Sunday, October 31, 2004

Good-Bye Baseball, 2004

So, as I predicted the last time, the Red Sox did not suffer an all-time choke job to rival the Yanks' 4 straight losses in the ALCS. Indeed, they swept the Cardinals to end one of sports' most storied championship droughts and cause jubilation throughout the Red Sox Nation.

Yesterday was the parade, in which the Sox players were carried on amphibious vehicles up the Charles River. During this part of the procession, someone had the good aim to nail Pedro Martinez in the forehead with a baseball. That "good aim" part was a bit of sarcasm, as you shouldn't throw things at people, even if they're annoying folks running around with their own personal mini-me's.

As bad as Yankee fans sometimes are, I'm pretty sure that assaulting a Yankee (even a sucky one, like circa 1996 Kenny Rogers) at a World Series victory parade is a hanging offense. The cops would have easily located the offender from the "[insert profane reference to the rectum here]" chant, if mob justice had not already been done.

But someone nails Pedro on the noggin in the very heart of the Red Sox Nation? Pedro, the World Series Game 3 hero? None of the Sox fans in attendance saw anything. And there were no reports of men mysteriously hung from lampposts, either. Scandalous.

Seriously, there are a lot of deserving Red Sox fans out there, including my ex-roomie David R.; sometime reader and commenter, Alex H.; Brother T's significant other, Lauren; Ed Cossette, owner of the newly-retired Bambino's Curse weblog; David Pinto, of Baseball Musings; the guys over at Talking Baseball -- too many people to name. I'm really happy for you guys, and for your town and for your baseball team. I'm upset the whole thing came at the expense of my favorite team, but c'est la vie.

The worst thing right now isn't the fact that Yankee fans have to retire the "1918" chant; or the fact that the 105-win Cardinals got dropped like a sack of dirt in the most anticlimactic World Series in decades. It's that we've run out of baseball for the time being. All we've got is a bunch of substitutes -- Fall Leagues, Winter Leagues, Spring Training -- until April.

During the off-season, I hope to have some interesting items -- Yankee news, baseball news, as usual, but also some reviews, and maybe even a few appearances elsewhere on the Internet.

Thanks for hanging in there for a great season. Now let's get some wood together for that Hot Stove...

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Somebody Tryin' to Tell Me Something?

As some of you may know, aside from baseball my other great vice is pool. Recovering from the Yanks' big loss to the Red Sox, and bored while checking out the World Series (where the Sox now have a dominant (but not as dominant as it used to seem) 3-0 lead against the Cards) I found myself pulling Phil Capelle's "A Mind for Pool" off the bookshelf.
As is my tendency, I opened the book to a random page. This is what I got, under the chapter heading "Winners Learn From Losing":

After losing go shake hands with your opponent and congratulate him on his play. After all, he must have done something right to beat a good player like yourself. Once this formality is over, your pool personality kicks in. The recovery time after a loss varies for each individual.
Your reaction to a loss also depends on the nature of the contest. Among the toughest losses to swallow are those where you had it won in your mind, but not on the scoreboard. Blowing a big lead is painful, but completely understandeable once you analyze why it happens. Switching from an aggressive style of play to one where you are trying to protect your lead can backfire. A shift in momentum and/or the rolls could let your opponent back in the match.
No matter how or why you lost, once you've recovered from defeat, it's time to think objectively about the match. This will help you to gain something positive from what is an oftentimes painful experience.

Some things are universal in sports (yes, I know, most people don't consider pool a sport, but bear with me). The test for the Yankees and their fans will be how quickly we recover from this loss, and how honestly we're able to analyze that loss once we've recovered. Going back over those three games the Yankees won, there were even some warning signs in the early lead: the Sox scored 7 runs in Game 1 and 9 runs in Game 3. If I'd have told you before the ALCS that the Red Sox were going to score 7, 1, and 9 runs in the first three games (without telling you how many the Yanks would score), would you have picked the Yankees to be up 3-0? Would you have even picked 2-1?

I bring this up for two reasons. First, looking at the Red Sox' 3-0 lead in the World Series, I see no warning signs that would indicate St. Louis can win the series. It hasn't just been one element of the Sox' game making up for deficiencies in other areas -- the Red Sox have controlled this Series. So as much as I'd love for the Red Sox to join the Yanks on the list of "team(s) to lose best of 7 matchups, up 3-0," I'd have to say it ain't gonna happen.

The other thing is, we're going to have a lot of introspection over this offseason. The Yankees organization is holding meetings as I write this. Talking heads in the press and on the radio are chewing over the "Yankee collapse" on a near-daily basis, and will continue to do so until (and perhaps past) Opening Day, 2005. For all those people, Phil's book has a warning:

One of the most counterproductive ways that pool players use to deal with losing is to make excuses. They love to tell you how they would have won if they had: gotten a couple of rolls; weren't sharked; weren't stuffed from lunch; weren't this and weren't that; and so on and so on. The list of excuses goes on, limited only by the imagination of the player who has just lost.

By making excuses, a player is trying to say they won, but with an asterisk. Likewise, their opponent really lost once you factor in the excuses. It's almost as if each excuse is worth a game or two on the wire. The trouble is, they are not. The loser lost and the winner won, period.

We lost. No excuses. Congrats to the Red Sox, and their fans. Hopefully we'll learn something, and make you choke on it next year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Rest In Peace: Robert Merril

Sad news today, as we learned that Yankee house baritone Robert Merrill passed away at age 87.

Like Eddie Layton, the Yankee Stadium's longtime organist (who retired in 2003) and PA announcer Bob Sheppard, Merrill was one of the iconic pieces of the Yankee Stadium experience. For over 30 years, he was a constant, every opening day, Old Timer's, a few special dates throughout the year, he would sing the National Anthem, with such precision and clarity you'd think it was a recording.

When I was a kid, I used to joke that Merrill sang the Star Spangled Banner so quickly, you'd think he had a bus to catch. I wasn't much of an opera fan, back then, either. But as I've grown -- and listened to so many mangle the Anthem so badly -- I grew in appreciation for the fidelity Merrill brought to the table.

Thanks for the memories, Robert. We will miss you.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

A (Hopefully) Funny Story

Watching the Red Sox/Cards World Series feels kinda like watching your worst enemy from High School take your unrequited love to the prom. I need an icebreaker.

I'll take my brother's advice, and start with a (I hope) funny anecdote from the Twins/Yankees ALDS matchup:

One bit of the ALDS Game 2 experience I shamefully omitted from my wrapup was the post-winning run celebration. To set the stage, the Stadium was rockin' going into Hideki Matsui's at-bat in the bottom of the 12th inning. The House that Ruth Built had emptied out some -- a combination of weak folks who didn't hang in there when Minnesota took the lead on Hunter's homer in the top of the inning, and some others who simply didn't want to lose their jobs by showing up late the next day.

There were still plenty of people around to party, though, and after A-Rod's game-tying double, and during the intentional walk and pitching change that followed it, people were running up and down the rows (remember, I was in row T of the upper deck -- running up and down the aisles is ill-advised) high fiving and hugging strangers, celebrating.

