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    Baseball Told the Right Way
    In-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!

      Now I've seen everything...........

    See that little guy on the right. See him? Well that little dude sitting next to Marlon Brando is 28 inches tall, his name is Nelson de la Rosa, and he is Pedro Martinez' friend. As Tony Mas says, you can't make this stuff up.

    One day after his increasingly notorious, "the Yankees are my daddies" comment, Pedro walked into the Red Sox clubhouse carrying de la Rosa in his arms. In his arms. Apparently they hang out.
    'Dude, Pedro's bobblehead (doll) was bigger than him,' said awestruck Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo. 'It was unbelievable.'
    I can't even imagine the scene as Pedro walked in before the game. From the Hartford Courant,
    Kevin Millar said Red Sox manager Terry Francona thought de la Rosa was a toy when he walked into the manager's office.

    "It was unbelievable," Millar said. "I didn't know what the hell it was. Are you [kidding] me with that thing? That scared the [heck] out of me. Good Lord. And it started talking, too. Whatever it was, it scared the [heck] out of us."

    De la Rosa, 36, posed for pictures by sitting on the laps of players and coaches.
    Throwing the distasteful comments from the Red Sox aside for a second (further evidence that Millar is a boob), what in the hell is Pedro doing hanging out with a 28 inch man. I can't even begin to fathom how this relationship started. Is Pedro planning on becoming a carney after he retires? In his arms?!?!

    I think we can all agree that this is the most bizarre thing to happen to baseball since Jose Canseco bounced a fly ball off his head for a homerun.

    Check out more of Pedro's little friend (including a picture) here.
    You guys might not here from me again for a little while. I'll be in the process of moving and starting a new job, so its likely I wont have too much to say until I can get settled.

    In case you are wondering, I am moving from here:
    to here:

    Which means I'll be very close to here:

    when October rolls around.

    The timing couldn't be more perfect. The Sox magic number is falling rapidly, and I'll be there in plenty of time for the riots in late October.

    Oh, I'm talking about the good kind of riots.
      Please adjust you're expectations.
    Take a look at this quote from Kansas City Royals' GM Allan Baird, courtesy of BP's this week in quotes:
    "I'm at fault...I made poor signings. I put this team together. I thought we were doing the right things. I thought we had a chance to win. But we have not, and it's my responsibility. Everybody underachieved. If three or four guys struggle, well, you overcome that. But when it's everybody--starting pitching, bullpen, offense, defense--well, what do you do.........If you want a headline, that's it: 'Everybody underachieved.'
    Was anybody from that organization paying attention last year? The 2003 Royals were one of the most over-achieving teams this side of the 2002 Anaheim Angels. They allowed more runs then they scored and still managed to have a winning record. That in itself should send off giant warning flares.

    The funny thing is, the Royals really haven't underachieved this year at all. It's just that nobody has overachieved. Ken Harvey and Joe Randa have had good years, and Zack Greinke has pitched pretty well since being called up. Other than that, however, there hasn't been much sunshine in Kansas City.

    As for underachieving, what, Angel Berroa? The sophomore slump hit Berroa pretty hard, but consider that his minor league numbers of .271/.318/.440 don't really suggest that his .287/.338/.451 rookie of the year campaign was for real. I'll grant that both Aaron Guiel and Darrel May were disappointments, but if you are pinning the hopes of your team on role players like that you are in trouble.

    Seriously, how good did Baird really expect this team to be? He replaced a decent year of Raul Ibanez with Juan Gonzalez. Thats reasonable to expect in terms of production, but Juan-gone hasn't been healthy since the late 80's. If you are planning on counting on Gonzalez for more than 200 ABs you ought to get you're head checked. Other than Gonzalez, Baird's "big" signings were Matt Stairs, Tony Graffanino, Dennys Reyes, and the 39-year old Fossil Santiago. To an already mediocre team, this doesn't exactly look like calling in the reinforcements.

    Overall, the Royals have hit worse, .262/.325/.401 in 2004 compared to .274/.336/.427 in 2003. I'm going to attribute most of that difference to moving the fences out 10 feet in Kauffman Stadium, so overall the offense has been about the same, and its been about as good as can be expected from this group of players. The pitching, on the other hand, hasn't benefitted from the fences being moved out (or they have, but they've just been that much worse). 5.13 ERA in 2004 vs. 5.06 in 2003, but its not like they had a good staff to work with; they were counting on Darrel May and Brian Anderson to be aces.

