AGAIN AND AGAIN...
The World Series is over. After
an almost fifty hour rain delay, the Philadelphia
Phillies took the championship, beating the upstart
Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3. Outside of the blowout in
game four (which the Phils won 10-2), this was
one of the most closely contested series in many
a moon, with three of the four games one-run affairs
and the other, the Rays' lone victory, was decided
by two. And yet, the 2008 Series will undoubtedly
go down as one of the most boring in history.
Much of this has to do with the
rain, but really it was the five game series.
For five years now, the October Classic has been
anything but close, with three sweeps and two
4-1 wins in that time. Never in the history of
Major League Baseball has there been a stretch
of four and five game series—many times
we've gone three years without the benefit of
a six-game series, but not five years.
Is this a result of the lengthy
postseason, which can go as long as twelve games
and two weeks before the World Series rears its
head? Does it have anything to do with the silly
rule that whichever league wins the All-Star Game
gets home field advantage? Frankly, I don't know.
What I do know, however, is that
the World Series has become, if not the most boring
championship series in all of professional sports,
then a seriously tedious affair. Even in '06,
when my beloved Detroit Tigers were in the midst
of a five game Mack
Sennett tribute, the thing was as dull as
the third presidential debate. And it keeps getting
It doesn't help that you have Fox
Sports covering the Series, with their hyper-patriotic
and desperately historical pre-game shows. Not
to mention breaking away from the action one night
(I don't recall which game) to interview the British-born
CEO of an American taco conglomerate to discuss
a promotion in which every citizen won the right
to gastrointestinal distress at their stores with
a free taco. The game was being played, and one
of the intrepid reporters sqatted beside the lobsterback
to talk about free tacos, cricket, and baseball,
about which he obviously knew little about, except
in terms of its promotional possibility. Fox's
broadcasters, the whorish Joe Buck and the garrulous
Tim McCarver, only made matters less intriguing
with their inane chatter. Pardon my abbreviated
French, but Fox Sports can go f themselves.
This thing didn't even offer the
necessary distraction from this damned election.
Baseball is hurting itself. Five
years may seem like nothing when you're forty
and the years have tumbled by like leaves in the
fall. But five years to a ten year old is an eternity,
and these are the years when a child's interest
in a slow(er) sport like baseball are developed.
Growing up, I recall the charge of watching the
great Dodger/Yankee World Series games in 1977
and 1978. Six game contests each, with the hated
Yankees winning each one, with Reggie smashing
those three home runs, with drama and anger and
disappointment. Those games didn't begin at 8:30,
some were in the afternoon, and kids could stay
up and watch them. (Except game one of the '77
Series, which went twelve innings in the Yankees
4-3 triumph—then again, that long game went
only 16 minutes more than the regulation game
four of this series. Games were shorter back then.
So the Rays/Phils Series had its
natural setbacks, but they didn't get any help
from Fox. Tight games and a lengthy rain delay
aren't as bad as 1989, when the earthquake put
everything on hold for a good ten days, and none
of the games were anywhere near close. But this
Series was hamstrung from the get-go. As usual,
fans are ignored, mostly because fans just keep
coming to the trough for more. If Fox decided
to start the game at midnight and have three minutes
of ads after every at-bat, probably we'd complain,
get irritable, pack the kids off to bed, and keep
watching. Which is the worst part of this World
Series, if you ask me.
Thursday, October 30
Waiting out the rain is one thing,
but somehow there seems something amiss when baseball's
grand stand is turned into The
Late Show, whether it's Mother Nature or perverse
karma or an unholy affair between the pair of
You'd have forgiven the public address
people at Phillies Phield if they gave in to temptation
and, before Jamie Moyer took his warmups before
facing Akinori Iwamura to open Game Three, sounded
a chorus of "The
And how does the whole thing finish?
With the Tampa Bay infield plus right fielder
Ben Zobrist resembling a defencive line on a desperate
goal line stand ("It looked like they were
about to blitz," Ryan Howard cracked when
it was over), the Philadelphia Phillies loading
the pads on Grant Balfour with a little help from
Dioner Navarro, and Carlos Ruiz squirting a squib
up the third base line that turned into perhaps
the only known walkoff run to score on a dive.
