TOUCHES OF CLASS
NLDS GAME FOUR: CARDINALS 6, DODGERS 2 (CARDS WIN 3-1)
Alex Cora, the Los Angeles Dodgers' second base gazelle, had barely walked away after Jason Isringhausen fanned him to punch the St. Louis Cardinals' trip to the National League Championship Series. And then it happened. If this has been seen at the finish of any big league baseball postseason series, it escaped my sight and should not have done.
The Cardinals poured out of the Dodger Stadium visitors' dugout, looking as though about to celebrate a division series they won heartily enough, with a 6-2 win over a team of Dodgers whose pitching ravages were too deep for even their hearts, notwithstanding their surrealistic National League West endurance. Not even Jose Lima's transcendent Saturday night could bind them up for a Sunday night miracle.
But the Dodgers ambled up from the home dugout toward the Redbirds flock at once, walking right into that crowd of Cardinals with hands extended, arms open, smiles especially warm for a team who had pushed it just to be in the postseason at all.
Manager Jim Tracy shook hands and draped arms around various Cardinals, with a full throttle embrace for Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Eric Gagne shared a wide-smiling arm lock with Albert Pujols, who had given the Cardinals everything they needed to get the game out of reach and keep it there. Milton Bradley walked with an almost becalmed stride, shaking every Cardinal hand meeting his with an apparent warmth, hugging the occasional Cardinal and offering what looked like a word of go-get-em, a far different view than the pair of tempests roiling him over fortnight past.
Lima, who makes Disneyland resemble Heartbreak Hotel, making sure not a Cardinal went untouched, seeming especially chummy with St. Louis reliever Julian Tavares, who worked two thirds of a near spotless eighth inning's relief and mugged and funned shamelessly with the effervescent Dodger pitcher. Shawn Green, exhausted at peace, as three homers in the series might well enough do, making his way around the Cardinal flock with an amiable embrace through his sheen of disappointment. Bench coach Jim Riggleman, working the pack like a seasoned toastmaster; La Russa greeting Dodgers in turn with a serene satisfaction that, as furious a threshing machine as he had managed to this point, he had met and mastered an adversary whose tenacity belied their resources until they had run at last out of fuel and fume.
"That's the first time I've seen a team doing that to the other ballclub when they were the losing ballclub," Pujols said afterward. "And I think that was very special."
Pujols was half the story of the Cardinals' twilight. With the game tied at two, and shaky (five walks in two and a third innings) Los Angeles starter Odalis Perez out of the game in favour of hearty, halting long man Wilson Alvarez, Pujols stepped up in the top of the fourth having driven but one run in (on a solo bomb) in the series to that point. He had Tony Womack on second and Larry Walker on first and a 3-1 pitch coming right into his living room, and the ball disappeared into the seats between the left field foul pole and the left field bullpen, the Cardinals having all they would end up needing to keep the Dodgers at their distance.
Not that any Redbird would gainsay Pujols extra, when he spanked one up the middle to drive home Walker in the seventh, with the sixth and final St. Louis run. And they had taken shameless advantage of tiring Los Angeles setup man in waiting Yhency Brazoban, who usually works one inning guaranteed and two in a pinch, but was trying this evening to make it a third after working the only two three up/three down innings the Dodgers got from any pitcher in the game.
Jeff Suppan gave the Cardinals his own pitching masterwork before giving way to his bullpen in the seventh. He wasn't quite the hammer down performer Lima had been so memorably the night before, but the Cardinals' starter was just enough to matter the most. It never fazed him when the Dodgers hung up the first number of the evening, Jayson Werth driving a full-count shot five rows up the right center field bleachers in the bottom of the first, but certainly Suppan relaxed just so when Reggie Sanders tied it up the next half inning, with a parallel shot about the same distance up the left field bleachers.
And Suppan barely shook a nerve end when Adrian Beltre, still in search of his first postseason run batted in, finally cashed it in when he crashed a long fly down the right field line with runners on the corners, not deep enough to hit the foul pole, Walker running to the line to haul it on the grass edge, but deep enough to send home Werth to tie the game at two in the bottom of the third.
Alvarez had come in in the top of the third to spell Perez, whose faltering finally let the Cardinals have a 2-1 lead. Perez began by sandwiching a virtuoso groundout by Pujols a sharp grounder up the third base line which Beltre knocked down to throw Pujols out by a step inside walks to Walker and Scott Rolen, before Edgar Renteria smashed one into the hole at short just past Cesar Izturis, who was likely distracted just long enough by Walker leaving second that he couldn't reach the hole in time to knock it down, Walker making it home with that second Redbird run. In came Alvarez, and down on hard-earned pounding strikeouts went Jim Edmonds and Sanders, the latter on maybe the most obscene changeup Alvarezonce a formidable Chicago White Sox power pitcherhad thrown in his major league life.
How the Cardinals laid out the spread for Pujols's decisive three-run bomb was almost as much of a story as the launch itself. Suppan himself whacked a one-out single up the middle. Then Womack sent a lofting liner to right field. Bradley hustled in, dropped to the sliding pads, and grabbed the ball a split second after he landed in motion, looking as though he had made the play of the nightuntil, taking the ball from his glove while throwing still on his seat, he bobbled it just long enough for the umpire to rule no catch. Bradley had gotten the throw back to the infield quickly enough that he looked dead to right certain he'd kept control of the ball all the way.
He didn't, said the ump, but his throw in from his rump roast had an even stranger shelf life. Cora picked off the throw and whipped it to Green at first before Suppan, caught flatfoot enough toward second, could return; the Cardinal pitcher then continued on to second as Green threw on to Izturis coming over from short for the out, during all of which time Womack made first safely enough. Walker followed that sliding 9-4-3-6 out with a single up the middle, and then came Pujols to drop the exclamation point.
"I think I'm going to be OK," Pujols breathed after the game, after the congratulations line had begun to spread and fade off the field, asked if he'd felt the worst of a baseline collision with Izturis or a violent foul off his left instep late in the game. "Thank God we've got a day off tomorrow."
"I think, with him and everybody else," said Suppan, calmly and endearingly unfazed that he had just pitched his own career game, "this is the best team I've ever played on."
Sad enough: Gagne's appearances in this series, perhaps punctuating cruelly enough the Dodgers' inability to make their resources match their resolve, had each come with nothing even imitating a save situation for him to work. He worked two shutout innings in the losing cause Sunday night and left not a Redbird questioning that had it been but a save situation there was no question as to who was likeliest to conquer.
Sadder, almost: Bradley, batting in the bottom of the ninth, with the Dodgers down to their final out. Pondering whether he had wreaked his fortnight's tempest upon himself was one thingyou could acquit him, almost, for wanting to slam a bottle on the seating floor after one rare Dodger Stadium idiot flung it at him on the field; you could wonder whose sanity had sooner departed, when a Los Angeles reporter may have pushed it a bit asking Bradley about the Busch Stadium response, Bradley dismissing him as an Uncle Tom, provoking a reputed small tirade from the reporter. But not even his worst enemy, actual or alleged, could wish this talented, bristling young man, who is reputed to be a nice, warm man when he doesn't feel threatened, facing the prospect of being his team's final out of the season.
Bradley stood in against Isringhausen, who just missed handing the Dodgers an eleventh hour opening to start the inning when Beltre sent one high and deep to right center but still short enough that Edmonds pulled it down on the track. With plate discipline as exemplary as his personal discipline may need a reshaping, perhaps knowing too well what was implied in this drama within the climax, Bradley worked Isringhausen to a full count, before watching ball four fly in off the plate and strolling up the line with the walk.
If some dared hope that might speed Bradley toward purging such soul torment as arrests him in his effort to align his ability to his humanness, he could not purge Cora's unhappy destiny to end inning, series, and unlikely enough Dodger seasontattered though their starting pitching was, up and down as their hitting was, despite Beltre's MVP-level season, Green's second-half revival, and Finley's trade deadline arrivalwith a hefty enough strikeout.
But they could and did join their mates in swarming to congratulate the Cardinals on field, wishing them sincerely well as they await the Houston-Atlanta winner. If you watched the Dodgers embrace, congratulate, and exhort the Cardinals after it ended, thinking by their gestures and expressions that the Dodgers believed this the best team they had played all season, you may also have watched the Cardinals surprised perhaps, pleased no question, to receive such congratulations, and thought by their own expressions that the Cardinals believed the Dodgers the classiest team they could have beaten to make the next round.
You would have been right. In both cases.
Monday, October 11
CONVERSATIONS REAL AND IMAGINED (TWINS PLAYOFF EDITION)
"They have those guns because of all the Kerry people. You didn't see the cops dressed like that last year, did you? I think it's great, those people are insane."
"At least the Twins are real people, like you and me. It kills me every time I see that ad with A-Rod and those kids. The guy's worth a quarter-of-a-billion dollars, you think he cares about those poor little kids? He wants to help them, maybe he ought to shake some dough off that tree of his. They're drawin' pictures to him! Lew Ford, the guy gets together and plays X-box with guys like you and me. Thinks twice before he buys the most expensive thing on the menu. That's a real guy. A-Rod, Jeter, Steinbrenner the Fuhrer, it's just wrong. Especially when there's kids involved."
"Yankees fans don't really know what it's like to lose, to suffer, and that's why their suicide rate goes up when the season's over. Because real life is about losing. I don't know, I read that in, ESPN? SI? It's true. Well, even if it isn't true, it's a good theory."
"'Yankees suck?' Tell it to our 26 championships."
"I'm telling you, someone was killed so that Michael Paloma gets his face up there. A hit. Yeah, I guess you would have read about it, but someone got his nose broke, his fingers broke, his tires slashed for that guy. Why would that schmuck's picture hang there the whole game? Connections, man, it's all about connections."
"I was hoping my kid would have the same memories I did, of Kirby and Kent and goin' all the way. Those were the happiest days of my life. Now it looks like we're not any better than the Texas Rangers. My ex, she's a Rangers fan. Rubs it in, too. She keeps sayin' to Ben, '91, that's ancient history.' As much of a bitch as she is, she's right. This proves it."
"If the Twins and Vikings leave, they're not going to tear this place down. Let's have Ice Capades, that Lion King show on ice, all that Disney stuff, it's beautiful. Bring that stuff here, to the Dome, it'd be perfect. What better place than Minnesota to be the capital of ice shows? People would come from all around. I know I would."
"They ought to fire Gardy and bring TK back."
"When's the Vikes on tomorrow?"
THE CALL OF THE WILD
Wonderful. The Boston Red Sox get to meet the New York Yankees for the American League pennant by a little walkoff ballistics, and the Yankees get to meet the Red Sox because of a hundredth anniversary wild pitch.
October 9, 1904: Happy Jack Chesbro lost a pennant to the Red Sox (they were known as the Pilgrims then), when he wild pitched Lou Ciger home from third in the top of the ninth (Bill Dineen shut down the Yankees - they were known as the Highlanders then - in the bottom, finishing his thirty seventh straight complete game). October 9, 2004: Minnesota reliever Kyle Lohse wild pitched Alex Rodriguez home in the top of the eleventh (The Mariano shut down the Twins in the bottom) to send the Yankees to the pennant showdown.
Except thatthis almost figuresit probably should have been ruled a passed ball. No matter. The Yankees have found every other way to land one or another title over the previous seven seasons. Interesting anniversary the spirits picked for this one to happen.
Because barely had David Ortiz's walkoff two-run homer cleared the Monster when the chant rocked Fenway Park: WE WANT THE YANKEES! WE WANT THE YANKEES! You would think Red Sox Nation feels, dare we say it, a definite turning of the cards to be in the cards this time around.
Why not? The Yankees get to the League Championship Series on a wild pitch on the anniversary of the day they blew a pennant to the Red Sox on a wild pitch, and on the night after the Red Sox get there the old fashioned ballistic way. For now and the foreseeable future, David Ortiz stands for hitting the most famous walkoff home run in Boston history this side of Carlton Fisk ringing the left field foul pole in the bottom of the twelfth.
Red Sox Nation has wanted a return engagement with the Evil Empire from the moment the Red Sox front office stumbled on a deal for Alex Rodriguez and watched the Empire land him. "This is what everybody drew up in spring training and now everybody gets to see what it's all about,'' said Gary Sheffield, who was batting against Lohse when the ball escaped ancient Pat Borders and A-Rod hurried home. "When (Curt) Schilling went to the Red Sox and when A-Rod came here, that's what everybody wanted to see."