    Really, Baird must have expected some more career years, or at least some of the young guys to further develop into players they aren't. Its too bad it didn't happen because the Royals could have been a pretty good story. Comments like these from Baird offer further proof that the Royals organization just really doesn't get it.
      Gammons is senile.
    I really think so. I like Peter Gammons, I like listening to him, and I have always regretted not being old enough to remember when he was a Boston writer only (though I'm glad he covers the whole game now). I don't agree with him all that much, but I let a lot slide because I at least think he approaches things with an open mind and some semblance of rationality.

    Now I think he is senile.

    Gammons has been on TV several times the last few days starting his own MVP push for none other than Mariano Rivera.

    It's not like a relief pitcher winning the MVP is without precedence, but the difference between this year and 1992 is that we have plenty of everyday players who are much more deserving. I don't care what metric you use: stats, objectivity, word of mouth, intangibles, or good looks (Mariano looks like an accountant so it can't be that).

    Just for some quick comparison, VORP has Vlad worth about 75 runs over a replacement player. It has Mariano worth 35 runs. Using RCAA, Manny is worth 45 runs over an average player (by the way, Barry Bonds is worth 144, which is mind boggling). Mariano is only worth 21 runs over an average pitcher.

    If its hard enough to make the case for a starting pitcher every 5 days, it ought to be even harder to make the case that a relief pitcher is more valuable in 70 innings than an everyday player. But Mariano's appearances are typically in late-game, high-leverage situations, so his appearances are more valuable in terms of win expectancy. That much is true, but even if Mariano's innings were worth 2 low leverage innings, and you double his runs saved, he still isn't as valuable as an everyday player.

    In fact, Mariano might not even be the most valuable pitcher on the Yankees. Take a look at how Tom Gordon stacks up.
               IP     H/9  BB/9  HR/9   K/9    ERA
    Rivera 73-2/3 7.5 2.2 0.4 7.7 1.96
    Gordon 82-1/3 5.7 2.3 0.4 9.8 2.30
    Gordon's appearances are only slightly less leveraged than Mariano's. Considering he has identical walk and home run rates, and has allowed fewer hits and struck out more in 10 more innings of work, you could certainly make the case that Gordon has been at least as valuable as Mariano, if not more. The only difference being, of course, that Joe Torre asks Gordon to pitch the 8th, and Mariano to pitch the 9th. Somehow the 49 saves doesn't impress me though. If it weren't for Gordon, he'd have half that many.

    What scares me is that Gammons actually votes for the MVP. On top of that, he has a very loud voice in the media, and if he continues harping on Mariano for the MVP, he very well might convince some of the other ignorant voters. Why we have ignorant voters for the year-end awards is beyond me.

    If Mariano Rivera wins the MVP award it will be the biggest travesty since, well, since the last time we held a popularity contest to determine an award winner. Manny or Vlad are the MVP's. Maybe Sheffield. But not a relief pitcher who has participated in only 5% of his teams innings.
      Cubs Are On Track
    It seems as though all of the writers that counted the Cubs out just a month ago are back to realizing that they are going to the playoffs. I always find it amazing how Peter Gammons always changes his tune when he realizes he is wrong and then act as if that's what he had been preaching the whole time. The key will be Mark Prior. If he pitches the way he did in his last start it will be nearly impossible to beat the Cubs. More important is that he threw over 120 pitches and didn't look tired one bit. With that said, Matt Clement has appeared to lose his for and has been batted around quite a bit.

    Assuming the Cubs make it to the Playoffs, they should go with a 3 man rotation:


    My reasoning for leaving Prior out of this is that he can be a long-relief guy for all three starts and then make the game a 5-6 inning game rather than a 7-8 inning game for the starter. This will keep everyone fresh. Then maybe Clement can rest up his shoulder and maybe make a later playoff start.

    Another issue that I keep seeing in the stretch run is Dusty Baker resting his star players and the front end of double headers. When a team is vying for a playoff spot the last thing he should do is bench the best hitters on the team, in particular Aramis Ramirez who has been hitting out of this world of late. The Cubs got by in the first game despite the terrible managing of Baker with key games from Jose Macias and Todd Walker. On the other hand, Paul Bako left four men on base that could have proved costly. I know its sad when you wish you could see Mike DiFeliece behind the plate.

