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Kallman on the Angels' Failed Squeeze

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One hundred games. The Tampa Bay Rays, now devoid of "Devil" in the name, are one hundred game winners and en route to a meeting with the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. As Monty Python used to say: "And there was much rejoicing."

In Monty's case, that's because the annoying minstrels were devoured by hungry knights. Head on down to Florida's Octogenarian Wonderland and everyone's giddy because the Tampa Bay Rays, with the American League's lowest payroll ($44 million), have won one hundred games, beat the beat-up White Sox in the Division Series and are meeting the Red Sox in Tampa. Is there a better story this season?

No. There's not. The Rays are as complete a team as I have seen since the heyday of the New York Yankees in the late 90s. That team could go down by five runs late in a game and were still a threat—playing those Yanks opponenets had to be on top of their game until the very last out, or you'd get scorched. So, too, with the Rays.

Everyone committed to winning this thing. Game one Evan Longoria stepped up, clocking a pair of home runs to drive past the Sox, especially after they'd taken an early lead. Akinori Iwamuri blasted a home run in the fifth inning of game two, putting the Rays ahead 3-2, a score that would have been good enough in that 6-2 victory. Last evening it was B. J. Upton, who at one point in the season was benched for his indifference, knocking a pair of solo home runs that really knocked the wind out of the White Sox, and sent our beloved Rays into postseason paradise.

I like these Rays. You could make the silly argument that they are "America's Team", being underdogs with their miniscule (by baseball standards—my wife's school would take that payroll in the blink of Sarah Palin's eye), and perhaps because it seems as though no one in Florida's all that willing to jump on the Rays bandwagon. Of course they sold out their playoff games—Floridians aren't stupid—but the lack of blogs and fan clubs is alarming. They have a classic heckler, who I guess has stuck with this Rays club through thin and thin and thin and now finally thick. But the Rays could hardly get anyone in the Florida Suncoast Dome, selling over 30,000 seats a measly 21 times—and the Rays went 20-1 in those instances. Maybe they'll be invincible at home with all the sellouts.

Oh, my, baseball needs this kind of story. Young players you can root for, old, beat-up stadiums that aren't fawned over by the likes of the Fox newscast, and a sense that anything, anything can happen between now and the World Series. The Cubs are gone, and good riddance, since these Rays are the best tale in town.
—Peter Schilling
Tuesday, October 7


Stop me if you've heard it phrased this way before, by me or by anyone else. But wasn't it once the way of the world for the Red Sox to lose a) a shot at the pennant; b) the pennant; or, c) the World Series in ways such as this?

Perhaps that's what winning two World Series in four years, and two more than your archest of rivals in the new century to date, does for you. Because once upon a time you would have predicted it to be the Red Sox, and only the Red Sox, to stand on the threshold of the next plateau, if not the Promised Land itself, and find themselves shoved off the edge for keeps on the push of a busted ninth-inning suicide squeeze.


Well, it's understandable why you might think so, but it's also simple enough to forget the Los Angeles Angels have had a few crossed stars, curses actual or reputed, and calamities of their own to bear. And along came Erick Aybar, whose seasonlong performance as one of the American League's more underrated middle infielders and plate pests was poisoned in one moment grisly enough to make even today's customarily accommodating Angel fans lose their decorum, if not their dinners.

Oh, sure, the Angels rather stupefied one and all with that rapacious plunge through the 2002 postseason, but they had a few ghosts of their own to vapourise to get there. And some of those ghosts were hovering since the first time the Angels and the Red Sox met for a ticket to the next stop en route the Promised Land. Some of them trace back to the franchise's very birth.

None of them is as troublesome even now as the sad ghost of Donnie Moore, but perhaps Moore's tortured soul can rest a little further in peace now. Wherever he reposes, he has to know by now that he's no longer the most inconceivable of Angel goats, the taut reliever who threw an unhittable forkball that a modest enough hitter sent over the left field fence with the Angels a strike away from their first World Series.

No one, over the coming seasons of merciless and sometimes obscene booing and catcalls any time he poked his nose out of the Angel bullpen, could convince Moore other than that it was nothing more than one man catching lightning at the expense of another doing his absolute best. But someone's going to have to get busy convincing Erick Aybar that accidents will happen, even at the worst of possible times, even when they block the Angels from pushing a lead run across the plate in the top of the ninth Monday night in the all-time home of the great perverse ghosts.

Even when they come one night after Aybar was the man of the hour, the hero who'd kept the Red Sox from shoving the Angels aside in three straight for a third straight American League Division Series meeting, the infield gazelle whose bat had turned to beef jerky for thirteen previous ALDS at-bats until the bottom of the twelfth Sunday night, when he launched a shuttlecock up the pipe that had just enough elusiveness to invite Mike Napoli to cross the plate all the way from second.

On a night the Angels left sixteen men on, including eight in the first three innings, Aybar had gone from absentee ninth man up to drawing up the Angels' possible survival papers.

Here, now, come Monday night, was a move Aybar had executed often enough during the season that he could have done it under heavy sedation strapped to a guerney. Turn an oncoming baseball into a dead fish, pushed just far enough up the forward infield to keep a lumbering catcher from grabbing it in time to thwart the plan.

This time the plan was to get Reggie Willits across the plate by any means necessary short of shooting him out of a cannon down the third base line. This isn't exactly a plan alien to Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a man who learnt his baseball at the feet of, and behind the plate for, Tommy Lasorda, a man to whom the squeeze was something close enough to orgasmic.

When you're only too well aware that your usually well-synchronised lineup of hitters has been turning baserunners into castaways at an alarming enough level throughout the regular season and throughout the first postseason round (how does hitting 8-for-40 with men in scoring position strike you?), you're going to want to break that ninth-inning tie in any way, shape, or form that presents itself to you.

When your biggest woodsmen—Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Teixiera—are hitting .467 each for the series but getting little or nothing to work with when they're swinging, you're going to want to break that ninth-inning tie in every way, shape, or form that presents itself to you.

So Scioscia had Willits on third, a young man who runs the bases with his brains as much as with his bones, and Aybar, his leading bunter on the season (nine sacrifice bunts), coming up. And Willits was on third in the first place thanks to a bunt.

You could just about pick the Red Sox's brains and see where they were already making their plans to play come-from-behind ball in the bottom of the ninth. Even if they knew the Angels had the squeeze on—and they expected it any any given time if and when the Angels had the chance—this was the Angels' kind of game.

And it became advantage, Angels, when Boston reliever Manny Delcarmen went up and in twice to Aybar, leaving him little enough choice but to throw a strike rather than risk a free pass to the ninth hitter in the lineup. Sure enough, Delcarmen threw Aybar a thigh-high fastball angling just enough toward the inside that you could have bunted it with a feather.

Aybar pushed his bat to the ball as Willits pushed his way off third and down the line at power full enough. The only place the ball went was smack into Jason Varitek's mitt. And the only place for Willits to go from there was surrender. He was dead on arrival. Except that who bargained for Varitek trying to chase Willits back up the line, rather than start the traditional rundown?

For one moment it looked as though the Angels would catch an extraterrestrial break in spite of themselves, as Willits scampered back up to third and Varitek, who'd picked up the missed ball barehanded, moved the ball to his mitt and lunged for a tag.

