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
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
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
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
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
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.
Monday, October 20
MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO FACE
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
"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.
Friday, October 17
A TEAM FALLS IN LOS ANGELES, DOES ANYBODY NOTICE?
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'
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, October 15
WE GO AGAIN
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, October 15
IN A TEAPOT
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.
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
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.
Friday, October 10
IS WELL IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
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,
minor leagues—whole leagues—playing
in the Sunshine State. That's insanity. Wonderful
insanity, but insanity nonetheless. It's a baseball
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
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
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.
Thursday, October 9
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