      Re-evaluating the un-re-evaluatable......
    It's very hard to criticize trades after the fact, when we have perfect hindsight, that beautiful tool of talk-radio. In some cases though, we have access to information suggesting the teams involved had information unavailable to us at the time. With that said, I think it's about time to re-evaluate my stance on the Cubs trade for Nomar.

    I was highly critical of the Red Sox for swinging this deal. The way I figured it, in the very best case, they treaded water by improving the defense at the cost of the offense. This figuring I did, however, assumed Nomar was completely healthy. He's not, and I think the front office knew this.

    The Cubs, on the other hand, never expressed concern over Nomar's health. When the publicity typical of an ugly divorce started to surface, Nomar was rumored to have told Boston that he wasn't completely healthy and would probablly have to miss considerable time. When asked about this, Jim Hendry reiterated that Nomar's health was not a concern, and that the Red Sox had provided him with all the relevant information.

    So should the Cubs have made the trade? I still think so. The chance was there to fix the most glaring hole on the roster, and the cost was three semi-redundant parts. The upside of the deal was enormous. A healthy Nomar would have been a perfect fit.

    Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out, Nomar has only played in 31 of the teams 41 games, and is currently out for the near future with groin problems. Jim Hendry probablly ought to have made the deal, but given up a lot less for 30 games of Nomar. Those 30 games of Nomar implicitly contain the remaining 10-20 games of Ramon Martinez and Neifi Perez, which takes away from any value Nomar has brought to the team. Even when playing, there is no way in Hades that Nomar is fully healthy. A non-fully healthy Nomar may have hit pretty well, but instead of being an average defensive shortstop, he was a liability. Small sample size issues pertain, of course, but his zone rating and range factor were both way down from his career norms.

    Nomar is a very quiet and reserved guy. He was always somewhat of an outsider in the Red Sox clubhouse. It's not that teammates disliked Nomar, they just never really knew him. Without the ability to introduce himself to his teammates on the field in Chicago, I can imagine his status as an outsider in the Cubs locker room is cemented. Don't expect to see him sign with the Cubs for any less than another team is willing to pay him.

    Overall this move points to a more telling generalization about the Cubs front office and ownership. To me, the Cubs FO makes moves with the intention of impressing their fans, rather than actually improving the ballclub. The next time I see the Cubs make an unpopular personnel decision will be the first. Completely coincidentally, the next time I see the Cubs outperform expectations will also be the first. I can see a long term deal coming for Sammy, the most popular Cub who is quickly approaching the inevitable cliff at the end of his career.
      Its not Hoodoo its baseball for crying out loud.....
    Well, here is the obligatory pre-Brawl post. The Red Sox and Yankees go at it again tonight. Read my slightly irrational thoughts on the subject, here, here, or here. I'm not really going to talk about the series too much, but if the Red Sox don't take at least 2 of 3 this weekend, the division race is probablly over.

    What really gets to me, what I really can't stand is listening to the media hype surrounding these games. Every time these two teams match up, I have to see every image, every sound byte, and every audio clip of every failure and every near miss. The national media eats it up, especially the four letter, and they have sunken to new lows today. Tonight, after the Sox/Yankees game they are going to show Who's Cursed Worse: Red Sox and Cubs on Trial.

    DIRECTLY after the game thousands of baseball fans will stick around to see the four letter's take on the imaginary construct known as "the curse". I can already see it, they'll show clips of Bostonians saying how horrible it is to be a Red Sox fan, what it feels like to be cursed, and how much the 'Yankees Suck!' (the real black eye on Boston fans is that damn chant).

    The problem is that they'll only show complete idiots. The Red Sox fans on that program will be the lowest of the low, completely mindless boobs who do nothing but repeat the party line. What party that is? Its not my party, thats for sure. Here is what 99% of their interviews for that show went like:
    The Four Letter: Hey would you like to be interviewed for an ESPN special?
    Random Intelligent Baseball Fan: Yeah, sure.
    ESPN: Are you a Red Sox fan?
    RIBF: You're damn right I am!
    ESPN: How does it feel to be cursed?
    RIBF: Shut the F up, there is no curse. Go back to Bristol you moron.
    They can't play that though, it doesn't make for good TV.

