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    The Greg Maddux Watch: Stunning at 355

    Required Reading
    Whats wrong with baseball? Part I
    Part II
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    Baseball Told the Right Way
    In-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!

      In the aftermath.......
    Some sort of post-traumatic syndrome has crept over me. Or post-something syndrome. I dont know, but its starting to set in. I don't think it will set in that the Red Sox actually won until they hoist the banners and dish out the big fat rings on opening day with none other than the Yankees at Fenway Park. It will be perfect. I can't wait to see the camera pan slowly across the faces of the Yankees as the Red Sox accept those rocks.

    I also know I'm not the first to say this, but in the aftermath, my thoughts inevitably go out to Cubs fans worldwide. To all my friends in Chicago, I'm sorry. There is a pretty good chance that the "Curse" talk will only get louder and louder as the Cubs continue to add years to their World Series drought. It's a shame, it really is, and it starts to piss you off after awhile.

    Curses and other such mularkey make easy columns for sportswriters, and there are plenty of fans who lap it up like stray cats. The endless references, video clips, sound bytes, and snide comments. I'm so glad I never have to hear it again, and I think there is a good chance all that nonsense starts to shift to Cubs fans.

    On another note, I'll probablly take a quick breather from writing on baseball now. Not long, and I wont be going away from baseball at all. I'll still be getting my fix of the offseason moves, mostly Red Sox for now, and I can finally start getting excited about the second undefeated season in the history of the NFL.

    In a week or so, maybe two, I'll probablly start throwing in my half-cent on the hotstove season. It's like a drug, this game, and you didn't really think I could stay away long, did you?
      Insert catchy title here.......
    A week ago, I was questioning why, and a day ago, I was wondering how the World Series could be so anti-climatic. Both of those questions were answered last night.
    It sure felt anti-climatic last night, at least until about the 7th inning. About then, I started to realize that Derek Lowe had just become the answer to a trivia question (the good kind). Soon after, it really started to sink in. Daresay, I was confident?

    When the outs remaining could be counted on one hand, it really started to sink in and I said to myself, 'Self! You need to get to Kenmore Square!'

    After a quick walk down Comm Ave, through an endless (un-armed) army of Red Sox Nation, I realized exactly why I follow this team so closely. I realized why I haven't taken a day off (offseason included) from this team since the late 80's. Being around the fans last night made everything worth it, knowing my irrationality about a kid's game is shared by countless others.

    It's an atmosphere and a solidarity I've only felt at Boston sporting events and punk shows, with everybody there for the same purpose, and everybody there for those around them.

    We don't follow these teams for the results. The results may make the journey worthwhile, but we follow these teams to become, be around, and be comfortable with intimate strangers. I was with them last night, and despite what people will tell you about riots and tear gas, there were thousands of people out last night with only one intention in mind, to celebrate the greatest sporting acheivement in their lifetimes.

    For the most part, the celebration was subdued, at least in terms of random violence and vandalism, but when I saw two knuckleheads (in the words of our mayor) running down the street with no shirts on, American flags around their necks like capes, yelling "Hold the Line!" I knew it was time to go. My friend Corey turned to me and said, "I've seen this movie, here's where Mel Gibson comes in."

    I have no idea what possesses someone to enter into trench warfare with cops in riot gear and tear gas guns. I mean, I'm all for revolution, but wake me when there's something worth resisting. Fenway Park is a rat-infested, crumbling mess (with charm), why would you mount a charge for it like it was Fort Sumner?

    And if the cops really wanted a good weapon, why not bring back the firehoses? Or does that cojure up too many bad images? Tear gas sounds like fireworks, and people like fireworks. I thought someone was setting off a display and boy was I suprised when I peeked my head around a corner to see masses of people running towards me (away from the fireworks no less) followed by a quickly advancing envelope of green smoke.

    Why no firehoses? Especially last night, an October night in Boston, you wouldn't even need any pressure. Just a fine mist would do. That would send the culprits running back to the holes (dorms) they crawled out of, shivering all the way.

