Sunday, August 31, 2008

Groundhog Day

Game 136 - Mets

Marlins 4, Mets 3
Record: 75-61
1st Place in NL East by 1 measly game over PHL

I'll watch whatever minutes are left in The Shawshank Redemption just about every time I come across it on some cable station. (And TBS airs it with every bit of the regularity that MTV shows some crap reality program.) Same goes for Bull Durham, Butch Cassidy, and, of course, Dumb & Dumber.

I've watched repeats of every episode from the first season of Cheers over and over and over and over again. And I'll continue to do so, presumably for all my days. (The snipe hunt one is impeccable.)

I'll stay tuned through any footage from the 1986 New York Mets that pops on my screen -- without any drop-off in enthusiasm for it. Still gets me fired up.

I'll throw on and hunker down for Stop Making Sense, the "Sabotage" video, Live By the Bay, and pretty much anything Joe Strummer was even loosely affiliated with -- it's the same stuff every time, but you can notice something new with each viewing, and it just holds up through repeated screenings.

But I cannot, simply can . . . not . . . sit through yet another of these formulaic, tired, played out Met games. Score early, then not. Maintain a lead, then not. Have the game in hand, then not.

Optimistic about the Mets chances.

Then not.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Republic of Wine

Games 134 & 135 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, White Sox 0
Red Sox 8, White Sox 2
Record: 79-56

I'm slightly inebriated, thanks to a clearance on discontinued wine at my local supermarket, so forgive me if I didn't see this right, but I'm pretty sure that Dustin Pedroia batted cleanup tonight for the Sox.

And went 4-for-4 with a walk.

An intentional walk.

After he was 4-for-4 with a walk last night.

It's a better than 50/50 proposition that he's wearing this t-shirt around the locker room right now.

(And hey - congratulations to Michael Bowden on winning his major league debut with a 2 ER, 5 IP, pretty damn poised outing. The Sox' farm system continues to deliver quality in spades.)

Ripley's Believe It Or Not

Game 135 - Mets

Mets 5, Marlins 4
Record: 75-60
1st Place in NL East by 2 games over PHL

Two days ago a wise, wise person with his finger truly on the pulse of the New York Metropolitans baseball club wrote in his stellar blog post:
"We all know Carlos Beltran is decidedly un-clutch (I'm sorry, Bill James, but it's true). On occasion I think this trait is seeping its way up the order into David Wright."
Yep. I wrote that on Wednesday. The lesson here, as always, is that I am an idiot.

Labor Day weekend at the pool down here is a bit of a social event, and after finishing up a long week of solving the world's problems, I headed over and unwound with a Heineken or two . . . every half hour for four hours. A few laughs, a few dips in the pool, and an impromptu sleepover for my wife and daughters at some friends', leaving me to my TiVoed Mets uninterrupted in glorious HD . . . not a bad way to kick off a holiday weekend.

When Golden Boy struck out with the bases loaded in the top of the 7th -- in what I figured might be their last best good chance -- I shook my head in an "I told you so" sort of way. Dee-Dub had swung right through a Joe Nelson offering that we've seen him drive to the gap countless times. In this big spot . . . (doing my best Yukon Cornelius) . . . nothin'!

Ah, patience, my son. For in the final frame, after the first two men had made outs (boy, is the "s" on the end of that last word keeping us from attracting some alternative Googlers), the Mets rallied in stirring fashion. If this were pre-2004/07, I'd have made an unnice reference to Oct 86 for Rob's benefit. So sad to have lost that little dig.

Down 2-1. 2 down, 0-2 to Luis Castillo. Despite my doubts, I found those familiar lyrics starting to bounce around in my head . . .

All we are saying . . .
Is give Dave a chance

Single up the middle. Okay -- scrap what I'd said before. Now I am actually 100% sure David Wright will come through. Even as I'd hurled pessimistic aspersions his way earlier, it's apparent that was just nonsense. As he sharply grounds a 2-1 pitch through the hole on the left side, the un-clutch silliness drains away. Delgado takes one in the shin before we can even begin to think about his at-bat, leaving . . .

Carlos Beltran. Mister Un-Clutch. Mister NLCS Game 7 Frozen Called Third Strike. Mister 2 Home Runs When It's 7-1. And in some circles, Mister Beltran.

Beltran hammered -- absolutely hammered -- the very first toss from Kevin Gregg into the empty right-field seats. 5-2, Mets. One-man bedlam in my house.

I repeat: The lesson here, as always, is that I am an idiot.

Denouement / twist ending: Luis Ayala has been effective since being called up from the AAA Washington Nationals. Some might say he's been overdue for an outing that's some indication as to where his ERA-like-a-hat-size and a bloodbath-of-a-W-L-record came from. We got that last night. Staked to this 3-run lead, Ayala made us sweat all through bottom 9.

A quick search through the MLC annals finds exactly one among the 1,441 posts here containing the word "Ayala" in it. A passage from the April 20, 2004 wisdom:
But the Mets' weak hitting (4 hits, 2 walks, 1 run) is certainly understandable when you have to run the gauntlet of Zach "Try to Remember My Name for a" Day, Luis "Ayala My Name Out and Still Nobody Knows Who I Am," and Rocky "Well, I got me a fine wife, I got me old fiddle, when the sun's comin' up I got cakes on the griddle, life ain't nothin' but a funny, funny" Biddle. (Sorry, it was either that or Rocky "Little in the" Biddle "And He Got Much Back.") My point, somewhere in that muck, is that these guys aren't exactly having their baseball cards taken in to collector shops for pricing.
I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be typing the word "nearly" in between "Luis Ayala" and "blew the lead and cost the Mets a much-needed, critical, emotionally uplifting, confidence-building, Beltran-actually-came-through-that-son-of-a-bitch-I-can't-believe-it victory." On this Saturday morning on a Labor Day weekend with the Mets up 2 games, that "nearly" is making all the difference. Congrats, Luis. I nearly want you on the hill with the game on the line again tonight.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Be Cool

Game 133 – Red Sox

Yankees 3, Red Sox 2
Record: 77-56

The following things happened yesterday:

  • The Red Sox were 7 outs from sweeping the Yankees in New York before Hideki Okajima reverted to his early-season generosity and Jason Giambi carried the Yanks to victory on his acne-scarred shoulders.

  • Josh Beckett visited Dr. James Andrews regarding the tingling in his pitching arm. For the record, the phrase “Pitcher X visited Dr. James Andrews” trails only “Happy Hour at Dick Cheney’s House” in the Most Likely to Cause Night Sweats category.

  • Sean Casey and J.D. Drew both spent time with physicians in an effort to address their respective neck and back ailments.

  • Alex Cora started another game at shortstop.

  • In notable contrast with another owner, John Henry did not whine like a candy-deprived little girl in the face of the above-mentioned adversity.

And so, with 29 games to play, the playoff picture has become quite murky, indeed. Should the worst be true of Beckett’s arm, the Sox are left with a rotation of Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield, Byrd, and Colon/Pauley/Buchholz/Hansack/Prayer. That’s a competent major league staff, with enough ability to carry a team for 5 weeks. It’s also a much riskier lineup than one that includes Beckett.

Maybe I’m all hopped up on good feelings from the Democratic National Convention. Perhaps this cold medicine has unlisted side effects. It’s possible that I’m so giddy from watching college football on television that my judgment is altered. The contact high from being within 25 miles of Teejay may have impaired my critical thinking skills. Or, it could be that I’m just right to believe that the Sox are still in pretty decent shape.

Legends of the Fall

Game 134 - Phillies
Cubs 6, Phils 4

Record: 73 wins, 61 losses - 2nd place 1GB NYM

There will be no fall so long as this type of thing continues:

Hamels allowed one run on five hits in seven innings. But he threw 108 pitches on a muggy night, and Charlie Manuel said that after conferring with pitching coach Rich Dubee, it was determined that Hamels had all but exhausted himself.

- From David Murphy's (Philadelphia Daily News) coverage of last night's game at Wrigley Field where the Phils' bullpen hemorrhaged 5 runs in the 8th inning and turned a 4-1 lead into a 6 - 4 loss.