    For those of you not familiar with the Boston media, there is a clown (aptly nicknamed the Curly Haired Boyfriend by Carl Everett) who wrote The Curse of the Bambino. He also is a columnist for the Boston Globe although if I had my way, he'd be out on the street. Every column he writes is filled with negativity, with self-pity, and with rampant animosity towards the Red Sox. I'm not even sure he believes in all that crap, but he found a niche, and he fills his columns with loads of crap perpetuating this belief that Red Sox fans are all like him.

    He should be thrown out on the street because he has the optimism of a one-armed blind homeless midget. Unfortunately, this crap gets put off in the national media as representative of Red Sox fans in general. It just simply isn't true.

    It makes good TV though. So we'll continue to hear it. It makes good TV for the same reasons why reality TV is such a success. Perpetuating "the curse" appeals to the lowest common denominator in the four letter's demographics. Unfortunately there are a lot of them, but if you've got half a brain, don't believe what you're told about Boston fans.

    What will the national media do when there is no more "curse" to talk about? Will they actually have to cover BASEBALL instead? It would be a strange world indeed if ESPN were to actually talk about the games being played. Then they might have to hire some real journalists. Imagine.

    They love this "curse" nonsense so much that they created a "curse" for the Cubs. The curse of the billy goat? Are you kidding? You can't retroactively put curses on people just to drum up ratings. I think its prohibited in the Hoodoo Constitution.

    What if the Red Sox win the World Series? The media would then have to stop talking about the "curse" of the bambino and would re-focus their attention on the curse of the billy goat. Then, of course, the media would need another team to put a retroactive curse on.

    The White Sox would be perfect. They haven't won since 1917, it must be the city of Chicago that is cursed after all. The curse of the Black Sox?? Nah, too easy. I am going to go out on a limb and call it the curse of Death Valley Jim Scott, but they'll probablly take the easy route and call it the curse of Chicago.

    Hoodoo activists can email Curt to complain about being associated with mindless media boobs.
      Ozzie Smith he is not.
    The Cardnials defense has gotten a lot of credit for that team being 14-1/2 games up. Brian over at Redbird Nation gives a pretty good assesment of that defense, which is definitely excellent overall. One thing caught my eye though,
    Edgar Renteria -- well, he's won a couple Gold Gloves, but I've never seen what the hubbub was about. I think he's good to his left, and I know he's sure-handed, but I've never found him very impressive going to his right and/or in the hole, and his arm seems pretty middling. And I don't think he has the same rhythm on double plays that he shared with Fernando Vina. Win Shares agrees with me on this one -- it has Edgar 7th, just ahead of a couple guys with less playing time. There are plenty of reasons to re-sign Renteria in the off-season, but I hope defense isn't one of the primary ones.
    I have to agree with this, but I'm glad my limited observation is backed up by someone paying closer attention to the Cardinals than me.

    Win Shares backs it up, but UZR also supports this, although I dont know how Renteria fared in individual years. ESPN's range factor has him ranked 11th in the NL in 2002, 10th in 2003, and 6th so far this year. He's very good, very sure-handed as Brian says, but certainly not the best. He won the Gold Glove the last two years, but the GG award is really nothing more than a popularity contest. Once you get known as a good defensive player nobody questions it, even after you start declining (see Derek Jeter). Conversely, once you get known as a bad defensive player, you are stuck with that stigmata forever (see Jose Valentin).

    Renteria is certainly very good, but he's not the best. It wouldn't suprise me to see him win another Gold Glove, but some of the less heralded shortstops like Adam Everett, Jack Wilson, or Cesar Izturis really ought to win it.
      More debauchery.
    One of the best takes on the chair throwing incident in Oakland is over at Elephant's in Oakland. Admittidly biased, but I dont think its a biased take on the story. It is pretty strange to see anybody try and blame the fans for being fans. Its happening though, here, here, and here. It always scares me when I see the nonsense that can come from people with relatively loud voices. Can some people not see the difference between yelling obscenities and throwing punches, let alone chairs?
      Heckling is cool.........
    This isn't. Stay in the godamn stands people. Must have been some Raider fans, they've got class. Unless, of course, the Rangers started it, pulled a Jeff Nelson you might say. If that's the case, I apologize to the Raiders A's fans, and I instead ask the players, why would you go into the stands? Are you insane?

    Regardless of who started it though, if Frankie Francisco really did throw a chair into the stands, then he belongs in court, right next to Nelson and Garcia. What is this the WWF?

    Watch the chair toss video here, and you be the judge. Assault with a deadly weapon?
      Holy crappy shit!
    Excuse the language, but I doubt there's many toddlers dropping by and this game deserves at least a mention.

