Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Westward Ho

American League Division Series

Game 1 – Red Sox @ Angels, Wednesday, October 1, 10:07 EST
Game 2 – Red Sox @ Angels, Friday, October 3, 9:37 EST
Game 3 – Angels @ Red Sox, Sunday, October 5, TBD
Game 4 – Angels @ Red Sox, Monday, October 6, TBD (if necessary)
Game 5 – Red Sox @ Angels, Wednesday, October 8, TBD (if necessary)


I’ve taken a fairly measured approach to the Sox for the most part in 2008 (for the most part, but not entirely – rational calm still is not my strong suit). I suppose that comes with the territory hard won by the Olde Towne Team over the past five years. That all changed this morning when I went to the MLC archives and re-read our offerings from October 2004. Now I’m a goosebumpy mass of anticipation and nerves. October baseball…I live for this.

Predictions about baseball, especially mine, are seldom worth the time it takes to read and dismiss them. So we’ll save you the trouble and flail about searching for some pattern in the random facts that explain the Sox/Angels ALDS.

There’s a popular school of thought that dooms the Angels because of their relative lack of intensity over the past month. Mike Scioscia’s team hasn’t played a game with any real meaning since clinching the AL West on September 10 – and realistically, they were all but assured of winning the pennant since early August. They’ve clearly had the league’s most stress-free trip to the wire. While there’s some anecdotal evidence of coasting teams struggling to gear up to postseason fervor, it’s not clear to me that the Sox are any better off than the Halos. Thanks (again!) to the Yankees and their fumbling about, the Sox have known they were playing postseason baseball for at least 3 weeks, even if they hadn’t mathematically clinched anything. Terry Francona’s lineups over the past week have been nothing so much as Spring Training split squads.

Recent history affords the Sox a big edge in playoff competition against Los Angeles of Anaheim, with Boston coming off consecutive ALDS sweeps of the Angels in 2004 and 2007. And if the Sox win Game 1 in California, you could make the argument that this contemporary historical dominance is playing on the Angels’ minds. But it the Angels take the first game, this one doesn’t mean much, either.

Look to the stats, young Jedi – that’ll tell you all you need to know. And there, the Sox would seem to have an edge. Boston scored more runs (845 to 765) and allowed fewer (694 to 697). On that basis alone, the edge should go to the Sox. Yeah, well, I’ll go ahead and petition MLB to send the Sox to the ALCS on that basis – let you know how it turns out. The series schedule dictates that each team will only need three starters, but you’re a better baseball scholar than I if you can definitively choose the better from John Lackey/Ervin Santana/Joe Saunders and Jon Lester/Daisuke Matsuzaka/Josh Beckett. The Sox have a (very) slight advantage in terms of big game experience, but it’s offset to a degree by the oblique injury that pushed Beckett back to Game 3. And, hell, the history of baseball’s postseason is replete with great paper matchups that quickly turned into 10-7 cringefests (The Mussina vs. Schilling ALCS opener in 2004 comes to mind. Happily). The Sox offense looks a little deeper, but injury worries to Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew throw that into doubt, and the Vladimir Guerrero/Mark Teixeira middle of the order duo causes me some angst.

The Sox have made pretty significant hay out of adversity in recent postseasons, from Curt Schilling’s bloody sock to the 3-0 deficit in the Yankees, to last year’s back-against-the-wall comeback in the ALCS. I’m not sure that Beckett’s booboo and the Lowell/Drew aches are in the same league, but the one constant that applies is the Sox’ ace in the hole: Playoff Terry Francona is about the best manager in the business. And that’s where I’m hanging my hat as the 2008 postseason gets going.

Roll the balls out and let ‘em play. Lotta ball left, stay on target. Insert whichever clichéd superstition gets you through the night. And based on the start times for the first two games, I do mean ‘through the night’.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Genesis


Games 160 through 162 – Red Sox

Yankees 19, Red Sox 8
Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
Red Sox 4, Yankees 3
Record: 95-67
AL Wild Card, Case Bet Champions


The realities of work intrude today, so I’ll just rip through a fast and furious set of talking points and save the deep thinking about the postseason for tomorrow. (Although, if the reports are true and Josh Beckett may not be able to pitch in October, the deep thinking will include a lot of swear words.)

A 19-8 loss to the Yankees at Fenway is almost enjoyable in its current context, especially knowing what happened the last time New York hung that score on the Sox.

Mike Mussina winning his 20th game in a meaningless contest against the Sox’ AAA roster is a particularly delicious irony.

I willingly took my daughters to the ballet yesterday (got back just in time to see the beginning of the Cowboys/Redskins game). If you think that would have happened if these Sox/Yanks games meant anything, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. Yankee mediocrity: the gift that keeps on giving.

Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays. No smoke, mirrors, or excuses – those guys just plain won it. And they’re young and dumb enough to keep on winning.

Lots of great potential story lines in the playoffs. We could see Manny back in Fenway wearing Dodger Blue, the Cubbies could land in the World Series, Bud Selig could have a Brewers/Rays-induced coronary, the Phightin’ Phils could phinally make another Fall Classic, the AL Central winner can claim the Rodney Dangerfield ‘No Respect’ card, and the Angels have lurked quietly for over a month.

Two late-night starts for the Sox will make for a grumpy blogger this week. Small price to pay, I suppose. I’m willing to bet Whitney would trade places with me.

Roll the balls out and let ‘em play.

Do It Again

Games 160 through 162 - Phillies

Phillies 8, Nats 4
Phillies 4, Nats 3
Phillies 8, Nats 3
Final regular season record: 92 wins, 70 losses - National League East Division Champions

Take your pick - The Kinks or Steely Dan? I suppose the W&M boys will choose the latter given the mention of their Alma mater in "My Old School." I have long been a Kinks fan so it's their song that I am referencing in my title.

Either way, I think even Whit will agree that the NL East final standings are probably where they should be given the makeup of these two squads who after 46 years of co-existence have managed to develop quite an interesting rivalry. Heading into the Grapefruit League, there were two big questions for most of the pundits. For the Phillies, it revolved around the loss of Aaron Rowand. For the Mets, it was the impact of Johann Santana.

I wondered about the loss of Rowand not so much because of the loss of his production but the leadership. However, Shane Victorino seems to have stepped up as a team leader and along with Werth, has performed well enough offensively to mitigate the loss of Rowand's bat. With the Mets acquisition of Santana, I wasn't sure he was the final piece of the puzzle. To me the weaknesses in the pen, at 2nd base, right field and left field seemed to be formidable obstacles to the Mets' chances of returning to the postseason. Satana was heroic - especially in the 2nd half. He will probably pay dividends (in terms of making the playoffs) in the next few years but the Mets will have to address the aforementioned deficiencies this offseason for that to happen.

For the Phils, I think we are witnessing the longest journey from the basement to the penthouse in recent memory. We are now in year 11 of a rebuilding program. Many of the stars who were with us back a the beginning of the project have been gone for years - Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen - while some departed more recently - Mike Lieberthal and Bobby Abreu. Of course, 11 year rebuilding projects will see some turnover. The team is where it should be and capable of making some noise in October. I don't think the NL field is all that daunting. A World Series is probably not attainable but either way, the club has probably peaked now. There are aging players and arbitration battles to face this offseason so this may be the best Phillies team for a while. Go get 'em Phightins!

Cancelled

Games 161 & 162 - Mets

Mets 2, Marlins 0
Marlins 4, Mets 2

Final Record: 89-73

2nd Place, NL East, 3 GB PHL
2nd Place, Wild Card, 1 GB MIL


Thoroughly deflated, all I can muster today is the thought that these two games fairly well encapsulated the sickening roller-coaster ride that was the 2008 Mets season. Stirring performances displaying abundant talent to breed real optimism followed by lackluster, empty performances demonstrating a depleted sense of the moment to dash hopes and befuddle followers.

