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The least experienced of the youthful enough and hungering enough Tampa Bay Rays punches out J.D. Drew with ducks on the pond to finish the eighth. As if to punctuate the hazards of trying to establish new and untouchable records for casting castaways, said Ray, David Price, refused to let a ninth-inning pass rattle him off a punchout, a swishout, and a pennant-winning forceout.

And there you saw the most glaring of numerous reasons why the Rays, who've been playing rather like the 1969 Mets most of the season, are going to the World Series and the Boston Red Sox, those masters of the miracle in-series self-resurrections, came up one such resurrection short in five seasons featuring a pocketful of them.

This is not to say that Matt Garza was anything short of excellent on the mound when he needed most to be in Game Seven; nor is it to say that Evan Longoria doubling home Carlos Pena with two out in the fourth, Rocco Baldelli swatting home Willy Aybar with nobody out and two on in the fifth, or Aybar leading off the seventh with a liner over the left field fence, had nothing much to do with why the Rays end up bearding the Phillies and the Red Sox end up beared and bonded for home with little much to show but two valiant eleventh-hour efforts at keeping the Rays at bay in Games Five and Six.

But you're not going to the World Series too often when you spend a League Championship Series putting forty-one men into scoring position and cashing in a mere fourteen of them. And you're not going to the World Series too often when you have thirty chances to hit with men in scoring position and two out and you cash in a mere seven, three on a three-run bomb.

Garza was effective but not necessarily invulnerable Sunday night. He threw enough hittable pitches with which the Red Sox, who'd shown some early game patience against him and wrung a few good counts out of him, simply couldn't connect. Oh, there was Dustin Pedroia sending one into the left field bleachers with one out in the top of the first. But that was exactly how the Rays would limit their generosity.

Anyone seeking further evidence of their lack of charitability need only refer back to Pedroia and David Ortiz collaborating on a grand implosion in the top of the sixth, at a point where Garza seemed to be draining what remained of his tanks. Pedroia, hankering to kick any semblance of a Boston running game back into gear, with usual speed pressers Coco Crisp only half effective while Jacoby Ellsbury remained on the bench, having hit himself right out of the ALCS lineup early and often enough, took a lead comparable to that you might see from an arthritic guard dog, and Ortiz took a swing right under a Garza rider for a strike-em-out, throw-em-out rally killer.

Price's magnificent rally-killing swishout of Drew throttled what should have been a Red Sox game-equaliser and perhaps breaker, what Red Sox Nation surely believed to be yet another eleventh-hour uprising portending a witching-hour wonder, when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett mishandled Boston counterpart Alex Cora's (starting almost inexplicably in capable young Jed Lowrie's place) hopper to open the inning, getting Garza a well-earned rest at last.

Dan Wheeler lasted long enough to surrender a single by Crisp to set up first and second and lure Pedroia into a fly out to left. But J.P. Howell drew Ortiz into forcing Crisp at second, cutting the Red Sox basepath speed in half and bringing in lamppost-style submariner Chad Bradford (who probably has more postseason experience combined than any fellow Rays collectively) to take care of Kevin Youkilis. Except that Youkilis managed to wring a walk out of Bradford, loading the pads and compelling Rays manager Joe Maddon to reach for Price.

You'd have thought the rookie had had his brains purged of any memory of him being a rookie, the Rays never having been anywhere within the same area code of the postseason before, or Drew having helped delay the Rays' World Series ticket with the two-run bomb that closed the deficit to one in the eighth of Game Five or the walkoff single that nailed it for the Red Sox an inning later.

But neither mourn nor scorn. These Red Sox, with a nip here and a tuck yonder, will likely have an impossible time of staying away from the postseason races next season, all other things considered equal, including the refreshing emergence of the Rays from laughingstocks to leaders of the pack. For this season, however, the Red Sox have to answer to no actual or alleged extraterrestrial influences to explain their dispatch.

For once in their formerly transdimensional history, if not quite with the frightful deflation of the Chicago Cubs a fortnight earlier, the Red Sox lost a pennant the old-fashioned way. They earned it.

The Rays, who earned every stitch and stroke of their first pennant, have to answer to only one more aggregation starting Wednesday. And before the Rays become a little too saturated with their magnificent lift from the worst to the first in their league after a decade's worth of disaster, they should know their opponent has in an institutional and centurion sense what they've only had a comparative drop of tasting.

Franchises that have lost ten thousand games have an awful lot more to prove, to themselves and to their only-too-infamously-cynical fans. And nothing, including their week-plus rest, relaxation, and preparation suggests the Phillies—who have one exactly one more World Series in over a century than the Rays have won in over a decade—have any intention of proving otherwise.
—Jeff Kallman
Monday, October 20


For those who thought a mind was a terrible thing to face for Josh Beckett, it proved just a little bit worse for the Tampa Bay Rays to face it Saturday night.