    The hapless Kansas City Royals went out and dropped 26 on the Tigers today. This is the same team that had scored the fewest runs in the AL, before today obviously.

    26 runs! Its the most ever in Royals history, though I'm pretty sure that doesn't include the Kansas City A's. What's really impressive (or depressing) is that 26 runs is consequently the most EVER allowed by the Tigers franchise, which was one of the original AL teams way back in 1900.

    The Royals had 13 consecutive men reach base in the third, when they scored 11 runs and almost batted around TWICE. Thats insane.

    Its not like the Royals did it all on home runs either, they only hit one. For the game the Royals had an on-base percentage of .567 and a slugging percentage of .692. Wow. This year Barry Bonds has an OBP of .611 and a SLG% of .830. So now you know what a team would do if they had 9 Barry Bonds's in the lineup. They would score MORE than 26 runs a game. CAN WE PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT WHO WILL WIN THE NL MVP AWARD????? PLEASE?????

    Lino Urdaneta made his major league debut today for Detroit. What a debut. He faced 6 batters, gave up 5 hits and a walk, retired nobody. Five earned runs in 0 IP. Welcome to the bigs kid. Hows that ERA of infinity treating you?

    I feel for him, I once had an ERA of infinity (anyone know the HTML tag for a sideways 8?). I was 15, playing on a team with all 18+ kids, way over my head. They brought me in. I walked the first guy. The next batter is this monster from Lowell, MA; big gigantic Kevin Mench sized head, full beard and everything (I was 15, it was intimidating at the time). He rips one that was still going up as it whistled through a tree growing beyond the left field fence. It took off branches on the way by and cleared some train tracks and probablly several blocks on the other side as well. People still talk about it. Nobody saw it come down. Heck, I was amazed. And I was laughing too, actually the two of us shared a special moment there laughing at how much he just embarrassed me. That also inspired my coach to pull me and I never got in another game to pitch, finishing up the summer league with an ERA of infinity. But back to my new boy Lino, welcome to the big leagues, the worst team in the league just torched your ass.

    Not his fault really. Only the Tigers would bring up a 24 year old reliever who has never even had a good minor league season and had a 9.69 ERA at AAA this year. Give em the ball Trammell. I mean, AAA guys torched him, maybe he'd do okay in the majors. The Tigers have to be feeling like a rented mule right now. Wait, nope, they just returned the favor and stomped the Royals 8-0 in the second game of the double header. Somehow it doesn't have the same feel to it though.

    The Red Sox have taken a temporary back seat tonight. Im now off to watch the Patriots start their undefeated campaign towards a 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. Let the dynasty talk begin.

    Oh, and if by some miracle you are a big-headed, bearded monster from Lowell, who destroyed some tree limbs, and laughed at a scrawny little kid as you rounded the bases, and you happen to be reading this, you can keep telling your kids the story, because even 10 years later, people are still talking about that home run.
      So far, so good.
    Just updating on the Rick Ankiel saga. He pitched an inning of relief last night for the Cardinals. Here's his line:
                      IP   H   R  BB  SO   PC-ST
    R. Ankiel (H, 1) 1 1 0 0 0 15-12
    Pretty uneventful, and I'm sure that's exactly the way Ankiel (and Tony LaRussa) wants it. Speaking of LaRussa, he is showing a ton of confidence in the kid, bringing him in a close game with the lead. I suppose you can do that when you have a 17-1/2 game lead in the division, though. I also suppose you can do that in San Diego where nobody is paying attention to the game anyways. You can bet LaRussa wouldn't have brought him in to a game in New York.

      Someone Stop the Astros For Real!!
    The Houston Astros were out of the race not too long ago. Right?

    It doesn't seem too long ago that there was clamoring in the media (here, here, and here) that the Astros should cut their losses and re-trade Carlos Beltran (who they acquired earlier in the year from KC). Well, so much for that idea, it turns out all they really needed to do was fire Jimy Williams.

    After dumping Ol' Boy Jimy the Astros caught fire. Since being 44-44 at the break, the Astros have gone 30-19 under new coach Phil Garner to claw their way within 1 1/2 of the Wild Card leading (and now terrified) Cubs.

