LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES DISPATCHES:
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY: DIVISION SERIES
THE GOOD: THE WINNERS (INCLUDING THE YANKEES)
From the Red Sox over to the Cubs and on down to the Marlins, all three teams are great adversariesprobably the most exciting matchups in memory. Gone are the dull Braves, the unhitting Twins and the eternal bridesmaids in the Athletics, who, I have to say, play some of the dullest baseball this side of
I can't even remember. But I like almost the chances of all the teams, and the potential World Series matchup, including the Apocalyptic, Red Sox-Cubs fight. But I'd pay to see the Yanks take on either the Cubs or Marlins, and the same take on the Sox. Our actors in this great drama include some of my favorite players, including Willis, Wood, Prior, Pedro Martinez, and even a pair of hated Yanquis: Hideki Matsui and Kalamazoo, Michigan's Derek Jeter, whose house I once canvassed for Clean Water Action (and whose career I followed as a result).
By the by, I have to tell you that, in spite of my hatred for the Yankees, baseball should consider itself lucky to have such a monster rearing it's head each postseason. There is no other franchise like the Bombers in all of professional sport, perhaps in the entire world (only the Japan's Yamiuri Giants and England's Manchester United challenge this assertion). For my money, the postseason is that much more exciting with the thought that the your team might bust the back of Steinbrenner's overpriced team.
THE BAD: THE LOSERS, ESPECIALLY THE MINNESOTA TWINS
Call me sour grapes, but the Twins played perhaps the worst baseball in this whole set, making the Detroit Tigers fight to keep from breaking the record appear worthy of the two or three books that McFarland and Company will publish in the next year. I've said enough on this subject, as has Brad Zellar at Yard, the Twins Geek, ESPN, SI, and anyone who covers the sport with their eyes open. Absolutely hideous baseball.
But, on the other hand, the Athletics certainly went out in grand style. From Tejada flipping out over Derek Lowe's "gesture", to the fan who thought it best to taunt the Red Sox while Johnny Damon lay on the grass in centerfield, knocked unconscious. This team just can't seem to win, and now it seems as if they are really flipping out. Maybe this loss in the first round would make a much more intriguing, darker epilogue to Moneyball.
THE UGLY: FOX SPORTS BROADCASTING
Yesterday, after the collision in centerfield, one of the Fox broadcasters (I didn't pay that close attention) said something to the effect of "you know, baseball players really know how to focus after a tragedy, more so than anyone else." Incredible. Those baseball players ought to give clinics to
I don't know, cops, firemen, teachers, paramedics, military personnel, nurses, etc.
There are some things I truly appreciate from Fox, including going through an at-bat pitch by pitch, and some of their commentary is right on the money. But having to sit through ads for their God awful television shows, their consistent cutting to Kerry Wood's wife, and inane tidbits like the above make for often painful viewing.
A Changing of the Guard For Baseball Curses?
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 7
Maybe just maybe this is the year, when it comes to baseball curses, that it is time for a changing of the guard. If the Boston Red Sox could survive the kind of beyond-these-things freak that brought the entire proceeding to a frightening stop in the bottom of the seventh, before warding off the Oakland Athletics, provoking their own followers to ponder their own accursedness, as they made their fourth straight round-one postseason exit...
The Red Sox held a tenuous-enough lead, with the final third of the game well under way, when they suffered a strike as grotesque as it was dangerous. And, they suffered. Suffered, and survived, enough to end up standing, at the finish of yet another transdimensional ninth inning, with a 4-3 win in their hip pockets and a trip to the American League Championship Series in their immediate future.
When Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson went down in a headsplitting pair of shallow center field heaps in the bottom of the seventh, stopping the game for about twelve minutes, it was probably impossible, through even that fright, to shake even the flicker of thought that That Curse had found a far more cruel way to blow away the renewed hope of a too long starved, too much put upon baseball family.
Before that crash, the Olde Towne Team had built a 4-2 lead over the Moneyballers, spoiling Barry Zito's shutout while Pedro Martinez kept things marksmanlike enough to hold the Athletics to a 1-0 lead entering the top of the sixth. That was when working on three days' rest began reaching Zito at last, it seemed, taking a little of the power off his trademark breaking pitches.
Jason Varitek caught the hint and hit a curvaceous shot over the left field fence. Damon worked out a walk and, after Nomar Garciaparra popped out foul toward the dugout, Todd Walker was hit by a pitch, a Zito up-and-in number catching him on the shoulder blade as he turned trying to avoid it. Then Manny Ramirez, who had stranded eleven baserunners and was one for seven with men in scoring position to that point, drove one about a foot or two from where Varitek's shot had landed.
Martinez looked all set to finish off the Athletics in the bottom of the seventh, after throwing Jose Guillen out on a bounceback to the mound and getting Ramon Hernandez to pop out to short. Then, he got Jermaine Dye to pop one up toward shallow right center. In came Damon from straightaway center, out pedaled Jackson replacing Walker for late-inning defence - from second base. Around the ball clapped Jackson's glove. And bing! Damon and Jackson met cheek to cheek, smashing into each other's heads, knocking each other off feet and flat onto the grass, which also knocked the ball from Jackson's glove and the living daylights out of Damon, who would spend several minutes unconscious as a shudder rippled around the park, from the two dugouts to every level of the stands.
It almost seemed incidental that Garciaparra hustled out from shortstop to grab the ball and throw in for the inning-ending putout on Dye trying to stretch what was credited as a base hit into an extra base. As if to punctuate how incidental the play seemed, Garciaparra turned almost immediately after he threw in and returned to his stricken teammates, as trainers, coaches, and even Dye came out to see if the two sunken Sox would recover.
Jackson did first, standing up under his own power and showing at least a cut or bruise on the side of his head, finally making way to the dugout, but suddenly looking as though ready to go back to the field to aid his mate. At one point, a single jerk in the field boxes behind the Red Sox dugout, beneath a huge foam orange-gold Athletics souvenir cowboy hat (it isn't yet known whether this was meant as a jab at "Cowboy Up!", the much-noted Red Sox watchword this season), jawed at either Jackson or David Ortiz, rattling the already shaken up Red Sox enough that it seemed for a moment they might step up into the boxes to teach the miscreant a little lesson in manners.
That thought, if indeed present, must have dispelled quickly enough when stadium security removed the jerk. He was probably the only fan in the park who thought it appropriate to jeer an opponent fallen by means other than a ball in play creating runs for the home team. Damon was hoisted onto a guerney and carried up on board an ambulance brought into shallow center, with Oakland center fielder Chris Singleton sidling up to wish him well (Damon, a former Oakland Athletic, seems as well liked here as he has become in Boston), and lifted his right arm in a two-way salute just before he was lifted into the vehicle, at once seeming to say he was alright and thanks for the kind ovation, folks.
Perhaps fatefully enough, when all was clear on the field again, and the clubs could get back to the game, Damon, Garciaparra, and Jackson were due up for the Red Sox eighth. Adrian Brown pinch hit for Damon and bounced out to second. Garciaparra pushed Singleton to the fence with a flyout. Jackson flied to right. And, in the bottom of the inning, Singleton slashed a double bouncing off the wall to lead off, coming home on pinch hitter Bill McMillon's single and bringing the Athletics to within a run, before Alan Embree relieved Pedro and played a little pop music. As in, getting Erubiel Durazo to pop out to third and Eric Chavez to pop out to short left field, before handing it over to Mike Timlin to get Miguel Tejada to force pinch-runner Frank Menechino at second.
The Athletics got their first two runs of the game in the fourth and the sixth. After Pedro got Chavez to reach off the plate and ground one out to short, and Tejada to strike out swinging on what should have been ball four (barking out a very audible motherfarker! back in the dugout) in the fourth, Scott Hatteberg walked and Guillen lined a double to the right center field wall, sending Hatteberg home before Guillen tried and failed to make it in to third. In the sixth, Martinez began by throwing a looping curve ball in for strike three called on Mark Ellis before Durazo bounced a double off the left center field wall. He got Chavez to pop to shortstop before Tejada lined a double to right field. But he got Hatteberg to ground out to short without any further damage.
When the ninth inning arrived, it carried precisely what was needed to confirm that things, reasonably enough, were back to normal in the peripatetic world of the Red Sox.
First, they threatened to put at least a fifth run on the board. They pushed Oakland setup specialist Chad Bradford (relieving Zito's relief, Ted Lilly), after the gangling submariner started the proceedings by striking out Ramirez on a check swing. David Ortiz lashed a single to right and, with Gabe Kapler in to run for him, Kevin Millar singled to center to push Kapler to second. Out came Bradford, in came Ricardo Rincon, and out went the Red Sox, when Bill Mueller popped out foul to first and Trot Nixon struck out on another check swing.
Into the game came Scott Williamson, the former Cincinnati relief specialist, who had become a Hub hero over the weekend, after his embattled turns down the stretch under the heavy weight of his wife and newborn baby's concurrent illnesses. Williamson had gone as off the chart as a Red Sox reliever could go in shepherding both Fenway Park wins, and now he was asked to do the same voodoo in Oakland.
Willing he was. Commanding as he'd been Saturday and Sunday, he wasn't. That was evident only too vividly, too soon, when he started the bottom of the ninth by walking Hatteberg, an at-bat during which the television camera panned to a shot of two large banners tacked to the upper deck's rim wall, one saying "1918" and the other, a portrait of Babe Ruth. As Eric Byrnes went in to run for Hatteberg, Williamson and Guillen fought to a full count, before Williamson threw one a little too far up and a little too far in. Suddenly, the Athletics had first and second, and nobody out, against the team whose very name has become a six-letter word for surrealistic eleventh hour collapse.
So help me God, you might have heard a pennant drop, as Williamson was taken out of the game and Derek Lowe (himself a former closer) was brought in. And, oh, brother, you had to think, are they playing with fire, or what? It was Lowe on the mound, in the twelfth inning, in the first game of the set, when Hernandez caught Mueller playing too deep at third, dropped that gnarly bunt up the third base line, with the bases loaded and two out, and pushed Chavez home with the game winning run. And guess who was up to hit for the Athletics now, with two men on and nobody out. Obviously, the Red Sox spirits had not been challenged (or, if you prefer, provoked) enough for one series.