Much will be made of another Met collapse. It will grow tiresome and tedious, and the Mets themselves will be forced to answer one million questions that don't help them ready themselves for next season. This is what you have wrought, my friends, so don't look to the Township for support. When you see yourselves issuing crucial gopher balls or popping out meekly in key spots -- over and over again on the telly -- you'll get a sense of what we waded through.

My diligence in the MLC endeavor was spotty this season, but attention to the Mets was not. When Met-loving friends and relatives cashed out at various intervals in 2008, I hung in there, sure I'd be rewarded for my persistence. Instead, I got a conclusion the likes of which turns idealists into cynics. Here's hoping a long winter's nap on the Mets can rejuvenate my outlook on this ballclub.

Good night.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

E/R

Game 160 - Mets

Marlins 6, Mets 1
Record: 88-72
Magic Number to Ruin Another Season: 2


Ridiculous But True: One of the worst films comedic genius Chris Farley ever produced was a piece of garbage called Beverly Hills Ninja . . . and I saw it in the theater.

More Ridiculous But True: David Hasselhoff has signed on to star in Beverly Hills Ninja 2, a surely ill-conceived sequel to that terrible movie.

Most Ridiculous But True: There's no way in in the world that that at sequel will be nearly as hideously painful to watch as this re-make of the New York Mets' September 2007.


When the pressure is on, this team folds like a manila origami taco singing "Brick." It's systematic, automatic, and it's beyond problematic. The only redeeming aspect to watching this eyesore night in and night out? That it will undoubtedly last but two more days.

(Oh, and memo to Jose Reyes: Hanley Ramirez eats your lunch each and every time your two teams meet. Without fail.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Rainmaker

Games 158 & 159 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Indians 4
Red Sox 6, Indians 1
Record: 94-65
2 GB Tampa Bay, Clinched Playoff Berth

I'll make this quick, because I'm as fascinated by the NL race as anyone. Except maybe TJ, who is still trying to figure out why his Derek Jeter bobblehead doll is so sad.

The Sox still have an outside chance at the division title, but I'd really rather they just get healthy, and it seems that Tito agrees, so I'll happily sit back and enjoy the most angst-free September Sox/Yanks series in recent memory.

And hope that the rain doesn't fall too hard on Philadelphia and New York this weekend.

Build Me Up Buttercup

Dear Lou-

Why do you build me up (build me up)
Buttercup, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around
And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby
When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still
I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin'

I know you gotta manage your club according to your own best interests but it was downright brutal watching a bunch of September call-ups march to the plate with runners on, inning after inning, against the dilapidated Mets bullpen in the torrential downpour. (By the way, does no one at MLB HQ get the Weather Channel? Why didn't they just move that game up to 3:30PM instead of playing in those conditions? Really?)

It was not so obvious to me last night what your motives were but now, thanks to the great baseball minds of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic (that's sarcasm, of course) it has dawned on me that you want to play these Mets next week. And why not? If the Mets make it in, Johann can't go until Game 3 most likely. This beats playing those Dodgers who will have their rotation perfectly lined up and really, who wants to see Manny right now?

OK, Lou you got your wish and handed the Mets the game last night. How about disposing of the Brew Crew? Unless of course, your aim is to keep us out.

Chicken shit.

Heroes

Game 159 - Mets

Mets 7, Cubs (ss) 6
Record: 88-71
1 GB PHL in NL East, Tied with MIL for Wild Card


Just when I thought you couldn't get any more inept at this game, you go and do something like this . . . and totally redeem yourself!

Ah, to be able to borrow from Harry Dunn in the afterglow of an enormous Met victory last night on a Friday morning when the sun's peeking out from behind the clouds in South Hampton Roads . . . life is good. Could this weekend mangle the pleasantness of this moment beyond all recognition and recall? You betcha, but until that happens, let's bask in one night's comeback heroics.

A game ball goes to David Wright, who fanned AGAIN with Reyes on the basepaths as the winning run in the ninth inning. He gets the game ball for not grounding into an inning-ending double play. Honestly, these days, with him up and the game on the line, this is a reasonably positive result.

Another game ball goes to Daniel Murphy, who struck out right before D-W by trying to bunt with two strikes. If you listened carefully at that moment in any of the five boroughs, you would have heard an unmistakable, unanimous utterance by the entirety of Mets Township. For the kiddies who frolic about these pages, we'll leave out the gory details of the utterance, but let's just say it rhymes with well-known hunter's expression "Gut the duck." No worries, Danny Boy, an honest mistake by a young talent for whom the art of bunting looks a lot like one of Jackson Pollock's throwaways. Go get 'em next time.

And the biggest game ball -- the elephantitic game ball, I suppose -- goes to Ricardo Rincon. You know, I was amused but startled the other day when Peter Gammons delivered an unprovoked potshot by remarking with a chuckle that John Maine might be the answer in the Mets' pen because "the answer sure isn't guys like Ricardo Rincon." Peter, my good man, I tip my cap. Rincon's magic show where he made two baserunners vanish with just one pitch was more than we could bear, or so we thought. Honestly, boys . . .

And what of Micah Hoffpauir, the guy who hit that crushing three run blast? It was his 2nd career HR -- because Pedro grooved one for his 1st in the first. Nice. I tell you, with all the distractions kids have today with their video games and cell phones and what-not, I think Micah Hoffpauir is Exhibit A that the next untapped market for baseball talent is Amish country. Goodbye, Santo Domingo; hello, Lancaster.

In truth, though Hoffpauir did provide the pauir (sic) (terrible), his non-Derrek Lee glovework also helped the first and final Met runs get plated. Big thanks to Lou Piniella for his split-squad lineup. But I'll speak well of you forever, Sweet Lou, if you get those regulars back in there against the Brewers this weekend . . .

And finally, a sincere game ball goes to Ryan Church for the most elusive home plate slide dodge, dart, and dive I've ever seen. There's no way in the world he should have scored the tying run in the eighth, but he managed it. Doing the little things will make up for some shortcomings along the way, boys, but coming up with amazing plays like that will save the day.

Oh, and I was about to toast Mr. Church and say I would drink one for him, but last night was the first time in recent memory that I didn't throw back a few beers while taking in the Mets game. And it worked, against some serious odds, so we might have to revisit this strange new place called Sobriety for tonight's game. We'll see.

3 to go against the Fish. A game back to the Phils, tied for the Wild Card. Take a breath, boys.

It's a phrase used flippantly all the time, but this is what it's all about.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Under Pressure

And now, we discuss the curious case of Brett Myers.

I am honestly at a loss here. My gut instinct is to go Dallas Green on this guy and start questioning his testicular fortitude. I thought of doing the math on what the Phillies are getting for the $8.5 million they are giving to this guy but if he is not putting the effort in, why should I. All I know is that he has 10 wins in his 30 starts. I guess the math is pretty simple on that - $850K per win. The Phillies have won just 12 of those 30 starts. In 10 of those starts, Brett never made it past the 5th inning. The last two games - games in the final 10 games of the season battling the Mets for first place - Brett couldn't finish the 5th inning.
I could slice and dice this team a million ways to explain why it is they fell short of J-Roll's prediction of 100 wins this season. No excuse I can devise is as easy to declare as it is to point the dreaded finger of blame on Brett Myers. He was the opening day starter. I bet no opening day starter (at least no one from teams that were considered contenders) has fewer wins than Myers. To his credit, he manned up and accepted his demotion in July to Allentown with dignity and a sense of purpose. He emerged as a dominant pitcher worthy of the label "staff ace" for the month of August when he went 4 and 1 with a 1.65 ERA.
Since then, however, he has returned to his hideous form from April to July. Maybe he's ailing. Maybe there's trouble on the home front. Who knows? Point is, people scoffed at Rollins bold prediction back before the season began. How was Jimmy to know the staff ace would implode?

