Random Thoughts on a Championship Season
1. I am a member of the small subset of Beatles fans who preferred Paul to John. Hence the title of this post is both an homage to the Phillies famous street address and a rather awful Paul McCartney movie from 1984. Anyone remember "No More Lonely Nights?" No? It did feature a soulful Dave Gilmour lick.
2. In 1980, the Phillies' World Series victory was cathartic but not necessarily something I remember sitting back and appreciating. This is different. Clearly, baseball has a different priority in the life of a 42-year-old father of 4 than it does in the life of a 14 year old high school freshman. I didn't want this one as badly as I did way back then but the flip side is I won't be disappointed next year when some other team hoists that garish World Series trophy. I was a wreck in 1981. I stil hate that year!
3. Congratulations to the Phillies' young stars who each contributed - Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. You each have earned the right to be considered true stars of the game.
4. Congratulations to the guys for whom this world title is redemption. May no one ever link Brad Lidge to Albert Puljols again. May everyone appreciate that while he never became a beastly hitting machine that earned him the nickname Pat the Bat, Pat Burrell was a justified #1 draft pick in 1998.
5. Congratulations old man Jamie Moyer. Your story would be a wonderful tale of hard work, grit and determination if you simply hailed from Minot, North Dakota. The fact that you went home to the city in which you grew up to win a championship in the twilight of your career - and you did it by leading your rotation in victories while mentoring your young mates - well my friend, that is the stuff of legend.
6. Congratulations to the the little man, the Flyin' Hawaiian - Shane Victorino! Make no mistake, this is your team Shane.
7. Congratulations to Carlos Ruiz and Pedro Feliz - your unexpected contributions with your bats were a pleasant surprise and a much needed shot in the arm to the offense when the experts kept pounding on the team's poor situational hitting.
8. Congratulations to the bullpen and the bench and the steady hand of Jason Werth. All great teams have professionals that do their jobs well.
9. Congratulations to Uncle Charlie and Stand Pat Gillick. No one is second guessing you now.
10. Congratulations to all those Phillies fans that don't swear in front of children, who do not pelt Santa with snowballs. To those who don't wear T-shirts featuring messages ryming Tony Romo's surname with a slur. Those who don't cheer E-A-G-L-E-S at Phillies games. Those who remember 1980. Those who went to the Vet time and again even when the team was going nowhere as it usually was.
11. This World Championship is for all those who fell by the wayside but certainly tried to make it happen years and years earlier. John Kruk, Mitch Williams, Jim Fregosi, Johnny Podres, Dutch and the Dude, Mike Lieberthal, Doug Glanville, Terry Mulholland, Mickey Morandini, Bobby Abreu, Larry Bowa, Von Hayes, Juan Samuel, Rico Brogna and Jim Thome. This is also for Tito. I know you ended up in a better place but what you went through here makes you worthy. You will always be a Phillie in some small way. There are others I am sure. Time takes its toll fellas.
12. This World Championship is most certainly not for a number of fellas who were too damn impatient or self absorbed to make it happen here. You know who you are. Unfortunately, you were rewarded for your petulance. No matter, you're not one of us. You're dead to me.
13. This World Championship is also for my father. Tata - I am sorry this has happened to me twice while you have watched 71 Octobers fade away empty handed. I know you are happy for me and that inside, you, like all Cubs fans, are our baseball kin. Believe me, I'd trade this one in a heartbeat just to get you one. Just one.
14. To Whitney, TJ and Rob - thanks for inviting me to this forum. Rob, I don't see what is so tough about those Rays! TJ - The Philies have more championships in this century than the Yanks! Remember the year 2000 belongs to the last century. Whitney, we caught you - 2 for the Mets, 2 for the Phils! I like carving up reality to enhance my self esteem. Seriously, I apologize for making a mockery of misery this year. I will try to do better next year.
15. No hot stove talk until after Thanksgiving, OK? I just want to do a little sun soaking.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Random Thoughts on a Championship Season
Thursday, October 30, 2008
As much disdain as I have for stereotypical Philadelphians, Phils fans, and the Phillies -- and it's a lot -- in the waning moments of last night's game, I found myself happy about the result because of Nick.
I don't know any die-hard Rays fans (that's a joke) but I know some ever-lovin' Phightins Phans, and there are some diamonds in that rough, rough lot. Here's to our late, great friend Evan "Earl" Lloyd, whose time in heaven now includes Ohio State and Phillies championships, giving us all hope of a blessed afterlife.
And here's to Nick, who, once he decided to pony up again for the Extra Innings ticket and spend way too much time on a silly blog writing about his team, saw 28 years fall by the wayside. The applications for inclusion at MLC are pouring in from Cubs and Indians fans. Yanks fans, not so much.
So here's pretty much the only thing I got right this year.
Oh . . . and at least the Eagles never won anything (yet).
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
By now, everyone knows the comedy of errors that led to last night’s suspension of Game 5 with the game tied at 2 in the middle of the 6th. Before I go on to comment here, let me make it clear that I certainly did NOT want the Phils to win a rain shortened game. I’d rather lose if it came to that. Still, I am a bit peeved. Here is why.