Hernandez indeed showed bunt this time, while the Red Sox showed the wheel play (first and third baseman charge down the lines to choke the plate; shortstop to third base, second baseman inclined toward first but ready to break back if the ball comes up the middle). This time, though, Hernandez dropped a standard-issue sacrifice bunt, and it was second and third with one out. And, now, it was Lowe's turn to cowboy up. He branded Adam Melhuse, who had gone three for three on Sunday, pinch hitting for Dye. The only three for which Melhuse went this night, however, was strike three called.
Up came Singleton, and down to the Athletics' final strike did Lowe push, before Singleton worked out a walk to load the bases. He didn't do it, however, without a little dynamic tension. He chopped one up the first base line that caught the grass and began roll-bouncing, skipping just to the foul side before Millar could spear it. Shades of 1986. (Bite your tongue!)
And then came Terence Long, batting for Frank Menechino, who had come in to play second for the A's earlier. Up into their tightening throats went the heart of both Red Sox Nation and Athletics' Alley. But down toward the plate stepped Lowe, with a full count, throwing
strike three called again.
The celebrating pitcher cranked his arm twice around in an underhand windmill, pounded his thigh and pumped his fist again, a routine he is said to do when he bags a critical win, as Varitek sprang up from behind the plate to greet him and their mates poured out of the dugout, celebrating a pending date with the Evil Empire. And for at least two brief, shining days to come, the Red Sox and their eternally faithful have the pleasure of savouring the sweet wine of at least one bump against the spirits that came to nothing except reaching the next plateau en route the Promised Land.
A few Athletics were said to be outraged by Lowe's celebratory routine; Tejada accused him of delivering an obscene gesture. ("Derek Lowe is going to be paid back for that sign," Tejada reportedly screamed in the clubhouse, before learning later that Lowe had apologised, though it wasn't clear that he had something for which to apologise at all.) Singleton accused him of being the only Red Sox to show a complete lack of professionalism. As if the Athletics, had they bagged the series in Fenway Park, would have been android enough to resist the temptation to whoop and boogie likewise.
But one forgives the grieving their lapse of reason. These Athletics, some of whom may well have played their final innings in the green, gold, and white, play with heart enough to transcend their mistakes, spirit enough to make them at once a formidable foe and a subtle pleasure. Even the most intractable Red Sox fan can wish that the Athletics, and their fans, never see the deepest bottom of what seems a developing curse of their own. The sting of a fourth round-one exit in a fourth straight postseason is cruel enough.
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
Peter Schilling Jr.
Monday, October 6
When I asked the police officer outside the Dome why he was carrying an automatic weapon, he replied, without a hint of irony, "Well, we're looking for terrorists. Weapons of mass destruction, bombs and stuff." He was leaning against one of the concrete barricades on the east side, sunning himself next to his partner. It was yet another beautiful October morning, and all of us outside the Domepolice, cheese curd vendors, awful 70's revival bands, Twins fanswere ready for a good game.
Later, as the six year old girl closed her rendition of the national anthem, we roared and waved our homer hankies, ebullient in our pre-game naiveté. Johan Santana was pitching. Gardy switched the order around a bit, inserting Cuddyer for LeCroy, moving Hunter and his meatier batting average into fourth. Made sense: here I'm thinking, Stewart gets on like he has every other game, a quick two outs, then Hunter drives him in. I've got this small-ball thing down pat.
Torii knocked a base hit in his first at-bat, just as planned. Trouble was, that was in the second, after Wells struck out two in the one-two-three first. Truth isand, of course, this is all 20/20 hindsightyou could have seen it coming. After six days and thirty innings, the Twins found in the Yankees what the U.S. Army couldn't find in Iraq: weapons of mass destruction.
Oh, it was a good game, save for that six run fourth inning. That was the joke: good game except
well, it lasted up until the opening of the ninth, when Derek Jeter drives Guardado's first pitch into the left field stands. That made it 2-1, Yanks. If you don't count that feisty fourth inning.
In the end, the Twins were overmatched by a team that could actually hit the ball now and again, the result being to get men on base, and then, after a spell, send them home. This scores runs, which results, after a spell, in victory. Three of those, and you advance to the second round.
The Twins discovered this last year, in round one, despite barely moving their players around the diamond. The Yankees didn't fold to this as the Athletics did, and won. I remain unclear as to whether or not the Yank pitchers were dominant or not. True, Wells had good control, striking out five and walking none, going to a full count only four times, two of which were the last two batters. But while the Tigers might not have been good practice for the Twins to take into the postseason, so might the Twins have been poor fodder for these Yankees to take into Oakland.
Truth be told, I'm too drained from watching a good gamethe Cubs/Braves matchand too worn out waving my damn hankie at the Twins (a 'good luck charm' that has, thus far, failed to bring anything but misfortune) to conceptualize the whole of the Twins failure to make a showing
for the second year in a row. But perhaps revenge will be ours in the next round: I still maintain that the Yanks are eminently beatable, but I'll have to see if it the Athletics or Red Sox can prove my hypothesis correct.
BABY STEPS TO ARMAGEDDON
Peter Schilling Jr.
Monday, October 6
One tense moment in the Metrodome came to us thanks to the Trinitron scoreboard: the Athletics besting the Red Sox, 4-3 in the eighth inning of game four. Next thing I know, the Sox are leading 5-4, the score they would eventually take into the win column. Something strange was in the air
for, seven hours later, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Atlanta Braves, 5-1, in game five of their series. And I know that there just has to be something in the Book of Revelation that mentions the convergence of these two teams in October as something of a sign. But of what?
For Chicagoans, sheer baseball joy, probably much of it soaked in overpriced, cheap beer. But I have to say that it was a delight to watch the Cubs dispatch the mind-numbingly dull Atlanta Braves. For I am rooting for these Cubs, not because I'm a long-suffering fan, not because I hail from Chicago, not because I'm married to one of their pitchers, but because I have screamed and shouted and jumped on the Cubs bandwagon myself. And I really don't care who knows it.
I ask you: what else can a Tiger fan in Minnesota do? Consider this game: Kerry Wood, he of the I'll-generate-the-offense-myself heroics in game one, coming on to shut down the Braves through eight innings. Christ almighty, the guy never let more than four Braves bat per inning, and the only score the Dullards managed came from a botched call in the sixth. There, the impressive Kenny Lofton made a dandy of a catch, racing to shallow center and sliding in to catch a ball at his kneesonly to watch in disbelief as the umps claimed he trapped it (odd, considering his glove was UP). Rafael Furcal scores, hilarity and anger ensues, and millions of Cubs fans probably began to feel the pinch of history at their temples. But Wood didn't falter, then or later: Chipper Jones grounded into a double play, and the Braves would threaten no more.
Twins pitching rarely did that. We stopped some rallies, sure, but with such flair? Who amongst the Twins possesses such down-home Texas fire in their glares? That aside, Wood struck out seven and walked two in eight, and when he was replaced for pinch hitter Tom Goodwin in the ninth, it was cause for serious concern. Even after Goodwin knocked a double down the right field line, scoring just one more run for good measure, many were wondering if Dusty Baker knew what he was doing. Why couldn't we worry about Gardy, only to find him a man of subtle brilliance?
Then there was Alex S. Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez. These are hitters number seven and five, shortstop and third baseman, respectively. Both men clubbing home runs, both men down in the order, both men doing what our infielders couldn't do, which was hit. And score.
So, call me a fair-weather fan (true unless it's the Tigers), call me a bandwagon jumper, call me what you will but right now the Chicago Cubs have an exciting team, in an exciting city, facing the next most thrilling squad in the Florida Marlins, and that makes me happy. For while it's not the Minnesota Twinsand might be the end of the worldit is good baseball. And that's what I seek in the October Country.
The Red Sox Rules Are That There Ain't No Rules
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 6
During the bottom of the second inning, on a Sunday afternoon in which the sun played in and out before settling in about midway, a Fenway Park fan held up a sign featuring a backward-lettered REVERSE THE CURSE! By the time the bottom of the eighth was in progress, it was still too soon to reverse the Curse, but it was time enough to reverse David Ortiz's division series slump, and with it the spectre of yet another over-the-brink Boston Red Sox dispatch. For one more day.
Ortiz had taken sixteen previous trips to the batter's box in the set, and with two mates on base he could not have found a needier time to get his first hit. He worked Oakland Athletics closer Keith Foulke to a 3-1 count. But he looked to have caught a bad break when interference was not called, to award him first base and thus load the pads, after catcher Adam Melhuse's mitt tipped his bat. Maybe the umpiring crew decided they had had a bellyful of interference controversy, considering Saturday night's undoings and the extraterrestrial end results.
More than likely, Ortiz did not notice and might not have cared less. He rifled the next pitch off the bullpen fence, sending Nomar Garciaparra home to tie, Manny Ramirez home with the go-ahead run, and the Fens into another delirious meltdown.
"Zero-for-sixteen doesn't make or break a year," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon after the game, noting the "M-V-P" chanting which accompanied Ortiz before he swung, "but that one hit you got certainly does."
And with Boston reliever Scott Williamson finishing the encore he'd started, getting two swinging strikeouts and an anticlimactic popup out to third in the top of the ninth, the Red Sox ended the division series homestand with a 5-4 win that almost rivaled the Saturday night fever for bringing Red Sox Nation to a boil.
The Curse is not reversed just yet, of course. There is still that little matter of the net results from the flight back to Oakland, for the fifth and final game of this trans-dimensional series.
The vaunted enough lumber has recovered its thunder. Pedro Martinez is set to pitch the fifth game. This is not to say that Barry Zito, scheduled to go for the Athletics, is a fishcake, as the Red Sox learned the hard way in the second game, also in Oakland. But the Red Sox can hardly be blamed for liking their chances this time. If anything, there were signs enough that perhaps the Curse, if not quite reversing, is drawing the As into its vortex just enough.
Just moments before that backward-lettered sign went up in the second, Athletics starter Tim Hudson was taken out of the game with a strained left oblique muscle. In came knuckleball specialist Steve Sparks, taking all the time he needed to warm up, as the rules allow, before getting down to the serious business of protecting an early 1-0 lead, which might have been more but for the Athletics leaving the bases loaded when Erubiel Durazo popped out to third to end the threat.