I Would Do Anything for Love


Game 159 - Phillies



Braves 10, Phillies 4

Record 89 wins 70 losses, 1st place 1.5 games ahead of NYM by the grace of Lou.






I love this man. I love his team. Can I ask one more favor of them? Just a tiny, tiny favor? I swear I won't expect anything less than their best effort should we meet in October.

You Can't Do That on Television

Game 158 - Mets

Cubs 9, Mets 6 (10 inn.)
Record: 87-71


"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
-- Nietzsche

"I am, I am, I am Superman."
-- The Clique (as covered by Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe)


. . . and I'm actually not so sure this isn't killing me. Dale hasn't brewed enough Pale Ales to create a salve for games like last night's, but I tried like hell to wash it away with some of the fine brew, anyway. Alas, here I am on a nasty, rainy, Thursday morning with full recollection of this debacle and a hefty headache.

In Mel Brooks' The Producers, a couple of down-on-their-luck fellows try to come up with a sure-fire Broadway flop, one so hideously terrible that it'll send the audience running for the door immediately, thereby enabling the duo to pocket the investment money. I ask you, the Mets' viewing audience, is there anything in "Springtime for Hitler" more horrifyingly offensive, more purely gut-wrenching, more run-for-the-door-awful than what we're witnessing on a nightly basis???

David Wright. He's the heterosexual Alex Rodriguez. Bottom 9, Daniel Murphy triples (!) to lead off the inning. The game is over. Done. A base hit past the drawn-in infield, an error, a scratch infield single, a wild pitch, a passed ball, even a friggin' medium-deep fly ball ends the game. The David Wright of pre-'06 shortens his swing, goes with a pitch, lines it into right field, and calls it a night. The superstar David Wright with the pull power swing gets a 3-0 count, then rears back and attempts to wallop three straight pitches, pulling a Mighty Casey in the process.

Jose Reyes. He hits for mammoth average in the team's wins and well below the Medoza Line in the team's losses. Yeah, yeah, as Jose goes, so go the Mets. You know what it also means? In just about every one of these grueling, punt-in-the-groin losses, Jose Reyes failed to come through when we desperately needed him. You guys are making Beltran look clutch.

Carlos Delgado seems to be the only guy with a sense of the import of these moments. Well, Carlos and Murphy. (Carlos Murphy's was a popular restaurant in my hometown in the 1980's. The Mexican-Irish restaurant-pub used to be all the rage back then; is this phenomenon still around? . . . Because Carlos Murphy's is not.)

At some point the residents of Mets Township are going to end up like a dog that's been beat too much. There's a breaking point somewhere not too far away, but it's not here yet. Even as I try to will this rainstorm northward so as to wash out Pedro Martinez getting pummeled by the Cubs tonight, I am hanging in there, stoically repeating Kevin Bacon's refrain through watery eyes . . . "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Last Car to Elysian Fields

Game 157 - Red Sox

Red Sox 5, Indians 4
Record: 92-65
3 GB Tampa Bay, Clinched Playoff Berth

For the fifth time in six years, the Red Sox will be playing postseason baseball. Anyone that tells you the clinching celebration has lost some luster is either lying or spoiled beyond the ability to revel in the whimsical beauty of Happy Jonathan Papelbon.


Every baseball season is designed to make you forget the last one. The duration of the season and daily nature of the game creates a volume of memories that necessarily push last year and the year before that and the year before that further and further into the recesses of the mind. So even as the Sox boast two World Series championships in the past five years, the moment of clinching remains a singularly cathartic event, standing on its own as a joyous marker of a job well done.

And as always, the Sox celebrated with appropriate abandon. My favorite picture in a collection of smile-inducing shots is this one of Sean Casey, because it's symbolic of how the Sox did things this year. No single player - with the possible exceptions of Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester - vastly overperformed expectations. The Sox have no superstars in 2008, especially since Manny winged his way westward. Instead, a bunch of good to very good players leaned on each other and went to work. They're not exactly egoless, but this squad has a distinct lack of me-first ethic. And the Mayor's as good a representative of that spirit as anyone.


How do I think they'll do in the playoffs? Who the hell knows? As we've stated ad nauseum, or at least ad makeyoustopreadingium, the postseason's a crapshoot. The Sox have as good a chance as anyone else, even if they have to go through Anaheim in the ALDS. I seem to recall that the 2004 squad faced a similar task.

No, No, Nanette

Game 158 - Phillies

Braves 3, Phils 2
Record 89 wins, 69 losses - 1st place 1.5 games ahead of NYM.

I won't do it.

I am not going to do it.

No.

I will not dump on this team for wasting a good start by the their young ace.

The Phils are 15 and 7 in September.

They are 32 and 20 since August 1st.

They are 39 and 25 since the All-Star break.

Last night was a very winnable game and gee, it sure would have been nice to all but wrap up a playoff spot being 3.5 games up on Milwaukee with only 4 games to play - all at home (with the final 3 against the Nats.)

Still, as I took my post game(s) shower, I was trying to beat back the negativity that was slowly fouling my mood. I kept reminding myself that the odds are still very much in our favor and that despite the indecipherable Coolstandings explainer, it appears the Phils still have a 98.9% chance of making the playoffs according to the geniuses at ESPN.COM. I don't care why that is, I just pray that it is.

A win tonight would go a long way to making me breathe easier. Brett Myers takes the hill against JoJo "was a man who thought he was a loner" Reyes.

Please Brett, return to your post-Allentown efforts. The ones which reduced your ERA from 5.84 to 4.06 in 12 starts. Do not give us a repeat performance of your last start in Florida where you undid all that good work by surrendering 10 earned runs in 4 innings jacking your ERA back up to a mediocre 4.46!

To the stickmen: Patience. You are facing a 3 and 11 pitcher with a 5.74 ERA. That includes an 0 and 2 record, 7.56 ERA against you this season. Take your time and make him pitch. Tack up 6 before he exits in the 3rd and give Brett some help.

Now go out there and be careful!

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Games 153 through 157 - Mets

Mets 9, Braves 5
Braves 4, Mets 2
Braves 7, Mets 6
Cubs 9, Mets 5
Mets 6, Cubs 2
Record: 87-70

Omar Minaya is rewarded with a four-year extension. Just as some folks in the Township are taking the first four words of that last sentence and replacing the "w" with a "t". Just as the Mets are a few more bad losses away from blowing a second straight golden opportunity for the postseason under his authority. Why? Johan Santana, of course. He landed Santana last winter, and that's arugably the only reason we're still tuning in at this point.

It's debatable whether Omar should benefit from one great move when there remain other gaps that hamstring the team's chances on a nightly basis, gaps that existed last winter (bullpen, 2B) and are problematic once again. That's a discussion for this winter, however. Right now we're smack dab in the middle of the playoff race we always wanted. And it's excruciating.

At one point last night all three games that mattered (to me) sat at 3-2, good guys. And there I sat, dead sure that they'd all three go awry. Thanks to Santana, Jose Reyes, and a few other Metmen, 3-2 became 6-2 in the game that mattered most. Didn't breathe easily until the final out was recorded, thank you Pedro Feliciano, but a win is a win.

Meanwhile, the league of extraordinary gentlemen know as the Atlanta Braves baseball franchise managed to play well enough to take their third contest of the season from the Phillies (in 17 tries). Many thanks, good sirs. Rinse, repeat, if you would.

