person.

    Regardless, with the Royal circle now complete, we can ask: How did Lorde come across that photo of Brett in the first place? She was born three years after Brett picked up his 3,000th career hit, after all.

    The Kansas City Star reports:

    When the New Zealand teen came to perform in Kansas City in March, her mother, Sonja Yelich, explained to The Kansas City Star how her daughter came across the 37-year-old photo of Brett: Lorde used to collect vintage National Geographics.

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    David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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  • They sometimes call San Francisco's Hector Sanchez "Hacktor" because he likes to swing. That can be a good thing, or bad, if you're Brandon League of the Dodgers. Sanchez came through with two outs in the 12th, lining an RBI single off the glove of diving second baseman Justin Turner for a 3-2 Giants victory. The hit prevented what surely would have become a five-hour game. Instead, a tidy 4:54.

    The Giants had tied the score in the bottom of the ninth, with one out this time, against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Brandon Belt lined an RBI double to left that brought Angel Pagan home from first base.

    The Dodgers activated former Giants beard Brian Wilson before the game, but manager Don Mattingly did not use him in relief because that would have been too much fun at AT&T Park.

    One of the reasons the game lasted so long: The deliberate pace of the starting pitchers, particularly L.A.'s Josh Beckett, who walked five in five scoreless innings and 90 pitches. Tim Lincecum struck out five in five scoreless of his own, throwing 93 pitches. He also struck out the side in the third for the first time this season.

    You want highlights?

    MORE WEST-COAST, LATE-NIGHT, FINAL AT-BAT FUN: Josh Donaldson hit a go-ahead double in the 11th for the Oakland Athletics, who survived another harrowing roller-coaster experience with a 10-9 victory against the Los Angeles Angels. Mike Trout kept the Angels alive with a solo homer in the ninth inning — but only after Joe Smith allowed a four-run rally in the eighth.

    Reporter Greg Beacham of the Associated Press called the A's, who have won four straight, "unshakably confident":

    Both teams erased late three-run deficits during two dismal bullpen performances. The Angels trailed 9-6 in the eighth after leading 6-3 heading to the seventh.

    “It felt like three different games,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We got behind early and came roaring back again, but give them credit. The momentum shifts go back and forth, and it comes down to will.”

    CENTRAL TIME ZONE FINAL AT-BAT FUN: One pair of Sox is White. The other, Red. When you wash them together in the laundry, which would be an error, you get two sets of pink Sox. When you play them together in a Major League Baseball game, you get excitement: A 2-1 White Sox victory thanks to a throwing error in the bottom of the ninth by rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Mike Carp at first base could have done a better job picking the throw, but Bogaerts put it on himself.

    Adam Dunn hit a solo home run against Jake Peavy that was matched by Daniel Nava until Chicago's rally in their last at-bat.

    A scary moment occurred when Mike Napoli dislocated a finger stealing second base. But it could have been worse. No break. So, a figurative break. Highlights!

    LET'S DO THE SPLITS:  The Pittsburgh Pirates finished off the Cincinnati Reds 8-7 in the conclusion of a suspended game from Monday. The teams combined for 14 runs in five-plus innings on Day 1 before a storm postponed the finish. The only run coming in "Part 2" of Game 1: Russell Martin's RBI single that brought in Andrew McCutchen in the eighth. That put the onus on the Reds to avoid a sweep.

    In the nightcap, the Reds won 7-5 thanks in large part to the bat of pitcher Mike Leake. He doubled and hit a two-run homer, and has the most hits of any pitcher since the start of the 2010 season. He has three career homers.

    Reds manager Bryan Price is impressed by how Leake approaches batting practice. He’s not just another pitcher trying to get in a few swings.

    “He loves the challenge,” Price said. “Even when you come out early, he’s not just hitting. He’s running the bases and working on little things. When we give him the green light early in the at-bat, he works on getting a good pitch to hit.”

    Oh, highlights lady???

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    David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

    Follow @AnswerDave

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    David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

    Follow @AnswerDave

  • Before handing the Boston Red Sox their ninth loss in 14 games thanks to an error, the Chicago White Sox gave them something to be appreciated for a much longer time. They paid respect to the city of Boston and the Boston Marathon bombings survivors by wearing T-shirts showing their solidarity. Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the domestic terrorist attack near the finish line along Boylston Street.

