Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wicked Game

I was talking to my friend Jimmy Chitwood, and I’ve got something to say. I don't know if it'll make a difference, but I figured it's time for me to start blogging.

I’ll start slowly, clearing out the cobwebs that have invaded my portal to Misery Loves Company and treating my just-scabbed-over wounds from the end of the Mets’ season gingerly.

It’s time. Jerry over at the Wheelhouse just addressed his agony over the Game 7 defeat last weekend, and he summed up a good bit of what I was thinking and feeling about the Mets. The Mets-fan waiter at my pub of choice finally got around to discussing the squad after two months of grumbling “not ready to talk about it yet” as he’d walk by my barstool. My little MLC cohort has been exhorting me on for weeks now. I suppose it’s time to address the season and move on.

Today I’ll simply talk about Game 7. In case you’ve shelved the memories of the game to make room for more current NFL, college football, NHL, NBA, college basketball, and competitive eating thoughts, it was a dandy.

I happened to be sitting in the mezzanine seats in right-field, up there in the night with the excitable beer swillers and frenzied Met lovers. Sure, I’d love to have seats behind home plate for such a contest, but the mayhem of the upper sections turns out to be equally exhilarating, maybe more so, if you’re up for it. (You have to watch yourself up there; the guy behind me took a first-inning finger in the eye from a badly straying high-five attempt. Mine, of course.) Up there the tickets are cheaper, but in most cases the buyer felt the financial sting a little more to see the big game. Worth every penny, and not just because my bro-in-law gave me my ticket as an awesome birthday gift.

He, my cousins and I rode the 7 train out to Shea after a few pregamers at an Irish joint in midtown Manhattan. The ride out was killer, with every rider decked out appropriately, and a palpable buzz coming from both the anticipation of the climactic evening and the tall boys of Murphy’s stout that were passed around communally. It’s really the only way to go to the stadium on a night like that.

Approaching Shea was just as stirring, but it couldn’t compare to the moment of finding your seat and turning to face the spectacle of Game 7 NLCS baseball in Metville. That I did so after dumping half a beer on the guy in front of me’s neck didn’t faze the guy in the least or detract from the awe, it just began a comedic sidelight of me as the spazzy fan that would accompany the drama and offer comic relief at night’s end.

Rob had suggested that moving Dee-Dub down in the order might do the Mets some good. I averred that Willie’s vote of confidence, similar to the effective one he’d given Jose Valentin earlier in the series, would pay off, and in the first inning it did. Wright finally returned to the form that serves him best (someone explained to him that the abuse Mike Piazza took in the press was for a different kind of going the other way), knocking one into right field for a ribbie. “And the crowd goes wild” was the cliché that fit the moment.

Somewhere in the early innings I had an epiphany inspired by the ghost of my old Phillie friend Evan, who was prone to such quirks: it occurred to me that since Budweiser products are brewed, or at least based in St. Louis, there’s no way in hell we Mets fans should be paying for and consuming them on this night. Instead, it was Miller Lite all night – the only alternative, and really, we’ve had little beef with the Brewers through the years. After showing my traveling companions the light, I took to rallying the entire beer-buying population of the right-field Level 3 corridor to do the same. My hoarse voice the next day was surely due in large part to the urging on the boys in blue and orange during the game, but in no small part to my “follow me to freedom” shouting tour of the beer stands in close proximity between frames 2 and 3. At the very least, later the amused beer man would consistently crack open a couple of Lites for me before I even said the words, and even let me walk away with four on one occasion. The little things, I tell you.

So what of the game? It stands as a blur of images in my memory at this point, with Oliver Perez being brilliantly elusive, the hitters being agonizingly unproductive, and the defense holding tight with flashes of . . . well, what can I write about that catch that hasn’t been written??

Endy’s grab was a sports moment that will remain tattooed in my brain for as long as said brain remains functional. From deep right, we had the picture-perfect vantage point. Just after the crack of the bat, a collective “ugh” emanated from our section as we were all sure it was a dinger. Then little Endy got higher than we’d have figured he could and seemed to make a play, and we were hopeful . . . but we really couldn’t tell if he caught the ball or not. We all completely froze, and I’d love to have the audio as much as the video of these few seconds:

a huge groan
a gasp
total silence
a thousand people in our section in unison

and then . . . utter chaos
a burst of gleeful screams followed by a second one after the double play was completed


I’ll echo what ol’ Jerry said – at that moment, we simply knew the Mets were going to win. We in the right-mezz screamed like sixteen year old girls seeing the Beatles in 1964, vainly took the Lord’s name in bellowing admiration, and hurled ourselves into each other void of consideration for the injuries that resulted. It was the kind of little-kid bliss not common to folks in their mid-thirties’ regular routine. It was fucking awesome. The best 10 seconds I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event, bar none.

The superlatives, I am tremendously saddened to say, ended there. The night was on the verge of being the best game I’ve ever attended, but as a personally brutalizing loss, it’ll simply remain in the Top 5. If the Mets had won, it might have approached one of the best nights of my life, since I feel sure the Powerball ticket in my pocket that night would have hit, Springsteen would have shown up in the bar and asked me to join him onstage, and my wife would have arrived at the end of the raucous celebration with a limo full of playmates and a head full of bad ideas.

Well, in case you don’t remember, Yadier Stinkin’ Molina bested Aaron Heilman, and the Mets did not, as it turned out, go on to the World Series. We were the last four people to leave the mezzanine, doing so only after hounded by security. And that subway ride back to Manhattan – it was like a rattly funeral procession, eerily silent and a depressing juxtaposition to the trip out, as well as to the thought of the roof-tearing ride back that could have been. All too many uses of “could have been” have been thrown around in our heads and chatter since, and each has kept me from wanting to focus on the night until now.

A final note on the night that was – well, it actually comes from the next day. We awoke in my cousin’s apartment to a horrible morning. It was bad enough to wake up and wish that I’d dreamt the night before, bad enough to feel a horrible hangover buying real estate in my head and belly. It was bad enough to know that I had a two-hour car ride, then a two-hour train ride, then a three-hour car ride to get home that day, with little to think about besides how the Mets had crushed my spirits the night prior. It was even bad enough to walk the six blocks to the car in a disgustingly rainy New York morning that we knew would lengthen our return trip.

What I did not need, what I really could have done without, was the 12-year-old twerp in the Yankee jacket who spotted Patrick’s and my Mets caps and proceeded to scream for seemingly all of the five boroughs to hear “Mets suck, Mets suck, Mets suck” over and over again for – without exaggeration – a city block. Patrick and I looked at each other, partly in mutual annoyance, partly in amusement at the kid’s persistence. I remarked that my team had fared better than his, to which the youngster replied that he wasn’t a Yankees fan – he was a Tigers fan. (This encapsulates perfectly my impression of the lesser 90% of the Yanks’ following.) Patrick more logically inquired whether the kid shouldn’t be at school, but by then he was back on the “Mets suck” tirade. A block later, with this little bastard’s hollering fading into the distance, we wondered if we should have shoved him in a trash can. Somehow, despite the instinct, we kept our dignity.

Perhaps the reason we didn’t react more to the insult was that in our minds and hearts, we knew that “Mets suck” was a pretty dumb thing to say. The Mets won 97 regular season games (most in the league), many of them in exciting fashion. They breezed through L.A. and came damn close against the eventual World Series champions (American League dominance be damned) – even with their #1 and #3 pitchers on the shelf. This was a great season, and this was a great team. And man, to be able to type that sentence after the frustration beyond belief of the first few years of this blogging endeavor . . . well, that’s a whole lot of reason not to wallow too long in the depression that Game 7 precipitated.

It has to be the journey as much as the destination, maybe more, or there would be 29 dissatisfied fan bases to just one satisfied one, which would make following baseball a mostly fruitless passion. It’s easy to get hung up on the disappointment of such a finish, but now we move on to appreciating the body of work the 2006 New York Mets delivered. In future posts I will get into that. For now, though, I will merely bask in the recollection of one fantastic evening in Queens amid 56,357 of my best friends, ignoring the way the night soured and fixating on the magnificence of the memory.

Good times.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Can't Buy Me Love

Hot Stove, Cold Beer, Cool Cash Money

My head is spinning a bit, but I can’t tell whether it’s related to the obscene amount of money being tossed at professional baseball players or last weekend’s liver-pickling extravaganza at Whitney’s house. While J.D. Drew was pocketing $70 million dollars over 5 years and Julio Lugo bringing down $36 million for 4 years’ work in Boston, Whit and I conducted a tasting of notable seasonal brews from Harpoon, Anchor Steam, Abita, and Troegs with a little Dogfish Head thrown in for, well, killing a few more brain cells.

Of note, we concluded that it’s far easier to taste beer with an eye towards the critical if you’re not working toward the concurrent goal of getting sloshed. Abita’s 20th Anniversary brew was by far the most appropriate for the latter goal, owing to its smooth palate and clean finish. Unfortunately, we figured that out fairly late in the game, after chewing through most of the other offerings first. Harpoon Winter Warmer has a distinctive nutmeg and cinnamon flavor, and would be perfect for sitting around a fire and sipping. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale is a bit darker, nearly a porter in style, with some of the same wintry spice that livens up the Harpoon – again, good for enjoying with a meal, a bit filling if you aim to howl at the moon. The Troegs Mad Elf was simply a strange concoction, lively at 11% ABV, but aggressively unusual from a flavor perspective. If I could remember any details about that flavor, I’d surely share them – I’ve got 6 more in my fridge, so perhaps I’ll get into them this weekend in the interest of enlightening you. The Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA lived up to its reputation as one of America’s best beers, hoppy and fruity with a sit-up-and-take-notice 9% ABV.

As for the Sox offseason exploits, there are certain amongst you who’ll not likely take my fiscal sanity harangues seriously anymore, and I suppose I’ve got that coming. I will say this – after seeing Ted Lilly get $10 million a year and Gil Meche (Gil Freaking Meche!) sign for $55 million guaranteed smackeroos, the Drew and Lugo contracts are market value at worst, and damn near steals. Drew’s a top-25 offensive talent with elite defensive skills. His career OPS is over .900, and he projects to be a plus-power on-base machine at Fenway if he stays healthy. Ahhh, but that’s a big if, no? Drew’s a risk, no question, but if healthy, he combines with Ortiz and Ramirez to create an imposing middle of the order.

Lugo slots immediately into the leadoff spot, dropping Kevin Youkilis into the 2-slot and creating a tantalizing combination of speed and patience in front of the big 3. Lugo’s presence allows Coco Crisp to drop down to the bottom of the order where he can get his stroke back under a lot less pressure than he faced in 2006. Lugo’s not gonna pick it as well as Alex Gonzalez did last year, but he’s also not likely to post a sub-.700 OPS.

The Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations should be the subject of a Harvard Business School case study in game theory. Though Scott Boras is undeniably evil, he's also a brilliant motherfucker, having manufactured pressure on the Sox in a closed negotiation where it theoretically shouldn’t exist. On the other hand, Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, and John Henry weren’t born yesterday, and the Sox still do hold the best cards, so I expect a deal to get done before next week’s deadline.

After Matsusaka joins the fold, the Sox only hole will be at the back of the bullpen, empty because of Keith Foulke’s departure and Jonathan Papelbon’s transition to the rotation. I’ve heard everything from Eric Gagne to Chad Cordero to Derrick Turnbow (um, yeah, not so much), and I can’t say that I’m terribly thrilled by any of the options. Since I’m running short on time (it is 5:00 on a Friday, after all) and on original thought (as if that’s ever stopped us), we’ll leave the closer situation for another day. Lord knows we’re struggling for offseason content. Ahem.

Leaving on a bright note, Jon Lester appears to be cancer free, and even if he doesn’t make it back to Fenway in 2007, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t resume his ostensibly bright career.

And go listen to Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Jenny Lewis’ Rabbit Fur Coat, and the new Wreckers album if you want to hear some seriously killer chick-rock.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Only Everything

Title above in homage to the research Whitney and I performed last night, catching Scott Miller solo at Iota in Arlington, VA and taste-testing several Shiner Bocks, Harpoon IPAs, and Guinness drafts. We probably talked about baseball, too, though I can't really recall. For what it's worth, Shiner's overrated - it's nearly indistinguishable from Bud Light.

Those of you not familiar with Miller should be - he's the former frontman of the V-Roys, and a proud product of the College of William and Mary, Class of '90. He appeared to be trying to go drink for drink with Whitney, which resulted in a laid-back, good-timey set of alt-country tunes. (The fact that Whitney tried to make out with him after the show was mostly entertaining, as well, though probably not for him.)

I'm refraining at the moment from buying into Friend of MLC Teejay Doyle's premise that Manny Ramirez is not long for Olde Towne Team. I know it's the popular media hook this week, but I can't see the Sox' front office particularly eager to part with the American League's most potent right-handed bat, especially given the way that contract values for mediocre outfielders have gone plaid this offseason. If Alfonso Soriano gets $17m per season, and Gary Matthews, Jr. gets $10m per, then Manny's an absolute steal at his current $20m or so per year. (Of course, you could argue that the "correction" in the value of Manny's contract makes him easier to trade, and you'd be right. Easier to trade, though, doesn't certify that the Sox would get equal value in return.)

Because Manny's contract is no longer the above-market albatross it once was, the Sox' incentive for trading the enigmatic one has diminished. Unless - and this is a big 'unless' - they can get what they perceive to be value for him. I just don't see that happening, certainly not in any of the deals that have been floated to date. The Sox' front office has been highly disciplined in its approach to the media since Theo's return from the wild, so I'm fairly sure that none of the 'Manny's gone' material is coming from Yawkey Way. More likely, to this uninformed opinionater, that the media is bored and Manny's departure is an easy story to write.

Says here that Manny's in leftfield for the Sox on Opening Day in April, nodding his goofy head in time to music that only he hears. I'd sure hate to have to write a farewell to one of the most entertaining players of my lifetime.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old

Whitney wanted me to pass along the following nursery rhyme that he wrote in honor of the Mets' newest acquisition. To the tune of Alouette:

Alou-Metta
Ancient Alou-Metta
Alou-Metta
At least he'd swing at strike 3

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Turning Japanese

Matsuzaka!

That's all - now back to your regularly scheduled offseason catatonia.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Question

Can we move on to the Hot Stove phase of the season yet, Whit? I realize that there's a series being played, but it's somewhere out in the Midwest, amongst all those red state people that we don't talk about at cocktail parties. I'd rather focus on what matters to us East Coast elites. Like the fact that the Sox resigned Mike Timlin this week to a $2.8m, 1-year deal. Guess I'll be waiting another year before I give him that Gilley's gift certificate as a retirement present.

We've got big plans here at the LC, including but not limited to the expansion of the blogroster and a broadening of the focus to include 2 more of our favorite things, beer and music. If we execute on this vision, you're looking at the interweb's primary purveyor of all things baseball, brews, and backbeats. Or, perhaps, a site frequented by 25-30 mostly bored nitwits, as opposed to the 15-20 that visit us now.

So we need you to wrap up the Mets' season, which despite the admittedly painful end was a pretty damn successful one. As we've discussed, the pain will serve to make the pleasure that much sweeter next year, if the Curse of MLC runs its natural course.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Here's Where the Story Ends

Game 7 - NLDS

Cardinals 3, Mets 1
Cardinals win National League pennant, 4-3

I'm not ready to talk too much about this yet. The highest of highs was all too quickly followed by the deepest depths. There are stories to be shared, but it'll have to wait until the nausea that comes with every discussion fades away. I'll say with the perspective that 48 hours brings that the Endy Chavez catch was the greatest live sports moment in my life. The chills still come at the memory of the moment that we all realized he'd actually come down with it, not to mention the double play that ensued. If only . . .

Damn. It's just . . .

Damn.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New York City/The Believer

NLCS Game 6

Mets 4, Cardinals 2
Series tied, 3-3

My nameless colleague asked me to pinch-hit for him this afternoon as he speeds up Interstate 95 with his equally nameless brother-in-law, bound for Mezzanine Section 33 of Shea Stadium and a Ferris Bueller-esque evening of hijinks and merriment (and, in all likelihood, heart-stopping tension). Jealous? Yes, perhaps just a tad.

I found myself nervous and fidgety as Billy Wagner turned a 4-0 Mets lead into a tightrope exercise by eschewing his 100 mph fastball for his slightly wild 85 mph slider, so I can only imagine what my Metfan friend was going through. (In truth, I know exactly what he was going through - echoes of 2004, and all that.) In my brief interview with him this afternoon, though, he claims to have been mostly calm, expecting Wagner to finish off first Taguchi (not So much - erkerkerkerk) and then Eckstein (ecks-hale).

As for this evening, both Shea-bound Mets fans surveyed are mostly happy that their squad finds themselves in this situation, describing their mindset as "cautiously optimistic". I neglected to ask how many road sodas had already been consumed. I might have a different take, were I a Met fan contemplating the fact that Oliver Perez was taking the ball on 3 days rest in the most important game of the season.

There's already been some interesting symmetry between these Mets and the Idiot Red Sox of 2004, so I leave my colleague with this thought, lifted directly from my entry on the afternoon before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS: "I don't have any words of analysis, because none of them are worth anything. Roll the balls out, get the game on, and let the chips fall where they may."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Is This It

Game 5 - NLDS

Cardinals 4, Mets 2
Cardinals lead, 3-2

Well, that wasn't much fun. The Mets are now on the verge of elimination, and their saving grace is one John Maine. Oh, my. All season long, like most in the Mets' blogosphere, I have offered my two cents on exactly how the Mets should tackle the challenge at hand. I have no such guidance at this point. Here's all I can muster in the way of advice:

Score more runs than your opponent through nine innings.

Genius, I know.

Looking at the pitching match-up is the first place to begin any pre-game analysis, and it doesn't bode well for the Metropolitans. That said, nothing in this series has gone down the way it should. From the Met bats being silenced, to the crappy Cards hitters blowing up, to the good pitchers pitching badly to the bad pitchers pitching well, it's been an altogether . . . stupid series, for lack of an appropriate baseball term. No reason to think it'll get any smarter from here on out.

Worth mentioning: we've got tickets to Game 7 in hand. Man, oh, man, do I not want Patrick to get reimbursed for those. Get me there, Mets, and I'll take care of the rest. (Hey, I have 24 hours and a train ride to think of how that'll happen.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Momentum

NLCS - Game 4

Mets 12, Cardinals 5
Series tied, 2-2


Willie Randolph did well to paraphrase an old baseball adage last night, that momentum is only as strong as the next day's starting pitcher. Honestly, it means little to nothing in this game. (And in the Township, mention "Big Mo" and you've got a knuckle sandwich ordered up.) Now, in the case of sweeping momentum, a la the Detroit Tigers of the past couple of weeks, it's palpable. When it's a game's worth, or even a couple, it really can be undone with one starting pitcher.

Enter Oliver Perez.

Okay, I'm joking. But he did get enough of a job done to make it work, and frankly he was a hell of a lot better than Maine or Trachsel . . . hey, a quick typo there enlightened me to the fact that "trash" is in "Trachsel." Who knew?

The real story of last night's enormous, gargantuan, series-swinging, and if you believe the hype, momentum-changing win was the offense. Big bats went a-flyin' in Busch Light last night, and about the only downside I could find was a continued reliance on the long ball -- but hey, if they're going to keep hitting them with that regularity, press on. (And they did manage some old-style rallying after the barrage of taters.)

True Confessions: I may have pulled a muscle in my side when I leapt off the couch upon seeing Carlos Delgado's three-run jack. Worth every twinge as I danced and jumped and made hideous caucasian fist-pumping mayhem in the den. It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, the sage once crooned. And dammit, I was.

Rain in tonight's forecast; more chatter worthy of talk radio and other low-brow forms of communication as to which club is better aided by the delay. Both starters will be going on the same two days' rest. Glavine has done it fairly often, not to much success in the playoffs, but he doesn't rely on velocity much. Weaver throws harder, but he's younger and presumably heals more quickly. What a quandary. Don't care. After last night, momentum is suspect but my frame of mind is bolstered immeasurably. I'm still mentally frail and wrought with anxiety, but my debilitated state has a pleasantness to it absent 24 hours ago. Play tonight, play tomorrow, but just play the way you can -- like last night reminded you, perhaps?

Let's Go Mets.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

To the Kill

Games 2 & 3 – NLCS

Cardinals 9, Mets 6
Cardinals 5, Mets 0
Cardinals lead, 2-1

Well, that was just pure agony. The past two nights have been brutal on my innards, as the usual angst and tension supplemented by doses of frustration, rage, resignation, disappointment, and dread. Watching baseball sure is fun, huh?

Game 2 hurt because I felt the game was in hand all night, even as the Cards kept coming back. As I predicted, the Mets got to the St. Louis ace, Chris Carpenter, but John Maine went in the tank. Guillermo Mota held fast, then let up – that was the blown lead that really stung, when I thought the Mets would coast. But this Redbird team has that increasingly annoying eye of the tiger / team of destiny thing going on – there’s no denying it. They, along with the Tigers, seem propelled by a force greater than what’s on display between the lines. Damn them.

That sentiment was underscored when Jeff freaking Suppan shut down the Mets’ O and, oh yeah, homered off Steve Trachsel. There’s little I can say about Trachsel that hasn’t already been said, capitalized, emphasized with many exclamation points, and censored at certain Mets forums in the last 24 hours – or that hasn’t been written in this space. His upside over the years (inning-eater, solid, not prone to the big inning) evaporated in an instant last night. He and John Maine both folded when the Mets most needed them.