That was Evan Longoria trying his
Michael Phelps launch in lunging for the Ruiz
squib and succeeding mostly in proving he wasn't
sure where the swimming lane really was, when
Longoria flipped home and the ball ended up flying
over Navarro's head while Eric Bruntlett, a late-game
defencive replacement, ended up flying home with
This wasn't necessarily the manner
in which the Phillies seemed to have planned winning
Game Three. They resembled many things in the
Series' early going but the 1965-66 Los Angeles
Dodgers, actual or alleged, wasn't supposed to
be one of them.
The box score and stripped-down
play by play of the bottom of the ninth will read:
Hit batsman (Bruntlett, leading off), wild pitch
allowing the runner to second, runner to third
on throwing error, intentional walk, intentional
walk, infield hit and run batted in.
A team whose grand old man pitches
grandly enough, keeping his opposition to three
(well, two, but nobody told Chad Durbin to feed
Jason Bartlett something groundable deep enough
to short to let Navarro come home with the third
Tampa Bay run) while punching out five and walking
a mere one, and whose bomb squad finally shows
up in force enough, isn't exactly looking to win
the game according to The Comedy of Errors.
OK, the Phillies opened with a page
out of the Rays' early Series book, when Jimmy
Rollins shot a leadoff single up the pipe in the
bottom of the second and Jayson Werth fought Matt
Garza to a walk, and the pair of them moved up
one after a Garza service shot past Navarro behind
the plate, before Rollins came home happily enough
as Chase Utley occupied himself with grounding
one to the depth of the first base side.
They weren't looking to play microball
when Ruiz hammered one a couple of rows into the
left field seats an inning later. All they wanted,
seemingly, was for Old Man Moyer to continue outdueling
Garza, which is exactly what he did until the
top of the seventh, pitching in such slow motion
that the Rays weren't sure whether the Philadelphia
air didn't include a generous helping of ether.
Watching Moyer work is akin to watching
freeze frames of the old-timers. His fastball
is about as fast as a Los Angeles traffic jam;
his changeup has about enough speed on it to enable
the ball to change hides and re-stitch fully from
the moment it leaves Moyer's hand to the moment
it reaches the plate.
And, the Rays swinging futilely
enough against that repertoire resembled alligators
at the mercy of killifish.
Moyer even had enough reflex and
spleen flexibility to become a defencive near-hero
and comic relief to open the seventh. He lunged
into a belly flop to spear Carl Crawford's bunt
and flipped to first with his glove. He couldn't
stop Crawford from reaching first unmolested,
because first base umpire Tom Hallion couldn't
get the angle necessary to see Moyer's geriatric
acrobatic actually bagged Crawford by a half step---but
he sure put smiles around every nursing home around
"He's doing it with will and
guts," said Garza. "Pitching at 45 is
amazing. That's a feat. It's undeniably amazing
the way he does it, successful still and compete
at the highest level you can in baseball. It's
The Phillies even got Moyer a little
life insurance in the sixth, when Utley and Howard
sent back-to-back bombs right. Leave it to the
Rays to reach for their microball division an
inning later, Greg Gross pushing Crawford home
on a grounder to first ahead of Bartlett's pusher
It was supposed to have been Ruiz
who might prove the evening's defencive goat,
in the top of the eighth, with Ryan Madson pitching
in relief of Scott Eyre and B.J. Upton, leading
off with a clean single and stealing second in
a clean heist, pulling a second such job on third.
Only Ruiz threw wild and Upton came home to tie
it up at four, it becoming merely secondary that
he became only the first American Leaguer to commit
three grand thefts in a single Series game.
For Moyer, of course, it all helps
make up for his earlier postseason nightmares:
six runs in an inning an a third to the Dodgers;
four innings and gone in an LCS loss to the Brewers.
Nights like this bring hope to old men, whose
effort in turn brings hope and a little comedy
to younger men.
"Six outs to a full inning,"
he deadpanned to an ESPN columnist before the
game. "In a major league game, you're going
to play 81⁄2 or 9 innings. That is never
going to change. The money changes. People change.
But the game itself is never going to change .
. . The people who designed this thing are brilliant."
He said "designed," not
"govern." Some old men do their best
thinking in the hours when they should otherwise
be in bed. If this World Series reaches a seventh
game, in one way or the other, at least one old
man could end up having to do even better between
the ears. And you wouldn't necessarily bet against
Thursday, October 30
POSITION? WE'RE DOOMED!"