    The gray shirts had the Red Sox logo's — the iconic "B" — and the word "STRONG" encircled, along with a smaller White Sox logo and the word "together" under it.

    It was particularly moving when the home Sox lined up in front of their dugout for the national anthem.

    Here's White Sox slugger Adam Dunn, who later homered off pal Jake Peavy, wearing the shirt:

    The White Sox also showed this video on the U.S. Cellular Field scoreboard:

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    White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf usually gets this sort of thing just right.

    At MLB.com and other places, the Red Sox reflected on the bombings, what happened next and how they feel now in relation to how the attack transformed the city and team. Slugger Mike Napoli said:

    "The city is strong. They came together. It's been a long year, but people are getting through it. It's something we'll never forget, but people are getting through it."

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    David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

    Follow @AnswerDave

  • At one point in the dream-like "liquid world" of Bryce Harper's first commercial as a spokesman for Gatorade, he swings and literally tears the cover off the ball like Roy Hobbs in "The Natural." Only Hobbs didn't have Gatorade, so the ball transforms into a screaming line drive — another baseball metaphor — using Harper's face. It continues to ride a wave of the product over the fence for a grand slam. And we learn this: The red Gatorade of the Washington Nationals is better than the teal Gatorade of the Miami Marlins. At least for one swing.

    The special effects of the liquid Gatorade world are impressive, and the creators seem to have captured Harper's personality perfectly. And no matter how much "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses is played (and played), it always gets your attention.

    If you're not familiar with the "Fierce" line of Gatorade spots, they're said to tell "bold" and "intense" stories of conflict on the field. It's marketing-speak, but that's how Harper wants to present himself and that's, pretty much, how he really is when he plays. All in all, the commercial is a big winner and another sign that Harper's presence is growing among the public. CLIOs for everybody!

    However, the image of a liquid, screaming Bryce Harper ball might induce nightmares:

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    David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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    Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto dressed up like a Mountie for a hilarious interview last week on MLB Network's "Intentional Talk" where he sassed hosts Kevin Millar and Chris Rose. On Tuesday, MLB Network aired another interview with Votto, this one was much more somber and revealing, as he opened up about the sudden death of his father in 2008 and how it affected him.

    Those are two sides of Joey Votto we don't usually see. We're used to another side of Votto — his workman-like approach to playing baseball. He's a former National League MVP whose patience and precision are among his top traits on a baseball field.

    In 2008, Votto was a different guy — a rookie trying to make an impact on the Reds. He hit .297 that season, with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Yet, if you ask Votto about that season and the next, he'd call them his personal hell.

    The death of his father in the summer of 2008 hit him hard. His father, Joseph, was the first one to teach Votto  to play baseball, and still offered his son hitting advice when he hit the big leagues.

    While he was becoming one of MLB's most productive players — he had a WAR of 4.8 in 2009 followed by a career-high 6.9 in 2010 MVP season — Votto often found himself paralyzed by anxiety and dwelling in depression. There was a point in the 2009 season where he was on the disabled list because of "stress-related issues."

    Talking to MLB Network's Sam Ryan recently, Votto said: "2010 wasn't great," even though he won the MVP, hitting .324/.424/.600 with 113 RBIs. Votto says it took him three years to feel better, tipping his cap to doctors who listened to him and helped him work through his issues.

    "Eventually," Votto says, "I came out on the other side and I've learned a great deal.

    "I know that had I not gotten help, I probably wouldn't be here today talking to you about this. Fortunately, I don't have to do the 'What if?' "

    It's fascinating to hear Votto speak publicly about this, because so often in sports, athletes don't let the public see their personal vulnerability. Sports are still fueled by machismo, so talking about things like depression and anxiety isn't the norm.

    Look at the recent Daniel Murphy saga. The New York Mets second baseman was loudly criticized for taking three days of paternity leave to be with his wife and first child. The game, his critics said, was more important. One day of paternity should have been enough.

    It's a reminder that showing emotion in sports beyond "yay, we won" and "boo, we lost" takes guts. So in that respect, bravo, Joey Votto.

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    Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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