Don't even think about it, Angel fans. Varitek had the ball secured in his mitt as he swiped Willits's leg en route hitting the baseline diving, the ball within his control for a couple more than the required seconds to count before it popped from the mitt as the husky catcher hit the dirt.

It remained only for the Red Sox to do to the Angels what was once upon a time done to them with transdimensional impunity, Jason Bay diving home on Jed Lowrie's two-out single for game, set, and date with the Rays with the American League pennant on the line.

It remains only for the Angels to figure out how John Lackey could have been outpitched by Jon Lester in both his ALDS starts; how Francisco Rodriguez could have picked the wrong time to serve gimpy J.D. Drew a two-run ninth-inning bomb; how a team whose reputation on the bases is among the game's best could have worked the bases as though there were burning coals at or around each of them; or, how second baseman Howie Kendrick could have tried for Jacoby Ellsbury's second-inning Game Three bloop when it should have been Torii Hunter's play and call-off instead of a three-run single.

Those should be simpler to figure out than trying to figure out how their best bunter missed his chance to squeeze the Red Sox into a win-or-go-home fifth game.

Or, how the Angels as a whole squeezed themselves right into a round of unflattering comparisons to another team who spent year after year as division owners, came up with only one World Series win to show for it, and ended up boring everyone including a lot of their own fans to death.

The Angels are still many things among which boring is not to be found. Though Lackey is probably pushing his luck there by trying to wave off the Red Sox as a lesser team who finds ways to win on nothing hits. Makes you afraid to ask what he'd think if Aybar had dropped the bunt, Willits crossed the plate, and K-Rod had managed to hold the Red Sox off.

Last we looked, squeeze bunts weren't as bone-rattling as rifle-shot doubles off the Monster, of the kind that provoked Lackey's unwarranted observation in the first place.

The Angels' lone Series triumph, not that long ago, turns out not to have exorcised a few of their own transdimensional ghosts. Those ghosts squeeze a little harder than the one Erick Aybar couldn't drop and won't forget.
—Jeff Kallman
Thursday, October 9


At the very least, one can say that this weekend proved why certain teams made it to the playoffs, and why one cannot seem to get its head on straight. To digress (since Jeff's kovering the Kubs), what the hell were the Cubs doing? Errors, lackadaisical offense, and finally, yet another boneheaded decision on the part of the manager, Mr. Pinella, to rest his best starter so that he'll be rested and ready for game four. Only there wasn't a game four. I'm perplexed.

Reminder: The Cubs scored six runs in three games. You just don't do that and advance to the next round. Do you?

If you'd told me that the one team that went three and out were the Cubs, I'd have thought, well, I guess I'd have been surprised for a brief moment before shrugging and saying "Figures". But let's look at the teams I'm covering, eh? Briefly: The Brewers deserved their quick exit, the Phillies looked damned good, but I'll be damned if the Dodgers ain't the ones going to the World Series. Look for the Phillies to fall out, oh, 4-2 to the Dodgers this next round.

Who'll the L.A. Bums meet? Beats me. Between the White Sox and the Angels, it was the Anaheims who performed a much more harrowing feat, beating one of the great unbeatable postseason pitchers in Josh Beckett, who looked very human yesterday. Not awful, just human. ERA in ten postseason games before last night: 1.75. This postseaon, all of one game, 7.20. Outside of a messy contest with the Cubbies in '03, Beckett's been lights out in the October Country. That the Angels faced down this adversary, that they did this in Boston, one of the most fearsome places for a visiting team to play, shows a considerable amount of mettle. And they jumped back every tme there was a setback, especially in the third inning of that silly game, when Jacoby Ellsbury "singled" in three runs in the second inning. Oh, God, what a bad break for pitcher Joe Saunders: what should have been the third out dropped instead between Torii Hunter and Howie Kendrick. But the Angels didn't let that phase them, as they came right back with two of their own in the very next frame, and held on to win in 12 long innings.

But let's us look at the Rays/White Sox affair. The Rays were tough, tenacious, and yet the Sox were just a bit more so. Rays pitcher Matt Garza, the former Twin, wasn't exactly shaky, and good at-bats and adjustments on the part of White Sox hitters kept him guarded and unable to dominate. Instead, the Sox bunched their seven hits off Garza together to put five runs across, the Rays, with the same hits, couldn't do the same, and the Southsiders wandered away with a respectable 5-3 victory in Chicago to keep the series alive, and perhaps the city's memory away from the hapless Cubs.

It helps, too, that the Sox, unlike the Brewers and definitely unlike their uptown counterparts, looked loose and ready to play. They were at home, they watched the rain and loafed while the game was delayed a little over a half hour, and when the tarpaulin was rolled up, the team grabbed their gloves and wandered out to the field, with a bit of Buddhist tolerance, perhaps, or merely the attitude of a capable Loafer. The Rays themselves didn't look irritable, overeager, or excitable. In fact, it looked pretty much like a mid-April ballgame between two professional clubs who have little to prove other than they can play a game of baseball.

No really incredible heroics, a tight game, no outright blunders, and the series goes to 2-1. A game for purists, and folks who wanted to kill a lazy Sunday afternoon.
—Peter Schilling
Monday, October 6


Let's phrase it this way: The Los Angeles Angels against the Boston Red Sox were beginning to resemble the Red Sox against the New York Yankees pre-2004, and they went into Sunday's proceedings needing Josh Beckett a) like a cobra needs a dinner date with a mongoose; and, b) to be anything but Josh Beckett for one night in his life.

This time, they got option b). Even if they needed twelve innings to secure what they started, 5-4, and avoid a third consecutive round one sweep whenever they've faced the Red Sox in a postseason dance.

Until Chone Figgins pounced on pitch one in Fenway Park and sent it down the right field line, the Angels and their devotees had every reason on earth to fear that even a less-than-fully-healthy Beckett might do a reasonable facsimile upon them Sunday what he'd done to launch the 2007 division series sweep.

You couldn't blame those devotees, however, if they weren't about to heave relief and think that this night might be different, until Figgins strolled home on a bases-loaded walk not too long afterward, with Beckett needing to lure Mike Napoli into an inning-ending forceout to keep the damage to a measly run.

Unfortunately, Beckett paid for that inning ender two innings later, with the Red Sox up by two (Jacoby Ellsbury unloaded a bases-clearing single in the bottom of the second) and the Angels starting to feel their customarily ornery selves. Again Beckett surrendered an inning-opening double, this time to Vladimir Guerrero, who got frisky enough even on his well-compromised legs to steal third with two out. Up stepped Napoli, and over the Monster went a Beckett curve that had more hang time than a weather balloon.

These were not the Angels who barely brought themselves into calibration while Jason Bay—you remember him, the one whom nobody figured could replace Manny Ramirez when Manny Being Manny meant finally exasperating the Olde Towne Team into swapping him out of town for whatever reasonable facsimile they could get—put on whatever Manny costume he's been carrying since becoming a Red Sox and yanked a two-out, two-run bomb off a theretofore-cruising (1-0 lead) John Lackey in Game One last Wednesday night.

