FROGS RAIN DOWN UPON NEW ENGLAND; CHICAGO PREPARES DOWNTOWN "NOW WE'RE TOP LOSERS" PARADE; ECLIPSE REVEALS DEVIL HIDING IN THE SKIES ABOVE AMERICA; CALIFORNIA SLIPS INTO PACIFIC OCEAN WITH NARY A SOUND; BUSH-KERRY AGREE TO TIE (WILL SHARE PRESIDENCY); EXPOS TO REMAIN IN MONTREAL AS YANKEES PREPARE MOVE TO NATION'S CAPITAL; CATS ARE DOGS; BLACK IS WHITE; UP IS DOWN
WORLD SERIES GAME 4: BOSTON RED SOX 3, SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS 0 (RED SOX WIN SERIES IN SWEEP, 4-0)
At first I thought that I'd wake up this morning staring out at a bright green sky, shielding my eyes from the pair of suns hovering overhead, watching my neighbors adjust to our new underwater atmosphere. Elvis would be tending his lawn. I'd be able to speak fluent Esperanto and actually enjoy modern country music. The world as we know it had changed.
Of course, none of this happened (and if it did, that was some bad acid, pal), but the world is a different place this morning. But it's different in the way that history moves forward, altering the landscape as it moves across time like a glacier. After next Tuesday, our world will be different as well. History marches on. The inevitable always has its way.
Unfortunately, there's usually someone or something in the way. I wonder what is must have been like back in the late '30s, being a Frenchman and waiting there at the Maginot line, rifle in hand, shifting uncomfortably as you listen to the German tanks come rolling on over. Or sitting in your little fishing boat off the coast of Maine as maps, flashlights, pots, pans and cups are knocked asunder and rolling across your floor, and the hundred foot waves begin to roll come crashing over during the perfect storm. Sulking in the Dukakis HQ as the '88 election results roll in (that's my experience). Or hunched over in the Cardinals dugout last night, spitting sunflower seeds and wondering what you could have done differently.
For the Red Sox became a juggernaut on the night of Sunday, October 17, when they improbably beat the Yankees in extra innings to force a game five. From that moment on, as soon as David Ortiz tipped his helmet into the air and jumped into a braying pack of idiots, the Red Sox were going to win the whole thing. Finally, when the Championship Series was over (in what essentially amounted to the 2004 World Series), there began a series of exhibition games against the St. Louis Cardinals which would have offered little interest to the world at large had their not been such a thing as a curse. Or a comeback.
Last night, the world came to an end. And a new one begins today in Boston.
For there was no beating these Red Sox, and the Cardinals must have felt like Dewey going up against Roosevelt in '44. Myself, I hungered for a tight, seven-game match, a fantastic world series to match the goings-on of the championship series. But like the Yankees-Giants match following Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World", this was not meant to be
except that the come-from-behinders were the ones to make the classic a cakewalk. As if on doctor's orders, the men from Fenway kept the Massachusetts Brahmin from too many heart palpitations
this one looked as easy as an afternoon in the garden. No, the Red Sox weren't interested in coming back home to win it, in doing anything but just finishing the damn thing off, in taking the so-called curse, fitting it for concrete shoes and dropping it into the Mississippi River with a loud ker-plunk.
And how they did it! Pitching, pitching, pitching
and stealing some history. For the Sox did not seem content to play the baseball that wrenched the A.L. Pennant from the New York Yankees. As if to give homage to the Sox of the past, these Red Sox took cues from the teams of history, utilizing strategies, errors, psychology from the teams of old, even the Negro Leagues. That, apparently, is the only way to scuttle a curse borne from a player from so long ago.
Consider: the errors, especially Bill Mueller's, which did not cost this team a single game (and often times, not a single run). Had Mueller's glove shrunk to the size of the Babe's, nothing more than a leather oven mitt with which to catch bounding balls off a rocky infield?
Or how about Jason Varitek, who was suddenly filled with the irascible spirit of Biz Mackie, Negro Leagues stalwart. First inning of game three, Varitek stands by home plate as Manny Ramirez catches Jim Edmond's fly ball, fires to home where Varitek stands as if there's no play, hands at sides, and then, BOOM, snatches the ball in flight, turns and whacks the confused Larry Walker for the third out, the rally killer. Biz, who invented that play, would have been proud. Even if it helped the last team in baseball to integrate.
Curt Schilling pitching with blood soaking his shoe, his ankle betraying him, just as used to happen back in Ty Cobb's day. Blood streaming from cuts, from knife fights, from broken bones and decapitated heads. Surely he would have had to have sat out a game six if it went that far? Only if you would have pried the ball from his cold, dead hands
The Cardinals couldn't hit because the Red Sox suddenly had the greatest pitching staff in history. Schilling, Martinez, Lowe
these guys threw like two Whitey Fords and a Don Larsen nearing his best day. With speed, guile and the improbability of being able to throw when your ankle's gushing, they held the National League's Murderer's Row to four runs and thirteen hits
in three games? Tell me this isn't the 1920s all over again
The Cardinals did not squander an opportunity as much as get in the path of a team on its way to making a history. The Cardinals weren't anything but a small Brooklyn neighborhood under the hungry eye of Robert Moses. For years and years the Red Sox Nation had to stare in disbelief at the futility; now the shoe's on the other foot, and the New Englanders enjoy running barefoot through the streets.
Now the Red Sox have only to sit back and let their coffers fill as fans across the world don themselves in World Series souveniria. In thirty years, we may find ourselves cursing the Red Sox as we do the Yankees, and wishing that they would go straight to heck. Fifteen championships in the first three decades of the new century! Did we ever love these damn Sox?
Sure we do. Last week, the Red Sox put the noble sport on everyone's tongue, just as I imagine it did back before we stopped caring as a whole. For the last week, at work, people whispered about games in Boston and New York. Customers hurried along, trying to finish their shopping to get home and watch the game. Had the Muckity-Mucks saw fit to play these games in the afternoons, we'd have kids skipping school, sneaking radios, announcements updating the faithful, and many many suddenly sick children and adults. This was the last world series.
So maybe the world did come to an end last night. Maybe, for once, the whole of the world decided that it might just be fun to stop paying attention to a hateful election and stare for a moment at a baseball game. Republicans and Democrats and Liberals and Conservatives, Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh (baseball fans both) shut up long enough to hope for the Red Sox (and maybe for the Cards). Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to see it raining frogs. If it makes everyone this happy.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Thursday, October 28
THE PROMISED LAND
Leon Culberson threw a straight-on strike for Johnny Pesky to throw Enos Slaughter out at the plate, Tony Perez swung on and missed that blimp ball, Kevin Mitchell was held at second while Mookie Wilson grounded out to Bill Buckner, and Grady Little lifted Pedro in the eighth.
Fred Merkle touched second, and Johnny Evers didn't even think about sneaking a fresh ball onto the field. Fred Snodgrass caught that soft fly, and Ernie Lombardi stopped King Kong Keller cold at the plate. Mickey Owens held strike three, and Jolly Cholly Grimm took Hy Vandenburg out of the doghouse to start Game Seven.
Cal Abrams beat Richie Ashburn's throw home, and Ralph Branca smashed a strikeout on Bobby Thomson. Willie McCovey's liner drilled a hole in Bobby Richardson's gullet, and Leon Durham picked off Tim Flannery's roller. Tommy Lasorda ordered Jack Clark walked with first base open, and Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta out at first. Dave Henderson couldn't get his bat on Donnie Moore's diveaway slider, and Mitch Williams threw it just beyond Joe Carter's swish.
And Alex Gonzalez caught the double play hopper on the carom off his chest, while Aaron Boone merely hit a long fly to Manny Ramirez against the fence.
For every last goat who ever bleated a soft desperate cry across the twisted reaches of baseball's craziest sorrows, this one was for you.
For every last one among us who ever had to look back upon a life lived at the bittersweet mercies of outrageous malfortune, this one was for you.
For every last Chicago Cub, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indian, San Francisco Giant, and Houston Astro fan wondering whether your team is doomed to purgatory with an undetermined parole, this one was for you, too.
And anyone who says it ain't legitimate until there's a seventh game, made necessary by some unspeakable poltergeist arising before the sixth is over, should have been told to sit the hell down and shut the hell up, at the precise moment Edgar Renteriawith Albert Pujols on second, taking it on indifference after he singled his way on to start the inningbounced a 1-0 pitch back to Keith Foulke.
For a moment it looked as though Foulke himself could not believe what was happening to him. He practically tried to roll it into slow motion as he trotted to the first base side of the mound and then underhanded a soft toss to Doug Mientkiewicz at first for the out that will live as long as Boston itself.
The dogs on Main Street howl
`cause they understand
if I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land.