What's my problem? Well anecdotally speaking of course, since me memory's a bit weak - I don't see Steve Carlton coming out of a similar game in 1980 or 1983. Granted, Hamels is not yet Steve Carlton - at least not in terms of Lefty's accomplishments - but he is a dominant pitcher this year and THE ACE of this staff. He's also only 23 years old and appears to be in great shape. You're telling me he's gassed because he threw 108 pitches in 7 innings and that means he is less a pitcher than anyone in the tired and worn out bullpen? Horse hockey!

One more inning. That is all I was asking. One more lousy inning! At least give Hamels a shot at it. It was his game to lose. He held the mighty Cubbies to 1 run on 5 hits! The offense managed to plate 4 runs off of the resurgent Ryan Dempster. Don't give me that "he was spent"crap.

Thing is, last night's tilt at venerable Wrigley could have been one for the ages. Sometime in the coming winter months, in the gloaming of a Wednesday in mid-January, we could have looked back on August 28th, 2008 and marveled how Cole Hamels' heroic effort in the hot and soupy Chicago summer evening elevated the Phils to a first place tie with the Mets and from there, they never looked back.

Perhaps Uncle Cholly and Rich "Scooby" Dubee are wiser than I. We may need to conserve our ace because after all, if we plan to finish in second place for the next 7 years, we will need a healthy Hamels to do it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fool on the Hill

Game 133 - Phillies
Mets 6, Phils 3

Record: 73 wins, 60 losses - 2nd place (again) 1/2 GB NYM

With much respect for our dear friend Whitney, I am not hanging this on Uncle Cholly or the pen. Nosiree, Andy. This one is clearly, completely and solely the responsibility of those boys in the lineup.

Only one extra base hit all night and that came against the mighty Ho-hann.

Only 3 hits against the beleaguered Met pen.

Only 6 hits all game.

You can't expect Kyle Kendrick to hold up to 3 runs. You cannot expect your own pen - one that labored beyond all reasonable expectations to magnificent results the previous night - to shut out the Mets.

What you should expect is for your hitters to approach each night the way they approached the game Tuesday night. Keep battling, keep the inning going, keep piling on. The Phils had runners on practically every inning yet Ho-hann still managed to stay around 100 pitches after 6 innings.

Well, this one goes in the books to the Mets and they deserve credit. Time and again, they have responded to the Phillies' challenges. The good news for the Phillies is that there are only 3 games left against their nemesis from Flushing. 18 games remain against the reeling Marlins (funny, huh?) and the feckless Nats and the nowhere bound Braves.

Sweet Hereafter

Game 132 – Red Sox

Red Sox 11, Yankees 3
Record: 77-55

Paul Byrd pitched a game for the Red Sox in late August backed by Alex Cora at shortstop, Jed Lowrie at third, Jason Bay in left, and Jacoby Ellsbury in right. And the Red Sox beat the ever-livin’ tar out of the most lifeless Yankee team I’ve seen in years (barring, y’know, the final 7 innings of Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, or as it’s known around my house, The Greatest Game in the History of Ever). That’s a combination of words and names I didn’t figure to be putting together when the season started.

Bay’s 4 RBI were key, and included 2-out, 2-run double in the first and his run-scoring triple to kick off a 7-run 8th. The latter was Exhibit A for Yankee apathy, as Bobby Abreu loped to the wall in right center in ‘pursuit’ of Bay’s high drive before haplessly and half-heartedly throwing himself against the fence in feigned effort. 5 batters later, Dustin Pedroia drove a 2-0 meatball over the barrier in left for his first career grand slam, and the doors crashed closed.

David Ortiz continues to quietly mash in Manny Ramirez’ absence, going 4-for-6 in the first two games of this series with 4 walks. Papi scuffled for a week or so once Manny Stopped Being Manny behind him, with only 3 hits in his first 28 post-Ramirez at-bats. Since that point, the big lefty has posted a .352/.500/.667 line in 54 at-bats.

Afternoon baseball in the Bronx today, and the final regular season game for the Sox in Yankee Stadium. If I told you the idea of a Sox sweep in their final series in Yankee Stadium didn’t sound sweeter than the smell of honeysuckle on a warm summer night, I’d be lying right through the smile on my face.

Charlie's Angels

Game 134 - Mets

Mets 6, Phillies 3
Record: 74-60

Yep. Shaping up nicely for a showdown in September. Like we speculated months ago, neither team has the horses to pull away, neither is clearly overmatched and will fall back (a la the Marlins). Could be a good one. Stay tuned.

According the ESPN number-crunchers, there is currently a 57.6% chance the Mets make the playoffs, while the Phils are stuck down at 47.2. Mind you, the Mets have only a 2.8 chance of taking the wild card slot. I have no idea what formulae are being utilized to conjure these numbers, but the geek army (which includes many former enlistees in the KISS Army) really has a stronghold in baseball these days.

The boys in the SNY booth hammered Admiral Stockdale for his decision to leave Rudy Seanez in the ballgame for an extra few batters. ("Big Willie Style," we call that; our former skipper was notorious for the Maybe Just One More philosophy of managing gassed or wild pitchers.) Charlie Manuel did try to give Seanez a pep talk and get him fired up to face Carlos Delgado, who'd already homered once. Unfortunately, it didn't register, and Delgado went yard to tie the game. MLC has acquired a copy of the transcript of Manuel's words of wisdom to Rudy Seanez:

"Stop your messin' around...
Better think of your future...
Time you straightened right out...
Creatin' problems in town...
Rudy, a message to you...
Rudy, a message to you..."

Charlie's special advice wasn't heeded, and Gary, Keith & Ron peppered Uncle Charlie for the quite a while. In truth, Seanez made a good pitch, Delgado went out and got it, it would've been a double in actual major league ballparks, and as it turned out, Brad Lidge was fairly mediocre last night, anyway. Daniel-son Murphy broke an 0-for-16 slump with a clutch double to break the tie, and Schneider proved very handy by hitting a bloop single to score two more.

And there was much rejoicing. Yay.

Last night was the Phillies' night to enjoy bullpen failings, what-if thoughts, and general groans about losing a key game to the dreaded rival. The Mets, meanwhile, got a taste of the Phightins' experience from Tuesday night. Comeback win, steady pen, some high-fivin' white guys, and first place reclaimed. It will be interesting to see how many bobs are left on the teeter-totter. I'd say at least a few more.

In the meantime, all that's left to say is Go Cubs Go.

Okay, okay... Pedro Feliciano, you didn't fuck it up. Good job.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

To Live and Die in LA

Games 128 through 132 - Phillies

Phillies8, Dodgers 1
Phillies 9, Dodgers 2
Phillies 5, Dodgers 2
Phillies 5, Dodgers 0
Phillies 8, Mets 7
Record: 73 wins, 59 losses; 1st place, 1/2 game ahead of NYM

Sorry for the hiatus. Don't want to bring everyone down but my father's health has degraded somewhat lately. I was up to visit him the last couple days. He seemed to rebound quite nicely from the surgery in July but now it appears he has developed 3 ulcers and an aneurysm in his stomach. Not sure what the docs plan to do but I would assume that at this point, its probably a simple approach of pain management. The old fella weighs maybe a buck-10 and is refusing to eat because of the pain. The normal resignation a person at his stage in life faces in the hope of things to come has certainly manifested itself. Bully for him I say. After all, what was the point of the long and arduous journey if one decides he's not ready to set anchor at the first glimpse of land?

Now to the matter at hand. Seems the Phils are avid readers of my entries at MLC and have responded with a bit of righteous indignation.
Well boys, keep up the good work you freakin' losers!
  • Hey Jamie, you old bastard, what the hell was that last night?
  • Jimmy, thanks for deciding to join us in this "pennant race." Nice to see you remember how to hit.
  • What the hell are you smiling about Mr. Myers? Your ERA since your banishment to the Allentown gulag is a nifty 1.67 begging the question - just where the hell were you the first 17 starts of the season? You know, I hate to lay the blame on you but if you could have won just 8 of those starts, we'd be 5 1/2 games up right now. It's on you to win every damn outing for the remainder of the season. Ah what the hell, you're just another failed project like Vicente Padilla or Kevin Millwood.
  • You sure have been clutch lately Pat "the Bat." Loved the 3 Ks last night. Especially loved the Ruthian swings with two outs, two on and down two runs in the sixth. It didn't occur to you that Jimmy is fast enough to come around on a single or that the Big Man was on deck to keep the inning rolling along? Maybe you should consult Eric "Cheese and Onions" Bruntlett or Chris "Gold" Coste on the finer points of situational hitting.