So Matsui hits one shallow to Jacque Jones, the entire crowd lets out a gasp as Jeter comes running home (I took a split second to double check the third-base coach's box, where I was sure The Windmill, Willie Randolph, must have replaced Luis Sojo during the pitching change).

Jeter scores, and we're really partying now. We're all chanting "Lets Go Yankees", the P.A. is blaring the good "New York, New York" (how could I not hate Liza Minelli? She's what they play when we lose). Everyone is trying to share the love.

Now, the guy standing directly in front of me, a silver-haired guy maybe in his 50's, turns on his heel to high five me. And I'm there, leanin' forward, waiting for the high five. As always, I'm wondering what kinda high five I'm in for: the uncoordinated nerd-slap; the "yeah! I'm so happy I'm gonna break your hand!" open-faced karate chop; the "I don't like touching people" tap on the palm ... but the silver-haired guy's high five never arrives.

That's because as he cocks his arm back for the high five, the guy loses his footing and pitches backward. Again, we're in row T of the upper deck. We're in the middle of the row, so most of the people below him have cleared out, heading for exits. I'm reaching forward for him, but he just goes tumbling on his back across at least a half-dozen rows of hard blue plastic seats. I'm screaming, something I hope is "watch out!" but is probably just an inarticulate "hey!", but it doesn't matter, because everyone is screaming -- we're in Yankee Stadium, for Chrissakes!

Nobody notices this guy's plummet until he slams into a woman at full bore. I'm thinking this guy is dead, broke his neck or something. I'm already imagining the Daily News front page:

One Dead, One Injured In Celebration of Yankees' 12-Inning Win
[Large splash picture of Jeter fist-pumping after scoring winning run]
[lower, and in smaller print, but next to my passport photo]
Long Island Attorney Questioned In Tragic "High Fiving" Accident

Thank heaven, both the silver-haired guy and the woman seemed fine, and walked away on their own steam. But this has to've been the weirdest thing I've ever seen at Yankee Stadium.


Now, I wrote that piece a week ago, but never had a chance to drop it on ya til now. That was before the death of Victoria Snelgrove outside of Fenway last Wednesday night, which is being reported as death at a "celebration". This is tragic, all-around. First of all, it turns out that she died from use of a "less lethal" weapon, a pepperspray gun that the cops had bought to use during the Democratic National Convention in August. This might go a ways in explaining why the cops were so quick to to use force in the face of the post-game crowd: they'd spent a chunk of the year training to beat back crowds of anarchists spiked with the occasional terrorist, and now they were facing an entirely different type of crowd.

On the other hand, all the folks (and although we've heard the "revelers" described as "college students" I keep on reading eyewitness accounts from people in their 30's in the crowd) that started the mini-riot near Fenway also have some blood on their hands.

Maybe it's just me, but I've never been so "happy" that I felt like getting some people together to flip over a car, or set something on fire, or throw bottles at a cop. It's stupid, the stuff of a Chris Rock routine.

It is also inherently dangerous, not only because you can harm someone by turning over their car, or lighting them on fire, or hitting them with a bottle. It's also dangerous because it requires the municipality to respond with armed police officers, and because with a crowd of substantial size, you run risks of trampling folks if there's any sort of panic.

So sure, I hope that the Boston police improve their tactics, so that tragedy doesn't accompany the "celebration" should the Red Sox win the World Series. But I also hope that Boston fans get a damn grip on themselves. Hard enough to accept that they could win a World Series, without knowing that people'll probably get killed when they do.

Now that my rant has exhausted itself, I'll just say it: I'm not cheering against the Sox in this series. I'm definitely not cheering for them, and I realize that life will be close to unlivable for a few years if the Sox win. The Red Sox winning this World Series would be almost as noxious and hyperbolic as the Mets were in '86 ("It's a miracle! It's destiny! We're the best team ever! This is the most important moment in human history! God sent an Angel and his name is Curt Schilling!").

But at least if the Red Sox win, after a few years of this over bearing crap, that's it. No more martyrdom. No more stupid curse talk. No more whining and crying every time they lose a damned playoff game, like someone in the family just died. They'd just be another big-city team with a high payroll and an overbearing fanbase. That's worth something.

On the other hand, it'd also be fun to see the Cardinals take these idiots apart like a bucket of Millar's fried chicken. I've always liked Rolen and Edmonds and Pujols and it'd be nice to see those guys get rings.

So I'm just sitting back and enjoying this one. I hope you're doing the same.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Playoff PostMortem: Sweep the Leg

Brother Aaron, my college roommate, wrote in with the following about yesterday's post:

"After the Cardinals' deeper rotation and just as lethal line-up knock the crap out of the Sox, the Curse will still live-on.

"Or at least you hope, but the Yankees are no longer un-beatable to the Sox. That aura is gone, just a YEAR after it seemed more impenetrable than ever.
"Yeah, I know about last year, but that was last year. Finally, the Red Sox have a SMARTER manager than Joe Torre.

"Your point about Mattingly....I was expecting you to compare it to what the Yanks SHOULD have been doing to Schilling in game 6!!! The guy couldn't cover first base without wincing.

"Bat Kenny Lofton FIRST and have him drag bunt FOUR TIMES if necessary, and then steal second base. Kind of pathetic, but I think the Sox had more stolen bases in the series than the Yanks. And if not, they at least made better use of theirs.
"[Torre's] NOT the best manager in baseball and he's not as great as everyone thinks he is. He doesn't manage his pitching staff well, and he's become WORSE than Earl Weaver in waiting for the three-run homer.

"You can survive the regular season when you have NINE guys all hit at least 20 HRS (ok, maybe 8....) b/c you're never out of a game that way, but he's too reliant on Rivera and too trusting of the WRONG pitchers.

"Javier Vasquez was banished to the bullpen NOT because he lost a numbers game with Kevin Brown and El Duque, but b/c he was just as bad as Estaban Loaiza by season'send. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

"And by the way, my NINE year old knows Johnny Damon OWNED Vasquez this year, not once, not twice, but thrice???? Look at the numbers!!!"

The part of Aaron's post that resonates most with me is the discussion of Schilling's Game 6 start. There's a moment in the Karate Kid when Kreese, the evil Cobra Kai karate teacher, tells one of his students, a finalist in the climactic karate tournament, to play dirty against the eponymous Kid, Daniel LaRusso.

"Sweep the leg" the teacher says, referring to Daniel-san's already-injured knee. "No mercy."

At the start of Game 6, when they were showing Curt Schilling's blood-stained sock, that was the thought that was running through my mind. It wouldn't be against the rules of baseball for the Yanks to bunt Curt Schilling into oblivion -- taking advantage of his limited mobility, see if maybe they could pop off a few of the sutures holding Schill's ankle together.

The question, for me, was would it be unethical? Take it for granted that Red Sox fans would have whined about this as yet another example of poor sportsmanship by the Yanks, but would bunting on Schilling actually have made the Yanks as evil as Red Sox fans say they are?

Before I could carry the thought much further, the Yankees' lineup was announced -- no Kenny Lofton, extra helpings of Tony Clark and Ruben Sierra -- and I knew which conclusion Joe Torre drew on the ethical issue. To take things a step further, Joe Buck then announced that Torre said, under no uncertain terms, that the Yankees would not resort to such low class tactics.