It’s no mystery that MLB does not call the shots on whether these games are played or not. It’s unfortunate that these decisions are now made de facto by the TV network – in this case Fox. What I cannot understand is why no one at Fox or MLB has a reasonable contingency plan for such situations as last night. It was October 27th in Philadelphia. The chance that we’d see rain was pretty good actually.
There are two things that could have rescued baseball from another self inflicted wound last night.
1 – Get rid of the 5 inning rule for the post season. In fact, you should probably dump it from the last week of the season through the post season. No one wants to win a rain-shortened 5 inning game in the pennant drive or post season. If you get rid of the 5 inning rule, you wouldn’t have subjected the Phillies to the top of the 6th when the Rays conveniently tied the game. I am not saying the Rays are unworthy of the tie at this point, I am simply pointing out it could have been a whole lot worse for the Phillies given the weather conditions and then where would we be? The Phillies were lucky to escape the inning tied. Presumably, when the Rays take the field when this game eventually resumes, they will do so in markedly improved conditions. Does that seem fair?
2 – 154 games. Look, we have an extra round in the playoffs which have now shoved the World Series into the final week in October. Given that half of all Major League teams play in the Northeast, Midwest or Rocky Mountains, it’s a good bet that inclement weather will affect the World Series. Dropping the 8 games and restoring the pre 1961 schedule will allow the World Series to start in mid-October and be done by the 22nd or 23rd.
Beyond these two, MLB still should have canned this game after the 2nd inning. What a shame.
OK, now onto Game 5, part II whenever that resumes. Let’s call it Game 5.67. The Phils will get 12 outs, the Rays 9. That’s a huge advantage. The Phils of course, have that great bullpen. It will be interesting to see how Charlie approaches this game. Will he treat it like a normal game in the 6th inning or will he treat it for what it has become, a 3.5 inning game? If Bret Myers wasn’t so shaky in the early innings, I’d “start” him. However, we cannot afford to give up a single run, not until we plate a run. So who will get the ball in the 7th? The Rays will have the 6, 7 & 8 batters – Navarro (S), Baldelli (R) and Bartlett (R). A pinch hitter will follow if someone gets on. I don’t see why you don’t go to Madson and ask him to pitch two innings. If the Phillies can get that run, and trot Madson out for 2 innings followed by Lidge, I’d like their chances. Of course, the greater mystery would be just who Joe Maddon sends out for the bottom of the 6th.
This may all play out tonight, or tomorrow, or later. Who knows? Did I mention it’s been 28 years? I can wait.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Phillies 10, Rays 2
Series: Phillies 3 - 0
Hey seamheads! You know what you can do with your "runners in scoring position" stat! Looks like you may need to redefine the term "scoring position." I have told you all year long, this team does not manufacture runs. It vomits them.
Of course, there is a downside to that approach. I just hope a 3 games to 1 edge affords them a little room if they come crashing down from that long ball buzz.
There is no better scenario for the Phillies than the one which has presented itself to them for tonight's Game 5 in Philly. Up 3-1. They have Hamels with the ball in his hand. They're facing Kazmir who they were able to score on early back at the Trop. Howard has found his mojo. Utley and Rollins too. Pete Happy has chipped in. Carlos Ruiz has joined in the homer happiness. And now, it appears Joe Blanton is a nice right handed hitter coming off the bench.
I think this team knows its all theirs for the taking. I am confident they will come out relaxed and ready. Still, the Rays have shown their mettle so until that last slider from Lidge sails into Ruiz's glove unmolested, I won't rest.
28 years is a long time. That's all I can say.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Game 1 in St. Petersburg - Cole Hamels vs. Scott Kazmir
Wow, I am really sorry I had to do that!
For the first time since the one hit wonder group Tag Team charted their sole #1 song in 1993, the team that inexplicably adopted that hideous affront to music has made it back to the World Series. I suspect there is a correlation there. The '79 Pirates are in year 29 of their mandated 50 year exile to the Gulag for adopting "We Are Family." Makes one wonder what song the 1908 Cubs adopted, eh?
I am excited to get this series underway. Sadly, I wish it were over already. I am not good with handling the drama. I'd rather be watching the highlights and leave the suffering to the masochists. Suffer I will though. Still, I have a feeling Cole Hamels just might be special as I am sure his mother says he is when he takes the hill tonight. It's what happens after that that scares me. Baby steps. Baby steps.
Let's get it on!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Perspective is a remarkable thing, a healer of ill tempers, a firewall against the tempting rage at potential thwarted. Five postseasons, four American League Championship Series, and two World Series in six seasons is an embarrassment of riches. My oldest daughter, born in 2001, has seen as many Red Sox postseasons in her life as her father did in the 31 years before her birth. So while gnashing of teeth and bitter disappointment may seem to be the order of the day (and would clearly have been even a few short years ago), my overwhelming emotions this morning are gratitude (for the Sox) and respect (for the Rays).
The Red Sox finally lost an ALCS elimination game after winning nine such do-or-die contests in succession dating back to 2004. In so doing, they remind us of the utter improbability in that statistic and the iron will in that stubborn refusal to accept defeat quietly. They remind us, too, of those moments spent hoping, wishing, pleading against logic for one more pitch, one more inning, one more game followed by involuntary yelps of glee, cathartic leaps, uninhibited joy. A loss amidst hope is a small price to pay after so many victories produced when hope was such a fragile thing.