- Bruce Springsteen
"I don't believe in curse," said Manny Ramirez, after he walked off with the World Series Most Valuable Player award, though it probably should have gone to the Red Sox bullpen. "I believe you make your own destination." Johnny Damon made his on the fourth pitch of the night from St. Louis Cardinals starter Jason Marquis. He fired a 2-1 pitch over the right center field bullpen fence, and the Red Sox had taken the first lead for the fourth straight Series game.
Derek Lowe, who had gone from the Phantom Zone to the shared marquee with a sterling turn against the Yankees in the League Championship Series, made his with an even better outing than he threw at the Yankees. He threw seven shutout innings that looked deceptively cruising, escaping the odd spot here and there, and if the Red Sox had done nothing more after Damon found the bullpen it probably would have been sufficient.
Marquis pitched perhaps the most stout turn of any Cardinals starter in the Series and you felt for him that it was not quite enough even as you felt the weight of eighty-six years of disaster and desolation melted and washed away from the Red Sox and their devoted. If he was not quite to the level of Lowe he was nevertheless unrattled even when the Red Sox mulcted two more from him in the bottom of the third, through the courtesy of a postseason nemesis of his named Trot Nixon.
This time the poltergeists slept unto disintegration. Not even Tony La Russa shaking his lineup, restoring Tony Womack to leadoff and Renteria back to the low middle, in a severe bid to reverse the Red Sox' having never been behind in any Series game, could put a shiver into the Red Sox nervous system.
Not even when Pujols, off balance but on the pin, threw Manny Ramirez out at the plate, when Ramirez, following David Ortiz's double, trying to come home on Jason Varitek's grounder, did the Red Sox give any of those mischievious spirits room to breathe. Why, Bill Mueller practically dared them to spring up and prance when he hung in for the pad-loading pass from Marquis, before Nixon stepped in, teed off, and ripped a double high off the right center field wall to send in Ortiz and Varitek.
Not even under the snap of Renteria rifling a double up the alley in center off Lowe in the fifth and taking third on a legitimate wild pitchas in, over Varitek's head behind the plate and completely disappearing at the rear fencedid the Red Sox even think about setting those spirits an alarm clock.
Not even under a lunar eclipse or the momentary thunder of Jason Isringhausenthe heretofore unseen-in-the-series Cardinals closer, squirming his way scoreless out of an eighth-inning jam after walking Mark Bellhorn to load the basesdid the Olde Towne Team even hint that a pratfall, squeak, or blunder was merely waiting for its proper introduction.
Eighty-six years of suppressed tears of redemption began to pour from the eyes of Red Sox Nation as Foulke faced Pujols in the bottom of the ninth and surrendered a rippling single up the middle and between Foulke's legs. Was it possible that this time there was not a single Red Sox fan seeing that shot and fearing the worst that could happen, which customarily did happen?
No, wait a minute! This isn't the sixth or seventh game, ladies and gentlemen. The Red Sox found the real key. Don't let it get to the sixth or seventh game. While they're at it, make sure it only begins with the Evil Empire pinning them up against the wall, before they iron up down three to none and run the table all the way to the ring.
And when Foulke went to work on Scott Rolen following the Pujols hit, what flashed before the eyes of a Red Sox fan was something unlike anything that customarily flashed in the eleventh hour of any World Series threshold.
There flashed Tim Wakefield willing to take his lumps and spell a spent bullpen while the Yankees committed human rights violations in the third League Championship Series game that ended up relighting the pilot light of a Red Sox uprising. There flashed an accordingly resurrected bullpen who seemed suddenly not to care if they were pitching on one hour's sleep.
There flashed Bellhorn ringing foul poles from New York to Boston and Ortiz breaking the bottom-of-the-last monotony with a walkoff single. There flashed Curt Schilling's Blood Sock and Pedro Martinez's changeup, Lowe on two days rest and Dave Roberts playing cops and robbers and pilfering the comeback starting base. There flashed Alex Rodriguez behaving like a Central Park mugger with Bronson Arroyo and Damon unable to hit unless it was time to tie down the prize.
And right in front of their very eyes, were Gabe Kapler and Damon standing side by side, in that order, press cameras trained right into their backs, as they waited for the Cardinals to take a turn at the plate that only too soon became theirs not to command and control. Taking Kapler to Damon, left to right, the numbers 19 and 18 told a story almost as soul deep as the number worn by the final Cardinal out the Red Sox needed to bag for the redemption too long elusive. The number too long haunting a Boston suddenly having to plan the rest of its life, now that the Promised Land has graduated from mountaintop vision to river-crossed present.
Thursday, October 28
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (WORLD SERIES EDITION)
THE GOOD: Who the Hell do you think?
The Red Sox didn't just win the World Series, but kindly sandwiched the greatest postseason history in all off American professional sports into two fairly mediocre series. Their comeback from the Yankees was so magnificent that it shined on the whole of October, bringing happiness and drunken rioting to Boston. Thanks to the Sox for making baseball the nation's sport once again
THE BAD: The Fox Network
I think my loathing for Fox finally came to a rolling boil when the Series ended last night, and they wasted valuable time showing Jimmy Fallon kissing some gal on the field. As if there was no one else in the world they could have given us an image of. That, added to the inane conversation of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, which is only growing worse, and the barrage of advertisements for their reality crap, seems to reflect their commitment to the notion that Americans are the dumbest, most selfish human beings on earth. We're not, but you wouldn't know from watching Fox.
THE UGLY: The Atlanta Braves
Boy, they're really stretching our interest. Yes, the Braves had the type of year that many say is an incredible, overcoming a plethora of personnel changes, etc. to make it back into the playoffs
only to lose in five in the first round. Again. And again. And again. These guys are taking up space, and it's important to remember that baseball is an entertainment. Eleven years of these guys is getting to be about as exciting as a new "Friday the 13th". Which is to say, not at all. Let someone else have a chance. Anyone else. Especially Montreal.
VULTURES MANHANDLED BY PARAKEETS
WORLD SERIES GAME TWO: OLDE TOWNE TEAM 4, CARDINAL SPELLMANS 1 (RED SOX LEAD SERIES, 3-0)
Let us put it this way, as politely as possible, and we will start with the way New England and all Red Sox Nation is tempted to see it:
The best offensive team in the National League ran themselves out of two prospectively big innings against the pitching ace emeritus of the best offensive team in the American League Tuesday night. And because the St. Louis Cardinals couldn't run themselves into an early upending rally when they were down a mere 1-0, they left the Boston Red Sox room to move within one game from running the table, winning the World Series, and leaving the title of baseball's most accursed team up for grabs.
And now, the way the deeper Midwest and all Cardinal Country, has little choice but to see it:
So the Cardinals are down three games to none? Big deal. We are not exactly talking the end of the world as we know it and nobody feels fine yet. This is not exactly like a century has passed since the last time someone came back from a 3-0 postseason deficit. Hey, that's rightthe Red Sox pulled that rabbit just last week. And are these not the Red Sox, still? You know, the guys who make the mountaintop, get a good long look at the Promised Land, and find yet another way to kick themselves off the peak and down to the rocks?
If the close of business Wednesday shows the biggest Valium and Prozac sales spike in New England history, you read it here first.
Get a good night's sleep if you can, Red Sox Nation. Because Johnny Pesky still has yet to throw home, Bill Lee is still winding up to throw that blimp ball to Tony Perez, and Bob Stanley still has Kevin Mitchell on second while prepping to throw the two-strike pitch to Mookie Wilson. And sleep the sleep of the just, Cardinal Country. You have one game left to figure out some way to avoid making more mistakes on the bases than the Red Sox have made with the leather in the Serious thus far.
Oops! The Red Sox finally left their defensive impressions of the 1962 Mets at the hotel. They could have picked no more exemplary time to prove it than the bottom of the first, right after they tenderized St. Louis starter Jeff Suppan in the top, for a pair of hard hit line drive outs (Johnny Damon to right, Orlando Cabrera to left center), before Manny Ramirez drove a 2-2 pitch into the left field loge. That was because the Cardinals could have picked no less exemplary time to prove that, well, running the bases like the 1962 Mets was a dirty job but somebody had to do it.
It was Ramirez himself, of all people, who switched on the prime leather in the bottom of that inning, and he had Larry Walker to thank for the assist. Walker wrung a one-out walk out of Pedro Martinez before Albert Pujols smashed a bullet up the line that Bill Mueller had little enough choice but to settle for a knockdown and keep it to first and second on a single. After Scott Rolen walked to load up the pads, Jim Edmonds lofted one to shallow left. Ramirez was all but close enough to shake hands with Walker on third before catching the ball. Walker tagged and ran anyway, and Ramirez made sure Jason Varitek had a tag waiting for him at the plate.