They had at least a week off to
watch and learn, while trying their best to keep
the rust out of their joints and limbs. But assuming
they bothered to look at all, did the Philadelphia
Phillies learn nothing from the experience of
the Boston Red Sox last week?
Because the Tampa Bay Rays learned
something from the Phillies even as the Phillies
were putting Game One into the bank: Let them
put men into scoring position and they're all
yours, mostly. Oh, they might sneak one in from
scoring position on a ninth-inning error when
they're down by three runs, forcing you to settle
for a mere 4-2 win, but the Rays look like the
only trouble they'll get from the Phillies is
when they keep the Phillies from getting runners
past first base.
Trying to set new records for creating
castaways, in scoring position especially, cost
the Red Sox the American League pennant. Trying
to equal the Red Sox's castaway cachet gets the
Phillies a one-all tie to bring home to Citizens
Bank for Games Three through Five of the World
The Rays had no intention of letting
the Phillies get win a second time in Tropicana
Field. They waited until James Shields, Dan Wheeler,
and David Price had kept them scoreless through
seven before sparing the Phillies the indignity
of a shutout after so many castaways.
Shields was sharp enough that having
a Phillie on third in three straight innings didn't
stop him from striking out the very next batters
he'd face once said Phillies arrived at third.
Twice said hitter was Philadelphia catcher Greg
Dobbs, on whom Shields dropped strike three called
in the second with second and third, before Pedro
Feliz lined out to B.J. Upton ambling back to
spear it straightaway, wasting Ryan Howard's leadoff
double off the fence among other things; and,
through whom Shields pounded a swishout before
Feliz grounded out to third to strand first and
third in the fourth.
Headline: Price is only human, after
all. He sent pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett (for
Dobbs) the wrong fastball in the top of the eighth,
and Bruntlett sent it into the left field seats—with
nobody on and two out. Then Feliz grounded out
to shortstop for the side. Leaving the game a
mere 4-1, Tampa Bay. It figured.
The Rays also seemed bent on teaching
the Phillies a lesson in low-keyed effectiveness.
They've got some dramatically inclined players
but they know you don't always have to explode
to take your advantage. A game's first pair of
runs coming home on back-to-back ground outs—by
Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, whose Game One
silence had been deafening enough for the silenced-enough
cowbell ringers—are no less legitimate for
not coming around by way of the bomb.
Small ball? The Rays played micro-ball.
Pena, Longoria, and Crawford took the oh-fer for
the second straight game even with the first two
producing runs for their outs. They also had baseball's
most awkwardly-hoisted karate chop to thank for
building one of their runs.
Top of the second, they loaded the
bases thanks in large part to plate umpire Kerwin
Danley's non-strikeout strikeout call on Rocco
Baldelli, who couldn't hold his check swing on
a Brett Myers slider that slid beyond the lower
outside corner. Danley raised his open hand in
karate chop position, as if to signal strikeout,
then aimed it toward first base, as if to say
take your base, maybe the first time since the
2005 American League Championship Series that
a man got himself a base strikeout without a throw
up the line on an umpire's misshapen call.
And, perhaps naturally, the Rays
cashed a single digit in on the gift, when Akinori
Iwamura popped out to center and Baldelli himself
got drawn and quartered at the plate, trying to
score a second run, behind Dioner Navarro (a one-out
single up the pipe), on Upton's opposite-field
The fourth Rays run? About the noisiest
portions of building it were the back-to-back
singles with which designated hitter Cliff Floyd
and Navarro opened the bottom of the fourth. Baldelli
nudged Floyd to third while forcing Navarro at
second, and Jason Bartlett dropped a squeeze bunt
back to the mound, enough to allow even the gimpy
enough Floyd to slip home unmolested, before Iwamura
grounded out to Utley for the side.
How phutile were the Phillies with
big openings? In the second and the third they
started with leadoff doubles, Ryan Howard finally
upchucking that diet of curve balls with a drive
off the center field fence in the former, Carlos
Ruiz slashing one to the left in the latter. Neither
of them was given anything to get them down the
third base line.
In the fifth? First and second with
one out. Utley, of all people, flying into a twin
kill when Jayson Werth (the one-out single) ambled
too far off the pad. In the sixth? Back-to-back
two-out singles (Shane Victorino, Dobbs) to nudge
Shields out of the game for Dan Wheeler, who lured
Feliz into forcing Dobbs for the side.