At the time I heard the announcement, I thought it was a classy move, but it kind of bugged me. First of all, even if the Yankees weren't going to bunt on Schilling, why would you announce it? Maybe you're not willing to take advantage of an opponent's injury, but do you have to put him and his team at ease by declaring to the media you're not going to take advantage?

Second, the idea that bunting on Schilling, forcing him to field or cover first base, would have been low-class is itself flawed. If you remember last October (and if you're not able to remember that far, Dan Schlossberg has a book for you!) the Marlins had no trouble with exploiting David Wells' bad back -- indeed, Wells having to pull himself out of Game 5 was probably the final blow that doomed theYanks in the World Series.

Sure, David's a big fat guy, so no one has much simpathy when his back goes out on him, but the whole thing was never an issue -- bunting was just Juan Pierre being Juan Pierre.

Torre not having Lofton in the Game 6 lineup -- and remember, Lil' Smacky's a guy we got only because George was experiencing Pierre Envy after the Marlins won the Series -- eliminated an offensive threat the Yanks could have used in that game.

I love Joe Torre. Winning those rings earns you a lot of respect. I don't know if it's fair to say that Francona is smarter than Torre, but everyone should realize by now that Torre has his strengths and weaknesses.

Torre excels at the off-field managerial skills: he's great with the media; he has the respect of his players, coaches, and management; he sets a tone of professionalism for the organization as a whole. Boil it all down, and he might be the best player's manager in baseball.

Now, the value of these skills is hard to measure, but I don't think you can dismiss them as valueless. The respect and professionalismTorre projects helps the Yankees recruit free agents. His management style helped mold Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera into the solid baseball citizens they've been over their careers.

There's also value to the decreased in-fighting -- both in the clubhouse and with the owner's box -- that has marked the Torre era. I don't put much weight in team chemistry, but I think there's a tangible benefit to making your team an attractive place for people to come play. There's definitely a benefit to setting a good example for young players, so they don't go astray like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry did.

When it comes to the place where a manager has the greatest impact on the game -- doling out playing time -- Torre's far more pedestrian. He's not big on playing matchups, preferring a set lineup and pitching rotation to mixing things up every day. He has favorites, and sometimes will stick with a non-performing veteran (coughEnriqueWilsoncough) too long. Young players can quickly drift into his doghouse, and never be seen again.

Torre's also not big on position changes for players. Bernie Williams might be a centerfielder for life, even though his range and arm are better suited for left field or maybe even first base. Torre's teams aren't terribly flexible as a result of this policy, so when there's an injury, he's more likely to substitute and play a lesser player (or look for Cashman to get him a replacement) than he is to change anybody's role.

Joe's biggest weakness is the third area of managing, the in-game strategy. Postseasons have come and gone, and Joe's bench players are largely there for decorative purposes. He'll substitute for injuries, or pinch hit for players whose bats he doesn't like. Sacrifice bunts and pinch running are sometimes utilized in the late innings, but not terribly often or terribly well.

Torre's use of the bullpen was considered cutting edge a few years ago, mainly for his tendency to extend Mariano Rivera past an inning in the playoffs. The field has caught up with him on that score. What remains of Torre's bullpen usage is mechanical -- all this season Torre probably could have handed the umpire a set of instructions, along with the lineup card, to indicate the pitching changes that were coming during that game:

Dear Ump:

If we're leading in the 7th inning, and the starter's given up more than two runs, please put in Quantrill. If we're leading in the 8th, or if Quantrill gets in trouble in the 7th, it'll be Gordon. If we're leading in the 9th by less than four runs, or if Gordon gets in trouble in the 8th, please put in Rivera.

Thanks in advance for saving me the trouble of getting up to make a pitching change.

Joe Torre

That said, and with all due respect to Amber (Aaron's 9 year old), I can't kill Torre for bringing in Javy Vazquez, based on the matchup. Captain Caveman was 2 for 12 against Javy this season, with a walk (Sample Size Alert! This is a Sample Size Alert, when you hear the Sample Size Alert Tone, please feel free to take all the stats I cite with a grain of salt). Although both Damon's hits were homers, few of the relievers Torre had available fared much better against Damon this season.

What were the options? Bring in Felix Heredia to face Damon, Bellhorn, and possibly Ramirez? Bring in Mike Mussina in the second inning, on one day's rest? Do Esteban Loaiza, Paul Quantrill, or Tanyon Sturtze make you feel any better in this spot?

Come to think of it, I probably would have put Sturtze in. That's what I thought Joe was doing, when I saw the game at the pool hall. But I can't really kill Torre for turning to Vazquez, even though it was a mechanical choice ("See? It says right here, 'If Brown's in trouble before the fifth inning, bring in Vazquez.'").

Getting back to Game 6, the decision to announce that he wouldn't "Sweep the Leg" on Schilling is as much a result of Torre's strenghts as his weaknesses. Joe's professionalism kept him from advocating a strategy that might be viewed as crass or tacky. Joe's great relationship with the media led him to announce that that was the way he was going.

Some think that if Don Zimmer, the Yankees junkyard dog, had been on the bench next to Joe, maybe the Yanks would have been more aggressive strategically. We'll never know. This, like the pitching situation, the pitching coach situation, the first base situation, and the ain't-got-no-prospects situation, must be addressed over the winter.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Gut Punch

I've been depressed and exhausted all day. It's embarassing to admit that a baseball game has gotten me down, but them's the facts.

Last night was simply awful. I would normally take this kind of game in a tightly-controlled environment: my apartment, where anything I break is my own damn business; where my email connection is handy for quick notes to Brother Joe; where I don't have to worry about anyone being a prick, except for me. If I become convinced that my watching is a jinx (I know, this is a very rational point of view) I can cut off the tube and pick up a book from my extremely long backlog. This approach has worked for me many times in the past.

Last night, the fates conspired against me, on that count. Wednesday is my league night, the night of the week I head out to Amsterdam Billiards to try to clear my mind of all distractions while I play 8-Ball and 9-Ball. My pool game's in a horrible slump -- work has been heavy the last few months, and I don't get anywhere near the amount of practice it takes to do my best work.

But the place is a sports fan's haven, with lots and lots of TVs turned to whatever contest is on the tube. When I got to Amsterdam (late, to add to my worries) the manager, a Yankees fan, says to me: "This place was f'ing Red Sox central last night. I'm giving you a table at the back of the room, so you don't have the TVs distracting you."

Normally I'd protest, but my team's in last place. This'll be good, I think to myself. Concentrate, finish quick, win, then enjoy the game. It gets better when I learn my opponent's a Yankees fan. Good -- no in-game jive about the last three losses.

Except, when I get to the table at the back of the room -- where there are no TVs -- I realize that there is one TV in my sight-line. Amsterdam has a pool table in a private room, off to the side of the main room. It's not the most "private" place, though -- it has a big glass window and a clear door. And through that clear door, there's the ballgame, live from Yankee Stadium.

No problem. I won't get distracted, I tell myself. The TV's something like 60 feet away. You can barely see the action. Not just that, but when I'm shooting well, I drive myself into a state of tunnel vision, near the feeling I imagine you get from taking Ritalin. When I'm on, you could set the pool hall on fire, I'd barely notice the smoke.