So far it's coming down to Johan Santana. If you saw his at-bat in the 5th that led to the tying runs being plated, you know that he is doing it on the hill, in the batter's box, and with the hoodoo voodoo. But as an active participant but once every five days, it will not be enough unless the well-established leaders among the everyday players on the squad can reverse the trend of the puckering that's gone on for two straight Septembers and find a way.

Find a way.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Erudition has never been our strong suit, but I'm heading lower than even we usually go. I hope to be back later with a more thorough exposition of my feelings on this fine, sunny, glorious morning, but I'd like to get this heartfelt and entirely immature sentiment on the record:

Suck it, Yankees! Enjoy watching eight other teams in October.

Man, that's been a long time coming.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fresh Kills

Game 156 - Red Sox

Indians 4, Red Sox 3
Record: 91-65
2.5 GB Tampa Bay in AL East, 6 GA NYY in Wild Card

Yesterday in the comments section I was asked a question about the Sox' postseason alignment. Today, after watching the Sox lose a game at home with their "big-game" pitcher on the mound facing a rookie with a nearly 6.00 ERA, that question seems to border on the ludicrous.
I guess it would be useful for me to gain some perspective - I could be a Mets fan, after all - but there's something...just...a...little...off about the Sox right now. They're giving off a faint whiff of 2005 as the season closes. Let's hope a clinch today gives them a chance to spray some Febreze around the old ballyard.

Intervention

Game 157 - Phillies

Phillies 6, Braves 2
Record: 89 wins, 68 losses - 1st place, 2.5 games ahead of NYM.

Every addict needs an enabler.

The Atlanta Braves fill that role for the herky-jerky Phillies who spend each day jonesing for their next fix. It will no doubt piss Mr. Lester off considerably that Bobby Cox rested Larry Jones and Brian McCann until the Phillies vaulted ahead 6 to 2 on the strength of Pat Burrell's 3 run shot in the 8th. Enter Jones in the 9th in a pinch hit role. Ol' Chipper slapped a single. Next Cox sends up Brian McCann to pinch hit for Julian Tavarez who had just served up the homer to Burrel. McCann doubles.

Its important to point out two things.

First, Jones and McCann own the Phillies this year. I think they own them every year. Thus far this season, Jones sports a .424. BA with 5 doubles, 3 homers and a 1.444 OPS against Phillies pitchers. McCann, has been even more cruel. He's battered Phils pitching for 6 doubles, 3 home runs, 16 RBI and a 1.108 OPS.

Second, by virtue of the Phillies 6 - 2 lead (as opposed to a 2-2 tie or worse,) the damage done by Jones and McCann was easily weathered by Phils closer for the evening Ryan Madson who was spelling the fatigued Brad Lidge.

Thank you Bobby Cox. We really needed this one baaaaaaaaddddddddd!

You want a spin on the NL East Race? The Mets went 7 and 11 vs. the Braves. The Phillies are now inexplicably 14 and 2. There's your story. Print it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Farewell Waltz

Games 153 through 155 – Red Sox

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 3
Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 3
Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 0
Record: 91-64
1.5 GB Tampa in AL East, 6.5 GA NYY in Wild Card


Friends, Romans, Marylanders, I come here not to bury Yankee Stadium, but to praise it.

There’s nothing in all of sports like an October Yankee Stadium crowd in full throat. It sounds like postseason baseball, with all its anticipation, exhilaration, and expectation. It’s neurotic and arrogant at the same time, a lot like the City itself. It’s an all-encompassing wall of noise that I hated and envied at the same time for too many years. It’s the soundtrack of the postseason.

The only more perfect postseason sound I’ve ever heard was the amplified clang of Mark Bellhorn’s homerun in the 7th game of the 2004 ALCS, signaling the death knell of the Curse of the Bambino.

Because for a Red Sox fan, the only sound more spine-tingling than a screaming Yankee Stadium crowd is one rendered dead silent.

I’ve only been to the big ballpark in the Bronx once, and that was a meaningless mid-summer contest against the Brewers back when the Milwaukee Nine were still American Leaguers and the Yankees had yet to commence their recent (and far, far too lengthy) resurgence. Needless to say, I didn’t get the full Monty. Nonetheless, despite the relative insignificance of the event, the historian in me reveled in the scene, even as the partisan in me fought to contain vague feelings of discomfort. The yard itself was nothing special, but the ghosts were real.

Meanwhile, back in Boston, the Sox find themselves needing to win but a single game in their next seven to advance to the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. How ‘bout we keep the drama to a minimum, eh?

September

Games 151 through 156 – Phillies

Phils 8, Braves 7
Phils 6, Braves 1
Phils 4, Braves 3
Marlins 14, Phils 8
Phils 3, Marlins 2
Phils 5, Marlins 2
Record: 88 wins, 68 losses – 1st place, 1.5 games ahead of NYM


Do you remember the 21st night of September?
Love was changing the minds of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away

Wow. It’s been rare lo these past 2 decades or so, that I enjoyed a September weekend like this.

To wit (not Whit), on a sunny Saturday afternoon in front of their usual 100 K + faithful fans, the mighty, mighty Nittany Lions vanquished their beleaguered little brothers from Temple by a count of 45 to 3. This closes out Penn State’s rather unchallenging non-conference schedule with the Nits rolling up 211 points to their overmatched opponents’ measly 40. While it’s technically true the boys in blue and white faced 3 teams that are Division 1A…excuse me Bowl Championship Division and one Playoff Division (formerly 1 double A) team, in reality, they faced a sorry bunch of teams that gave Penn State no reason to work up a sweat and so Nitwits are left wondering just how good are these boys? Nice problem to have as the Fightin’ Illini roll into Happy Valley this weekend for a prime time game on ABC.

The biggest surprise of my sports weekend – and the game which made it so special – was the Miami Dolphins’ thorough thrashing of the vaunted New England Patriots. The Dolphins now have the distinction of having bookended the Pats 21 game regular season win streak. This is very likely a mere blip on what promises to be a rather uneventful radar screen in Year 1 of the Parcells Miami Project but if feels good to stick it to those bastards! I can only hope it reminds the Pats that in Perfectville, the population is still only 1.

Oh, lest I forget, this is a baseball blog. The Phillies! Hooray!

Friday night gave me some chills. Brett Myers gave up 10 runs in a loss (obviously) to the Marlins in Hollywood, F-L-A. I was a wee bit nervous as the day wore on Saturday worrying that all that mo we picked up in the past week would be lost in soupy South Florida. The bullpen came to the rescue however. The boys gutted out two tough contests against a Marlins team that has battled all year and to its credit, was still trying to make a difference in the NL East race. The Phillies seemed to have once again recaptured that September mojo they have so frequently channeled these past 3 or 4 years. Today’s Philly Inq. informs me that since Charlie Manuel took the helm in 2005, the Phils are 65 and 40 in September.

So all my teams did well. Most importantly, the Phils have continued to roll and it looks like everyone is pitching in. I have watched clutch homers fly off the bat of the slumping Pat Burrell, the light hitting Carlos Ruiz and the mystifyingly powerless Pedro Feliz. I have witnessed a fatigued old man trot out 6 innings in less than comfortable conditions and a skinny kid willing his body to pitch more innings than he has ever had too in his young career. I also have been impressed that a closer long ago given up for dead has resurrected his career and once again turned the 9th inning into a formality by saving every one of his 40 save opportunities.

6 games to go. If we can take 4 from the Braves and Nats at home, that should give us the division. It will definitely give us the Wild Card.