As for the Rays, their youth and inexperience masked a fire and will every bit as strong as that of the Sox. Ask the 2004 Yankees or the 2007 Indians how hard it is to resist the momentum of a team back from the brink of elimination. That’s a really good team, managed and led well, and I’d caution any fans of the Phils who may be breathing a sigh of relief this morning to be careful what they wish for.
Apologies to all who came here this morning expected (hoping?) to read one last profane rant. In the final analysis, it’s hard to be anything but appreciative of a Sox team that came within three thin runs of yet another improbable comeback despite fielding a newly patched lineup and fraying rotation.
I suppose I’ll recap the season at some point, but the stage belongs to Nick now. I can’t decide whether I want to read about joyous release or futility renewed.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Red Sox 8, Rays 7
Red Sox trail 3-2
Four years from yesterday, to the day, the Sox got mauled by the Yankees to go down 3-0 in the ALCS. Five years from J.D. Drew's game-ending single, to the minute, Aaron Boone homered off Tim Wakefield and left me with the most sickening feeling I've ever experienced as a sports fan. After yesterday, it's fair to say that the Sox have rehabilitated October 16.
As SOSHer thrawnqq noted with some degree of awe in the game thread from last night's absurd ALCS Game 5, "...with what we have seen, it is hard to believe that we can still be amazed." And even so, I'm filled once again with a giddy absurdist glee, a most unexpected and intense joy.
Which, to be completely honest, is accompanied by a measure of chagrin. I admit that I stopped believing. The Sox were down 7-0 when I told my wife I was going to stay up to see the end of the season. Just like in 2004, I'd begun composing the season's eulogy in my head. The Sox were not just losing; they were getting embarrassed on their way to losing three straight at home to a team that was clearly better.
The Sox were dead. Dead. The crowd was leaving, the bench appeared to be lifeless. Thousands of people, including my neighbor, went to bed knowing the season was over. Teejay was gleefully texting me.
And then, like Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp walking across a river in a hail of gunfire, defiantly screaming "NO!", the Sox just refused to die. In the bottom of the 7th, Coco Crisp singled to put runners on first and third with two outs. Alive. Dustin Pedroia faced a 2-strike count before blooping a ball to right to deny the shutout. Alive. David Ortiz summoned his postseason aura one more time, blasting a no-doubt thunderbolt into deep right. Alive. Jonathan Papelbon blew the Rays away in the top of the 8th. Alive. Jason Bay walked to start the bottom of the 8th, and then J.D. Drew put one of the purest swings you'll ever see on a Dan Wheeler offering. 7-6, Rays. Alive. Mark Kotsay doubled with two outs, finally getting a ball past B.J. Upton. Alive. Crisp fought off pitch after pitch and ripped Wheeler's 10th offering to right to plate Kotsay. ALIVE!
Justin Masterson shook off a pair of baserunners in the top of the 9th. Alive. Kevin Youkilis chopped a ball to third with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, and Evan Longoria threw it away after making a splendid play with his glove. Alive, and Fenway buzzed with a low hum of contagious postseason expectation. And then, after Tampa walked Bay intentionally, Drew crushed a J.P. Howell changeup over rightfielder Gabe Gross' head to score Youkilis with the most improbable game-winner. ALIVE!!!
The second-greatest comeback in postseason history now ranks as the third-greatest playoff game in my memory - and only because the stakes are thismuch lower after two championships in four seasons. Tampa's still the odds-on favorite to go through to the World Series, but the Sox are alive. And I've once again learned that this era's Sox don't go gently into that good night.
Man, baseball is a great game.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
We’re different creatures. Philadelphians and me. It’s manifest at this moment in time.
Last evening, in the warm Southern California gloaming, the Phillies captured their first pennant in 15 years, the sixth in the franchise’s woeful 126 year history. As I watched Brad Lidge put the finishing touches on yet another sure thing – the Phils are an amazing 86 and 0 when leading after 8 innings this year – I felt a sense of relief for the franchise, its fans and mostly the players. This has been a long time coming. The seeds were sewn over a decade ago when the franchise hired Mike Arbuckle to lead its player development. Many players who were once thought of as building blocks were moved either because they became impatient with the process (think Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling) while others were dealt away in hopes of getting some value in return (Bobby Abreu and Gavin Floyd.) Either way, the final product took nearly a decade as two managers fell by the wayside. Terry Francona went on to better things I guess. He was canned for being too laid back. Larry Bowa – who has since landed in some nifty places such as the Bronx and LA – was fired for being too high strung. The players and the manager that finally found the right stuff to bring home a pennant have given me that sense of joy and relief in equal measure. And though I’d like to see this team bring home the World Series trophy in a few weeks, I won’t be too disappointed if they do not. That’s what makes me a different creature from those Philadelphians. Not better, just different. (Well OK, I probably am a bit better but that’s a topic for another time.)
I am not a native of William Penn’s fair city and quite frankly, I really don’t like their abrasive personality (we’re accepting generalizations here.) What’s more, I really dislike the way they revel in their national image as being an unruly, angry and generally unhappy town. I understand why they choose to live up to this unflattering stereotype; I just don’t like it. Philadelphians will not be happy unless the Phils bring home the hardware. That’s because for them, a championship will exercise the ghosts, expel the demons and pile drive the monkey off their collective back. It will assuage the inferiority complex they so shamefully display before their brethren in NY and Boston. And therein lies the rub.