For a few moments, any curse reversing would just have to wait, for Sparks did what he was asked in the bottom of the second, after giving up a leadoff single to Ramirez. He got Ortiz to ground out to second, pushing Ramirez to second. He got Kevin Millar to squib a grounder to second for the out, pushing Ramirez to third. And he got Trot Nixon who got a cacophonous standing ovation as he came up to the plate, as if that should have been a surprise, considering his endingand winningthe Saturday night fever with an inverted Casey-at-the-bat blast to rip a low liner to first, which Scott Hatteberg snatched with a dive.
Boston starter John Burkett, looking something like Ernest Hemingway's Old Man of the Sea in his silvery bearded countenance, got rid of the As in a hurry in the top of the third. Sparks came back for the bottom of the inning, right on time to begin learning the hard way that, when you play baseball in Fenway Park, the rules are that there ain't no rules. Not of logic, not of set, not of number, not of sense or nonsense.
Bill Mueller drew a leadoff walk, and Jason Varitek ripped one up the middle which sent Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada diving left to smother the ripper, backflipping it to second baseman Mike Ellis to force Mueller, whose rolling takeout slide forced Ellis to throw wide enough of Hatteberg at first to let Varitek scramble his way to third unmolested. The As pulled the infield in to choke off the run, and Damon (a former Athletic, as it happens) drove it right back down their throats. Well, not technically. Sparks threw him a knuckler that drifted down just enough to the wheelhouse, and Damon drifted it over the right field fence, for a 2-1 Red Sox lead accompanied by a wash of mania from the seats.
That was only the third Red Sox hit in the entire series to date which came with a baserunner in scoring position, but Sparks escaped inflated destruction by getting Nomar Garciaparra to fly out to right and Todd Walker to ground out to shortstop.
Burkett had to keep the As in check the hard way in the top of the fourth, after Jose Guillen, returned to left field for the Oakland greens, opened with a single, and he needed some pinpoint help from Damon to do it. With Guillen off on the pitch, Melhuse, spelling Ramon Martinez behind the plate, lined a base hit to center. Guillen kicked into fifth gear, but Damon fired a strike right at third base, bouncing it off the dirt and into Mueller's glove practically at the split second Mueller brought it atop the belly-sliding Guillen's behind. That let Melhuse take second, but Jermaine Dye hit a sinking liner which Walker caught with a portside dive, before Eric Byrnes grounded out to Mueller to end it.
Sparks was not exactly in prime form, throwing as many balls as strikes for the most part, but he survived a somewhat testy fourth himself. He walked Millar and Nixon back to back, after getting Ramirez to ground out and Ortiz to strike out swinging, but he escaped when Mueller grounded out to second. Both pitchers zipped the fifth, and for a few moments the Boston lead seemed safe enough.
But Hatteberg started the Oakland sixth with an infield hit. Guillen slashed a sharp, rising liner that Mueller caught diving left, before Melhuse lined a double past a lunging Nixon in deep right, scoring Hattberg and letting Melhuse take third on the throw toward the plate. And up came Dye, dialing the bleachers atop the Green Monster, and all of a sudden it was a 4-2 Oakland lead, with Dye sending home three of those runs.
There went a not-so-subtle shudder rippling around Fenway Park as Dye crossed the plate, and all one could think about was thanking God that "Jermaine (Bleeping) Dye" lacks the electromagnetic cadence of "Bucky (Bleeping) Dent."
Out went the Old Man of the Sea and in came Tim Wakefield, another knuckleballer, usually a starter, perhaps on the principle that one serviceable knuckleballer deserves another. Wakefield gave up a single to center by Byrnes and got Ellis to line into an inning ending double play. Ricardo Rincon took over for Sparks in the bottom of the sixth and was greeted with cheerful rudeness, when Walker shot one over the bullpen fence, not too far from where Damon's drive landed, bringing the Red Sox back to within one.
Rincon regrouped enough to dispatch Ramirez (a flyout to center), Ortiz (a lineout to right), and Millar (a flyout to the crook of left center) in the bottom of the sixth, before Wakefield returned the favour in the top of the seventh by giving up a mere ground-rule double to Eric Chavez after Durazo led off grounding out to first. But Tejada flied out to center and Hatteberg popped out foul to third, with Mueller taking a jackknife dive atop the rail to grab it. Rincon was even quicker in the bottom of the seventh, nullifying Nixon's leadoff single by getting Mueller to ground into the 5-4-3 before Varitek grounded out pitcher to first.
Then Red Sox manager Grady Little went to his bullpen, bringing in Williamson, who'd pitched with such surprising tightness the night before in getting the surrealistic win. And, once again, Williamson remembered to leave the blowtorch behind. He cut into the As in the top of eighth, instead, dispatching Guillen, Melhuse, and Dye with disarming swiftness, and Oakland manager Ken Macha brought in Foulke to pitch a possible two-inning save.
The Oakland closer started off just right, getting Damon to ground out to Tejada. But Garciaparra ripped one off the midway height of the Monster for a double. Walker then flied out to center, but Ramirez singled to left. With Guillen's arm serviceable enough at short enough range, Garciaparra dared not think past third.
Up stepped Ortiz, into the mist went the Oakland lead, and out went Williamson for the ninth to send the Moneyballers' hope of breaking their own developing curse (they have yet to get past the division series, despite three American League West titles and a wild card in four years) into a one-day hold at least.
Needless to say, it is difficult to win a division series after losing the first two. But if things were done the easy way, it would not be Red Sox baseball. The Red Sox sip sweetly from the cup of joy that two consecutive victories out of the tenth dimension fills, but they are not yet within range of the penultimate redemption. And they know it. They may well send the Athletics home early enough for the winter, but that will get them nothing except yet another prospectively fateful postseason rendezvous with the Evil Empire.
Red Sox Nation's heart is invested too heavily to neutralize now. It has always been so; it will always be so. If the Athletics send the Red Sox home to early winter tomorrow, it will not harry the Nation to the rack of its regrets. That is reserved for one team only, the one girding itself calmly enough in the Bronx, unconcerned enough for whom tomorrow's bell tolls.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Sunday, October 5
There wasn't any sense of impending doom that I noticed in the Metrodome crowd before game five. No forlorn looks or long faces. We all felt good, confident, almost, in my mind, a duplicate situation to our games against Oakland last year. It was a beautiful October day, better served to hayrides through apple orchards or college football games than indoor baseball, but who cared? I didn't. Personally, I enjoy seeing the weird way in which the dome slowly grows brighter when the sun peeks out from the clouds, lighting the dusty Teflon roof. Inside, we all cheered our Twins, booed the Yankees, and couldn't wait to see the third game in which the underdog fought long and hard against the overdog. Like the rest of the optimists, I wasn't sure if the Twins would win or lose, but I was ready for a fight.
What happened instead defies good sportswriting:: it was a boring game. I wish I could write that the Twins were dominated by a nearly retired Roger Clemens. They weren't: Clemens threw well, but they knocked a number of long fly balls. It would make my job easier right now for me to talk about Clemens keeping these guys bats cool, but I don't believe it. I wish I could say that they fought for the few hits they made, and, once on the bases, stole bases and forced the Yankees to play their game. They didn't. Instead, this is yet another of a familiar pattern with these postseason Twins: come the big games, they retreat into a style of play they think is 'small ball', and squeak out a few victories, but mostly lose.
A taste of the somnambulance? Stewart opens the game walking, then stealing second. Flyout, groundout, strikeout, Matt LeCroy doing his best to make Roger Clemens look the master.
Third inning, A. J. creams a home run into right, a line shot that bounces off the folded up seats, his answer to Matsui's towering homer in the same direction. Twins rally with three straight fly outs.
A two-out rally ensues in the fifth. Men on first and third, rookie sensation Michael Ryan in to pinch hit. There's the airplane roar that Hunter claims makes 'his ears bleed', and it seems to have the effect of paralyzing young Ryan: he watched to fine pitches sail right on by for strikes, then lunges for the next. Inning over. The Twins would get one more hit the rest of the game.
When the ninth inning rolled around, few people wandered out, looking to beat the crowds. We were optimists to the last. But the Twins bats were deadwood, and yet I can't say I'm at a loss to understand it. This isn't any different than the Twins in last year's playoffsJacque Jones and Torii Hunter splitting three rbi between them in the first round comes to mindwith hits and a home run sealed in the amber of strikeouts and ground balls. My scorecard doesn't reveal much except to say that these Twins seem bewildered, totally unlike the team that battled the Yanks in game one and game two. They left but five men on base, in part because they simply couldn't get on base. The Yanks left ten aboard, appeared mortal themselves, and yet it wasn't much of a game.
The Twins seem to be pitching wellI mean, Lohse's three run game wouldn't be so bad if we had managed to score some runs ourselves, right? Weirdly enough, Kenny Rogers steps in to take over the sixth, and strikes out the side, and Romero and Rincon fare well themselves. This year there was no middle-relief meltdown.
But I wonder, who is going to make something happen at the plate? Why is Rivas in the lineup, when Denny Hocking hit .500 in last year's division series? He didn't even get a swing. Maybe he wouldn't hit anything this year, but damn, it seems worth a try.
What makes this especially frustrating to me is that I feel that these Yankees are beatable. Very beatable. Bernie Williams still looks frail, and though he went 2 for 3 with two walks, the guy isn't holding down center so well, making another error that led to... well, nothing but more Twins left on base.. The bottom of their lineup isn't the powerhouse it used to be, and their middle relief is weak. But you can't even beat the Detroit Tigers scoring five runs in three games.
Today's game at three leaves me feeling hollow. I want the Twins to take the game, force a fifth in New York, but I can't say that I see it coming. I like the thought of Santana keeping the Yanks to just a single run
except that that lone run might just be the margin of victory.
A Collision Course Sends The Fish Spawning
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 5
Ivan Rodriguez didn't let go of the ball until after he finished the postgame interviews. Surely the man was well enough aware that the umpire had registered the out, that he had survived J.T. Snow's bone-grinding slide, rolling him over the plate, after he got the tag on the want-to-have-been game tying run, and that the Florida Marlins had pushed the San Francisco Giants aside to go to the National League Championship Series.