The home plate umpires have had something to do with it. Not that you can take the onus off Maine & Trax – hell, no – but they rely on calls like Glavine got, and instead they got squeezed like an intern’s cheeks in the Steve Phillips era. It was a recipe for a long night, and that it was . . . twice.

I’ve been trying like hell to get my superstitious regimen lined up, but this series has stood as Exhibit A in the case to debunk the voodoo hex that has commanded my behavior in postseasons past. Hats, shirts, and Met gear of all kinds – no configuration seems to work consistently. Patterns of where I watch, how I watch, with whom I watch . . . non-existent. The only thing I have noticed that has worked has been the Rob Russell Anti-Mojo Factor. Basically, when Rob has made a comment lauding or cheering for the Mets’ opposition, the Mets seem to win. It’s a bizarre reverse-psychology form of fortune I employed several years ago in the ALCS when the Red Sox went down 2-0 to Oakland until I donned an A’s cap and changed the outcome. I need something from my cohort now before it gets desperate here.

Oliver Perez goes tonight in a must-win game, a horrifying statement for Mets fans throughout the Township. On a related note, I’m going to go throw up. David Wright appears to have regressed into wide-eyed rookie status, Jose Valentin left his bat in the regular season, and the Mets’ world seems to quake when Scott Spiezio steps to the plate. It’s been ugly for a couple of nights, and there’s at least a decent chance that it could get worse tonight.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is pleasantly applying the blinders and sipping the Kool-Aid, bidding on tickets for Game 7 and checking out plane fares to Detroit. I’m a wreck, of course. Now that the Redskins have soiled themselves once again, costing Rob 50 grand, this has the makings of the worst sports weekend for me in recent memory. Only William & Mary’s fourth-quarter comeback against a team they should beat with their second string on roller skates saved a clean sweep, but good reason, the Mets are consuming my rooting interest now.

This is it. These are the moments that will stick with you forever, boys. As Gordon Gano sang, this will go down on your permanent record. Don’t get so distressed, just go out there and play the kind of baseball you’re capable of playing. I’m not ready to kiss off this season just yet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Start!

Game 1 -- NLCS

Mets 2, Cardinals 0
Mets lead, 1-0

Last night I watched a Mets game that could hardly have been more perfect. It was a tense, tightly contested match-up that was neck-and-neck for all nine innings. There was stellar pitching, there was inspired defense, and there was a mammoth Met bomb off the scoreboard that won the game. Oh, and it opened up the 2006 NLCS.

Everyone wants to talk about Beltran's tater, how he has dominated in a small but freakishly good but still small sample size in October and especially against St. Louis. I think it's great, of course, and I hope all of the chatter will get Chris "Rainy Days & Mondays Move Up My Start" Carpenter and the rest of the Card staff fixated on Beltran while the other guys get their more than capable licks in. Cliff Floyd is out, and it hurts, but pitching & defense win these things, and without Endy Chavez's dazzling display of the latter, who's to say how last night turns out? The lineup has to pick it up for Clifford, just the way Tom Glavine did in unbelievable fashion for his fallen comrades.

Carpenter vs. Maine is one of the few match-ups in this series that seems overwhelmingly Redbird. Much has been made of the advantage garnered by the Cards because of the rainout-induced shift in the rotation, specifically how much better off they are with Carpenter going tonight. Here's a scenario I'm putting atop my wish list: Chris Carpenter, with one less day of rest and away from the friendly neo-Busch, takes a loss tonight against the revved up Met bats; St. Louis is then faced with opening up their home stint the next night without their ace and in a load of hot water. It could happen, and it would make my weekend just a tad less anxious.

John Maine, nobody wants to talk about what you bring to the Mets. Here's hoping that the next after-the-fact media story is a re-visit to the spring trade of Kris Benson, and the Mets laughing last.

For the record, how I have been feeling all week, especially late last night, is precisely why I got so cranky at the Mets for denying me the past few years. The energy is amazing.

Let's Go Mets. It's a mantra simple enough you could teach it to a three-year-old, and I did. Don't let her down.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

What Difference Does It Make?

Suddenly, and sadly, we're at one of those momentum-halting breaks in the action where brutal reality wakes us from the dreamlike state of baseball fandom. The bizarre and tragic news of ex-Met pitcher Cory Lidle's fatal plane crash into the side of a Manhattan apartment building derailed all of the focused attention on the New York Mets and their playoff future. It's just a rotten development for baseball and a depressing day for the people who watch, coach, and play it.

Deep confession time - I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider how the tragedy might affect the Mets tonight and in this series. The weaker team in any match-up hopes for any sort of distraction to upset the odds. Not that the Cardinals could be glad for such a startlingly horrible distraction, but New York residents must be a little frazzled today, and the Mets may be no exceptions. Getting back to playing baseball was a nice salve for more globally horrific events of the past, so perhaps a Mets win tonight could have a similar effect on a smaller scale. That's about as much as I want to incorporate someone else's personal tragedy into thinking about my team's baseball games.

A more usual disturbance to the Met train could be the weather. There is always a ton of chatter as to if and how a rain-out affects the outcome of the series; Captain Kurkjian thinks it favors the Mets unless it means Chris Carpenter gets an earlier start. The latter appears to be a definite possibility, to the point where some supposed tide could turn the Cards' way from it. I actually am hoping to hear a whole lot about it, and then to see the Metbats thump the ace in another display of the sports press being a day late and a buck shy.

In truth, I am wishfully thinking that none of the above will make a difference on the result of this series, and that the better team -- by my calculations, anyway -- should prevail. It's been since Saturday since the Mets played, though, and I'm just itching to see them get out there again. Game on . . . finally.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

A few posts below, you'll note my brilliant (and clearly obvious) plan to foster a false sense of security in the New York Yankees by denigrating the Detroit Tigers. (Little known fact: Johnny Damon is a huuuge MLC fan, stemming from that time we wrote about his haircut, or something.) In conjunction with Whitney's diabolical sabotage of the Minnesota Twins, anointing them (or their riverine doppelgangers) presumptive World Series champions, the events of the first round of the MLB playoffs have shaped up quite nicely for his Mets.

It goes without saying that I'm pleased as punch with the Yankee loss and the concomitant chaos in their organization. I think Big Stein will come to his senses, but I'd prefer if he fired Joe Torre and replaced him with Lou Piniella - not only will the pitching rotation be a wreck by next July, the resulting clubhouse tension would put to shame the Bronx Zoo-era Bombers. For entertainment value alone, the 2007 Yankees would be worth the price of admission.

I'd be pretty confident right about now if I were in Whitney's shoes, but my respect for the superstitions of the game means that I will understand completely when he responds in (probably mock) horror at the suggestion. Despite the Mets pitching woes, they match up fairly well with the threadbare Cardinal staff, Chris Carpenter notwithstanding. And the Metros' offense and bullpen are clearly better than those of their opponent. New York in 6, and only because Carpenter gets to pitch twice.

In the Junior Circuit, I'm torn. I'd like to see Detroit win because it'd be a great story, and I'm grateful to them for their systematic dismantling of the Yankees. On the other hand, an Oakland triumph would be a rich and overdue retort to the old-line sports media and their uninformed hatred of the Moneyball system. Listening to Joe Morgan have to congratulate Billy Beane (you know, the author of the book in question) would be sweet music, indeed. In the end, I think Le Tigres are just thismuch deeper in the rotation and bullpen, and the 2 offenses are a wash. With Mark Ellis' ALDS injury meaning that the A's have to start Marco Scutaro and DeAngleo Jiminez in the middle infield, the scale tips to the Motor City - something that would have been unfathomable to me 7 days ago. Detroit in a full 7 games.

Ahh, baseball, you magnificent bastard - many thanks for the early end to angst-filled autumn evenings and here's looking forward to some edge-of-the-seat action over the next 2 weeks.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Moving Right Along

Game 3 – NLDS

Mets 9, Dodgers 5
Mets win, 3-0


The quick and efficient dispatching of Los Angeles didn’t come without a price, as Cliff Floyd’s latest battle wound (a strained Achilles tendon) might keep him on the shelf for the duration of the Mets’ time in the playoffs. The irony of Floyd suffering that particular injury is fairly thick, what with that part of his body so obviously not his only weak spot. Still, it’s hard to be anything but pleased as punch with what went down in the NLDS for the Metros.

Losing Floyd should be neither under- nor overstated. His veteran (and fairly bad-assed) presence in the outfield and the lineup will be missed, though we’ll assume he’ll still be in the clubhouse. Clearly, he still has some pop, as Derek Lowe found out in Game 1, and despite the erratic year he had, I like the Mets’ chances better with him in the mix. That said, his year was erratic, with too many stints of ice cold in the batter’s box or icing down another body part instead of taking the field. I’d like to believe that it’s another case of the Mets withstanding a body blow in this quest for the title, and since these things usually come in threes that this marks the final segment of the injury bug. I can’t help but believe, however, that the team cannot endure many more losses like this.

Most important in the sweep, as my brother-in-law remarked wisely, was that it took an Oliver Perez Game 4 start out of the equation. He’s a question mark I’d rather leave on the keyboard for now. Now it’s time to get everything set up for St. Louis. Here come the Cards, left for dead a week ago but looking ominously Phoenix-like at the moment.

As with the Tigers, the Cardinals’ season-closing downward spiral had the pseudo-pundits of the sporting world writing them off entirely. (Meanwhile, somewhere below I had the St. Louis E Street Shuffle advancing to face the Mets. We won’t mention my miles-off predictions for the AL. I’m an NL guy, anyway.) It’s not really that surprising that they both rebounded splendidly in the NLDS; you might remember a team that backed into the playoffs in 2005; the South Siders needed a Cleveland collapse to get in, then blew through the postseason convincingly. Maybe this is the new design for October success? Here’s hoping the inane allusion I make a week from now won’t be a geographically pertinent Twain quote about the Cardinals’ demise being greatly exaggerated, but maybe something closer to Monty Python’s not-dead-yet old man being clubbed in the head by the Mets. Regardless of the absurdities typed in this space, the Mets will have their hands full with Phat Albert and the gang in this seven-gamer.

The Mets that my peers and I have written about for six months aren’t quite who we have poised to play the Cards right now. In addition to the trio of plan-altering injuries, Carlos Beltran is running at about 80% (which is about where he was last year, in case you don’t remember what all the booing was about). Reyes and Wright were excited but cool under pressure during the season, but in the early-going of the NLDS, they looked like a couple of does in the high-beams. They cooled down eventually – to a degree, and let’s hope that was as geeked-up as they’ll get. The way things change from the long slog of the season to the blink-and-you’re-gone immediacy of the postseason . . . well, the club managed to get past it somehow in round 1. Pulling together as a unit, that’s how it’s done.