Philly needs a championship to rebuild a sense of civic pride. Their suffering kindred souls in Boston and Chicago did not. BoSox fans had as much pride in their star-crossed history as Yanks fans had in their gluttonous good fortune. Cub fans, I fear, actually prefer losing so they can go on concentrating on what they do best, drinking Old Style. ChiSox fans, completely unlike Phillies fans, reveled in their anonymity both within the Windy City and the Nation. Granted, fans in Boston and Chicago had the good fortune of being able to hang their hat on the championships won by their other sports teams and that probably accounts for why Philly is different. Philly is a big town. It’s an old town. It has as much rich history as any town in America, maybe more. It is the birthplace of the American Revolution. The past 25 years though, have been awfully quiet and the city doesn’t exactly come to mind in conversations about the truly great cities of this country. Drive on up I-95 from DC toward Baltimore and take notice that the signs display the distance to Baltimore and New York as if there is nothing but farmland in between the two. That sums up what Philadelphians are so damn pissed off about.
I’m not about that however. Oh, I have an inferiority complex alright. It’s just not the same one as these clowns have. That’s why as incomprehensible as it may seem to them, I am contentedly giddy today. I feel good and regardless of how the World Series plays out, I will look back on this season like I did on ’93 and ’83. That is, this team played up to its potential and gave me no regrets. Memories of pennants lost in the horrid Aprils of the past 7 years are fading. This club has finally done it.
Hard to believe Harry.
(This post is a result of my initial reaction. We have a lot of down time until the World Series gets underway. I hope to post something a little livelier by then!)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Rays 13, Red Sox 4
Red Sox trail 3-1
This game…there was something familiar about it. Something foul and dank, redolent of autumns past, hopes seemingly crushed, hearts once again broken. It smelled for all the world like Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, with the Rays reprising the Yankees’ role, dominant, arrogant (deservedly), and victorious.
Though my memory is admittedly imperfect, I recall things working out fairly well four years ago. And more recently, the Sox spotted the Indians a 3-1 ALCS lead in 2007 before clawing back to win the pennant.
But this is 2008, and in 2008, there’s no Kevin Millar stage-whispering “Don’t let us win one” to any willing listener, no Cowboy Up, no Idiots, no bloody sock. These Sox, while good and entirely capable, are also a banged up, slumping patchwork. Mike Lowell’s gone for the year, David Ortiz is a shell of himself, Jacoby Ellsbury can’t buy a hit any more than he can buy alcohol without ID, Josh Beckett’s duende is on siesta, poor Tim Wakefield’s knuckler doesn’t. All that’s left, then, is hope. Small consolation, perhaps, after three dismal performances, but 2004 and 2007 proved in spades the redemptive value of that ephemeral commodity.
As for the action on the field last night, the description begins and ends with the Rays – the Red Sox were nothing so much as the Washington Generals. Tampa is talented, deep, and extraordinarily athletic. Watching B.J. Upton play baseball is a study in grace and power – he moves like a leopard, languid and ferocious in equal measure. Carl Crawford is slightly less silky, but blazingly fast, muscular, and versatile. Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura are dazzling around the bag at second. Evan Longoria has a perfect swing. Carlos Pena covers every inch of the plate and crushes everything that’s close to his sweet spot. The bit players contribute a full share – witness Willy Aybar’s 5 RBI performance last night. The Rays pitchers have been aggressive and confident throughout, Scott Kazmir’s Game 2 stumble notable in its solitary nature.
So yeah, the Rays have proven beyond a measure of doubt that they belong on this stage. Outside of Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon, these Sox haven’t.
One more chance. Lotta ball left.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
--Phillies' pinch hitter Matt Stairs who hit the go ahead two run home run last evening to put the Phillies up 3 games to one in the NLCS.
Brotherly love indeed! Nice work Matt.
Hey Whitney, does Shane Victorino remind you of any diminutive Mets' (and later Phillies') outfielder sans the steroids and tobacco juice? I'm talking as a ballplayer of course, not as a character.
All is well on the Western Front. The Phils are taking care of business in a fashion which is deleterious on the hearts of their Phans but seemingly nourishing to this club. SoCal boy Cole Hamels will attempt to close down the NLCS tomorrow night. The Phils are, as Red Barber so often like to say, are in the catbird's seat.
Monday, October 13, 2008
In Game 3 against the Brewers, Moyer never got past the fourth inning. Yesterday in LA, he got shellacked for 6 runs and was unable to escape the second inning.
Did I mention he's 45? Actually, he's almost 46. His birthday is in 39 days.
Yesterday is one of those games where you wish the Phils would have gone for the jugular and put to rest any idea the good folks in Dodgerland may have entertained about making this a series. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen. Not to this Dodger club. Still, as Bill Parcels once (might have) said, when two teams are evenly matched, go with the club that needs it more. To the Dodgers credit, they came out quickly and took all the pressure off themselves. Bully for them. That's a fairly decent ball club over there and they aren't going to fold.