    I've usually hated firing a manager mid-season, especially with a team playing around .500, but watching the Marlins under Jack McKeon, and now the Astros has converted me. Makes you wonder what the front office of other listless teams are thinking. When you lack ingenuity, why not copy?
    Listless club + new manager = chance to turn around a doomed season.
    Ahem. Phillies. Cough. Mets. Everybody has theories about what caused the turnaround. Its real easy to give all the credit to Phil Garner, but don't forget about the biggest change come the All-Star break. Remember that trade for Beltran? Oh, yeah, Beltran hitting .266/.381/.612 for the Astros might have helped.

    Harold Reynolds and John Kruk (I know, I know) have a theory. Last night on the four letter they claimed the turnaround was due to the new Astros manager. Under Garner, the Astros have been stealing more bases, moving runners up, hit & running more. Under Jimy Williams, the Astros just waited around for the 3-run homer "that never seemed to come". While its nice that they have sympathy for the way the game used to be played, its just wrong. Observe,
                W-L   RS/G   HR/G   BAA/OBP/SLG    ERA   WHIP
    Pre ASB 44-44 4.5 1.0 264/338/415 4.14 1.33
    Post ASB 30-19 6.0 1.6 279/360/481 4.13 1.35
    Thats an improvement from a home run every 35 at bats to a HR every 22 ABs. Much of this is a result of Beltran's 22 home runs, but Berkman, Bagwell, and Kent have also been hitting better after the break. So overall, the Astros are hitting much better and pitching about the same. They are scoring a run and a half more a game, and all of their offensive component stats are better. But the Parrot that Is Harold Reynolds is required by contract to state the phrase "they're manufacturing runs" at least twice every half hour show, so lets at least look at that.

    For those of you paying attention, Jimy Williams was getting press for bunting TOO MUCH this year. Under Jimy in the first half the Astros bunted more often than any major league team, with 0.7 sacrifices a game. Since he left, the Astros have only had 0.5 a game. So no small ball there. And if Jimy was waiting around for the 3-run homer, then he must have flunked Earl Weaver School.

    Maybe they are hit & running more, I have no idea, but at least they are running more. Thats easy, the stat guys for Baseball Tonight must have looked at the team stats page. They've stolen 47 bases since the break to the 25 pre-All Star steals. Uh, guys, remember this guy Carlos Beltran? Enter his 22 steals and the best base-stealing % in MLB history. Does anybody want to guess that the rest of the increase is due to the 24 point in their team's OBP? They're not running more often, they've just had more chances to run. Wih 2 more baserunners a game, OF COURSE they are going to steal more bases.

    Its just one more chance for the Run Manufacturing Parrots to speak up about the good ol' days. And one more chance for me to waste my breath. The Astros are hitting more home runs. They getting on base more. They're hitting the snot out of the ball. Only the Red Sox have scored more runs since the All-Star break, and they don't have a pitcher batting four times a game. I don't know why they are hitting better, it may be the new coach. But can we at least drop this manufacturing runs malarkey.
      He's back.........for now.
    The Cardinals have called up Rick Ankiel, famous for his meteoric rise and subsequent fall. Its not really a "disease" but people like to call this Steve Blass disease. Its when a guy (it doesn't have to be a pitcher) loses all ability to throw a baseball in a straight line.

    Ankiel never had Maddux-like control, but he was never particularly wild either. In 300 minor league innings, he walked 112 (3.4 BB/9). Not great, but its comparable to the walk rates of Cy Young candidates Mark Mulder (3.2), Roger Clemens (3.5) and Carlos Zambrano (3.7).

    Ankiel got called up in September of 1999 at the age of 20, after embarrassing AA and AAA hitters. He pitched pretty well in 5 starts and things looked promising. In 2000, at only 21, Ankiel made the opening day Cardinal roster and didn't disappoint any Cardinal fans who were anxious to see this phenom. That is until the playoffs.

    After putting up a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings, Ankiel was poised to be the next big superstar pitcher. The next Roger Clemens. Nobody steps in at 20 and dominated big league hitters this way, hell Clemens was 22 or 23 before he did. Then the playoffs came.

    This game, Ankiel started game 1 of the NLDS against Greg Maddux. First inning, he walked two, struck out one. Normal postseason jitters for a 20 year old. Right? Sure, 2nd inning he gives up a hit and retires the side. He's back on track. Then the third inning came and with it, the ghost of Steve Blass.