I have 50+ more hours to pore over the match-ups of the next series, ones that seem to favor the Mets. It’s a fairly futile exercise, though, since so much of the statistical advantage is inevitably rendered moot come the first pitch. It would far more rewarding to sit back right easy and laugh after walking over L.A., but since when does that ever happen?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Coming Into Los Angeles

NLDS – Game 2

Mets 4, Dodgers 1
Mets lead, 2-0

This is, of course, what should be happening. All of the nervousness and anxiety I described below goes against the logic of a likely Game 2 result. The hitters did just enough hitting, Tom Glavine and his relief pitched brilliantly, and the Mets leave for the west coast with a comfortable 2-0 lead. Comfortable to a point, of course; let’s not pretend that the apprehension has dissipated that much at this point.

Steve Trachsel was fairly well disparaged in this space well before he took leave for family reasons last week. Who knows how his frame of mind is faring now? I’ve given Trax grief as much for his annoyingly “deliberate” approach to his starts as I have for his intermittently second-rate performance. I don’t have a wealth of confidence in the guy, but he’s a veteran more than capable of a playoff-worthy performance. My only plea to him is “throw strikes.” With Nomar injecting more steroid speculation into the rumor mill with yet another injury, and with the rest of the Dodger bats staying relatively mum, that torturous corner-picking may not be the best approach. We want seven innings and fewer than four walks out of Trachsel.

No letting up, dammit.

Listening to Grady Little’s press conferences, I kind of can’t believe he’s a two-time playoff manager. The Texas drawl as a first impression doesn’t exactly add IQ points, but he just sounds like he’s several boilermakers in and making illegal left turns every time I hear him. He’s not known for his in-game cunning, from what I read here a couple of autumns ago, and he doesn’t exude confidence with his demeanor. What’s the appeal? I guess I really don’t want to find out over the weekend.

With the way the geniuses in the sports media seem to be getting everything wrong in these playoffs, I’m not at ease with the momentum switching back to the Mets’ camp. Rob, can you give L.A. another shout-out just for good luck?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nervous Guy

NLDS – Game 1

Mets 6, Dodgers 5
Mets lead, 1-0


Whew. That took some doing, and I don’t just mean the Mets’ ordeal in the opening game of the postseason. It took quite an effort for me to see bits and pieces of the contest, then more effort not to hear or see the final score until I could watch the end myself . . . which I ended up not quite able to do.

I hunkered down at the Dubliner in Washington to catch the opening frames. My bartender extraordinaire and drinking buddy there joined me in observing one of the most bizarre plays on a baseball field I’ve seen, as a double off the right-field wall resulted in bang-bang tag-outs at home (within a couple of seconds of each other) of Jeff Kent from second base and J.D. Drew from first. The quiet, dark, Irish pub doesn’t lend itself to vocal outbursts, but I couldn’t help myself as I yelped upon watching Paul LoDuca make the two quick tags. The play saved the Mets from a big inning, and likely saved the game.

That said, the Dubliner was not feeling like the right venue to bring the Mets luck, and they remained down, 1-0, for several innings. Enter the Irish Times. (I did.) As soon as I made the miniscule trek to the second bar (it was right nextdoor), Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd took Derek Lowe deep for a pair of solo shots. When the Mets tacked on another pair of runs, it was obvious I’d found a fortuitous viewing locale, but softball called, so I made the sacrifice and left. I’m so altruistic like that.

Bad idea. In the car, I heard the game go to 4-4 and quickly turned off the radio. At that point I didn’t want to hear any more until I could relax and catch the final few innings via Gheorghe blogmaster TJ’s DVR. A challenge, of course, because folks at the park and in the sports bar afterwards wanted to discuss the game, naturally. Oh, and the 100 TV’s felt the need to offer scores and highlights non-stop. Bastards.

I managed to make it through celebrating our softball win and drowning the sorrows of our loss with no knowledge of the Mets’ final score, and the DVR indeed had recorded . . . most of the rest of the game. It cut off in the ninth inning with the Mets up, 6-4. Painful. I now know that it got hairier before the happy conclusion, and it’s probably just as well that I didn’t see it.

I spent a great deal of yesterday anxious, and it’s not going away with the one win. When I was watching the Mets struggle in the early going, I had that white-knuckle, taut muscle ache that plagues us all in these moments. I’ve actually kind of missed this tension, and I welcome it a tad. The closest I’d come to it in recent years was when I signed on to support Rob and his Sox in ’04, as I described in a post then. It’s the greatest form of agony I know.

Maybe it shouldn’t feel this way, but yesterday’s win feels enormous. After an uncanny succession of calf tears not seen since Animal Farm, the Mets found themselves dropped from heavy favorites to major question marks. To rally, then rally again, then stave off the rally – well, that’s a redundancy I’d love to see repeated throughout these playoffs. Game 2 offers a match-up (Glavine vs. Kuo) more in the Metropolitans’ favor, but there can be no let-up. Show some patience at the plate, youngsters, and keep up the concentration in the field. (That means you, Mr. Valentin.) Keep doing what you’ve done all year, and more good results will find us.

Is it just me? Doesn’t it seem like decades since the Mets were in the postseason? I guess once you sink to the depths, it makes you forget recent successes. Let’s hope that this fall makes us forget those depths.

Superman

Derek Jeter had a massive game against the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALDS, going 5-for-5 with 2 singles, 2 doubles, and a homerun to pace the Yankees to an easy 8-4 win. Predictably, the sports media seized upon the moment to wax poetic about “The Captain” and his predilection for postseason heroics. And his calm, dreamy eyes. And his dirty uniform and spirited fist pumps. Can’t forget the fist pumps. Let’s let the Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin elaborate:

“The Yankees have not won a World Series championship now in six years -- a
long, awful lifetime by the standards of this franchise. Jeter, the Yankee
captain, was 26 then. He is 32 now, and perhaps can better appreciate the finite
nature of an athletic career. He certainly played with a controlled urgency that
suggested it was so. His jersey was the dirtiest on the field. His fist-pumps
were the most emphatic.

I come here not to bury Derek Jeter – far from it. As much as it pains me to admit it, Jeter’s a real, live legitimate stud. He’s probably the American League’s Most Valuable Player for 2006. As a fan of the Yankees’ major rival, I state unequivocally that he scares me more than any other Yankee when he comes to the plate in crucial situations. Jeter doesn’t suck, even if A-Rod might swallow.

Here’s the thing, though. You’d think that the media who swoon for Jeter every year when the weather starts to turn could be convinced to do a modicum of research before the annual coronation. For all the legend-making, Jeter’s postseason numbers are a fairly consistent mirror of his regular season marks – he doesn’t “step it up a notch” in the clutch any more than anyone else does. Jeter’s got a career OPS of .851 and a career postseason OPS of .864. He performs extremely well in ALCS competition, posting a 1.023 OPS in the penultimate series, but he actually underperforms his career norms in both the ALDS (a very average .744, even with Tuesday’s explosion) and the World Series (.809 OPS).

As a point of fact, Jeter has the 4th best postseason OPS on the current Yankee roster, behind the much-maligned A-Rod (.923), HGH poster-boy Jason Giambi (.971), and Hideki Matsui (.908). Bernie Williams nearly matches Jeter with his .856 OPS and has outhomered his more-celebrated teammate (22 to 17) and driven in significantly more runs in a similar number of games (80 to 48).

The italics in the quote above are mine. Do you see at least a little bit why the non-Yankee portion of the baseball universe gets a mite tired of the hyperbole? For the record, I can understand why others might feel the same way about David Ortiz (except that his postseason numbers are even better than Jeter’s, and he’s way more fun to listen to. I digress.). Is it too much to ask the media to be creative, to avoid the easy way out for once?

Yeah, I already know the answer to that, too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Get Off My Cloud

Since Rob publicly dedicated himself to the Metwagon, the Mets' starting rotation has lost its #1 and #3 pitchers to season-ending calf tears. Hmm.

Uh, dude . . . if you're carrying that wicked virus that decimated the Sox a couple of months ago . . . please hop off the wagon. Lickety split.

Oh, and here's a reason for Sox fans to root for the Mets -- now, if the Mets actually make some noise in the playoffs, I think we can safely say the transparent melodrama surrounding the Yankees' muddling through their bout with key injuries might fade away entirely. I'd like to think so.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Meeting Across the River

With the playoffs set to commence in a matter of minutes, it’s time to take a look at the field of playoff teams, and while my cohort’s club isn’t one of the eight for the first time since MLC was conceived, I do hope he’ll continue to weigh in throughout the postseason with commentary, asides and snides as play continues sans Sox of any color.

We’ve interwoven baseball and rock & roll for the entire season, so it’s only so much of a stretch to perform the following analogous exercise. Recently I’ve heard Bruce Springsteen songs used as the backdrop of montages for both the Yankees and Mets; while I think even the casual Bruce/baseball fan would clearly throw the lovably dingy Boss into the Mets’ camp rather than the white-collar Yanks’ (no bias here, natch), there’s more than enough Springsteen to go around. There’s a far better discussion to initiate, as least in my increasingly surrealistic brain. Trying to rank the playoff teams and their chances for success is a bit like trying to rank Bruce Springsteen records – they’re all good, but which stands out above the rest?

Let’s dive in, shall we? (For our purposes, we’ll stick to the first incarnation of Bruce and the E Streeters, before they busted up and he lost his musical way, only to be reborn to run some more. We’ll ignore the fact that The Rising is one of the best albums of the past decade and one of the greatest comeback albums in music history.)

* * *

The first major release by “the future of rock and roll” came in 1973 in the form of Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. This album was solid – more than solid, though not the complete open-to-close masterpiece of later releases. One thing that surely strikes the unfamiliar listener is the tunes that they’ve heard elsewhere. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a huge hit with Bruce’s “Blinded By the Light” and lesser hits with “For You” and “Spirit In the Night” (for this I admire the band’s taste greatly and respect their creativity not at all). Greg Kihn also covered “For You” to some success; it’s likely only die-hards who have tracked down Bowie’s takes on “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and “Growin’ Up.” In much the same way, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be comprised of players you’re more familiar with on another team – not just any other team, for free agency makes most of the ballclubs fit that description, but Rob’s Red Sox. Nomar was the face of the Sox for so long, and Derek Lowe did so much to enable 2004 to end the way it did. Meanwhile, Rob’s old favorite Grady Little is perched at the helm. (Hell, Aaron Sele is even on the roster.) In addition to the ex-Sox haven, the Dodgers are also a team of youth. The team is young – a little green, perhaps, but they may build into something special in years to come. The same could be said for Greetings; a very fine album on its own, how it paved the way for some of Bruce’s classics is probably how it will be remembered.

Springsteen followed up Greetings with The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle, a more meandering collection of epic tracks. Even as we acknowledge that there are no duds in these eight great albums, very few folks outside the most impassioned would target Shuffle as their tops. Even as we acknowledge that there are eight mighty good baseball teams in the playoffs, very few folks outside of St. Louis are favoring the Cardinals this October. Even as we acknowledge that it’s arguable that the single greatest song/player in the library/league resides here (Albert “Rosalita” Pujols), that’s not enough to sway the conventional wisdom that this selection won’t be top dog at the end of the matter. Don’t get me wrong; leadoff dazzlers “The E Street Shuffle” and David Eckstein entertain me to no end. Don’t misunderstand – some of the more rabid fans on the planet cherish this record/club. But this is a fair assessment by any standards.