The Red Sox themselves, however, were a little less cheerful about what everybody wanted to see. After they dispatched the Anaheim Angels but before the Yankees took on the Twins, Johnny Damon could think but one thing. "Let them beat each other up," said the namer and spiritual leader of the Idiots, to New York Times columnist George Vecsey.
Like that kind of reality check gets cashed at the Red Sox National Bank. Hours earlier, Eric Wilbur of Boston.com unsheathed the sword of faith, after Ortiz beat an Angels sword named Jarrod Washburn into a plowshare. "This is 2004," Wilbur wrote, "where up is down, black is white, and the breaks go the Red Sox' way, not against them."
Tell that to the last man to turn the breaks against the Olde Towne Team when they stood on the threshold of snatching a division or, better yet, a pennant, from the Empire. "I've got to go Yankees in seven," said Aaron Boone, long since a former Yankee, who dropped a harrowing exclamation point upon Pedro Martinez left in two batters too long, a dramatic Yankee tie, and three gripping extra innings, when he hit Tim Wakefield's first knuckleball of the bottom of the eleventh about ten rows back in the lower left field seats for game, set, pennant, and another Boston soulbreak. "It's the clash of the titans, but I think the Yanks will win again."
Boone probably has a reason to sound so sanguine. It was he, in a sense, who was responsible for the Yankees needing, pursuing, and landing Alex Rodriguez, after the Red Sox had him at the line but dropped the pole before the hook caught in. Boone's left knee, anterior cruciate ligament tear while playing basketball in the offseason, violated and voided his Yankee contract, leaving the Empire in need enough of a third baseman that they turned to the best shortstop in the business and, keeping their own shortstop extraordinaire happy, got A-Rod to play third, and rather splendidly.
But it has been one hundred years since the Red Sox did wild pitches well, whether wild pitches in fact or in misshapen official scoring. You may have heard something about that the last time the Red Sox went to the World Series. When a wild pitch that should have been called a passed ball turned one strike away from the ring into tie score, bottom of the tenth, a man on second and Mookie Wilson still at the plate
no, better not go there.
This time, the breaks went both the Red Sox' and the Yankees' ways. And they both did what they had to do to be in position for said breaks to go said ways. The simple observation is that, unfortunately, someone has to lose. Sounds simple, if unpleasant. But simplicity has never applied to any showdown between the Olde Towne Team and the Empire.
"We're playing good ball right now," said Damon. "I think we're the best team. Hopefully, the best team wins. But we know they're no slouches."
Do not expect to hear the word "simple" enunciated too liberally starting Tuesday night.
Now, to satisfy the editor of this august journal, whose thirst for predictions is matched only by my own apparent futility thereby. You cannot say I didn't try to warn himI have held from the outset that predictions in baseball are overthrown always by two irrevocable laws, Berra's ("It ain't over until it's over") and Andujar's (as in Joaquin, pitcher and human time bomb: "In baseball, there's just one wordyou never know").
But I did predict the Dodgers and the Angels going to the next round, into the World Series, and the Angels winning it in seven games, which makes me only slightly less a fool than whichever editor ordered the banner headling announcing Thomas Dewey's triumph over Harry Truman. Fool that I was, I believed to my soul that both teams would find ways to brace up their extremely suspect starting pitching (if you didn't count Lima Time and Bartolo the Scrivener) until it was time to hand off to their virtuoso bullpens.
Thus do I meld my apparent facility for prognostication to my deeply desired result and concur with Aaron Boone, knowing that the result stands an excellent chance of being the precise opposite, and about bloody well time, too.
Monday, October 11
ON BEING TAMED
"'Goodbye,' said the fox. 'And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.'
'What is essential is invisible to the eye,' the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
'It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.'
'It is the time I have wasted for my rose' said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
'Men have forgotten this truth,' said the fox. 'But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose
'I am responsible for my rose,' the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
ALDS GAME FOUR: YANKEES 6, TWINS 5 (YANKS WIN 3-1)
It is time for me to give thanks to the New York Yankees. Believe it or not, what they did to the Minnesota Twins last night, defeating them in a heartbreaking fashion, was beautiful. Last year, of course, we were just plain wiped out. This year, the Yankees took two games we could have, should have won, and leave us with two games to mull over the whole of the long, cold winter. The Yankees are now a part of the fabric of being a Minnesota Twins fan. They are now officially a hated rivalry. Red Sox fans may roll their eyes and talk about our being babes in the woods but, and I ask you to pardon my French, they can go straight to Hell. For the Yankees have helped me to become a Minnesota Twins fan.
I realized this yesterday on a cab ride from the Metrodome to a friend's house in Uptown. The game made me late for a wonderful dinnerI was hungry for the meal, anxious about being late, and deeply frustrated by the game at hand. I wanted to see the game go to five and wanted Santana to win and wanted nothing more than a beer. As the cab tried to maneuver through the traffic, I happened to look over and see a mother comforting her son. The kid was distraught and as she struggled to hold him, she pulled him close and whispered the sweet lies that mothers tell their children in moments like these. What struck me most about the scene was that as soon as the child was at her breast, when he was calmed and quiet and unable to see her face, I swear she looked as if she was going to start weeping. Later, over dinner, I lied and said that I was a Tigers fan and fortunately I go to these games with the emotional distance of a sportswriter. But it took me a long time to ready myself for bed. There was that pain in my chest, that tightness in the throat, and my heart felt bruised in a way that I hadn't felt since 1987. What the Yankees did really hurt. When I realized that, I aslo realized that the Twins have tamed me.
The Yankees know how to win and I respect that. They played nine innings of better baseball yesterday, the Twins made a number of fatal errors that I'm still wondering about, and in the end Intellectual Me admits that the Yanks are a better match against the Red Sox. But the residue is still there, the feelings. When I was calmed down, around one in the morning, I slept deeply, the sleep of one who is grieving. Emotions have mingled with my ability to analyze. What brought me to this state? Why the day after the season ends? I don't really know.
Let me give you a very brief history of my ten years here in Minnesota: when I arrived, the Twins were still made up of the last remnants of the '91 squad, the same team that had many elements of the '87 clubyou know, the one that bludgeoned my Detroit Tigers in five games in the playoffs. 1987 was the greatest baseball season in my life until that October. Then the Twins, those mediocre Twins who lost tons of games at the end of their season, who couldn't even score more runs than their opponents, who didn't deserve to lick the spit off the Tigers dugout floor, those damn Twins beat the tar out of a Detroit Tigers team who had come from 3 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays with 8 to play and won. Five games later the season's over. For Tigers fans, it's been a steep downhill tumble since. For me, the Twins were a team to hate.
This was easy to do up until the year 2001. Tom Kelly always struck me as the king of sourpuss managers and his teams were dreadfully dull, always in or near the cellar but not so awful they could be embraced as lovable losers. I read about the Twins in the paperswhat else was I going to do, subscribe to the Detroit Free Press?but they were still the height of mediocrity. It was easy for me to fan the flames of loathing: these guys played in that ugly dome, Kent Hrbeck was the fat jerk who dragged an Atlanta Brave off first base in the '91 series, here's a team everyone's afraid they're going to lose to North Carolina when they were yanked out of Washington, D.C. in the first place, and not only that but by a racist owner who has been lionized for being 'colorful'. There's a friggin' Mall where the old stadium used to be! The way fans would hang on Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor like they actually played any meaningful games here. Jack Morris for cry-eye! He's a Tiger, you fools! My team that played in beautiful Tiger Stadium, with a history dating back to the dawn of the American League. We had that bastard Ty Cobb, World Series titles in '35 and '45, the last 30 game winner in jailbird Denny McLain, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, the '68 Series in the year of my birth, the '84 champions (and, yeah, the subsequent fires afterwards), and '87
oh, 1987. Sure, my team was filled with jerks and racists (and were one of the last teams to integrate), but they were my guys and there you have it. You Twins fans don't have half the history I do.
Good baseball will change a fan's mind, and 2001 was a great baseball season. 2001 was the year I was daffy about the Twins on the radio, and it took the whole summer to realize how awful our radio announcers were (though I maintain that John Gordon's voicesimilar in tone to Ernie Harwellis nice to listen to). Those Twins were damned fun, they stole home, raced for triples, won convincingly and then blew apart with equal brilliance. They had personality in gum-popping Doug Mientkiewicz, speedy Cristian Guzman, the acrobatic Torii Hunter, etc. Tom Kelly was still around and, although I respect the work he does, Brad Radke is still one of the least interesting hurlers I've ever seen. But 2001 was one of the greatest seasons I've ever had the privilege to witnessstunning late-inning victories by a young squad, followed by one of the most spectacular meltdowns I've ever seen. With promise to boot: this was a young team who promised only to get better. And as we all know, get better they did.
But bad baseball has also contributed to my thawing heart: the Tigers have been possibly the worst team to root for in the past twelve years. Mike Ilitch is, in my mind, the most heinous owner in all of baseball. He took the Tigers out of their beautiful stadium, wrecked the farm system, and has delivered some of the most awful ballclubs in the sport's history. The new digs are not interesting, with bizarre sight lines and a view of an empty downtown. Their attempts at building an interesting team are nothing more than piecemeal attempts at increasing attendance. This year was fun, but is this a team that looks promising down the line? Not really. Not to me.
Being stubborn, being proud of my loyalty to the olde English "D", I've kept the Twins at a distance when I really should have embraced them in 2001 and grew on that foundation. This is a great team, full of potential, the kind of club that could emerge as a more successful Cleveland Indians that came so close in the mid-90s. Yesterday I became a fan because I hung on every Johan Santana pitch, I had seen him come up and move from being a middle reliever to a Cy Young candidate. Next year, I hope that I will thrill to Justin Morneau's postseason heroics because I've seen him make some really lousy lunges this year and last. I became a fan because I realized, with every play, with every mistake, I was watching a player I cared about, one that I had wasted time and thought and even, much as I have denied it, emotion. You could argue that I'm a fool for embracing wealthy men who play ball for a living, guys who don't care about me personally and sometimes not even abstractly, but the fact is, I do. All baseball fans are fools in this way.
The Yankees are a big part of this. We could have won yesterday's game. But we also can't forget that you don't just throw a game away: someone else has to pick it up. The Yankees are masters at exploiting weakness. In fact, I swear I'd seen this game before, in 1998. Game One of the World Series, the Padres jump to a 5-2 lead and look as if they're eager for a champagne shower already. I remember turning to my wife during the game and saying "Boy, those guys look a bit too confident for my tastes." Sure enough, the Yankees exploded with seven in the seventh. The Padres never knew what hit them.
So when Gardenhire gave the ball to Grant Balfour in the sixth I looked down at my scorecard and thought "Holy Cats! There's a heck of a lot of baseball left
" Just enough for the Yankees to take the game away. Today I was ready to yelp on about Ron Gardenhire's moves: pulling Santana when he could have gone an extra inning; pulling a dominant Balfour after only two (and this guy was a starter at one point!); sending the crowd into conniption fits leaving Juan Rincon in there as one, then four, runs go by, and even then he remains on the hill to allow a double! My dander is still up about that one.
And yet, these are the New York Yankees. Obviously I don't know what it is like to manage a major league team, but I know that playing against the Yankees changes things. I don't believe there is any other club so capable of squeezing through a hole as the New York Yankees. You could say Ron Gardenhire threw the game away. You could say he made poor pitching choices. It's true, he did. But it was bad pitching choice to leave Guardado in the last inning of Game 5 against the A's and he didn't lose. Lots of bad moves do not result in defeats. The Yankees almost always turn those mistakes into wins. Think about the Red Sox last year; about the TWO ninth inning homers in the '01 series against the Diamondbacks; about Derek Jeter's bizarre play to stop the A's that same season; and you can go all the way back to the '96 club dropping two at home and then rolling over Atlanta in the next four. Everyone makes mistakes, but the New York Yankees kill you when that happens, and that's one reason why it is fun to hate them. Now the Minnesota Twins are a part of this legacy.