I am not concerned at all about Moyer. He's in great shape and has proven many times this season that he can follow up lousy efforts with sparkling gems. He's pitched 35 games including the two postseason starts and only 7 times did he pitch how I would characterize as "lousy." After each of those 7 lousy starts, he came back to win 5 games, lost one and had one no decision. In each game, he pitched well. At his age, I think his experiences in the big leagues, his guile and his mental toughness are pretty reliable. Jamie doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who will take this shelling to the mound with him to his next start.
Beyond Jamie, the team was due for a funk. They were brilliant in staring down Lowe in Game 1 and opportunistic in jumping all over Billingsly in Game 2. They were due to serve up a dud. They gathered only 7 hits and scored only twice. Five of the hits were singles. Each of the two doubles were plated by a follow up single. That was the extent of the Phillies' rallies last night. Even if Moyer was sharp, at best he would have probably logged a no decision given the lack of run support. Before anyone suggests the poor run support was a result of the Phillies' hitters pressing because of the huge early deficit, I would suggest you haven't been watching this club all year. If any club can survive a early 0-5 deficit, its these laid back dudes. They didn't because Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda is pretty good. No need for analyzing this. This is Philly, not New York.
It’s on to Game 4. Let's see if spacious Chavez Ravine can erase the memories Derek Lowe has of his masterpiece gone awry in Citizens Bank last Wednesday. Let's see if Joe Blanton can match is NLDS clinching effort against Milwaukee. The pressure is still on LA. It will probably be that way in Game 5 even if LA evens this up tonight. I have to admit though, a win tonight would allow me to relax a bit.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Red Sox 2, Rays 0
Red Sox lead 1-0
By dint of an egregious lack of calendar savvy and unwillingness to spend the next several weeks sleeping in the guest room, I found myself in a darkened movie theater (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - two thumbs up, if you like your coming of age movies with a dollop of pro-gay humor, moderately awkward lead actors, and some indie rock) at 8:37 EST last night as James Shields threw the first pitch of the 2008 ALCS to Jacoby Ellsbury. And through the magic of DVR, I didn't miss a moment of game action.
The dichotomy of Daisuke Matsuzaka was on full display last night, the mystical Easterner exploring the duality of man throughout what ultimately was a splendid performance. Of note, he walked the bases loaded in the first, but didn't give up a hit until the 7th. He put runners on the corners with none out in the 7th, and didn't so much as allow them to twitch a muscle in retiring the next three batters. Batters hit .164 against Dice-K with runners in scoring position - it's almost as if he enjoys degree of difficulty. For the record, if he's reading, I enjoy it quite somewhat less.
Matsuzaka's bullpen mates studied well at the feet of the implacable escape artist, turning his two-runners-on, none-out jam in the 8th inning into an adventurous pop to right on a 3-0 count (Carlos Pena vs. Hideki Okajima) and a rally-killing 6-4-3 double-up (Evan Longoria vs. Justin Masterson).
Jonathan Papelbon brooked no Zen in his 9th inning appearance, bringing some seriously straightforward Western heat entirely lacking in nuance. His 1-2-3 frame was exactly the kind of drama-free closure this particular onlooker desired.
And with that, the Sox have yanked home-field advantage from the Rays in a yard that had been nothing so much as a torture chamber for the Boston 9 this season. I don't mean to be greedy, and all, but now I'd prefer not to settle for a split. And with Josh Beckett having something to prove tonight, I can't complain about the Sox' prospects this evening.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Still, post I must and so here it goes.
My oldest son Peter is a fairly bright young man. He’s 9 years old and demonstrates the intellectual curiosity that reassures a parent that the kid is in fact, alright. The boy posits rather extraordinary questions I must say. I’m not talking about where babies come from or why school buses are yellow. I am talking about questions related to existentialism, materialism and truth. No kidding, the lad recently asked me about truth and how we can come to know it. That puts him a step ahead of Pontius Pilate who feebly cried “Uncle!” when Truth twisted his arm. When he lands such sucker punches on my unsuspecting chin, I scramble furiously into damage control more quickly than a campaign operative fending off a bribery scandal. It’s not so much that his questions waylay me; of course they do. It’s that he deftly produces them from the cover of a series of mundane, 9 year old level questions. And so I lay awake at nights rehearsing for these moments but when the pressure is on, I flail about meekly like John Kruk fending off Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star game. My modus operandi is to go all shock and awe on him. I let forth a blitzkrieg of mangled Thomistic philosophy that I barely understand myself. He usually tunes me out pretty quickly and before long, we move on from such weighty questions to more childlike inquiries about which Star Wars character I think is cooler - Jango or Boba Fett? I’ll sense I am losing him and so I’ll try to stay one step ahead by turning the tables on him, getting him to answer the question himself. The end result is that, well….we won’t know until he goes off to college and either starts wearing black eye liner or takes a semester abroad studying ancient Prussian history.