These were not the Angels who couldn't quite crawl back against Daisuke Matsuzaka and company in dropping Game Two, 7-5, thanks to J.D. Drew, another member of the Red Sox' emergency room corps, who'd shown up in all of two games among the Red Sox's final 38 down the stretch, unloading on Francisco Rodriguez, of all people, in the top of the ninth, giving Jonathan Papelbon all the room he'd need to send the Angels to the threshold of a nightmare.

These Angels kept pushing and shoving against Beckett and his mates. Even in innings when they couldn't push a soul across the plate they pressurised Beckett and forced him to pitch and pitch again. On the other hand, you could have forgiven the Red Sox if they thought they might have mojo enough to get past the sudden Angel peskiness, especially when Torii Hunter stranded the ducks on the pond in the top of fourth.

But you could have forgiven the Red Sox if they'd begun to feel forebodings of their own an inning later, when Napoli launched a second bomb off Beckett, this one a solo performance with one out. That one compelled the Red Sox to play tie it up, which Kevin Youkilis did with a drive to the back of center field, a double that was deep enough to let Ellsbury wait for a cab to take him home.

That was enough to send Angels starter Joe Saunders, like Ervin Santana one of the club's huge pitching surprises on the season (Saunders and Santana picked up the proverbial slack well enough over their own heads while the club awaited Lackey's recovery from an elbow injury), out of the game. From that point forward, it was bullpen matcing bullpen for shutout baseball, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Jon Masterson, and Riverdance Papelbon for the Red Sox and Jose Arredondo, Darren Oliver, Scot Shields, K-Rod, and Jered Weaver (normally a starter, moved to the pen for postseason round one) for the Angels, and except for a few dicey bumps and grinds along the way (a Red Sox threat in the seventh that was crippled when Ellsbury was caught stealing and Shields came in to swish Youkilis for the side; K-Rod pitching out of a bases-loaded jam half his own making in the tenth; the Angels pushing first and second and one out against Papelbon before he got a fly and a swish to quell it), there it stood until the twelfth.

Javier Lopez hit the mound for the Red Sox and Napoli hit him for a leadoff single, with Howie Kendrick pushing Napoli to second on a by-the-blueprints bunt, before Erick Aybar, who may yet earn a little prop as the sleeper of the league at his position, singled up the pipe to send home Napoli.

And all Weaver had to do in the Red Sox twelfth was shake off a jolting drive to the back of the park by Youkilis that Hunter ran down like a cop running down a burglar, drop strike three in on Bay, and convince Alex Cora his destiny on the night was to ground out to Figgins at third nice and quiet like.

All they have to do now is convince Lackey to remember how he looked in the first five innings to open the set, before Bay splashed him in the sixth, when he goes against Jon Lester for a rematch in Game Four. It sounds simple. It's anything but. With these two teams especially.
—Jeff Kallman
Monday, October 6


At least this time the Chicago Cubs and their fans were shown a dollop of mercy. They didn't have to be in Wrigley Field to watch the best team in the National League, according to the season's won-lost record, get shoved out of the postseason before they really got into it.

This time, there was no Jolly Cholly electing to send Hank Borowy on the mound with one day's rest to try to nail a World Series, rather than open his doghouse just once to spring an extremely well-rested Hy Vandenburg for a fresh arm to feed the Detroit Tigers.
There was no Leo Durocher electing to spend more time baiting and alienating umpires into possibly allowing nearly every last close play in which they'd be involved go against the Cubs.

There were, to the best of our knowledge, no such vile venom soupmakers among the Bleacher Bums as to provoke enemy pitchers to beg for rotation switches just to get a crack at jamming one down the Cubs' throats, as Bob Gibson did down the 1969 stretch.
There was no ground ball to figure out a way to turn a first baseman's legs into a croquet wicket through which to sneak, as turned those of Leon Durham in the 1984 National League Championship Series.

There wasn't even a Steve Bartman in the stands down the left field line, upon whom angry fans could fix the blame they couldn't bear to impose upon Alex Gonzalez, whose glove disappeared in the same moment he elected to turn his chest into a trampoline for oncoming should-be double play balls.

And, they didn't even have to sit in the Confines to watch these Cubs collapse in what might be, for them, the new old-fashioned way. This time, the Cubs earned it.

They earned it from the moment Joe Torre began to out-think and out-manage Lou Piniella. They earned it with their bats turning to noodles when they needed to harden into missile launchers and high-powered shotguns.

They earned it from the moment they stranded their first runner in scoring position, finishing their National League Division Series hitting .208 (5-for-24) with men in scoring position after leading the National league in scoring. (855 runs.)

They earned it from the moment Joe Torre out-thought Lou Piniella, hitting-and-running when he if nobody else knew the Cubs' pitching and defence were particularly vulnerable, and they earned it from the moment Ryan Dempster, the Cubs' resident crystal ball gazer, lost his control well enough to set up the ducks on the pond all by himself in the firs game, before serving James Loney a ball so luminous that Loney could have picked out the words "grand slam" outlined on the meat before sending it over the center field wall.

They earned it from the moment their defence proved they could siphon Carlos Zambrano's combustibility and do around the horn what Zambrano still does once in awhile on the mound—implode and explode in perhaps the same motion, providing the Dodgers with a five-run second in the second game.

They earned it from the moment Manny Ramirez, from whom jaw-dropping bombs are as predictable as jaw-dropping attitudes in dire need of adjustment, committed a jaw-dropping act in Wrigley's left field, in which there is no known men's room for spontaneous repose, when he leaned into the fabled foliage to catch a Jim Edmonds fly as though he'd been playing the Monster in Fenway in abject preparation for just such a leaning.

They earned it from the moment Hiroki Kuroda showed them that he could tie them up like burglary victims in the third and sweeping game, even with something far less than his customary repertoire, that he didn't need to strike out eleven as he'd done in June to provide six innings worth of Cub futility.

They earned it from the moment Loney proved to them he didn't need to slice salami to give them an irrevocable case of in-game indigestion, ripping a first-inning, two-out, two-run double to set the game course for a Kuroda who had no intention of giving the Cubs anything to hit except their own heads on the dugout walls.

They earned it from the moment they first hit the field against the Dodgers to the moment they left the field for the final time this year, with nary a billy goat, or a live baseball bat, in the immediate vicinity.

They earned it perhaps from the moment Piniella decided a little public humiliation was just what struggling Kosuke Fukodome needed to catch himself back on track. Playing yourself out of the starting lineup is one thing, but when Fukudome needed a bracer from his own people while Cub Country was beginning to come down on him with both feet, what he got from his manager was a shovel and a tombstone.

As if he was the only one whose bat turned into a slat.

"Let me tell you this," said Piniella when it was all over, "You can play postseason baseball for now to another one hundred years, but if you score six runs in a three game series it's going to be another hundred years before we win.

"We just didn't hit, you have to score runs. We had opportunities and you have to take advantage of them. This is six games I managed now in the postseason and we have scored just twelve runs. That doesn't get it done."

What it got was the Cubs done for the season. It also completed Joe Torre's resurrection. Let's have no more talk about the weakness of the National League West or the manner(s) in which his Yankee teams might have been able to outplay his wounding flaws. And let's have no more talk, especially, from the Yankee encampment or elsewhere, about how any given Lou Piniella team would never have gone as deathlike as Torre was going come postseason time.

