The week that was

Jim Rodriguez: Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training; a welcome distraction to what is going on in the “real” world

Never forgetting a chance meeting with Tony Soprano. Gandolfini.com

While many think of the opening of camps around Arizona and Florida as the start of something new; I always take the time to remember an encounter with someone that had nothing to do with baseball. Someone who every spring makes me smile and remember that life is a gift that needs to be unwrapped every day. Especially in times like these.

I was in Sanibel Island, Florida about a half hour outside of Fort Myers.  It was March of 2000.   I had a day off covering Minnesota Twins camp and decided to lay out by the hotel pool and enjoy a nice cigar.  

As I finished lighting my Montecristo #2,  I noticed him. How could you not!  

The Sopranos was relatively new to viewers. The show debuted in January of 1999, but I was already hooked. He had a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.  A towel wrapped around his neck and an unlit cigar in one hand.

Maybe it was the smoke from my cigar, but he quickly shuffled over to my area by the pool.  There was an empty seat not quite next to me,  but near enough to me.  

As he approached, I found myself rehearsing what, if anything, I would say to my new favorite TV star!  It was Tony Soprano!  I read he was painfully shy and I certainly didn’t want to disrupt his quiet time in the sun.

Thankfully he spoke first: “Is this seat taken?” he said. “No… enjoy” I said.   

He nodded and sat down.   Now what? What was I going to say.. if anything? He then took off his shirt.  and it hit me.   A couple of big fellas sitting by the pool, both badly in need of as much sunscreen as humanly possible.

After he lit his cigar, I  looked at him and said… “between you and me.. ain't nobody gonna get any sun today at this pool.”  He laughed.. shook his head yes.. and reached out to shake my hand.  “James” he said.  “Jim” I said.  Nothing more was said and at least for me.. that was plenty.

James Gandolfini left us far too soon. A heart attack struck him down in 2013.  He was 51 years old.  He’s a cautionary tale. Take better care of yourself. Mix in a salad. Lose some weight. But never stop enjoying life. 

Even in times like these. 

You can listen to my radio show, The Sports Bosses , weekdays at 10 a.m. ET on SB Nation Radio. Follow me on Twitter @mediarodriguez

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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