    I saw some moron get arrested for knocking over a mailbox. I'm not sure how high ripping out a mailbox is on on his list of things to do in a riot. It's not very high on mine, but at least he can die happy. Other than that, it was good times had by all. Plenty of chanting, plenty of woo-woo'ing, and more than anything, plenty of pure happiness. It's something these fans have never felt, and its something they deserved.

    There was a game last night?
    One thing that is getting to me a little on this glorious day after is listening to the recaps of the World Series. The general sentiment today about the Cardinals is summed up nicely over at Redbird Nation,
    ....it was like the Cards were throwing the World Series, but they were really bad actors and forgot to make it look like they were trying.
    This popular sentiment conveniently ignores something that keeps getting glossed over. I hear a lot about how the Cardinals lost the series, but suprisingly less about how well the Red Sox played. The Cardinals pitching did not lose the series, they pitched about as well as they should have hoped for. Throw that staff up against the best offense in baseball and if they hold them to 11, 6, 4, and 3 runs, you ought to be ecstatic. You've got a chance at 3 of 4.

    This series was won by the Red Sox, not lost by the Cardinals, and the Red Sox pitchers really made the difference. Schilling, Pedro, Lowe, Foulke. Good enough to shut down a scary but top-heavy Cardinal lineup. The Cardinal pitching was good, but not great enough to shut down the scary and well balanced Red Sox lineup. That was the difference.

    The great thing about this Red Sox team is that everyone on the 25-man roster had a part in this win. Without Dave Roberts, without Pokey Reese, without Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox aren't in the playoffs and/or they don't win the World Series. Maybe that is true for any team that wins, maybe not. I don't care, all I can think about was how good this team was, we're talking about the Red Sox here.
      It's almost too easy......
    What's going on?

    This has really been too easy. Just a little bit anti-climatic after the Yankees series.

    All of which causes apprehension. I can't explain it, but that's the life of a Red Sox fan. The Red Sox have peaked as a team, the Cardinals have laid down quietly in three straight innocuous games, the Red Sox are one game from winning the World Series, and while all is good in Red Sox Nation, I am worried.

    And I'm not the only one.

    Is it negativity? Is it conditioning? Is it a self-defense mechanism? I don't know why, and I don't know if a win tommorrow would change it. I hope it would, because right now I have to honestly say I am confused.

    If someone WERE scripting basball, and the Red Sox WERE to continue on their path of coming ever so close, what better way to keep the pain than by having the first team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit lose the World Series in 7, after being UP 3-0.

    "You can't script October."

    I'll believe it when I see it. Until then I'll continue on with that uneasy pit in my stomach that just won't go away. If it were any other team, I'd tell them to take a couple days off and win it in Game 6, at home, in front of the fans.

    With this team, though, I couldn't handle the stress. I'm calling on D-Lowe to end it now. One more sleepless night I can handle.

    One more.
      Game 1 and assorted digressions........
  • The two highest scoring offenses go head to head, and both teams have tired pitching staffs. Something tells me we will see a lot more games end 11-9 than 3-2.

  • The defense was pretty wretched in this game. It looked like a little league game at times with balls thrown in dugouts, ground balls eating up infielders, and two horrendous back-to-back errors by Manny.

    It's a good thing the Red Sox won the game, otherwise no one would ever had forgiven Manny for botching those two plays. Boston fans have a tendency to do that.

  • For all the talk of how good the Cardinals lineup is (I still think the Yankees lineup was much better) they still sent Marlon Anderson, Yadier Molina, and Roger Cedeno to the plate as their last three hopes.

    Not exactly much of a hope against Keith Foulke, who still hasn't given up a postseason run despite giving up two hits tonight.

  • Truthfully, the Cardinals offense scares the heck out of me. I don't have any confidence in anyone out of the pen not named Foulke. Maybe Bronson, who has looked good, but they got to him tonight.

    I also don't expect Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen to go 1 for 12 again, nor would I expect the three to leave 12 men on base by themselves.