These Dodgers looked as though they were at the front of the line when God was loading up the adrenaline and the spirits. These Dodgers looked as though they couldn't wait to hit the field or the batter's box, and the only thing for which they seemed to have the patience to wait was whatever Cub pitcher's service had the look and the trajectory for a meeting with the head of a Dodger bat.

These Dodgers had something about them that could turn idiosyncratic Manny Ramirez into so relaxed and contented a character that he could (and probably did) carry them the second half of the season, down the stretch, and into round one merely by snapping a dreadlock and laughing it off when he couldn't find the men's room in any other left field fence.

He even found himself relaxed enough to lead or be among the first waves to celebrate when any of his Dodger mates delivered a big payload in their own right. For the first time in a very long time, Manny Being Manny included drawing a little inspiration from those surrounding him as much as he might let them draw from that well.

That's a better recommendation for the younger Dodgers—Loney, Matt Kemp, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin, and company—than the reputation they forged in their 2007 falterings for having been full-of-themselves underachievers.

And it isn't unrealistic to suggest that one major reason for all the above is the man who is now Ramirez's field boss. The man against whom Ramirez shone often enough in Red Sox silks. Ramirez has looked at the man from both sides now and not even his staunchest allies or most stubborn critics could tell you the last time Ramirez has looked this much at peace playing pressure baseball.

The Dodgers have a date with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cubs have a date with winter vacation. The second century of the Cubs' rebuilding effort has begun. And there isn't an external or extraterrestrial scapegoat—billy or otherwise—in sight.
—Jeff Kallman
Monday, October 6


Here's an interesting statistic to ponder: of all eight playoff teams, five are playing in old stadiums (six if you don't include the White Sox's newer digs). How could that be? I mean, how is it that teams like Tampa Bay and the pair of Los Angeles clubs can endure without the largess of taxpayer funded homes? Of course, Tropicana Field and all the fixin's on the Angels Stadium were funded by the commonweal. But since Milwaukee and Philadelphia—the two clubs in shiny new palaces—are playing one another, there can only be one team in the Big Show proving Bud Selig's adage that the stadiums make a difference.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. Here in Minnesota, we're but a season away from our new home, a riverrock and girder affair that's I can reach in fifteen minutes by bike on the bikepath. Over the next two weeks, my wife is going to be hitting the phones to try and convince suburban voters to pay roughly $8 million dollars to keep her school district in the black, but who cares so long as the Minnesota Twins have a great place to play, that only costs 40 times as much as those damned schools. Then again, I'm sure the schools in Philly and Milwaukee are in great shape. They wouldn't build a stadium otherwise, right?

But I digress. You're here, perhaps now wondering why, to read about the postseason. And again I say ouch. The Brewers and Cubbies, two great stories this year, are on the verge of being knocked off. The Brewers strike me as the team that stands the best chance of coming back. They lost the first two, but they're coming home, they're underdogs, and my instincts are telling me they're ready to make this a series. Whether they can pull it out or not is another thing. Jeff'll tell you all about the Cubs/Dodgers, but I'm here to tell you the Cubs are toast. Favored, best record in the NL, heading to L.A., they're exactly where they shouldn't be and I think that they just can't get it together to win. The Dodgers have beaten them and, even worse, they've beaten themselves.

The Brewers, though, I just can't count them out. We all should have known, or at least I should have mentioned this yesterday, that Mr. Sabathia is not the most reliable postseason starter and frankly, the guy could simply be gassed. This is his fourth, fourth!, start on three days rest. How long they think they can keep this up is anyone's guess. But as in game one, the Brewers were closer than might appear at first glance. Sabathia fell apart in the second, giving up five runs on two doubles and a homer, but outside that frame, it was tight. Milwaukee was pressing a bit at the plate, and failed to capitalize on a bases loaded, one out first, which is inexcusable especially in the playoffs.

But I see the Brewers coming back. Their backs were against the wall coming in, and if you were to give them a playoff spot down 2-0 coming home in the preseason, my guess is that they'd take it. 1-1, or up 2-0 (like the Dodgers), would be preferable of course, but look for the Brewers to win the next game and force, at least, a game four.


Briefly: The Rays look so very good, don't they. Yes, Evan Longoria smashed a pair of impressive home runs, but what got me was young James Shields. In the third inning he gave up a two-out, three-run home run to Dewayne Wise, followed by a double by Jermaine Dye, and still didn't get ruffled. Tampa followed that inning with three of their own, Shields settled down, and the Rays breezed to a 6-4 game one victory. Folks, the Rays are consistenly showing that they are a solid, solid team, unflappable, from their seven game losing streak before the All Star break to giving up a three run blast yesterday, this is a club that acts as though every game is nine innings and you don't give up until the third out in the ninth. Look out for these guys.
—Peter Schilling
Friday, October 3


There will be those calling it a laugher, considering the 10-3 final, but that will not be the Chicago Cubs laughing very much about it, since it puts them on the threshold of postseason elimination before they had much beyond catch-a-breath time to savor their National League Central conquest.

Only those wearing Los Angeles Dodgers silks will be laughing when they hark back to the top of the second. Anyone in Cubs silks who permits anything beyond a funereal smile is liable to risk Carlos Zambrano leading him to the slaughterhouse.

Zambrano could probably learn to live with Russell Martin launching a bases-clearing double to the back of left center field. It's how the bases got loaded in the first place that might provoke a nightmare or three jolting him awake into a state in which murder might not be an unviable option.

Begin with one out (Matt Kemp, looking at strike three) and first and second when Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa handled Blake DeWitt's likely double play grounder as though the seams had been waxed with a particularly potent poison, allowing Andre Ethier (leadoff single) and James Loney (followup single) to second.

Continue with Derrek Lee, customarily a reliable pair of three-time Gold Glove first base hands, handling Casey Blake's grounder as though the poisons were still finding the ball's seams. Proceed to Zambrano swishing his Dodger opposite, Chad Billingsley, before Rafael Furcal—who seemed to have spent over half the season requiring medical attention otherwise—made Zambrano want an appointment with his doctor by beating out a bunt to push home Loney and keep the ducks on the pond for Martin.

And, now, watch as Martin's tracer sails to the back of Wrigley Field and DeWitt, Blake, and Furcal come scampering home. Zambrano—who actually pitched well enough otherwise on the evening—almost didn't dare watch. If he did, he'd have been the next man arrested as a Chicago serial killer.

With Billingsley pitching as stingily as you could ask when gifted a lead so fat, the Cubs seemed destined for little more beyond stranding what few baserunners they could muster, while the Dodgers added bits here (Manny Ramirez, with a hefty belt onto the batter's eye club past center field to launch the Los Angeles sixth), pieces there (Kemp doubling Ramirez home with two out and Neal Cotts in relief of Zambrano in the top of the seventh), and fragments yonder (Furcal and Ramirez singling home a run apiece in the top of the eighth), right up to the moment Blake singled home pinch-hitter Juan Pierre (safe on another Cub error, Ryan Theriot throwing his grounder wild enough past first) in the top of the ninth.