Hence yet another in what appears to be the continuing drama of As the Red Sox Turn, cranking up their bats and their arms just enough times to perform their annual, or at least American League Championship Series habitual, raising of selves from the dead. And, hence, another delay, at least for one day, in the emerging drama of The Young and the Restless Rays. Where Sunday night answers the question as to whether or not these Rays have a trip to the World Series in their immediate future, or an exposure for being in over their own heads in their present.

Saturday night's episode opened testily enough for James Shields, the youthful Rays righthander who entered with the handicap of extra rest, having been shifted from a Game Five assignment in favour of Scott Kazmir, and who worked from the outset as though his formidable enough control, his distinguishing asset throughout the Rays' remarkable run, had engaged him in an unwelcome round of hide-and-seek.

Such a game couldn't have had worse timing, when Shields opened the top of the second by serving Kevin Youkilis a 2-1 fastball on the inside corner that rode pat just enough for Youkilis to line it just into the left field seats and tie the proceedings at one. On a night in which the Red Sox seemed singularly determined to set an irrevocable postseason record for casting castaways on the bases, neither Shields nor the Rays could afford that kind of hide-and-seek.

Especially not on a night when Beckett shook off his previous appearance's shakes, showing no intention whatsoever of allowing any Red Sox lead to escape his command this time around, compared to four such surrenders the last time around; working with a fastball that hadn't yet recuperated its customary velocity, thanks to a still-strained oblique that caused him a few visible winces and a few subtle physical adjustments, and an unusual but refreshing trust in his breaking balls and his changeup as equals to his heat.

His work in the Tampa Bay second was particularly demonstrative of the point. He threw Carl Crawford something that could only be hit on a sharp ground trip to second base for a blink-of-an-eye groundout to open; he threw but one tangible fastball to designated hitter Cliff Floyd under which rise Floyd swung harshly for a second strike, before breaking a curve just low and then breaking another one through the back door for a called third strike; he threw Dioner Navarro, the thoughtful enough Rays catcher, an invitation to shoot one right on the line and right into J.D. Drew's glove for the quick enough side.

Never once in the sequence did Beckett succumb to the temptation to reach for power.

"He pitched," manager Terry Francona said when it was over, "with a lot of composure and a lot of guts."

Which is why never once did the Red Sox think they were on the threshold of a nightmare when Beckett scattered the two runs he surrendered, one on a mammoth, catwalk-clanging bomb by B.J. Upton in the bottom of the first, and one on a liner into the left field stands by Jason Bartlett in the bottom of the fifth.

And never once did any Red Sox succumb to the temptation to think themselves rather fortunate when they pushed a tiebreaking run home in the third, after Dustin Pedroia wrung a full-count walk off Shields, David Ortiz practically waved the Tampa Bay shift right in their faces with a yank down the right field line and into the corner for a second-and-third-setting double that meant the run when Youkilis bounced one softly enough to shortstop.

On the other hand, even the Red Sox weren't going to complain when Jason Varitek picked the top of the sixth to pick up his first postseason hit. Not when he jumped Shields with one out and sent a curvaceous liner a few rows up the right field seats. And they had even less complaint when, after Coco Crisp worked himself into an infield single to chase Shields for J.P. Howell, and Bartlett's erratic throw allowed Pedroia first on the house, Ortiz singled up the pipe to send swift Crisp home in a breeze.

The bullpens took it from there and kept the remaining proceedings scoreless, Jonathan Papelbon making it one-two-three swiftly in the bottom of the ninth, the exclamation point Willy Aybar's bullet liner up the third base line speared on a windmill swing of the glove by Youkilis.

Thus set up Game Seven, perhaps a fresh miracle for a Rays team whose youth may yet prove just short of seasoning enough, perhaps another miracle for a Red Sox team that's spent this century graduating to miracles from a previous century's malfortunate timing.

It may well depend upon whether another Red Sox starter, Jon Lester, who's gone from lancer in the regular season to slightly lost soul in the postseason, paid attention enough to Beckett's Saturday night special. And, whether Matt Garza, who pinned the Red Sox in Game Three, has at least the composure and the guts of Beckett, if not the repertoire and, above all other considerations, a mind that's a terrible thing to face.
—Jeff Kallman
Sunday, October 19


Those somewhat less than harmonic scrunching sounds you heard Thursday night were the sounds of Tampa Bay Rays fans and bandwagoneers squeezing the corks back into the champagne bottles between innings seven and nine. At least, squeezing the ones the Boston Red Sox didn't pound back into the bottles with an emphatic enough not so fast, fools.

These are, after all, the Red Sox. They have, after all, made it something of a habit, falling behind 3-1 in American League Championship Series play twice in four years and then ending up the last club standing with tickets to the big dance and a shot at the Promised Land each time. Shots they cashed in style grand enough, too, you might care to remember.

