THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Friday, October 3
BANGLES, AND BEADS . . .
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
Friday, October 3
LONG AND WINDING ROAD
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, October 2
SOX 7, CUBS 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
Thursday, October 2
THEN WE CAME TO THE END
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
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
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
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 ESPN.com 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.
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
Breslin. (Oops. He did write it. It was called,
Can't Anybody Here Play This Game)
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, October 1
APACHE, YANKEE STADIUM"
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Wednesday, October 1
WELCOME TO THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
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.
it goes". This year, my esteemed colleague,
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,
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.
Tuesday, September 30
"PLASTIC JESUS" FOR PAUL
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 ESPN.com), 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,
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
Tuesday, September 30