He spoke to ESPN after the play and the win were recorded. He spoke to print reporters after that. Never once did the ball leave his possession. "This," he told reporters, "is what I've wanted for a long time. And there's nothing better than me getting the last out.'' Except maybe for him scoring the tiebreaking run, finishing off a recovery from blowing a 5-1 lead, by doing to San Francisco catcher Yorvit Torrealba what Snow had not been able to do to him, and successfully enough that the soon-to-be-crucial seventh Florida run came home right behind him.
Rodriguez had already done more than enough to get the Marlins to that point in the first place. With the Giants ahead 1-0 on Torrealba's second-inning sacrifice fly to left, sending home Marquis Grissom, the Fish started the bottom of the second on the right side of yet another mistake in a postseason which has seemed only too full of foul-ups, bleeps, and blunders among all the combatants: San Francisco shortstop Rich Aurilia's throwing error gave first base to prodigal Marlin Jeff Conine while Miguel Cabrera was occupied with scoring the first Florida run.
Enter the Pudge and Luis Show in the bottom of the third. Luis Castillo ripped a hefty double and Rodriguez sent him home with a just as hefty double to deep right, before Pudge himself crossed the plate through the courtesy of Derrick Lee's single.
Dontrelle Willis, he of the seemingly triple-jointed variety of motion and the smile that could have illuminated the northeast during the big blackout over the summer, caught a big reprieve when his mound opponent turned out to be rookie Jerome Williams. What happened to Jason Schmidt, the Giants' ace, who was scheduled originally to go, albeit on three days' rest? Manager Felipe Alou pushed Schmidt back to Game Five, if necessary, with Schmidt himself saying before the game that he'd rather have the ball for the fifth game.
"Physically I could have pitched today,'' Schmidt told an Associated Press reporter before the game. "If I have to pitch today, I will do that. It would probably be in everybody's best interest if I didn't."
An early postseason exit looming, and a rookie with a pretty decent maiden season behind him on the mound. A rookie with an earned run average .80 higher on the road than at home, and an opponents' batting average 18 points higher on the road than at home. Against the Child Prodigy, who rocked in rhythm pretty much as advertised all summer long, until the Giants mulcted three runs out of him in a four-run sixth that included a Barry Bonds sacrifice fly. Felipe Alou was either supremely confident in his young charge and his strategic thinking, or he was just once caught sleeping at the switch.
The wide-awake Marlins chased Williams in that third and ran reliever Joe Brower out of it in the fourth, with Cabrera's two-run single. After the Giants tied it in the sixth, Matt Herges came in and kept the Fish quiet for two innings, yielding to Felix Rodriguez, who'd been effective enough to that point in the series. And he started off rightly enough, getting Juan Pierre to lead off with a flyout to left before catching Castillo looking at strike three.
But I-Rod sliced a single to left and took second when F-Rod plunked Derrick Lee. And then came Cabrera, lacing a single to right, sending I-Rod down the line plowing with the tiebreaker. Bad enough that Friday night fumbler Jose Cruz threw home wide enough to give I-Rod chance enough, and the Marlins' catcher smashed the ball out of Torrealba's grip, leaving room enough for Lee to score the seventh run behind him.
Perhaps frustrated enough that Florida manager Jack McKeon's strategy of mostly refusing to let Bonds (who'd been walked intentionally in the eighth) take a swing when it might have mattered, a strategy that will raise almost as many questions (as usual) as will the Giants' inability to compensate for their atomic bomber's cauterization (though almost every one of the six freebies out of eight walks he got figured in his team's series scoring), the Giants tried one more time in the top of the ninth. And, they almost got away with it.
Neifi Perez batted for Felix Rodriguez and whipped a double to right, coming home on Snow's followup single. Pedro Feliz batted for Torrealba, but this time there was no pinch-hit lightning in his stick, Florida closer Ugueth Urbina getting him on a swinging strikeout before Benito Santiago, batting for Cruz, flied out to right. Urbina then plunked Ray Durham and, with Giants on first and second, up came Jeffrey Hammonds, out to shallow left went his single, and around third and thrusting down the line like a possessed diesel engine came Snow.
And, with Jeff Conine's strike clutched in his hands, down went I-Rod like a Wile E. Coyote obstruction trap. Only the ball went nowhere. Which was where the Giants ended up going. They'd gone wire to wire being the first team in baseball to clinch their division this year, and now they'd become the first team to say goodbye for the winter.
"Somebody," Schmidt had said before the game, "has to pitch tomorrow.'' Somebody not in a Giant uniform will.
Nixon's The One
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 5
"Before I went on deck," said Trot Nixon, just a few minutes into the aftermath, beneath the din from the crowd, "I asked the Lord to calm my nerves out there." The only problem is that not even the God of our fathers could calm such nerves as those inside Fenway Park Saturday night. This is postseason, on-the-brink Red Sox baseball, after all. There isn't a God or a sedative on this island earth which can settle this brand of nerves.
Roll over, Home Run Trot, and tell Bernie Carbo the news. As had Carbo before him learned by doing, likewise in the guise of a pinch hitter, and as he might have learned had he the extraterrestrial prescience to solicit Carbo's counsel in advance, there was but one thing that could have calmed those nerves.
And, in the bottom of the eleventh, following what was a pitcher's duel predominantly, interrupted only by a few moments in which the Oakland Athletics may have exposed themselves as at least unfortunate as has been the lifelong lot of the Red Sox, the time was now, for Nixon.
Standing in for right fielder Gabe Kapler, Nixon pumped his bat at Oakland Athletics reliever Rich Harden, with Doug Mirabelli on first base ahead of him. Then, with one ball and one strike on him, Nixon swung. He lofted a climbing, straightaway fly, sending Oakland center fielder Eric Byrnes back to the track, back to the edge of the crook where the bleacher fence meets the farthest end of the Green Monster, and helpless in Gaza as the ball landed over the shorter fence and brought Fenway Park which always has to learn the hard way, whenever they think they have seen everything and then some to a boil.
For a bright, shining night's moment, the faithful and their watchers saw other than the usual ghosts of Red Sox past as Nixon rounded the bases. Ted Williams ending the 1941 All-Star Game at Claude Passeau's expense. Bernie Carbo, sweeping his bat past an inside fastball, before driving Rawly Eastwick's next serving in a golden arch over the same fence past which Nixon punctuated Saturday night's fever, setting the Game Six table for Carlton Fisk. Dave Henderson, lunging like a drowning man at that darting, low and away Donnie Moore forkball and, somehow, giving a ride into the left field bleachers, turning one strike away into a march back to the pennant.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Red Sox baseball. Dare to dream, and the nightmare paint is applied with all the understatement of a levee break. Leave them for dead, however, and the corpse refuses to die without a few last licks the like of which you have never known could be plotted. Not even if you had the collaboration of Lord Byron, Federico Fellini, and the Marx Brothers.
And it must have seemed that those extinguished gentlemen had written the script which was played in the second and the sixth innings, though surely the Athletics had imagined themselves anything but a troupe of comedians playing, as Voltaire once said of God, to an audience that had forgotten how to laugh. Only in this instance it wasn't that the faithful of the Fens had forgotten how to laugh, it was that they tend as a rule to laugh that they might not scream.
In the bottom of the second inning, Kevin Millar took a dive. That's how he took first base on his infield hit. Jason Varitek whacked one to Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada, who booted the ball while reaching to force Millar at second. The Athletics would have to wait a base to get rid of Millar, when Eric Chavez fielded Kapler's grounder cleanly enough and stepped on the base, but he threw enough off line to first to let Varitek take third.
Chavez's performance wasn't over just yet, however, as Damian Jackson's grounder arrived swiftly enough to allow Chavez and Oakland catcher Ramon Hernandez to trap Varitek in a rundown. The script didn't call for Chavez to get in Varitek's way as the Boston catcher scrambled back to third ahead of Hernandez's return throw. That was pure improv on Chavez's part. And the prompt enough interference call sent Varitek home on the house.
For awhile enough it seemed that that would be the only disruption to what turned otherwise into a splendid shootout between Oakland starter Ted Lilly and Boston starter Derek Lowe, notwithstanding that there might have been some who saw, in Lowe starting with the Red Sox facing elimination, a tempting of the Hub spirits. It was Lowe working in relief in the first game of the set, when Bill Mueller, playing far enough back at third base, lured Athletics catcher Ramon Hernandez into dropping a contorted walkoff bunt up the third base line in the bottom of the twelfth. But as Lilly would spend his seven innings of work allowing one unearned run on two hits with five strikeouts, Lowe would spend his seven innings' work getting rid of his first eight batters, before Eric Byrnes beat out an infield hit in the third, and allowing six hits, one unearned run (about which, more shortly), and two walks, with two strikeouts.
If anything, the lone Oakland run, which scored in the sixth, threatened to turn the play into just another newly devised turn on the classic Red Sox tragicomedy. Byrnes started the act with a crisp single to center, before stealing second and making it in short order to third on Billy McMillon's groundout to second. Erubial Durazo walked to send the Red Sox infield to double play depth. Then, Tejada chunked one on the ground to the third base side, sending Chavez scurrying down the line home as Lowe picked off the chunker and threw home to Varitek.
The script said nothing about the throw missing Varitek as Byrnes pushed him off the plate; nothing about Varitek, with remarkable aplomb, simply retrieving the ball and remembering the one detail to which Byrne had not attended, tagging Byrne accompanied by the clean sweep of the umpire's pumping thumb. Byrne apparently put so much concentration into pushing Varitek aside that he forgot to touch home, and Varitek had absolutely no intention of letting him remember.
And, then, things went from the ridiculous to the clinically insane. The sole interruption was Chavez, with Durazo on third and Tejada on second, getting the free pass to load the pads, before Hernandez grounded what had all the appearance of an inning-ending out to shortstop. And for one brief, shining moment, Fenway Park emitted all the feeling of a crowd about to commit the first known mass suicide in baseball history, when the grounder went right through Nomar Garciaparra's legs. As Durazo crossed the plate, I am obliged to confess, I heard a refrain from a classic Negro spiritual: "Were we really there, when this happened to us?" Only it came out from the time barrier in the voice of Vin Scully: behind the bag!
it gets through Buckner!