And when J.D. Drew fired a walkoff RBI bullet past Gabe Gross's stretch lunge in the bottom of the ninth, all he did was send the Red Sox to within a mere two games of doing it for a third time in five seasons that nobody's done yet.

You're surprised that they didn't just do it but did it near enough for record time? This was only the largest overthrown postseason deficit since 1929 and the Philadelphia Athletics' ten-run seventh, in Game Four of the World Series, en route upending the Chicago Cubs with a 10-8 finish. And it couldn't have happened at a more appropriate hour, the Red Sox entering the bottom of the seventh outscored by the Rays 22-5.

So put the champagne back on ice, Rays fanwagoners. At least for a couple of days. Pending whether the real Josh Beckett arrives for Game Six work and sends the injury-compromised impostor back where he belongs. If any team in this century proves the inviolability of Berra's Law, the Red Sox are they.

The corks probably got pulled somewhere between B.J. Upton sending one over the Monster for two before Daisuke Matsuzaka recorded out number one of the game and Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria going back-to-back bomb for three more in the top of the third.

Any straggling corks came out of their bottles, most likely, when Upton—facing Jonathan Papelbon, of all people, in the top of the seventh, the Red Sox now in survival mode at best and going to the finisher early enough to keep it down—sent a two-run double to Fenway's rearest end in the top of the seventh.

Neither Upton nor Papelbon knew it quite yet, but that interchange proved nothing more than the proverbial awakening of the slumbering giant, figuratively and literally. Because the next thing anyone knew, once Grant Balfour came in to spell a well-triumphant Scott Kazmir (no Red Sox past second and two hits in six innings' work getting the start instead of James Shields, who'll go in Game Six), there was the Red Sox's own slumbering giant in the bottom of the seventh, with Dustin Pedroia already breaking the shutout with first and third and swatting home Jed Lowrie.

David Ortiz had yet to find The Groove in a postseason slump that served mostly to punctuate a season of malcontent in which a balky wrist took an awful lot of throw weight out of the swing that usually sends opposition pitchers to the Lithium and opposition managers to the couch.

He'd given Balfour absolutely no reason to quake when he checked in with a 1-for-17 jacket for this League Championship Series, but then there was no reason that even Al Weis couldn't have jumped on the medicine Balfour threw him. Ortiz jumped, and the three-run homer sailed about eight rows into the right field corner seats, perhaps two or three rows past the spot where Drew's two-run bomb would land one inning later, after Dan Wheeler (who would spell Balfour after the Ortiz launch) opened the inning by walking Jason Bay.

"It was pretty much the most amazing thing I've ever been a part of," said Coco Crisp, "to be down 7-0 in an elimination game and be able to come back." He was a little more than part of it, as things turned out, his RBI single tying it all up at last though he got himself speared at second trying to advance for the side.

Then it was J.P. Howell for the ninth, to that point a particular Red Sox nemesis, and he looked as though he were predestined to push his Rays toward the extra innings when he opened by dispatching Pedroia (a grounder to third) and Ortiz (a swishout) almost effortlessly. But Kevin Youkilis got an extraterrestrial gift when his grounder to Longoria at third turned into two bases as Longoria's throw bounced in front of Pena at first, Bay got a pass on the house, and Drew got a chance to play the exclamation point.

He drove it right down the Rays' throats when his bullet liner zipped right past Gross and Youkilis zipped right across the plate, at least a ticket to Tampa Bay in hand and perhaps another up-from-the-dead Red Sox pennant in the none-too-unreachable distance.

"There goes Papi and there goes Drew," shuddered Rays manager Joe Maddon. "I mean that can happen at any time. We're just going to have to go back home and get it going again. We played a great game. They just came back and beat us. That happens."

And there went the corks, right back into the bottle tops. At least until Saturday.
—Jeff Kallman
Friday, October 17


Is there a "Wait 'Til Next Year" in Southern California? Has anyone noticed that the Los Angeles Dodgers were beaten in late innings on Monday night, and then eliminated in game five, a thorough 5-1 drubbing that wasn't as close as the score indicated? With perfect skies, balmy temperatures, a perfect day for baseball (it's always that way in Los Angeles) did anyone care to pay attention to the majesty that is Manny Ramirez in the postseason? I suppose the Phillies' Yul Brynner look-alike Shane Victorino noticed. As usual, Manny went 2 for 3 with a walk and a towering home run. "How does he do that?" Victorino asked, as overheard by one of Fox's many microphones. But he seemed to be the only one.