Ba de ya - say do you remember
Ba de ya - dancing in September
Ba de ya - golden dreams were shiny days

Friday, September 19, 2008

Scrubs

Games 151 & 152 - Mets

Mets 9, Nationals 7
Mets 7, Nationals 2
Record: 85-67
½ GB PHL in the NL East, 1½ GA MIL for Wild Card

Ten to play, just on the outside looking in for the division, just on the inside looking out for the Wild Card. It was about time the Mets starting knocking off the Nats. Only in Game 4 of the series did they do so in convincing fashion, but wins is wins.

To borrow from an old SNL sketch called "The Ref Pitman Show":

Yeah, I just wanted to invite the Atlanta Braves to have sex with themselves. Because that's something, you know, that, as far as I'm concerned, they can go and do.

Here's to you assclowns for lying down and dying in front of the Philadelphia Phillies after stealing a pair against the Mets. May your feeble attempts to be proficient in your purported profession continue throughout the weekend.

Down a Tatis, down an Easley, looking to reclaim a Maine by next week. The Brew Crew has a pitifully easy week ahead. The Phils have the Miami-hot Marlins and the aforementioned crapathetic Braves.

Hang in there, men. Gotta play 'em one day at a time. Give it your best shot and, Good Lord willing, things'll work out.



[almost out the door, returns for a potshot...]



Hey, Bobby Cox, you douchebuckle, your Expected W-L is six games better than what you've accomplished. Don't you dare rectify that over the weekend. Thanks for nothing, Braves, you pantloads.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We All Fall Down

Game 152 - Red Sox

Rays 10, Red Sox 3
Record: 89-53

Thud.

And with that, the Sox are playing for the Wild Card. Up 7 games with 10 to play and the happy haunts of 2004 remind us that the 4th playoff slot is by no means a death sentence. (Though the ghastly ghouls of 2006 have a counter-argument.) This uninformed but not unopinionated observer says the Sox should take the next 10 days to rest those that need rest and prepare for the Angels.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Smallville

Game 150 - Mets

Nationals 1, Mets 0
Record: 83-67
½ GB PHL in the NL East, ½ GA MIL for Wild Card

Are you fucking kidding me?

Not only do the Mets get shut out by Odalis Perez & Company, spoiling a fine Pelfrey effort and costing themselves the division lead in the process, but they also lose Fernando Tatis for the year? Good gracious.

I mean, it's stunning that the loss of Tatis hurts this much, but it does.
Jerry Manuel: “With the loss of Tatis, we have to reassess where we are offensively.”

Hey, skip, you just put up nine fat goose eggs against the Washington Nationals. After plating two meager runs the night before. I'd say offensively you're in the crapper right about now.

Hard to get a bead on Golden Boy. It sure looks like he continues to benefit from Carlos Beltran's tutelage on being supremely un-clutch. In 2006 the Mets were one good bat away from getting to the World Series as David Wright floundered and flailed his autumn away. Right now the Mets are on the verge of leaking away all that they accomplished in this weird year, and they need a leader to step up. (Kind of like, say, Carlos Beltran in 2004 for the Astros.)

On a cursory statistical level, Wright's numbers so far this month look great. .333/.386/.627 for an OPS of 1.013. Awesome. Take away two big games -- a huge win over the friggin' Nats and a losing effort against the Braves Sunday -- and his numbers are .214/.302/.333. A .635 OPS in the 3-spot isn't getting it done, and to have watched D-W fail to come through in some prime spots is beyond frustrating. The LOB in key moments is killing us. He's not alone, to be sure, but we expect more from him. Come on, dude, re-affirm our faith in your status as hero.

Big game tonight.

Brandon Knight on the hill for the Mets.

I need an Alka-Seltzer.

Goodnight Moon

Game 151 - Red Sox

Rays 2, Red Sox 1
Record: 89-62

Deja vu all over again, as Josh Beckett pitches brilliantly and the Sox fail to plate more than a single run before the bullpen allows the game-winner. It's even less cute this time.

Which leaves us with, gulp, Tim Wakefield taking the ball in a game that effectively decides whether the Sox have a chance to win the division. It's the ultimate test of trust for a fan - can't control a damn thing, so fall back into the void and hope that someone catches you.

Or, alternatively, rant and pout like a nap-deprived 4 year-old. I think you know which way I'll lean this evening.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Runnin' on Empty

Games 147 through 150 – Phillies

Phillies 6, Brewers 3
Phillies 7, Brewers 3
Phillies 7, Brewers 3
Phillies 6, Brewers 1
Record 83 wins, 67 losses, ½ game behind NYM in the NL East, tied with MIL for Wild Card

I am pretty excited obviously. You know why. It’s a measured excitement however. Whitney and I are on opposite ends of the see-saw nervously studying the other guy when it’s our turn up top. Can anyone remember what we used to call it when we were kids and we bailed out on our see saw partner just as our feet touched the ground? There was a term for it but I just can’t come up with it.

I also cannot produce any more for this entry than this.

Another great pennant race - my first at MLC - and I got nothin’.

Nice problem to have I suppose.

The Good Son

Game 150 – Red Sox

Red Sox 13, Rays 5
Record: 89-61
Tied with TB in AL East, 7 GA Minnesota in Wild Card, 3 GA of Whitney in Case Bet 2008


Thank you, sirs, may I have another?

The Sox backed a vintage Daisuke Matsuzaka performance (5 IP, 101 pitches, nice, neat, and tidy) with an old school power display (6 homers) to move within percentage points of the Rays in the AL East. Even with an 11-run lead, Happy Fun Dice nibbled at the edges to the point where the Sox had to get 4 innings from the bullpen. It likely won’t matter, as Chris Smith, Mike Timlin, and David Pauley aren’t slated to have major roles in any postseason cast, but damn, if Whitney’s doctor is as imprecise as our Asian friend, his upcoming procedure may require him to buy a women’s wardrobe afterwards.

On to more pleasant thoughts, then. Ebby Calvin tries to take another step back to being Josh tonight, and the Sox look to take over sole possession of first place in the division for the first time since the All-Star break. Magic number for clinching a playoff berth is 6. I like magic. Except for that Doug Henning guy – he’s like Steve Buscemi, only creepier.

Thanks to old friend Pedro Martinez for the lift in the Case Bet sweepstakes. I’ll pour some out for Nelson De La Rosa if the Sox prevail.

The Amazing Race

Games 146 through 149 - Mets

Braves 3, Mets 2
Mets 5, Braves 0
Braves 7, Mets 4
Nationals 7, Mets 2
Record: 83-66
1st Place in NL East by ½ game over PHL (gulp)


Some sage seer predicted at several intervals this season that the divisional race in the NL East would "come down to it" between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. (Patting self on back.)

Some big dope remarked at several intervals this season that he sure hoped it would. (Punching self in eye.)

With the Mets up 3+ games last week and looking good doing it, I got optimistic text messages from relatives, nods and encouraging words from strangers when I'd don the garb about town, and a post from Rob touting the often-lopsided Case Bet as suddenly close. We'll see, said the wise man.

Now having dropped 3 of 4 and looking bad doing it, the Mets find themselves with a tenuous, fleeting lead. (And Rob is perusing beer catalogues for a case of something tasty.) I mouthed off about the crappalachian Atlanta Braves, in essence begging them to stuff it in my face. They did. Played brilliantly, Whit. Last night the woeful Nats signed and sealed Pedro Martinez's exclusion notice from any potential postseason roster. The bullpen has sprung some new leaks, just when it was looking good and epoxied. Son of bitch. Shit.

Three days from now, though, we could easily be amid another upward twist on this "down the stretch" road. Today Nick said, "Gotta love the race at this point." Of course he's right. There's a whole lot of tension and uneasiness in what is playing out in the division formerly known as the NL Least. (That the Wild Card could come from this corner of the league defies long odds.) It's what makes us crazy, but also what keeps us coming back. The fear and anxiety about what the Mets are capable of doing on any given night (in a uniform-soiling kind of way) is mitigated by the knowledge and confidence of what they're capable of doing on any given night (in a high-fiving, fist-pumping sort of way).