Except that Tejada motored toward third and bumped into third baseman Bill Mueller, who had scurried to the base as the ball slipped through Garciaparra. Then, Tejada slowed rounding the base and seemed to glance back at the umpire, as if to say, "You saw the interference, right? Right." And he dropped back to first gear and just jogged toward home, serene in the presumption that the plate was his to the tune of a 2-1 Oakland lead. He had not accounted for Manny Ramirez, in from left field to back up Garciaparra, throwing the ball home to Varitek, who waited with open arms, ball in hand, to tag Tejada post haste for the out call. It took about seven minutes worth of discussion among the umpires before the ruling was upheld, the steaming of Oakland manager Ken Macha notwithstanding. By the coordinates of Rule 7.06B, it was to third base umpire Bill Welke's judgment whether or not Tejada would have scored the run had he not bumped into Mueller before crossing third safely.
With order if not sanity restored, the starters yielded to the bullpens in the eighth inning, Mike Timlin relieving Derek Lowe and Chad Bradford, the lamppost-tall submariner, gilding the Lilly. Timlin breezed through the seventh before Bradford bumped into a spot of trouble pitching to Garciaparra. The Red Sox shortstop grounded one back to Bradford, who threw him out at first and got a no-pitch call for his trouble, called for an illegal quick pitch, when an umpire spotted his set position and swift enough delivery off his first holding the ball behind his upper thigh.
Given the unexpected reprieve (the radio men working the game noted the umpiring crew at Fenway wasn't the crew working the first two games in Oakland; the Oakland crew, they postulated, was familiar enough with Bradford's unorthodox style to give him, customarily, the benefit of the doubt), Garciaparra tapped one toward third, hustling swiftly enough toward first to draw no throw. He moved to second when Mueller grounded out to first, but Bradford got Ramirez and Millar on whipping strikeouts sandwiching an intentional walk to the so-far-silent David Ortiz.
Timlin got rid of the A's three up, three down in the top of the ninth, while Bradford yielded a single to Varitek, the sixth time a Red Sox batter started an inning by reaching base. But with little-known spare part outfielder Adrian Brown pinch running for Varitek, Bradford got Kapler to ground into 5-4-3 double play, before Macha brought in Ricardo Rincon to pitch to Todd Walker pinch hitting for Jackson. Rincon got Walker to pop out to shortstop and the extra innings were on.
The A's went quietly in their halves of the tenth and the eleventh. The Red Sox in the tenth almost caught another extraterrestrial break, when with one out and Jim Mecir relieving Rincon, Garciaparra popped one up to shallow right, sending Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis pedaling back and reaching just short enough, the ball glancing off his glove and Garciaparra getting credit for the base hit. Mueller popped out to third, but Garciaparra stole second when a high throw pulled Ellis up high enough to miss with the swipe tag down. But after Ramirez got a free pass, Mecir got Ortiz to line out softly to short.
Then came the bottom of the eleventh. Then came Doug Mirabelli, who had come in to catch in the tenth, lining a single to right, before Kapler was called back and Nixon sent forth. He stepped up to the plate accompanied by a loud enough standing ovation, since he had not been much seen thanks to a problem with his calf down the stretch. It seemed only right and fair that Nixon should want to do something to thank the crowd their affection. Just getting the winning run into scoring position seemed reasonable enough.
The day wherein "reasonable" and "Red Sox" are seen holding hands in public will be stricken from the calendar, on the grounds of flagrant disbelief. Even if one allows that the Red Sox led their league in wins in their final at-bat (they did it 23 times during the season), and did it often enough when one or the other of their vaunted enough wrecking crew sent one into the seats or over the Wall, the unreasonable yet again has provoked disbelief enough.
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 4
Thanks to a Friday finish surreal enough to pass for your typical Boston Red Sox near-finale, Dontrelle Willis, the child prodigy who practically put the Florida Marlins back on the map all by his lonesome early enough in the season, is going to get the chance to finish off the San Francisco Giants like a starving shark come Saturday.
And while Tim Worrell dodged a hand-held cruise missile in the bottom of the tenth, escaping with his life from a bases-loaded jam before his mates took an equally surreal 3-2 lead in the top of the eleventh, Jose Cruz must wish he could have lodged a high-trajectory flare in the bottom of the inning.
If he had, the Giants would not be standing on the threshold of becoming Fish food, after Cruz's unlikely drop of a Jeff Conine fly created an opening through which Ivan Rodriguez shoved with whatever he had left, finishing only too dramatically what he had himself begun, for a 4-3 Marlins win.
You've heard of the ex-Cub factor, as first postulated by the late columnist Mike Royko, to wit: the team with the most ex-Cubs loses. Could it be that the team with the most ex-Red Sox does it the extraterrestrial way, win or lose? Among the five Florida pitchers holding the line in Friday's surreality were a pair of former Red Sox, Chad Fox (relieving starter Mark Redman) and Ugueth Urbina (relieving Fox). Guess which team playing in Miami on that day has one less former Red Sox.
Naturally enough, things were pretty much as you might have expected between the upstart, uplifting Marlins and the ready-steady-go Giants most of the game. That was after Luis Castillo and I-Rod began the frolic with a pair of very long drives, Castillo missing a yard shot by fractions and settling for a double, but Rodriguez going a row or two into the left field seats for a 2-0 lead after one.
From there, it looked like Redman and Giants veteran Kirk Rueter cranked a vibrant enough pitchers' duel until the top of the sixth. That's when Barry Bonds decided to play if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In his own way, of course.
Bonds had had two batted balls turn into outs earlier in the game, one a ground out and the second a fly to the back of center field. Since the Marlins were going to do their best to keep it that way, and mindful of gutsy young Redman's pre-game assertion that he'd rather pitch to Bonds than put him on deliberately maybe he realized that putting him on deliberately doesn't mean automatically keeping runs off the board Bonds simply shifted approach.
The Marlins were not amused when he did. Bonds dropped a bunt and beat it out for a base hit to start the sixth. Edgardo Alfonzo had spent the first two games of the set making the Fish pay for the free passes, and he kept it up now by rapping a followup single to left. Then Andres Gallaraga grounded one back to Redman, who whirled and threw it past his shortstop, sometimes known as The Other Alex Gonzalez (in honour, one presumes, of his namesake Chicago Cubs shortstop).
Redman caught a phenomenal break when Castillo rumbled over to back up the play and bell the Big Cat at first. Unluckily for Redman, though, Bonds now stood on third and Alfonzo now stood on second. And Benito Santiago worked Redman for a bases-loading walk, followed by Cruz grounding one to force Santiago at second, letting Bonds score and pushing Alfonzo to third. Pedro Feliz, who'd tripled as a second-game pinch hitter, stood in to hit for Rueter. He lashed a single to left to send home the Fonz, before Ray Durham struck out to end the inning.
And 2-2 was where the game sat for four and a half more mostly clean innings, accompanied by the most crowded racket Pro Player Stadium had seen and heard
well, since the 1997 Rent-A-Champions. Oh, there were a few disruptions to the rhythm, like Bonds taking the usual free passes in the seventh and the ninth. The latter might have produced the usual mischief after he took third on Alfonzo's single, but Yorvit Torrealba, pinch hitting for Santiago, blooped himself a short flyout to right and the Giants out of the threat.
The Giants struck in the top of the eleventh, however. With former closer Branden Looper working for the Marlins, Rich Aurilia started off by working out a walk and Bonds grounded one to The Other Alex Gonzalez (TOAG), who bobbled the ball for and let Aurilia have third, the San Francisco shortstop coming home on another Alfonzo hit following a Bonds reaching base somehow, singling to right. Then the Giants loaded the bases again. And then J.T. Snow threw a little winter on the proceedings when he grounded out to strand the 16th through 18th runners for the Giants, breaking their own postseason record for one game
Here came prodigal son Conine (he had been an original Marlin, stayed with the club longer than any of their 1993 charter roster, and came back for the stretch drive in a deal with the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles) to lead off the eleventh. Conine had already brought the crowd to a boil in the seventh, when he went airborne to spear an Aurilia drive that might have been a home run otherwise. This time, though, it looked as though he might silence them a little, when he opened the Florida eleventh by lofting an easy enough fly down the right field line.
Cruz drifted over, primed himself for the one-handed snatch, no sweat, and the ball seemed to tail away just hair enough to hit, rather than land, in Cruz's glove. It landed on the turf instead, and Conine landed on first. Then Worrell walked TOAG, with Miguel Cabrera sacrificing them to second and third, before Worrell put Juan Pierre on to load them up for a game-ending double play.
They got the game ending part right, at least.
First, Castillo forced Conine at the plate when Worrell made a thrusting backhand grab at the comebacker and whipped in the throw. But here came I-Rod, down to their last strike did Worrell push the Marlins, and into right field for a base hit went the ball off Rodriguez's bat. Cruz picked it off cleanly enough to fire a strike home and keep the damage to TOAG's run in from third. The strike home was wide enough to let either a great white pass or a headfirst-sliding Pierre cross the plate, which is exactly what happened.
It is now several hours after the finish, and it is still difficult to finalise which was the merrier racket, the Pro Player Stadium crowd going nuclear with delerium, or the Marlins swarming Rodriguez around first and smothering him in celebration. The question might be whether the crowd racket was merely for the Marlins standing one win away from the League Championship Series, or for the fortune of Master Dontrelle, the engaging rookie, limb movement enough to make Juan Marichal look catatonic, ball movement enough to make hitters look likewise, getting the call to nail it down.
All Master Dontrelle has to do is get past Bonds and a Giants pitcher (Jason Schmidt) on three days' rest who spent the first game of the set throwing a three-hit shutout at the Fish. Some might consider that kind of assignment child abuse.
A BRIEF DISPATCH FROM YOUR LUDDITE
Peter Schilling Jr.
Friday, October 3
I have already mentioned that I don't have cable television, which means I didn't get to watch the Cubs-Braves game. I also couldn't hear it. Apparently, some Brain in the Twin Cities area decided to hand over the broadcast reins of these games to some odd station called The ScoreAM 660 and 690which, unfortunately, doesn't broadcast anything more than static after the sun goes down. Two days ago, while the sun was shining, this same station accidentally kept replaying portions of Kevin Garnett's contract extension press conference, during the As-Sox match. So instead of the pivotal second inning, I got KG mumbling "I bleed green and blue" over and over and over. He sounded both insincere and overmedicated. So I hear nothing, I see nothing.