That plan -- the Ritalin Plan -- went to crap sometime during my first game of 8-ball. I noticed when Johnny Damon singled. I permitted myself to react when Damon got gunned down at the plate. By the time Ortiz deposited his homer into the rightfield stands, I was stuck. Every moment I wasn't actually shooting, I was watching the TV.

Even worse, the place was lousy with people rooting for the Red Sox. I originally wrote "Red Sox fans" but I doubt that there were terribly many folks who actually followed the Sox in the crowd. Experience tells me that for every Red Sox fan in a New York bar crowd, you'll have three Yankee Haters (that would be Mets fans, plus people who root for any other team) cheering them on. Anyway, since the Haters were maybe 60% of the crowd, you couldn't tell what was happening by listening to the folks watching the TVs. Hearing cheers only meant that something was happening, not which team did it.

So me and my Yankee fan opponent started stinking up the joint, pool-wise. Normally, I play some of the fastest matches in the league because I'm good, I shoot fast, and I'm almost always matched up against the best player from the opposing team -- usually someone who shoots as well as I do, or better. But this match, we're missing everything. It's like watching a pair of near-sighted six year olds play.

Meanwhile, things keep getting worse and worse. The Yankees, in their half of each inning, are completely forgetting the game plan against Derek Lowe. They're swinging early and often, not letting Lowe's wildness get him into trouble. Then Crazy Eyez (Kevin Brown, for those of you who don't read me that often) gets pulled from the game. Javy then gives up a shot to Johnny Damon, and I'm ready to break my pool cue over my knee, Bo Jackson-style.

(After the homer, Alex Rodriguez came over to talk to Vazquez. I can never be too sure of my lip reading on a small TV 60 feet away, but I'm pretty sure A-Rod told Javy "You're blowing my chance at a ring. You realize I can have you and everyone you care about killed, don't you?")

While this is happening, our lousy, distracted play was turning my Wednesday night pool match into slow torture. At one point, after we'd missed a combined 8 straight shots, my opponent turns to me and says, "Our playing is bad luck."

What the heck am I supposed to do about that? Boston's already up 6-1!

The crowd gets rowdier and rowdier. Damon homers again, and the Haters at the bar couldn't be happier if they were drowning kittens in a well. It usually takes me 90 minutes or less to finish a league match, and I'm still playing -- badly -- two and a half hours after I started. We're both playing badly, though, so at one point I'm ahead 3-1 in our best of seven 9-ball match. I drop two games, then win the last one to force a tie-breaker. Honestly, I'd rather have lost the match than continue to play pool at that point. Naturally, I lose the tiebreaker.

I leave the pool hall at the end of the 6th inning. I need to eat, and I want to watch the game. As I leave Amsterdam, haters are chanting "Let's Go Red Sox". Someone tries to start a "Let's Go Yankees" chant as I walk out the door. There is no response.

Naturally, the first bar I head to for dinner, a guy with a Red Sox cap on his head and a "Yankees Suck" T-Shirt is outside the door, telling his friends how freakin' happy he is.

They've taken over the West Side! As I walk away, some schmuck passes by and tells his girlfriend "There's a guy with a 'Yankees Suck shirt -- this is where we gotta watch the game!'"

Only the presence of my girlfriend keeps me from harming the man.

I'll spare you a blow-by-blow of dinner. You all know how the game turned out. At dinner I successfully managed to drink myself into a stupor -- when the game ended, what I felt wasn't anger or sadness, but shock. The walk and cabride home were filled with bleating Haters, honking their horns or stumbling into the middle of the 7th Avenue. I'm pretty sure I could hear their chanting long after I was out of earshot.

In the morning, I was greeted by the Red Sox part-owner/fan newsletter, the New York Times, predictably gloating about the result (NY Post:Republican Party::NY Times:Red Sox Nation). In the Daily News, more big talk of "collapse" and vague threats of how "heads will roll" in Yankeeland.

I'm magnanimous in defeat. For example, I truly hope Mike Lupica doesn't choke to death on Johnny Damon's penis. Selena Roberts, on the other hand...

The inevitable question is, "Is this the worst loss in Yankees history?" I can only speak for the last 30 or so years. I barely felt the sting last year against the Marlins, and in 2001 against the D'Backs there was the consolation of a truly great series. 1997 was kind of painful; 1981 was bad, but you could rationalize it since, without the strike, the Yankees wouldn't even have made it to the Series.

But as bad as this loss was, as devastating as letting a 3-0 lead slip through our fingers was, I cannot say that this is the worst defeat I've experienced as a Yankee fan. The worst would be October 8, 1995. Our first postseason series in 14 years, as the American League's first Wild Card team. We started up 2-0 in a best of 5, winning game 2 in 15 innings, on a Jim Leyritz homer. Then the Yanks dropped 3 straight at the Kingdome, ending in a fifth game where the Yanks took a one-run lead in the 11th inning. The painful part wasn't Edgar Martinez' double that ended the game, but rather Joey Cora's bunt single to start the inning. Cora drag bunted the ball to Don Mattingly, who couldn't nab Joey for the out.

Don Mattingly was a god to Yankees fans. In his prime, he was a graceful, aggressive first baseman with the glove. But by 1995, back injuries had robbed Mattingly of his snakelike movement around the bag.

Somewhere in the Mariners' scouting report was a notation that Mattingly couldn't pick it like he used to. Cora had tested Mattingly before in the series, with success. And in the last inning of Mattingly's last game in pinstripes, Cora undressed him on that play.

It was unbelievably cruel. Mattingly had a pretty good series with the bat, but I always felt that that final bunt ended Mattingly's career, as much as the Yanks' trade for Tino Martinez in the off-season. It kills me just thinking about it.

This wasn't the same. The best team won, and not by a whisker. The Yankees could've won the series with a single run in Games 4 or 5. But they didn't. The Red Sox bullpen didn't falter, and ours did. They deserve this championship.


I mentioned my reading list earlier. The book I'm currently reading is "The Judgment of Deke Hunter" by George V. Higgins. Higgins was my professor at Boston University, his class was one of my favorites. He was also a phenomenal writer -- he wrote some of the best dialogue I've ever read, and really used it to carry the story. You could read an entire chapter in some of his books, and find only a handful of words outside of quotation marks.

George was also a big Sox fan. He passed away a few years ago, but I hope that somewhere, out there, he's smiling right now.

Brother Joe makes a great point about Game 6 in his column today:
I was thinking about it, and I think the Red Sox should send Richie Phillips a very large, very expensive bottle of champagne. See, it was Phillips who orchestrated one of the dumbest moves in the history of labor relations, the umpires' midseason walkout in 1999. It was that decision, which was met with a collective shrug by MLB, that changed the face of major-league umpiring. The increased willingness of umpires to reconsider a call by getting input from their peers is a direct result of the end of the Phillips era. It is that willingness that turned two bad calls in Tuesday's Game Six into two correct ones, both changes benefitting the Red Sox.

I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that had the arbiters' mindset of the 20th century been in place, the Sox might well have lost Game Six, and never had the chance to make history last night.