This all brings me to last night’s game. Peter was be bopping along on the family computer searching for all things related to Republican Gun Ships while I took in the first 5 frames of the NLCS occasionally shouting to him whenever his favorite player – Pat Burrell – came to the plate. Derek Lowe was most effectively reinforcing conventional wisdom as he effortlessly cruised through the Phillies’ lineup once and then twice. The Phillies repeatedly pounded the ball into the infield turf so that it now resembles the old concrete floor of the Vet. However, as someone somewhere in history supposedly said, "the third time's a charm." Shane Victorino’s speed was the cause behind Rafael Furcal’s errant throw’s effect. As these events usually unfold, the result was Derek Lowe’s comfort level being greatly disrupted. Chase Utley rocketed the first Lowe offering into the absurdly short right field porch changing the direction of the game irreversibly in the Phillies favor. In a mixture of extreme elation and comforting relief, I screamed over to Peter to come witness this shot. He ambled over and with his interest peaked, stuck around to watch Ryan Howard and the meat of the order. I credit the boy, he knows that after hitter number six, it’s OK to find something to do until Jimmy comes up again. Anyway, Howard hit into The Shift and up came Pat the Bat. Peter was pumped. He was fake swinging a home run cut. Burrell, as he often times does, worked the count. Lowes’ 3-1 offering was jettisoned in no time at all just beyond the flower beds in left center and Peter and I awkwardly (but not unexpectedly) missed each other badly on a father-son high five. We righted ourselves immediately by trying it again; this time in slow motion.
So what does this have to do with my son? I think it gives me some street cred. Look, I talk so damn much that there is no doubt in my mind the boy knows I am half full of shit. However, I do want him to know that the other half must be filled with something good. He needs to know the old man isn’t a complete poser. Granted, the outcome of a league championship series has little to do with my value as a father but we do share moments of baseball talk where I explain what a slider does and why sinker ballers are tough on home run hitters. I gave him the pregame skinny on why the Phils would be in for a long night and how they needed to approach the game. “Lowe” and behold, they came through as hoped and for one night, what I said was the truth actually was the truth.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Game 1: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Game 2: Josh Beckett
Game 3: Jon Lester
Game 4: Tim Wakefield
Game 5: Matsuzaka
Game 6: Beckett
Game 7: Lester
Allow me to say that I don't particularly like waiting until Game 3 to roll out the team's best starter. Allow me further to note that the idea of having to watch Tim Wakefield (obligatory I love Tim Wakefield here) in a game where the Sox may be down 2-1 or 3-0 is a whole bunch of terrifying. Finally, allow me also to say that Terry Francona knows a whole truckload more about postseason baseball than I do.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Red Sox 3, Angels 2
Red Sox win, 3-1
In the span of two innings last night, I went from counting down the outs, to mild apprehension over two-out walks, to cursing angrily and loudly in an otherwise quiet house with sleeping children, to cautious optimism, to exasperated frustration (aside: Mark Teixeria could play on my team any time), to leaping, hollering, fist-pumping glee, courtesy of Jed Lowrie and Jason Bay.
For much of the seven preceding innings, I alternated between an appreciation bordering on awe for Jon Lester’s continued transition into an elite pitcher and a gnawing concern for the missing Sox offense. The somewhat surprising Lowrie/Jason Varitek combo alleviated the latter worry with help from Jacoby Ellsbury and (finally) Dustin Pedroia, and the only thing Lester did wrong was fail to convince Terry Francona to leave him in the game after seven innings and 108 pitches.
In the quiet calm of the day after, an objective observer would note that the Sox clearly and definitively outplayed the Angels in nearly every phase of the game. (And as soon as I find that objective observer, I’ll confirm this.) Allegedly the league’s best and most well-rounded team, Los Angeles made repeated unforced errors in the field and on the basepaths and saw their starters and relievers outpitched. The vaunted Angels running game was non-existent, and their allegedly world-class closer wasn’t (note to Whitney and his friend Omar: run screaming from the urge to give that guy $75m over 5 years). It was the Sox who played nearly mistake-free baseball, who did the little things that carry magnified import in the postseason, and who were obviously the better team.
But I come here not to bury the Angels, but to forget them. Bigger fish to fry, and all that. The offices of Major League Baseball are filled with a giddy enthusiasm this morning, middle managers hugging secretaries, mail clerks high-fiving, and Bud Selig hiking his pants up over his belly button and skipping out into the middle of the cubicle farm to issue a hearty Huzzah! The league’s got two terrific LCS matchups, both on the field and in terms of the story lines.
The appeal of the Sox/Rays matchup is obvious – the scrappy underdog/long-time champion matchup dates back to when David and Goliath were scatting and bebopping around the Peloponnesus (note – may not have been Peloponnesus). It is a measure of the still-newness of this baseball world order that I’m struggling mightily with the idea of rooting for Goliath. Every non-Sox fan in America had better be rooting for the Rays, lest they be accused of having no soul. And for what it’s worth, what Joe Maddon and his team has accomplished this season is remarkable – I even like those guys, except for that contemptible scumbag Jonny Gomes.
Meanwhile, in the Senior Circuit, two old line teams with new chassis go at it. My spidey sense sees a whole lot of Grady Little in Charlie Manuel, but that may just be long-buried psychoses raising the last of their ebbing powers. I’m rooting for Manny, but I’m also rooting for Nick – really, just like MLB, I’d love to see this one go the distance.
Lotta ball left. Stay on target.
Phillies win 3 games to 1.
Next up: NLCS - Dodgers vs. Phillies
Rob’s Sox are hoping to avoid zigzagging the country while trying to advance to the ALCS. Meanwhile, my Phightin’ Phils deftly fended off any notion of a Brewer comeback by resolutely shutting down the Milwaukee lineup on Sunday setting up an East Coast vs. West Coast National League Championship Series with LA’s authentic team – the Dodgers.