All the Cubs could calibrate in response was Jim Edmonds doubling DeRosa home with two out in the seventh and DeRosa, who owes a little bit more in the realm of repayment, doubling home Lee and Aramis Ramirez off a slightly spent Takashi Saito, before Jonathan Broxton came in, shook off a walk to pinch-hitter Felix Pie, and lured Geovanny Soto into lining out to late substitute Angel Berroa at second, before dropping strike three right in on Kosuke Fukudome and Daryle Ward to end it.

All you had to see to punctuate the Cubs' calamity was Manny Being Something Other Than Manny in the bottom of the fifth. He went to the ivy for Edmonds' drive, leaned into it to spear the drive, and flipped the ball to center fielder Kemp like they were a pair of kids going for a cheap chuckle at summer camp, Kemp replying with a joyous slap on Ramirez's shoulder.

That's how things go for the Cubs in this division series thus far. They're inspiring a fellow not usually known for being one of nature's great defenders to hunt it, peck it, flip it, and laugh it. They're also inspiring these Dodgers to play above and beyond the Dodgers who got waxed right out of the 2006 postseason (by the Mets) before they had time to grease their guns.

Any further such inspiration and the Cubs will go where not even the Boston Red Sox have gone before. Nor even the Philadelphia Phillies, who stand themselves on the threshold of shoving the Milwaukee Brewers toward winter vacation. I could spell it out for you, but as a latent sympathiser to Cub Country I'd like to see them go into the next game with something else to hold onto.

Hope would be a rather nice something else. That, and a one-game bypass of the second inning.
—Jeff Kallman
Friday, October 3


Do you realize that the Brewers' postseason drought is the longest in baseball today? Until just the other day, the team from Wisconsin had not tasted a sweet October game since 1982... twenty-six long seasons. No team, not the Royals, the Pirates, the Reds... you name them, no one has been bereft of a season of hope as long as the good fans of Milwaukee. Say what you will about the Cubs and their century long wait for a World Series title (which might be still on hold if the Dodgers keep it up), the Brewers futility is remarkable. And remarkably sad.

I've never been able to bring myself to feel a great deal of sorrow for the plight of teams like the Cubs, who play to large crowds in a beautiful stadium and, now and then, find themselves in the playoffs. A playoff season is a good thing, people, and though it is not as supreme as a World Championship, it is better than nothing. You remember a year that your team made the post-season, and unless there's a fire sale, it makes the next season alive with hope.

Good Lord, consider the life of a Milwaukee fan! Twenty-six years. The Cubs, Indians, and the usual symbols of futility can look to a number of years when they at least found themselves in the playoffs, or World Series. They have colorful curses to point to, reckless moments of fan behavior, and the like. Milwaukee? Wow, we came in second place in 1992. And last year. How's that for a thrill. Their only curse? Bud Selig used to own the team, and they stole the Seattle Pilots. My God.

Twenty six years is an eternity. I don't care who you root for, unless it's the Brewers, you haven't had to endure such helplessness for so long. Two point six decades is a whole lifetime. Think of the old-timers! There's gents out there who used to sit next to the old Channel Master radio and listen to the games instead of Nixon's resigning, wondering, no doubt, what they did to deserve such a lousy team. Milwaukee was home to the World Champion Braves! Hank Aaron! Spahn and Sain and pray for rain! I'm betting there are guys in the stands now lamenting the demise of County Stadium and Atlanta's long playoff run. That used to be our team!

I don't doubt that Brewer fans are feeling a bit agitated after last afternoon's contest, in which the Phillies bested the Milwaukee nine 3-1. This was a game Milwaukee shouldn't have let go, and though Phillies hurler Cole Hamels was incredible, Brewer pitcher Yovani Gallardo more than held his own, giving up but three hits in his four innings of work. Errors cost Milwaukee this game. Poor centerfielder Mike Cameron, normally able to handle a jogging catch, instead let a ball drop from the heel of his glove, scoring two and keeping the inning alive. To be fair, the inning might have ended earlier were it not for second baseman Rickie Weeks inability to handle a routine throw to first, where he was covering on Hamels' sacrifice bunt. Gallardo intentionally walked Ryan Howard (he should have hit him) and then, spooked, walked Shane Victorino to score the third and final run for the Phillies that day.

Look, Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum pulled Gallardo after four innings, and to look at things you'd expect the game to unravel. It didn't. The Brewers played like a team that felt it belonged here, fighting and clawing up to the last out. The bullpen allowed no more runs and but one hit and a walk in the remaining four frames. And they quickly tagged vaunted Phillies closer Brad Lidge for a single, a double, and a walk before bowing out.

So I would hope that Brewers fans feel as if their team isn't going to just roll over and die, but take some solace in the fact that they're out there ready to play, and, outside that third inning, play well. Hell, they might have won this game without those errors. Of course, this is cold comfort if the team loses the series. But at least they're in the series, and part of that exclusive club of teams that have bust past the final day and into the postseason, but haven't a ring to show for it (yet). Milwaukee will get at least one game at the new County Stadium. Win or lose, October baseball is back in Wisconsin. If it gets them quiet about those damned Packers, it's worth it right there.
—Peter Schilling
Thursday, October 2


I suspect a few will make note: A former Yankee manager and two former Red Sox have shepherded the Los Angeles Dodgers to their first series-opening postseason win since Dennis Eckersley learned the hard way that you never throw a slider to a cripple. (His words, not mine.)

And that would be Ryan Dempster learning the hard way that you never throw a 1-2 bases-loaded meatball to James Loney, when the Chicago Cubs have a 2-0 lead, certainly not in Wrigley Field. It seems to mean mostly that Loney and the Dodgers are going to dine in style, after the ball lands beyond the center field wall.

While the actual Yankees continue their offseason pondering of what needs to be to bring them back to the postseason their fans think is theirs by birthright, their former manager banked it and two of their former Red Sox nemeses insured it, a 7-2 thump off perhaps the best Cubs team since . . . no, we're not going to invoke the ghosts of 1969 or 1984 now.

Derek Lowe, arguably the best pitcher in baseball over its final fortnight (6-1 from 11 August to the final day, and a 1.27 ERA over that span), didn't let Mark DeRosa's one-out two-run bomb rattle him out of keeping the Cubs otherwise impotent, seven hits on the day amounting to nothing much beyond either stranded baserunners or two inning-ending double plays.

Manny Ramirez, say what you will of him otherwise, should think about formalising his credentials as an insurance agent. He started the Dodgers' insurance by opening the top of the seventh with a lesson for Chicago reliever Sean Marshall: Don't throw the all-time postseason bomb leader anything that even imitates something to hit. It'll do a pretty fair imitation of a ballistic missile on its way into the left center field bleachers.

Not that the rest of the Dodgers planned on letting the ex-Red Sox have all the fun or Loney take too much of the glory. That was Martin Being Manny to open the top of the ninth, Russell Martin greeting Jason Marquis in from the pen with a rude bomb to the approximate real estate Ramirez had visited two innings earlier.

And that was Blake DeWitt taking advantage of Jim Edmonds's rare miscue running down his eighth-inning double, taking third in time for Casey Blake, like Ramirez an erstwhile Cleveland Indian, to send him home with a single up the pipe.