I'll always love the Detroit Tigers. But the Twins are here, they are in the team that plays in the place that I choose to call home. Today I'm thankful that I can join in a chorus of "Yankees Suck" and really mean it (you can't do that in Detroit). I can emerge from the winter with what amounts to real rays of hope in my chest, not the narcotic that the Tigers use, that gives you a hangover the second week in April. And I can burn with hate and frustration and a desire to cry for something that probably doesn't deserve tears but generates them all the same. Baseball is great because it gives me the opportunity to shout and yell and scream and curse, and now I see that it also allows me some needed melancholy. The time has come for this baseball fan to keep his past but live in the present, and for me, the Minnesota Twins have become the face of baseball present. I will take my seat in the grubby Metrodome, watch my boys take up space in the postseason like the Braves and the Rangers and Pirates have, keeping new clubs from tasting the fruit of the October Country, and walk home dejected, knowing that now I can't put off attending to the minutiae of my life because I've got games to attend. Here in Minnesota the winter, unfortunately, has begun. But spring is not so very far away...
-Peter Schilling Jr.
Sunday, October 10
YES, WAY, JOSE!
NLDS GAME THREE: DODGERS 4, CARDINALS 0 (CARDS LEAD 2-1)
Maybe Jose Lima was the only person in Dodger Stadium and on television who was not surprised that he came out to pitch the ninth inning, notwithstanding that the intercontinental ballistic wing of the St. Louis Cardinals due up to hit. "Every time we've needed the big win," said first baseman Shawn Green after the game, himself still flushed behind his unshaven face, "he's given it to us."
He gave Albert Pujols a strike and then something to turn into a foul pop into the stands past first base, then wasting a pitch outside, before giving Pujols something to sky to deep right center field, Milton Bradley mounting his proverbial horse to take it in front of the warning track.
He gave Scott Rolen two high sliders just missing outside, to the identical spot, before throwing him a fast ball right down the pipe for a called strike, and then fed Rolen nothing better than something to hit right on the switch and right into Steve Finley's leather.
Then, he started Jim Edmonds with a called strike on the top shelf of the zone, before Edmonds popped it up skyscraper style toward third base. Adrian Beltre took it just around the bag, and Dodger Stadium went into the kind of meltdown a lot of Dodger watchers feared before the game that the Cardinals were bound to bury before the twilight was done.
Did it not figure that Lima would kick his usual postgame, post-win (his own or any other Dodger win) routine hugging, high-fiving, fist-pumping, skip-dancing, smooch-on-the-cheeking with his teammates; windmilling the crowd with wide-open arms to ramp up the racket; planting a kiss on the cheek of his pitching coach and the Dodgers' trainer; bounding in and out of the dugout, around foul territory heel behind the plate, playing again to the crowd; crowing into field reporter (and former major league manager) Kevin Kennedy's microphone, like the kid who just received the keys to his own chocolate factory and a prom date with the number one dream girl in town on the same birthday into manic overdrive?
"The fans deserve this," Lima whooped, still recovering his breath, the human 'toon who has just snuck a stick of dynamite into the opposition's evening picnic feed and slipped out of sight two seconds before it went KABOOM. "I love everybody. I'm pitching with my heart because I know they deserve it."
Lima is hardly the first player to tumble enough that a trip to the independent leagues was his last, best hope to get one more ticket to ride in the Show, but you would be hard pressed to find one who appreciated it more and made this much out of it. One year ago, he had started the season in the Atlantic League, a former 20-game winner who pitched so much with his heart he is said to have ordered his paychecks to go right to the clubhouse attendant, with instructions to lay on the feed for the guys who didn't make in one season what he'd made in his entire career to that point. Then he went to the Kansas City Royals for an 8-3, 4.91 season that got him nothing much better than a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
He ground his way onto the roster and figured to pitch out of the bullpen, as he did to launch the season. He started with two shutout innings to beat the San Diego Padres in relief in the third game of the season. Three days later he got a start against and beat the Giants in San Francisco. He got rocked by the Colorado Rockies in his next start, went back to the bullpen, then got an emergency spot start when Hideo Nomo cracked a nail and flattened the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," he said after that game. "If they want me to be the bat boy, I'll be the bat boy." What they wanted, it turned out, was to keep him in the rotation and on the cheerleading line he made for himself on the home plate end of the Dodger dugout. And that is where he stayed, leading the Dodgers in wins and the world in enthusiasm. He makes Johnny Damon's Boston Red Sox "Idiots" resemble a cell of clinical depressives.
Now he made the Cardinals resemble canaries with an array of none-too-swift fastballs and rhumba-rolling sliders climbing the walls, slithering onto and under the shelves, and generally having them singing the blues. And, the greens, when Matt Morris who pitched almost as effectively if not quite as effervescently surrendered a pair of home runs to Green, the first Dodger baserunner on the day with a base hit up the middle in the bottom of the second. The first bomb was a rising liner that landed behind the fence and in front of the left center field bleachers to lead off the bottom of the fourth; the second, an identical liner the other way, clearing the fence and landing next to a set of stairs under the right field bleachers with two out in the bottom of the sixth.
Green's two belts made it impossible to hang the net result entirely on a slightly testy at-bat by Lima himself in the Los Angeles third. Alex Cora had gotten plunked on the back of his right hand to start the inning before Brent Mayne slashed a liner to right center pushing Cora to third. Lima came up to bunt and looked at a low ball one, before getting his bat on the ball with Mayne running on the pitch, bouncing it off the dirt in front of the plate and up into
Was it Lima's hand? Was it his bat? He hustled out of the box on impact, with St. Louis catcher Mike Matheny hustling the throw down to second, perhaps thinking Mayne a steal attempt on the foul bunt strike. Except that Lima kept running, making it to first, the corner umpires apparently missing the actual ball-bat or ball-hand ricochet contact, Lima himself not necessarily aware of it in the action of leaving the box. (If the ball had hit Lima's hand as he left the box the rule book would have called him out.) Mayne beat the throw, the umpires huddled, the call stood up, perhaps on the shadow of a doubt, and the Dodgers had the bases loaded and nobody out and Steve Finley coming up.
One week after Finley had hit in Dodger Stadium in like circumstances, hitting a long fly over a drawn-in San Francisco Giants infield and outfield for a grand slam engraved in Los Angeles concrete and marble unto eternity, the erstwhile Arizona Diamondback struck again. This time, however, Finley cracked his bat apart in sending a liner down the line, past third, and into the left field corner, sending home Cora and Mayne and parking Lima on third. "Delivering the package the contents of which were shattered," cracked Tim McCarver on the Fox telecast. That was good for an early enough 2-0 Los Angeles lead, before Morris swished Beltre to contain the damage.
The Cardinals gave Lima his testiest time of it in the top of the fifth, when Jim Edmonds, who had had one of the two St. Louis hits off Lima to that point, laced one into center field for a hit and the third Redbirds leadoff baserunner in five innings. Edgar Renteria flied out to Bradley in right and Reggie Sanders worked Lima to a 2-2 count before fouling out to Green at first, but Matheny cued one up the middle and slightly left for another hit.
Then it was Morris's turn to hit. The pitcher actually managed to work Lima to a deuces wild before he whacked a broken bat grounder to third. Beltre snatched it up to see Edmonds stopping right in front of him. Well, hel-looooooo, there! Beltre seemed to say as Edmonds froze on the spot, Beltre practically strolling to the base for the inning-ending force out. It was the only time all night the Cardinals sent more than four men to the plate in any inning.
Typical of the way Lima worked was his tangle with Larry Walker in the top of the sixth. Walker had spent the stretch drive since his arrival in a deal with the Colorado Rockies proving he was no mere Coors Canaveral launcher, and he had helped wreck the Dodger part in the first division game in St. Louis with a pair of bombs, but now he had worked Lima into a 2-1 hole, swung on and missed one that Mayne behind the dish dropped off the plate, and then looked helplessly at a shivering slider crawling along the inside corner for strike three called. "Teasing to freezing," McCarver called it. Then Lima jammed Pujols into a pop out to shortstop.
Would Jim Tracy let Lima ride it out? He had Yhency Brazoban, the rookie setup man in waiting, throwing in the bullpen throughout the seventh. Lima got Rolen to ground one up the third base line so slow that Beltre had to sling it on an angle to first just in time; he blew Edmonds away on one called strike and two riding swinging misses; he walked Renteria but got Sanders to send one in front of the right center field track that Bradley and Finley approached before Finley one-handed it.
Tracy had Eric Gagne working the pen in the eighth while Marlon Anderson pinch hit for Morris with one out and grounded out to second, before Tony Womack battled Lima into the first Cardinal base hit since the fifth and Walker likely to send Lima out of the game if he could cash in at last. But Walker grounded the first pitch on the hop up to Green, who stepped on the bag to end it.
Even with Gagne sitting down in the pen as first Cal Eldred (a leadoff hit by Beltre) and then Steve Kline (a pair of shaky groundouts to Womack at second, bobbling before throwing out Green and mishandling before nipping Bradley by a step and a half; a bouncer behind the mound which Womack charged to throw out Cora on the bounce) took care of the Dodgers in the bottom of the eighth, it all looked as though Lima would hand off to Gagne for the ninth. He even sat down the far end of the Los Angeles dugout with all the look of a man who had just finished his evening's work whether he wanted to or not.
Not a chance. Not this night. Not when he was going to secure the Dodgers' first postseason win since the one that battened down their 1988 World Series conquest.
"They believe in me!" he whooped after the game, knowing well enough that nobody doubts he believes in them, too. He could have been talking about his manager and pitching coach and mates as much as he was the Dodger Stadium audience. Not to mention the Cardinals themselves. "We had a lot of trouble getting to the top of the ball, made a lot of outs in the air,'' said La Russa after the game. "He did a very good job."
That, about a fellow who spent the single most important night of his baseball life to date doing something formerly tied to names like Koufax and Hershiser and Podres and Labine, was like saying Romeo crashed a dance, met Juliet, ran off with her, and the two crazy kids died. And there's no room for anything like that when the clock strikes Lima Time.
Sunday, October 10
IN THE SPIRIT OF WALLY AND HOO-HAS
ALDS GAME THREE: YANKEES 8, TWINS 4 (YANKS LEAD 2-1)
Quite a few times in the past, my old softball team, Wally and Hoo-Has, found itself in the hole early. By margins nearing a couple dozen runs. Edging closer to the mercy rule, we would begin to have a flair for the dramatic, which was personally manifested in my attempts at stretching bloop singles into doubles. This was a mediocre (at best) league, and at times I'd have success sliding into second as the surprised outfielder would hasten to pick up and rifle the ball to an equally surprised second baseman. It also didn't work half the time, and I'd be caught out with my leg jackknifed beneath me. But, considering the deficit, this style of play was fun. When you're down 20-2 (a common occurrence), you'll do anything to liven up the game.
Imagine my surprise to see a major league team accept this strategy. It is even more incredible to see it employed in the postseason, and even more mindblowing to see it utilized twice in the same inning. Now, next summer, when I'm tossed out trying to erase a fifteen run deficit, I'll feel like a Minnesota Twin. That is not a good thing.
Normally I'm not the type of guy to harangue ballplayers for not giving me my money's worth, but I've decided to set that policy aside for the time being. I don't like to shell out twenty bucks a pop to watch softball plays. And that's exactly what the Twins sixth inning looked like.
As you probably know by now, the Twins were in command of this game for exactly one inning, when Jacque Jones drove Broken Hand Brown's 2-2 pitch into the left centerfield seats. Triumphs! Then came two quick outs in the Yanks second, followed by five straight base hits to give the Bombers a 3-1 lead. Essentially, it was game over.
But it shouldn't have been. I remember thinking to myself that the Yanks were looking feeble. This was the team who'd broken all the Yankee home run records, the powerhouse offense, and yet they were scoring with measly singles. Had the Yanks not had some lucky hitting (and that's what it was that second inning), it would have been a closer game: the next three innings Silva worked out of just one jam, and that wasn't even his fault, as J. Morneau tried to pick off Gary Sheffield on a Matsui grounder and allowed both runners to stand safely on first and second. One double play and strikeout later, the inning was over. Looking good.
Once again, the Twins were again making a wizened old pitchers who's seen better years look brilliant. Kevin Brown was throwing strikes and the Twins were doing nothing with them. Not striking out (he had but one K), but grounding out or hitting weak flies. Although it is difficult to discern the mood of a clubhouse from the fifth row in upper right (where yours truly sat), it felt, to me, that there was a lacklusterness, a sense of impending defeat, as if the Yanks three run lead was all the Bronxers needed to pull out a victory.
