The All-Star break arrived at the perfect time for Casey McGehee, who had been grinding through a first-half slump and needed to clear his head, to get away from the mechanical adjustments and adjustments on the adjustments that had made a mess of his at-bats. He wanted to spend time with his kids and not worry about baseball.
Being the good teammate that he is, McGehee turned on the Home Run Derby to check in on Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks -- and the cable in his home went out, existential confirmation that maybe the Brewers third baseman could use some separation from the game he plays and loves. "It was a sign," McGehee said with a chuckle over the phone Tuesday before the Brewers began their series against the Cardinals.
After getting the time away, McGehee has been digging himself out of that slump, and he smoked a tie-breaking hit in the 10th inning to beat the Cardinals, pushing Milwaukee's lead to four games.
McGehee hit .285 with 23 homers and 104 RBIs in 2010, with an unusual hitting style, setting up low. Early this season, feeling a little out of balance, McGehee switched his setup, going with a more upright stance -- and he spiraled downhill at the plate. In the first days of July, with his OPS at .578, McGehee had a sit-down with hitting coach Dale Sveum -- a come-to-Jesus meeting, as he described it -- to talk about where he was and what he needed to do, and Sveum and McGehee made a promise to each other that they would be demanding of each other, to work through the slump.
But the All-Star break provided a respite, and he worked to free his mind of baseball and hitting mechanics for those few days. His one real connection with baseball came through his son, Mack, who is 4 years old and has cerebral palsy and loves baseball. "He's into everything [with baseball]," McGehee said. "He's got his eyes on Bob Uecker's job. ... He loves talking about it."
John Axford and his family came to dinner with the McGehees, and Mack showed the Brewers' closer how he could imitate Axford's entrance into a ballgame, with the music and the handling of the rosin bag and his setup on the mound.
When the Brewers' restarted after the All-Star break, McGehee said, "It was like Opening Day all over again." McGehee has gotten back to some of his old mechanics and has started focusing on getting his front foot down in his swing and trusting his hands, and, over his past 11 games, McGehee is hitting .333 with 13 RBIs. Including his big RBI on Tuesday night.
It was a year ago, almost to the day, that St. Louis went into Cincinnati and swept the Reds, engaging in a major brawl, and it appeared that the Cardinals had taken control of the division. But St. Louis faded down the stretch.
"We feel good now, but we have so much season left," McGehee said. "No matter which way [this series] goes, it's not the nail in the coffin for anybody."
• The Indians and Tigers played an epic game, and Cleveland won with an adjustment made by Kosuke Fukudome. It was a long night but worth it for the Indians, says Manny Acta. The Indians have nine walk-off wins this year, and three are against the Tigers.
Meanwhile: You can't stop the White Sox, you can only hope to contain them -- they've won five in a row, as Mark Gonzales writes.
• For years, Mariano Rivera totally dominated left-handed hitters with his cut fastball, but bit by bit, he has become a little more vulnerable -- and he allowed a homer to Bobby Abreu on Tuesday night in the Yankees' loss.
Left-handed hitters' batting average vs. Rivera, past four seasons:
2008 -- .147
2009 -- .182
2010 -- .214
2011 -- .267 (includes 2-3 Tuesday)
From Mark Simon of ESPN Research:
Rivera is inducing ground balls from left-handed hitters at a rate far lower than in the previous two seasons. Opponents are getting hits at a significantly higher rate when they put his cutter in play. Here's a closer look at left-handed hitters specifically.
Also of note: Rivera is not putting hitters away with two strikes as well as he usually does. Rivera gave up a hit on a 2-2 count to Alberto Callaspo to start the ninth inning on Tuesday. Putting hitters away with a favorable two-strike count (0-2, 1-2, 2-2) has been an issue for Rivera all season.
If Rivera goes south, writes Kevin Kernan, the Yankees have no chance.
• Rich Harden threw well Tuesday and picked up his first win on his home soil, and if the Red Sox have any more designs on trying to acquire him, there's pretty much no chance, given their position behind the Yankees in the waiver process. The Red Sox, like the Yankees, are placing a lot of claims, but the Yankees get first shot at every player who comes through the process and New York is throwing a large net over all good pitchers, claiming everybody.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Padres are going to increase their payroll next year, says Jeff Moorad.
5. The Mariners agreed to terms with their third-round pick.
Dings and dents
A) Lee threw heat. On Tuesday, Lee's average pitch velocity was 89 miles per hour, which is tied for his highest average velocity of the season. In addition, Lee threw his fastest pitch of the season at 95 mph.
B) Not only did Lee throw heat, but he was very effective while doing so. Of his 10 strikeouts, seven came on the fastball or the cutter. Furthermore, the 26 percent in-play percentage against Lee when using his fastball and cutter was the lowest of the season. He's had eight 10-strikeout games this season, compared with nine such games in his 2002-10 seasons. He leads the majors in 10-K games this season.
4. Texas' bullpen came through again, and the Rangers walked off, as Jeff Wilson writes.
6. The Astros lost a wild game in the desert.
7. The Mariners had their guts ripped out.
A) Shields' dominant off-speed pitch has been his changeup, and that continued Tuesday with the Royals going 2-for-11 with six strikeouts on a season-high 40 pitches thrown by the right-hander. Ninety percent (36 of 40) of Shields' changeups were down in the zone and below, resulting in seven outs, all of which came on a changeup out of the zone.
B) Shields succeeded in general when going out of the zone, throwing 65 of his 117 pitches there. The Royals chased 20 pitches, striking out six times and putting six in play for an out.
C) The fastball also gave Shields some success Tuesday, getting him 11 outs. Shields threw a season-high 55 fastballs at an average of 91 mph, leading to six air outs and four groundouts.
9. The Pirates were shut down.
10. The Mets scraped together another win despite a ragtag lineup.
The Patience Index
• A Ron Santo statue is being unveiled Wednesday, as Paul Sullivan writes.
• Michael Taylor is biding his time in Triple-A.
• Two suspects in the beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow are due in court.
And today will be better than yesterday.