And then, in 1975, came true virtuosity . . . Born to Run. Appreciated by enthusiasts of the genre, not just the die-hards, it’s clearly among the finest around. Bruce’s characters evolved from the Shore’s Bohemian dirtbags into New Romantic heroes of the Tri-State area. The growing talent in Springsteen exploded to much fanfare (so said Time & Newsweek), very much in the same way the New York Mets have burst onto the scene as the pre-eminent contenders of the NL. Are the Mets an all-timer like Born to Run? Doesn’t seem likely at this point, but great teams aren’t crowned before the Fall Classic, anyway, so let’s wait on that judgment. Born to Run isn’t a perfect album by outside criteria – at eight songs and 39 minutes long, it could be deemed on the short side. The Mets have their shortcomings too, with a rotation and bench looking thin. Born to Run is certainly bombastic, with a tad of “Wall of Sound” style production and theatrics, just as the cheesy omni-coverage of the “The Team. The Time” Mets has been. But it’s also full of heart, and that’s an element artists and producers, players and managers all try to create – yet it’s less of a creation and more about things magically falling into place. I’m comfortable enough with the team Omar Minaya has assembled to throw the Born to Run link out there. Let’s see if the Mets will provide the runaway American dream for us New Romantic dirtbags in the Township.

An album that often gets lost in the mix is 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. Springsteen’s legal battles with his label meant a three-year wait for the masses, and it only reinforced the notion of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately public. Dedicated readers of Backstreets magazine and the like hailed the release of Darkness, but there was none of the same widespread reverence as with its predecessor. Not for a lack of brilliance, mind you. From Max Weinberg’s “Badlands”-opening drum pounds to Danny Federici’s final organ notes on the title track, it’s vintage Bruce and should be reckoned with. The Oakland Athletics are a similarly overlooked force in the American League. They seem to get little of their opponents’ press, yet they cruised through their division without the usual late-season challenges this year. Their rotation looks increasingly solid, and there’s a cohesion among the lesser-knowns that’s missing in other clubhouses, from Huston “Racing in the” Street to Adam “Raised a Cain” Melhuse to Nick “Candy’s Room” Swisher. (Okay, so they don’t all work.) The A’s are no slouches. You give me Barry Zito, Frank Thomas, “Prove It All Night,” and two bottles of Wild Irish Rose, and I’ll take my chances most any night.

The Minnesota Twins and the double-album The River are linked by more than a motif of duality; they are both thoroughly complete, filled with talent, and easy to get behind. Both have stars of some acclaim: Joe “Hungry Heart” Mauer, Torii “Cadillac Ranch” Hunter, Justin “The River” Morneau, and of course, Johan “You Can Look But You’d Better Not Touch” Santana. The Twinkies complement respected veterans with rookie talent (Radke & Bonser), while The River abuts bleak solemnity with theretofore unseen optimism (“Point Blank” & “I Wanna Marry You”). They each have killer closers in Joe Nathan and “Wreck on the Highway.” Both are undeniably strong entries in either rankings; there’s every chance that they won’t hold up with the more highly touted submissions here, but you’re hard-pressed to see exactly why.

And then you get to Nebraska, which brings as much hoop-la in this progression as it does on an itinerary. This record is enigmatic; the stripped-down, E Street-less Bruce sports a popularity directly proportional to the musical snobbery of its judge. The general public dismissed the guitar-and-harmonica affair lightly, while many a purist credits it as his or her favorite. It’s certainly in vogue to say you favor Nebraska, and I kind of feel that way about picking the Padres this year. It seems like a lot of folks in and out of the media who like the Pad Squad haven’t actually watched much Padre ball this year, which included some true moments of suck. (The next person who swoons over Jake Peavy is going to have to explain his 11-14, 4.09 year to me in terms better than “He was better than that in August and September.”) Granted, none of that matters now, as whoever gets hottest in October wins, but in the – far from expert, but better than oblivious – glance I got at San Diego through Extra Innings this year, I believe they’re only pretty good, with a couple of stand-outs. Peavy can be great at times, but how Brian Giles, Woody Williams, and Trevor Hoffman fare could better dictate how far the team goes. Meanwhile, “Atlantic City” and “Johnny 99” make my best-of compilation every time. Beyond this collection of players and tunes, however, I see good, not great. That’s just one man’s opinion, of course, and I always like to be the kid to yell “Naked emperor!” when I smell groupthink, perhaps to my own detriment. But it’s my post, and I’m not elevating these entries to the top.

Back in 1984, if you had a radio, you heard Born in the U.S.A. Boy, did you hear it, again and again and again, well beyond the unenforced limits of overplay. Even I grew sick of the record, despite its obvious merit. There is a bevy of people that to this day would claim to hate the album – and some who can’t stand Springsteen – because of the reckless spinning of some unadventurous DJ’s of the mid-eighties. Bruce became an international superstar, much to the dismay of his legion of faithful fans.

Fast-forward a decade, when the New York Yankees began to evolve into the ubiquitous blitzkrieg of ball-mashing and overspending that they are today. They have made fans around the globe; at the same time, they have made fans of baseball loathe the current system even more than BITUSA turned music fans off Bruce. Though the mere mention of the team or the album may dredge negative connotations within you, however, you cannot deny the incredible assemblage of superior performances on each. Jeter is the title track, the central symbol of the team/album and when watched or heard, impossible not to admire. ARod is “Dancing in the Dark,” the former worldwide smash with dazzling appeal that has lost all luster of late and now stands out like a sore thumb.

Damon, Sheffield, Matsui, Posada. “Glory Days,” “I’m On Fire,” “No Surrender,” “Cover Me.” Mussina, Unit, Rivera. “I’m Going Down,” “Working on the Highway,” “Bobby Jean.” All great. Even the unsung ones like Cano or Wang? If you haven’t lately, listen to “Downbound Train,” then “Darlington County.” Unbelievably good songs, never played. This team and this rock and roll album are solid beyond all comprehension, and yet they annoy the hell out of a good many people. Bruce moved to L.A., distanced himself from the band, married a Barbie doll, and got soft, even . . . dare I say . . . mediocre for a time after this album. There is plenty of reason to be irritated at what this record symbolized for the purest of fans. As for the Yankees – you don’t need me to spell it out for you why any baseball fan with a soul detests what the Bombers of today represent in the game. We appreciate the performances, to be sure, but we cannot get behind what it means in the long run. Fair enough.

Finally, the end of the E Street Band’s run came with Tunnel of Love in 1987. The full band had little to do with the record, and it was disappointing but not surprising to learn that Bruce would be touring without them afterwards. “Brilliant Disguise,” the first single from the album, gave fans a big reason to expect good things from Tunnel, but it quickly went downhill with the synthy title track. It was going to be difficult to generate widespread support in the album in BITUSA's wake, and some argued that it never stood a chance. So go the ’06 Detroit Tigers. We’d have loved for them to be the dominant Tigers of two decades prior, but at this stage of the game, it’s not happening. There are bright spots – the rotation is sharp, while Pudge, Magglio, and Casey still possess some of their league-topping skills of a few years back, just as “One Step Up” and “Tougher than the Rest” manage to shine on ToL. That said, I’ve not yet met the man who objectively picks the Tigers to win in 2006 or chooses Tunnel of Love as the best Springsteen album.

* * *

So there you go. It seems pretty clear that my relative fondness for Springsteen albums mirrors my feelings on the 2006 playoff picture. How would it play out if seeded as the playoffs are?

ALDS:
Born In the USA over Tunnel of Love, 3-0
The River over Darkness on the Edge of Town, 3-2

NLDS:
Born to Run over Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, 3-2
The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle over Nebraska, 3-2

ALCS:
The River over Born in the USA, 4-3

NLCS:
Born to Run over The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle, 4-2

World Series:
The River over Born to Run, 4-3

Hey, I’d love to pick the Mets, but The River is that good. Check it out.

"40"

Games 159 through 162 – Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Orioles 3
Orioles 5, Red Sox 4
Red Sox 9, Orioles 0
Final Record: 86-76, 3rd place, AL East


If 2005 was cast in the warm, gauzy afterglow of the epic 2004 season, 2006 found the the Nation groggily waking up next to a moderately cute, but wildly overpriced hooker with creaky joints and worse teeth and spending the better part of 8 months trying to figure out how to get her to leave.

The Sox’ final game was a fittingly unsatisfying cap to an enormously unsatisfying season. Devern Hansack pitched a no-hitter against the already-on-the-golf-course Orioles, which is pretty cool, save for the fact that a Biblical rainstorm halted the game after 5 innings. Not for nothing, but the mere happenstance that Devern Hansack took the hill for the Sox in an October contest pretty well encapsulates the donkey punch that was 2006.

At the risk of trudging once again over much-traveled territory, the Sox were undone in 2006 by the twin travails of extremely ill-timed, inordinately extensive injuries and related underperformance by key personnel. On August 4, a scant 60 days (or so) ago, the Sox stood at 65-43, their patchwork pitching staff still hanging in, and the impacts of losing Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek yet unfelt. Over the next 5 days, they dropped 5 consecutive games to the Devil Rays and Royals, and the bottom just kept falling out, not stopping until the Bostons skidded to a 21-33 mark over the season’s final third. By August 12, I was reduced to arguing with myself and Whitney over my mental status, and by August 23, I was scouring retrosheet.org for classic contests – anything to take my mind from the gruesome train wreck the Sox’ season had become.

From contenders to roadkill in less than 3 weeks. How did this team fail? Let us count the ways, falling back once again on the musical theme that’s made this season moderately bearable:

Play Deep – the Outfield’s 80s classic fits the Sox’ twin bullpen terrors, Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez perfectly, as they yielded rocket after rocket to opposing batters when not walking them at inconvenient times. The 2 veterans were counted on to stabilize the back of the Boston pen, and coming off strong 2005 campaigns, looked like solid offseason pickups by the Sox front office. It was bad enough that Tavarez’ 3.43 ERA, 2.6/1 K/BB, and 1.32 WHIP turned into 4.47, 1.27/1, and 1.56, but when Seanez followed suit, going from 2.69, 3.8/1, and 1.18 to 4.82, 1.84/1, and 1.65, the wheels catapulted off the Sox bullpen, leading directly to…

Sweet and Tender Hooligan in the forms of Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, both talented but probably thismuch too green to be learning their craft in the midst of the Boston maelstrom. Hansen, still only 17 month removed from his college graduation, showed flashes of extreme promise in the season’s early stages, but as Tavarez and Seanez proved unworthy, the young righty was thrust into situations for which he was clearly unprepared. On July 26, Hansen’s ERA stood at 4.12, courtesy of scoreless outings in 5 of his previous 6 appearances. From that point on, as the load and expectations increased, he posted a 9.34 ERA in 20 games, earning a demotion to Pawtucket and leaving the Sox’ bully in an even bigger predicament. Delcarmen was generally more consistent than his youthful compadre, but posted an 11.25 ERA in September as the Sox watched their hopes slip completely away.