As I've said before, Brother Joe's clutch in the postseason. Bellhorn's homer in Game 6 was the Jeffrey Mayer play in reverse. It's a different world for umpires now than it was in 1996.

In another column today, Bill Simmons compares the past two Yanks/Sox ALCSs to the Rocky series. In his example, obviously, the Red Sox Nation is supposed to be Rocky, defeating Apollo Creed in their second go-around. If his metaphor holds, the Yanks are due to be killed in the ALDS two years from now, with the Red Sox avenging the defeat, and delivering a message of peace from the heart of the Soviet Union.

But the problem I have is that everyone liked Rocky because he was slow-witted, humble and affable. Those are not the words I'd use to describe the Red Sox, or many of their fans.

Indeed, if you had to describe the guys that come to Yankee Stadium with their Red Sox colors, you'd hear some of the same adjectives used to describe the Pinstriped Faithful: arrogant, entitled, confrontational. It's like looking in a mirror sometimes. And for all the fuss about the Sox and Yanks' differing hairstyles, the players have similar levels of pomposity -- from Pedro's mini-me to Schilling's "healed by God" speech. Both teams boast 9-figure payrolls.

So for all the folks out there who regard the Sox as the Rebel Alliance, finally toppling the Evil Empire (as if the Diamonbacks, and the Angels, and the Marlins hadn't already done that), a warning applicable to any revolution: beware your liberators, they may be no better than the tyrants they overthrew.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

May The Best Team Win

I tried to warn everyone -- the Yanks needed to finish this in Six. Now, win or lose, someone's going to come away crying.

If the Sox win tonight, you simply have to tip the cap to them. They hung in there when everyone told them the series was over; their bullpen has outpitched our bullpen; their Yankee Slayer made a miraculous come back to pitch last night's game.

More than most series in recent memory, I think that tonight's contest will determine which was actually the best team, between two competitors that were evenly-matched all year long. This isn't a situation where one team has played completely contrary to their in-season form (think Angels, 2002) or where one team has benefitted from the vagaries of a short series (think D'Backs, 2001). These teams have played, more or less, like you would expect from their regular season record. The Yankees haven't pitched well enough; the Red Sox pitching has gone through hot and cold spots; both teams have had to use every pitcher on the roster. The Yankee lineup has shown both its capacity for explosiveness, and its tendency to slump in the absence of the long ball.

So to those of you lucky enough to go to tonight's game, I say: go in there and cheer this team. Don't go crazy, win or lose. Show the world that there is some class in the Bronx, despite what they saw on TV last night.

If the Yanks do well, make sure to remind the Sox fans who their Daddy is, for me. If not, enjoy the 1918 chant while you still can. This might be the last time you get to use it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Murder by Baseball

I wrote a longer piece explaining my absence from this space over the past week, which isn't ready yet, and will run later. Right now, I'm just trying to survive.

The Red Sox and Yankees are trying to kill me.

I pretty much missed game 1 of the ALCS, and was there at the Stadium for Game 2. More on those later. We had 35 innings of baseball at Fenway, over a weekend extended by a rainout on Friday. Saturday’s massacre was a 9-inning regulation contest, putting Boston in the thus-far unwinnable 0-3 hole. Sunday, the potential sweep was averted in Boston at a monumentally leisurely pace – 12 innings, a finish well past 1:00 AM. They started Monday’s game, a make-up for the rained out contest on Friday, at 5:00, to make for an "early" get-away day game. No luck. More than five and a half hours later, we still weren't finished at the rat-infested shanty -- er, unique old ballpark -- in Boston.

That was a cheap shot, 'cause I actually like Fenway quite a bit, when you don't have an obstructed view or a giant speaker aiming 500 decibels of sound right at your ears. But spending all that time there over the weekend was brutal. It felt like FOX's fan cam had enough time to make a personal set of head shots for each person in attendance. I'll ask Brother T's significant other, who actually was at the Sunday game, whether she's gotten a personalized video portrait from FOX yet.

With the consecutive extra-inning losses at Fenway, the series comes back to Yankee Stadium with the Yanks up 3-2, and needing only a single win to get to the World Series. If we hadn't had the exuberance of being up 3-0, and two really tight, frustrating losses on Sunday and Monday, I think Yankee fans would be really happy with this position.

Fans of both teams can come away smiling so long as the Yankees win this series tonight. There's a similarity between this series and the 2004 season. The Yanks got off to an early and apparently-insurmountable lead, carried by some moribund Red Sox performances. The Red Sox came back after their fans gave up on them, to mount a Serious Challenge behind some awesome pitching.

Hopefully, tonight is the part where the Yanks set things straight, and condemn the Sox effort to the "too little, too late" bin of baseball history.

One reason I want this to end tonight is simple practicality. The Yanks suffered heavy bullpen usage in Fenway, and two more games of similar treatment could leave them with nothing for the World Series. Win it tonight, and you can spend the rest of the week charging up Mariano's cyborg arm for Houston or St. Louis.

The other thing is that, if it ends tonight, both teams can come away from this series with some consolation. The Red Sox don't get swept, don't lose at home, and give it their darn-tootin' best against all odds after dropping the first 3 games. The Yanks win at the Stadium, close out a dangerous team with some time to watch NLCS games on TV, and their fans don't die of the agita which would inevitably accompany a Game 7.

Because a Game 7 would be awful, for everyone involved. Win or lose, the town of Boston isn't still standing after a Game 7. The Yanks win, and the Charles is choked with the corpses of suicide divers. The Yanks lose, and the World Series is canceled because the Red Sox fans would burn their own park down. It wouldn't be intentional, mind you, it's just difficult to control the fires you set when you're rioting and looting in celebration.

[The funny thing is, as I ran through the "Yankees lose" scenario above, I realized that some idiot at FOX would come up with the bright idea "Why don't we use Yankee Stadium as the Red Sox home park? I mean, it's the closest ballpark, right?" This would be followed by bloodshed in the Bronx, which ends only after George Steinbrenner holds a press conference to ask "Can't we all just get along?"]

So let's do this tonight. For everybody's sake. Think of the children!


Every writer has their best time of the year, their specialty. Brother Joe, over at Baseball Prospectus, rules the postseason. BP's been kind enough to put some of his work in the non-subscriber pile, which you can read here (today's) and here (from last week, a nutshell ALCS preview).

Just how scary the Red Sox lineup is didn't really hit me until the extra inning games. Each time the Yankees failed to score in the top of the inning, I thought "Oh crap, that's six more outs we have to get." They bring two of the most dangerous bats in the American League to the plate every other inning, so whenever the Yankees failed to score, they practically guaranteed Manny and David Ortiz another at bat.

It officially crossed the line when Scooter -- FOX's animated talking baseball -- started explaining the brushback pitch to me.

I mean, the only explanation for this Scooter idiocy is that kids might like it, and now it's telling kids that they should put Hideki Matsui on his ass if he lights up their team in the playoffs. What a kid-friendly message!

Everyone complains about the FOX broadcast, and it's a little over-the-top. McCarver's bad -- I especially like it when he insists on calling a player by the wrong name, and completely blows off any subtle corrections by his partners in the booth -- but about once a series he gives a bit of analysis that's prescient. Buck's OK, Leiter's OK. That dirt cam view is pretty interesting, although a bit overused. The speakers in the bases are fun.