The Dodgers and Phillies go back 125 years but history (of course) has heavily favored the Dodgers. Since the inception of the World Series in 1903, The Dodgers have won 18 NL titles (tops in the league) to Philly’s paltry 5 (last among the legacy franchises.) But hey, we have the edge since 1980; 3 pennants to 2! Of course, the Dodgers parlayed those two pennants into more significant accomplishments.
None of this ancient history matters now. Both teams were pegged as contenders before the start of the season but they took divergent paths to get to the NLCS. The Phillies NLCS roster will contain a few changes from opening day but no change compares to the change in LA. One man (not really sure if he is merely a man) alone has transformed the Dodgers from mediocrity to arguably the favorite to win the 2008 NL pennant. Rob is familiar with him. Question is, does Rob pine to see this man milling about in front of the Green Mawnsta? Manny will most assuredly be THE factor in the 2008 NLCS. The BBTN analysts John Kruk and Eduardo Perez pick LA. Krukkie cites the sinkerballers Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsly as the perfect 1-2 punch to counter the Phillies’ over-reliance on the long ball lately. Perez claims that LA’s lineup is a set thing while the Phillies will have to tinker with batting orders and starters and defensive replacements.
Me? I think it’s a tossup. The Phillies’ rotation was a huge question mark going into the NLDS. After the efforts put forth by Hamels, Myers, Blanton and even Moyer in the loss, the Phils have to feel pretty good. Each pitcher worked through the 6th with Hamels going 8 and Myers logging 7. As a result, the pen is rested and Brad Lidge is back on his game. I am worried about the return to the “wait around for the 3 run homer” offensive philosophy but I do know the Phillies are capable of small ball if necessary. I hope they are relaxed and are ready to get creative if necessary. Regardless, I sense this Dodger team is gelling and would not be surprised if they continued to coast right on by the Phillies on their way to the big show. While that would be disappointing, it would not be heartbreaking.
Finally, I am speechless when it comes to the demise of the Cubs. I have not spoken with my dad but I am sure he is not the least bit bothered by it. He is beyond that. I suspect most Cub fans are. When the Cubs do win someday, there will be joy and revelry but I am quite certain it will have been diminished by 100+ years of dulling the most ardent fans' senses. People are a bit different than dogs you know. They still remember the bad shit you did even when you finally do right by them. What a shame 1908 – 2008. It would have jump stared the economy with memorabilia sales. No sense of history, those damn Cubs!
Angels 5, Red Sox 4 (12)
Red Sox lead 2-1
The Baseball Gods did everything they could last night, but the Sox stubbornly refused their assistance, and in the end suffered for it, despite the otherworldly efforts of their own semi-deity, the Greek/Jewish God of Being Awesome at Baseball.
By rights, the Angels should have waltzed to an easy, 4-0 win. Instead, Jacoby Ellsbury drove in 3 runs in the 2nd with a pop fly single that fell between 3 Angels’ fielders and later “doubled” to left on a ball that glanced off the glove of nervous leftfielder Garrett Anderson. Ellsbury came around to score on Kevin Youkilis’ double to square the game at 4 in the bottom of the 5th. Ellsbury’s 3-run single was the first such play in postseason history. And the Sox looked that karmic gift horse squarely in the kisser.
First, it was Josh Beckett playing the role of Paul Byrd, struggling mightily even to get through 5 innings. Then, while the Sox bullpen was busy piling up zeros, the offense spent the better part of the game’s final 7 innings alternating between confused impotence and game of inches frustration. (Note: the use of the words ‘impotence’ and ‘inches’ in close proximity has no deeper meaning. Though it’s possible that the Viva Viagra marketing campaign may be influencing my blogging.) Dustin Pedroia hit several hard shots right at fielders, and the Sox loaded the bases in the 9th against the Angels’ allegedly dominant closer before Jed Lowrie lined out sharply to right. The Sox squandered a pair of leadoff baserunners in extra frames and finally went down meekly.
Kevin Youkilis, though, was anything but meek in this defeat. He pounded out a pair of hits, including the aforementioned game-tying double, but he saved his best efforts for the field. Youks was all over the place at firstbase, ranging to his left and right to snare grounders, sliding to the bag to beat an onrushing baserunner, charging a 50/50 chopper to ensure it stayed fair to retire Erick Aybar, and generally leading by example (and by obscenely gruesome beard). He may not be the AL MVP (my vote goes to Joe Mauer), but I’d be hard-pressed to find a more valuable member of the Sox. Youks’ value is even more pronounced as Mike Lowell’s injury worsens and J.D. Drew’s back stiffens.
The Sox weren’t winning 11 games in a row this postseason, so I’ll not rage too ineffectually against the indignity of this one (though I’d note quietly to the Sox my preference that they lose games in regulation on school nights – this 1:00 am crap is getting tiresome). One more home game tonight, with Jon Lester getting the ball against John Lackey.
It’d be really great if the Sox can win this one and save me (okay, themselves) from another trip to the West Coast.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Red Sox 7, Angels 5
Red Sox lead 2-0
After a thoroughly entertaining undercard, the tale of the definitive heavyweight portion of last night's pivotal Game 2 was told by a simple mathematic equation.
Jonathan Papelbon faced 6 batters and retired them all, and while he did allow an inherited runner to score (from 3rd, with nobody out, on a sacrifice fly), he was dominant.