The hope here is that both pitchers use 2006 as a learning experience – the fear is that their confidence will be irreparably damaged, because the Sox had no choice but to let them learn on the job. Tavarez and Seanez strike again.

High Hopes could probably describe the outlook for the entire franchise entering the season, but Josh Beckett was the most obvious personification of that sentiment. The former World Series MVP arrived with a Yankee-killer rep, a wicked curveball, and a sick heater. We close the door on the season with Beckett trailing a string of gopher balls, a hardhead label, and a plus-5.00 ERA in his wake. Ebby Calvin posted 7 outings with 7 or more earned runs, which is both a testament to his extreme inconsistency and Terry Francona’s complete lack of trust in all members of the bullpen not named Papelbon. The good news – Beckett’s only 26 and he gave the Sox 204 innings with no health issues, which is so very much more than I can say about…

…Matt Clement, David Wells, and Tim Wakefield, Three the Hard Way. Clement, Wells, and Wakefield, three-fifths of the prospective rotation as the Sox broke camp in April, combined to pitch 252 innings in Boston uniforms after averaging 578 innings as a group over the last 4+ years. Jon Lester took up part of that 326-inning slack, giving the Sox 81 innings of mostly effective, always competitive effort. The remaining 265 innings went to the likes of Royals castoff Kyle Snyder, Indians reject Jason Johnson, AA callups David Pauley and Kason Gabbard, never-was Kevin Jarvis, afterthought Lenny DiNardo, and the aforementioned Devern Hansack. Almost makes you wonder how many innings Bronson Arroyo threw for Cincinnati this season. Oh, 240. Interesting.

Ahhh, almost went there, down that easy blamecasting path, scapegoating Theo and the front office for trading Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena. Hindsight being what it is, and memories what they are, many in the Nation lay the blame for the pitching woes on the General Manager. Those same people forget that the Sox had a wealth of starting pitching before the season began, even with Wells fighting knee problems in Spring Training. At the time of the deal, as the Sox traded an average AL starter who got killed by lefties for a promising, if raw, 4th outfielder, most of the Nation was pleased as punch. It was only after Arroyo tore through the mediocre NL to post career-best numbers and the Sox staff went down like so many dominos that the recriminations began.

The other easy front office target was the inability/unwillingness to make a deadline deal for a starter. Easy target, with the brickbats again poorly aimed. No significant starting pitcher changed teams at the trade deadline this season, and the ones that were rumored to be available would have cost the Sox dearly over the next several campaigns. The front office was no doubt acutely aware of the breakout successes posted by Freddy Sanchez in Pittsburgh (sent away for Scott Sauerbeck and Jeff Suppan in 2003) and Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez down Florida way (gone in exchange for Beckett and Mike Lowell). Their reluctance to deal for short-term salvation showed marked restraint, and some level of prescience – as no single deal would have likely been able to salve the Sox’ many wounds in August and September.

Theo may have made some mistakes this season (see Tavarez, Julian and Seanez, Rudy, for example), but he gets a pass on this one. Wily Mo Pena had a .838 OPS this season while adjusting to a new league and getting limited playing time, and he’s still only 24 years old (I’m beginning to sense a theme). Arroyo could’ve pitched 400 innings for the Sox this season, and it wouldn’t have been enough. And his arm would’ve fallen off.

One final note on the rotation – in a season with a lot of low points, Jon Lester’s cancer diagnosis may qualify as the very lowest. This is a goofball blog with a seriously unserious mien, so I may be out of place with this, but I’m rooting for that kid as much as I’ve ever rooted for any player, Sox or otherwise.

Hi, We’re the Replacements - From the real world to that of cartoon characters, Coco Crisp just never got off the ground in Boston, and we’re just finding out now how much his finger injury impacted him. Crisp was asked to carry a massive burden, replacing Johnny Damon not only in the lineup and centerfield, but also filling the mythical gap left by Johnny Jesus in the hearts and minds of a once-adoring Nation. Even if fully healthy, his task was immense. As it is, Crisp’s .702 OPS marks a significant dropoff from his previous 2 seasons, and the fits and starts in his season made it tough for Coco to win over the Fenway Faithful. I’m willing to wait and see on Coco, as he showed some flashes of what might be if he can come back healthy in 2007.

Breaking out a little T’Pau now, just ‘cause I know you like it, deep down in places you don’t talk about at sports bars. The Sox were in the thick of it right up until the Heart and Soul went down. Though Jason Varitek had a mediocre season, with his .725 OPS by far his weakest production since 2002 (last time the Sox missed the playoffs – coincidence, I think not), the Sox offense was holding its own until he went out. His departure required the Sox to use Ken Huckaby, Corky Miller, and Javy Lopez’ rotting corpse behind the plate, costing the Sox runs on offense and defense.

While I absolved the front office of much of the blame for the pitching woes, 2006 wasn’t Theo’s finest hour. As it turns out, the first-half’s most entertaining transaction may well have been the team’s worst. After Josh Bard gave up 10 passed balls in 5 starts “catching” Wakefield, the Sox sent him and Cla Meredith away to bring Doug Mirabelli back from San Diego to much fanfare, and a Boston PD escort from Logan to Fenway. Mirabelli proceeded to suck on ice, posting a .602 OPS – and Wakefield got hurt, completely negating ‘Belli’s value. The fact that Bard went to San Diego and put up a .943 OPS in a pitchers park stings, but the Cherry Bomb on top of this shit sundae was Cla Meredith’s performance. The sidewinder posted a 1.07 ERA in 50 innings as a critical component of the NL West champion Padres bullpen and was absolute murder on right-handed batters, holding them to a .300 (!) OPS. Meredith looked lost in his short stint in the bigs last season, but it sure seems that the vaunted player evaluation machine in Boston whiffed this one.

It wasn’t all plague and pestilence in the Nation, it just seems that way because of the way the season just petered out. The Sox’ very own Supernova, David Ortiz was once again a transcendent force, setting an all-time franchise mark with 54 homers and almost single-handedly keeping the Sox in the race in June and July when his walk-off fireworks went plaid, they were so beyond the pale. Papi put up a 1.049 OPS, and led the AL in both HR and RBI, but even he was not immune to the bizarre rash of ailments, leaving the team for a week with mysterious heart pains. It was almost as if, like the mythical John Henry (the railroad man, not the owner – but try that mental comparison on for size), his heart gave out from the strain of carrying his teammates.

Ortiz’ Dominican pal, Manny Ramirez and his band of media naysayers have perfected the art of turning a Whisper to a Scream. Raise your hand if you knew that Manny had a higher OPS than Papi. Now put your hand down if you’re a SoSH member. Now, punch yourself in the neck if you’re Dan Shaughnessy or one of the other spineless assmunches in the Boston media trying to run the best right-handed hitter in the American League out of town. All Manny did, once again, was hit 30+ homers, drive in over 100 runs, and post a 1.058 OPS. And if you believe the conventional wisdom, he’s played his last game in a Red Sox uniform. That’s a pisser.

Jonathan Papelbon took the hill in a Blaze of Glory in the season’s first week, and kept firing heat all the way through one of the league’s most dominant individual performances. Papelbon’s 4-2, 0.90, 35 save season was probably the only sustained bright spot on the pitching side of the ledger, and even he fell victim to the Mildly Irritable Reaper, shutting down for the season’s final month with a tired arm. Damn right it’s tired – it carried the whole freaking team for 4 months.

Working for a Living fairly well describes the efforts of most of the rest of the roster in 2006. Mike Lowell was surprisingly good, with an .814 OPS and 47 doubles to go with Gold Glove-caliber defense. Kevin Youkilis proved to be a better-than-average leadoff guy, posting a .391 OBP – he’ll need to add some power if the Sox want to keep him at first next year. Curt Schilling turned in another workmanlike year, recording 15 wins to go with his 3.97 ERA. Alex Gonzalez is probably the best fielder ever to grace the shortstop position in a Sox uniform – which is a good thing, because he ain’t winning any prizes for his .698 OPS. Mark Loretta didn’t hit for a lick of power, but he was consistent during a season that mostly went without. Alex Cora was a consummate backup, and Gabe Kapler…well, he looked pretty good in the uniform. Trot Nixon was another of the walking wounded, recording an altogether mediocre 8 HR and 52 RBI. Mike Timlin channeled the Prodigy in the season’s latter stages (and not in a good way), teaching his bullpen mates the chord progressions to Firestarter.

It’s an odd feeling watching the playoffs start without the Sox involved. In some small ways, I’m looking forward to just enjoying baseball, but those ways are really tiny in comparison to how much I’ll miss the pit-of-the-stomach anxiety of a close, late playoff game that matters to me. Somehow, rooting against the Yankees doesn’t provide the same juice.

Looks like we’ll be saying goodbye to some old friends in the offseason, as it’s likely Trot Nixon and Mike Timlin won’t be back in 2007. Manny Ramirez and Doug Mirabelli may well join them, as should Gabe Kapler. It’s the nature of the beast, I suppose. The following quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti is part of Red Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione’s season sign-off. This is the first time in several years that I’ve felt it deeply – over the last 3 seasons, the exhilaration has taken longer to wear off.
"The Green Fields of the Mind"

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time,
to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days
are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of
rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped,
and summer was gone.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Harder Now That It's Over

Games 161 & 162 – Mets

Mets 13, Nationals 0
Mets 6, Nationals 2
Final Regular Season Record: 97-65, 1st place in NL East by 12 games


So ends the 2006 regular season, with the Mets sweeping the Nationals at RFK. Off go the easy, breezy three-gamers against paltry league foes; on comes a potentially arduous three-gamer against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bring it.

It’s funny how sports media personnel (outside the home market) seem to get the story about a week late. A week or two ago, everyone was icing the Mets’ cakewalk to the World Series, patting the Mets on the back whilst slagging the remains of the Senior Circuit. Of course, while the papers were praising our lads, the Metmen were spending their garbage time smelling no better than the refuse they’d tossed around for five months. We fans were on edge, inexplicably to the peripheral people.

Now, of course, I am reading a stream of articles on the New York Mets’ sudden fallibility. (Losing your ace will do that, but it's gone well beyond overstating Pedro's void.) Right as the Mets were winning the last four games of their long-locked-up season in dominating fashion, every two-bit sportswriting genius penned a eureka-reeking column on the Met woes. Now, at long last, folks are seeing that the man behind the curtain is actually Steve Trachsel, and that’s more frightening that a pack of flying monkeys to those of us in the ‘ship.