I guess it all doesn't matter. After all, you guys are what you are.

Not Necessarily the News

A few random thoughts on a Met Wednesday...

Pedro Martinez's sound bites from last night:
"In this stadium, with this team, you just never know – five runs, seven runs, it’s never enough. I’ve seen it before, it’s not the first time. (The Phillies) never give up, especially playing here. This band-box here is a perfect place for them to play, and they know how to play in this field."

"It's the ballpark's fault."

Except . . . hey, I make mention of this ridiculous stadium every chance I get, but those were rocket shots by Rollins and Howard, good for HR's in every park save Yellowstone. Tatis's was a bleacher gork, but Moyer's not whining about the close fences. Gotta own that one, Petey.

* * *

It wasn't worth harping on in my post, since the Mets undid themselves, but home plate umpire Mike Everett was notably rancid last night in that whole "balls and strikes" thing. With a strike zone whose dimensions and consistency were akin to the Shmoo, he altered the outcome of several key at-bats (for either team) along the way. See, when 2-0 becomes 2-1 instead of 3-0 on a ball that's armpits or anklebones (and either was fair game at various intervals), you change the game. More of those kinds of games, Mike, and the gents who brought you "Umps can't see to the fences, better call TiVo" might expand their horizons.

* * *

On the day Willie Randolph was sacked, the Mets were 6.5 games out of first place and tied for third behind the division-leading Phillies. They were 34-36, and had scored four (4) more runs than they had allowed. Today, even though we're a little down in the mouth about the Mets after last night's landslide, the Mets are but a half a game out, are 13 games over .500, and have plated 70 more runs than permitted. (The Phils were +93 then and are +93 now.)

Rob wrote to say, "I don’t think any team in the league has had as many groin-punt losses as the Mets this season." Thanks for saying so, Rob, you may be right. But we residents of Mets Township still have to be pleased with what July and August has brought us, and we're conceding nothing yet. (Except that we have the weakest relief corps in the history of postseason contention.)

* * *

We all know Carlos Beltran is decidedly un-clutch (I'm sorry, Bill James, but it's true). On occasion I think this trait is seeping its way up the order into David Wright. Dee-Dub's still our hero, though, and one lousy game of not coming through isn't enough to unseat our faith in him in big spots. But, uh, Dave . . . we need you tonight. In excess.

* * *

Caught some of the ARod-pummeling by the Yanks fans last night. He was loudly booed when he made a routine play at 3B in the late innings, much to my amusement. Fun to be a fly on the wall (thanks to Extra Innings) as the Bombers send Yankee Stadium out in style this season. Heh, heh.

* * *

It's too bad Nick and I have tagged in and out this season instead of engaging in the type of back and forth that'd have you on the edge of your seat. I could try to draw him out by saying something smarmy and unclever like "The Phightins and their phollowers are a phlock of phlaming phruitcakes," but I won't. (I'm not pH-balanced like that.) Instead, I'll take the high road (not that high road, Teejay, you degenerate), and I'll go into what I actually enjoy about the Philadelphia Phillies franchise and its fan base:

Yeah, that's high comedy.

(And I don't mean Cheech and Chong, Teejay, you burnout.)

Green Eggs and Ham

Game 131 – Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Yankees 3
Record: 76-55

MLC colleague Teejay found himself on Alcatraz last night with no access to the results of the Sox/Yanks tilt. Really. It’s true.

As a result, I provided a much-needed (and, as it turns out, personally gratifying) public service to my friend, relaying game scores and situations to him. And in return, when Alex Rodriguez grounded in his second double play of the game, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning, Teejay gave me this:

“Cock sucker mother fucker”

And that, friends, is gold.


Game 133 - Mets

Phillies 8, Mets 7 (13 inn.)
Record: 73-60
½ GB Philadelphia in the NL East

That was grueling. As you know if you checked last night's comments, it was one of those "I'm here for as long as it takes" evenings in Whitneyville. Alas, after surviving several standing eight counts, the Mets were knocked out of the game and first place by the exciting, annoying ballclub that Nick and Todd Zolecki semi-eulogized a week ago. This morning there are dead soldiers everywhere (of the Dale's Pale Ale variety) and a fair bit of frustration about the way the Mets lost last night. By tonight, however, I'll be ready for more of both.

Through the first four frames, the New York Mets' offense recorded seven runs on 10 hits, perpetuating a pattern I enjoy -- scoring chunks of runs early. Through the final nine (you know, like a whole game's worth), the Mets plated zero () runs on four hits. In a sense, last night the Mets were shut out -- in a tiny ballpark that makes as much sense as the yahoos catcalling from within it -- by mop-up men, middle relievers, and the occasional set-up guy/closer. Well played, Metmen . . . perpetuating a pattern I abhor.

It's hard to appreciate the offensive onslaught of the early-going (which was lots of fun, including a Fernando Tatis three-run shallow pop that found the seats) when you know what happened subsequently. And watching extra innings when you have not one shred of confidence in the Mets' ability to notch base hits, let alone score runs, is agonizing. They had two hits in four extra-innings; David Wright tried to extend one of them into a double and was gunned at second without a sliver of controversy. It all drives a man to drink. Faster.

Then there was the pitching. I told Rob last night that if the Mets can somehow -- and with the bullpen struggles and hit-ness protection program of the late innings, I'm holding no breath -- squeak into the postseason, I don't think I want Pedro Martinez in the starting rotation. And that's saying something. If John Maine heals enough, I'll take my chances with Santana, Pelfrey, Perez, and him. Pedro's a first-balloter and a huge gamer (not the PlayStation kind, TJ, you nerd), but he's volatile on the hill these days; especially in a short series, you can ill afford the wildfire that he's capable of generating. But what the hell am I talking about? Right now the Mets are on the outside looking in.

The one substantially positive thing I could take from last night was . . . slap my ass and call me Nancy, it was Aaron Heilman's stomach-churning success in innings 10, 11, and 12. Three frames fraught with danger. Three rounds heavy on escape points. Much like his mates in the pen, Heilman struggled with the bottom of the Phightins' lineup (Eric "Sausage & Cheese" Bruntlett had a career day in two at-bats); unlike the others, though, he mowed through the Philly meat of the order (the steak, if you will) with more aplomb than he's displayed in months. In a bullpen that's been selling off leads like (spoiler alert) Shelley Levene and Dave Moss, it was refreshing, exciting, and startling to see how effective Heilman was last night. He and Brian Stokes offered fine, fine work.

Enter Scott Schoeneweis. Second pitch, a Victorino triple to right zipping by a Carlos Delgado who wasn't playing the line. (In the past, I'd have made a sideways comment about Delgado playing the line like I play the bagpipes, but he made a game-saving snare down the line earlier in the contest.) IBB, IBB, that's all folks. Schoeneweis came damn close to walking home the game-winning run -- and it was Brett "After My Next Domestic Abuse Incident I'll Need the Services of Jacoby &" Myers, clearly not swinging, in fact. He did get the freebie punch out after all, but Chris Coste ended it with a long fly to center. Oh, and as a snide aside: Chris "The 33-Year Old Rookie" Coste's is a fantastic story . . . Now he can go to hell. By next Arbor Day I want to see him languishing in Reading and writing a sequel, "The 35-Year Old Wash-Up."

And a quick shout-at dedicated to the one I love to bash. Pedro Feliciano, come on down. My distaste for the performance art he's been showcasing for quite some time precedes me. (I don't know much about art, but I know that "Mapplethorpe" Feliciano is not for me.) But he's been atrocious lately -- ERA over 8 since the Break, I believe. "Prescient dread" was an active component in my watching the 2003-2004 New York Mets. Feliciano's a throwback to that era, and there's a noticeable slouch in my posture when he enters a tight spot. Last night I groaned, informed Rob of what would be happening soon (spoiler alert), and as if reading off cue cards, the other, less palatable Pedro followed right along. He allows the first guy to get to first base (at least) in nearly every case. What a tart.