I try to narrow down my complaints about these guys to just the basics. Why don't they have some strike-zone tracking ability? YES and ESPN both do, why not baseball's broadcast partner? Why do their cameramen have ADD? They cram so many shots into each pitch I fear they're going to trigger an epileptic fit.

But my biggest problem is, I wish they could find another way to do their advertising. I remember late in the season YES presented one of the Yanks/Red Sox games under a single sponsor model. Couldn't FOX experiment with that, have one advertiser sponsor each World Series game and limit the commercial interruptions?

I know it's unlikely, but I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Prelude to Armageddon, Part I

Painful Post-Game, Sad Sunday

After a storybook ALDS clincher for the Yankees, the clubhouse went quickly from celebration to depression.

On the superficial, but still painful, side, Tom Gordon learned that some people just can't be trusted to pop their own champagne. Personally, I blame George -- he spends $180 Million on a ballteam, then doesn't invest the additional few thousand dollars it costs to get a sommelier.

Anyway, Gordon took a stray cork in the left eye, which hurts like hell (please, don't ask). What this means for the best setup guy in baseball is unclear. I wouldn't want to step into the batter's box with an eyesight-impaired flamethrower like Flash on the mound.

When I first heard about this injury, I thought "what kind of idiot pop a bottle of champagne near someone's face?" The mere mention of the word "idiot" makes me think of Kevin Brown, but then I realized that this was not a cork launched in anger -- you can bitch about Crazy Eyez' mental stability or his frailty, but not his accuracy.

So my best guess is the inimitable Run Fairy, Felix Heredia. Nothing personal, not saying he's mean or anything -- just pointing out that he's a great candidate to negligently injure a teammate. The Daily News even had some weird quotes from Heredia about the injury.

The more serious news in the Yankee clubhouse concerned Mariano Rivera. Rivera learned after getting the win in Game 4 of the ALDS that two relatives -- cousins, a father and son, had died in his mansion in Panama.

The story is that the two were electrocuted while taking a swim in the mansion's pool. Apparently, the caretaker booby-trapped the pool "to keep [Rivera's] dogs out" and Rivera's cousins didn't know about the danger until it was too late.

My heart goes out to Mariano and his family. Some things are more important than baseball, and the guilt he probably feels about this must be awful. The whole thing sounds completely bizarre, but it reminded me of my youth in the Dominican Republic. A surprising number of our friends and neighbors would concoct strange, Wile E. Coyote-style death traps to protect their property. These would range from decorating the tops of their walls with broken bottles, to the use of barbed wire and electrified fences.

One of the worst, which actually happened after we'd moved back to the States, involved a Bodega owner who bragged about his "security system". Turns out he'd rigged a sawed off shotgun under the counter by the cash register. If someone tried to rip him off, he'd just step on a pedal and blam! no more robber.

So one day my dad's in his shop, shooting the breeze with the guy, and blam, this jerry-rigged spring gun goes off right by where my dad had been standing a moment before. I'm assured the bodeguero built a safety latch into the next generation of his invention.

Rivera went down to Panama to bury his relatives, vowing to return to face the Red Sox. It's unknown if he'll be back in time for tonight's Game 1 of the ALCS. Between this and Gordon's freak injury, the Yankee bullpen might be quite thin for the first few games against the Sox.

As Saturday night turned to Sunday, things got even more depressing with the news of the untimely deaths of Christopher Reeve and Ken Caminiti.

Caminiti, the one-time MVP and All-Star thirdbaseman for the Padres and Astros, died in New York of heart failure. The buzz about his death is mainly about steroids -- Caminiti admitted he was juicing in his MVP season, and the media types love to connect the dots (scientific evidence be damned). The thing to remember about Caminiti was that he was an addictive personality overall. He didn't simply abuse steroids, he used all sorts of drugs -- cocaine and alcohol were big favorites -- as part of an unrelenting compulsion not to accept himself as-is. Lord only knows what Caminiti thought the drink and the drugs and the 'roids would transform him into ... Babe Ruth, maybe? I just hope he's at peace now.

Christopher Reeve had nothing to do with baseball, but his death also touched many lives. The former Superman actor lived the last years of his life a quadriplegic, the result of an equestrian accident.

He managed to turn his personal tragedy into both an inspiration and a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God warning to the world. To see someone who had been such a model of athleticism paralyzed in a wheelchair brought the message home to many that we're only one bad day away from unbelievable disaster. The fact that someone receiving basically the best health care money could buy died of complications from an infected bed sore is an even more sobering realization.

Throughout his period of disability, Reeve was a spokesman for spinal injury research. He never apologized at the fact that his advocacy efforts had a selfish angle -- he wanted badly to walk again, to feel again. He wanted a cure for himself as much as for anyone else. I always respected that. He will be missed.

Next: I'll get to the Red Sox, hopefully before game time...

Monday, October 11, 2004

Division Series Wrapup -- Super Sized

It's been a long while since last we spoke. In the meantime, all four Division Series have resolved. In the National League, the Cards and the Dodgers proved a classic mismatch, two very similar teams -- good lineups, light on the starting pitching -- where the Cardinals had the benefit of having the four best players on the field. They'll face the Astros, who have better starting pitching than the Dodgers, but less depth. Basically, it's Roy and the Rocket 'til their arms come outta their sockets. The Braves managed to take the 'Stros to 5 games, but in the end, Leo Mazzone's Amazing Recycled Pitching Staff wasn't good enough to hold off the Killer B's.

(By the way, it'd be pretty cool if we could get Leo a PBS show: "This Old Pitcher". Every week someone brings Mazzone an old, broken down former prospect, and Leo turns him into a guy that can win double digit games in the Show. Maybe Will Carroll would be available for sidekick duty...)

Over in the American League, the battle of annoying red-wearing teams was won by the Boston Red Sox, in a landslide over the Anaheim Rally Monkeys. Landslide might not be a strong enough word to describe Boston's three-game sweep: the first two games, wins at Anaheim, had a combined score of 17-6. Game three went extra innings, but was won on a walk-off bomb by David Ortiz. Ortiz batted .545 in the series.

If you give up 8+ runs per game to Boston, chances are you're going to lose.

Meanwhile, in Yankeeland, the Pinstripers endured a scary series against the Demon Johan Santana and his Twins. As reported here, the Twins took Game 1 at the Stadium on a strong performance by the Demon. Games 2, 3 and 4 were each come-from-behind wins, played out over 32 innings. Here's a quick recap:

Game 2: It Ain't Over 'Til The Skinny Italian Sings

The Yankees should pay me to show up late to ballgames. The last time I was tardy to the Bronx, I was treated to an epic extra-inning battle between the Yanks and the Red Sox, featuring dramatic comebacks, defensive gems, insane dives into the stands, and some of the most unlikely heroes in Yankee lore (John Flaherty for the win!).

This time I showed up late in the third inning. The Yankees had tied up the game at 3 as I scaled the ramps to the upper deck. I arrived with my hands full of beer, thinking I'd somehow misread my ticket, because my wingman for the evening, my younger brother, wasn't anywhere to be seen. Turns out he let someone talk him out of the fact that this was a 7:00 start, he showed up about two outs after I did.