Except that by now, the Mets seem to have steadied themselves, readied themselves, and poised themselves for a true title run. They managed to resolve some lingering questions – maybe not with ideal answers, but with definitive answers nonetheless. There should be little doubt about who’s going to battle in the royal blue and blaze orange. (Were this a real battle, of course, wearing such colors into combat would be tactical hari-kari, but this is baseball, not guerilla warfare.) The offense began to flex those muscles again for the first time in a while, and unlike some of their peers in the playoffs (the 7-in-a-row-winning Trolley Dodgers excluded), the Mets have a little momentum rolling into the postseason.

Game 1 is Wednesday at 4:00 PM. I’ll be finishing up a day’s work in the nation’s capital as quickly as possible so as to catch the opening pitch (figuratively speaking). Anyone in the DC area looking to share bar space with a frenetic freak of a Mets fan should give me a shout.

Of Note: Game 5 of this series, if necessary, will be at Shea on Monday the 9th. My brother-in-law Patrick got us tickets, and though I will have to defy tremendous odds to be there, I’m planning on it somehow. Anyone wanting to watch my children to help me out should give me a shout. (Please, Mets, just win in 3 and let me go to the NLCS.)

Tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the Dodgers, the match-up, and why Rob Russell is going to have difficulty living up to his promise to root on the Metropolitans when they square off against L.A.

For now, it's time for us to bear down and prepare for the next phase, just as the team does. It's been a ton of fun to sit through the regular season. It really has, but that's over now. Cakewalk be damned, there will be no gimmes from here on out. Supreme confidence and total anxiety are currently sumo wrestling in my belly, and I think only a malt beverage rain-out will clear the mat.

Cheers, mates.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Crash

Jumping in where I don't belong to send a quick shout-out to the Detroit Tigers for gift-wrapping a trip to the ALCS for the Yankees. The Motor City Kitties needed 1 win in their last 5 games to clinch the AL Central and send the Twins to the Bronx. Instead, they gacked 5 straight, including s season-ending sweep at the hands of the Royals (the Sox have some experience with that particular art form).

As a result, Detroit heads to New York to face the Yankees, where they'll be summarily dispatched as the Bombers tune up for their inevitable romp through the postseason. It'll be nice for the denizens of Yankee Nation to finally be able to begin the post-2004 healing process. Begin, but not nearly complete. And if you don't think I'll use some variation of that line everytime I get grief from a pinstripe-wearing mouth-breather, you've got another think coming. It came to me out of the clear blue sky at today's Nationals/Mets game, when some jerkoff in a Yankee t-shirt cracked wise at me (wearing my Sox cap). His stammered non-response almost made this circle-jerk of a season worth it. Almost.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

Game 160 - Mets

Mets 4, Nationals 3
Record: 95-65

Actually, losing Pedro isn’t as bad as many might believe. I mean, he missed most of the latter half of the season, he’s been shelled more than he’s mowed ‘em down lately, and he seems to have lost his flair for the moment – not his charismatic appreciation for it, just his dominance in the face of extreme odds. Frantic friends amid the Township need to bear in mind that we lost the 2006 Pedro Martinez, not the turn-of-the-millennium Petey.

Yeah, okay, it pretty much blows.

Watching him would have been awesome, and who’s to say that he didn’t have a dandy of a postseason awaiting him? He certainly was rested. It now makes the Mets’ staff that much less fearsome – El Duque will take the hill in Game 1 for the Metropolitans . . . and there’s a statement I’d have fallen out of my chair upon hearing back in April.

It remains to be seen whom Hernandez and the Mets will face in the NLDS; as New York rests, hones, and simulates real-game situations against Washington this weekend, showdown upon showdown occurs around the league. The Mets could end up squaring off against San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Houston, or even Cincinnati – it’s that up in the air, even as there are only two or three games left on the docket. The only potential playoff team they won’t play in Round 1 is the Phightin’ Phillies, whose unbelievable fortnight was seemingly undone by a pair of unlikely losses to the scrappy Nats this week. They’re the team I’ve said I least want to face in October, due to their familiarity with and success against the Mets, plus their recent record. But they’re by far not the only club that induces a bit of worry, and there are too many teams in the mix tonight to figure it out.

It’s chaos, National League style, and it would only be fitting if a team or two backed into the postseason on a loss. The Mets are the duly crowned kings of the dipshits, but losing their ace has tightened the race significantly. Their 1-2-3 arms are among the worst in the running, save maybe the Cards and the long-shot Reds. That’s at first glance, of course; those of us who’ve caravanned alongside the Metmen throughout this marathon have more faith in our pitchers. Each of them has shown at least sporadic, sometimes even consistent prominence this season. Each has it in him to get it done, especially with the stalwart lineup clicking. Unfortunately, it’s also equally true that each of them has it in him to implode in an altogether messy display.

The first inning has seemed to plague Glavine and El Duque for much of the year. Dodging trouble in the premier frame with either of these two guys on the hill won’t assure anything, but I’ll breathe a sigh of relief if it happens. If Hernandez has that wicked curveball sliding all over the plate and Tommy G is working that in-and-out with a curve to boot, I’ll take my chances. If not . . . boys, bring them bats.

Steve Trachsel . . . I just don’t know. You know how Rob loves Timmy Wakefield but can’t bring himself to endure the spectacle of a Wake outing? It’s like that, except that I don’t love Trax at all. He’s absurdly frustrating to watch, “deliberate” in his approach to a fault and picking away at the corners while I pick away at my fingernails. Grass-growing or Steve Trachsel throwing – they’re neck and neck in speed as well as in the pleasure to bear witness. And while he’s fully capable of delivering, he’s been wholly mediocre for a large part of this season. It was just a few weeks ago that he was being penciled out of the postseason rotation, but for obvious reasons, he’ll get his shot. And I’ll have to watch.

The offense has simply got to show up. Every bit of it. There cannot be a lag after a meaningless tail end to a brilliant regular season. We cannot have Carlos Beltran reverting to ’05 form (after one of the more impressive seasons in Met history) when the bright lights click on; although he’s thrived in the NLDS/NLCS spotlight before, we’re left to hope that the pressure of top-heavy expectations doesn’t bring back his Punxsutawney Phil persona. The young guys need to appear experienced beyond their years. Willie needs to keep the team loose. In short, they just need to keep these wheels rolling. There’s every reason to expect it, and every fear at play that they won’t.

Clearly I’m already approaching basket case status with the playoffs still days away. Maybe it’s watching all of these battles for contention; tonight has been one of the greatest nights to have the Extra Innings package in memory, and every implication-laden outcome has me on edge. And yeah, my team clinched relative eons ago.

Gotta shake off losing Pedro. Deeply talented teams like the Mets can do that – or pretend to – a lot better than some of these barely-strung-together overachievers vying for next week’s contests. In a vague stretch of a parallel, I am reminded of one of my first rugby practices in college when I stopped to attend to a scrimmaging teammate who’d fallen with an obvious and painful injury. One of the veteran seniors told me after the play that I shouldn’t do that, that there was little I could do for the individual but that I could cost the team further in a match. He acknowledged the callous nature of such a notion, shrugging it off as part of the game. That’s where the Mets are right now; pausing to reflect any further on what losing Pedro might mean only serves to distract the gang from the mission and open holes for the enemy. Play on.

There's a Tear in My Beer

Well, not necessarily in my beer, but I bet Whitney's suds got a little salty yesterday after the news broke regarding Pedro's season-ending injury. I still think the Mets are the best team in the (weak, very weak, so weak that they went 2-16 against the mediocre Boston Red Sox) National League, and that they'll be favored in any series they play in the postseason. That said, their margin for error just got shaved to the width of John Maine's wispy mustache hairs.

I'm bummed, too, because Pedro on the hill in a late-season meaningful game is entertainment gold, regardless of how well he pitches. From his legend-making 6-inning no-hit performance against the Indians in the '99 ALDS, to his toreador impersonation on Don Zimmer, to his dominance of the Cardinals in the '04 World Series (have I mentioned in this space that the Sox won that Series?), the Duke of Duende is magnetic when the weather cools down.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Games 152 through 158 - Red Sox

Twins 8, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 6, Twins 0
Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 1
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 3
Blue Jays 13, Red Sox 4
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 0
Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 1
Record: 84-74

Apologies for the long hiatus - I've been at the beach with my blogging colleague, pickling my liver with assorted high-end microbrews (and the occasional Pabst Blue Ribbon) and avoiding any and all contact with the Boston Red Sox.

The last bits of the season are rapidly swirling towards the mouth of the bowl, soon to be swept mercifully away and mostly forgotten. As the seasons change here in the mid-Atlantic and the air takes on a welcome evening chill, it seems indefinably strange to be this devoid of anticipation.

The Sox haven't played out the string on a season since 2002, which is so long ago that I don't even remember it, lost as it is in the hyperbolic haze of the past 3 mega-seasons. As Whit's Metros hold their breath this evening in hopes that San Pedro's calf is intact, I find myself calmly melancholic for the first time in 4 Octobers.

I'll find some time in the next few days to tie a bow around this once-promising campaign. Until then, I live by the twin mantras, 'Let's Go Mets' (for after all, Whitney jumped squarely aboard the Sox train in 2004) and ABtY (Anyone But the Yankees). If Whit's boys get to stick a knife in the uber-Yanks, terrific. If the Tigers, Twins, or A's do it in the ALDS, so much the better.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Karma Police

I beg a million pardons for my time away from my home away from home, MLC HQ. I’ve been around the world, or at least to Beantown, Strong Island, and Big D, plus I’ve had an array of afflictions that Rob kindly detailed below. In truth, I was beset by technological woes as well, for which my wife continues to pay dearly. All in all, I’ve been utterly remiss in my blogging duties, but I have been locked in on these here New York Mets. Nothing can keep me from ingesting every last morsel of this refreshingly sweet season.

As the focus in the Township shifts rather abruptly from eyeing the magic number(s) to projecting the playoffs, the Mets should maintain top dog status for the National League. As Jerry pointed out in the first quarter of his post today at the Wheelhouse, he saw the Mets as head-and-shoulders above the rest of the division many moons ago, and called it as such. As it turned out, the talent differential was all that was needed, despite my restrained optimism. There is equivalent reason to believe that the Mets should succeed in the postseason; that said, you’ll have to permit me my standard aversion to heralding the Mets as front-runners. While there are very real question marks that could plague the Mets in a short series, it’s obviously more of a superstition thing with me to avoid anything that could be construed as premature boasting -- or more accurately, it’s a karma thing.

Don’t believe in karma as it pertains to baseball? Then you’re just not paying attention.