Suppan seemed to round himself back into shape enough when he dispatched the Red Sox in order in the top of the second, and he looked almost better when he led off the bottom by bouncing one slowly off to the third base side and beat it out for a leadoff hit. Edgar Renteria lined one that flew past Damon's head in center field when the spiritual leader of the Idiots slipped on the muddy warning track, putting Suppan on third and Renteria on second and setting up
a rally killing, inning ending double play.
Walker grounded one to the right side and Red Sox second baseman Mark Bellhorn threw swiftly enough to David Ortiz playing first, to keep his club in the lineup in the National League park. Under ordinary circumstances a man on third scores on this play, and the Red Sox have been singularly unafraid to surrender a run to get an out. Except that when Renteria took off for third on the bounder, Suppan stopped dead a few steps after breaking for home, perhaps possessed just long enough by the ghost of Marvelous Marv. Ortiz threw a dead on strike to Mueller at third, and you can score it two double plays on two running rocks in two innings.
The Redbirds needed that about as badly as John F. Kerry needs another Swift Boat veteran or George W. Bush another Patriot Act, on a night the Red Sox had no further intent to commit errorist attacks and Martinez had no further intent to pretend his fastball had re-signed its loyalty oath.
That is because his curve ball, his slider, and his changeup especially had elected not to sleep with the enemy. In five of his seven shutout innings, Martinez all but shoved the Cardinals aside in order, before Mike Timlin worked a spotless eighth and Keith Foulke's ninth was interrupted only by Walker's almost excuse-me solo over the left center field fence, before luring Pujols to fly out to Ramirez and dropping strike three called on Rolen.
What a difference a year makes. Last October, Martinez reached back for pitches he no longer had, after Grady Little committed to his heart, the Yankees tied it to chase him, and Aaron Boone plunged the latest stake into an overcrowded Red Sox heart. This October, making it to the World Series at last, he looked like the virtuoso pitcher who knew exactly what to do when the fastball defected. And he left the Cardinals looking like they knew anything except what to do and how to do it.
Among the Cardinals' Fearsome Four, only Walker has found the far side of the fence even once, never mind twice with nobody on. (The Four Floggers are zippo-for-12 with men in scoring position, by the way.) Through the end of Game Three, they went 10-for-45 with four walks overall. Remove Walker, and they become a Terrible Trio (5-for-33 overall); remove Pujols, and they become a Dysfunctional Duo (1-for-21 overall). Remove Rolen, and Edmonds (2-for-15 with men in scoring position for the entire postseason) becomes a Sad Soloist, with one measly bunt single since that bottom-of-the-twelfth belt that told the one-win-away Houston Astros not so fast, boys.
Add that to the Red Sox scoring first in four straight and five of its past six postseason games, and producing ten of its first 21 World Series runs with two outs, and the Olde Towne Team has made the Wrecking Redbirds resemble a pack of vultures being manhandled by a flock of parakeets.
And when the Red Sox fall off the proverbial page, it means something like the fifth inning Tuesday night. Damon doubled to open, Cabrera singled him to third, and Ramirez singled him home, and then Ortiz flied out to Edmonds in center and Jason Varitek forced Ramirez at second. Then Mueller stood in and he might as well have hollered, "All right, boys, back on task!" before he singled home Cabrera and ended Suppan's already ruined evening. Make ten out of 21 runs the Red Sox have produced with two outs.
Ah, well. He'll always have the night he outpitched Roger Clemens for the pennant. Unless his mates figure out a way to do to the Red Sox what the Red Sox did to the Yankees. Simple, no? If those guys can come back from the grave after the Yankees laid the worst beating of the season on them, WE ought to be able to come back from a lousy 4-1 loss, right?
Right. All the Cardinals have to do is find a miracle for bicep nerve damaged Chris Carpenter, overcome the rest of their suspect starting pitching (which probably requires a miracle for Chris Carpenter and his bicep nerve damage), turn off the Red Sox's pestiferous bats, stand up to a Red Sox bullpen that knows everything except how you are supposed to behave when working mostly on fumes, and bring their golf clubs to hit against Derek Lowe's unexpectedly revived array of diving sliders and sliding sinkers. Andoh, yesmake sure they can't even think about sending Curt Schilling for one more trip to the tailor.
There is but one problem with that theory. The Red Sox may have found a way to flummox their usual evil winds at last. Their worst of times tend to happen when they take the other guys to sixth- or seventh-game eliminations. But a Game Four elimination? This time, the Red Sox ghosts have at least a fifty-fifty chance of having no clue when they come (sit the hell down and shut the hell up, Professor Berra) to the fork in the road.
Wednesday, October 27
NOT FROM ANYWHERE ANYMORE
Sometimes when the mood strikes, I find myself taking a drive around the Twin Cities in search of a quiet bar or tavern, some place that looks like it has its share of characters but isn't too seedy, and settle down for a drink. I found a place at the edge of the trendy part of Uptown, outside of Minneapolis, where they will still allow smoking for a few weeks after the city enacts its ban (and when its business will no doubt bloom). These days we're fortunateevery bar has at least one good tap beer amongst the worst corporate dishwater, often times the local Summit or James Page brews, in this case the old Irish standby, Guinness. I pulled myself up to the corner of the bar where there wasn't any television to distract me. I still don't know why anyone would play "Everybody Loves Raymond" with the sound off (or with the sound on for that matter), though inevitably they do, just as inevitably there's a shiny-eyed guy who finds the show hilarious even though he can't hear it. So I sat and mused over my stout, listening to the giggles at the end of the bar, listening to the Garth Brooks, then the Steely Dan, then the Paul Simon, and then the Pearl Jam coming out of the box. The place smelled of hamburgers and cigarettes. People discussed the Vikings. I didn't think about the election. It appeared that no one did.
But there was an elderly gentleman almost at my elbow; a single barstool separated us. To be honest, I may have chosen my seat to be in proximity to this fellow. First, let me say that he drank like that insipid line in the Billy Joel song: "making love to his tonic and gin." He'd roll the drink around, stare at it lovingly, then close his eyes as he lifted it to his lips before taking the smallest of sips. As far as appearances go, it was as if he'd stolen out of the pages of A. J. Liebling's "The Sweet Science" . He wore a hooded sweatshirt and ratty duck pants, and his face seemed to have been someone's punching bag in younger days. This was the mask of the pugilist, of the boxer. A nose that had taken the brunt of an Everlast glove many times over, bulging in the middle but flattening out on the sides as if a new set of nostrils were growing just above the functioning ones. His lips were stretched and fatter than most, and his eyes were dark and set back in his head, like a Shih Tzu pup.
Seeing that this man's drink was nearly empty, the bartender brought him another. "It'll be a sweep, Al, I'm telling you!" he said to the boxer (for that's how I came to think of him). When Al didn't respond, the bartender, a cloying young kid in a U of M hat, said to me, "Al's from Boston. A big Red Sox fan."
"You must be pretty happy," I said. Normally, I don't like to get into conversations with others at a bar, as it usually descends into complaints about jobs, liberals, spouses, or the Vikings. But baseball's different. Referring to the Yanks/Sox contest, I said, "That was a great series, wasn't it?"
"It made me feel old," he said.
"Old and left behind."
There was that moment of uncomfortable silence that usually I would have filled with some tripe like, "Ah, you're not so old!" But this time I let it alone.
"When I tell you this," he said at last, "don't make a commotion out of it. I was born in 1918." I must have reacted because he waved me into silence. "I don't care that I was born the same year Boston last won it all, I know all that. I doesn't make a damn bit of difference to the Sox, or to me, my mother, whoever. I don't like curses, don't believe in them. If the Red Sox kept the Babe, what then? They would have won? Fat chance. They stank then. Stank when I was growing up, stank until they got The Kid. Williams turned it around. Stank so bad that for a long time I would go to Braves games. You could do that then. Take your pick."
"Are you a Braves fan now?"
The question seemed to have caused him physical pain. "God, hell no. I like what I like where I'm living. I like the Twins. Well enough. See, I don't enjoy the sport like I did when I was a kid, end even then, well, it was different. But it was real, at least. I see that crap on TV: what is that, 'I love this?' No, 'I live for it'? 'I live for it'?"
"You mean, 'I live for this'?"
"That's it. As kids, we didn't do that. Sure, you saw the guys who played every day on the street. I did that in the summer, basketball, too, some football and if you can believe it a bit of rugby in there as well. I knew guys who loved all the Braves, all the Sox. Clippings on their wall. But these people today, look at that guy over there. No, the other guy."
He was nodding at man dressed head to toe in Vikings garbjersey, hat, even purple Viking sweatpants. "That guy's in here a lot with his pals. They've got some super cable situation that gives him every game every Sunday. That's madness." He sipped his drink. Then he sighed and said, "These Red Sox
they make me feel old."