The Yanks scored two more off of Brad Radke to get a 5-3 lead. Jon Lieber was pitching well, taking the ball into the 7th inning. Gordon came into the game to get the final out of the 7th, and everything looked set: six outs to go, Gordon in the game, Rivera not far behind.

The wheels fell off in the 8th inning. With one out, a third strike against Jacque Jones skipped past Posada, putting Jones on first. A single by Torii Hunter ran Gordon out of the game.

Now, without a decent lefthander in the pen, it was the natural and correct call that Torre went to Rivera, and his lefty-busting cutter, to get out the lefthanded 4-5-6 batters in the Minnesota order, Morneau/Koskie/Kubel. It was the right move to make.

It just didn't work out. Maybe it was just good hitting, or the (never-verified) notion that Mariano doesn't do well when he comes out of the pen with people on. Either way, a Morneau single and a Koskie double tied up the game. Heck, I give Rivera lots of credit for getting out of the one out second and third situation he put himself in.

And so it was on to extra innings. Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan held down the Yankees through 11. Rivera was succeeded by Tanyon Sturtze in the 10th. Much to my amazement, Sturtze had pitched 2 2/3 scoreless before Torii ripped a homer to left in the top of the 12th. At that point, Tanyon totally lost it, and Paul Quantrill -- hardly anyone's idea of the cavalry -- was left to bail him out of a two on, two out jam.

The air came out of the stadium. Even the guys in front of us, who started chants and waved for everybody to stand up on every other pitch, were quiet. Heck, one of them even left.

If the Twins won this game, it would be a crushing defeat -- the kind of backbreaker the Yankees usually dish, rather than take. The Yenkees would face three consecutive elimination games -- at least one against Santana -- after being a mere six outs from victory.

And coming up for the Yankees were the 8-9-1 spots in the lineup: Olerud, Cairo, and Jeter.

Joe Nathan came out for the top of the 12th. This has become an item of intense controversy, but it really wasn't all that surprising. The remaining bullpen for the Twins was something too old (mega-veteran Terry Mulholland) something too new (late-season callup Jesse Crain) and something too blue (lefty J.C. Romero, in the doghouse after a bad September) to be used in a playoff game.

But the signs Nathan might need someone to tag in were there. Olerud, the first batter Nathan faced in the inning, struck out on a checked swing, but Nathan's control had been shaky during that at bat. As for how things turned out, here's how I wrote it in a comment on the Baseball Primer website:

Really, the blunder was that [Gardenhire] didn't have a righthanded
reliever ready to come in when Nathan lost it.

Early in the inning, Romero was warming up. IIRC, during Jeter's at bat,
there was a sudden scramble in the Minnesota bullpen to get Crain ready, as if
Gardenhire just noticed that a series of dangerous righthanded batters (Jeter,
Rodriguez, Sheffield) were coming up, and a righthanded pitcher might be

I remember that at the time, I told my brother that Crain wasn't going to be
ready for A-Rod's at bat. And as it turned out, by the time Crain could have
been brought in, Rodriguez had already doubled, and Sheffield was going to be
intentionally walked.

Maybe it wasn't a no-brainer, but it seems that Gardenhire did consider the
possibility of Nathan tiring. He just had the wrong pitcher warming in the pen,
with Olerud followed by four righthanded batters due up in Nathan's third inning
of work.Managers work with more information available to them than the average
fan or sabermetrician that's watching the game. In addition to stats, they have
"inside" information about their pitchers' readiness and physical condition, so
we owe their judgment some deference.

If Gardenhire had Crain ready, and simply decided that Nathan/Jeter or
Nathan/Rodriguez was a better matchup, criticizing him would just be
second-guessing. But to me, it looks like he didn't leave himself the option of
bringing Crain in, which was pretty stupid.

The end result was Nathan walked Cairo and Jeter, and A-Rod scorched a ground-rule double into the gap, before Gardenhire could take his closer out. After a walk to Sheffield, Romero got Hideki Matsui to hit a line drive to shallow rightfield (the outfielders were shallow on the sac fly possibility), and to the shock of everyone in the Stadium, Jeter tagged and came charging home.

Yankees win.

Game 3: Brown's Back in Town

After a season full of uncertainty, the Division Series brought us the drama of El Duque. Was his "tired shoulder" finally rested? Could the Yankee rotation survive without their new-found ace?

The announcement Wednesday evening that Kevin Brown would be making El Duque's Game 3 start was one of the things that fed my 12th inning despair. Brown is the idiot who missed much of September because he decided to get physical in a fight with a brick wall. He had two tune-up outings prior to the postseason: one getting raked by the Red Sox, where he didn't evenget out of the first inning, and a nice 5 inning bit against the Blue Jays in the final weekend, that got him a spot on the playoff roster.

The fact that Brown was starting game 3 said two things. First, it said that El Duque is probably down for the count. At the time they announced Brown would start, the Yanks were down 0-1 in the ALDS, with a great shot of heading to Minnesota down 0-2. If Orlando could make the starting bell, I think he would have. The second thing it said is that the Yanks have no confidence in Javy Vazquez.

Calling Game 3 a come-from-behind win is only correct in the most nitpicky way possible. Yes, the Twins scored first, in the first. The Yankees immediately came back with three runs in the second, and five more runs in the 6th and 7th. At 8-1, the game was in hand, even though the Twins mounted a late rally to make for a 8-4 final.

Brown's performance was promising: 6 innings of 8-hit ball. He only struck out one batter, which is a concern going forward. But I think we'd take three or four more performances just like that this postseason, thank you very much.

Game 4: Twins Wars, Episode IV: The Phantom Tag!

This one must've hurt. The Demon, Johan Santana, comes back on short rest. Once again, he gives the Yankees some chances, but only gives up a run. Javy Vazquez, on the other hand, gets raked for five runs in five innings. Human white flag Esteban Loaiza comes out of the pen. The grounds crew at Yankee Stadium starts preparing for a game five.

Then something amazing happened: the Twins let us go. Santana gets pulled after five innings. The Twins get three hits off of Loaiza in the 6th, but Cuddyer runs them out of the inning. In the 7th, the Twins give Loaiza another extra out on another caught stealing.

Meanwhile, Juan Rincon comes in to pitch in the 8th inning, and proceeds to give up a single, a walk, and a single. With one out and one run already in, much-maligned Ruben Sierra comes to the plate, and earns himself a job for as long as Joe Torre's a manager by lacing a huge bomb into the folded up seats in right-center.

Tie game.

At that point, it was over. There were a few more innings, a bizarre sequence where A-Rod doubles, steals third, and comes home on a wild pitch. But the bomb by scrubby old Ruben is what did the Twins in.

As a Yankee fan, I have a big taste for the jugular. And this postseason, the opponents have been talking unusually hard -- Torii Hunter was jawing before this series; Damon, Ortiz, and Schilling have been jabbering all year long about the Yanks/Sox rematch. But I feel for the Twins. In an extremely tight series, they lost by the slimmest of margins.