I will say that, displeasure of losing that way aside, last night's Mets-Phillies game was one of the most thrilling August baseball games I can recall. I can't wait to tune in again tonight. (Bracing for the backlash on that statement.) I would love to see this race come down to the last week; I'm only disappointed that the final NYM-PHL game on the docket is scheduled for September 7 and not in the final days of the month.

Oh, unless there's a one-game playoff at season's end . . .
[ and typed in simultaneously]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

30 Rock

Games 129 through 132 - Mets

Mets 3, Astros 0
Astros 8, Mets 3
Astros 6, Mets 4
Mets 9, Astros 1
Record: 73-59

30 games left. Rock and roll.
(Note: My math is better with very round numbers.)

A weekend split with the 'stros has certainly tightened things up in the standings. (The turn-around the Phils have made since Nick's pity party aided that result.) More significantly, the placement of John Maine on the DL is a resounding punt in the collective groinal area for the postseason hopes of this squad. Oof.

Lace marks on your marbles are a form of battle scar from which it's often hard to rebound, but I'm eager to see what Jerry's kids do to fill the void. Losing Billy Wagner had the talking heads taking the Mets' future to the river. What we now know is that although the bullpen is still fallible from time to time (I would not like Pedro Feliciano on a boat, I would not like him with a goat... though both would be preferable to having him on the mound), it has seemed to come together with Jerry Manuel and Dan Warthen actually employing situational logic instead of the knee-jerk practices used by their predecessors (and, to be fair, many big league managers). I'm not sure how this feat can be simulated with a hole in the starting rotation, but I will give the guys the benefit of the doubt that they can creatively solve this problem, too.

Crazy that a two-game, mid-week series in Philly looms large, but here we are. The Mets' lead is down to half a game. Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana against Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick. Game on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Visitor

Game 130 - Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5 (11)
Record: 75-55

Pretty stirring victory for the Sox, and a much-needed one as the summer draws to a close and the games take on more import. You could've received long odds on the prospect of a Coco Crisp/Jed Lowrie homerun exacta box, and even longer odds on Manny Delcarmen closing out a one-run game on the road, but all of those things happened in Toronto yesterday. The single-tally win ended a stretch of 16 consecutive one-run losses on the road for the Red Sox, a testament to the randomness of baseball if there ever was one. And hopefully a sign from the Baseball Gods (or at least the Baseball Poets) that the good guys may be in line for a few bounces over the next 32 games.

The Sox play three in New York starting tomorrow, marking the final regular season Boston/New York conflagrations in Yankee Stadium. (And unless something markedly changes in the next 5 weeks, the final contests of any kind between the two old rivals in the House That Ruth Built. My day's gotten well away from me, or I'd wax rhapsodic about the old ballyard, but...who am I kidding. That place is a dump, and not a quaint dump like Fenway. Just a plain 'ol dump.

Not kidding about the day getting away, though.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Games 129 & 130 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 4
Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 0 (bottom 3)

Yeah, so...I get it. I'm never saying anything remotely nice about anyone on the Sox roster - past, present, or future. They're all terribly dreadful at baseball, and their personal hygiene is uniformly questionable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wheel of Fortune

Game 128 - Mets

Mets 5, Braves 4

Record: 71-57

Yeah, I'm not going to make that service . . . because I'm not buying it. No offense to you, Nick, as I myself have fallen into the habit of prematurely lamenting the demise of my club (see all posts from May 2008). And your club has given you zero reasons for optimism of late, it's true. You have had a pretty firm grasp on the Phils' shortcomings since the gate opened this year. It's just that I've still got a clear recollection of the strengths that propelled them to their current total of 68 wins.

"What goes up must come down
Spinnin' wheel got to go 'round
Talkin' 'bout your troubles, it's a cryin' sin
Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin' wheel spin"

Give B, S, & T credit for putting the centuries-old concept of fortune's wheel into a four-minute, brass-bejeweled pop gem. Give them immense credit for some fairly sick cowbell in the opening seconds. But what the deuce does "ride a painted pony" mean?? And the flute-laden extravaganza that is the last minute of the song? Ah, the 1960's. I'm guessing the composers of this tune remember that decade about as well as I do.

And thus does Fortune's wheel turn treacherously
And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.
~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Monk's Tale

Fortune, good night, smile once more; turn thy wheel!
~ William Shakespeare, King Lear

Spin, spin, spin, wheel, spin!
~ Ed Grimley, future "Wheel of Fortune" contestant

As you can see, some of the wisest minds in history have embraced the notion of the "Rota Fortunae," and that includes mine own. You'd have to hunt fairly exhaustively to find any posts with my by-line this year, but if you did, you'd eventually land on text in which I sadly acknowledge my squad's obvious flaws and simply shake my head in their direction as they scuffled along. Now, two months later, Nick follows suit.

What worries me? It's not just that the mighty wheel has time to take another turn before the season's up. Look, what I conceded then, Nick must also now: a paltry 2.5 games separate the surging, exciting, clicking-on-all-cylinders, everything's-looking-up New York Mets and the slumping, falling apart, down-on-their-luck Philadelphia Phillies. Two and a half flimsy games. With forty-some left to play. Both of these teams are in it and the slightest of upticks or downturns can mean the difference. Stay tuned.

Everybody loves to see their team maximizing potential; nobody likes to see their team squandering opportunities. Trends bode well or ill, sure. But this game is whimsical and fickle toward its followers, and neither one of us should be booking plane or train tickets for mid-October contests just yet. I said back then (to Nick's chagrin) that the Phils weren't good enough to run away with it without a fight from the Mets' high-dollar, talented roster. Nick, I'm sure it crosses your mind that any team with Fernando Tatis getting meaningful minutes and its star closer watching from afar can and perhaps should be overtaken. I sure hope that old, toothless, matching-belt-and-shoes condo commando (to quote Jimmy Buffett before he hocked his soul) does pilot the Phillie Buick into the
municipal street sweeper, but I'm keeping an eye out for some annoyingly Lazarene return.

Yeah. Last September still stings.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Game 126 - Phillies

Nats 4, Phils 3
Record 68 wins, 59 losses - 2nd place, 2.5 games behind NYM

From Todd Zolecki, Phillies beat writer in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Is a slump a slump if it lasts 10 weeks?
Or is it time to accept that this is just who the Phillies are?

No question in my mind and certainly of no surprise to the losers who read my worthless, inane meanderings - I believe it's definitely time to accept it. The Phillies are akin to an octogenarian Floridian (the kind that voted for Buchanan instead of Gore) puttering along on A1A going about 13mph in the left lane with his right turn signal blinking for the last 4 miles.

Since the season reached its zenith on June 13 with the overkill drubbing of the Cardinals by a count of 20 to 2 elevating their record to 13 games above .500, the Phils have gone 27 and 31.

I am just waiting for this club to crash into the municipal street sweeper.

War and Peace

Game 127 – Red Sox

Orioles 11, Red Sox 6
Record: 73-54

A blessed day off yesterday, a chance for the Sox (and for me, really, because at the end of the day, it’s about me) to take a deep, cleansing breath and exhale the noxious memories of yet another Clay Buchholz disaster. I got lucky: I spent the evening discharging one of my many civic duties, so I was spared the sight of the Sox blowing a 4-0 lead courtesy of young Buchholz and his band of pyrotechnic bullpen mates. There is no truth to the rumor that Terry Francona hand-delivered Buchholz a bus ticket to AA Portland after the game, but the fact remains that somebody did – see you in 2009, kid, how ‘bout you work on that confidence.

Still, the Sox took 2 of 3 in Baltimore and find themselves creeping back to respectability on the road. And even better, 20 of their remaining 35 games are in the asymmetrical comfort of home. So that’s our jumping off point today – whither the 2008 Red Sox? Let’s set the scene: with 35 games to play, the Sox are 4 ½ games behind the Rays in the American League East and dead even with the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card standings. Boston’s last 35 look like this:

3 @ TOR, 3 @ NYY, 3 vs CWS, 3 vs BAL, 3 @ TEX, 3 vs TB, 4 vs TOR, 3 @ TB, 3 @ TOR, 4 vs CLE, 3 vs NYY

Not easy, especially given the Sox’ issues with the Jays. There’s a doubleheader in there against Toronto in Boston, and a merciful 2 days off (that preseason gauntlet in Japan paying a mini dividend).