Francisco Rodriguez faced 8 batters, allowing hits to 4 of them, including the decisive 2-run homer to J.D. Drew. He was not dominant.
So even as Daisuke Matsuzaka continues to shred nerves, and even when Playoff Tito hiccups ever so slightly (Papelbon should have started the 8th inning instead of Justin Masterson), the Sox postseason train keeps rolling. The Angels and their fans really must be shaking their heads in disbelieving misery. Friend of MLC Mike emailed me this morning to say that he felt sorry for the Halos, whose frustration against the Sox calls to mind the grating way in which the Oakland A's circa early 1990s dominated Boston. As I told him, while I see his point, I'll only start feeling pity for the boys from SoCal if and when they're vanquished.
No point in changing 38 years of superstition now.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Series: Phillies 2 games to none.
Next game: 10/4, 6:30PM @ Milwaukee
My plan worked to perfection. Pooh-pooh our chances against the leviathan. Throw Brett Myers out there with zero expectations. Give the hitters the day off. Acclimate ourselves to the perfectly acceptable scenario of being tied 1-1 going to Beertown, USA.
I never had a contingency plan for what I had conceded was impossible. As the Flyin' Hawaiian so eloquently put it "What just happened?"
Myers pitched brilliantly against a Brewers lineup that seems to have read from the 2007 Phillies handbook on how to take consolation in just making the playoffs and being satisfied. This Brewers team is in the mother of all funks at a most inopportune time. Coupled with the fact that Carsten Charles Sabathia is in fact, human after all, well...as you can tell, the Phillies are in love with their present situation and so, I feel fine.
Tomorrow's do or die Game 3 for Milwaukee pits Dave Bush against the crafty Jamie Moyer. The Phils can approach this game with some measure of laissez faire knowing that they can come back Sunday for a second match point. Charlie hasn't announced a Game 4 starter. This is because he is either supremely confident or because he doesn't know what the hell he will do should Game 4 be necessary. If it is, does Charlie trot out Cole Hamels on 3 days' rest? Does he send up the inexperienced JA Happ and keep Hamels ready in case the kid blows up? Who knows? My guess is that Charlie prefers to worry about that only when he has to. The magnitude of yesterday's vanquishing of the mighty CC will be exemplified by just how relaxed this club will be over the weekend. Even if they should have to face a Game 5 back at the Bank, it's nice to know the task has proven to be not quite as daunting as it once was.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Red Sox 4, Angels 1
Red Sox lead 1-0
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Dennis Eckersley spent most of the day yesterday telling anyone who would listen that Jon Lester was the Red Sox’ best pitcher. And then Lester went out and proved Eck right, overcoming some early self-inflicted adversity and some Jed Lowrie-inflicted adversity to clamp down emphatically on the Angels. Young Lester doesn’t bring Josh Beckett’s sneering disdain for his opponent to the hill, but the result last night was satisfyingly similar – 7 innings, 0 ER, 6H, 7K.
Justin Masterson showed the smallest of nerves in his single inning of work, but escaped when Kevin Youkilis made a play that went underappreciated in its brilliance as the focus landed on Vlad Guerrero’s baserunning. I submit that Youks’ defensive effort was far more important to the outcome of the play than any mistake on Guerrero’s part. On the play in question, Youkilis sprinted back to try to catch Torii Hunter’s humpback liner, as he half-dove/half-slid in vain, he quickly snapped his glove over the loose ball and sprung to his feet. 99 times out of 100, the fielder in that situation doesn’t cleanly secure the ball. The Angels are notoriously and successfully aggressive on the basepaths. Guerrero, like most baserunners, assumed Youks wouldn’t come up with the ball cleanly as he twisted and slid into the outfield. Youks did, and made Guerrero look bad – and probably won the game for the Sox.
While I’ll give Vlad a pass, other will and should be less generous with some of his teammates. The Angels didn’t look like a 100-win team last night, swinging wildly at balls out of the zone and making at least two critical mistakes. John Lackey owned Jason Bay in the latter’s first two plate appearances, striking out the Sox leftfielder on breaking pitches both times. Then, with a runner on in the 6th, Lackey threw an 0-1 fastball right over the heart of the plate, and Bay first thanked the Lord for his good fortune and then hammered the gift pitch deep into the stands. Later, the purportedly good fielding Gary Matthews looked for all the world like the kid Little League coaches stick in rightfield to hide him from the ball, allowing a Jacoby Ellsbury liner to go right over his head for a three-base error.
Meanwhile, the Sox just kept plugging along behind Lester. Ellsbury was 3-for-5 with 2 SB and a stellar and timely diving catch in the bottom of the 8th, Bay went 2-for-4 with a double in addition to his homer (seeing Manny Ramirez’ 2-for-4, HR, single, 1 RBI performance in Chicago and raising him one total base and one RBI), Jon Papelbon closed out the Angels with minimal drama. Dustin Pedroia reached base twice, and David Ortiz shook off 4 dismal at-bats to single in an insurance run in the 9th.
And I did my part, remaining awake until the game ended at 1:20 am EST. I credit the Angels’ fans and their incredibly lame noisemakers. Once more into the breach for me on Friday night, as Game 2 starts at 9:30. The things I do for this team.