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Inside Baseball: Tellez, Phillips carve feel-good stories to open September

Baseball is making me crabby lately. With so little action at times, games are getting exceedingly dull and I hope the analytics hounds are happy with the overload of strikeout-walk-home run, strikeout-walk-home run. Shifts need to be legislated down a few notches and "The Opener" is just plain awful.

Before you send me the Rays' record with relievers starting games, I am able to read the standings. In addition, winning doesn't mean it's good for the game. Ask hockey fans if the New Jersey Devils' three Stanley Cups were any good for it.

In the wake of the above,  we need some feel-good to enter this baseball season. So we should spend some time celebrating Rowdy Tellez and Brandon Phillips, two players Buffalo fans have gotten to know very well.

Tellez is a 23-year-old who has been here the last two seasons. The burly first baseman slugged two home runs on Opening Day in 2017, probably not the best thing for his career, and has hit 51 doubles with the Herd the last two years.

But he's been living a difficult life as his mother, Lori, was battling brain cancer back home in California. The word was positive last year but the rumblings were not good this year as Tellez landed on the temporary inactive list a couple of times. You didn't even need to ask the Bisons or manager Bobby Meacham what was up. Without any real confirmation, everyone knew what it meant: Tellez was back home with his mother for her final days.

She died last month and Tellez, who was gone for nine days, admitted he almost packed in his season were it not for the urging of his family as well as teammates in Buffalo and the likes of Blue Jays infielders Devon Travis and Justin Smoak. Tellez returned on Fan Appreciation Night, accepting the booster club's unsung hero award.

He played seven games on the team's ghastly 0-8 road trip that capped the season, going 6 for 28 with one double and two RBIs. Still, he was decent all year as his batting average went from .222 to .270, he struck out 20 fewer times and pushed his OPS from .628 to .765.

Instead of packing it up Monday in Syracuse, Tellez was told to go to the big leagues for the first time. Then came Wednesday and Thursday nights in Toronto.

Tellez's first at-bat came in the eighth inning Wednesday and he doubled to left-center on the first pitch he saw against Tampa Bay, pointing to the heavens when he reached second base.

His father, Greg, had a delayed flight and missed the hit.

"It was pretty bittersweet, to be honest," Tellez told the Canadian Press the next day. "I'd say most guys get their first career hits with their whole families, both their parents, in the stands. I was fortunate enough to have one in the stadium with me. My mom was there. She was watching over me.

"My dad was on his way so it was pretty bittersweet. I always thought I'd do it in front of both of my parents. But everything happens for a reason."

Sure does. Tellez picked his father up at the airport late Wednesday night. Prior to Thursday's game the Sportsnet cameras caught him embracing his father just prior to the Jays-Indians game. Then Tellez gave the old man something to see, with doubles in his first two at-bats and another in the eighth inning for good measure.

The result: He became the first player in the live-ball era (since 1920) to have an extra-base hit in each of his first three career plate appearances, the first player with four extra-base hits in his first five at-bats.

An emotional Tellez could barely speak during a Sportsnet interview on the field after Wednesday's game. He was still in a daze Thursday.

"It still doesn't feel real being here," Tellez said. "Childhood dreams are achieved and it's a great feeling. I'm ecstatic to be here. It's a great clubhouse and makes it really easy to be here and very comfortable."

Phillips feels love in Buffalo

Phillips, meanwhile, had not been in Buffalo since 2005 until appearing for Pawtucket in the final weekend of this season. He was a key player on the Bisons' 2004 championship team and their '05 division winners, and is destined for the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame someday.

Fans greeted him warmly during the series and the Bisons even saluted him in his first at-bat with a brief video of some of his '04 highlights en route to the title. Phillips' trademark wide smile was on display all four days.

It's been a long time since Phillips was a young 20-something cavorting at then-Dunn Tire Park. As one indication of how long, Phillips and Bartolo Colón are the only remaining active vestiges of the Montreal Expos. They were traded for each other in 2002 in the infamous Montreal-Cleveland trade when Phillips was a 21-year-old in Class A and Colón, then 27, already had 75 wins in the big leagues.

Phillips tweeted thanks to the Bisons and their fans after the series, even punctuating the tweet with the hashtag #2004ILchampion

After not getting a job over the winter, Boston finally signed him in July and he batted over .300 in Pawtucket, earning a call-up on Tuesday. He rewarded the Red Sox handsomely with a game-winning home run, a two-run shot in the ninth inning of a 9-8 win in his hometown of Atlanta.

Phillips became the first player in Red Sox history to hit a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later in his debut with the team. The blast marked the first time this year any team had overcome a deficit of six or more runs after the seventh inning, as the Red Sox entered the eighth inning in a 7-1 hole. Teams had been 0-487 in those situations this season (both items as noted by Elias Sports).