At some point, realistic observers have to recognize that the well-founded skepticism of the Rays is about as well-placed as the U.S. 4x100 relay teams’ baton passes. And even though Tampa plays a relatively difficult schedule over the final 6 weeks of the season (20 road games, with series’ against the Sox (2), Yankees (2), Twins, and White Sox), they’ve shown an elite-level resiliency all season. Hard for me to believe, but I don’t think the Sox will catch them.

The Twins, as they always do this time of year, have tapped into the reservoir of black magic that’s hidden deep in the bowels of the Zoroastrian temple that doubles as their ballpark and become a major factor in the race. On the other hand, they’ve got by far the roughest schedule of the contenders, with a 14-game convention-screwed road trip (hey, look, I found something I can thank Republicans for without sarcasm – way to go GOP! (Alternate take: once more, the Republican Party completely fucks the little guy)) and a total of 22 road tilts versus 12 in the Homerdome.

Schedules are interesting, I suppose, but the quality of the team is probably more important. The Sox’ offense has rounded into nice shape, even without Manny Ramirez. The starting pitching has been above average – most recent starter nothwithstanding. The Sox’ hopes for the rest of the year are pinned firmly to the heretofore underperforming bullpen, and to Josh ‘Ebby Calvin’ Beckett. Modest improvement from the bully and a return to 2007 form for Beckett, and the Sox coast into the playoffs – maybe even as AL East champion. More of the same, and it’s a dogfight, coinflip, your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine horserace cliché festival.

Predictions generally aren’t worth the pixels they’re displayed upon, and mine are often worth even less than that, but I’ve had a decent track record here at MLC down the stretch. My formerly ample gut says the Sox will sneak into the playoffs as the AL Wild Card, but much like 2005, won’t do a whole lot once they get there. And the Tampa/Los Angeles-Anaheim ALCS will make Bud Selig and FOX SPORTS cry. Almost as much as the Angels/Brewers World Series.

As for this story’s customary villain, well, the Yankees are starting Carl Pavano on Saturday. I don’t suppose I need to say much else.

Like a smart man once (twice? Ad infinitum?) said, roll the balls out and play the game.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good Morning America

Games 119 through 127 - Mets

Mets 4, Nationals 3
Mets 12, Nationals 0
Mets 9, Nationals 3
Mets 2, Pirates 1
Mets 7, Pirates 4
Mets 4, Pirates 0
Pirates 5, Mets 2
Mets 7, Braves 3
Mets 6, Braves 3
Record: 70-57

[stretch, yawn, shake out cobwebs]

Good morning, guys!

For the New York Metropolitans, these are the salad days, as they say. A stretch that's rife with contests against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Washington Nationals, and, dare I say it, the 56-71 Atlanta Braves, is something of a briar patch for just about any ballclub of merit. That I can actually include the Braves in that trio is almost more pleasing than typing out the recent battery of Mets victories above. So gratifying.

Pitching and defense, quip the sages. Pelf acquitted himself nicely in the few jams he made for himself, while Jair "You don't pronounce it, son, you eat it" Jurrjens did not. Jurrjens let Daniel Murphy (the white-hot Mets hitter, not the guitarist for Soul Asylum) get the better of him for a couple in the first, and Chipshot left one a few club lengths short of first base on the next play, scoring two more. Another (smirk, chuckle) error and a (chortle, snicker) Mike Pelfrey RBI single later, and it's 5-0, Mets. Pitching and defense.

Heretofore unknowns continue to give the Mets the lift they were sorely missing in the spring. Guys like Murph, "Tater" Tatis, "The Braves" Argenis Reyes, and Nick "Error 505 Name Joke Not Currently Available" Evans have overachieved to a high degree -- and have made it fun for us. With the most popular descriptor for the Mets' farm system being "depleted" (among the experts; the most popular descriptor among folks in the Township is "uber-sucky"), the rise of the non-marquee players to better than serviceable status has been a pleasant surprise.

I've been sleepwalking through this season a bit. You're too kind, but I know you've noticed. I have actually watched most of the Mets' games, and I've had close to my usual amount of inane and spot-off comments on the club... I just haven't actually put fingertips to keys to share them. I'll attempt to rectify that slump in the coming weeks. Bear with me, I'm rusty. I'm mildly uninteresting today, but by mid-September, when it's really getting tense, that's when I'll be really damn uninteresting. Buckle up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest

Games 125 & 126 – Red Sox

Red Sox 6, Orioles 3
Red Sox 7, Orioles 2
Record: 73-53

Note to MLC Readers:

After what happened to Tim Wakefield, I will not be making a similar mistake with regard to Jon Lester. Instead, as you read the following, apply the inverse of everything I say about Daisuke Matsuzaka to Lester. For example, should I write, “Daisuke Matsuzaka makes me fucking crazy”, you may translate that as “Daisuke Matsuzaka makes me fucking crazy and Jon Lester’s left arm is a thunderbolt gifted to the human race by the gods”. Unless I say good things about Matsuzaka, in which case I also mean to imply good things about Jon Lester. Thanks, and have a wonderful day.

Daisuke Matsuzaka makes me fucking crazy. He’s got dominant stuff, just spectacular ability. And yet he pitches like Jamie Moyer, nibbling and fussing with the corners as if any pitch remotely near the strike zone will be blasted into orbit by superhumans such as Ramon Hernandez and Jay Payton. Last night, the Frustrating One needed 105 pitches to get through 5 innings against the Orioles, allowing multiple baserunners in every inning except the 5th (only one in an exhibition of extreme economy) and somehow extricating himself from 3 major predicaments. It is increasingly impossible to watch this man pitch and retain any semblance of sanity.

John Farrell’s done wonders with several Sox pitchers, teaching them to work quickly, get ahead of batters, and trust both their stuff and the defense. There’s one eminently notable success story in the Sox’ rotation at the moment, name withheld to protect his innocence and health. Maybe it’s a Lost in Translation thing, but Matsuzaka seems to have internalized all Farrell’s wisdom and converted it into its polar opposite.

And yet, at the end of the day, Daisuke’s 15-2 with a 2.77 ERA. If he keeps it up, I’ll be babbling incoherently and gently rocking back and forth all the way to October, apparently.

Can't Explain

Game 125 - Phillies

Phillies 5, Nats 4
Record 67 wins, 58 losses - 2nd place, 1.5 GB NYM
Some things cannot be sufficiently explained to satisfy one's curiosity. For example:

I am not sure if you can read the sign. It states:

PHilliEs FAN
45 yEARS
J Roll FAN

I don't even know where to begin. For those of you not familiar with the species Philadelphius Fanicus, they are so unique they warrant their own kingdom. They bear no resemblance to any other life form. These wretched creatures have been known to cheer E-A-G-L-E-S at Phillies games in April. Imagine that for second. They cheer for a franchise so bereft of any measurable success these past 48 years as if that franchise were on par with its fellow league members in Dallas, New York and Washington. I cannot reason with such creatures.
Let me make this disclaimer. I love the Phils. To a fault perhaps. However, I am not a native of the city of Philadelphia nor its environs in SE PA or Joisy. I have never lived within 120 miles of Philadelphia. I am yinzer, a Western Pennsylvanian. We may be rubes. We may have a tinge of redneck and we certainly posess some peculiar culinary habits. However we are, scientifically speaking, a much more advanced creature than our cross state (and alter-universe) inhabitants of the Commonwealth.
God help them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Insane in the Membrane

Games 121 through 124 - Phillies

Dodgers 3, Phillies 1
Phillies 2, Padres 1
Padres 8, Phillies 3
Phillies 1, Padres 0
Record 66 wins, 58 losses, 2nd place 1.5 games behind NYM (Same record through 124 games as last season but 3.5 games closer to the Mets this time around.)