I have but a random sampling of experience with Dodger fans, dating three years ago when I was out to visit my Grandfather in Los Angeles. My mom, wife, and brother all accompanied me to see the Dodgers play Roger Clemens-led Houston Astros, and to our amazement the "sold out" Dodger Stadium was only 75% full--at least that's what our eyes told us (I didn't spend the time actually counting), though it filled up by the fourth inning. The fourth inning! So it was last evening. A League Championship Series game, and where are the Dodger fans. Panning around O'Malley's Alley, you could see giant swaths of those cracked, sunbleached seats. Every at-bat saw a good half dozen empties in the best section in the place, right behind home plate. Whenever the cameras zoomed in on the pitcher, long rows of yellow bleachers were exposed. Yes, by the fourth, the place filled closer to capacity. But still there were empty bleacher seats, and lots of 'em. There was an ad last night about a guy watching playoff baseball on his giant television set, and he seemed to make it out as if it were better than being in the stadium. Apparently Dodger fans took this to heart. I'd be curious to hear how the ratings went.

This is not, after all, a team who won dozens of division titles in a row, like the Atlanta Braves. In fact, the Dodgers usually stumble into the postseason from a weak division (as they did this year) and get blown out in the first round. This time 'round, they beat the supposedly unbeatable Cubs, and here they were, one series away from the big show, for the first time since their storied 1988 World Championship. And yet all those empty seats. It's a shame.

But I digress again. These Dodgers were outplayed, and all the magic of Manny couldn't push them into the World Series. The most telling number is this one: 0-12. Of the two batters before Manny, Rafael Furcal and Andre Ethier before him, and Russell Martin behind him, they did not get a single hit. Four at-bats each, and nothing to show for it. Manny left stranded on base twice, and a solo home run that really didn't do a whole lot of anything.

Much will be made of Rafael Furcal's meltdown in the fifth inning, when he had not one, not two, but three errors, all of which led to runs. Perhaps that knocked the wind out of the sails of everyone but Manny, but take that inning away and you've got a 3-1 Phillies victory behind Cole Hamels masterful pitching performance. Furcal kicked the ball away and threw wild a couple of times, but even then the Phils left three men on. Didn't matter, as I said, because they were up 3-0 at that point, and the Dodgers just never seemed on top of their game.

In fact, against the Phillies they looked very much like the team with the worst record in the playoffs, lucky to be there, very lucky to be in the League Championship round. Weak offense, good pitching. Well, decent pitching. But really, their hitting was atrocious. Russell Martin hit feebly, struck out looking (you gotta swing at those), and the rest of the club was swinging wildly at early pitches, not working the count, pressing.

So now the Phillies are in the big show for the first time since 1993 and look primed to be only the second team to win the big show. Tampa Bay or Boston are next on the docket. And Los Angeles gets to go back to the business of everyday life, baseball season's over. Does anyone care?


I'm not necessarily willing to say that the series between the Phillies and Dodgers is a done deal, but it's certainly looking like a done deal. Game three was, of course, a must-win for the West Coast Bums, and they certainly lived up to that test, whacking the Phillies up and down the coast (and having a minor, yes minor, disagreement along the way.)

But game four was something else entirely. The Dodgers looked over-confident. This is all speculation on my part, as I wasn't sitting in the dugout and certainly didn't hear anything of the sort from the fools at Fox, who are quickly becoming some of the worst pundits in any field, including politics. Talking just to talk, about nothing at all. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. My favorite was Tim's observation, during one of the surprisingly feisty at-bats that Derek Lowe was having against Joe Blanton (Lowe smacked a hit in the first inning, and wasn't swinging at anything, as Blanton was doing in his time at the plate.) McCarver: "this is kind of a pitcher vs. pitcher type crowd right now." What does that mean? That it was time to go to the can? Granted, there were two outs, and Lowe eventually whiffed, but still.

Sorry for the digression. This was a 2-1 ballgame until the Dodgers half of the fifth, when they put a pair across to take a 3-2 lead. The Phillies got that back in the 6th off a Chan Ho Park wild pitch, but when the Dodgers got a pair of runs in their half of the same inning, when Casey Black whacked one into the sun-bleached seats in left and Juan Pierre scooted home on a Ryan Howard error, well, you'd think that was the bottom of the ninth. I swear I could feel it—the Dodgers and their crowd thought the series was tied right there.

But it's not enough to be a gloater. The gloatee, or receipient of said patronizing attitude, must do something. The Phillies did something all right, smashing a pair of home runs in a four-run eighth inning to take game four for a commanding 3-1 lead.

Much has been made of Matt Stairs towering blast, especially when it came off the previously unruffable Jonathan Broxton. But look at that at-bat and you'll see Broxton tried to simply blast a fastball right down the heart of the plate and Stairs made a meal of it. More impressive, to these eyes, was Shane Victorino's home run that flew right off the bat and into the right field bullpen. It didn't look like a home run, but a long double that shot into the corner and remained aloft until it cleared the fence. Look, the guy hit a bad pitch. It was a horrible pitch, low and outside, a ball, and he just whacked it into history. Incredible.