But I do have a cable modem. Why, you might ask, would I deny myself the pleasure of Animal Planet when I have a cable modem? Well, don't ask because it's none of your business, but let me tell you that it did give me the opportunity to watch the ESPN Game Track posting. For those of you not in the know, ESPN.com has a page whereby the status of said gamein this case third set of the Cubs v. Braves matchis refreshed every thirty seconds. To be honest, I don't have a clue in the world who but me would follow a game this way. However, I do think that it is, in a very real way, the modern electronic version of the ticker tape displays our country used to have in the early part of last century. If you ever saw "Eight Men Out" you may remember the scene in the plush hotel lobby where upright men waited the results of the Series some of them had fixed. I felt momentarily like I had stepped back in time. The only thing missing is my high starched collar, handlebar moustache, derby, and the fact that I'm not stinking drunk on gin. Though I could be. The derby would be more difficult.
So Mudville readers, I don't have much to report on the Cubs-Atlanta match, except to chalk it up to another fabulous pitching performance that I won't get to see. I noticed that Prior struck out two in the ninth, but had to get an extra out due to a passed ball. It gives me the jitters to think that a man like Mark Prior exists in this world. Hopefully, the Cubs survive to the next round so that I can see young Mr. Prior display his talents to the impressive Barry Bonds.
ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
Peter Schilling Jr.
Thursday, October 2 (Late)
So we played the game on a radio as big as a dome dog. Dan Gladden and John Gordon doing their usual number through a harsh whine, and it was reminiscent of last year's game five versus Oakland. Inning after inning of close baseball, fantastic pitching by both Radke and Pettitte, neither team able to do much. 1-0, then Torii hits a home run and things were looking up. I'm trying to focus on both the game and my job and finding I'm not doing so well at either.
The broadcasters didn't help. I'll tell you that I have no idea what was going on with these Twins, whether they looked intimidated, whether they were patient, wore out Pettitte, what. Having to rely on our local broadcasters is, at times, like watching a game through a piece of cardboard with a hole punched through it. To give you an idea, Old Gordy called the second inning the sixth at one point. Later, he was yakking aboutwhat?when Soriano was called out at a close play at first.
In the end, it turned out to be a better loss than I would have expected. Unfortunately, the Twins looked as if they brought their Nerf bats with them for this game, and I live in fear that they'll go back to being the no-hit wonders they were in last year's playoffs. We have six fellows hitting below .200 to the Yanks four, including two that I personally would consider 'go-to' guys, A.J. and Mientkiewicz, who haven't a hit between them. The above figure doesn't include Corey Koskie, who struck out three times, once looking.
And yet, there's a bright side.
Shannon Stewart for one. Now, I'll be the first to tell you that the trade that brought Stewart to the Twins bewildered me, though not as much as the suggestion that he's the American League MVP. Nonetheless, I get a comfortable feeling when he steps to the plate, that he might just be the spark to get a rally started. Last year I was bugged that not a single player really seemed to step up and take this team on his shoulders. This year, it appears that Shannon Stewart's got footprints all over his back. For the second game in a row, Stewart's got on base to open the game.
On the dark side, he hasn't scored a run or knocked in any.
On the bright side, let's look at the pitching. Radke pitched very wellof the 27 batters he faced, 20 opened with strikes, and he fell behind only four of those. This gives me hope in case there's a game five, for Radke fared a hell of a lot better than I would ever have expected. Sure, it was the usual suspense: the Yanks had him in trouble often, with men in scoring position four of the seven innings he pitched.
On the dark side, LaTroy Hawkins is doing the Jekyll/Hyde routine in a bad way. Instead of shutting down the Bombers, he gave up a hit, hurled a throw to first to his pals in the stands, then decided that all the criticism of Jason Giambi wasn't fair, so he threw him a nice Gopherball to rip into center for a hit, scoring two, and essentially ending the game.
I don't know what it is, maybe I'm tired, maybe the Campari's sinking in, but for some reason I am facing a state of nearly total peace. The Twins lost, but it wasn't Disaster in the Bronx. They're coming home for at least two games. They weren't overpowered, they kept the game close for seven innings, and the Yanks still don't look dominant. On the bright side, these Twins really could pull it off.
On the dark side, both of these teams are looking like cat food for the hungry Athletics.
Feed Them A Knuckler, Feed On A Knuckle Sandwich
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 2 (Not as late)
The last time the Boston Red Sox met the Oakland Athletics in a postseason series, in 1990, the A's were the defending World Champions, and the Red Sox weren't even expected to be there. If anything, it almost looked as though they had defied those extraterrestrial spirits and gotten away with it.
For those who don't remember, and for those who have tried to forget, that postseason went fast and furious, with a slight emphasis on furious. First game, A's, 9-1. Roger Clemens left the game with a 1-0 lead and awoke to discover his bullpen had blown up while Dave Stewart was inflating his record against the Red Sox to 7-0. Clemens soon enough said he'd go in a fourth game only if the Red Sox were down three games to none.
Talk about being careless about that for which you wish. Second game, A's, 4-1. Third game, A's, 4-1 again, good Red Sox pitching undone by its own inept fielding and absent bats. Fourth game, A's, 3-1, provoked in no small measure by the fabled enough Clemens-Cooney rumble: All the Rocket had to do, while behind 1-0, was shake his head after a called fourth ball. All Cooney had to do was sort of harrumph, "I hope you're not shaking your head at me." The Rocket went intercontinental ballistic, getting tossed after a round of expletives depleted, and the meltdown was on. One shoved umpire, a few tossed water coolers and sunflower seeds, and one coach shoved down steps by his own reserve infielder later, it was 3-1, A's.
Thirteen years later, Roger Clemens has one finished postseason to go before retiring in a Yankee uniform. And the Red Sox don't exactly resemble the kind of implosion they were in 1990. These Red Sox don't live up to the elder disgrace of "25 players, 25 cabs," as the cruel observatory saying went at that time. But neither do they resemble a team that does it any more the easy way, either.
Only ten hours after the A's gave them a squeeze they'll never forgetthe Red Sox decided it was time to change the Moneyballers' diet.
For Division Series Game Two, the Red Sox fed the A's a knuckleballer. And all that did on an overcast Oakland afternoon was to invite the sun to come out just long enough for the A's to feed the Red Sox a knuckle sandwich, with the Red Sox providing the mustard. And the odd part of it was that Tim Wakefield, the Boston knuckleballer, otherwise pitched a very decent game.
He did well enough in the first inning, wrapping a pair of strikeouts around Erubiel Durazo's single before getting Miguel Tejada to force Durazo out at second. He did likewise in the third, getting Scott Hatteberg and Hernandez to fly out to right, wrapped around Jose Guillen's walk. With Guillen on second, taking the base rather daringly on Hernandez's fly, Wakefield lured Jermaine Dye to ground out to short.
And in the fourth, it was Eric Byrnes just beating Nomar Garciaparra's throw after hitting one wide of short, and a high floating knuckler bouncing off Mark Ellis's crown, before Wakefield struck out Durazo, got Eric Chavez to line out to right, and got Tejada to ground out to short. He bagged the A's three up, three down in the fifth, and did it even more cleanly in the sixth, striking out the side. Wakefield turned it over to Alan Embree for a flawless seventh, leaving Scott Williamson, the import from the Cincinnati Reds' midsummer night's housecleaning, to work a no-run, two-hit eighth.
Unfortunately, there was the second inning. It was the only unhinging inning Wakefield had in him, and it was all the Red Sox unhinging the A's would need. And Wakefiled got a little help from his friends in turning unhinging into undone.
Bad enough: Barry Zito was throwing a curve balling jewel at the Red Sox already. He made himself felt fast enough in the first two innings, getting six outs with nothing to disrupt him but a leadoff walk to Manny Ramirez to start the second. He ended his afternoon's work with nine strikeouts in seven innings, including five straight which began with striking out the side in the fourth, and five hits, two of whichback-to-back doubles by Johnny Damon and Garciaparraproduced the only Boston run. All Zito needed was lamppost submariner Chad Bradford getting two infield outs and a nasty called strikeout, low on the shelf, to get the game to Keith Foulke, who looked like anything except a man who'd thrown 51 pitches in relief in that overnight sensation of a first game. Foulke nailed the save quickly enough despite Bill Mueller rudely interrupting him with a ripping single to left.
Wakefield had started the second by getting Hatteberg to ground to first unassisted. Then he walked Guillen on a disappearing knuckleball and put the Oakland left fielder on second with an assist from catcher Doug Mirabelli, off whose mitt the floater flipped while working to Hernandez. Hernandez then ripped a clean single to right that sent Guillen home with the first Oakland run, before Dye got first base when a knuckler sailed in and grazed his uniform.
Then the sun came out just long enough for Eric Byrnes to make it his ally. He swatted a flier to deep left that Manny Ramirez couldn't seem to keep in full focus through the glare. The ball got just past him and bounced off the wall, sending Hernandez and Dye home for the 3-0 lead. Wakefield walked Ellis before getting Durazo to bounce one to first for the second out with the runners moving up for Chavez.
And then came the Red Sox gods to play. Chavez grounded one to second. Todd Walker played it back on the edge of the outfield grass, going to his knees to smother the ball, when he stumbled just a fraction while coming up to throw. And then, he threw it. He threw it wide enough past Kevin Millar at first to pass a bus between fielder and ball. And all Byrnes and Ellis did was take advantage of the gift and scurry home for the fourth and fifth Oakland runs, before Wakefield finally got Tejada to rip one right into Damon's glove in center.
It was more than enough to send the series to Fenway Park, with Derek Lowe due to square off against Ted Lilly, and with the Red Sox in an old, familiar, and never forgotten position: Dangling over the jagged rocks and rapids below, the rope bridge down to its final slim strand, another surreal misfire securing another threshold of another winter of Red Sox Nation malcontent.
BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED
Life called again yesterday, and by that I mean that my mortgage whispered 'time to go to work', so I found myself in America's Largest Orange-Themed Home Improvement Warehouse, biding my time, wishing that I could listen to the Atlanta-Cubs match on the radio. I don't have cableif I'm lucky I'll never have cableand while you might cry for the fact that I wasn't able to listen to the poetry of the freshly-departed Rush Limbaugh, please, as Mr. Lloyd-Webber would say, don't cry for me. For in the October Country, baseball on the radio is prime.