I am going nucking futs!
Look at those anemic scores! It's maddening following this club. I say 'following' because I have not done a whole lotta watchin' lately. I don't have the time (not that I would be watching if I did have time.) I think I am reaching a point where I love this club but I don't like it at all. It's kind of like a marriage of convenience at this point. We both know we can't go anywhere else. They continue to suck from the teat of medicrity 8 years running while I am checking the college football blogs about 36 times a day. Last year of course, they did something completely unexpected - akin to bringing me a cold beer, propping my feet up and handing me the remote - they actually chased down the division leader and surpassed them. It's not a scenario I feel confident in envisioning this September.
I know 'twasn't all that long ago where I broke down the remaining 54 games and guessed that the Phils would have a good chance at 89 - 91 wins. Now, I'm not so sure. The club is 7 and 9 since that posting on August 1. The series in LA last week could be their undoing. Getting swept those 4 games is Exhibit A for the case of why I am suddenly pessimistic. The Mets meantime, seem to have rebounded from the doldrums yet again despite their multitude of problems. Seems frontrunner status suits neither club too well. Anyway, for the Phils to claim the 89 to 91 wins necessary for the division means they have to play at .605 to .657 ball. You'll agree that for a club with erratic run production, a batting lineup only 6 deep, a bullpen running on fumes and a rotation that can't synchronize their efforts, to play that well against a schedule that features 23 games against the Mets (5), Marlins (6), Cubs (4), Dodgers (4) and Brewers (4) - well it's about as easy to read those tea leaves as it is this run on sentence.
I think the best we can hope for is to come close to break even against that schedule and show absolutely no mercy against the likes of the Nats (9 games) and Braves (6.) Oh, I suppose its only fair to mention the Phils are currently 16 -5 against these losers. It's within the realm of possibility but as pursuers rather than front runners, success ultimately, is not in their hands.
Time to wake up the echoes of 2007. Here's hoping the Daily News and Post start hounding the Mets about it.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Games 123 & 124 - Red Sox

Blue Jays 4, Red Sox 1
Blue Jays 15, Red Sox 4
Record: 71-53

I love the Olympics. Always have. I'm a sucker for the pageantry, the pressure, the pure athletic joy. And thanks to the good people of Beijing, I like them for an entirely new reason this year: the ongoing quadrennial hypefest meant that I didn't have to pay a lick of attention to the dreadful performance of Josh Beckett and the Olde Towne Team this weekend.

Here's hoping Usain Bolt does something cool tonight.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Death of a Salesman

Games 121 & 122 – Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Rangers 4
Red Sox 10, Rangers 0
Record: 71-51

A play in one act.

Glass half-empty guy: Three times in three nights the Sox took leads of 8-0 or greater against the Rangers, and twice in three nights, the Sox still had to get Jonathan Papelbon up in the 9th inning.

Glass half-full guy: Holy crap, dude! The Sox just scored 37 runs in 3 games with starting pitchers throwing 14 scoreless innings to start the last two. Papi! Pedroia! Youks! With this offense, who needs a bullpen?

Glass half-empty guy: But the Rays keep winning, and the Rangers’ pitching staff is the stuff of epic tragedies. Like Ol’ Yeller.

Glass half-full guy: But the Yankees keep losing, and the Sox just shut out the league’s best offense. Matsuzaka and his incredible disappearing baserunner trick keep on keeping on – to the tune of a 14-2 record, 2.74 ERA, and 103 Ks in 121 innings. Jon Lester’s become a legitimate major league ace. And we haven’t even seen the best of Josh Beckett yet.

Glass half-empty guy: Toronto’s coming to town, and those guys own us.

Glass half-full guy: We used to own the Angels, and look how fast that changed. Who says we can’t do the same thing to the Jays?

Glass half-full guy: Halladay!

Glass half-full guy: Madonna is awesome, isn’t she.

And...cut. Me off.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

Games 106 - 121: Yankees

Orioles 7, Yankees 6
Yankees 13, Orioles 3
Angels 12, Yankees 6
Angels 1, Yankees 0

Yankees 8, Angels 2
Yankees 14, Angels 9
Rangers 9, Yankees 5
Rangers 8, Yankees 6
Yankees 5, Rangers 3
Yankees 3, Rangers 0
Angels 10, Yankees 5
Angels 11, Yankees 4
Angels 4, Yankees 3

Twins 4, Yankees 0
Yankees 9, Twins 6 (12)
Twins 4, Yankees 2

Record: 64-57

By my shady math, 41 games to go...and it's looking pretty ugly folks. But much like Bluto (and unlike incessant gasbag Hank Steinbrenner), I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Sure, my boys in pinstripes have absolutely no shot at winning the AL East, being 10 back in the loss column from the Tampa Bay Rays (that is one odd thing to type), and also manage to trail both the Red Sox (6 in loss column) and Twins (4 in loss column) in the wild card race, but...ah fuck, where was I? This sucks something fierce. Where are the runs? Where are the quality starts? Where the hell is everybody? I'm not here to whine, I'm here because the court ordered me to be here.

How in the hell can the Yankees get back in the mix. Let's take a look at the upcoming two weeks, maybe that will help...
  • Three at home with the Royals over the weekend
  • Then six on the road against the Blue Jays (who are actually only 2 behind the Yanks in this wild card "race") and the Orioles
  • Back home for six against the Red Sox (hi rob!) and Blue Jays
...nope, that doesn't make me feel any better. Bartender, one bourbon, one scotch, one beer. Gracias.

I'm leaving tonight for Indianapolis, and will be hitting an Indianapolis Indians game tomorrow night (AAA affiliate of the Pirates, which is pretty funny to me, since I was pretty sure the Pirates were already a AAA outfit, but whatever). While in Indy, I'm going to distance myself from the Yanks, and hope this Royals series goes the way it has to for the postseason to be even a remote possibility. In fact, I hope the Indians' scoreboard doesn't even have major league scores, because if I see "Royals 12, Yankees 1" sometime Friday night, poor Indians mascot Rowdie is going to get knocked the f out.

Loony Toons

Games 112 through 120 - Phillies

Marlins 8, Phils 2
Phils 5, Marlins 0
Marlins 3, Phils 0
Buccos 2, Phils 0
Phils 4, Buccos 2
Phils 6, Buccos 3
Dodgers 8, Phils 6
Dodgers 4, Phils 3
Dodgers 7, Phils 6

Record: 64 wins, 56 losses, tied with the Mess for first place 1.5 games ahead of FLA

I'm gettin' real tired of this crap.

I never liked the Coyote/Roadrunner shows. Though a dimwitted child I was, I was insulted by the repetitive plot. I was bored stiff watching the coyote repeatedly squander his war chest for the deceptively promising yet ultimately flawed engineering of the Acme Corporation. I could never understand why the f-cker survived falling anvils, broken cliffs, dynamite detonations, rocket misfires, runaway locomotives and impenetrable mountain sides. It drove me insane that the Roadrunner regarded the rules of physics the way activist courts regard the constitution. It was loony alright. I have never been much for loony when it comes to the way things should be.

The Phillies are Wyle E. Coyote.

It's that simple.

Every time they get that giddy feeling as if they are about to spring a trap so deliciously potent, so wonderfully lethal, they end up with gunpowder in their face. Myers starts to pitch well so the bullpen starts to fart. One day the lineup is the '27 Yanks, the next day they resemble the 1961 Mets. It is folly to hope. Maddeningly, like my canine counterpart, I always do. I chart these losers' season game by game on they white board in my office (that's why they gave me an office.) After game 120, here are the results in 10 game increments:

4-6 (Damn bird just blew my doors off!)
6-4 (I am giving chase.)
7-3 (Gaining some ground, feeling good.)
5-5 (Slow down there, cowboy!)
5-5 (Biding time, hatching a plan?)
8-2 (Take that!)
6-4 (The perfect plan!)
2-8 (Tried to jackhammer the cliff, but the mountain on which I stood inexplicably fell.)
5-5 (Dusting myself off.)
6-4 (Looking in the catelogue for a heinous contraption)
6- 4 (I think I found it.)
4-6 (Foiled again!)

My only consolation is that I told you this club was built for maybe, just maybe 88 wins. We are right on schedule.

Pay attention. After the series finale against Manny's new pals in Chavez Ravine, the Phils play the next two series against baseball's two worst teams -San Diego and DC. We probably pick up 5 of 6 and start to feel good just in time for the 10 game stretch against the Dodgers, Mets and Cubs. I feel like I'm waiting for the Acme delivery truck.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Certifiably Insane

Game 120 – Red Sox

Red Sox 19, Rangers 17
Record: 69-51

Let the record show that Game 120 of the Red Sox’ 2008 season was a tour de force of explosive offense, incendiary pitching, and rollercoaster emotions. In the span of nearly 4 hours, I spanned the spectrum, going from ‘it’s about time’ exhilaration to growing concern to head-shaking chagrin to possession-smashing anger to ‘this season’s fucking over’ disgust to pure, unadulterated giddy glee.