I didn't say anything because I knew he'd continue. "Baseball," he said, shifting in his stool so he could face me, "used to be like buying a drink or picking up an apple from a fruitstand. You go through life, you work, pay your bills, fight with your landlord or your wife, and at times you stop and enjoy something. A ball game. Grab a scorecard or not. Grab a beer or two. At Fenway I used to sit in the bleachers and bark like the rest of 'em. It was good. It was easy.
"Everything's like a big amusement park now. And I mean new amusement parksConey Island in its day was easy like a ball game. See, I was at the '46 series. Great series, great baseball. Bought my ticket that day. It was fun. Sad, you know, you don't like to have that long season and lose the series. Every year we came so close. And that's how it felt. We. We came so close. I liked the players. They knew many of the fans. But we weren't obsessed. We were rational.
"And because of that they used to let us sit close to the field. Used to let us walk around the diamond after the game. '48, when we almost had the all-Boston show, after the Braves clinched all of us ran out on the field, some got to shake Sain's hand. Nels Potter and his freak screwball. Me, I wanted to get Bob Elliott and McDermott over for a drink between rivals. But the Sox missed it by a game. And the Braves lost in six.
"My point is this: I could relate to them. I could see these guys in the places I lived. There was a quiet, respectful relationship. Heckling, sure, but what is it... stalking? Stalkers keep them scared. Back then, you couldn't see Ted Williams, no, but you'd be in line with the catcher at a butcher shop. Phil Masi, he even asked me once where I got my new workboots and how much. Yes, I know it's better today. These guys are paid better, benefits, health. Retirement. You know, I almost don't mind it. But we used to touch them once in awhile, slap 'em on the back, shake hands. Run out on the field with them if they won."
"Yeah, but as you said, you certainly can't do that anymore," I interrupted.
"I know. But I don't know if that's the fans fault or because the players are so far away. I hear about Curt Schilling, how rough and tumble he is, but the guy goes home to a castle every night. So does the beat up old catcher no one knows. They all have money and space. Space from us. Ever since they were kids, they were special.
"And they're scattered. Where are they from? Where are the fans from? When I was a kid everyone was from Ireland or Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the black guys had come up from the South, where their families had struggled almost forever. Today it's 'Where you from?' The answer's this suburb or that, they don't care. They're moving to Arizona or Florida or Seattle when they graduate. And it's like that with the players. They're not from anywhere anymore."
Seeing he'd finished his drink, I offered to buy him another. "I'll buy you one. This is just tonic. Can't drink gin anymore 'cause of my stomach." He ordered another from the cheery bartender who was shouting about football to one of his pals. "Guinness," he said, and shuddered."Like tar. I never could drink that stuff. But it's good to see you drinking it." He laughed. "Makes me feel like General Sternwood."
Sipping a fresh tonic, he stared around the bar. "The noise. I wish there wasn't so much noise. I watch the games on TV and it's awful. Planes flying over. Celebrities. All these people in their football costumes. Used to be baseball's where I went to get that crap out of my head. Get the factory out of my head, get the street out of my head. I could shout at the players if I wanted to but it never got so loud you couldn't think." He stared off into space for a moment. Then he said, "I don't know. With the TV sound off, it's tolerable for me. That's why I complain. Because I still can't stop looking at it. Even though I don't know about these guys, probably wouldn't like 'em if I did, when I see a double play, I'm not old. I still like Mientkiewicz, stretching to make a play, even if he couldn't hit for crap. I like seeing Schilling throw, even if I don't care about his ankle. I've seen worse. Probably he has too." His eyes thinned. "You want to know what'll make you think I'm really crazy?"
"I like the Metrodome," he said, and I was relieved. When I asked why, he shrugged. "It's comfortable to me. What did they think it used to be like? Fenway wasn't pretty; Braves Field wasn't pretty. I'd sit in the Jury Box and it seemed like you squeeze enough of us in there it'd collapse. People tell me the seats face the wrong way. So? It's the same in Fenway. Know what? The Dome is where they play baseball. I don't pay to see skylines. Or the Mississippi. I pay to see a ballgame. No one likes it, which is fine by me. It's ugly and I'm ugly and that's fine." He smiled and nodded at the bartender. "That's why he thinks I'm still one for the Sox. 'Cause I'll talk about '48 or Carl Yastrzemski. Ugly. That was an ugly ballplayer. And Fenway was ugly back then, comfortable." He gestured around the bar. "Just like this place."
"Oh, I think this place is better than the Dome."
"Is it? You don't have a good time when you see the Twins?"
"Sure, I guess. But... "
"But you'd like a new Fenway. Or maybe Ebbets Field. Something like the good ol' days. That's too bad. Too bad for you that you have to have all that finery to enjoy yourself. Because that's not the good ol' days." He slid off the bar and squeezed a cap on his head. "I feel sorry for you. Some people say I live in the past, which is somewhat true. But you, you live in a past that never existed, and in the future, too. You're OK with watching millionaires who are scared of you. You're fine with all the noise. I guess I am, too, 'cause I still watch the Red Sox and the Twins. Only I don't feel like they're quite friends to me anymore. Friends are quiet and patient. You take them as they are. You don't have to shout about how much you love them, how you 'live for them'. In a Dome or not. Without a two hundred dollar jersey." With that, he smiled and added, "Don't think about what I said too much. When you get as old and achy as I do, it's better medicine to bitch like I just did than to take your pills. Cheaper, too." Then he walked on out, swaying with every step like the boxer I imagined him to be.
After he was gone it seemed as if the din roared back into my head. Creedence was playing on the box and I wondered how many times the regulars heard the same songs over and over. I think "Malcolm in the Middle" was on television, with the sound down, the actors mouthing while "Suzy Q" blared over the conversations. Someone told a Kerry joke. A loudmouth bellowed that the Vikings might go to the Super Bowl but the Patriots were gonna pound them. I only drank a quarter of the beer he bought me, left a tip and walked outside. It was a clear, chilly, moonlit autumn night. There were leaves all over the ground. I'll probably never come back to that barI only stop though once and then look for others. Tomorrow I'd go back to watching the game at home, listening to Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, trying desperately to ignore the advertisements and Tom Hanks and wondering if there was anyone like Al who still could find and afford a seat in Fenway Park. Or who really found a quiet, meditative pleasure there anymore.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Tuesday, October 26
DAWN OF A NEW COTTAGE INDUSTRY
The folklore is growing more and more dynamic: another game in which patriotic, always-quotable Curt Schilling is bleeding at the ankle, hobbling off the field after a masterful six-inning performance, with four strikeouts. Keith Foulke as the silencer, striking out two of the four killers in the Redbirds Murderers Row. Former goat Mark Bellhorn knocking in two runs that would ultimately be the winners. All this in spite of four errors on the part of the Red Sox, three by Matt Mueller alone.
We are seeing the dawn of a new cottage industry in Massachusetts. For this drama is great for the writers, filmmakers, musicians, poets, artists, street performers, restaurateurs, and any hack who thinks they can squeeze a buck out of this Red Sox postseason, which is to say a great many people. Fabulous, indeed, was the come from behind victory; thankful are the fans it's the very best of the National League, the powerful St. Louis Cardinals. Lyrics will be penned to the bloody Curt Schilling. Actors will wait months growing their hair to look like Johnny Damon (or the city's wigmakers will be busy fitting an entire company with cornrows, shag, fake goatees, and the like). Some writer (probably John Updike) will pen a lament for Bill Mueller. David Ortiz will suffice for a one-man show, either in one of Boston's great playhouses or on some corner by the Hub. There will be dastardly Yanks who will be foiled, poor Redbirds who will be nothing but a speedbump en route to the World Series championship. For one industry might just be on the wanethe aforementioned who complained yearly about the lack of a World Series victoryto be replaced by the new industryThe Team That Defied the Curse. Or the Year. Or something. And, of course, if they manage to lose
well, then the curse lives on. The cash cow either finds a new field, or grazes where the grazing's good.
Last night's contest saw the Red Sox attract their share of celebrities. First, there was Tom Hanks acting as if he were running for some sort of public office. Why was he in Fenway, rooting on the Sox (he wore the requisite red 'B' on his hat)? "Because I'm an American," he explained, and then quickly stated that St. Louis is a wonderful town. Gee, that's great, no one in the south will have hard feelings, Tom. Next to him stood Jimmy Fallon, a man who claims to be a comedian. He is apparently making a movie about the Red Sox, although I couldn't understand what it was about. I guess the quicker they get one of these flicks out, the more money it'll make. Especially if it stinks.