This wasn't exactly the manner in which Dempster nor Wrigley expected things to go. Not with a fellow who went 14-3 in the Confines on the regular season and had predicted rather boldly before the season that these Cubs would win the World Series. This year. Not next year. Not next century.

"Let's put this one behind us," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, like Torre an erstwhile Yankee manager, "and go get them tomorrow." And he didn't so much as reach for his cap, never mind to throw it, while he said it.

Loney, who isn't a former Red Sox, could only admire the lineup mate who was. "We get a sense of what he's been doing all these years," he said. Manny Ramirez has invited many reactions over his years, but understatement usually isn't one of them.
—Jeff Kallman
Thursday, October 2


One swing, that was all. A period at the end of an incredibly long sentence. From April Fools Day to closing night of September. Two teams, each 88-One-zip, Chicago wins, season over. The only 1-0 victory for the White Sox this season.

You might say that this is not how it should end, that there should have been more fireworks, more baserunners, more... what? More drama? Impossible. The Twins and the White Sox went mano a mano, their pitchers, Nick Blackburn and John Danks, fighting inning after grueling inning. As Joseph Campbell once wrote, the essence of the ocean is captured in a single drop, so the essence of an entire season was captured in a single game. The former Senators and Black Sox haven't been more than two and a half games apart since July, had identical—identical!—home and away records, and their season series was off by only two games in the Twins favor going into yesterday's game. It came down to last night, one contest, and it had to be this way, close, edgy, filled with possibility up to the last swing.

Already there's hand-wrining in our fair city's newspaper, the Star-Tribune and around town. "Meek Offense Manages Just Two Hits". "The Twins got all the pitching they needed, with Nick Blackburn offering a stirring revival, but the offense disappeared, as Chicago held on to win the AL Central in a 1-0 triumph..."

Really? That's not the game I heard. Yes, heard, for I did not manage to activate a cable television account, and so I had to go audio, having John Gordon and Dan Gladden paint the game in words. One Mr. Joe Christensen wrote the above for the Strib, which I would say is typical of the mainstream press here in Minnesota. Why admire a tight pitcher's duel, an amazing game to close an amazing season, when you can pile it on at the last minute. I'd love to read Mr. Christensen's coverage of a perfect game, which would obviously be less of a pitching triumph than a failure of the batsmen.

For this was a pitcher's game, above and beyond anything else. Neither man, Blackburn or Danks, proved to be a killer, striking out player after player. Instead, they were crafty, deceitful, forcing batters to react, and react poorly. Neither man ran up huge pitch counts—in fact, Blackburn's was excellent—but forced each team's batters to swing. I could be wrong, as I wasn't scoring the count for each batter, but outside the walks (three each per starter), I don't believe that the counts were ever that high.

We can cringe at the Twins inability to garner more than two hits, but I doubt Chicago is crowing over their meager five—four during Blackburn's run. Both starters gave up three walks. Seven baserunners for one, five for the other. And you complain that the Twins didn't get it done? That's pitching, friend, not merely the inablitily of a bat to connect with a ball.

It is beneficial, too, that the Twins didn't lose the game on an error, on some crazy squibbler that sent a gimpy runner to the plate, but that it was Jim Thome blasted, utterly wrecked, a Blackburn fastball that got hung up over the plate just waiting for Big Jim's bat. That thing sailed clear over the high wall of center field—when that happens, it's a home run in any park, and a legitimate Twin-killing move.

There's a foolish survey at the right of the aforementioned Star-Tribune article, asking readers eager to assign blame just what went wrong. Was it Michael Cuddyer's trying to score on Brendan Harris' short fly to center? Cuddyer, perhaps seeing that any run would count, bolted to home after the catch, and Ken Griffey Jr. made a perfect throw to A. J. Pierzynski to nail Cuddyer at the plate. There was a collision, but I'm guessing that A. J. doesn't lose many of those (though replays on showed that the ball did in fact almost fly out of his glove). It was a great try. What would you have done, held Cuddyer? I'm sorry, but you've got to send the guy, you've got to grab these opportunities when they present themselves. Griffey is older, playing hurt, prone to bad throws. If Cuddyer would have held, and not scored, well, that play would have borne the brunt of the Twin Cities collective ire as well.

The survey, titled "What Doomed the Twins Last Night?" makes it sound as if this were a blow-out. Was it Cuddyer's brave try, Thome's homer, Morneau's quiet bat, or playing in Chicago? Well, literally it was Thome's home run, since that's what gave Chicago the score. But Morneau was as quiet as any of the Sox outside of Thome and Dye, who had two hits that didn't amount to anything.

What doomed the Twins? Just that one team wins and one team loses and that's baseball. One game and this season—which I would argue is more incredible than any Twins season in recent memory, including 2006, for this group is young and without Santana and Hunter to anchor them—comes to an end. Somebody had to lose. And if you have to lose, then fighting, pitching, fielding in a 1-0 loss that kept every fan tense, teeth clenched, and shouting at home or in bars and taverns up to the very last out, the last damned at-bat... well, that was exactly the way to go.
—Peter Schilling
Wednesday, October 1


Well, as Gabriel Heatter customarily opened his nightly radio commentaries, once upon a time, there is good news tonight. Even for New York Mets fans, among whom I have been one since the day they were born.

This time, the Mets didn't blow a seven-game divisional lead by going 5-12 in their final seventeen, with the Florida Marlins hammering the last nails into the casket on the final day. This time, the Mets blew a mere three-and-a-half game divisional lead, and went 7-10 in the final seventeen. Surely that is a sign of splendid improvement, even with the Marlins again hammering in the final nails—crafted and gifted them by a member in, ahem, good standing of the Mets bullpen.

In the season in which their ballpark's life as a major league baseball arena wound down to its final out, ever, these Mets—who won two World Series, came that close to winning a third, and lost a fourth in a five set that was closer than the duration suggests—finished Shea Stadium by treating it as though it were the antique Polo Grounds. Except that the Mets who played there, in their first two years of life, were genuinely funny.

Those Mets sucked . . . with style. These Mets merely . . .

Those Mets were The Comedy of Errors. As it might have been written by Jimmy Breslin. (Oops. He did write it. It was called, Can't Anybody Here Play This Game) With Bud Abbott pitching, Lou Costello catching, the Four Marx Brothers covering the infield, the Three Stooges covering the outfield, the Mighty Allen Art Players on the bench, and the Keystone Kops in the bullpen. Managed by Jack Benny, with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd on the coaching lines, Charlie Chaplin as the batting instructor, and Fred Allen running the bench.

These Mets were Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As it might have been written by Ed Wood. I don't dare suggest the starting nine or the brain trust, but I'm tempted to think that Jerry Manuel—who may yet earn himself Manager of the Year honours merely for yanking them up from the Willie Randolph catastrophe (these Mets even out-Steinbrennered Steinbrenner, firing their manager at the crack of midnight after he flew cross-country to beat the eventual American League West conquerors) and shoving them back into the race in the first place—may have been mind-melded by Bela Lugosi.