    Maddux walked,
    Furcal popped to first,
    Wild pitch,
    Wild pitch,
    A. Jones walked,
    Wild pitch,
    C. Jones strikes out,
    Galarraga walked,
    Wild pitch,
    Jordan singles,
    Wild pitch,
    Sanders walked,
    Weiss singles.

    Final line for Ankiel: 2-2/3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 3 K, 5 WP.

    And if you remember this game, those 5 wild pitches weren't you're ordinary breaking balls in the dirt. They were airmailed to the backstop, not even close. It was sad to see a guy out there with absolutely no idea where the ball was going.

    Ankiel pitched again in the NLCS, not faring much better. In game 2 against the Mets, he couldn't even get out of the first inning. He retired 2 batters, walked 3, and threw 2 wild pitches to the backstop. Something clearly was wrong with the phenom.

    The Cardinals were bounced in the championship series, but Ankiel was still just a nervous rookie who lost his mechanics in a high-pressure situation. Then after a scary spring training, and 24 scary (for opposing batters) innings in '01, the "something" wrong with Ankiel was clearly mental.

    I have empathy for Ankiel because a similar thing happened to me, and pre-maturely ended my life as a pitcher. Something flipped in my head and I couldn't throw a pitch that wouldn't hit a left-handed batter in the head or a right-hand batter in the foot. I was never able to pitch again, and for a time I had trouble playing first base. I also had a teammate, a catcher with no previous problems, who showed up to a game and was unable to throw the ball back to his pitcher without bouncing it first. He had to be removed from the game, and his baseball life was never the same. If you've ever seen Shaquille O'Neal shooting free throws, you know this "disease" isn't confined to baseball players. Shaq is just lucky he can still be a good basketball player without being able to shoot free throws. Rick Ankiel cannot be a good pitcher unless he is able to throw strikes.

    So can Ankiel put this behind him and throw strikes? He has so far this year, but will it continue? I'm not a sports psychologist so I don't know if something like this can be overcome. Today, I can throw a baseball (too often a softball) with no problems. I can throw relatively accurately and consistently. But I can't pitch. For some reason when it gets in my head that I am in the act of pitching, something changes. I can't pitch BP in a cage, I can't pitch a slow-pitch softball, and I can't pitch "lob" to anybody either. Even whiffle ball gives me problems. So I wouldn't be holding my breath on Rick Ankiel if I were a Cardinal fan. I like the guy, I like his stuff, he's a lefty, and he's got that pretty delivery where he kicks up his leg real high on the followthrough. I'm rooting for him, but I'm not holding my breath.
      The Register.
        Friday Aug. 6th         Saturday Sep.  4th
    New York 69-39 ---- New York 83-51 ---
    Boston 58-49 10.5 Boston 80-53 2.5
    I'm not going to use this space to talk about the Red Sox. Kevin Brown pulled a Gus Ferrote, the Yankees' rotation (outside of Brown) is in relative shambles, and the 10 1/2 game lead in the AL East has been shattered. Everything seems to be going the way of the Red Sox.

    I've learned over the years that when it comes to the Red Sox, you only talk about the present. You can't predict, you can't hope, you can't look to the future to say what will happen. It's dangerous territory to even say what is likely to happen. And we all know that when it comes to the Red Sox, you would be better off not looking to the past. I don't think much needs to be said here. You learn, as a Red Sox fan, not to dwell on things. When the obnoxious fans from that rather large city 2 1/2 hours south speak up, you just ignore it and do your best to forget.

    There is a piece of paper out there, a register of some sorts. On one side is written, among other things, a list of 26 dates, printed in bold. The last date printed in bold is the year 2000. Under that date, there are a few more dates printed on there, but not in bold. The last date was in October of 2003, but even that had to be squeezed in small print, way in down the bottom corner. That side of the paper is full.

    The other side of that paper is blank. It hasn't always been blank, but all its dates were once written in pencil, and have long been erased. There are a couple of spaces marked off, ready to be inked permantly. Theres a regular season series with good results. There is this game, and there is a 10 1/2 game lead dissolved.

    But all those dates are written in pencil. They don't matter. Something has to happen first before we can start inking in the other side of the paper. We all know what that is, but as Red Sox fans have learned, you can't look forward. That would only be setting yourself up to to realize there is still a little bit of space to cram in one more date on the wrong side of that paper, at which point it will be time to wait till next year.

    And oh, yeah, playoff magic numbers:
    Cubs: 26
    Red Sox: 25