Down by two and with the top of the order coming up in the eighth, these Dodgers still had a fighting chance. But when Rafael Furcal worked a walk and then Andre Ethier grounded into a foolish double play (on the first pitch!), then it was Manny, and no matter what he'd do, he couldn't do it alone. A home run? Still down by one. What he did instead is go in the hole 0-2 and then, as is his wont (he's the best 0-2 hitter in the majors), Manny creamed a double, which put him at 2 for 2 for the night, with three walks, two intentional.

Up came Russell Martin. Does anyone have confidence in this guy. Manny's stranded, I thought, and then, what do you know, Martin reaches first... on a strikeout/wild pitch. Pathetic. This is how you're going to win? James Loney, playing well, popped to left field, and the inning, and essentially the game, was over.

The Phillies showed what I would call a championship calibre that evening, which I know means nothing at all. Teams have come back from 3-1 deficits, though it'll be hard with the Dodgers heading to Philadelphia after tonight's contest, should there be another contest. But a Phillies/Rays or Phillies/Red Sox matchup sounds promising, even if Manny's going to be loafing at home, wondering where next season will take him.
—Peter Schilling
Wednesday, October 15


It's not as though the Boston Red Sox haven't been here before.

Down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series? Hey, ask us a tough one. Except that that kind of hubris could be the kind to send these less-than-full-strength Red Sox to the offseason in more of a hurry than the Tampa Bay bombs flew out of Fenway Park Tuesday evening.

As if to prove there can be such a thing as too much rest, Tim Wakefield on about sixteen days' rest proved the rough equivalent of a youth league coach tossing a ball up to a batter from about a foot astride the batter's box. At least, he did after a deceptive enough game-opening swishout of Akinori Iwamura and a walk to B.J. Upton, who stole second almost as fast as he could mark his target.

From that point forward, everything Wakefield threw looked swollen enough to the Rays. Floating and not fluttering, they floated right over the center field wall (Carlos Pena) or the Monster (Evan Longoria, immediately thereafter; Willy Aybar with Carl Crawford aboard—thanks to Wakefield's lunging, neck-jamming bellyflop trying to spear his infield hopper—two innings later).

And every faltering of Boston's once-formidable rotation crystallised when Wakefield was grounded after a mere two and two thirds. The Rays may resemble the 1969 New York Mets, but the Red Sox bullpen Tuesday picked a very dangerous time to resemble that of the 2007-08 New York Mets.

Justin Masterson gave one up in the fifth when Aybar singled home Crawford (a one-out double off the Monster). Manny Delcarmen gave up a triple (Jason Bartlett), a walk (Iwamura), an RBI single (Upton), a bases-loading walk (Pena), and a bases-loaded walk (Longoria), before allowing Javier Lopez the honour of back-to-back RBI singles (Crawford, Aybar) and an RBI groundout (Dioner Navarro). Mike Timlin, the Red Sox bullpen's grand old man, had an RBI triple (Crawford) and a followup RBI single (Aybar) to contribute to the cause of bringing the Rays that much closer to the World Series.

By comparison, the Red Sox scoring on the night—a solo bomb (Kevin Cash, in the lineup as Wakefield's catcher, opening the fourth), an RBI groundout (Kevin Youkilis, in the seventh), an RBI single up the pipe (Dustin Pedroia, in the eighth), and an RBI double (Youkilis, also in the eighth)—seemed a quartet of excuse-us-for-interrupting runs. The way the Rays exploited the Red Sox's fissures, there was the distinct sense that they could have thrown the Red Sox cantaloupes and the Red Sox couldn't have laid their bats on them most of the night.

"I see maybe three or four guys hit, but everybody, bro? It's crazy," marveled David Ortiz after the game.

"Damn, man, they're taking pitches, swinging at strikes. It can't get better than that."

And it can't get worse than the Red Sox's hobblings becoming more glaring as the series has gone on. Ortiz himself is only the most obvious exhibit. He opened the seventh with a triple and scored in short order, but the speculation that his bothersome wrist has taken more toll than he or anyone else likes to let on has ramped up considerably as his postseason near-absence has progressed.

The Rays don't take him for granted, but Big Papi has resembled Little Pop and it's going to prove a harrowing question as to whether or not playing through that wrist trouble hasn't kicked his downturn into gear sooner than might be expected of a 33-year-old man with even his fearsome reputation.

Mike Lowell? Last year's World Series MVP is this year's missing man; already MIA for most of the season's final eleven, and 0-for-8 in a pair of division series games before his hip trouble—bothering him since the All-Star Game while Manny Being Manny was faking knee trouble—got him shut down for the ALCS, he won't be back even if the Red Sox manage to keep the Rays from finishing what they'd like to think they've started.