I've known the feeling. There were a couple of softball games this season where we emerged from the first inning giddy, down by only a run or actually tied. Trouble was, next inning our opponents took advantage of the good feeling by scoring ten runs or so. After that, the wind is sort of knocked out of your spirit. The Twins certainly looked like they were ready for that post-game brew.
So when Bernie Williams drilled a two-run home run with no outs in the sixth inning, you'd have thought the season was over right there. Then Jorge Posada knocked in a solid hit, Romero replaced Silva, walked Olerud, induced two more outs, and Jesse Crain came in and Derek Jeter smacked a hit that drove in two more to make it 7-1. Whew.
By now you can get a feeling for what's going on in the Metrodome. Scores of fans are making for the exits, the die-hards are growling, booing Jeter for simply playing decent baseball, wishing the Twins had two Johan Santana's instead of one. No one thinks the Twins can erase a six-run deficit, myself least of all. But the beer guy reminds us that it's happened before, why the Twins were down by ten once this season. "I mean, yeah, they lost in extra innings, but that'd be some game, huh?"
If only it were so. For trying to stage a comeback suggests sound baseball strategy, an adherence to the fundamentals no matter how the game had progressed. There was still four innings for the Twins to rebound, and instead the Twins played less like Carl Pohlad had them in flannels and more like Park Tavern had them in cheap t's and cutoffs.
For in the sixth inning, Torii Hunter opened with a base hit. It was a base hit, a solid number to Hideki Matsui that Gojira kicks a good ten feet while trying to field the grounder. Torii doesn't stop, rounding first and flies into second. Stretched into a double! Only he keeps running. He's not bluffing, not turning abruptly ten feet past second, but heading for third. I don't know if this was due to the overexcitability of Al Newman coaching third or Torii's own determination, but he was tossed out easily, violating one of the most cardinal rules in the sport: don't make the first out at third.
You can imagine the indignation in the ersatz bleachers when, one out later, Corey Koskie gets a hit which he then tries to stretch into a double. And is called out easily. To end the inning.
Considering that the Twins scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, we can only drive ourselves mad pondering how that inning would have progressed had Messrs. Hunter and Koskie kept their heads. Those plays reek of desperation, of a professional team resorting to hysterical acts to beat another team that actually knows how to win. I've often seen teams lose by giving another team the so-called 'four outs' (or more) in an inninghow often do you get a 'one-out' inning? What next, the Twins are going to shout "drop it!" at pop flies? My experience tells me that rarely works, either.
Today it's Johan on short rest and we're left wondering if the Twins aren't boiled through. Cooked. This game was as winnable as Thursday night's contest, except that where I felt the Yankees fought and scratched to take game two the Twins rolled over and died in game three, conceding and hoping to play like a big league ballclub in game four. But I've heard that this year's Twins are no longer playing for "respect" but playing to win the World Series. After last night, that vision is growing blurry in this fan's eyes. Do the Twins think they can really beat the Yanks on cheap playsand later, the powerful Red Soxand wrestle a World Series championship from a dominant Cardinals (if the postseason goes as I think it goes)? If they manage to win it all it might be good for the imaginations of sub par softballers like myself, guys who get thrills gouging strawberries into their knees. Frankly, I'd rather see the big leaguers play their game, and leave ours to the drunk and untalented.
-Peter Schilling Jr.
Saturday, October 9
TO FORGIVE IS DIVINE
ALDS GAME FOUR: BOSOX 8, ANGELS 6 (SOX WIN 3-1)
Maybe you spent your Friday morning as unable as I to resist ESPN Classic pouring a little gasoline on the fire the Anaheim Angels must have felt awakening to prepare for a potential elimination game in Boston. Maybe you thought, as first I did, that whoever was responsible for the cable channel's scheduling had lost all sanity and propriety.
The channel thought it was just the perfect time to air perhaps the wrenching loss in the Angels' long-enough surreal history, Game Five of the 1986 American League Championship Series, which was concurrently the most stupefying win in the longer and more surreal history of the Boston Red Sox.
And maybe ESPN Classic was right.
Eight hours after that telecast began, Angels manager Mike Scioscia went to The Book. With righthanded closer Troy Percival and lefthanded designated Game Five starter (if need be) Jarrod Washburn throwing in the bullpen, two out and one on in the bottom of the tenth in Fenway Park, the game still tied at six, and closer-in-waiting Francisco Rodriguez having turned in two and two thirds of courageous if arduous shutout relief brought in Washburn to pitch to lefthanded David Ortiz.
Maybe before the game, you thought ESPN Classic was trying to say the Angels' stupefying and magnificent plunge through the 2002 postseason ending when Percival windmilled his first after putting the World Series into his pocket when Tsuyoshi Shinjo of the San Francisco Giants flied out to deep center field wasn't enough to wipe the Angels' worst hour in hell and the Red Sox sending them there, taking two more games to prolong the agony and finish the job.
But maybe in the top of the seventh Friday you decided that it was the Red Sox who should have gotten the message. That was then: Upending the Angels in 1986 did nothing but save the Red Sox for the New York Mets doing to them what they had just done to the Angels. This was now: The Angels pushed the bases loaded and one run in, when Darin Erstad, the very definition of Angel tenacity, wrung himself a pads-full walk off Boston reliever Mike Timlin. And then Vladimir Guerrero who had picked the perfect time to get his first postseason hit in the second game, whacking a two-RBI single to give the Angels a lead that lasted one half inning - picked an even better time to get his second, tying the game with a monstrous grand slam over the right center field wall.
But the Angels couldn't cash in a bases loaded ninth or a first and third tenth. And now Ortiz measured Washburn's first pitch, a slightly hanging slider, and he hung it on the far side of the Green Monster for game, set, and immediate trip to the American League Championship Series. The second guessing began about five feet before Ortiz crossed the plate into a swarm of delirious Red Sox. "Mike Scioscia's Mauch moment," harrumphed one particularly indignant postgame radio show caller.
We can assume that caller hadn't seen the morning broadcast of That Game. For one thing, Scioscia was trying to get a tie into an eleventh inning and give the Angels one more crack at pushing the potential winning run in and living to play another day, en route a hard-enough three game sweep of a comeback.
He wasn't trying to hold what began as a 5-2 lead in the top of the ninth of That Game, ending when his second reliever of the inning threw a neat, low and away fork ball, his third two-out, two-strike pitch of the sequence, that got hit three rows up the left field bleachers, setting up the eventual extra innings loss, sending it back to Fenway for two straight Red Sox wins, and making "one strike away" a sword of grotesque epitaph with two serrated edges that never need sharpening.
It is easy to suggest the game should not have gotten to a tenth inning, and you could say that from both sides' vantages. The Red Sox looked through six as though they had the game all over but for the late-inning formalities. With six runs sliced in portions off Anaheim starter Kelvim Escobar, they rewarded a magnificent piece of work by their own starter, Bronson Arroyo, who used a particularly salacious array of breaking balls to keep the Angels nibbling before he and his mates jerked the hooks right out of their mouths, the lone disruption being Troy Glaus's unaccompanied drive off the Coke bottle sign behind the Monster in the top of the fourth.
But Jeff DaVanon's seventh-inning leadoff walk prodded Red Sox manager Terry Francona to go to the bullpen as he and Scioscia began a little gamesmanship. Four pinch hitters, two of whom actually batted, and Mike Myers surrendering a walk before yielding to Mike Timlin, and suddenly there was Erstad fighting for that bases loaded walk and Guerrero lowering the cone of silence over Fenway Park.
The Angels had spent the afternoon playing very hesitantly in the field, a pair of unusual miscues helping the Red Sox to that early five run lead, while the Red Sox played with the kind of unhesitant push that the Angels usually deploy. But after Guerrero tied it up Brendan Donnelly shut down the Red Sox with two sharp innings' relief, and Rodriguez turned them aside with two arduous but worthy innings of his own.
Then they left the bases loaded in the top of the ninth when Red Sox closer Keith Foulke punched out Garret Anderson and Glaus; they showed some of their vintage Angelball aggression in the top of the tenth, landing first and third on Derek Lowe relieving Foulke, before Figgins showed bunt with two outs, then took a called strike, then chopped one slow enough to short that Cabrera had to run and gun it himself to just barely cut Figgins off at the bag for the third out.
Finally, Scioscia showed Rodriguez to the dugout, two outs after Boston's gigapest Johnny Damon led off with his third base hit of the game. "Frankie was at a high pitch count," Scioscia said after the game, of a pitcher working an admittedly unusual third inning and averaging twelve pitches per to that point. "I think he was getting tired. With a young arm like Frankie's I think you want to err on the side of caution."
So Scioscia erred on the side of the southpaw-portside matchup, showing Washburn in to meet Ortiz, and Ortiz drilled a gaping hole in the book faster than you could say "Mauch moment." Almost.
Maybe it was less painful this way. These Red Sox play loose but iron willed. If the Angels found a way to push a potential winning run home and make it stick, the Red Sox would have done their best to make it into a delay en route the inevitable. The Angels might have found their way past Tim Wakefield in a fourth game, but good luck finding their way to other than nowhere facing Curt Schilling in a fifth game.
Observers enough suggested going in that the Angels were one team in the postseason whom no one else really wanted to face. But maybe the Angels really did leave it all in the wrenching stretch drive that finally landed them the American League West. By the time they opened with the Red Sox, the Angels resembled their own shadows and the Red Sox resembled
well, those who cast shadows.
But maybe you harked back to Friday morning's ESPN Classic, remembering that where the Angels had been buried the Red Sox had been saved a greater season in hell, and it came to you while Fenway Park rocked in scattered chants of "We want the Yankees! We want the Yankees!" Being careful what they wished for was not the Red Sox order of the evening.
Which might just be another reason why the first thing Angel fans should do the day after, or any time to come, is forgive Scioscia, forgive Washburn, forgive just about every Angel. The law of the game includes two irrevocable clauses. Somebody has to lose, and nobody gets to recreate their first transcendent conquest.
Saturday, October 9
SLEEPLESS IN ST. LOUIS PARK
Baseball is a delicate thing in the October Country. There was no Twins baseball last night, nothing to do but work and wonder if it was going to rain. Not because the rain would wash out a playoff game, of course, for we have a Dome here, and if we didn't have a Dome we'd have a retractable roof that would render autumn virtually worthless, just like a shopping mall. Sound cynical? I haven't had enough sleep.
Last night around eleven I caught the scores and went to bed. I listened to the soft rain falling off my roof. I heard the planes descending and I wondered where they were coming from. Freight trains barrel on a block away, shaking the house like a mother rocks her baby to sleep, and I wondered where these great machines were going, who had stolen a ride on them, and why. I remembered reading a story about young men looking for work in the Depression, riding the rails, playing baseball between hops. They didn't care about any particular team, for they were Okies and Nebraska boys and there was no television or even radio that would carry the exploits of the Cardinals, the nearest club. Maybe they're lucky. This season, I thought, searching for a cool spot on the pillow, could be over in 48 hours.
There's an intimacy and immediacy to the postseason that is at once reassuring as it is depressing. As we watch the games on television, we become familiar with the players, know which ones are rising to the challenge and which are falling apart. By the time of Game Six of last year's World Series, I began to empathize with Alfonso Soriano, this hell-of-a-player who was being benched because he'd basically fallen apart, had become a liability to the Death Star Yankees. I know the Twins, know which guys wear that stunned look in the big games, but you get to know the small guys on the other clubs as well. Like who is this Miguel Cairo, who seems so comfortable in pinstripes? I first saw "Cairo" on the ESPN lineup and I expected to hear Bob Sheppard to announce "Batting ninth... the second baseman... Joel Cairo." And Peter Lorre would stoll to the plate, fiddling with his batting glove just as he does in "The Maltese Falcon". But M. Cairo, as I have come to know him, is one for six with two pivotal runs, making him that much more valuable to his team than Lorre was to Gutman. But I digress: what I mean to say is that when a team blows through our town during the season, we get to know the players a little, but the immediacy is not therethey'll be back again, or not
the season's long. If it's September, maybe there's some importance to the weekend, but it's not the playoffs or World Series, with the whole world watching. There's only a few teams left, the numbers are dwindling.