  • Quick update on David "MVP" Ortiz' postseason numbers in 11 games:

    .458/.574/.917 with 6 HRs, 12 Rs, and 23 RBIs. In 11 games.


  • It is amazing to me that people in Boston still think Mark Bellhorn is a bad player. Even after a game winning home run tonight and another homerun to deflate the Yankees comeback on Wednesday.

    I heard people tonight talking about how Todd Walker is a much better player. I politely disagreed, but decided not to make an issue out of it. It's not even close, even leaving defense out of the equation.

    Get over the striekouts already, why can't people look past that? Take a look at the career strikeout leaders. Out of the top 20 are 8 Hall of Famers, 5 others that will definitely be elected, and a number of other borderline Hall of Famers, or at least members of the Hall of Very Good.

    Yeah, Bellhorn strikes out a lot. But he also plays a solid second base, hits with good power for a middle infielder, and gets on base 37% of the time. Even in this postseason, when everybody sees that he is only hitting .200 when it flashes on the screen, they don't remember that he has walked 12! times or that he has hit 3 home runs. Or maybe people just don't like him because he exudes an abnormal amount of grease.

  • One last thing, this series is going to be great, if for no other reason than we are guarranteed to see the David Ortiz vs. Ray King matchup at least a few more times.

  • vs.

    Tommorrow its Schilling on the bump against Matt Morris. If Schilling is as healthy as he claims, the advantage clearly is with the Red Sox, but my guess is it will once again come down to whose offense and bullpen steps it up.
      And now for something completely different........
    It's Red Sox against Redbirds, and it ought to be good. There is something important here at stake that many people will forget to mention in the next week. Now that the Yankees are cursed, and will never win another World Series, the race to overtake their locked-in-stone-26 World Championships is on.

    Current standings:
    Yankees    26
    Cardinals 9
    A's 9
    Dodgers 6
    Red Sox 5
    Reds 5
    Pirates 5
    Giants 5
    Now as for the games to be played starting this weekend, I refuse to talk any more about the future. That didn't work. I can't take the stress. Now I sit back and I watch and I comment on the present and the past, but I don't look forward. I refuse to.

    That old strategy wasn't working and it may or may not have led to a nervous breakdown early this week.

    I stopped that, it wasn't healthy and I feel much better for it....at least until the playoffs mercifully end. I've learned from the past, and all I know for sure is that the Red Sox and Cardinals are two very very good teams.

    By the only measure that will matter in ten years, these two teams are even. They are both pennant winners, and neither is a dime better than the other. At the end of this series, however, one team will be remembered as champions, and the other will be the answer to a trivia question.

    I don't know who will end up with the rings, and I don't care to waste my time thinking about it. I'm just going to sit back and let this ride take me where it wants.

    See you guys Saturday night.
      Pictures say it more eloquently than I could ever dream of.
    I've really never seen anything like this series.

    The intensity of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry has been well documented, so I wont get into that. One thing, however. Going into Game 7, over the last two years, the Red Sox and Yankees had played 51 times. The series was 26-25, in favor of the Red Sox, and even more amazingly, the Red Sox had outscored the Yankees by only four runs (275-271). Think about how close these two teams are for a moment. Four runs different in 51 games.

    Now think about what has separated the two, causing anybody with a brain to recognize the Yankees as the better pre-Game 7 team.

    Seriously, think about it.

    I'll tell you exactly what has separated the two, in the minds of casual fans and baseball nuts alike. The only thing separating the Red Sox and Yankees was history. And on the day after the night where history was made, only a belated parade of (superlatives) will do.

    That was the greatest series I have ever seen.

    That was the greatest comeback I have ever seen, and the worst collapse I have ever seen.

    There was more excitement, intensity, and anticipation leading into Game 7 than any I have ever seen.

    There were more stories and subplots surrounding these two teams than any two in history.

    There were more grey hairs and skipped heartbeats over the last eight days than any eight days in the history of the world.