Those Mets couldn't help turning useful pitchers like Al Jackson and Roger Craig into human pin cushions. These Mets would have turned Goose Gossage into Turk Farrell. And Sandy Koufax into Anthony Young.

As a matter of fact, they just about did. Johan Santana—can you believe there were those who thought this mild-mannered man didn't have It, didn't have The Right Stuff, didn't have The Face of the Ace?—went out last Saturday afternoon and put the truth to the supposition that the only way to keep the Mets' bullpen from turning baseball games into torch songs was for the starting pitchers to throw complete games.

If these Mets have torched Santana out of a Cy Young Award he might have won in a blink, they deserve to genuflect before their mild-mannered ace and offer anything short of a human sacrifice for his forgiveness. No, amend that. These Mets already offered enough human sacrifices this season. Santana was the big offering. He finished the season 16-7 with eleven no-decisions; defining pitching well enough to win as surrendering three earned runs or fewer, in only one of those games (a July 17 loss to the Cincinnati Reds) did he not pitch well enough to win.

And the Mets finished with a 6-5 record in Santana's no-decisions. If they'd won only those in which Santana came out of a game with the lead, he'd have finished 23-11. If they'd won all his no-decisions, he might have finished at or close enough to 27-7. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Koufax territory.

But I digress. The Mets whom these Mets did their worst to impersonate couldn't hit because they were mostly spent veterans and skittish kids. These Mets couldn't hit in the final weekend against the Fish because, in spite of their abilities to hit (they may have cost Carlos Delgado a shot at the National League's MVP, too), it's possible that they, too, must have come at last to that point at which it's what's-the-use time, knowing only too well what was due to happen from the seventh inning forward.

These Mets were the sort-of surprise winners in last winter's Santana lottery, and they spent the season proving how little they deserved the work he gave them nearly all the time. What they did deserve was the Philadelphia Phillies winning the National League East, anyway, when Jimmy Rollins took a dive Saturday and turned a bullet up the pipe into a game-ending double play, a bailout of Brad Lidge that won't cost the Phillies half of what the Wall Street bailout might cost American taxpayers if it yet comes to pass, and a win for Jamie Moyer that tied him with Phil Niekro for the most wins in a season by a middle-aged pitcher.

These Mets deserved what they ended up receiving when their season shook to its close Sunday. And they weren't going to get any help from the Brewers, either—the Brewers had only one break to give, and they gave it, when the Cubs thumped injury-addled Ben Sheets Saturday. The Brewers come Sunday were too busy dispatching the NL Central-champ Cubs, 3-1, in a nice postseason tuneup.

These Mets, with perhaps four or five exceptions, didn't deserve to be in the same zip code, for even one day, as the Mets past who came once more to do Shea Stadium honour. Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. Jerry Koosman and Willie Mays.Yogi Berra and John Franco. Even Dave Kingman, the ancient bitters burned away by his bucolic life as a homebodied outdoorsman and father around Lake Tahoe. Mookie Wilson and Ed Kranepool.

You tell me that, on the day after Santana performed one final soul sacrifice for what proved a discarded cause, there wasn't a Met fan in the house who wished Tom Seaver were pitching something more to Mike Piazza than the ceremonial first pitch.

But unlike the manner in which the Mets finished Shea Stadium's major league life, let's not finish on notes that sour. Let's return to the good news: The Mets managed somehow to show a remarkable two-game improvement from last season to this. They might even have the chance to go 8-9, or dare we hope 9-8, down the final seventeen next season.

They need only eat right, exercise, grease their bulbs properly, and find relief pitchers who can leave the blow torches, flame throwers, box matches, and lighter fluid behind when they're asked to do their part in getting a game to the back end.

Because if they don't, these Mets have done quite enough damage without concurrently inspiring the bad punmakers to turn their brand-new, rather beautiful Citi Field into Piti Field.
—Jeff Kallman
Wednesday, October 1


Once upon a time, the still-somewhat-new general manager of the team in Queens surveyed the mayhem and—referencing a popular action film of the time—pronounced the orchard "Fort Apache, Yankee Stadium."

All this season's eulogising the Big Ball Orchard in the Bronx has been gushy, mushy, sentimental, and mostly on the mark. Never mind that, technically speaking, the House That Ruth Built (actually, it was built for him, opening in 1923, with particular attention paid to making life simple enough for his lefthanded power stroke) became the House That Ruthless Rebuilt (with a lot of help from New York City's strapped taxpayers) in 1975-76.

The Yankees would have loved nothing better than to close their longtime mansion with yet another trip to the postseason. You can thank injuries and ill-timed slumps, perhaps an ill-timed benching or two.But it isn't as though Yankee Stadium is necessarily lacking in championship seasons.

Or any other kinds of seasons. There certainly have been enough of a boatload of Yankee Stadium doings and undoings, in or around the place, to cover half the width of the Harlem River. We'll bet you didn't hear about half of them in the course of the season-long hosannas.

"Mr. Gehrig is Badly Underpaid"—That was Joe DiMaggio's quiet reply, before the 1938 season, when owner Jacob Ruppert, trying to quell DiMaggio's salary holdout (the Clipper sought $40,000 for the season; Gehrig was to earn $39,000) sought to force DiMaggio to accept $25,000 and not a penny more by quoting him Gehrig's salary. DiMaggio eventually signed, after Ruppert threatened to suspend him.

Scoot!—General manager George Weiss and manager Casey Stengel called in fading shortstop Phil Rizzuto in 1956, asking Rizzuto to suggest a roster cut to make stretch-drive room for ancient Enos Slaughter. They rejected his suggestions, one and all, until the Scooter finally realised he was the cut they had in mind. Not even George Steinbrenner at his worst would ponder that kind of act.

Hats Off—Weiss was so insensitive to the thought that maybe the Yankee image might need a little humanising that, for years, he refused to sanction the sale of replica Yankee caps for kids. That kind of thinking goes a long way toward explaining why the Yankees of the era might have been mighty and unavoidable but weren't necessarily loveable.

Tell Me Why?—Not even the Voice of the Yankees himself was immune to Yankee panky. After suffering a vocal ailment during the 1963 World Series that at least one columnist (Dick Young) suggested was psychosomatic (as in, he couldn't bear to watch the Yankees swept for the first time in their storied postseason history), Allen ended up dumped in favour of Rizzuto as the Yankee broadcast representative for the 1964 World Series.

To the day he died, Allen was never offered a thorough explanation as to why, beyond broadcast sponsor Ballantine Beer claiming it was trying to plug up the leaks in the bottom line.

Better Dead Than Red—During a September 1966 game, toward the end of a last-place season, broadcaster Red Barber---seeing the real story of the game was the near-empty Yankee Stadium—ordered a television camera pan of the park. His superiors, however, nullified the order. At season's end, Barber was dumped even more disgracefully than Berra had been.

Bronx Cheer—In a postgame, televised press conference, after the Big Red Machine steamrolled the Yankees in four straight in the 1976 World Series, Pete Rose plopped a Yankee cap on his head, turned his thumbs down, and loosed a raspberry. Not even Yankee fans deserved a display like that.