In the meantime, Metmen, don't look a gift mule in the mouth. Beat the fucking Nats like the league doormat they are. And hey, Braves -- if you wouldn't mind sporting the same amount of sack* against Philly this week, that'd be marvelous. It's all well and good to be fired up that the Mets are balls-deep* in a race for postseason spot at this juncture, but I don't have to be all grins as they get torched by a team the PawSox would dismantle. There's a vast difference* between being happy to be here and being ready to make it happen.

Make it happen.


*surgery recently scheduled for mid-November might be affecting my jargon...

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Mediterranean Caper

Games 146 through 149 – Red Sox

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 0
Blue Jays 8, Red Sox 1
Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 5
Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 3
Record: 88-61
1 GB Tampa Bay in AL East, 6 GA Minnesota in Wild Card


Second verse, same as the first.

The Sox kick off a 3-game set in Tampa tonight with the stakes nearly unchanged from last week’s hostilities in Fenway. As was the case then, this series means a whole lot more for the Rays than it does for the Sox, with both teams likely (not assured, mind you, most definitely not assured) to make the playoffs.

The Rays play the role of talented little brother to the Sox’ seemingly indifferent older sibling. Tampa clearly has the tools to win the division, but they’ve never proven they can do it. The Sox have played more big games in the last 4 years than the Rays have in…well, ever. Psychology’s immeasurable, intangible, and indisputably relevant in baseball. History’s littered with the carcasses of talented teams who tightened up thismuch when it mattered and lost – see 2003 Boston Red Sox and Little, Grady for a personally wrenching example. If the Rays can take 2 of 3 or better from the Sox, they add one more source of resolve to their arsenal come October. If the Sox win the series and draw even or ahead in the division, the whispers grow louder about Joe Maddon’s team and its lack of experience on the big stage.

So the next 3 days matter, then, even if they don’t.

Oh, and the last 4, well, it was hot where I live this weekend, and football was on, and…hey, look, a no-hitter!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Necessarily the News

Breaking title protocol here for an important update on the Annual Case Bet Sweepstakes.

Whit's Mets trail my Red Sox by 3 games in the overall standings, meaning that I'm carrying a slim, miniscule, tiny, meager 1/2 game margin in the Case Race. It would appear that some crazy shit will need to happen for either of us to be forced to pay the Sandbag Piper. Down the stretch they come.

Loser's Town

Game 145 - Red Sox

Rays 4, Red Sox 2 (14)
Record: 85-60

The man is working me like a red-headed rented stepmule today, so just a quick and dirty recounting of last night's game.

If Tuesday's loss was a modest cockpunch, last night was a full bore knee to the groin accompanied by a full Chicago Smile and a healthy dose of Charlie Horses. And then seeing your woman leave the bar with Jeremy Shockey. This one hurt. The Sox had and completely blew all sorts of chances to win this game and climb to within a half-game of the Rays. Instead, the young Rays put another notch on their big-game resume, and build thatmuch more confidence headed into the stretch run.

But at least the Royals beat the Twins today. Backing in to the playoffs...it's fannnntastic.

Around the Horn

Games 141 through 145 - Mets

Phillies 3, Mets 0
Phillies 6, Mets 2
Mets 6, Phillies 3
Mets 10, Nationals 8
Mets 13, Nationals 10
Record: 82-63
1st Place in NL East by 3.5 games over PHL

Ah, those pesky Nats. That cupcake of misfits, has-beens, never-weres, never-will-bes sprinkled with a few young stars is giving the Mets' pitching staff fits. All you need to know is that Cristian Guzman hit two home runs last night and drove in five. Yes, Cristian Guzman. I know, he's playing closer to the level of the Twin who managed a big contract than the Nat who sparked this bashing last spring (skip down a few paragraphs to his), but still...

Yeah, Aaron Heilman, shut the door. [beat passes] This is the toughest job a Mets blogger has. But the Township has decided to make a change. Now that Billy Wagner's out for the year and there's a bit of a void in the relief corps, we don't want you taking the hill in any meaningful situations. Ever. Helluva tenure here, Aaron. You know how it is. (Why wouldn't they think about giving him a shot at the rotation next spring? He of the one-hitter a few years back. 'Cause what they're doing with him in middle relief... I'm not seeing it.)

Elijah Dukes: Hey ump, how about a warning?
Umpire: Sure. Watch out you don't get killed.

Bob Carpenter, Nats' play-by-play wiz and blinders-donning, homeriffic superfan -- who was very, very nearly canned at season's end last year -- casually dropped this one on Comcast SportsNet viewers last night: "Ryan Zimmerman, who I've said before is hands-down the best defensive third baseman in the league..." Rob quipped: "In Carp's world, the Nats have already clinched the division."

Dee-Dub had been struggling of late, especially when it seemed to matter most, but 4-4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI is a nice return to form. I'd been sweating a déjà vu of Dave's Autumn '06. [Shivers down the spine] Please, Golden Boy, get back to driving the ball the other way and not so much the gripping it and ripping it.

Jose Reyes has surpassed Mookie Wilson as the Mets all-time stolen base leader (after besting him in triples earlier this year). But a much more substantial Met Milestone was reached last night. Once and for all, David Wright's 8th-inning home run not only helped the Mets win the game but much more importantly eradicated the name "Todd Hundley" from the Top 5 All Time New York Mets HR's leaderboard. Hundley's name always stood out as Exhibit A of both how wafer-thin the Mets' Record Leaflet is (seriously, check out the leaders here), but also how cheaters sometimes win.

Home Runs
RankPlayer HR PA
1.Darryl Strawberry
252
4549
2.Mike Piazza
220
3941
3.Howard Johnson
192
4591
4.Dave Kingman
154
2573
5.David Wright
125
2970

Thank you, David, and may you ascend well past Kong & HoJo to give Piazza & Straw a run for their money.

As for the Mets, the Phils, and the pennant race... still too close to call. Nice to see the Fish giving the Phillies trouble, nice to see Brett Myers take a loss (though it wasn't the abusive beating we'd hoped for when we saw 7-3 on the scoreboard), nice to see the PhilPen coughing up a few to seal it. Keep it up.

Speaking of Brett Myers, injured Mets reliever Ambiorix Burgos was arrested for hurling his girlfriend to the ground, thus rendering the trade that gave up Brian Bannister a complete and utter bust. Well done.

Mets-Braves this weekend. This is a serious opportunity for the Braves to play spoiler, what with them being absolutely horrible (64-82, 18.5 games out). I enjoy their misery a little too much, but with a slew of talking heads assuring me in springtime that the Braves were the most serious challenge to the Phillies this year, I get extra-special joy from their plight. Not proud of that, of course, but . . . tee-hee. It will be a most painful groin punt if they wax nostalgic and wax the Mets this weekend. Buck up, boys, still a whole lotta work to be done. (We need a mantra -- bad.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No Hurt in My Pain

Games 143 & 144 – Red Sox

Red Sox 3, Rays 0
Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Record: 85-59


“You can debate several aspects of this game. Bottom line is it was a modest cockpunch, albeit one that you can recover from.”
SoSHer Jack Brohammer Experience sums up last night’s loss more succinctly than I’d planned to, supposing that I had the time to compile a coherent summation. Read the past, oh, two months worth of my efforts and judge for yourself the odds of such coherence. About as long as the odds of John McCain telling the truth at some point today.