    Okay maybe that one was a little over the top........but not by much. Maybe not the world, but in the history of the game of baseball, definitely.

    We all know what happened. If you don't know, you don't belong here. So without forcing more of my words, I give you:

    Game 1
    Game 2
    Game 3
    Game 4

    Game 5

    I kid you not. Those are actual pictures taken at those games. Talk about deja vu.

    Game 5 was really for Wakefield, who has cemented his role as my favorite baseball player. Absolutley amazing, coming in and pitching 3 scoreless innings to allow the Red Sox to cycle through the lineup to Oritz for one more chance.

    Game 6
    Are you kidding? What more do I need to say?

    Game 7
    Wasn't all that exciting of a game, except for the outcome, but..



    ...pretty much say it all.

    As does this,

    And, just for fun:

    Oh, and by the way, NLCS Game 7 in about 3 hours.
      and The Curse rears its ugly head.......

    Once again, The Curse has taken its toll on the New York Yankees.

    It doesn't matter if its the Diamondbacks in 2001, the Angels in 2002, the Marlins in 2003, or amazingly the Red Sox in 2004, the Yankees ALWAYS find a way to lose in the end. It must be hard for them, going up against so much pressure to overcome the four years of bitter agony. Always coming close, but falling just short in the end. Its a wonder the fans keep coming back after all the torture they have been through.

    But you just knew the Yankees were going to choke, I mean they always do. It's really a bad idea for Yankee fans to get their hopes up, because it's in their nature to blow it right when the big game is on the line. I feel sorry for Yankee fans, who have endured nearly five years worth of misery and misfortune.

    All I would ask them is: what did you expect? If you're cursed, well then, you're cursed. There's not much you can do about it.

    You can't mess with fate.
      Now, I'm no lawyer..........
    A man is suing the Florida Marlins after he was hit in the face by a thrown ball. In Game 4 of last year's World Series Juan Pierre threw a warm up ball into the stands and it hit 44-year old Steve Badillo in the face.

    First question: Why is he suing them now? Why did he wait a year? Interesting, he says,
    Badillo said Friday he fears his vision is damaged, which would make his work in the printing-press business difficult.
    Obviously the printing press Badillo works at doesn't print ticket stubs for Major League Baseball. Because if they did, Badillo would know that on the back of every ticket is a disclaimer.

    Here's what it says on a ticket stub for a recent game, not the Marlins, but I'm embarrassed to say what team, so anyways, it says,
    The holder assumes all risk and danger incidental to the game of baseball inluding specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown bats and thrown or batted balls and agrees that the participating clubs, their agents and players are not liable for injuries resulting from such causes.
    Is that not clear enough? I don't get it, people like this turkey are the reason why its generally accepted that going to law school is a good idea.

    I bet he wins the suit, collects some ridiculous sum of money, and next season Major League Baseball installs hockey-style enclosures to "protect" the fans.

    Forget that, let's idiot-proof the whole world while we're at it. Baseball is a great place to start. We can play baseball in a glass enclosure. We can even put seats on top of it like the Thunderdome. Nobody will get any souveneirs, but then idiots like this clown, who go to a game and don't pay attention, won't get injured.

    Though, I suppose we'd have to give them seatbelts too. Or else Badillo would jump to his death and sue the stadium builders for building something that was tall enough for him to fall off and hurt himself.
      The Arizona Fall League is where its at.....
    Where else can I get to see Rickie Weeks play in October? Nowhere. Thank the heavens and the earth around me for the Arizona Fall League.

    Early highlights:

  • Chris Shelton is tearing the cover off the ball. He's a catcher in the Tigers organization, picked in the Rule V draft from the Pirates (poor Pirate fans), who is hitting .520 with 3 home runs early. The Tigers are hoping that his growth wasn't stunted after only getting 108 at bats in 2004, but with a continued strong showing this fall, he could start getting more attention as a catching prospect.