AM radioapart from all the hate channelsis a profound mystery to me. To my imagination, AM takes you so far away, to the lonely souls out there in the prairies. I don't know what AM was like when the Modern Lovers were shouting "radio on!" but in my day it meant baseball and bizarre religious channels that came from Kansas and Colorada (as it was pronounced). I loved it. Perhaps its that tinny echo that makes it sound as if we're hearing everything broadcast from some cheap station out there in the dust bowl, or maybe it's those crazy advertisements that sound as if they're aimed at farmers who's news source is Grit.
I've written before about the beauty of our noble sport on the radio. In Minnesota it's even better. Unfortunately, our local yaks can't find it in themselves to focus on the game at hand, choosing instead to enlighten their listeners on the merits of Mankato Harley-Davidson, and all the free crap they hand out to Dan Gladden. But it's still a ballgame, I can still drive around and have baseball, and that's great. Michiganders, if you don't already know, love to drive their cars around for no apparent reason. I often times pick a road and just drive it, preferably out of town, to where the roads turn to dirt and begin to curve around rivers and streams. Now, I like to drive in silence, or, if it's late at night, some Lee Morgan or maybe the antics of Mike Nichols and Elaine May (don't ask). However, when the season's right, it's baseball. October makes AM even better. Maybe it's because the drive is better: the maple trees, always the first to turn red, the shadows are long, and there's that soft melancholy that makes one feel poetic (as opposed to clinically depressed). Maybe it's the fact that the baseball is better. The Tigers can't lose now, and it seems like Bud Selig keeps his mouth shut. In the summer there isn't any such thing as the National League on the radioand I don't count interleague gamesbut yesterday I got to listen to Barry Bonds knock one down the line to tie the Marlins in the first. All the while munching on a fresh haralson apple from the U of M arboretum and trying my damndest to find a road that didn't go by all the new developments.
Fortunately for all of us, there's a number of great blogs out there that cover statistics the way you're supposed to. By that I mean, the way that I don'talthough I love to read the crunched numbers, and totally agree that understanding about OPS, pitch counts, win shares, etc. makes for better viewing, I'm not the guy that will crunch so many numbers. As I've written before, I still enjoy the poor, misunderstood Batting Average statistic, you know, that one that reflects the number of balls you actually put into play. Having said that, I would always ask you to look elsewhere to get the numbers that might give you clues as to how this postseason's going to play itself out. The man for that is TwinsGeek John Bonnes, who not only crunches the numbers and makes them palatable, but the guy watches each game like there's nothing else in the world (behold his article on Cristian Guzman's run to third). So when I read the Geek today, mix it in with my own beliefs about Karma, I am now prepared to give my readers a prediction:
YANKEES IN FOUR.
This is both prediction and portent. For when I look at the Geek's numbers, I see a lineup of batters that look at Brad Radke as the Old Country Buffet of hurlers, dishing up buttery, overcooked pitches. Suddenly, I'm wondering if tomorrow's headline will read "DISASTER IN THE BRONX". In the past these guys have hit the crap out of Mr. Radke. Only Jason Giambi with his .250 batting average and Derek Jeter with his .200 average look as if they've had any trouble. And as far as Dr. Jeter is concerned, he's in Mr. Hyde mode come Octobera monster who hits everything.
Mr. Bonnes reminds us disbelievers (though he's no gloater
more on that in a bit), that it was Radke who "held a team together during their Keystone Cops imitation in Game 1 in Oakland last year, and the Twins won that game." True, but I don't think these Yanks are going to become the Keystone Kops. Game one had errorsbut it wasn't Mack Sennett night in the House That Ruth Built.
So I'm scared. Scared of Radke and his tendency to give up the long ball. Scared again of those big, fat numbers. And, as I mentioned, I'm scared of the karma. Two reasons:
1) My own private superstitions which involve the fact that I have to work tonight and can't sit at home and stare at the TV and perform a small but important ritual: when my team (this year the Twins) need some production, I stare without blinking, lean forward, nod slightly, and make a fist which induces them to hit successfully 62% of the time. In case you were wondering, scientists at the Laningorus Institute in Decatur, Georgia have proven that this is what won the first round of the playoffs last year. Of course I'm lying about the second part, but you try and work while a baseball game is on.
2) Minnesotans are gloating. It is unbelievable the amount of gloating that has gone on around here, from KARE 11's "Yankees fans are MAAAD about game one" (really?) to all the very subtle suggestions that this series is virtually over. Bad news everybody.
So please, everybody, remember that last year we won game won against the Angels and had our hats handed to us. You know what? Even though many of the Yankee blogs like Alex Belth's great Bronx Banter suggested that Game Two is 'must-win', it's not: these Yanks could get blasted tonight and still take the next three. If there's one team that isn't affected by the Metrodome's 'allure', I'd say it was the Yanks.
To be honest, I'm also amazed at the number of fans and pundits willing to anoint various Twins defensive feats as historically magnificent. Shannon Stewart made one hell of a catch in Game one
but was it really one of the best in history? The same thing was said for Torii Hunter's game winning catch earlier this year. I'll tell you something, readers, I didn't get to see Willie Mays play, but when you read about some of his amazing catchesand many of the Negro League greats like Gene Benson and Oscar Charlestonthese guys made amazing catches over their shoulders. Think about that for a minute: Mays saw Vic Wertz's terrific blast in Game One of the '54, figured where it was going to land, turned around and ran to where it dropped. Then he caught it over his shoulder, and he wasn't trying to showboat. This is what he was trained to do. I don't think I could catch a whiffleball tossed over my shoulder from ten feet away. Of course, I'm a rank amateur. Thing is, I don't think there's a ballplayer alive today who could do this as well. Mind you, I just about fell over at Stewart's catch. I loved it. It was amazing, unbelievable, it saved the game. But let's please have some respect for history, shall we?
Peter Schilling Jr.
Thursday, October 2
Game, Set, and Match - Or So You'd Think?
Ramon Hernandez. The latest and maybe least likely of Red Sox executioners this side of Ed Armbrister. He joins the Hall of Infamy whose membership includes the like of Armbrister, Enos Slaughter, Bob Gibson, Tony Perez, Bucky (Bleeping) Dent, and Mookie Wilson. Men whose cruel exploitation of Red Sox openings have left the Olde Towne Team and their faithful a walking, talking basket case since 1946.
This time, the opening was third baseman Bill Mueller, the unexpected American League batting champion, playing far enough back, with the bases loaded and two out, for at least two Oakland Athletics to think about the unthinkable. Unthinkable to the Red Sox, that is. In the bottom of the twelfth, where the game probably should not have been in the first place, Hernandez, a catcher with the swiftness of a quadriplegic, dropped a gnarly bunt down the third base line; and, Chavez, who can and does pull off some acrobatic play of his own playing third as he did in the top of the inning to save the A's but who isn't exactly the Road Runner on the bases.
On the other hand, Chavez through 2002 did put up a .689 stolen base average. And he was on third base in the first place because he scratched a larcenous itch. This is not exactly Rickey Henderson in prime time, but it isn't exactly Sherman Lollar, either. The man can obviously run. Especially when it isn't obvious that he's thinking about it. And if you think Ramon Hernandez wasn't quite aware of that, you sure weren't thinking inside Hernandez's head when he pulled off the stunner of the postseason to this point.
It came to this point because the Red Sox were spending about half the evening flirting with death even before Embree burped up the ninth-inning game tyer. Even Pedro Martinez, pitching mostly the way the Pedro Martinezes of the world pitch when regular season push reaches postseason shove, allowed three runs in the third inning (Durazo, double to right, driving home Singleton and Ellis; Miguel Tejada, single to center, driving home Durazo before getting thrown out himself trying for two), had to throw out a runner trying to score in the fifth, and made a narrow escape after the A's loaded the bases on him in the seventh.
It came to this point because the Red Sox let the littler bats in the rack do the big hitting for them, courtesy of Todd Walker going over the fence twice and Jason Varitek going yard once for all the runs. The big Boston sticks were about as big on this night as an ice cream stick, while the Oakland sticks got very good very fast at playing some very timely little ball.
It came to this point because Alan Embree, relieving star-crossed Byung-Hyun Kim whose bid to close out a 4-3 win began impressively, with a short flyout, before the nasty strikeout he whipped onto Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis was interrupted by a walk to pinch hitter Billy McMillon and a plunk of Chris Singleton, while trying to tie him up with an inside breaking ball beat the odds manager Grady Little played by bringing in the lefthander to work to the lefthanded bat. Embree served up a pitch meaty enough for Erubiel Durazo to whip for a single, sending home pinch runner Eric Byrnes.
It came to this point even further when Chavez took a dive right out of Robinson's Brooksobatics in the top of the twelfth, with Red Sox on first and second, spearing a torpedo down the line and scrambling to the base to stop the threat.
And now came Hernandez with the bases loaded on former closer turned number two starter Derek Lowe, whose presence in the game was dire straits itself for the Red Sox. Down went the bunt, down the line scampered Chavez, and into the twisted mist of convoluted sorrow went yet another Red Sox postseason premiere.
The Florida Marlins beat the San Francisco Giants, 9-5, in a thriller in its own right, over in Pac Bell Park. And the Atlanta Braves managed to hold back the Chicago Cubs, 5-3, in a marvelous enough game. Unfortunately for them, they have to settle for a second-place tie in the Day Two dramatics department. Which is unfortunate for Red Sox Nation, because the dramatics for them translate into
Into what? Everyone on earth is trying their damnedest to proclaim it game, set, and match for the Athletics. Perversion of the Red Sox gods, don't you know? And this is the last thing the Red Sox, manager, coaches, team and Nation, ought to heed. They've heeded likewise in the past and gotten even bigger heartbreak for their heeding. Or did all those seventh games that were yet to be played following those sixth-game disasters mean nothing?
Someone should think to remind the Red Sox: Relax. Shake it off. It was only the first game. You don't really want to add Ramon Hernandez to the Hall of Infamy. Do you?