This summer I had the privilege of visiting Southern California on what amounted to a baseball holiday. Mostly I was there to visit my grandfather and the Baseball Reliquary. But I got to see a town that has baseball in its blood, a town with baseball buried in its past, ready to be unearthed whenever a street is torn up. What a thrill it must have been to have two teams in the postseason! (And, I have to add, no football to compete with thissomething I have long dreamed about.) Today, both of those teams are on the brink of elimination. If all goes as it think it will, by Monday, it will be winter in Los Angeles.
If this seems like a ramble, it is. This is what your baseball fan falls asleep wondering about. I had come home and my head felt like it was a lighthousebright and spinning slowly around, wide awake and guiding books and the internet safely into my hands. And not sleeping. I'm not a real Twins fan, so it wasn't the gut-wrenching fear that kept me awake, the feelings I had when I was a child and I so wanted the Tigers to win. No, I want the Twins to win because I like to watch baseball and I enjoy seeing people around me happy. I love winter, but I don't want it to descend on the Twins Cities just yet. I don't want football and its mindless violence to dominate conversation again. Maybe that is what makes the October Country so beautiful, mysterious and even, to a degree, treacherous: the sleepless nights, the fog in the mornings, and the knowledge that baseball is coming to an end. We will leave our neighborhoods amidst falling leaves and walk into the treeless downtown to a Dome just to see the summer game in its last moments. Soon our homes will be closed to the winter and we'll drape ourselves in wool and, if you're like me, read about baseball and wonder if the next season will be as beautiful as the last. And sleep. And sleep. And sleep...
-Peter Schilling Jr.
Friday, October 8
"IT'S NOT GOING TO BE EASY"
NLDS GAME TWO: CARDINALS 8, DODGERS 3 (CARDS LEAD 2-0)
If you think of baseball in terms of following the proverbial script, this year's Los Angeles Dodgers have had only two guaranteed entries to which they have hewed and to the last punctuation mark. One is that they fear no deficit great or small, and they have the fifty-three regular season comeback wins, twenty-six in their final at-bats, to vouchsafe. The second: Get the damned ball to Eric Gagne.
All that was missing from Entry Two is that they had yet to get him the ball in the postseason, because they hadn't gotten him there until now. But here he was on the Busch Stadium bump at last, going to work in the eighth inning. Not that the eighth is in the otherwise improvised Dodger script, but it is the periodic option to which Gagne at his best rises to power enough.
And Gagne performed to his notices. He got Tony Womack to line out slightly deep but sharply enough to Steve Finley in center field. He blew Larry Walker clean out of the batter's box with a violently swinging pound of a strikeout. He walked Albert Pujols but caught Scott Rolen unable to check his swing on a diving fast ball for a second strikeout. And that is the net result for which Entry Two calls.
The one for which Entry Two doesn't call is the other guys winning, 8-3, after the Dodgers mount one feeble would-be ninth inning rally, against Julian Tavares (he of the pine tar cap and the late-season suspension therefore) and Steve Kline (freshly re-minted, following a late-season battle with a groin strain and a finger injury), the latter brought in
well, all right, Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa might want us to believe he wanted to see what Kline had in the replenishing tank, something you can afford with a five run lead. But you and I know Kline was brought in to keep Finley from getting any more bright ideas about any more ninth-inning heroism above and beyond the call of sanity.
This was not exactly what the Dodgers saw when they began jamming in the top of the first, when Jayson Werth cracked the Cardinals' armour by cracking a particularly succulent pitch from St. Louis starter Jason Marquis into the left field seats for a one out, 1-0 lead.
Not when they started a followup threat in the top of the second that died faster than Milton Bradley wrung out the leadoff walk, when Alex Cora bounded one up to second baseman Womack, who whipped a throw to shortstop Edgar Renteria, who barely avoided Bradley's attempted puree on the slide, as he turned to throw on and finish the 4-6-3 dialup, before David Ross's full-count mini-epic of fouls ended in a fly Reggie Sanders hauled down in left center.
Not even when the Cardinals saw and raised in the bottom of the second, beginning when Bradley's running dive wasn't enough to snap in Renteria's short collapsing fly to right, Finley's backup keeping Renteria on second. It continued when Sanders pushed a bunt up the right side, Cora reaching the ball and throwing off balance to first baseman Shawn Green for all hands safe and Renteria on third, and when Mike Matheny popped one up to Cora. The see came when, with Womack batting, Los Angeles starter Jeff Weaver picked Sanders off dead but the ball left Green's mitt on the tag, sending Sanders to second; the raise came when Womack launched one toward the right field wall and just beyond the leaping Bradley for an RBI triple, and Walker whacked a torpedo just beneath a diving Green down the line for an RBI double.
The Dodgers saw something more like the atonement Green and Bradley offered Weaver in the top of the fourth. First, Green dialed the second deck seats in right; then up came Bradley, fresh enough under new fire, over a foolish off-day clubhouse scrum, barking with a Los Angeles Times reporter, who may or may not have pushed it pressing Bradley about Busch fans' treatment, provoking Bradley to denounce him as an Uncle Tom. Now Milton the Monster went Hobbs, ripping one off the high scoreboard in right to tie it at three
Unfortunately, the Cardinals saw their own version of the non-script in the bottom of the fifth, no matter how tenaciously Weaver pitched and the Dodgers hung. Unlike the first game Tuesday, when the Cardinals went to the long range bombing sorties and tied a postseason record with five dongs in the first game, this time they were perfectly content with close air support, Renteria singling home Walker and Matheny singling home Pujols and Renteria, pushing Weaver out of the game, the Dodgers into a 6-3 hole, and gutsy young Cardinal reliever Danny Haren into a likely enough win.
They also saw Matheny playing a coda in the bottom of the seventh, after Renteria broke reliever Wilson Alvarez's spell with a two out single, bringing in Giovanni Carrara to yield a single and a steal of second to Sanders. Matheny whacked a single to left to send home Renteria and Sanders and the game just far enough out of reach.
Oh, right now we get it. Anyone can pump up fifty-three comeback wins in the regular season, but it takes genius to lose the first two and then ramp up a division series comeback conquest. The Dodgers have only just begun to prove themselves possessed of sheer genius.
You think it will not be sweet proving it at the Cardinals' expense? Payback at last, nineteen long years after the last time the Cardinals busted a Dodgers' non-script? When Tommy Lasorda, one out away from the World Series, decided it was safe to let Tom Niedenfeuer pitch to Jack Clark with two on and first base empty? When Jack the Ripper decided it was even more safe to hit Niedenfeuer into the Rose Bowl seats?
That was then: Dodger fans probably had small consolation, if any, in watching the 1985 Cardinals go on to lose a Series, in even more spectacular, self-immolating style, to an otherwise likeable Kansas City Royals team who could have been accused of having no business of their own in being there in the first place. This is now: The 2004 Cardinals, who can beat you playing pinball and bomb ball, are one game away from proving, this year, that these Dodgers big as their hearts might be, stout as their guts might be, ebulliently as Jose Lima may hit the Chavez Ravine hill come Saturday night may have had no real business being here in the first place.
But that is not the way the Dodgers' non-script reads. "It's not going to be easy, that's for sure,'' said Jim Tracy, the Dodgers' becalmed and perhaps underappreciated manager, after the game. "But I'm not going to sit here and say it can't be done."
Friday, October 8
THE MARK INSIDE
"There's one mark you can't beat: the mark inside
" William S. Burroughs
ALDS GAME TWO: YANQUIS 7, TWINS 6 (SERIES TIED AT 1)
If I have any suggestion for Ron Gardenhire, Joe Nathan, andwhy not?the rest of the Twins, it would be to call Larry Brown. Brown, for those of you not in the know, is the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. I don't know basketball, but I am from Michigan, and I still have the marks on my jeans from when I hopped on the Pistons bandwagon in June this year, when they won the championship. See, the Pistons were not supposed to win. They were the small-ball underdogs to the glamorous, star-studded Los Angeles Lakers. In a surprise move, they took game one in Los Angeles, to take home-field advantage. Then, with game two in their hands, Kobe Bryant acted the playmaker and sunk a half-courter (please bear with meI have no clue about basketball jargon), "stunning" the Pistons. The Lakers, it seemed, were back.
Only the Pistons destroyed the Lakers in game three. And then again in game four, and decided, what the heck, we're on a roll, might as well wreck these guys in game five and take that ugly trophy.
I don't know what Brown said to the Pistons after game two, but I think Gardenhire ought to give the guy a call and find out. Because I think that the Minnesota Twins have a great chance of beating the New York Yankees provided they don't let the mark inside defeat them. And, as even that maniac William S. Burroughs knew, that's the toughest mark to beat. But it can be done.
If you're reading this, it means that you've got your facts elsewhere (at least I hope so), so you know that Joe Nathan came in to the 12th inning, his third inning of work, and basically gave the game away. The Twins were leading due to a Torii Hunter home run in the top of the 12th. I know this because my wife told me. Truth be told, I was in hell last night, damned for the mere fact that I'm employed by an orange-themed corporation whose goal is to put the nation's smaller hardware stores out of business. While working, I was racing around the store (busy night), while guys in another department (the one that sells tools) stood around listening to the Twins on the yellow Dewalt radio for the first five innings. Then they switched, for reasons unbeknownst to me, to the red Milwaukee radio after that. Your correspondent got to hear mumblings of "4-3, Yanks" most of the night, then "5-5, ninth", then, when I could finally stop and take a breather, I heard Pat Borders strike out, leaving Guzman on third in some inning that I don't know. The tenth? Anyway, I had to get back to work.
My good wife called to tell me that Hunter hit his homer just as I was leaving. Fifteen minutes later, I flopped down on the couch to see Joe Nathan walk Derek Jeter on what the Fox boys said was his eighth straight ball.
But what I saw were some good pitches. The last to Jeter looked like a dandy inside that caught the edge of the plate to no avail. Rodriguez got one, too, before Nathan tossed yet another, in virtually the same spot, for a called strike. How many of these pitches had Nathan thrown that were went against him? From my vantage point, they looked greatinside, hard to hit, nipping the plate. Ball? Ball again? Finally, the pitch that Rodriguez knocked over Shannon Stewart's head (and that's the move I would criticizewhere's Lew Ford?) was a good pitch, a slider away that speaks more to the Yankee's big bat than a deficiency on Nathan's part.
You know the rest. J. C. Romero in for Nathan, Matsui strokes a liner right at Jacque, who can't throw out the brilliantaccording to FoxDerek Jeter who scores and wins the game for U. S. Steel. Today, pundits around the country are red in the face and hoarse in the throat second guessing Gardy's decision to leave Joe Nathan in the game in the 12th. But I think it's a mistake to listen to them.
From what I've read, Gardy is a guy who can make a team forget recent disasters, and for God's sake this is the time. For you can look at this as a game in which Joe Nathan was used and abused, scratch your head as to why Shannon Stewart is out in left without a walker, or why Jason Kubel was the DH, flailing away, when you could have had Lew Ford flail himself or hit weak grounders for outs, like yesterday. Kubel's untested! Well, so is Ford in postseason play. As far as Nathan is concerned, I've already read comparisons betwixt Gardenhire and Grady Little (the Bosox manager who left Pedro in game seven of the ALCS only to lose). But don't forget, Gardy has some history behind his decisions: he watched Eddie Guardado serve up a homer in game five of the 2002 ALDS against Oakland, only to pull it out in the end. He stuck with his man, it cost him a some heart palpitations, then a victory. Why would anyone be surprised by his decision to keep Nathan in? But surprised they seem to be, and I have heard of the 'disaster' of last night, the boneheadedness, the fact that the Twins could have put a 'stake in the heart of the beast' but didn't, that they had better watch out, because the Yanks are back.
All of which might be true. Then again, it might not.
For starters, it would scare me to death, in a time of already mounting horrors, to hear that the Twins had just put a 'stake through the Yankees hearts' if they'd won last night's contest. The Division Series, historically young tho' it is, has already had a few cases where a team has led two games to none, only to watch their rivals take the next threesuch as Oakland dropping three in a row to the Yankees in '01. Don't think it could happen to the Twins? Think again.