I’d have been perfectly happy to skip most of the middle stuff and just bridge the first and last emotions with a steady diet of ‘let’s get this blowout over with’ anticipation.

While a game that could easily have been the worst loss in MLC’s brief history (worst Red Sox loss, I suppose, because the Mets have had some gutpunches) ultimately turned into a highly memorable win, the Sox bullpen was once again brutally exposed. Let’s get to honest here, kids – this team can’t make the playoffs, let alone contend for another title with Manny Delcarmen getting meaningful high-leverage innings. Not the 2008 version, anyway.

Sober thoughts for another day, I suppose. For now, I’ll revel in Dustin Pedroia’s 5-hit primal scream, Papi’s 2HR/6RBI first inning, and Kevin Youkilis’ bizarre 2K, 2 error, 2HR trifecta.

Baseball, man. It’s fucking awesome. Today, anyway.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Absolute Zero

Games 118 & 119 - Red Sox

White Sox 6, Red Sox 5
Red Sox 5, White Sox 1
Record: 68-51

So this blog. Not so much with the typing of the words lately. I blame Clay Buchholz.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Jerk

Games 116 & 117 - Red Sox

White Sox 5, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 6, White Sox 2
Record: 67-50

I'd like to formally apologize to Tim Wakefield, his family, and the Boston Red Sox organization for my reckless and wholly inappropriate actions. I can only hope that you find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Sweet Jesus did the boomerang come swiftly.

And so Dustin Pedroia, I won't be saying anything about you. At all. You little loser.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Game 115 – Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Royals 2
Record: 66-49

Against the advice of counsel, I’m going to do something stupid today. I’m going to offer substantial praise in full knowledge that the simple act will undoubtedly unleash a karmic boomerang on me and the subject of my goodwill. Nobody ever said doing the right thing would be easy.

Tim Wakefield, friends, is a bad, bad man. He’s arguably, probably even, the best #4 starter in the major leagues. He’s certainly and inarguably, one of most cost-efficient veteran starters in the league at $4 million per year. And he’s in the midst of one of the best stretches of his long and wildly underappreciated Red Sox career.

Wake had a miserable start on May 23 against the A’s, surrendering 8 ER in 5 painful innings. That train wreck left him with a 3-3 record and a 5.19 ERA. Since that time he’s made 13 starts, allowing more than 3 ER in only 2 of those games and failing to get out of the 6th inning only once. He’s recorded a 2.92 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP over that 2 ½-month span, with more strikeouts than hits allowed and a 2.7 K/9 ratio. That he’s gone 4-5 over that span is a testament to the inefficiency of the Sox offense (and a testimonial to the limitations of W/L as a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness). He’s in the top 20 among American League starting pitchers in ERA, WHIP, and Innings Pitched and leads the Sox’ starters in both of the latter categories.

I’ve often praised Wake the man, but usually in the context of lamenting the discomfort involved with watching Wake the pitcher. Today, Wake the pitcher gets his due.

I’ll be ducking in anticipation of that boomerang right about…


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Prodigal Son

Game 114 - Red Sox

Red Sox 8, Royals 2
Record: 65-49

A big, much-needed performance from a key cog sparked the Sox to victory over the Royals and perhaps, maybe, hopefully signalled good things to come.

Jason Bay, right? He turned in a ho-hum 4-for-5, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI performance to raise his OPS with the Sox to 1.312 and then conducted an interview with whipped cream stuck in his hair courtesy of his new friend Big Papi. No, not him?

Oh, must've been that scrapper Dustin Pedroia, then. Little bastard's working on a 26-game road hitting streak and hasn't gone hitless on consecutive nights since June 11-12. Wrong? Seriously?

Okay - we're talking about Jacoby Ellsbury's 2-for-4 with 2 SBs. His first two swipes since July 1 sure did ease a lot of fears, didn't they?

Ahhh. Ebby Calvin. Forgot all about him, mostly because he's been forgettable all season. Not dreadful enough to cause gnashing of teeth and Buchholz-level concern and not good enough to wear the Captain Kickass label. But mediocre enough to worry even the least nervous of the Nellies in our midst. ERA, WHIP, K/9, K/BB, OPS against all trailing last year's marks and more than a few inexplicable failures tend to do that. And after he gave back a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the natives were restless. Until Beckett set down 18 of the next 20. That'll do.

To be sure, it was the Royals. But while the baby blues aren't exactly the 1927 Yankees, they're an increasingly competitive team with some real talent (next year's Rays? Anyone with me? Anyone? Not until they can pitch as well as they might hit, I suppose.). And in a year where it increasingly appears that the Sox can't afford to give anything away, a positive sign from Beckett was sorely needed and greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

While You Were Sleeping

Games 109 through 111 - Phillies

Cards 6, Phils 3
Phils 2, Cards 1
Phils 5, Cards 4

Record 61 wins, 50 losses - 1st place 2.5 games ahead of FLA, 3 ahead of NYM

Leave it to Brett Myers to force me to recollect the title of a very bad Sandra Bullock chick flick from the mid '90's. No open letters welcoming Brett back are forthcoming. I'm just glad he's with us and hope it lasts about 3 more months. It was one thing to shut down the Nats on 3 hits over 7 innings. It's quite another to hold the Cards to 4 hits, 0 walks and 2 runs through six at the New Busch (soon to be ImBev) Stadium.

Of course, in the mysterious, cosmic world of baseball, there just has to be a yin to this yang. Cole Hamels fits the bill. Cole's last two outings have been nothing shy of grotesque. Fortunately, the Phils were able to win one of them against their favorite whipping boys in Atlanta. Is it too much to hope that Cole and Brett (this team is chock full of names that would have earned a fierce ass-whoopin' in my neighborhood - Cole, Chase, Brett, Shane, Jamie, ) get on the same page? This is supposed to be our 1-2 punch. I'm just praying Hamels' recent downturn is not owed to his health or lack thereof. He usually checks in to sick bay around this time of year. Bones, do your magic.

All in all, things are progressing quite nicely for the Phils. Shane Victorino continues as the heart and soul of the squad. I am sure of that much. The 3 run dinger against the Cards on Sunday Night Baseball was one to savor. It appears that whatever ailed Ryan Howard in April, May and half of June has been cured. He's up to .242 with 31 home runs and 96 RBI. I have witnessed him beating the Howard Shift (I hope the Stooges don't have a copyright on that) at least twice in recent weeks. Chase Utley is starting to merit that pre-season talk about a 3rd consecutive MVP in South Philly. Joe Blanton put forth a superb outing against the Cards in a 2-1 thriller which featured another exorcism of Albert Pujols from Brad Lidge's brain.

If I have to offer a harbinger (or omen or whatever synonym a thesaurus can produce to the equivalent of these) to sober up this happyfest, it's something I read today but in reality, has always been on my mind. This club is thin. As thin as Jim Zorn's resume. Injuries thus far have been few and not serious in nature. That fact is to what the Phillies owe their current position in the division standings. Lord knows the folks in the Township have been plagued with DL visits so we go on counting our blessings and keeping on keeping on.

Toil Under the Sun

Games 110 through 113 – Red Sox

Red Sox 2, A’s 1 (12)
Red Sox 12, A’s 2
Red Sox 5, A’s 2
Royals 4, Red Sox 1
Record: 64-49

I’d claim winning streak privilege for my semi-extended hiatus, but that would be lying, and I’d never lie to you. At least not about anything important. Mostly, I’ve been traveling. And lazy. And like the Red Sox, exhaling after the overlong Manny contretemps finally reached its moderately satisfying conclusion.

I think this Jason Bay kid may have a future in the bigs. Sox fans certainly embraced him with open arms after he scored the team’s only runs in his first game, tripling in the 12th before scoring the game-winner on Jed Lowrie’s infield gork. As an encore, Bay hit a 3-run homer in his first at-bat on Saturday before cracking 2 singles in 4 at-bats on Sunday as the Sox swept the A’s (and the metaphorical Mannywebs out of the clubhouse).