Fact is, last night’s result is a much greater boon to Tampa than bane to the Sox. The psychological trauma associated with giving up first place might well have significantly damaged the young Rays. The Sox, eh, they’re still 6 games up in the Wild Card race with 18 to play. Nothing’s assured (see New York Mets circa 2007 for Exhibit A), but the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments is to date happening at low levels of intensity.

Except when Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches. Lord, have mercy and pass the Jon Lester.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

That's it man, game over man, game over!

Games 139-144: Yankees

Yankees 8, Rays 4
Rays 7, Yankees 5
Mariners 3, Yankees 1
Yankees 7, Mariners 4
Mariners 5, Yankees 2
Angels 12, Yankees 1
Record: 76-68

Well, I waited as long as I could on this one. Hell, I hoped I would never have to unleash this movie film gem. But, alas, the time is now. 9 back in the Wild Card race. 4th place in the AL East now (damn Blue Jays are winners of 8 in a row). Christ, I even have to watch the Red Sox now steal the division from the Cinderella Rays. I guess technically I should wait 'til the Yanks are 7 back with 17 to play (ahem), but when coolstandings.com gives the Yanks a 0.2% chance of winning the Wild Card, I think it's time to let Hudson talk/whine/scream:

Monday, September 08, 2008

Meatloaf

Games 141 through 143 - Phillies

Phillies 3, Mets 0
Phillies 6, Mets 2
Mets 6, Phillies 3
Record 78 wins, 65 losses - 2nd place, 2 GB NYM


The Phils could have awakened this morning to a 6 game deficit. That's the way I have to look at it. I am not going to focus on the lost opportunity on Sunday Night Baseball with the ace on the hill in a game the Mets absolutely needed to win to stave off then inevitable ensuing onslaught of naysayers and doubters that assuredly would have concocted amusing (if not creative) headlines on the back pages of the NYC tabloids. No, that would be focusing on the Touch of Grey. The silver lining is still there. The Phils went into Shea and took 2 of 3. As the great balladeer once crooned "Now don't be sad 'cause two outta three ain't bad." On the ten game road trip, they managed a 5-5 split. Considering that 7 games were against division leaders, that's acceptable.

That 9 - 7 loss the Nats last Wednesday will burn in my stomach if we finish a game back though. So, perhaps Jerry Garcia had a point.

Three weeks remain. Each squad has 19 games against essentially the same opponents. Both teams play the final week at home. The Mets schedule is a bit easier. 6 vs. the Nats, 6 vs. the Braves, 3 vs. Florida and 4 vs. the Cubbies. The Phils take on the Marlins for 6 games, the Nats for 3, the Braves for 6 and the Brewers for 4. Both teams play their toughest opponents (Chicago and Milwaukee) at home. There might be a slight edge to the Mets schedule with the 6 games vs. WAS and 3 games vs. FLA as opposed to the Phillies who play 3 against the former and 6 against the latter. That might be offset by the fact that the Mets have to play those Cubbies in the final week of the season while the Phillies finish up with the Braves and Nats. If the Phillies can stay within 2 games 14 days from now, they have a decent chance.

To the Mets I will offer this: What you have accomplished this year is quite extraordinary. Your injuries, your turmoil and the baggage carried over from last year have not done you in. The Phillies had most everything in their favor - relatively injury free and lots of good will from the fan base and media(relatively speaking.) Yet they find themselves being on the outside looking in and have to hope the Mets falter while they (the Phils) take care of business against teams they should beat. That is no easy task. When the dust settles, it may be the Phils this time around who will be sitting at home wondering WTF?

Impossible

Games 141 & 142 - Red Sox

Rangers 15, Red Sox 8
Red Sox 7, Rangers 2
Record: 84-58

Tampa Bay comes to Boston tonight for the most important series of the season for both teams.

Consider that sentence for a moment.

Yeah, I still can't make it make sense, either. A combination of solid play by the Sox (winners of six consecutive series) and sudden realization of the weight of the moment by the Rays (losers of 5 of 6 games, including a sweep at the hands of Toronto over the weekend) has tightened the AL East race considerably. The Sox trail by a mere 1 1/2 games as Jon Lester takes the ball against Edwin Jackson this evening.

Oh, and the Blue Jays are now in 3rd place. Meaning that...someone else is the 4th place team in the AL East.

As an aside, the middle game of the Sox/Rangers series was People's Exhibit A for the impossibility of Tim Wakefield as a postseason starter. On a hot night in Arlington, Wake's knuckler didn't - to the tune of 7 runs in less than 2 innings. I love that dude, but I'd love him to be able to watch the Sox in the postseason from the cozy confines of the dugout. Of course, the bullpen surrendered another 8 runs, and Tito doesn't have much choice but to let at least a few of those guys pitch, should the Sox close the deal and get into October.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Away

Games 138 through 140 - Red Sox

Red Sox 14, Orioles 2
Red Sox 5, Orioles 4
Red Sox 8, Rangers 1
Record: 83-57

Apologies for the light blogging of late. As it turns out, rowing on the Schuylkill River isn't terribly conducive to intelligent discourse. Or to whatever it is we do here.

While I was away, the Sox sandwiched a pair of laughers around the marshmallow fluff of one of the most bizarre endings a lad could want. The Orioles encapsulated the Peter Angelos regime quite nicely, combining baseball incompetence with apparent indifference as they squandered a 4-0 7th inning lead to the Sox, capping the collapse with a throwing error by pitcher Jim Miller that allowed Alex Cora to skip home with the winning run - the Sox tallied the game-ender on a single, badly defended bunt, criminally badly defended bunt sequence. The O's have been equal opportunity lapdogs in the past two weeks, so the Rays and Yankees can't complain too much.

Josh Beckett elicited sighs of relief last night, returning from a brief DL stint to toss five shutout innings at the Rangers. Mike Lowell also came off the shelf to drive in 4 runs on 3 hits. The timing, she is good.

Up 5 1/2 on the Twins (for whom the timing - in this case of the Republican National Convention - she is bad) in the Wild Card race and trailing the Rays by only 2 1/2. As I told my father last night, I'd like the Sox to get as healthy as they can over the next 3 weeks - the postseason is the objective, whichever road they take.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Laverne & Shirley

Game 140 - Mets

Mets 9, Brewers 2
Record: 79-61
1st Place in NL East by 3 games over PHL

Sometimes you have to watch the game to get a sense of the tension absent in the box score. People used to say that Gene Mauch could tell everything about a baseball game from the box score -- really had it down to an exact science. Well, I contend there's no way the late Mr. Mauch could have looked at the simple numerical representation of yesterday's 9-2 series sweeper against Milwaukee and get a feel for the first seven innings.

Oliver Perez is the classic "x-factor" in any game, especially a critical one. He's the wild card, the question mark, the mystery meat, the pitching rotation equivalent to pulling a set of keys out of a fish bowl. He can be nearly unhittable, or he can be void of any sense of where strikes should be thrown . . . and he can be both at the same time. Yesterday he was mostly the former, but there was enough of the latter to make Mets fans anxious for seven unnecessarily tight frames.

The Mets hadn't scored in the first inning in a few games, so to make up for it, they plated six in Top 1, thanks in large part to homers by Ryan Church and Brian Schneider (a "Jim Bowden Special"). Church's was a grand slam, his first in months, and a huge cushion for Ollie.

Enter Oliver Perez.

Ball 1.
Ball 2.
Strike 1 (foul).
Ball 3.
Ball 4.

And so begins the afternoon for Ollie. He'd start all five batters off with Ball 1 that inning, and only thanks to Gabe Kapler & Corey Hart repeatedly bailing him out by going fishing (it's Angler Imagery Day here at MLC, apparently), Ollie might've hooked himself with his own line. Or something. As it was, he skated in the 1st. (Ice fishing reference.)