Phillips did it for Boston while becoming the first player in team history to wear No. 0. His usual career numbers (4 and 7) are not available in Boston. And 44 was taken too.

"I asked, 'what is the weirdest number you have in there?' " Phillips told Boston reporters. "He was like, 'lemme look'. He said zero, and I was like, 'give me that.' So I'm happy with zero."

When Phillips hit his home run, there was no silent treatment for the 37-year-old like a rookie might get.

"Them boys crazy. I loved it a lot, those guys, 'welcome back to the league' — they said all kinds of stuff like that," Phillips said. "It was funny, man, they really made me smile and made me feel like I’ve been here and I really thank those guys for that."

Phillips said he was thrilled to show how perseverance can work in your favor. But he'd like some rewards too, as in a World Series ring he never got during his years in Cincinnati.

Said Phillips, "It would be nice to have some bling bling on my finger too."

Jays' Shapiro defends Vladdy decision

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro doubled down on criticism that the team didn't call up Vladimir Guerrero from the Bisons for service-time reasons — even though all kinds of players got the call from Buffalo.

Shapiro was roasted so badly for saying Wednesday on MLB Network radio that there were no business reasons for the decision that he had to call a press conference Friday in Toronto to address the topic again.

His main point was that it becomes difficult to continue development in the major leagues and going to the Arizona Fall League is Guerrero's best path at age 19.

In the big leagues, Shapiro said, "it becomes about putting up numbers and getting paid. And that's kind of where the focus lies. So this is our opportunity. It's very short. It's very small. This may be it. It may be the next six, seven weeks — that could be it for his entire development time. And so we are trying to look at every one of those days as a pearl and not throw any of those out."

It's ridiculous. The MLB Players Association rightly ripped the Blue Jays' decision to not promote Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year.

Inside Baseball: Service-time game with prospects needs to end

"The decision to not to bring him up is a business decision, not a baseball decision," the PA said in a statement to Sportsnet. "It’s bad for the Blue Jays, it’s bad for fans, it's bad for players and it's bad for the industry.”

Amen. But if the PA doesn't like it, it's going to have to renegotiate the service time rules when the current Basic Agreement runs out in 2021.

Baseball America tabs Guerrero as minor league player of the year

Minor matters

The shuffling of minor-league affiliates is already starting but we're not just talking parent clubs. There are some franchise moves in place.

The Red Sox announced they're moving their Triple-A team to a new stadium in Worcester, Mass., in 2021 because a deal to replace McCoy Stadium could not be worked out in Pawtucket. It's a huge loss for the Rhode Island city, which has hosted the PawSox since 1973.

Colorado Springs blew its PCL division on the final day of the season Monday, dropping both games of a home doubleheader to Oklahoma City. The 16-4 loss in the nightcap ended Triple-A ball in the city because the SkySox are moving to San Antonio next year.

Meanwhile, it appears there will be no more Triple-A games in New Orleans as soon as the end of 2019. The Baby Cakes will be moving to a new stadium in Wichita as soon as 2020. The Cakes were known as the Zephyrs when they were a Bisons opponent in the American Association, and Buffalo's Triple-A franchise was purchased from Wichita by Bob Rich Jr. in 1984.

Dopes of the week

Shapiro could be a candidate for this list. But his truth-stretching can't overcome these two. Tough call.

1). Tigers announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, who have been on the air together for the team's games for Fox Sports Detroit since 2003, have been sat down for the season by the network after getting into a physical altercation Tuesday in Chicago.

Reports from multiple outlets are conflicting, although a dispute over a chair in the broadcast booth apparently got physical following the game. Viewers saw an alternate broadcast team, including former Tigers slugger Kirk Gibson, on Wednesday's game with no mention of the missing announcers.

Impemba has had no comment. Allen, who collected 92 RBIs for the Bisons in their 1987 War Memorial Stadium finale season, tweeted briefly on Thursday night: "I’ve always conducted myself as an honorable professional and I always will. Because this is a personnel matter. I can’t comment right now."

2). Padres outfielder Wil Myers got outed by Deadspin for complaining about manager Andy Green on a live Fortnite stream of teammate Carlos Asuaje.

"The Padres are doing cutoff and relays tomorrow at 3:00 — in September, dude," Myers said. "Oh my God, bro, it’s so miserable, man. It’s insane. Andy cannot be any worse than he is right now."

Myers was then told the feed was being streamed but it was too late. His foot was completely in his mouth to the masses. The outfielder had to apologize to his manager the next day.

"There were no excuses," Green said. "There was just ownership and an apology. There was, on my end, an understanding I've done the same thing to my boss at some point in time in my life. It just wasn't 2018, where everything's recorded or streamed live.”

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