What I'm seeing at these games is a team worthy of being venerated in New England, a team that is not only riding a wave of history, but as confident and assured as any postseason team I've seen. As confident as the Yanks in '98, '99, and '00, as confident as the Angels in '02 and the Marlins in '03. This confidence is showing itself in their ability to generate runs; in their gutsy pitching, not just from Curt Schilling, but from their exhausted bullpen; from not allowing four errors to shake them, and, in fact, from closing out the inning within one batter of each one (except the sixth, when two in a row were shut down by a feeble grounder). Curses don't count against these guys. Ghosts don't bother them. The Cardinals and their big bats don't intimidate any more than the Yankees three games to none lead. The Red Sox come, see, conquer. Which is fabulous for them, for their fans, and for the local economy.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Monday, October 25
OL' BLOOD AND BOOTS
WORLD SERIES GAME TWO: BLOOD SOX 6, REDBIRDS 2 (RED SOX LEAD SERIES, 2-0)
"Come on, I'm an American," crowed Tom Hanks, from a seat up in the Green Monster seats, while St. Louis Cardinals starter Matt Morris was lifted in favor of reliever Cal Eldred, with one on, one out, and the Boston Red Sox hugging a 4-1 lead. "I want Bill Buckner to have a good night's sleep for a change."
The wonder is that a second consecutive night's worth of Red Sox slapstick, which sometimes seemed as much slap as stick, allowed New England a merely restful night's sleep. It was as if these Red Sox were incapable of just accepting and cherishing the gifts they received from a few of their number without living up to Derek Lowe's observation ("We always find a way to make it harder for ourselves") at the onset of that extraterrestrial resurrection against the Yankees a week earlier.
Let Curt Schilling take his re-sewn ankle tendon out to the mound, wear that bloody sock like a talisman, pitch like a serviceable impersonation of himself without the vintage attack, and get through six innings with little enough visible damage otherwise, four runs worth of run support, and looking deceptively stronger as the innings went by.
"(I feel) like I've been beat up a little bit," Schilling said, almost softly, after the game. "I'm a little sore, but it don't matter now. Hopefully, I won't have to pitch again. But that team believes in themselves as much as we believe in ourselves. This is a team. A true team. Every guy in here cares so much about each other."
Let Bellhorn ring up a big fat hit producing a pair of big fat runs for the fourth time in as many postseason games. All right, so it was just a measly double off the center field wall, beneath the Stop & Shop sign, in the bottom of the fourth. That still left room enough for Kevin Millar (grazed on the elbow by a pitch) and Bill Mueller (a double off sliding Larry Walker's knee in right field) to chug home with the third and fourth Red Sox runs on the night.
But it didn't mean Mueller had to tie a World Series single-game record (shared with Davey Lopes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pepper Martin of the Gas House Gang) with three of the Red Sox's four errors on the night, even if the first one was not his fault. In the top of the second, with Jim Edmonds leading off for the Cardinals, Mueller came down into foul ground for a towering foul popup, collided with the oncoming catcher Jason Varitek, who has side-to-side range some consider unusual for a catcher, and the ball hit the ground, reprieving Edmonds to ground out to first.
That followed the first of two early Mueller plays suggesting anything except that he was in for one of the more edgy nights of his baseball life and turned two of the sharpest fielding exercises in the Series' early life. With two swift outs in the top of the first and Pujols on second after his first double of the night, a liner up the left center field gap, Scott Rolen caught hold of a Schilling service that was just enough above the shelf and ripped it on a laser line up the third base line, where Mueller took it sharply enough into his glove that his hands recoiled against his torso, but he lost no grip and the Cardinals lost their earliest chance to jump the Red Sox.
Then Morris got himself two swift enough Red Sox outs to start the bottom of the first. Johnny Damon squirted one up the third base line that Rolen took slightly off balance, throwing high but not beyond Pujols at first for the out, and Cabrera bounded out to shortstop. But Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz wrung out back to back walks, and Jason Varitek missed leaving the yard by about a foot, when he smashed a high and deep parabola to center field, the ball hitting the edge of the bullpen fence and rebounding back onto the grass, all the room needed for Ramirez and Ortiz to cross the plate and Varitek to settle for a triple, before Trot Nixon grounded out to third to leave it an early 2-0 Boston lead.
Mueller's second sharpie of the night punctuated a top of the second which could stand as evidence that, if the Red Sox were indeed willing to do things the hard way, the Cardinals were just as willing to let them have it their way. The difference was that where the customary steady enough Red Sox infield defense got rickety enough again, this time on the left side of the infield, the Cardinals' customarily steady and swift baserunning got just as rickety when they needed that the least.
Sanders wrung a one-out walk out of Schilling, who seemed to struggle a little more than you might have expected considering his physical disadvantage. Then, running on the pitch as Tony Womack lined a base hit to right center, Sanders rounded second and stopped short. Did a Red Sox fielder decoy him? Did he think he missed the pad at second and then find he couldn't move on to third? Then you realized he held his hands up enough to keep Womack from trying for second on the throw, the better not to pass him on the basepath, possibly, and soon enough you knew that he probably did miss the base just so as he rounded it.
It gave the Cardinals first and second rather than second and third, and as if according to a script written over an overnight candle by the mischievous Red Sox spirits, Mike Matheny afforded Mueller another chance to show that there was no hint of trouble in the Boston third baseman's immediate future, lining one right to Mueller at third as Sanders, on the front end of a double larceny try on the 2-1 pitch, ran right into Mueller, who tagged him for the inning-killing double play as his arm bumped Mueller's jaw.
And Mueller saw and raised that second inning jewel when he threaded a single right through Womack moving left and Pujols moving right to open the Red Sox second. But Bellhorn rapped one right to Womack for a swift enough double play and Damon got himself tied up tight for Morris's first strikeout on the night.
Then Schilling plowed through the Cardinals in order in the top of the third, finishing that job by getting Walker to bite hard on a low-shelf fastball for his own first punchout, and Morris returned the courtesy in the bottom, getting a pair of swift ground outs to sandwich a hard-swinging strikeout on Ramirez. Womack also kept the Red Sox to 4-1, after Bellhorn's straightaway two-RBI double, when he picked off Damon's soft enough grounder and threw out the spiritual leader of the Idiots by about three steps to end the bottom of the fourth.
But Mueller's second slip on the night equaled the Cardinals getting an unearned run in the top of the fourth. Pujols had opened with his second double, taking third with smart baserunning when Rolen chipped a soft fly to short right that Trot Nixon had to take diving toward the line side. After Edmonds swished on an under-the-floor splitter, Sanders's grounder toward third wasn't met surely by Mueller, who seemed not to read the hop early, the ball jumping off the heel of his glove, Pujols scoring and Sanders taking first, before Womack chopped one right to the pad at second base, where Orlando Cabrera over from short snatched it and stepped on the pad to end the inning.
Good thing Schilling had something left to give in spite of his skittery ankle tendon, while the Red Sox have an apparent genius for hanging runs on the board with two outs. Not to mention the Cardinals, like the Yankees before them, unable (unwilling?) to test Schilling afoot with any sort of bunt attack, if only to awaken the National League's most incendiary offence, while Womack's lower back troubles had him batting sixth in the order and Renteria (the usual number six man) batting an uncomfortable first.
Schilling took care of the Cardinals in the fifth, wrecking a leadoff single with a swinging punchout and a bounce into an inning-ending double play. But the Cardinals took care of the Red Sox in the bottom despite a leadoff walk, Ramirez flying out to right and Cal Eldred, taking over for Morris (the song to which Eldred warmed up must have intrigued some long-term Fenway watchers: "Paranoid") getting Ortiz to fly out likewise. Then Eldred caught Varitek above the elbow point with a pitch, before dropping a delicious looking curve ball in for a called third strike on Millar to keep it at 4-1.
Moments before flying out, Ortiz launched a mammoth blast that flew over but just enough to the foul side of the Pesky Pole, a view unchanged despite a brief umpires' conference and first base coach Lynn Jones having to calm Ortiz down swiftly enough. Take that, A-Rod: Umpire conferences don't always go in favor of the Red Sox, either.
Mueller's record-tying error on the night came with two outs in the top of the sixth. Rolen ripped one on the ground that he couldn't handle, the ball hitting Mueller's glove heel before he could get his hand over it, leaving Rolen on first. Then Bellhorn couldn't hold onto Edmonds's grounder, and suddenly the Cardinals had a chance to pull within one at least and even to tie it at most, before Sanders hit one to third. This time, however, Mueller held onto the ball as though rescuing a child from a burning building, taking it to the base himself to end that threat.