With the Mets doing what they do best after a sizable early inning (i.e., putting goose eggs on the board for six straight frames), O.P. had to tighten up just a hair. Though he did go 1-0 to two of three batsmen in the second, he . . . well, he only faced three batsmen in the second, so you can guess how that went. In the third, he strategically fired a Nuke LaLoosh backstopper on Ball 4 so that the earlier batter he'd walked couldn't advance more than 90 feet. Shrewd. But no damage.

And so it went. The Brew Crew made very little good contact on Perez's offerings . . . and they were just impatient enough to try overly frequently. It was all so frustrating to them that when Bill Hall sent one up the chute, he damn near brained Brian Schneider with his infantile, Little League pound-the-plate-with-the-bat tantrum. Eventually, Ollie pinpointed the plate a bit, so that by the time the Brewers were wise enough to lay off, he was finding the corners. Case in point, the 5th inning, when he started the first three hitters off with a called strike. There was a window to capitalize on Wild Ollie, and Milwaukee didn't do it.

Meanwhile, the defense was airtight; one gaffe in the early innings could've spelled a big inning and yet another comeback for a Met opponent. Carlos Delgado's over the shoulder catch by the seats was the most surprising, but it was just one instance of the Metgloves keeping O.P. rolling along. And the bullpen not sucking . . . this we like. I won't gush for fear of being made to look the fool in a few days' time, but I have to give them credit. After seeing what AAA Baltimore's late-inning pitching & defense looked like yesterday against Rob's Sox . . . wow. We really don't have it so bad.

Rest day today, big BIG BIG series against the Phils this weekend. Super-duper "be careful what you wish for," but with Tropical Storm Hannah (aka "Hannah Storm" . . . I've got a million of them, folks) set to make her way up the coast, we might see a postponement until "down the stretch" of at least one of these games. Could . . get . . interesting.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sorry folks, park's closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

Game 138: Yankees

Yankees 7, Rays 2
Record: 74-64
  • Still 7 back in the Wild Card
  • Only 24 Games left
OK, as promised, it's haiku time...

Mike Mussina wins,
playoffs within reach, maybe?
Screw this I'm drinking

What I Like About You

Games 137 through 139 - Mets

Mets 6, Marlins 2
Mets 4, Brewers 2
Mets 6, Brewers 5 (10 inn.)
Record: 78-61

Over the course of a season, you look for reasons to believe in your team. You also look for reasons to connect with them, things about them that you inevitably enjoy. You want to like the team; you want to like their chances. The hapless 1962 Mets and the store-bought 2002 Yankees (Curtis Pride excepted) represent a drastic imbalance of those two wishes.

Rob connects on many levels with guys like Dustin Pedroia, diminutive overachievers with an extra dosage of scrap in them. At the other end of the uniform size spectrum, Big Papi still brings smiles. He also loves that the club's OBP is .362 on the year, tops in the AL and a substantial 11 points better than the second place team's. The team has a bead on the wild card, an eye on the Rays, and a veteran corps after the 2007 title. Likes his team, likes his chances.

Nick has griped about this guy and that guy -- as he is wont to do, with western PA coal-and-steel grumblebunny heritage. Still, he has to be enjoying what the trio of Cole Hamels, Bretty Myers, and -- unbelievably -- Jamie Moyer is doing in that lil' ol' ballyard lately. It exceeds expectation and damn near defies logic. On the other side of the ball, Chase Utley's quiet, workmanlike .929 OPS makes appreciators out of loyalists like Nick and naysayers like me. Jayson Werth? Overachiever. And with Jimmy Rollins waking up after a 4+-month nap, he could be a spark. Pat Burrell still brings out the worst in both of us at times, and Ryan Howard's K total is somethin' to behold, but by and large, this team more than likely has Nick liking the roster and their chances well enough.

Meanwhile . . . you can tell from Teejay's posts here that he's more than a little dissatisfied with the state of the Bombers. It's bad enough having to grit your teeth and root for ARod, but at least he's leading the regulars on the statistics page. (And in boos.) But bringing in guys like Sidney Ponson -- to a staff that has exactly 1 complete game this season -- isn't endearing the team to TJ's heart, and the owner whining all the way doesn't help, either. In truth, the Yanks are neither the villainous roster of yesteryear nor bereft of a shot at the postseason just yet. Based on Teej's work here, though, I'd say he's neither enamored of their chances, nor of the make-up of the team itself. (And yes, I included "make-up" with ARod in mind.)

And then there are the Mets. It's been a Loch Ness Monster of a season, and there is still a month left. I'll tell you why I sit here on September 3rd and like these Mets -- and their chances. Somewhere in the course of being a fat-payroll heavy favorite, the Mets strayed from the power hitters/power pitchers norm of such squads, and there was rarely more of a contrast to that model than last night against the Brewers.

The Brew Crew, a likable team themselves, has home run power throughout its lineup. "Dangerous" seems to be the most common descriptor for such a lineup. Home run threats galore. Still . . . when there is one out and men on second and third, they are at something of a disadvantage, amazingly enough. Huge whiffs by big bats in the Brewer order last night prevented them from tacking on extra runs that would likely have brought victory. Meanwhile, the Mets managed runs on groundouts and sac flies -- as is the norm, increasingly -- and eked a win out. A fairly key win, what with the Phightins taking on the venerable Nats and all.

The New York Mets have 840 strikeouts on the year, the lowest total in the National League. The Brewers, who sit fairly well entrenched in the wild card spot right now, have 1027 and counting. It's but one statistic amid a sea of debatably significant numbers. But it speaks to how the Mets, if they're going to get it done, will do so. They are 2nd in steals, third in walks, and near the top in OBP. A team that manufactures its runs will always have a shot, and will often be energizing to watch -- despite the lack of fireworks on display.

For the pitching staff, there aren't any numbers to give us renewed optimism (the Mets lead the league only in hit batsmen . . . look out, Chase), and tidbits like Pedro Martinez missing another start give us at least a little added concern. At the same time, the injury to Billy Wagner has continued to have exactly the desired effect my brother-in-law and I noticed a few games after it happened. The pen has somehow been galvanized while Jerry Manuel and Dan Warthen are bringing guys in based on situations and a case-by-case basis, not the pregame recipe. Even as Luis Ayala got earmarked for closing duties, he looked gimpy last night, a change may be in order, and you know we'll adjust.

I am simply appreciating the way the Mets are going about their business right now. A roster that includes Endy, Golden Boy, and Jose Reyes of the Flushing Reyeses (they total 3 now) will almost always get some of my endorsement regardless. Add in a Ryan Church, a once-again-smiling Carlos Delgado, and upstarts like Daniel "Magictone" Murphy, and I like this team. As for their chances . . . I'll just say they're on the right road, and that's something I wouldn't have said not that long ago.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Chi Chi, get the yeyo

Game 137: Yankees

Yankees 13, Tigers 9
Record: 73-64
Yep, the Yankees won last night. And yes, this is actually the second day in a row I've posted. The world is ending...soon. Some homeless guy just told me.

Look, the Yankees scored 13 runs on 17 hits. Alex Rodriguez did well, or so the box score said. The staff still managed to give up 9 runs. Sidney Ponson is still the Aruban Hideki Irabu.

None of that matters. I come here today to highlight the major league debut of one Phillip "8 Ball Of" Coke. #48 in your scorebook, #1 in your nose. Mr. Coke threw one solid inning in his MLB debut, even striking out two Tigers. Plus, his last name is Coke. Don't you see how much fun we can have with his name?? Don't you see it??????

God this season is wearing on me. See you tomorrow, when I recap tonight's sure loss to the 1st place Tampa Bay Rays in haiku.