The Phillies had left ten on through
six innings and more than half were abandoned
in scoring position. The Rays through six left
only three on, two of whom had landed in scoring
position. If this was Divorce Court, the Phillies
could have been convicted for constructive abandonment.
Ruiz pried a walk out of Wheeler
to open the seventh, stole second while Rollins
was occupied with striking out, and after Werth
looked at a third strike Price—who'd secured
the Rays' pennant so masterfully last weekend—walked
Utley to bring up Howard. And he brought down
Howard with a called third strike that left the
major leagues' leading bombardier resembling a
DC-3 with a stalled engine.
Let a pinch hitter take him over
the fence? No sweat. Price even let Ruiz open
the Philadelphia ninth with a double. He could
afford to, with Rollins continuing a Series-opening
oh-fer with a flare that hung up in shallow center
just long enough for Bartlett to scramble out
from shortstop to haul it down.
About the best thing to happen to
these Phillies was Myers somehow pitching seven
innings before handing it over to the pen. At
least, until they finally cashed in a man in scoring
position, when Werth ripped one up the third base
line that bounded off Longoria, allowing Ruiz
home to cut the Phillie deficit in half.
One for 28 with men in scoring position
in the first two Series games. And all that one
did was allow Utley the honour of striking out
to set up a showdown between Price and Howard.
Some showdown. Howard bounced out rather modestly
to Iwamura at second for the game.
You can just about hear the watchword
around the Rays when they're not checking their
mohawks: Second, third, or second and third? Hey!
Now we own those guys! Sounds a lot less ominous
than the watchword that may be wafting slowly
but surely up from Phillie Phederation: Second,
third, or second and third? We're doomed!
Friday , October 24
UP AND WAIT
You could almost forgive a Phillies
fan if he or she believed to his soul that Chase
Utley checked in in the top of the first in a
big hurry, and with conscious design, to push
his force ahead as soon as he could catch hold
of the pitch meaty enough to facilitate him.
Because Lord only knows the Phillies
have been waiting a very long time, and through
some very testy circumstances, often forgotten
amidst the more colourful histories that once
bedeviled Boston and continue bedeviling Chicago
(the north side, anyway), to add more than the
single (count it) World Series title they've held
in over a century's worth of peculiar surreality.
What is the worst or last heartbreak
or calamity in a mere decade of Tampa Bay Rays
baseball? Did somebody say, "[The] ballpark
pitch to city and county leaders?" Well,
somebody (Yahoo! Sports columnist Tim Brown, to
be specific) did say it. Line that up, if you
will, to the last and the candidates for the worst
in a mere century and a quarter of Philadelphia
Phillies baseball. All of a sudden, you're going
to think the blessed Rays have been a little overblessed
by more than half.
The last is easy enough, even if
its protagonist, admirably enough, has had more
perspective upon it than those who left carpenters'
and other assorted nails under his vehicles' tires
in his driveway concurrent to the event. One night,
the Phillies were sent to a three-games-to-one
World Series deficit when said protagonist—asked
to protect a mere 14-10 lead—walked the
guy you couldn't walk, surrendered a base hit
when his nails-on-his-face center fielder let
a flare drop without so much as a lunge into a
trot, and buttered a two-run triple. Another night,
a future Boston Blood Sox hero—who'd sat
through that inning with a towel wrapped around
his head, like about two-thirds of Phillies Phederation—stuck
a fifth-game shutout right back up the Toronto
Blue Jays' tail feathers.
The next night, our protagonist
threw a four-pitch walk to the flare singler,
offered a one-out single to a future Hall of Fame
designated hitter, and then threw the wrong 2-2
slider, down and in, watching it slide over the
left field fence for game, set, and Series.
The worst? Did somebody say 1964?
Well, somebody did, a few years ago, in a splendid
book, September Swoon. Maybe one reason why these
Phillies seem a little less spoiled than last
year's model, when they rode a rather rash pre-season
prediction all the way to the National League
East title, with no little help from a bullpen-exhausted
sputtering clan of New York Mets, is that they
knew in their hearts that blowing six with a ten-game
losing streak in their last twelve games beats
blowing seven by dropping twelve of seventeen.