Josh Beckett's physical woes have taken enough of the hop off his heat. Jon Lester looked more like Uncle Fester Monday. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who flattened the Rays in Game One, is going to have a small boatload of hope on his formidable enough shoulders come Thursday, while Rays starter James Shields is going to have a small boatload of confidence entering the biggest game of his young career.

All Shields has to do is forget that the Red Sox have a well-earned reputation for overthrowing 3-1 LCS deficits, even if they've been blown out in fourth games. And hope that the Red Sox might end up forgetting it, too.
—Jeff Kallman
Wednesday, October 15


All of a sudden, the Boston Red Sox are learning about bad time. Losing Game Three of the American League Championship Series in a 9-1 blowout does that for you. Or, against you, depending.

First, manager Terry Francona picked a bad time to keep the faith in Josh Beckett's postseason near-invincibility. Second, Jon Lester, until Monday afternoon this postseason's best pitcher, and benefactor of no earned postseason runs in four prior postseason assignments including last year's World Series clincher, picked a bad time not to find much of anything beyond the head of Tampa Bay bats.

So much for that 0.96 ERA in beating the Rays thrice on the regular season. Which is just about how Game Three began for him, as he used a measly four pitches to retire the side in order in the top of the first.
But he allowed leadoff runners in the following three innings, and two of them came home. By the time his day's five and two thirds were done, the Rays had bludgeoned a 5-0 lead out of the Red Sox and Lester looked like a man bludgeoned in a blind alley for committing no crime greater than asking where he might catch a crosstown cab.

First, he handed Evan Longoria a pass to open the second. After Carl Crawford swished and Willy Aybar punched a shallow-center single to set up first and second, Jason Varitek behind the plate lost the grip on a Lester service, allowing second and third and no real sweat for Longoria scoring while Rays catcher Dioner Navarro punched a ground ball modestly enough to Dustin Pedroia at second.

But second, Lester threw something hittable enough for Jason Bartlett to swat to left for a clean third inning-opening single. This time, Lester wouldn't get off the hook as benignly as he did an inning earlier. Akinori Iwamura pounded a double off the Monster and B.J. Upton pounded one over the Monster and its seats, the fifth time he's found the far side of the fence this postseason, and dropping strike three in on Carlos Pena proved a measly momentary delay in the programme, Longoria hitting one out to tie the rookie record (four, owned concurrently by Miguel Cabrera) for postseason bombs.

As a matter of fact, the Rays decided to play a little tit for tat with the Red Sox, who'd spent the better part of Saturday joining the ranks of those clubs holding the postseason record for single game bombs with four.

Those who point, not unreasonably, to the Red Sox's in-season health issues, must have looked somewhat askance when Rocco Baldelli, whose career looked to be preparing for the last rights as he battled an unusual illness over the past two seasons, sent one over the Monster at the expense of Paul Byrd, making his bullpen premiere in the eighth.

Pena joined the fun in due course, and also on Byrd's dollar, driving one over the center field wall in the top of the ninth.

And all the Red Sox could bring up in response to the foregoing carnage was fourteen men left on base, including three out of four in scoring position, the fourth (Varitek, a leadoff walk) coming home on a sacrifice fly (Jacoby Ellsbury) in the seventh, a threat that popped before it began (Alex Cora was still on first after singling Varitek to third) when Pedroia dialed the inning-ending Area Code 5-4-3 off Rays reliever J.P. Howell.

Howell stepped in for Matt Garza, who'd acquitted his round one loss to the Chicago White Sox by throwing things the Red Sox couldn't hit until or unless the bases were empty or at least unoccupied in scoring position. He scattered six hits, walked two less than he punched out, and made the Red Sox look as though they were seeking post-baseball careers as castaway makers.

But surely Francona has questions to answer that he's asked himself before any reporter might have formulated them.

Questions such as why he left an obviously still-somewhat-depleted Beckett, not completely recuperated from his in-season health miseries, to take what amounted to the beating of his postseason life Saturday.

Questions such as why he didn't think about wheeling in Byrd during the third inning to stanch the bleeding before Longoria might have a clean shot at an obviously off-game Lester.

The Red Sox haven't exactly been immune to must-win ALCS games in the recent past. The fact that they've acquitted themselves from nicely enough to immortally enough doesn't acquit them of the fact that they've got few choices Tuesday night.

Few choices, and fewer margins for error against a Rays club that does, indeed, resemble the 1969 Mets, without the cachet (though manager Joe Maddon is beginning to have his resemblances to Gil Hodges), the more you look at them and watch them play.

They may not even be having any jitters in facing Tim Wakefield for Game Four, which means Wakefield's flutterball had better be fluttering if the Red Sox hope to rise up from sputtering yet again.
—Jeff Kallman
Wednesday, October 15


Game three, National League Championship Series. Dodgers down two games to none, two games that the boys in blue were totally outmatched. Yes, there was some attempt at a comeback in last Friday's 8-5 laffer, but really, this series looked lopsided. The Phillies were on a roll.