I'm not saying it's great for the Twins that they lost, only that it's no guarantee of anything. Consider the positives: these Twins did manage to nullify Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon, tying the game when conventional wisdom stated that it should have been over. Supposedly, that's how you had to beat the Yankees: hit their starters before you get to the Gordon/Rivera tandem, the most formidable in the league. But the Twins got to those two, exposed their vulnerability, and then held the Bombers for three and a half innings, and scored a homer to go ahead in the 12th. Good stuff. Unfortunately, they lost in the bottom of the 12th. Either they gave the game away or the Yankees took it from them. And I don't think it's clear which was which.
The "unbeatable" Lakers did the same to the Pistons earlier this year, only to watch in disbelief as the Pistons shrugged it off and blew them away. Granted, there are hundreds of dissimilarities between the Pistons and the Twinsnot to mention their sportsbut I think the psychology is the same: you can look at what you did do and what you didn't do, and let that beat you or not. The mark inside can be your strength or your weakness. I'm hoping the Twins see their strengths and build on them for the next two games, shake off the problems that, in my book, were small but capitalized upon by a team that is very good at capitalizing on small mistakes. This series doesn't have to be over because of last nightit could be just one bump on a long road, or the ditch your tractor slipped into, killing your kissing cousin. Ultimately, these defeats are something the Twins are going to have to face if they ever want to become champions.
-Peter Schilling Jr.
QUIET! GENIUSES PLAYING WITH MENTAL BLOCKS (Red Sox 8, Angels 3)
ALDS GAME TWO: RED SOX 8, ANGELS 3 (RED SOX LEAD 2-0)
For junctures enough Wednesday night, it seemed as though the Anaheim Angels and the Boston Red Sox could not have chosen a worse time to play the field as though they needed nets and not gloves and hands, bunt as if with feathers, or run the bases as though there were nobody on guard except any ants lingering between the blades of grass behind the infield. That the Red Sox managed to take advantage enough of Angel missteps, prying an 8-3 win before moving the division series to Fenway Park, seemed almost a happenstance of fortune considering that they seemed at least once as though they were willing to let the Angels have a break or three.
Until the bottom of the fifth, both starting pitchers Bartolo Colon for the Angels, Pedro Martinez for the Olde Towne Team had worked like virtuosi with only occasional fractures in the soundtrack and a few dubious pitch calls by the home plate umpire to spoil the cadences and crescendi. The Red Sox had loaded the bases on Colon in the first and second innings but had nothing much to show for it, except for Manny Ramirez walking Bill Mueller home in the second and one baserunner lost on one mental block shortly thereafter.
Mark Bellhorn, taking the proverbial bigger lead than the law allows, provoked Angel catcher Jose Molina to flash a pickoff sign, Colon to throw the pitch down fast, Molina to fire the strike right up into shortstop David Eckstein's glove, and Bellhorn to blow a chorus of "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had."
Then Angels pried back a run off Martinez in the bottom of the second, after Troy Glaus pried a pass out of Martinez, Jeff DaVanon hit one inside out and through the shortstop hole for a single, and touted rookie Dallas McPherson cued a 1-2 pitch for a floating opposite field liner to send home Glaus. But Molina dropped a stillborn bunt short enough of the third base side that Martinez fielding it had practically a month to throw out DaVanon at third, before Eckstein showed how badly that stillbirth hurt, his deep fly out to Damon short of the track more than enough to have sent a man on third home. Then Martinez swifted a climbing heater right above the bat of swift Chone Figgins to collapse that threat just as swift.
Colon then retired his next nine batters, with help enough from his mates, particularly McPherson regrouping spontaneously when Damon's bounder glanced off his chest to throw out the Red Sox' grinding leadoff man, and Figgins spearing Ramirez's grounder to second and throwing him out practically in the same movement.
Martinez got his next six hitters but the Angels got feisty in the bottom of the fifth. First, Molina lofted a soft pop to short short left. Orlando Cabrera ambled out from shortstop and Ramirez ambled in from left, but Cabrera hesitated, perhaps thinking Ramirez had the play. Which Ramirez might have done, had he been in far enough, and not still far enough back that the ball hit the grass like a dead vulture for the leadoff hit.
Martinez almost handed the slewfoot Molina an extra base on a doily when a throw to first shot right past first baseman Kevin Millar and bounded off the seating fence behind the dugout, returning to Millar fast enough to keep Molina where he was. Angel manager Mike Scioscia argued in vain that Molina should have been awarded a base. Then Eckstein botched a couple of bunt attempts before smacking a slightly hanging breaking ball on a line over the middle. Figgins bunted a foul liner speared by Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller, but Martinez, trying to work Darin Erstad inside, saw it get away from him and into the feisty Angel's inside left knee.
Here was the scenario that sent the Angel Stadium crowd practically orgasmic. One out, the bases loaded, Vladimir Guerrero striding to the plate. And Guerrero could not have chosen a better time to get his first hit of the postseason, rifling a single up the alley in right center, sending home Molina and Eckstein and sending the Angels to a 3-1 lead. That lasted long enough for Garret Anderson to line one to Millar for the unassisted inning-ending double play, and for Millar in the top of the sixth to reach on an infield hit, after Trot Nixon chopped into area code 4-6-3. And Jason Varitek, the bullish Red Sox catcher, could not have chosen a better time to get his second hit of the postseason. Colon left a fast ball high over the middle of the plate, and Varitek left it high and five rows up the right field bleachers, re-tying the game in practically the blink of a Rally Monkey's eye.
There went any ideas Colon had about handing his bullpen a 3-1 lead. Francisco Rodriguez took over in the second and got into fast enough crisis when Figgins, ordinarily a serviceably versatile fielder who can be brilliant, misplayed Mueller's two-strike bounder to second, running into the ball rather than letting it meet him, bobbling enough to let Mueller reach first, coming out for pinch runner (and erstwhile Dodger) Dave Roberts. Figgins almost atoned when Damon bounced one to Eckstein at short, taking the throw to bag Roberts and then turning deftly, throwing low and smart to Erstad at first, but just behind the grinding Damon, who stole second swiftly enough.
But Figgins's miscue was mild enough. First, Bellhorn took a walk on a big, parabolic curve that dropped in awful close to the corner, the kind of borderline strike denied both sides' pitchers most of the night, and that brought up Ramirez, who fell behind 1-2 to Rodriguez, before K-Rod unsheathed a diving slider that hit the dirt and Molina's mitt and let the runners move up. Ruled a wild pitch because it hit the dirt first, the real problem was Molina trying for the ball as though a shortstop in catcher's disguise, rather than throwing himself over to block the ball full body, letting Damon take third and Bellhorn take second, before Ramirez skied one to center field deep, Anderson hauling it down but Damon coming home where a properly blocked plate would have kept him at second or, at most, let him have third but with two out.
The Angels escaped in the hole by a run again, and Figgins did his absolute best to atone for his part in that stumble in the bottom of the seventh. After the Red Sox sent out their defencive replacements Kevin Youkilis (to third) and Doug Mientkiewicz (to first), and Eckstein fought a one-out mini-epic against Martinez before flying out deep to left on a twelfth pitch, Figgins tried a mini-epic of his own, working a full count and fouling off pitches, until he set for a tenth pitch
and Martinez drilled a hole in his bat with a filthy third strike.
Rodriguez had a slightly simpler time of escaping a mild enough eighth inning jam, even after Molina's brother Bengie took over behind the plate and missed a high rider that flew for a wild pitch and let Mientkiewicz and Varitek move up to third and second, getting Damon to rip a fast grounder to second that Figgins juggled for just one second before holding on and throwing Damon out by a step. The Red Sox bullpen endured a leadoff knock from Erstad off Mike Timlin, when Timlin swished Guerrero and lefthanded sidewhipper Mike Myers swished Anderson, before closer Keith Foulke came in to drop a called strike three on Glaus on a pitch that had previously been called a ball all night, on both sides.
Then the Angels went to Brendan Donnelly, their other customarily no-brainer setup reliever, and he began the Boston ninth sharply enough by getting Bellhorn to fly out to Guerrero. Ramirez ripped a liner down the left field line for a hit and took second when DaVanon's throw came in just late. Donnelly put Ortiz on intentionally to get to Nixon, who worked the count full before lacing one up the middle to push Ramirez home and Ortiz to second. After Gabe Kapler pinch ran for Nixon, Figgins looked like he was taking the mojo right out of the Red Sox's pocket and keeping the deficit to two, when he made a running grab on Mientkiewicz's slow grounder toward first, as Erstad had broken down the line, and took it to first for the unassisted out.
That break lasted only long enough for Varitek to draw a free pass. And Cabrera lined one just beyond Eckstein's upstretched leap and past converging outfielders, clearing the bases and making all but certain that even the customarily pushing-back Angels had little push to push against Foulke in the ninth, who got rid of them in swift order to send the round to Fenway with a two games to none advantage.
"These two games," said Scioscia after the game, "they've taken it to us. We haven't gotten into our game like we can." They also haven't taken advantage of quite as many Red Sox missteps as the Red Sox have theirs. And time enough arrives when mere tenacity is not exactly enough. But the Angels haven't far to look to remind themselves of that lesson. Looking and remembering a mere two years back in their history should do the job well. That and remembering that these Red Sox are not exactly pushovers.
HOUSE OF HORRORS
ALDS GAME ONE: TWINS 2, U.S. STEEL 0 (TWINS LEAD 1-0)
Something wicked this way comes, and it's not just the New York Yankees. No, it's also the baffling way in which the postseason turns relatively decent ballplayers into something different: into victims or heroes or the undead. Last night's playoff might just have been produced by the Hammer company
But first of all, let me admit that I'm thankful for foam. Foam or padding or futon batting, whatever it is that the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball pad their outfield fences with. The same stuff stunt men tumble into from ten story falls. For you see, once upon a time, in the borough of Brooklyn, there used to be a great outfielder by the name of Pete Reiser. Pete was oft considered the greatest ballplayer ever, a power hitter who could hit for average and a fielder who could catch anything. Except that he often ran into walls. Back then the walls were made of wood or concrete. Pete, being a tough man but much softer than concrete or even pine, often lost his battles against the wall. He was often injured and his career cut short, his days as a regular over at age 28.
So, when I see Torii Hunter go smashing into the relatively-pillowish comfort of the centerfield wall, I'm glad as heck that the powers that be decided to cushion the impact. That is, until Fox showed replays of Torii whacking his head on the bar that holds up the baggy in the Metrodome centerfield months back. Then I think, man, they just don't get it here. After all, it took the Twins how many years to replace the tendon-ripping, seam-busted shag that used to serve as the outfield floor? Too long, I think.
Watching Hunter smash into the centerfield wall and steal Alex Rodriguez's double and then to see replay after replay of his being knocked unconscious made me realize that this was no ordinary game, but something more bizarre, more fraught with
evil? than your normal postseason match. This was the most white-knuckled Twins games since
well, since last year's game one squeaker, in which the Twins scratched out just enough runs to beat a Yankee squad that looked like the living dead. Only this year things were supposed to be different. The Twins have a bona-fide ace in Johan Santana, they have a monster slugger in Justin Morneau, they have a grinning Torii Hunter who claims that this year's team won't have any trouble getting fired up. But, just when everything seems so idyllic in Lumberton suddenly you find an ear in an empty lot and the freaks start coming out of the woodwork.
Like ace Johan Santana's penchant for shaking off his catcher, throwing straight-on strikes that were hit for miles (but went foul or into the glove of daredevil Torii Hunter), and balls that missed by miles and miles. Or the fact that the Yanks had a runner each and every inning he pitched. The fact that, in order to get out of those innings, the Twins relied on fourcount 'emfour double plays in his stead. And how about the seeing Shannon Stewart's flailing about for Miguel Cairo's double in left field, quite like the victims in "Open Water", barely able to stay afloat, and throwing worse than
seriously, he throws only a shade better than I do for a softball team that lost 20 games this season. While a healthy Lew Ford is the DH. These are decisions akin to opening a closet in a dark house while a maniac's in the 'hood. Stupid, just plain stupid.
Who's the hero? The one who screeches the loudest and manages to escape the claw? Jacque found himself in bad situations all night: striking out with his bat on his shoulder, down 1-2 in the first; grounding out after falling behind 0-2 in the third; then, flailing at a first pitch strike, he manages to shoot one o'er the left field wall above Godzilla. Then pops out to the same after his best count yet, 1-1. I guess that makes him the hero.