Karma, or the modern usage of the term, affects just about every aspect of life in some way, and baseball is far from immune. In many cases, karma isn’t enough to outweigh other forces in nature. Take, for example, the 2006 New York Yankees. They embody the worst elements of negative karma with their obscene payroll, some brazen usage of HGH, their fans’ egregious entitlement, their perennial status as Goliath, and . . . well, just Alex Rodriguez being there. But all of those sinister emanations can’t derail what is by all accounts an All-Star Team, and the Yankees have cruised to the division title with ho-hum aplomb – unless you actually listened to the fabricated, head-in-the-sand melodrama about overcoming odds with a couple of (the two dozen) key players injured. This is how empires are built in the face of karma.

Providence isn’t just where many of the late-season Red Sox belonged, it’s also a true component of the Fall Classic and the weeks that spill into it. In the oft-dreaded short series, there are many moments when brute force and sheer talent cannot overcome the will of the Fates. Take, for example, the 2001-2005 New York Yankees. By all rights, each of these squads held the pink slip for the World Series trophy before the regular season had taken its final bow. It stood to reason that there would be more refuse on the streets of the Big Apple after the ticker-tape parade (cheering on the Yankees, presumably). Reason doesn’t account for karma, however, and I do. Let’s review.

Let’s start back in 1995, the year after the World Series was cancelled by a strike. (Incidentally, this event caused a storm of serious cosmic negativity that baseball hasn’t yet escaped.) The Atlanta Braves, or “America’s Team” as it was known to our less intelligent countrymen, were not exactly karmic darlings, but they weren’t the glowing mound of atmospheric wrong that they’d become after 1995. Meanwhile, Indians fans, much like Cubs fans, have been on the butt end of the world’s gags for an eternity. Advantage, Atlanta.

1996: The beginning of the Bomber “dynasty.” Baseball was quickly sliding into an era of haves/have-nots not seen since the days of Louis XVI, but the Yankees hadn’t yet realized how to exploit the system. The state of the once-great franchise was in serious question, as the Yanks hadn’t won it all in going on two decades. (God bless the Pags years.) The roster was comprised of unsung folks like Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, and a young rookie named Derek Jeter – very good, but not the bought talent of future years. Meanwhile, the Braves were already cosmically shopworn. Not even the bad vibes of a playoff game tainted by a 12-year-old brat who was championed rather than ejected could turn the momentum. Yankees win.

1997: The upstart Florida Marlins slipped one by the karmic goalie, playing the “feelgood expansion franchise” card rather than the “Wayne Huizenga rented a team of studs” one. They toppled the by-now cosmically friendless Braves, then faced the Tribe in the Series. When karma enters, Cleveland loses. Marlins take it.

1998: The feelgood Padres had to think that fortune was on their side, and it was. They knocked off the new karmic doormat in Atlanta and stepped in against the Bombers. Trouble was, they could have had Gandhi at short and Albert Schweitzer on the hill, but Los Banditos Yanquis were too damn good. 114-win good. As I said earlier, there are times when the world can’t right the wrong in time. (There may be an example or two in world history.) Yankees win.

1999: Yankees, still very good, but also facing the world’s spittoon in the Braves. A sweep, just to put an exclamation point on Atlanta’s plight, and just to ensure that no human with a soul gave a damn who won this Hitler vs. Mussolini showdown.

2000: Your New York Mets jump up and take their turn at ruining the Braves’ year. The Yankees were by now a tired act, and truly the Mets should have won this series. But God, Yahweh, or whoever resides on high believes in two principles: first, the more the dog waits patiently for his day, the tastier the treat; second, Armando Benitez reverses all karmic arrangements inextricably. Yankees win, and a Township mourns.

2001: Finally, at long last, there is enough of a divine backlash to what the Yanks were doing. What had begun in ’96 with those homegrowns and retreads was now a machine of spending and earning. Capitalism at its finest, equality at its weakest. The Arizona Diamondbacks – after smearing another Atlanta campaign – somehow pulled off the win despite a Yankee attack seemingly destined to pull out one last faux-karma black magic trick. This is how empires are smote thanks to karma. Miracles do happen. Diamondbacks win.

2002: Miracles often involve angels, and Anaheim ended a long run of pinstripes in the Classic with a first-round upset. Meanwhile, the first batch of non-Yankee, non-Brave bad karma appeared on the San Francisco Giants. The feelgood tale of a fabled franchise ending a severe drought stood no chance against the gargantuan wall of cold feelings emanating from ol’ number 25. Angels win in an agonizing fashion that chides “shame on you” to the Giants.

2003: Another case of bad vibe one-upsmanship. The Marlins, after what transpired in 1997 – or, I should say what went down in 1998-99 in Florida, deserved a fate much worse. The team should have gone decades without another title, long enough to call it the Blockbuster Curse. The problem was all in whom they faced. Round 1, the Giants. Barry trumps Wayne. Round 2, the Cubs. Back to one of the core principles, that of the inexplicable pain towards Indians and Cubs supporters. Round 3, the Yankees. End of story. Marlins win.

2004: It was time. The Red Sox had been the face and voice, thanks to the Nation, of the dogged quartet that included the Cubs, Indians, White Sox and them. They got their just desserts, too, with as dramatic an NLCS as ever dreamt and a clean sweep in the Series. Worth noting is that Tony LaRussa has spent most of his days on the cosmic firing line, with one title slipped into 25 years of too little, too late. Something about a little too much tough guy bravado and too many beanballs for the higher authorities. But regardless, it was time. Red Sox win.

2005: Same story, different town. The other Sox pulled off an even longer drought-killer, in part because it was time, and in part because the Red Sox fans had been bawling and blathering on in blustery fashion for a year – so the powers that be decided to top 86 years with 88 in a “whatever you can do” statement. It worked, to some degree. Pale Hose win over an Astro franchise that hasn’t seemed to earn one lick of karma – good or bad – in its 45 years of existence. The ‘Stros play, Yahweh yawns.

2006: ??? Who’s on the right side of destiny this year? Who’s tinkering with their fortunes in all the wrong ways? It’s too early to tell for sure, but there are a few clubs that seem sprinkled with just enough good will to make the difference, and a few others that fucked with the wrong Fate.

I had a funny feeling about one guy messing with his own fortune a few months ago: everybody’s favorite target, Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie had become a fan favorite last year by leading his surprising Sox to the title with off-the-beaten-path, occasionally off-color quips. He was funny, he was embraced, and he was successful.

The world outside these two guys at MLC dog-piled Ozzie when he called Gay Mariotti a “fag” earlier this year, but Rob and I tried to take the piss out of the windbags who made an issue of it. Somewhere in the weeks that followed, however, Ozzie lost me. When he publicly blasted the kid reliever in plain view of the sporting world for not plunking a batter, he went against everything we’ve ever been taught about how a team works. Aforementioned unnecessary tough guy bravado aside, if he wanted to tear the kid a new one, go ahead – just do it in the clubhouse away from fans and reporters. You don’t turn on one of your own in public. Behind closed doors, call him every name in the book and ship him off to wherever, if that’s your policy. I was once told that inside the [clubhouse] I didn’t amount to crap as far as the [manager] was concerned, but outside it I was better than everyone else on any other [team]. It rang true, and it fostered the same amount of solidarity that Ozzie surrendered when he screamed bloody murder at a middle reliever in the dugout. Hence, the rather inexplicable late-season tumble for the ChiSox. And the wind . . . whispers . . . Ozzie.

On a similar note, Miguel Cabrera’s finger point in his pitcher’s face – and the on-field sniping that precipitated it – supersede 10,000 gallons of Joe Girardi get-go and the amazing story of a $15M payroll maximized, if only when topped with some Jeffrey Loria demon-seed.

To a lesser extent, Rob’s band of scarlet sanitaries might have incurred the activity of karmic backlash when he and his Nation bemoaned the weak state of the team when they were still neck-deep in the pennant race. After the much-mocked “woe is us” cry sounded, it was as if we got a garish display of “You wanna see not-in-the-race? I got your gonna-fall-short right here.” Yikes. Remind me not to jump that gun.

And then there are the Yankees, who, as mentioned, stormed through the turmoil of having to replace a $15M All-Star with a $16M All-Star. Karma be damned, they’ll outbid the Fates all the way to the Series.

On the plus side of the intangible ether, those damnable Philadelphia Phillies could be the best story going. After sending their star and solid arm to the Bronx, they coagulated like Mark Lemongello – even as their spiritual leader was lost to his second gruesome injury of the year. Hear me now and believe me later, we do not want to see this team in the playoffs. What those P-marked duffel bags lack in talent, they fill with feelgood.

The Tigers have plenty of good-story mojo to them, but they may well square off against the Yanks before long, and that’s not likely a happy ending. Same goes for those scrappy A’s and sneaking-in Twins. Just doesn’t measure up.

Out in L.A., the Dodgers would ordinarily be void of the good stuff, but now that they’ve fleshed out their roster with a horde of ex-Sox, it would be a big middle finger to the outside-looking-in Beantowners. It’s a stretch of a storyline, but not beyond the wiles of that crack Fox Sports squad.


So what to make of the Mets’ karma in 2006? Yeah, it’s been a long while coming to get to some actual Mets content here, but like I said, it’s time to size up the other contenders as much as it is to take a look at the Mets. The Mets are long on talent, especially when that lineup is healthy and producing at even a modest clip. The rotation has been the subject of much scrutiny in spaces within this blog and throughout the Township. Unfortunately, it’s that facet of the club where the talent may be mitigated, and other factors may have to take over. You know – managerial shrewdness, defense, and big offensive outbursts (the kind Rob has on the softball field, in more ways than one). Plus, the thing I’ve been babbling on about for some time here. The big k-word.

Outside of Philadelphia (I’m forever thankful I largely remain), the Mets’ mojo matches up fairly well. They did pay through the schnoz for this team, and that always bodes ill in this conversation. If you’re going to spend lavishly, you’d better either spend wisely or spend 200 million bucks to offset the repercussions of a store-bought team. So far, Omar seems to have accomplished the former. Still, you have to fight through that purchased-their-way-here negativity.

On the positive side, the energy, youthful exuberance, and utter watch-ability that Jose Reyes and David Wright bring to the Mets is a huge plus. They seem to be doing it all the right way, they came up from the farm, and they’re locked up long-term. They are the face of the franchise, even in the wake of the big signings that stand out on the roster. There's a ton of good to come from this pair.

Oh, and 20 years since the ’86 team. A nice, round number. Worth a mention.

I’ll just say that this team feels like a winner, feels like a good group without any serious anti-karma dragging it down. Obviously, I am immensely biased, but from here, the high salaries seem to be the only detractor from the good vibes and the enormous talent. I certainly like their sense of destiny better than LaRussa’s gang’s or the rest of the NL’s. And if the Mets could find the fortune to advance, and they square off against the Yankees in the final showdown . . . well, if that contest ever came down to matters beyond the stratosphere, I’ll take those odds any day.

So that’s the lowdown on karma in baseball. I feel sure by now that you’ve been convinced that it plays a very real role in the outcome of October games. For analysis in a more linear sense . . . just go back to the Mets sites you’ve been visiting for the past three weeks in my stead.

See you again soon. I promise.