And then came Sunday night! Benches clearing! Baseballs thrown at heads! Retaliation. In the words of ESPN scribe Jayson Stark, "A benches-emptying, fingers-wagging, neck-veins-bulging, coaches-jawing, Manny Manny-izing, crowd-shrieking, live must-see drama kind of series."


Yes, the Phillies threw pitches and hit players, and then the Dodgers responded. In the first, Jamie Moyer smacked Russell Martin, so what do you know, later Hiroki Kuroda had to make a go at Shane Victorino, throwing a pitch behind the batter's head and causeing said batter to freak out. Victorino pointed at his own head, and then at his ribs, as if to indicate the latter is the better, safer target.

Victorino grounded to first, and then kept barking at Kuroda, causing the benches to clear in what must be the overblown snipe in the history of the postseason. "So this is from all of us must-see October drama fans to Hiroki Kuroda," Stark wrote."Thanks for livening up the week."

Jayson Stark's awesome, but his bar is set pretty low. As he points out, 35 teams have come back from 2-1 deficits in the history of postseason baseball, so anything can happen. Whenever a team's down 2-0, sportswriters go into hysterics, and for good reason, as we all know that only the Boston Red Sox of 2004 have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. So last night's game was big.

But it was also boring. Let's be honest here: a five run first inning makes for a long game. 7-2, the Dodgers won, looking very much in control from minute one, and let's do our level best to keep the fans, and potential customers of advertised products, happy through nine. "It's part of the game," Phillies reliever J. C. Romero said. "The ratings are up. Everybody is happy.". No, I don't think Kuroda played some chin music just for FoxSports, but I do think everyone made a big, big, big deal out of this mini-waltz. That everyone's talking about it today tells us how dull last night's game really was.

Though the game was lopsided, it does speak well to the pair of Championship Series. I am praying for two tightly contested CS's, because I'm hoping that they prime the well for a great World Series. Don't forget that over the last couple years, we've had either four game sweeps, or, in the case of the Tigers/Cardinals hideous '06 affair, a five game set that was a nightmare. Each time one team breezed into the Big Show on a four game sweep, taking a good week off while the other fought a seven game series (Cards in '06, Red Sox last season). Perhaps two highly contested Championship Series will result in a good World Series for a change. I'm starting not to care who goes, as long as it's good.

Judging from last night's game, and the series in general, the Dodgers and the Phillies seem well matched. Last night's game was really the only lopsided one, the others closer than they appeared. It's hard to imagine the Cubs now (and the Brewers... pfeh!), so let's be happy with a hard-fought contest as we've seen. The Dodgers haven't been this successful since '88, a long twenty years, and the Phillies nearly as long, in their disappointingly-ended '93 campaign. But let's keep the hysterics to a minimum boys: not just because I'm averse to violence, but because, well, because you're just not that good at it anymore. Take a page from Don Drysdale, who used to think that intentional walks were a waste of three pitches, when you could get a guy on with one in the ribs. "The pitcher has to find out if the hitter is timid, and if he is timid, he has to remind the hitter he's timid," Drysdale said. He didn't wait until the other team hit one of his guys. You want to talk tough, in baseball that means looking into the distant past. For now, let's just play ball.
—Peter Schilling
Monday, October 13


And there wasn't a beanball in sight, if you don't count Grant Balfour's kiss on J.D. Drew's right shoulder in the top of the eighth.

As a matter of fact, there wasn't much of anything wild in sight to open the American League Championship Series Friday night, if you didn't count the frequency with which Daisuke Matsuzaka got himself into and out of more traffic jams than a Las Vegas taxi driver and the Tampa Bay Rays got themselves into and out of a couple of rally-ready innings with nothing to show but castaways on the bases.

"That's a good team, said becalmed Ray Cliff Floyd, imported to bring a little veteran stability to the flock of youngbloods. "You've got to make sure that you capitalize when you have chances. When you don't, you're going to settle into an unfortunate situation like this."

The unfortunate situation to which he referred was Dice-K taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and the Boston Red Sox opening the ALCS with a 2-0 triumph that may yet prove to have been the night of the wasted chances from which the passionate bright young Rays may have to learn some lessons harsh enough.

This is not to say Matsuzaka made life simple for his mates, either. "We always joke how he gets out of these innings," said Kevin Youkilis when it was over. "He'll have bases-loaded, nobody out; or first and third, nobody out, and he gets out of jams. We wish he wouldn't put himself in those jams, but it's amazing how he does it and shows how great of a pitcher he is."

It isn't illegitimate to ponder whether genuinely great pitchers prove their greatness by walking the ducks onto the pond in the bottom of the first, as Matsuzaka did with Akinori Iwamura, Carlos Pena (with one out), and Carl Crawford (with two out, after a magnificent punchout of Evan Longoria frozen rather plainly), before he lured Floyd into sending one right toward Dustin Pedroia for the escape.