Perhaps knowing Schilling was finished for the evening, Nixon started the bottom of the sixth by spanking one up the middle for a leadoff single. Mueller did his best to cash in Nixon, driving one deep to right but only enough for Walker to take down in front of the bullpens. Bellhorn popped out to shortstop but Damon shot one opposite way through the hole past shortstop. Cabrera fouled off a few 1-2 pitches and then banged one high and deep off the Monster, a long enough single with room enough to send home Nixon and Damon for a 6-1 Red Sox lead and a nine-game postseason hitting streak for the shortstop imported at the midseason trade deadline for his glove more than his bat.
Better thing that Alan Embree, relieving Schilling, punched out the side in order in the top of the seventh, finishing it off with a blistering inside-corner fastball, freezing pinch hitter So Taguchi like a burglar caught in an alley's dead end after a ten block foot chase. Then Varitek threatened to pad the Red Sox lead even further, when he hammered one off St. Louis reliever (and scheduled fourth game starter) Jason Marquis to the rear of center field.
All that ended up doing was proving that Edmonds must have read the republished A Day in the Bleacherswith the four-panel, sequential image of Willie Mays on the cover. Edmonds turned his back to the infield, ran toward the wall, and took it over the shoulder, with his glove barely at breastbone level in basket position as the ball dropped in just before Edmonds met the low padding at the bottom of the wall. Maybe he didn't have a runner to hold up on the bases, never mind not having to throw in from a spot 465 feet from home or thereabout, but you would have understood at once if Edmonds for the moment reminded anyone of Mays in a World Series opener fifty years earlier. Millar and Mueller drew walks around Nixon popping out to Edmonds over to left center, but Pokey Reese (relieving Bellhorn at second in the top of the inning) popped out behind first on the edge of the outfield grass.
With Doug Mientkiewicz spelling Millar at first base and Mike Timlin replacing Embree for the top of the eighth, Renteria pried out a leadoff walk and made second as Timlin picked off Walker's high hopper and threw him out by about a step at first. Then Pujols spanked one through the hole on the left side for a single, and the Cardinals had men on the corners with Rolen coming up. Rolen and Timlin worked a mini-epic of fouloffs, full count, and another foul off, before he finally skied one far enough out to center field letting Renteria chug home with the second Cardinal run. Which proved the final Cardinal run, when Keith Foulke came in to strike out Edmonds to end the eighth and get rid of Sanders, Womack, and Matheny swiftly enough in the ninth.
Take one for the team? Schilling takes a score. And under normal circumstances you would have to break his ankles to keep him from taking the ball no matter how grave the mission at hand. Except that his ankle may be doing that without any help. There may be a spider web's width between inspiration and insanity, and there are those who think it transcends insanity to ask a 38-year-old pitcher, his ankle yelling "Stop!", to go for one more radical tailoring stitch to let him even think about trying to pitch one more time against all the old times.
"We just need to concentrate on what got us here," said Varitek, as much the field leader as Damon might be the spiritual leader. And what got the Red Sox here, if you don't count a bullpen that lumbered up when it was most severely needed, is exactly as Schilling enunciated it. Every guy in there has got to keep caring about each other. Especially with the Cardinals caring to put a bigger crimp into the Red Sox march than the one that has the Red Sox's most inspirational pitcher bleeding for them.
Monday, October 25
CONGRATULATIONS, RANDOM OBSERVATIONS, PREDICTIONS, & ETC
There's only one scene that sticks with me from the overly-maudlin "Good Will Hunting", and of course it has to do with baseball. It is the scene in which Robin Williams tells Matt Damon that he had tickets to see Game Six of the '75 World Series. Williams described the atmosphere of that amazing day, nearly quaking in his excitement (and his desperate need for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), only to admit that he did not go to the game so that he could stay with the woman who would eventually be his beloved, now-deceased, wife. To me, this was a real moment of honesty in an otherwise disingenuous filmand last night I found myself in similar circumstances. Though without as much hamfisted thespianship.
My good friends Mark and Sarah were married a while ago, in a private civil ceremony involving a Jesse Ventura-appointed, former soap opera star and current Judge, a smashed wine glass in a white napkin, vintage clothes, homemade chocolate truffles, and a nearly disastrous plumbing situation at the newlyweds older home in south Minneapolis. As if this weren't enough, they decided to have a party to attract all their families and friends from the far corners of the country to come and celebrate the marriage. This event took place in the Soo Visual Arts Center, which, on this occasion, had, among other artworks, a large photo of a family with the words "I'M WITH STUPID" superimposed on top, a day-glo green bunny flipping off the crowd, and a mixed media piece with what looked like a garden made out of animal hair with eyes growing in it. The Conquerors jammed while the rest of us either danced or gorged ourselves on the best wedding food I've ever had. There were gifts and Pilsner Urquell and Ravenswood wine and fabulous company and Mark's mother danced with her mother to "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)". My wife and I danced. We met the families and friends from Pennsylvania and New York City and Washington and Iowa (I think). Around eleven, Mark and Sarah, dressed in their wedding finery, were lifted onto chairs and carried around the room until our backs nearly broke and it was a moment of pure magnificence. For once, I didn't drink too much. And for five hours, I had forgotten that the best baseball postseason in my life was rolling to a boil on television sets all over town.
That is a good thing. Reading Jeff's update below, ESPN, the New York Times, and others, I see that I missed a whale of a game. But I didn't care until this morninglast night, around midnight, when my wife and I returned home, we sat up reading because we were so charged from the great feelings of the party. I could have bounded upstairs to my office to check the scores, but I chose to read Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film instead. My mind was scattered: I didn't really read as much as reflect on what a good time we had, and the majesty of seeing two great people get hitched.
I don't really know the point to this piece except to say, publicly and in print, congratulations to two of my closest friends, and perhaps to remind readers that sometimes it enriches our sport to turn away from it at times, to celebrate the wonders of friends and family and true love. Like the Robin Williams character in "Good Will Hunting", my memory of the start of the World Series has been crystallized by even more spectacular events that had nothing to do with the diamond. To use the old baseball cliche, that makes me feel like the luckiest man on earth.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE, UNFORTUNATELY: Lost in much of the hoopla surround the great Championship Series is the fact that we need to acknowledge one of the men who helped make it great: Bud Selig. As much as I loathe the man and many of the things he's done to the noble sport, Mr. Seligthe Commissioner to youwas the proponent of the wild card in baseball, against the din of purists around the country (and perhaps most notably Bob Costas). But this very wild card produced the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history, and has actually resulted in some great World Series contests as well. It might be going a bit too far to suggest that Selig get a statue erected in Boston, the Red Sox nation ought to, at the very least, give a hats off to the creep who helped bring them to the World Series. Without that wild card, these "miracle" Red Sox would be nothing more than a team of second-place daydreamers.
ON THE "CHOKE": I have spent some time surfing the 'net, reading about the Sox and the Yanks, and I have to say that one of the things that made the Red Sox comeback so amazing is that, as far as I can see, they did so without facing an opponent who, in my mind, 'choked'. I'm looking over my scorecards and all I can see are some ballplayers on the Yanks who, at one point, were hitting with unbelievable superiority, and then cooled off. But it is not as if the Red Sox began hitting in those three games, either. Think about it: you had scores of 6-4, 5-4, and 4-2. You had decent to good to great pitching on both sides. Both teams struggled and fought, and really there were no meltdowns on the part of the Yankees. The Red Sox won, at least in those three contests, by beating a tough team who made relatively few mistakes of their own. In the last game, the Sox hammered the Yanks, but that happens, too. If there's any team for whom a "collapse" is quickly a thing of the past, it's the Yanks. I wouldn't count them out next year, nor would I try to tag them as chokers.
SWAMI SEZ: The Red Sox are playing like there was no such thing as curses, like they are a team destined to win this whole thing. Frankly, I can't see them losing, and for that reason, whatever I write here is sure not to come true. My prediction: The Red Sox in Five, which, as all of you know, is probably what superstitious Jeffums thinks as well, only he's hoping to subvert any curse by predicting otherwise.
Peter Schilling Jr.
Sunday, October 24
ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BELLHORN TOLLS
WORLD SERIES GAME ONE: BOSTON COSTELLOS 11, ST. LOUIS ABBOTS 9 (RED SOX LEAD SERIES, 1-0)
The clock was minutes from striking midnight and the Bellhorn tolled again. Only this time it was the first game of the World Series, this time it was the bottom of the eighth, and this time the question was whether the Boston Red Sox would hold or blow yet another two-run lead before they got the last three St. Louis Cardinals outs they needed.
Against the Yankees, in the top of the eighth, en route securing the pennant in the seventh League Championship Game: Mark Bellhorn launched one off Tom Gordon that flew up and rang the upper length of the right field foul pole. Against the Combustible Cardinal, Julian Tavarez, Bellhorn swatted a one-out, 0-2 pitch, and rang it half on the screen and half on the upper length of the Pesky Pole in right.
