We Welcome You To The October Country

Schilling on the Travesty of the 2008 World Series

Kallman on the Game Five Delay

Kallman Dissects Game Two

Kallman on the Phils' Game One Triumph

Schilling on News Outside the Series

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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 worse.

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. Much shorter.)

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.
—Peter Schilling
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 them.

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 Syncopated Clock."

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 the winner.

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 the country.

"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 absolutely amazing."

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 to short.

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 this one.
—Jeff Kallman
Thursday, October 30


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 Series.

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 RBI single.

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!
—Jeff Kallman
Friday , October 24


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 Code 5-4-3.

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.

—Jeff Kallman
Thursday , October 23


The Huffington Post reports that The 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!

—Peter Schilling
Tuesday , October 21



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

A People's History of Sports in the United States

by Dave Zirin

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