But they might do it by keeping the Rays at bay over the following five innings, the only blemish against Dice-K through the span a second walk to Pena, this time with two out in the third. Tampa Bay starter James Shields must have wondered throughout his own credible evening's work whether he'd have to try for a perfect game in order to keep up with the Red Sox righthander with the hesitation windup and the no-hesitation corner-working repertoire.

Shields had his own assignment-opening problem in the top of the first, walking Pedroia after starting with a swishout of Jacoby Ellsbury, then holding his breath just a moment when Youkilis sent one down the right field line that might have pushed Pedroia home had it not bounced over the fence for the ground ruler.

Granted such a reprieve, Shields pounded the swishout onto Drew for his escape, then nearly matched Matsuzaka for cold efficiency until the Red Sox fifth. This time, his early-inning walk (to Jason Bay) cost him when Mark Kotsay, the erstwhile Oakland Athletic, shot a clean double toward the left field gap to set up second and third for Jed Lowrie. Lowrie lined one to the rear end of right field, allowing Bay's rear end to cross the plate unmolested.
Shields otherwise kept the Red Sox almost as docile as Matsuzaka was keeping the Rays, until Pedroia swatted a one-out single in the seventh to end his evening's work. Pedroia stole second so promptly after J.P. Howell came in from the bullpen that Howell could have been forgiven a lapse of plan when he walked David Ortiz and Youkilis drilled a clean double to left to send home Pedroia.

That's when Balfour was brought in, and that's when Drew took one on the shoulder, prompting a little hollering from the Red Sox—who haven't exactly forgotten the rough stuff the upstart Rays started earlier in the season—but nothing much more than that.

The Rays can't afford to renew it. Not when they've opened their first League Championship Series stranding the bases loaded, stranding all five men they managed to push into scoring position, and killing an eighth-inning rally (base hit, second on a wild pitch, infield single) when Justin Masterson, in relief of Hideki Okajima (one hitter, one fly out), worked Longoria into dialing an inning-ending Area Code 6-4-3.

"You have to tip your cap to Dice-K and the way he got out of jams," Shields said graciously when it was done. "He was the better man tonight."

Already the Rays are growing up. And just in time, if they'd like to prevail against Josh Beckett Saturday. Or, if not prevail, at least not go down without the right kind of fight.
—Jeff Kallman
Friday, October 10



I've said it before—most notably during the 2003 World Series (scroll way down to "The Face of A Marlin")—and I'll say it again: who are the baseball fans in Florida? In many respects, fans there are better than anyone. Look at all the baseball! Spring Training and not one but two, two!, minor leagues—whole leagues—playing in the Sunshine State. That's insanity. Wonderful insanity, but insanity nonetheless. It's a baseball smorgasbord.

Frankly, I don't know what I'd do if I lived in Florida. February comes, and with it half the major league players going through their spring training routines. Summer comes, tourists leave, and the minors start anew. God, you can't go more than one hundred miles without running into one of these clubs. Perhaps that is why fans are reluctant to support the Rays and the Marlins. I mean, the Marlins, it is well known, or at least well-grumbled about by the Commish, play in a hideous stadium, a football stadium really, and can't draw a soul, even when their teams, who are always predicted to fall headlong into the basement, succeed. They don't go to the World Series every year (though we all know they've gone twice, the second time in a thriller), but they win with youngsters. That's the best kind of baseball.

The Rays, quite infamously, have not seen much in the way of fan support, despite their heroics. I guess that people wanted to make sure they were going to take the division before jumping on board. Why, I don't know—if I had followed the Rays all these years I'd be happy as a clam just to see them break .500 with this club. That spells a mighty fine future. Who thought this would be next year?

Fans in Florida can be forgiven for their inability to take the major leagues seriously. Why should they? Only Montreal has received worse treatment. Whenever the Marlins gather enough talent to win, they win the big prize and then burn the roster to the ground. Where Tampa is concerned, baseball has treated those poor folks even worse: stealing not one, but two moves (Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants), leaving them with an empty dome, and then giving them a horrible franchise run, in its first few years, by fools.

And why would you want to fund a stadium down there? As I said, drive just a few miles and you'll see rather innocent, outdoor baseball. And we're not talking St. Paul Saints-style ball. As much as I admire Mike Veeck and the good things he's done for the sport, some of the shenanigans get on this purist's nerves. But the Florida minor leagues have been around as long as baseball, fielding teams whose players have gone North to glory. It's is expected in the minors that your team, if it gets good, will lose its players to the big leagues. The majors, I'm guessing many people say, can go to hell.
—Peter Schilling
Thursday, October 9


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


Movie of the Week

Baseball's Greatest Hit

by Andy Strasberg, Bob Thompson & Tim Wiles

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