Mike Mussina had the same problems most of the "Friday the 13th" films havehe's either one heck of a maniac or his victims are so weak, stunned, and deserving of dispatch that Stewart Smalley could run rampant amongst them. Torii Hunter made weak swings most of the night, Cristian Guzman bunts on two outs in the second, Lew Ford and Justin Morneau played like they were in a George A. Romero movieyou can't escape slow running zombies? What's the matter with you? These two "sluggers" didn't hit a ball out of the infield and struck out three times between them. Shannon Stewart came through, knocking in a run on his single in the third, but, once again, he opened the game with a nice infield hit and was left standing on second. Four of the nine innings were one-two-three affairs, add one in the seventh in which a hit was stolen by Cuddyer's being caught stealing. This type of offense isn't going to work the whole series.
And yet, the maniac is dispatched in the end, usually in a manner that stretches the imagination, and the good guys emerge bloody and coated in gore. Although I wouldn't call Santana dominant, he pitched well, and the Yanks just couldn't get their guys home. We played 'small-ball' to Tim McCarver's liking, played solid defense, and would up with the "W". But the maniac is not dead, he just has a big spike jutting through his chest, ready to stand up and terrify us in the sequels: if the Twins are going to emerge from this postseason, they're going to have to do some of the frightening themselves.
-Peter Schilling Jr.
"I CAN'T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME WE HAD A LEAD"
NLDS GAME TWO: CARDINALS 8, L. A. BUMS 3 (CARDS LEAD 1-0)
Somewhere in the recess of sense and sensibility there whispers an ominous voice that tells you something just might be wrong somewhere, when a player who had to miss the final five days of the regular season can say, after you have been rolled out in the first postseason game, "I can't remember the last time we had a lead."
Milton Bradley's enforced sit-down something about an idiot brigadier in Dodger Stadium, throwing a bottle toward him in right field after an error more of circumstance than anything, provoking him to slam said bottle on the rail, for which the idiot brigadiers in the press sought to run him out of town on the proverbial cold steel rail seems if nothing else to have cleared his mind enough to say that miracles, pace John Lennon, are usually what happen when you're busy making other plans.
These Dodgers spent Game One of their National League Division Series playing as though, any moment now, they expected the St. Louis Cardinals to just stand aside and make the proper enough room for the pre-ordained comeback that had become a Dodger signature in regular season distress. Except that the only thing for which the Redbirds made room was an 8-3 romp over the Dodgers, who need to get busy making other plans and in reasonable enough time.
They got as many hits as the Cardinals and that was where their commonalities ceased. Mainly because they left two more men on base than the Cardinals, they could not and did not hit with men on base, and their pitching already tenuous enough before they open up their formidable bullpen is tattered enough that holding their own will not even get these four and twenty Redbirds into the crust, forget baking the pie.
Woody Williams may not be the top of the pitching heap but he was as good as Odalis Perez was not, punctuated cruelly enough in the St. Louis third. That Eighth Amendment violation only began with Larry Walker's leadoff bomb into the right field stands, continuing with Edgar Renteria doubling home Albert Pujols (who had found the far side of the fence in the first for a prompt enough 1-0 Cardinal lead) and Scott Rolen and then Jim Edmonds dialing not far from Walker's area code for a two-run belt and a 6-0 St. Louis lead. So much for those 3-for-21 (Renteria, in the final six season's games) and 1-for-29 slumps (Edmonds). Somewhere amidst the munitions did Perez ring up two outs but now he left with a humbling better pitchers have known and few have shrugged off unscathed for the hour.
Said Perez before the series began: "If we beat St. Louis, we're going to win the World Series. If we beat them, this is it: Dodgers, champions." Said Perez after the game, "They got a good team. I don't really know what happened."
Said Williams, who performed yeoman's work in keeping the Dodgers to two measly runs Jayson Werth's fifth-inning RBI double (scoring Cesar Izturis) and Alex Cora's sixth-inning RBI triple (scoring Adrian Beltre) over six innings, before the game: "I wish in all regards that I was in the spot they originally put me in, which means everyone is healthy and ready to go. Hopefully I'll go out there and do my thing and keep my team in the game.''
Williams could have thrown kreplach right down the pipe and the Cardinals would still have had more to worry about keeping him in the game, by the time the third inning barrage had ebbed. Perez gave way to Elmer Dessens, who finished off the third with no further damage, then suffered only the buckshot of Mike Matheny's solo smash past the left field fence while working an otherwise painless enough fourth. Mostly, the Dodger bullpen pitched up to their advance notices, the sole soiling being Walker taking Giovanni Carrara yard in the eighth.
If only the Dodgers had hit up to their bullpen's steadiness. About the only dent they dinged in the Cardinals' armour was backup catcher Tom Wilson, spelling starter Brent Mayne, denting closer Jason Isringhausen for a two-out bomb over the center field fence in the ninth. Half in relief that one was all Wilson would get for his ballistics, and perhaps half in a curiously sweatless calm, Isringhausen pinned the final out and the Cardinals pinned the W on the tree.
But Tony LaRussa and company know that, for all their incendiary offence, they are not exactly assured a romp the rest of the way. The good news: They send 15-game winner Jason Marquis out Thursday to square off against Jeff Weaver, to whom the Cardinals have been slightly abusive this season. The bad news: Marquis had a .275 opponents' batting average against him for the regular season and a 1.42 walks/hits per inning pitched ratio, even if he was a little less merciful toward the Dodgers on the season.
The Dodgers and the Cardinals did not meet in season until September, as it happens. The Redbirds swept the Dodgers in St. Louis; the Dodgers took two of three in Los Angeles. Four out of those six games were settled by a single run, including the two Dodger wins. The Dodgers don't have the luxury now of saving it for Chavez Ravine, but the Cardinals have the luxury of saving it for the fifth game at Busch if they want it. At the very least, the Dodgers should get to work on restoring Milton Bradley's memory of actually having a lead.
THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
I've never been able to understand the old adage that baseball consists of men playing a child's game. Baseball is not a child's game. Baseball is a game in which children try to learn the complexities of adult life, in which they try to emulate the adults who are performing feats that kids wish desperately they could do. It is a maze of rules and disciplines, of equipment that must be mastered, played on a field with borders, with directions telling each player where to run, where to throw, where to hit a ball with a stick. Children's games are virtually devoid of rules, allowing the imagination to run free, for spontaneity not only to rule, but to be virtually unchecked. When fathers play catch with sonsas the old saw singsfathers aren't reaching back into childhood as much as leading, in small steps, their child toward adulthood. Baseball is about controlling yourself, about competition, and it serves as a means by which childrenwho are constantly frustrated about their lack of control in lifecan try and reach for that elusive and mysterious land of adulthood.
This is never more evident than in the October Country. The postseason is a time when baseball is concentrated into its most exciting self. We get to see the best teams face off, the best pitchers against the best hitters coached by the best managers. But it is also a time when the shmucks of the sport rise up and lead tehir teams. Sometimes, it is a place where the heroes of the game fall apart. This is one of the things I've always loved about the postseason. When I played baseball on the sandlot as a kid (and yes, I did have a sandlot), I was always pretending to be the guy who couldn't hit in the regular season but tore the cover off the ball in the chill of October. It helped that my reality was similar. Being a kid who could barely hit out of the infield, it thrilled me to see guys like the Royals' Dane Iorg hit knock in the winning runs in Game Six of the '85 series versus the Cardinals (a team, by the way, that he .529 for in the '82 classic). It was his only hit in two at-bats. What a guy! I ask you: who among us hasn't projected themselves into the World Series, as kids or adults, of smacking the game winning home run? Of pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees? We watch and our children watch and there's fantasy and reality playing out in front of our eyes. That's what this season is all about.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm not still pretending. There's never been a better pitcher for the Detroit Tigers than yours trulyheck, I'm the last guy to win 30 games in my mind. My fantasies are severely tempered, of course, by the grim reality that there's no 36 year old who has never played organized ball who broke into the major leagues. Or had so little upper body strength. Or lack of physical grace. When I was a kid I really believed that I could one day make the Tigers proud. Maybe this is why we think of baseball as a child's gamethe dream, adults know, is only a dream. Kids can still hope that they might really play in a World Series.
Once again, Mudville Magazine is going to be posting daily updates on the postseason, almost every day. You'll get first hand views from section 212, row 5, right above the baggy. I'll be sitting in the right field stands, hoping to snag a Morneau homer, hoping that Johan Santana does to the Bombers what Koufax did thirty years earlier, hoping against hope that the Twins are for real and not just another Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 90s, or Texas Rangers of the late 90s (three division titles, no pennant). Should the Twins fail to advance, my dispatches (as well as West Coast correspondant Jeff Kallman's) will come to you from the Mudville Tower in St. Louis Park.
by Peter Schilling Jr.
Looking back over last year's entries, it has occurred to me that this year's Twins seem to be made up of players who, for once, take Teddy Roosevelt's famous line to heart: speak softly and carry a big stick. A.J., fist-pumping Eddie Guardado, Denny Hocking and all-yak, no-hit Doug Mientkiewicz are gone, replaced by the more subdued players. This year's players certainly won't be snapping their gum at first or barking at the opposition from behind home, but if they let their bats speak for them, then I'm all ears.
All I really want this postseason is a tough Division Series. Yes, I would love to see the Twins march on to the World Series. Failing that, I definitely would ask not for a rematch of last year's Yankee sweep (and yes, even though the Twins won the first game, it certainly felt like a sweep).
Although I've written in the past that the October Country belies predictions, this year I'm going to throw my hat in the ring. Has anyone else noticed that the Twins have the opportunity to have a rematch of all of their previous World Series appearances? The Braves ('91), Cardinals ('87), and Dodgers ('65). What this means, I don't know. That Houston will be triumphant? Good question. Here, for the sake of no one, are my predictions for this postseason.
In the American League:
Twins defeat U. S. Steel in four.
Red Sox outlast the Angels in four.
Twins defeat the curs'd Sox in six.
In the elder league:
Atlanta bests Houston in five.
Dodgers roll over the Cardinals in four.
Dodgers beat Atlanta in five in revenge for '91. And because no matter how much the underdog the Braves may be, they won't go to the series again.
And then the Twins, behind ace Johan Santana, defeat Dodgers in seven rough and tumble games. The worst case scenario is always present: Yankees vs. Braves. Would there be a more dull series than that?
Although MudvilleMagazine is publishing at the speed of a blog, that doesn't mean you can't find some time to read the guys who have been working hard all year. Twins fans, check out Brad Zellar's Yard (full of Tiger Beat coverage of the Twins, and pressing readers to try and figure out a player's political leanings), and John Bonnes Twins Geek, which will no doubt have some fascinating coverage, and hopefully less on the Vikings. For those of you from other parts of the country, check out Baseball News Blog for a list of your team's bloggers. Why read the same old garbage in the dailies when you can get great coverage online? Ink stained hands aren't that great, are they?
NO DODGING THE ANGELS
by Jeff Kallman
"This year, however, there is going to be a change I'd like some predictions on your part," said the extinguished editor of this august journal, whose gifts include an insouciant ignorance toward the Eighth Amendment. "None of this evasive stuff." Apparently, the idea that baseball is a preponderantly unpredictable game, and that baseball's convoluted-enough postseason array is even more so unpredictable, eludes his sensibilities.
But then he is a Minnesota Twins fan and thus to be handled with care, which seems far greater the deference than that which he would confer upon a man of my cruel affliction. Bad enough: I am a Boston Red Sox fan since the 1967 pennant race. (I write, and the Red Sox versus the Anaheim Angels commences, on the anniversary of Jim Lonborg's one-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, evening the 1967 World Series at one apiece.) Worse: I am also an Anaheim Angels fan, since my transplant to southern California in 1999, to say nothing of a Los Angeles Dodgers fan since likewise. This is clearly enough a postseason destined in one or another way to provoke a spike in my household's antidepressant revenues.