So when Utley followed a foul bunt
stab with Jayson Werth (a one-out walk) on first
by flattening Scott Kazmir's 2-2 fastball and
sending it into the right field seats in the top
of the first, the Phillies' should-have-been National
League MVP of 2007 struck an early warning---"We're
not interested in feel-good stories. We're too
busy feeling good."
They felt good enough to ride Cole
Hamels for seven innings in which he wasn't exactly
a smothering giant—not when he had only
a pair of 1-2-3 innings and hung a breaker to
Carl Crawford that got hung into the region Utley
had reached—but managed, still, to keep
the Rays' League Championship Series lancers,
Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and B.J. Upton, to
a combined 0-for-12 including five punchouts and
two double plays. But they showed a little Red
Sox, too, going 0-for-13 with men in scoring position
and leaving eleven castaways.
"It's better," Utley deadpanned
after the game, "to come up empty with a
lot of guys in scoring position than not have
any at all."
It's even better when you've got
the National League's most guaranteed closer this
season to seal a 3-2 win that might have been
a slightly wider margin but for Upton throwing
a precision-engineered one-hop strike home to
give Rays catcher Dioner Navarro just enough room
to bag Shane Victorino to end the top of the second.
And it might have been a slightly
different tale, perhaps even harking toward extra
innings, if Pedro Feliz—with the Rays showing
ducks on the pond and one out—hadn't remembered
a page or three from the Nettles-Robinson-Boyer
school of third base playing and went far left
to spear Upton's third inning grounder and turn
it into an inning-ending, ducks-stranding Area
It might also have been slightly
different if Hamels had been called for a balk
in the bottom of the sixth, when he paralysed
Pena with a swift pickoff in which it looked to
most appearances as though his front foot was
closer to a stride toward the plate than a stride
toward the base. Pena had no choice but to make
for second, where he was cuffed and stuffed without
incident, following which manager Joe Maddon hollered
for the balk call, then engaged plate ump Tim
Welke for clarification, all the while keeping
as civil a tongue as a man who thinks he's just
been jobbed can keep.
If Madden thinks he's been jobbed,
he doesn't know much about the Phillies' history.
They've often gotten jobbed by much fault of their
own. They've started this World Series just right,
but starting right hasn't been even half the Phillies'
institutional problem. It's the finishing where
the Rays might have a shot at avoiding a game
of hurry up and wait, to finish a season that's
been as unlikely as anyone including Rays fans
could have asked.
Thursday , October 23
UNWATCHED? AND MORE NEWS BEFORE THE WORLD SERIES...
Huffington Post reports
Hollywood Reporter is reporting that
there are fears that the Rays-Phillies World Series
is going to be a low-rated affair. According
to Aaron Cohen, "chief media negotiator at
New York-based ad buyer Horizon Media" (what?),
"You could hear the groans coming up because
it isn't the Red Sox-Dodgers.
I don't think it's going to be a barn burner."
Ratings-wise, of course. In play,
too, are whether or not the Series goes to seven
games or is wrapped up in four, is a sloppy affair,
low scoring or high scoring, etc. It could be
a crack championship, seven close games of the
best baseball ever and still not score big in
the Nelsons. Of course, Major League Baseball
and Fox are never to blame for low ratings, nor
are their insipid hosts (Tim McCarver and Jack
Buck), nor is their inability to show the games
at a decent hour so kids can actually catch a
whole game before bedtime.
Rarely have we seen two teams so
evenly matched. The Rays and the Phillies are
a nice combination of decent starting pitching,
good bullpens, and young players, all eager to
make their mark on baseball. The Phillies have
the disadvantage that has plagued baseball as
of late, and that's the eternity of time between
winning the LCS and game one of the Series. Hopefully,
the Phils aren't rusty, and can bring a real game
to Tampa Bay. Baseball fans will be watching--maybe
not with the people of Boston, New York, or Los
Angeles. But Minnesotans aren't in the Big Show,
either, and I'll be tuned in. If you don't dig
good baseball unless your team's there, good riddance.
Curious to know who's going
to win the election? London's Guardian
believes that the
results of the World Series predicts the coming
Presidential election. In short, Obamatrons
are urged to root for the Phillies, McCainiacs
for the Rays. Good luck!
Tuesday , October 21
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