The bad breaks were summed up for me by a play in the first inning of the game. The Twins had just scored on a sac fly, and had Jacque Jones on first, Justin Morneau at the plate. Justin's a dangerous hitter, so this is a big spot early on. Vazquez strikes Morneau out, and Jorge Posada guns it to second base, where the high throw beats Jones to the bag. Jeter does a sweeping tag with a flourish and the ump signals "out". Strike 'em out throw 'em out double play.

Except Jeter never touched Jacque Jones. He missed the guy by at least half a foot. Jeter got the call on pure chutzpah. The Yankees won the series much the same way -- they just took it. The Yankees simply showed more confidence than the Twins.

Next: Prelude to a Rematch

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Devoured by the Demon: Twins 2, Yanks 0

Just a short one, today.

As you've probably heard, the Yanks fell before Johan Santana last night, extending the Demon's amazing run of hot pitching, which dates back to June. Santana wasn't dominant last night, but succeeding under less-than-perfect conditions is the mark of a great pitcher.

My real-time observations, following the game by computer, can be found at the Page O' Stuff.

The Lou Gehrig of Yankee bloggers, Alex Belth, was at the game. You can read what he thought at Bronx Banter.

Over at Will Carroll Presents..., Twins Fan Dan took over the blog with minute-by-minute analysis. Just take the general link to Will's blog, since TFD's contribution spans many, many posts.

As for tonight, it's what lots of people have marked the crucial moment of this best-of-five series: Brad Radke vs. Jon Lieber. Radke's been lights-out in the second half, but there's some history with the Yanks.

I'll be there tonight, Section 6, Row T of the Upper Deck. If you're in the neighborhood, drop on by.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Gary and Barry

Just in time for the playoffs, Sports Illustrated has an article about Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, and their controversial training sessions in the winter of 2002.

The big headline is that Sheffield admitted to a grand jury that he unintentionally took steroids. This is bound to provoke a big "yeah, sure" reaction from the public at large, but it's one of the possibilities that has really intrigued me in this BALCO situation.

I mean, if you were a supplements company, or a big-time trainer, and you wanted to build yourself the kind of mega-millionaire clientelle that pays for your retirement, why wouldn't you slip an athlete steroids, if you could do so surreptitiously?

What people want from all these trainers and supplement peddlers are results. They want to get bigger, see decreased body fat, do bigger bench presses. The one thing that's certain to give your clients these results are anabolic steroids. By slipping players a little something extra in their supplements, you could probably convince them that it's your special training program ("Now, we mud wrestle!") or your special ginkobiloba extract/eye of newt/creatine smoothies that are giving the boys their powerful new physiques.

This probably wouldn't be too plausible if the trainer was making the player shoot up twice a day, but if your steroid is in the form of a topical cream -- well, who knows what's in half the products we put on our skin? How is Gary Sheffield (or anyone else for that matter) to tell the difference between THG, Vics Vap-o-Rub, and Noxema?

Now, this doesn't completely absolve a player who might be slipped a steroid "mickey". There'd probably be a fair amount of what we lawyers call "willful blindness" involved. Long-term, the player, not to mention his physician, his coaches, and his teammates, would have to ignore dramatic physical changes, and side-effects such as acne, the development of breast tissue, behavioral changes, etc. that have been associated with steroid use. You'd think eventually someone would start asking questions ... unless they really didn't want to know the answers.

The sideline to this story -- one that might have an effect on both Sheffield's and Bonds's MVP hopes -- is the bizarre relationship between the two superstar sluggers. It's amazingly petty: as Sheff tells it, Bonds is such a control freak you can't take him to a basketball game or a boxing match without him trying to one-up you. Everything has to be his way, and everyone around him feels bossed around or abused. Sheffield, a not-that-much-younger player with lots of experience (and a World Series ring, which Barry lacks) chafed under Bonds' tightly regimented tutelage.

Now, take away the limos and the plane tickets, and plenty of people with older siblings can relate to Sheffield's experience. Until we start talking about personal chefs. Apparently, you can't ever leave Barry Bonds alone with your personal chef.

Nope. Can't relate to that. No chance.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Put Another One in the Books...

The 2004 season is over.

For the Yanks, it means a 101-61 record, first place in the American League East, and a tough playoff schedule with the Demon Johan Santana starting at least two games of a 5 game ALDS, followed (if we're lucky) by a 2002 revenge match between the Yankees and Angels, or a rematch of last year's ALCS.

(Honest to God, I'll probably have to quit my job if we have another Yanks/Sox championship series. They're too exhausting to simultaneously follow and have full-time employment.)

It was a year in which the dead (the Houston Astros) came back to life, and the Chicago Cubs showed that only in the Lord of the Rings does the destruction of an evil relic mean that all will be well and good with the world.

The single-season hits record fell to one of the most unique artists in the game today (indeed, after we nicknamed Kenny Lofton "Lil' Smacky" I should have simply declared Ichiro! "Big Smacky" ... maybe I held off because I feared it would sound like racially stereotypical pidgin English). That is going to be one insane Strat-O-Matic card.

An even more insane strat card could belong to the Barry Bonds, who shattered his own walks record, and deep-fried his own intentional walks record. The catcher gave Barry four wide 120 times last year, roughly 17 more walks than Alfonso Soriano will see in his entire career (Just joking, Player. I halfway expect to see you back in the Bronx next season). Sadly, a nutritional supplement purveyor, a power-mad Attorney General, and a bad final week of the season might each overshadow Barry's awesome 2004.

Elsewhere in the world, enemies of Michael Lewis were putting pins into voodoo dolls of Mark Mulder this last month, with depressing results. More rally monkeys and inflatable noisemaking torture devices for Southern California! Have the Dodgers and the Angels ever made the postseason in the same year? For the moment, in 2004, the dream of the Freeway Series lives!

In the NL, two of the classiest, most successful franchises of the past decade won their divisions in a walk. Mostly, both of these teams had been written off as having not enough pitching. Not enough of us are scratching our heads and wondering what we can learn from this.

Closer to home, the New York Mets found out that Kaz Matsui's a player, except that he didn't quite field as well as expected, run fast as fast as they thought, or hit enough to make them happy. Their team, overall, turned out to be like that, so they sent their easy-going manager packing (Using the oh-so-sheek "You're fired ... In a month" method. It'd serve them right if Art Howe spent the entirety of September stealing all the front office supplies his car could carry). Then they sent their promising GM not-quite-packing, and yet sadly, their ownership remains the same. The Wilpons are trying to out-Dolan the Dolans. Luckily, there is only one Shandon Anderson, and the Mets can't have him!

In the AL Central, the Twins were the division's Yankees -- expected to win, challenged by local rival, got their stuff together mid-season and ran with it. They may've turned a corner in two ways: first, Johan Santana transformed from a pretty good pitcher to The Unbeatable Demon Johan Santana, just an "a" and an "n" away from "Satan"; second, they finally served the abundant youth in their minors, jettisoning Doug Spellingerror in favor of Justin Morneau, a guy who should be in all those Rookie of the Year conversations. Both of these fellows will be on abundant display in the ALDS.

That kinda talent makes me nervous, but it's a good kind of nervous. It's good to feel a little tight when you're playing in the playoffs. That's where the focus comes from -- and if you're a fan, where the excitement flows from.

The baseball season's over, but baseball still has a ways to go. Enjoy!