Very well, I surrender. Namely because I can rant my head off and it would matter not two pins, because he is the extinguished editor of this august journal, he can make the rules, and those who worship baseball teams playing in malsculpted aircraft hangars deserve our sympathy and indulgence. Therefore, and with one hand gently across my nose
Division Series. American League: The Angels, in five; the Twins, in five. The Red Sox can outmash the Angels slightly, but the Angels can play just a little more run, gun, and stun than the Olde Towne Team, provided they can get past the Red Sox's starters and into a bullpen which is splendid enough but not quite as pestiferous as the Angels'. The Empire's advantage is that Johan Santana can't face them every day; their disadvantage is that their pitching, beyond Mike Mussina and before The Mariano, looks worse than what remains of Florida after Chuck, Flo, Ivan the Terrible, and Jeanne.
National League: Dodgers in five; Astros in five. Perhaps running away with the National League Central proves to do the Redbirds no favours; perhaps finishing 18-12 compared to the Dodgers' 16-15 finish down the stretch does look deceptive in light of the Dodgers' comeback knack. (Not to mention the high off which the Dodgers arrive from their shutout-buster of a comeback division clinching win.) As with the Red Sox v. the Angels, the likely difference maker will be the bullpen, particularly the bridge men. The Astros' late season wild card surge while the Chicago Cubs imploded puts them in splendid position to send the Braves to their customary premature exit, though the Braves' own self-revival surely means a couple of wins before the inevitable dispatch.
League Championship Series, American League: Angels in seven. The Twins will hunger for revenge for 2002. And they will exit starving in spite of a bold fight.
National League: Dodgers in seven. There's just a little more lightning in both the Dodgers' bottle and bullpen, and you would have to tip an advantage to any team who shoves the best team in the league this season to one side.
World Series: Dodgers v. Angels; Angels in seven. There is, against all logic, set, and reason, a certain sense of surreality in this postseason air. Meaning that not only did the Dodgers and their one-time tenants (yes, children, the Angels played their first four seasons' home games in Chavez Ravine while awaiting their own playpen, back in the day) finish atop their respective divisions for the first time ever in the same season, but they will shake hands and come out fighting in this year's World Series. And they will both play mostly as though their lives depend upon it just imagine, this time for the only legitimate interleague play, Beltre, Finley, Lima Time, Monsieur Gagne and company against Vlad the Impaler, the Killer Es (Erstad and Eckstein), the Road Runner (Figgins), and K-Rod - but it will likely be the Angels taking the big prize, though not by much.
There. I have said it. Excuse me now while I head for the purification bath.
HANK BOROWY, RIP: A NOISY PASSAGE FOR THE QUIET MAN
By Jeff Kallman
Hank Borowy's passage from this island earth August 24 was far more quiet than his 1945 mid-season passage from the New York Yankees to the Chicago Cubs. How noisy was that passage? On the day the Yankees sent him to the Cubs for $97,000, an airplane smacked into the Empire State Building. Borowy got equal time in New York's conversation that day.
The move afforded this otherwise private man three distinctions. He became baseball's first pitcher to win ten or more games for each of two teams in one season. (Bartolo Colon in 2002 became the second.) He was the last pitcher to be seen recording a World Series win in a Chicago Cub uniform.
And you can thank two things for that: Larry MacPhail, then a co-owner as well as the operational boss of the Yankees; and, a reputed problem with pitching hand blisters that landed Borowy - considered at the time one of the American League's best pitchers, with or without the league depletion from World War II - on the waiver wire going unclaimed by every team in baseball other than one, in spite of his 10-5 record by mid July 1945.
If you don't count Borowy's two World Series wins against the Detroit Tigers and his gallant willingness to try for a third, in the seventh game, on a single day's rest (about which more anon), what is probably remembered most is that Borowy probably meant the pennant for the Cubs in the first place. He went 11-2 for Wrigleyville, put up an ERA exactly 1.00 lower (2.13) than he'd put up in the first half with the Yankees, ended up with baseball's best winning percentage on the year, and beat the Cubs' prime pennant rivals (the St. Louis Cardinals) three times down the stretch.
What is probably remembered least is that there were those who believed to their souls that MacPhail was trying to pull the proverbial fast one on the Cubs. Running the Brooklyn Dodgers a few years earlier, MacPhail had mulcted Billy Herman from the Cubs in a move that all but meant the pennant for the 1941 Bums.
Perhaps Cubs' general manager Jim Gallagher pondered hard whether MacPhail was trying to play the wallet on the string trick. But those ponderings probably ended when Gallagher returned home that night to learn MacPhail had called six times in his absence. Citing a Collier's article, Gallagher recorded that a three a.m. call to MacPhail in New York produced but one query: "How about it, Gallagher, do you want Borowy or not?"
Oh, yes they would. Was it hubris? Brain vapor? Or did Borowy's blister problems finally burn MacPhail closely enough? "Borowy appears to have outlived his usefulness with the Yankees," he said of a pitcher who had just won ten games for him but pitched only seven complete games in eighteen starts to do it. "Since April he has pitched only four complete games and appears to have outlived his usefulness to us."
Borowy may have become damaged goods in Yankeethink, but he may have touched a nerve with Cub fans as delighted as their team to have him aboard. First baseman Phil Cavaretta swore that the fans not only knew about Borowy's blister trouble (In Hank's middle finger, it would break the skin and actually you could see the inside of the finger, the veins and all.) but sent the pitcher remedy after remedy, from pickle brine to urine.
He also got sent to the mound for Game One of a World Series that earned its immortality before the first pitch was even thrown, when columnist Warren Brown cracked that he didn't think either team could win it. Borowy threw a six-hit shutout to beat Hal Newhouser 9-0, but he got no further than the sixth in losing Game Five. ("It was the fat men against the tall men in a game of picnic baseball," wrote Frank Graham.) And, then, he lost the Series by winning Game Six: Grimm, believing his men could get the game winner in the bottom of the ninth of a seven-all tie, brought in Borowy his scheduled Game Seven starter to pitch the top.
That's why they call it a gamble. It took four innings before the Cubs got that run and the win. Not that Borowy was necessarily worried. Believing the day off between Games Six and Seven would help enough, perhaps knowing best-rested Hy Vandenberg remained in Jolly Cholly's doghouse (something about a little too much partying and a New York hotel detective getting flattened in earlier season) he prevailed upon Grimm to let him go as scheduled.
He had nothing left but fumes; he was in trouble from the words "play ball", the Tigers loading the bases on him with three straight singles. The third provoked Grimm to bring in Paul Derringer, who gave up an RBI sacrifice (to Hank Greenberg, of all people), an intentional walk to re-load the bases, a pop out to third, a bases-loaded walk (to a light hitting third baseman named Jimmy Outlaw), and a bases-clearing double, before ending the inning. Then Jolly Cholly brought in Vandenberg, who threw four strong innings, three of them scoreless (the Tigers scored only one off him), before the Tigers post-Vandenberg scored three more to bag the Series behind Newhouser with a 9-3 win.
Borowy grew up a New Jersey boy and Yankee fan who got $500 more to sign than first proposed, after the Yankee rep who came to sign him proffered a pen that ran out of ink. His major league career (lifetime record: 108-82, 3.50 ERA) extended to 1950 but he had no another season close to 1945; he was a .500 pitcher for the 1949 Philadelphia Phillies, who shipped him after three 1950 games to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who shipped him in turn to finish his career with the team who had beaten him so fatefully in the '45 Series.
Borowy built a real estate business in his native Bloomfield, New Jersey, raising his family and retiring in the early 1990s. A widower late in life, he rejected most opportunities to keep any celebrity standing in baseball following his playing days. The Newark Star-Ledger actually got Borowy to do an interview in the 1980s. He declined being photographed and did the interview while mowing his lawn.
"When you've done your day's work," he said gently, "it's time to go home and talk about something else."
Three days after Borowy went to his reward, this year's Cubs' penchant for playing machoball and not fundamental baseball was rewarded with an explosion in their own faces. The Houston Astros against whom the Cubs tried continuing a slightly insane knockdown vendetta taught them a 15-7 lesson in manners to open; the Cubs finished with a 3-7 collapse in the final fortnight, playing two otherwise sickly teams (the Cincinnati Reds, the New York Mets). Leaving the Astros looking at the wild card in their hands and the Cubs looking in the mirror for the root of their problems and seeing
The Cubs have none to thank but themselves if enough will not allow them just to go home and talk about something else, now that their day's work is done, for the season that won't be the one Hank Borowy is bumped to one side as the last known Cub to win a World Series game.
AND THE WINNER IS...
Congratulations and thanks are due to each of our "You Own the Expos!" contest winners. This year's essay contest provided a cornucopia of different responses, from moving the Expos to Hawaii, Tokyo, to Havana (with Fidel Castro as National League President), New Jersey, Greenville, NC, Hamilton, ONT, Detroit, Mexico, Milwaukee, Olney, MD, and, of course, Washington and Portland and Vegas (which, of course, we've never heard before). Of course, a few readers wanted to keep the team where it was. Some of the more imaginative suggested taking the Expos back in time, another felt that if he owned the team it would propel him, like George W. Bush, into the White House. And one reader (who gave only their initials) wrote: "If suddenly the Montreal Expos fell into my lap, I would contemplate suicide. Death is better than bad baseball." Ouch. Thanks to everyone who entered.
The third place winner is Bob Compfort for his essay suggesting that the Expos move to the Czech Republic, where beer consumption is highest. Bob wins a copy of A Day In The Bleachers.
Second place goes to Paul Hirsch, for his interesting suggestion that the Expos move to Los Angeles and the Dodgers go back to Brooklyn.
Paul wins a copy of A Day in the Bleachers and Moneyball.
AND THE NEXT OWNER OF THE MONTREAL EXPOS:
A JARRYING EXPERIENCE
The girder-gray Quebec sky let loose its first snow. The flakes fluttered in the breeze, comfortable on either side of the infield tarp. It was August, early August, and it was then, in the ashen light that is Montreal in the dog days, that Coco Laboy turned to me and said, "You know, Jarry Park was never like this."
We had stood on the pitcher's mound at Stade Olympique for what seemed like hours. Indeed, it had been three hours since the 7,983 faithful had left following a 3-1 loss to the Padres. But it really seemed like four. One hot dog wrapper tumbled over the concrete steps in section 243. One. Tumbling. Wrapper.
"What are you going to do, now that you own this thing," Coco asked. I had sought Coco Laboy's opinion because I needed perspective. I had known of the Expos in his day. I had marveled at the flattened insect on the front of their hats, the odd colors that had nothing to do with Canada or Quebec, but everything to do with hockey. I wondered at the feats of Bob Bailey. I longed for the day when John Boccabella would be not just a word, but a word I could actually pronounce without that ridiculous French accent.
That day was here.
"Coco," I said. "We're not going far."
I scooped up the wrapper, put Coco in the rumble seat, and fired up the El Camino. The equipment bags were already in the back. The map was on the floorboard beside us. Good thing, I wasn't using the map.
Didn't need to. We were headed to Cooperstown.
"Coco, as a business, the Expos are a disaster," I said. "No one has paid to see them more than once since Rick Monday broke Montreal's hearts in 1981. But the game they play, that game is still baseball. It is still the game of boys, even French boys. And maybe it is time for the Expos simply to know baseball. I know of only one place where the game is pure, where the green field is enough, where the report of a fungo bat is a Sunday chime calling boys to a better place, where men weep simply at the sound of the name."
"What about the major leagues?" Coco asked. "Steinbrenner won't sit for the visitor's share from the Doubleday Field grandstand."
He was right, of course. And it was then I had to tell him the truth. The awful, adult truth. In English only. Because, in reality, there was nothing pure about Cooperstown, either. Not since that Tim Robbins thing. Or the Pete Rose thing. Or the Turkey Stearnes thing (that was OK, actually, it's just...well...his name was Turkey).
"Coco," my voice caught, "that's just it. There won't be any big leagues. There won't be any games. It's like an old aunt that everyone's forgotten until she passes, and you gather at the funeral, and you tell the stories, and you realize that she really was something in the 60s, but that that was a long time ago, and it felt good knowing that, but it felt just as good knowing those times were over, too.
"We're not taking them there to play. We're taking them there to die."
And we did. We didn't say anything more until we had put the last script "M" under third base at Doubleday Field, until we had finished our cheeseburgers and beers, until Coco Laboy, who, at age 29, hit 18 home runs career during that magical 1969 season and hit exactly ten more over the next four bi-lingual seasons, had aimed the El Camino to fresher climes.
This is what we put on the stone:
Rest in Peace
They were really something in the 60s.