Bay joined his teammates in coming back to earth last night, going 1 for 5 – though he did come up with a 9th-inning RBI before Sean Casey lined out with the bases loaded. I hate to make excuses, but a letdown game was bound to happen. Clay Buchholz was…okay. I guess. As the rocket surgeons on Baseball Tonight correctly pointed out (alert the Blind Squirrel Nut-Finding Metaphor Team), Buchholz just plain lacks confidence right now. He’s as uncomfortable on the mound as the Olympic marathoners will be running 26 miles in Beijing’s smogsoup air. Not the young righthander’s fault, though, that the Sox could only plate a single run over the game’s final 8 innings.

We’re nearing Down the Stretch TimeTM, with fewer than 1/3 of the season remaining. The Sox lead the AL Wild Card standings by 1 1/2 games over Minnesota, and in the post-Manny era, the Sox’ margin for error seems razor-thin, at least to this irrational observer. Nick made a great, if under-recognized point a few days ago – the MLC team is buckling up for what stands to be a white-knuckle 2 month ride. Shame we don’t know any Rays and Marlins fans.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

In the Heat of the Night

Games 106 through 109 - Mets

Marlins 7, Mets 3

Mets 4, Marlins 1

Marlins 7, Mets 5

Astros 7, Mets 3

Record: 58-51

It's hot these days. Damn hot. A humid, sweaty hot, the kind in prison movies, the kind that causes failures to communicate and recidivism. Dog day afternoon? Every afternoon in the mid-Atlantic seaboard in August. It's a slow, dull crawl towards the fall, and it's especially a struggle to battle the malaise when your baseball team seems to trudging along in a similar vein.

As is seemingly always the case, just when the folks with cue cards, microphones, and/or by-lines started heralding Jerry Manuel as the salvation this Mets club needed (thereby issuing Willie Randolph a serious transitive backhand to the mug), the Mets have soured like 2% sitting in the sun. The "perfect manager for this team" fanfare, the "lovefest for Jerry" as Keith Hernandez put it, has been on the wane for several nights. Funny how the Metwagon slowing to a stop over a few games can do that.

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between the polarized opinions the yappers (I include myself) launch like M-80's into the night, loud and fiery but ultimately mindless entertainment at best. Yappers like those on the Wheelhouse -- not the noted blog with Jerry as its proprietor, but the show on SNY, a "Sports Reporters" knock-off whose only redeeming quality, if you can call it that, is being able to listen to Scott Ferrall's ridiculous C.C. DeVille-esque voice spout inane snippets offering extreme stances you don't think for a second he really believes. And he's a Yankees fan. Honestly, he makes me almost wish less ill on Jim Rome . . . but no.

(And what's with using an upside-down M instead of a W in Wheel House?? Am I missing something?)

But back to the Mets themselves. Yeah, fellas, it's miserably hot out, and you've gone from the unbearably muggy south Florida to lovely Houston. It's hot AND you're in Texas. Morale sags. It's friggin' hot, and you, good sirs are decidedly not. Buck the fuck up and play ball.

See, I sit in my conditioned air and watch you play baseball on television because I have paid $200 or so to my satellite television provider. They, in turn, have paid the organization known as Major League Baseball a goodly sum for the right to broadcast you playing baseball to me. The owners of the franchises are paid out chunks of the aforementioned goodly sum. Said owners then pay you, the baseball players, large amounts to play baseball. It's a win-win-win-win system, at least when you win. When you lose, and lose badly, in redundant fashion, you become the weak link in the chain, and that's why I'm pointing the finger at you. Maybe you're the scapegoat. Maybe it's that pederast Hanrahan, I don't know.

So you've only lost 3 of 4 and I'm giving you crap. Why? Maybe I've been reading too much Nick at night, believing his mathed-up assessments of the Phillies v. Mets. Maybe it's in the how you are losing, the whole "blowing leads" and "squandering chances" thing. Or maybe the Mets' flaws are becoming increasingly apparent.

The soft underbelly of a supposed contender can come in a number of forms, from infield defense woes to a dearth of team speed to a lack of fundamental knowledge of the game to clubhouse in-fighting to a terrible mascot. The Mets seem to have most of these areas in decent shape. (Rock on, Mr. Met.) Middle relief, however, seems to be the Mets' undoing in all too many cases. Duaner Sanchez just isn't yet back to the fine form before the Cuban Sandwich Disaster of '06. Scott Schoeneweis has been better . . . and recently worse. Joe Smith has started to get hit again, like he misses New Orleans, for which I don't blame him. Carlos Muniz is not the answer, I think we now know. And Pedro Feliciano is simply not very good when it matters most.

And then there's Aaron Heilman. Last week, when the trade rumors were flying about, I read more than once that potential deals were undone because the Mets were unwilling to part with Heilman. Now, based on one man's assessment in the previous paragraph, you can see why they'd resist depleting that pen further, but The Aaron Heilman Era, in my mind, is coming to a close. Last night's workmanlike loading of the bases and tie-breaking gopher-ball to slugger extraordinaire Mark Loretta was just one night, just one bad outing. (So was a certain gopher ball to a certain crap-hitting catcher on a certain redbirded team in a certain NLCS game.) Heilman's continuing struggles -- his continuing departure from reliability -- makes him expendable. Glad as I was that Mets didn't try to make news with some Chuck LaMar-conceived deadline deal, I didn't agree with Heilman remaining untouchable. He's been anything but on the mound for quite some time. And he's a big part of what's plaguing the Mets right now.

Oh, and with Pedro Martinez pitching like . . . Pedro Martinez, there may be more than a soft underbelly to worry about. But that's a worry for another day. It's too damn hot to consider it today.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Day After Tomorrow

Game 108 - Philllies

Phillies 8, Nats 4

Record: 59 wins, 49 losses - 1st place 1 game ahead of NYM 1.5 ahead of FLA

I wrote 8 days ago that it was highly likely my boys would be back in first thanks entirely to the Braves and Nats. Collectively the Phillies are 16 - 5 against these two squads and if you are adroitly doing the math - there's your difference between giddy optimism and that sort of sinking feeling those jerks in the Township had just before Willie was jettisoned.

I am no fool. You can slice this a hundred ways but the most obvious method of determining how things might turn out now that the Dog Days are here is to look at the schedule. The Phils have 1/3 of the season remaining and here is what's left:

Home (28 games) - 6 vs. FLA, 3 vs. PGH, 4 vs. LA, 6 vs. WAS, 2 vs, NY, 4 vs. MIL, 3 vs. ATL

Away (26 games) - 3 vs. STL, 4 vs. LA, 3 vs. SD, 4 vs. CHI, 3 vs. WAS, 3 vs. NY, 3 vs. ATL, 3 vs. FLA

Is it unreasonable to suggest the Phils will go 16 - 12 at home and 14 - 12 on the road? That would give them 89 wins which one would suspect is just about what will be needed towin their rather ordinary division. The club has an almost identical home and road record thus far (29 -24 @ home, 30 - 25 away.) That bolsters my argument I think.

Of course, I am much too lazy to examine the Fish and Mess schedule beyond the fact that they are not much different than the Phillies both in terms of performance at home vs away and the makeup of the schedule. Needless to say, no one will be going away any time soon so all this examination is probably for naught.
What it just might come down to is whether the Phils will return to their characteristic form of turning it on in August and September. Going back 3 years, the Phils were 32 -22 in 2005, 38 -24 in 2006 and 34 and 23 in 2007. Can this club notch 32 victories in the final 54 games? If so, I'd feel pretty confident that the resultant 91 wins ought to do it.

In order for this to happen. Brett Myers needs to pitch well. It begins and ends there. He's gotta get it going. 10 starts. Keep us in all of them. Let us win 7 of them. The next big factors are Rollins and Victorino. The Flyin' Hawaiian was marvelous in July. He needs only to keep on running. I have a feeling Jimmy is seeing the red light come on. The rest of the lineup will be fine.

Whit - what about your club?
By the away, Mr. Cub - resilient old bastard that he is - has rebounded nicely from his surgery. He has no longer a voice but Mom says he demands the sports page every morning to check on the Cubbies. Glad to see they are doing their part to lift his spirits. Thanks to MLC for keeping him in your prayers.