And, obviously, the Red Sox were showing the St. Louis Cardinals that it was one thing to blow a 7-5 lead, it was another thing to blow a 9-7 lead, but don't even think about them blowing an 11-9 lead. That one is simply not in the Red Sox program, no matter how much mood the Olde Towne Team might be in for an errorist attack. The good news was that Manny Ramirez broke his runs batted in drought (read: none in the American League Championship Series) with two on the night. The bad news was that he'd have been better off keeping them to himself, rather than handing them back to the Cardinals with a pair of back-to-back boots in the eighth.
St. Louis catcher Mike Matheny opened the top of the eighth with a one-out single up the middle off Boston reliever Alan Embree, and St. Louis pitcher Jason Marquis, designated to start Game Four against Derek Lowe, pinch ran for him. Roger Cedeno pinch hitting for left fielder So Taguchi floated a single to right, but Marquis put a scare into the Cardinals' dugout when he stumbled into second base safe. Marquis's knees proving undamaged, Francona brought in his closer, Keith Foulke, to handle Edgar Renteria. And Renteria handled one shooting through for a base hit. Except that Ramirez overran the ball. He nearly acquitted himself when he threw home to Jason Varitek, spelling starting catcher Doug Mirabelli, and Varitek took it cleanly as he blocked the plate against the oncoming Marquis, who had hesitated before running through coach Jose Oquendo's stop sign. And Marquis took it just a hair more cleanly than Varitek, his foot sliding under Varitek's tag onto the plate.
That cut the Red Sox lead back to one for the second time on the night. Up came four-for-four Larry Walker, and out to shallow left went his soft fly. And sliding onto the grass went the oncoming Ramirez as the ball bounced off his glove rather than landing inside it, letting Cedeno come home for the Cardinals to tie the game for the second time on the night. Foulke then got Scott Rolen to pop out to third and Jim Edmonds on a nasty enough called third strike, and it stayed tied at nine long enough for the Bellhorn to toll.
"That was not an instructional video," cracked Red Sox manager Terry Francona, after his men somehow figured out a way to keep from making the mess too toxic for Bellhorn's ringer to peal with any meaning. "Coming out here, I slipped on the divot made by Manny."
What was supposed to have been in the Red Sox program was pretty much what happened in the first inning, after fearless enough knuckleballer Tim Wakefield fought the chill and chilled the Cardinals with a leadoff strikeout on Renteria and a pair of popups from the Redbird rippers, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, stranding Walker and his one-out full-count double. A program such as Johnny Damon wringing St. Louis starter Woody Williams to a full count before slicing a double into the left field corner and Orlando Cabrera
well, they had not exactly scripted in Cabrera taking an up-and-in pitch off the collarbone.
But the script did call for a man or two on and then either Ramirez or David Ortiz cashing them in. Ramirez didn't, popping one that the evening's push-in wind managed to nudge far enough that Walker had to take it against the right field fence. But Ortiz did cash in, and in the manner to which Red Sox Nation has become accustomed enough these days. Anyone who says Papi is helpless at the plate unless it's the bottom of the last inning, and wasn't convinced by what he did in the top of the first in New York three days earlier, should have been disabused now. His first lifetime World Series at-bat, and he wrapped a three-run bomb around the Pesky Pole, followed soon enough by Bill Mueller driving home Kevin Millar with a single, and the Red Sox had themselves a very early 4-0 lead.
The Cardinals program seemed to feature chipping Wakefield. Jim Edmonds in the top of the second went by the scouting book, filed under "Knuckleballers, and How To Abuse Them," and bunted his way on. After Reggie Sanders walked and Tony Womack bunted the pair over to second and third, Matheny whacked a lofting fly to Damon in center that was deep enough to let Edmonds chug home, before Wakefield realigned himself and struck out So Taguchi to keep the Cardinals at one.
Wakefield had to keep them at two in the top of the third, after Walker whacked a one-out floater over the right field fence. He walked Pujols but lured Rolen into dialing area code 5-4-3. And the Red Sox thanked him by batting around the order for three more in the bottom. Trot Nixon might have led off groundout out to second, but Mueller wrung Williams for a walk before Mirabellicatching because Wakefield is usually most comfortable throwing that knuckler to him, and Mirabelli is very adept at handling its nuances and pranksrifled one off the Green Monster that missed sailing into the seats above by maybe two feet south of them.
Bellhorn walked to load the pads for Damon, who flipped on the merry go round switch and singled to push Mueller home and Williams out in favour of Danny Haren. Cabrera initiated Haren with a single, scoring Mirabelli, before Ramirez forcing Cabrera at second let Bellhorn come home and Ortiz's walk reloaded the pads. But Haren started Millar with a slick called strike before getting the Boston first baseman to ground out to shortstop.
This was a 7-2 lead after three? By the Red Sox? OK, asked Red Sox Nation through its early delirium, what's the catch? They should never have asked. The catch was Francona, agreeing (as did Cardinals boss Tony La Russa) to wire himself for the Fox broadcast, and telling Joe Buck and Tim McCarver before the top of the fourth that, so far, he was more than satisfied with Wakefield's control.
That should teach him. Wakefield walked Edmonds and Sanders on eight consecutive pitchers, prompting Bronson Arroyo to hit the bullpen strip. Then Wakefield walked Womack, a lone called strike on 3-0 the only interruption. But then Mike Matheny popped out to Nixon. And Nixon hit his cutoff man, Millar. Except that Millar couldn't grip it well out of his glove at first as Edmonds made for the plate, then threw to what he thought was a cover man at first but turned out to be the stands near the dugout, letting Sanders come home.
And what suddenly became 7-4 turned into 7-5 when St. Louis left fielder So Taguchi grounded one to Mueller at third who gave a hesitation clutch before throwing to first to get Taguchi. Which got Womack enough time to score and Arroyo into the game. Arroyo nullified Walker's single by getting Pujols to force him at second, and the only question remaining was whether you heard the wind turning or Fenway heaving a massive sigh that was only half relief. The other half?
Don't ask. The Red Sox in the bottom of the fourth threatened to return the favour when Nixon and Mueller worked Haren for inning-opening back-to-back passes. But Mirabelli flied out to left. Bellhorn popped one up not too far behind first, but Walker galloping in from right made the lunge and locked the ball in his glove, before Damon popped one up to Taguchi coming into shallow left.
Arroyo dispatched the Cardinals in order, the first time on the night either team went down that way, in the top of the fifth. The Red Sox would have gone down likewise in the bottom but for Ramirez's single, which shot up the third base line and ricocheted off the left field seat fence and the third base umpire, in that order. But in the top of the sixth, Arroyo spoiled his own solid evening's work with two outs and Taguchi rolling one slowly toward the third base side of the infield. Arroyo rumbled over to get it and took it barehanded as he angled toward the grass and tried throwing Taguchi out while his angle got a little more steep, rather than just picking up the ball and conceding the base. And it cost him when Renteria lined one up the left center field gap for an RBI double and Walker ripped one up the first base line and off the diving Millar's mitt to send home Renteria, and suddenly the game was tied at seven.
Haren took care of the Olde Towne Team in the bottom of the sixth, Mike Timlin relieving Arroyo pushed the Cardinals to one side in order in the top of the seventh, and the Red Sox snatched the lead back in their half. Bellhorn led off with a walk from Kiki Calero relieving Haren, before Damon slashed a bat-splintering grounder that took so much time reaching Womack that the only play was to first. Call it a non-sacrificial sacrifice. And it paid off when Cabrera walked on a 3-1 pitch nowhere near the batting area and Ramirezwho had driven in not one run during the Yankee serieslined one up the middle for an RBI single, Edmonds coming up throwing from center but throwing wide enough to let Bellhorn score the tiebreaker unmolested. And Ramirez, who had turned wide around first and hung up between first and second, found that the Cardinals had who's on first, what's on second, and the right side of the infield actually in the middle, letting him dive back to first safely.
Ray King relieved Calero and Ortiz put a jolt into the Cardinals when his smash to second hopped up and drilled Womack in the collarbone. The carom fell slow and dead on the short right field grass, allowing Cabrera to score for 9-7. But Womack had also fallen slow and in temporary agony, coming out of the game in favor of Marlon Anderson. And Ortiz had picked a particularly painful way to tie Carl Yastrzemski's Red Sox record for most runs batted in in a single World Series games (four). As Womack was carted off for precautionary X-rays, Millar popped out left of the plate, Matheny ambling over to take it, before Cal Eldred relieved King to strike out pinch hitter Gabe Kapler looking.
Bellhorn's ringer was set up by Varitek with one out, when the latter grounded one toward shortstop that Renteria, shading closer to the middle, had to lean back right to grab and could not handle it properly enough, the error letting Varitek on first before Bellhorn swung his clapper. This time, however, Tavarez beat nothing up, including himself, dispatching Damon (a pop to Renteria out to shallow left) and Cabrera (a spanker to third, where Rolen threw him out) to end it.