Huntingon Beach, CA, Oct. 2
WHAT, ME WORRY?
It was sunny skies in the Bronx, a day just ripe for baseball. New Yorkers stole away from jobs and school, wore their pinstripes and prepared themselves for what many assumed would be the next incarnation of the Texas Rangers: an easy one-two-three set, then it's on to the ALCS, hopefully Boston. The script had been written long ago: these Twins were going to act scared and roll over. Scared by the Championship Banners, the hordes of Japanese media, nervous about their lack of victories against the Yanks, terrified by a dominant Mike Mussina. As Bombers fans knew, the local nine outscored the Twins 49-13 in their last seven outings. The newspapers gloated; Joe Torre didn't even give the usual clichés that the Twins would be tough to beat, it's one game at a time, etc. Nothing but arrogant silence.
Could you blame them? I couldn't. As the game began, I fretted, and tried to come up with some numbers that would counteract these doozies. I couldn't find many, just a few scrappy innings from Johan Santana in relief. Not much else to go on. But when it was over, there was one number that lightened this fan's heart:
Twins win, 3-1.
These Twins played as if there was Teflon over their heads and Astroturf underfoot. It was as if they decided that, this yearbeing their second in the Big Showthey ought to play as if they belonged. If there's a mystique to Yankee Stadium or a nervousness that's supposed to run through the veins of a team that's lost thirteen straight, you couldn't have seen it in the faces of Shannon Stewart, Cristian Guzman, Matt LeCroy, or even Corey Koskie, who last year looked shocked to be standing in Anaheim in October. The Twins came to Gotham, took one look around Yankee Stadium, and decided, what the heck, we might as well try it our way.
Domeball in the Bronx? Why not?
How else would you explain Guzman's third inning race to third? Did he think Stewart's single was scooting along the turf? That Matsui was confused by the homer hankies? Perhaps the kind spirit of Al Newman waved him to the corner? Whatever it was, at first glance it looked like a terrifically stupid playuntil he reached safely and scored on a short sacrifice fly.
It was if these guys read the scouting reports and checked their accuracy. Two innings after Guzman's race, we have Matt LeCroylooking like our own Cecil Fielderhuffing and puffing home after Williams' misplayed Hunter's double. Torii stretching that one into a triple, simply to test the substance Alfonso Soriano's arm. Fortunately, tests indicated the arm was rubber. The throw went high, Torii went home. True, these plays worked, and others didn't: I doubt there was a scouting report anywhere that suggested Corey Kosie kill a rally by stealing third. And if A. J. hadn't swung a pitch so bad IT ACTUALLY HIT HIM, then he would have sent in a run, as opposed to grounding into a rare 1-2-3 double play.
But their defense! Can we talk about their defense? Last year, it was all anyone wanted to talk about. Two gold glovers, golly, they coulda had more. Playoff time, and it's errors galore. This year, the Twins brought their talents to New York, made play after play, didn't let baserunners bother them. You know it's a good night when Torii Hunter doesn't record a single out, and no one notices.
And the Twins pitchersyou know, the ones not as dominant as old man Mussinamatched him inning for inning. So Santana has cramps, has to take a powder? Why, let's toss in Rick Reed. No problem. Two ground outs, his typical long double, and Gardy hauls in Rincon, inning's over. Later, Rincon hands the reins over to Hawkins with men on the corners, and
who the hell is this guy? LaTroy Hawkins came in looking like his breakfast of champions wears pinstripes.
The Hawk dished up four strikeouts in two innings, and I wished that he kept it going into the ninth, because I'm young and appreciate my mental health. But drama's the name of the game in the October Country, and Eddie Guardado did not let anyone down. Bernie Williams sends a double up the gap and trips rounding first. Matsui nails one down into the left field corner, only to be robbed by Shannon Stewart. A double and a base hit later, we've got guys in the corners and it takes a nice grounder by the affable Nick Johnson to end the game. What, me worry? Yes, me worry. Me worry all game.
Yankees fans will argue that their Bionic Men were having an off night, and that might be true. But their errors and miscues came on the heels of an aggressive Twins club, forcing the Yanks into mistakes. It wasn't just bad luck that made that made Jason Giambihe of the sharp eye and high on-base percentagechase the high ones and strike out twice. These fellows left ten men on, and scored but once. The Yanks had an off day
and the Twins are partly to blame.
The series isn't over;hell, it's barely begun. I'll be honest: if the Twins lost yesterday, I'd be feeling as if the whole damn thing were over. I still feel like there's no way this little club can beat these guys
but at least now I'm hoping.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THOSE OTHER GAMES
Although this is ridiculously premature on my part, it was enchanting to see the Twins and Cubs take the opening games against the two best teams in each league. The Cubs, like the Twins, took game one, while not exactly in commanding style, at least looking as if they deserve to be in the big show... as opposed to the Mariners or Rangers of the past.
Think about this for a moment: no Central Division team has ever won a World Series since the leagues were divided three ways each. Since it seems like the Central is going the way of Japan's Pacific Leaguefinancially, the weaker cousinit might be nice to see the flag flying proudly over Chicago or Minnesota. Even if the Cubs really are one of the wealthiest teams in baseball
It's always been a dream of mine to pitch a great game in the World Series. By pitch a great game I mean a perfect game, say 20-25 strikeouts, and, with the score tied 0-0, I blast a home run to win the game. Usually I play for the Cubs in my dream, bringing home glory for that beleaguered franchise.
Having said this, it was really great, then, to watch a player come close to achieving my own ridiculous pipe dream. Kerry Wood, looking mean and ornery as if he'd just discovered his wife was flirting with half the nation on Fox Television, pitched one hell of a game against the National League's best offense, striking out eleven, giving up but two hits. Visibly disgusted with his own club's meager output, he knocked in a two run double with a swing that would make a church league softballer blush. But it worked, and that's all that counts.
And, personally, I think this is a bigger victory than the Twins upset of the Yanks. The Braves are known for choking in the playoffs, the Cubs are hungry, and this makes yet another Atlanta squad that looked feeble. If they can't rough up Kerry Wood, how will they hit Mark Prior?
Another reason I love baseball: my favorite part of the Fox broadcast was this little number trotted out in the sixth inning. Apparently, Kerry Wood's two-run double was the first time that a Cubs pitcher drove in a winning run in the postseason since Orval Overall did it in the '07 Series. I'm not even going to pretend that any other sport cares a whit about ANYTHING in 1907, much less whether a player duplicated a feat some 96 years later. And that name! Basketball can keep its Shaqs, I'll take Orval Overall any day. Hats off to the unheralded, underpaid, and probably underfed minions at the Fox research department for that one.
OUR CUP RUNNETH OVER?
Unfortunately, life called and I missed the Giants 2-0 victory over the Florida Marlins. But I ask you: when have there been not one, not two, but three tight, two-run playoff games in one day? You tell me
Peter Schilling Jr.
Wednesday, October 1
THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
This is the time of year that I have come to think of as The October Country. A brand new season that is at once amazing, maddening, enlightening, and downright bizarre. The time of year where hope rests on a foundation of hard numbers and outrageous dreams. On opening day you can fantasize that the Cubs and the Tigers have a chance for a good year, but here there is a chanceand a very real onethat both Boston and Chicago will meet in the Fall Classic. A place where Adam Kennedy will hit three homers in a game after whacking three all year. Where weak-hitting squads like the '88 Dodgers beat powerhouses like the Athletics. It is a place where the Braves vaunted pitching staff rarely feels at home. A place for men like Dusty Rhodes, Bill Mazeroski, Mark Lemke, and even Denny Hocking shine for a moment. Hopefully, this is the place where the Twins can lose all year to the Yanks and beat them in three. Or four. Or even five. I say that Time begins right now.
For the next month, Mudville will be posting almost daily updates on the playoffs, hopefully from first-hand experience at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in beautiful downtown Minneapolis. Should the Twins fail to march into the World Series, then you get my observations from the front row seats in the Schilling Tower in St. Louis Park.
Last year, I had the misfortune of having to work during the last game of the set against Oakland (having traded shifts to make it to one of the home games). We had the little yellow DeWalt radio on and barely got any work done. None of our managers cared. The customers were as distracted as we were. At Pierzynski's ninth inning home run I gave out a loud yelp, and you could hear cheering throughout the store. At Oakland's three-run response, there was utter silence, except for that radio and the country music they couldn't turn off overhead. Some started cursing Guardado; others mumbled 'patience!', and when it was all over, everyone was stunned and happy.
This year, the stakes are higher. Coming off a pennant race makes for a charged entrance into the postseason. These Twins are better than last year's model. Unfortunately, in my book, we're also playing a much better team. I don't have to tell you that the Yanks have owned the Twins this yearthe New York Press and their minions throughout the land have done a fine job of it themselves. There has been much gloating out in Gotham, would make a Twins victory that much sweeter. And defeat that much more painful.
I'm hoping for a close series either way. Although I love comebacksthe drop-the-first-two and take-the-next-three bit is the best as far as I'm concernedI don't think it would behoove these Twins to lose the first two against the Bombers. However it goes, what I want is scrappy: hit after hit after hit, close games, A. J. in the face of every Yank batter, and especially Roger Clemens. He's one catcher I don't think would shy away from a fight with that ornery Texan. Although I'm a peaceful guy, I want see these teams claw and bite and chew their way to the next round.
I won't bother to predict who's going to win what because, as is so often the case, little things happen that utterly belie statistics (like Kennedy's three homers). In the October Country predictions mean squat. No one predicted the Angels would win anything last year. This time around, the pundits are hopeless romantics, as most have Boston or Chicagoor bothduking it out in the World Series. But Shakespeare doesn't write this script and the pundits have avoided predicting the worst possible scenario: The Yankees versus the Braves. Unfortunately, on paper, these are the two best teams, and the thought of these two sleepwalking through the playoffs upsets my delicate sleeping patterns.
Though my soul belongs to the Tigers, my body lies in the state of Minnesota, so my dreams for the postseason are as follows: I'm hoping to see the Twins fighting Boston in the ALCS, then either the Cubs or the Giants in the Fall Classic. To the faithful outside of the Bronx, I implore you: keep your fingers crossed, your rosary beads kissed, or your lucky peso at hand. We need all the help we can get.
--Peter Schilling Jr.