Ding! Dong! The Boss is Dead!—No moment in Yankee Stadium history was more surreal than the night Steinbrenner got a standing ovation that swelled slowly around the park, when he was suspended a second time, this by Commissioner Fay Vincent, over using gambler Howard Spira to help discredit future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.

The news broke while the Yankees played the Detroit Tigers (they won, eventually, 6-2), with Yankee fans clinging to portable radios and the Tigers coming up to hit. A slow surge started down the right field stands and swelled shortly to consume the entire Stadium. The Tigers had no idea why they, seemingly, were getting a standing O.

Hizzoner the Maier—Game One, the 1996 American League Championship Series. Talk about a helping hand. (And, if the Baltimore Orioles continue their none-too-winning ways over another decade or three, a Curse of the Maier.)

"You Lost! Go Home!"—Florida Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett hollered that at lingering, commiserating Yankee fans after he and his Florida Marlins dispatched them in the 2003 World Series. Even Yankee fans didn't deserve that, either.

And yet . . . and yet . . . even a no-questions-asked Yankee hater could only sit in awe, after the Boston Red Sox finished what they started so improbably in the 2004 American League Championship Series. George Steinbrenner, of all people, dismissed calls to send the rollicking Red Sox fans home and close the Stadium for the winter once and for all.

"No," Steinbrenner insisted. "They earned it. Let them enjoy it."

Let's be fair and remember that there were more classy than crassy moments in the Big Ball Orchard in the Bronx. From Lou Gehrig's spontaneous eloquence in the face of certain death to Bobby Murcer's cheerful courage in the same face. A few hundred between.

But when Steinbrenner ordered one and all to leave the partying Red Sox fans alone, that they might celebrate their greatest triumph in the home park of their longest-standing enemy, that may have been the classiest Yankee Stadium moment of them all.
—Jeff Kallman
Wednesday, October 1


Finally. After a year of steroid talks, of no Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, of the usual political irritants that come with every summer, we're finally where we should be all along: watching the noble sport and losing our minds bit by bit to the game of baseball.

Christ Almighty, I don't have to tell you what a crazy year this was. Who would have predicted Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and maybe even Milwaukee to make it to the playoffs? Well, really, Milwaukee should have gone last year, and they should have fared better this season, too. But no matter. It's fun to have a team from Milwaukee in the post-season for a change.

I write this on Tuesday, September 30 in the late morning. Time and date are important because, as you might have surmised from the last paragraph, I'm hoping desperately for the Twins to bust past the Chicago White Sox and make it to the playoffs. Although I am a fan of the Detroit Tigers—the lot of us are perhaps the most bitterly disappointed group of fans on the planet right now (both for their dismal season and the fact that they didn't bump off the Sox and only secured last place all by themselves)—the Twins are now my meat. I live in Minnesota. I have playoff tickets. Good playoff tickets.

But I'm crazy for October baseball whether or not the Twins are around come Wednesday morning. Is it wrong to assume that most baseball fans are like myself? By that I mean that the October Country, that amazing month when baseball crystallizes and becomes even more beautiful and is filled with such incredible feats that it rises to a level matched only by the greatest drama and art, is my favorite time of the year. Bring on Chicago if that's what the gods require. (Chicago isn't a bad story in itself, either, and an all Chicago series? Heaven!) Whether or not my team is actually in the post season makes little difference. In fact, there are times when it seems even better not to have a team to root for so that one may enjoy every great play without prejudice.

Of course, there's good and bad. Watching the jerks at Fox turn this into a military, pro-war hoo-hah as they always do, replete with the planes flying overhead and such, gives me a headache. Not to mention the solid hour of sepia-toned historical, tear-jerking garbage they throw at us in an attempt to make sure that we fans know that this is a historical event. Idiotic. At some point, if the Red Sox advance, Curt Schilling (no relation, thank the Lord), will spout off on something, revealing himself to be a man with a brilliant command of public relations and no understanding at all of anything else.

As Vonnegut said, "So it goes". This year, my esteemed colleague, Jeff Kallman, and I will be giving you our near-famous "almost daily" coverage of the playoffs and World Series. Almost daily because on days when there's no game we'll be busy resting our tired pens and regenerating our fatigued minds with movies, books, politics and liquor. I will, anyway.

In this first round, Jeff's covering the Los Angeles Angels against the Boston Red Sox, while I will take on the Twins versus the amazing Tampa Bay Rays. In some cases, I will have hands-on coverage of games three and four, provided the Twins get to this round and force a game four.

National League-wise, Jeff's honing his little eye on the Los Angeles Dodgers/Chicago Cubs affair, while I take on the rousing Milwaukee Brewers/Philadelphia Phillies contest.
—Peter Schilling
Tuesday, September 30


As you should probably know by now, the great Paul Newman passed away last Sunday at the age of 83.

Who didn't like Paul Newman? Well, actually, David Thomson didn't particularly care for him, and it's true that the guy made quite a few very popular films that are really not all that great. Oddly enough, my wife and I watched Cool Hand Luke just the other day, before he died, and it suffers a bit with the years. But Newman, man, Newman was cool throughout.

Of course, Paul Newman was also a great guy. It's probably a cliche by now to remark about his wonderful marriage (rare in Hollywood and everywhere else, too), and his charity work. But the guy also made Liberalism with a capital L look so good—he was an astute businessman, raced cars (he even had an obit on, and wasn't crazy, like Dennis Kucinich or Warren Beatty. I think that 'crazy' part comes from being arrogant, and Newman was never anything but a decent man. He never tried to play up a false blue collar front, either—in his racing he was still the suave, Liberal, Hollywood actor Paul Newman. He was who he was.

This is summed up in a wonderful, touching scene in Cool Hand Luke. Luke's mother, played by the great Jo Van Fleet, dies. When Luke is told the news, he simply walks to his bunk, pulls out a guitar, and softly sings this crazy song called "Plastic Jesus". Without overdoing it, Newman sums up his character's emotional state without pity. Beautiful.

It's difficult to get near an actor, and I think it's a mistake to try and assume you know Hollywood's men and women (baseball's too). We don't know Paul Newman, and never did. What we do know is that he was a man of tremendous dignity, who brought solid work to even the most mediocre roles, and raised films like Luke and Harper from dubiousness to healthy entertainments that, while flawed, will be watched for years to come.

My favorites: Cool Hand Luke, Hud, Harper, Nobody's Fool, The Verdict, The Hustler, Bang the Drum Slowly (the original United States Steel Hour television drama, where he's very, very good—check out our movie link above to watch online), Hombre, and The Sting. This leaves out those films I've missed, which include work with Robert Altman and Gore Vidal—Buffalo Bill and the Indians and The Left-Handed Gun. And one more: Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. Newman's performance in that movie is one of the best in the history of cinema, capturing perfectly a stoic, suburban American man and all his myriad frustrations. Incredible. Once again a mediocre movie with an incredible performance that was ignored come Oscar time. He wasn't even nominated—but Kevin Costner was, for the risible Dances With Wolves.

So what? Newman got his gold for one of his lesser jobs, the wasteful Color of Money. He was a class act through and through.
—Peter Schilling
Tuesday, September 30

Movie of the Week

Baseball's Greatest Hit

by Andy Strasberg, Bob Thompson & Tim Wiles

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