But Foulke dispatched the Cardinals so effortlessly in the top of the ninth that Anderson's one-out double seemed like an optical illusion. Foulke swished Sanders to open, got Yadier Molina (spelling Matheny behind the plate) to pop out to Doug Mientkiewicz (spelling Millar at first), and lured Cedeno into swinging at a dying quail of a changeup.
"I'm not trying to be a hero," said Bellhorn when the slapstick was over. "I'm just here trying to win four games."
The slapstick practically obscured Walker's evening. A trade pickup from the Colorado Rockies, provoking some to insist he had to prove himself more than a mere Coors Canaveral hitter, Walker spent the stretch drive doing precisely that in Cardinals silks. He finished his first game missing the cycle by a triple, going four-for-five with two doubles and a single to add to his third-inning thump. (In the National League Championship Series, Walker in the first game missed the cycle by a home run.) Which was light years beyond what his fellow Wrecking Redbirds did on the night. Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds: One for twelve, one walk, twelve men left on base between them.
"Incredible," said Williams after the game. "I'm sure a lot of people don't even realize what he did because it was an exciting game, back and forth. It's unbelievable on this stage." Assuming "Who's on First" meeting Major Leaguecomplete with 21 men left on base and fourteen walks between the twois your definition of "excitement."
Once upon a time, the Red Sox producing this kind of World Series comedy might have telegraphed disaster of a far more grave kind awaiting them further on down the Series path. Considering that exactly half their four previous World Series since You Know When featured their fall to the Cardinals, the Red Sox could have been accused of pushing their luck. But as Lowe said, after they began their who'd-a-thunk-it comeback against the Yankees, "We always find a way to make it harder for ourselves." Actually, when the occasion mandates, the Red Sox can find a boatload of ways to make it harder for themselves.
The way some of these Red Sox handled it after the game, however, you might have mistaken them for doing their impression of what the 1962 Mets might have resembled, if Marvelous Marv' and company had somehow bumbled their way into and through a World Series game. Why, they couldn't get miffed at Ramirez for even three seconds. "He just downgraded himself from a silver (glove) to a bronze to a green,'' cracked Dave Roberts, an outfielder by position and an anything-but-petty larcenist by familiarity. "It's funny to laugh at after you win."
Sunday, October 24
BRING ON THE VOLTAGE
The man whom Satchel Paige himself once nicknamed Wild Child was vindicated at last.
When the Randy Marsh umpiring crew conferred and adjusted as necessary twice, ensuring proper calls on a pair of testy plays, during the sixth American League Championship Series game, there was more present than just the Boston Red Sox upheld properly. Is there anyone else in the room who smelled a Rat?
The Red Sox are about to meet a team who got robbed in a World Series almost twenty years ago, by a refusal to confer and adjust as necessary, on a play that none but the sleeping knew was called wrong. And it would have been wonderful, assuming he watched the game, if one could have peeked over the shoulder of that team's then-manager, Whitey Herzog, and listened to his heart of hearts, as he watched the two plays and subsequent conferences that confirmed what he had argued, at the hour of his own rage and, in due course, in his 1999 memoir/analysis, You're Missin' A Great Game.
Then: Herzog and his troops went forth from there to steam themselves out of a World Series title, crumpling beneath their own rage, justifiable though that rage most certainly was, earning themselves a reputation as sportsmanship challenged chokers. Herzog's Cardinals were neither the first nor the last to be jobbed by a blown call which the umpire in question (we presume his name is still deemed an obscenity in St. Louis) may have admitted at once was a blown call. And, they did themselves no justice by spending more time fuming than playing the game, either for the rest of that ninth inning (error, passed ball, two Kansas City Royals runs, the winner on a walkoff RBI hit) or the entire seventh game (a Royal blowout).
But yes, professionals do pick up, dust off, and get back to the serious work of play, in such situations. "I was in no doubt about that play," wrote Roger Angell, "since I was watching the game, perforce, by television in eastern Maine, and many cameras and replays quickly showed us that (Don) Denkinger was wrong. It was not an outrageously bad call, as such matters are measured
I can sympathise with the indignation of Cardinal fans and players who may still believe that at this precise instant they were jobbed out of a World Championship, even though I don't agree. Baseball luck is an inescapable part of the game, and how a team responds to a sudden, unfair shock very often turns out to be what matters in the end."
Now: The Red Sox and the Yankees proved that, however unlikeable the 1985 Cardinals might have been ("I think it must be said," wrote Mr. Angell, "that this was a popular defeat"), the White Rat was a right Rat. And in due course he wrote that, brought back to that night, he would not do as originally he did. He would not explode and feed his Cardinals' concurrent rage, which they allowed to take them off task and leave the Royals room for their comeback sixth game win and their seventh game human rights violations.
What would Herzog do if thus brought back? (Laugh not. Knowing Herzog, it could happen. This is the man who ran a future Hall of Famer, as Garry Templeton was seen at the time, right the hell out of St. Louis, no questions asked, for flipping the bird to the boo birds who crawled him for loafing. They said Herzog let his temper smother his smartssome said he had to be pulled off Templeton in the clubhousewhen he made that deal. Until they got a good look at the shortstop he got in return. Templeton withered in San Diego; Ozzie Smith punched his ticket to Cooperstown in St. Louis.)
He would have called the baseball commissioner onto the field, he wrote, advising him that Denkinger had blown the call and admitted having blown it seconds later, without a move toward reversing it. And Herzog would have advised the commissioner further that either he, the commissioner, could order a review and reversal, if shown to be merited, or he, Herzog, would take his team right off the field and out of the ballparkand damn the consequences. Oh, the commissioner might have replied, but Whitey, we can't overrule the ump! "The hell you can't," Herzog would have retorted. "Then we ain't playing, because every sonofabitch in the world knows that guy is out. This is the World Series, man, let's get it right!"
"I was in foul territory," Denkinger remembers of the play (he said this to ESPN earlier this month), "but close to first base to see what foot was going to get there first the pitcher's (Todd Worrell, taking the scoop from first baseman Jack Clark) or the runner's (Jorge Orta, leading off the bottom of the ninth). I then saw (Worrell) catch the ball. I looked down. There's no sound. You can't hear a sound. So, you see him catch it, you look down, and Orta's foot was on the bag. So, I said, 'Well, it must have been safe,' so I called him safe."
Denkinger also said then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth told him after the game that Orta was actually out by a long enough stride. "(I) got a sick feeling," the umpire remembered. And St. Louis got a long enough lasting case of irritable bowel syndrome. Not even the Red Sox ever took one that far up the tail feathers.
Surely, if he watched Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, Herzog felt a bittersweet wash of satisfaction, when the Marsh crew rounded to confer at the moment the Red Sox hollered up, both on Mark Bellhorn's three-run homer (ruled first a ground rule double; re-ruled after Jim Joyce's fellow umps assured him the ball cleared the fence and ricocheted off a fan's chest) and on Alex Rodriguez's over-baseline karate chop of Bronson Arroyo's glove hand (ruled safe with a prospective error on Arroyo, until home plate ump Joe West assured first base ump Marshwhose vision was obstructed at the moment of contactthat indeed had A-Rod reached out and touched somebody's hand illegally).
Herzog five years ago enunciated the case for postseason instant replay. Randy Marsh's American League Championship Series 2004 crew enunciated the case for instant spirit. On the watch of an umpiring crew so conscientious as Marsh's was technology rendered irrelevant and Alex Rodriguez rendered a fool. (A-Rod thinks umpires have no bloody business conferring, because it "always" goes against the Yankees.) The Royals' 1985 World Series rigs cannot be rescinded. But among many other things the Red Sox and the Yankees showed, en route the Red Sox's stupefying and unprecedented (comeback from a three games to none series deficit) pennant conquest, was yes, this was for the championship, and let's get it right.
Especially with the Red Sox meeting the Cardinals in the World Series to begin today. These franchises have squared off in two previous Series and the Cardinals have won them both. And if they should come to such similar surprises as the Red Sox and the Yankees, the crew umpiring the Series should remember and keep holy the work of the Marshmen. "If common sense shocks," Herzog wrote, "I say bring on the voltage." \
Which is exactly what this year's Red Sox and this year's Cardinals are likeliest to bring. And, since the extinguished editor of this august (not to mention September and October) publication continues his insouciantly misguided passion for predictions, I shall stick to what has worked for me thus far, and predict the result opposite to that which is likeliest to ensue: The Cardinals in Seven, knowing good and bloody well that my saying so ensures the Redbirds don't stand a chance.
Saturday, October 23
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.