  • Tied with Shelton for the early lead in home runs, with 3, is Ryan Howard of the Phillies. Howard is also hitting .441 (15 for 34) with 10 extra-base hits. Howard is highly regarded as a prospect but has his path blocked at first base by Jim Thome, who isn't going anywhere any time soon. It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do with Howard who showed he could handle AAA pitching at 24, and really has nothing left to prove as a minor leaguer.

  • On the pitching side, teams generally keep their top prospects away, with fears of overworking young arms, but I'm watching J.D. Durbin and Scott Baker of the Twins, two arms that might be around to help the Twins in the pen next year and possibly in the rotation in 2006.
  •   Tough luck for Corey and Figueroa........
    Today, the Pittsburgh Pirates released two players, pitchers Mark Corey and Nelson Figueroa.

    Corey is a 30-year old journeyman reliever with a career ERA of 6.02. Not exactly prime property, but the kind of guy you'd expect the Pirates to be locking up to a long-term deal. For Corey, its up to finding a minor league deal somewhere, then hoping for another shot. I predict he will be in Milwaukee for spring training.

    Figueroa was a one-time prospect in the Mets system who has since bounced around a bit. He's got decent strikeout numbers, and he took a pretty good shot at it with a decent debut with the Phillies in 2001.

    The problem for Figueroa is that he'll turn 31 next spring and his chance to develop into a useful major leaguer has probablly expired. Right now his best bet is a minor league deal, and to turn a hot spring training into a job as the 10th or 11th pitcher on the roster.

    He has the potential to be somewhat valuable as a swingman (sort of an endangered species), a long reliever, or a spot starter for some club. Not a bad guy for some GM to take a chance on, but not somebody to worry about keeping on the 40-man roster.
      Ramiro Mendoza is a SPY!!!!!
    I have no reason to be gladdened by the sun and I take good care not to be. --Samuel Beckett
    Time to sleep it off has not helped one bit. The 2004 Red Sox are the WORST team EVER assembled. My only new revelation from last night is that I am now questioning the choice to even be a sports fan.

    It just doesn't make sense.

    Why be associated with that guy? But better yet, why does that guy care so much?

    Why do I?

    Do we all need something else in our lives? Are we missing that much that we need to root for men who are paid to play a child's game? Why does it feel so good to win, but tear me apart so much when my favorite team just got embarrassed like Michael Dukakis.

    And if it tears me apart so much when they lose, why the hell would I go on as a Red Sox fan?

    Talk about your lack of logic, or reason, or common sense. Maybe I'm just that sadistic.

    Go Cardinals.

    What ever caused me to actually put faith in this man:

    I would run, if I ever saw that boob on the street. With his Gomer Pile voice, and the slow hook, and the over-confidence in horrible relief pitchers.

    With Curtis "Let's Panic" on the mound, and absolutely no idea how to stop the bleeding, I knew it was over. When you really get down to it, in my heart, I knew it was over before the season ever started.

    The next Red Sox team I get excited for will be the one that gives me ABSOLUTELY NO REASON TO. The next Red Sox team that I root for will play like absolute shit for 162 games and will limp into the playoffs with scrubs and rookies and Placido Polanco at the helm. That team won't win a single come from behind win, won't have a single walk-off win, won't have done anything to get me excited. Wake me up when that team arrives, because they're going all the way.

    I have come to the conclusion that if the Patriots weren't the greatest football team EVER assembled, my life as a sports fan would be over. It's just not worth it.

    It's a good thing Hideki Matsui doesn't play for the Seahawks.

    Why won't this season end? Derek Lowe pitches tonight. I boycotted his starts this season, he's bound to give up at least 8 runs, but to return to the (more famous) words of Samuel Beckett:

    I can't go on, I'll go on.
      Go home people.....
    The Red Sox have not come through when it matters. Not yet. It's like the Red Sox are holding an Ace-Ten. They have holes, they're not perfect, but if they would only sack up and play the cards they're dealt, they might be able to take those cards for a little ride..........From the other side, one might say that the Red Sox HAVE played the cards they were dealt. They are just on the river and finally realizing that they are up against kings.

    One more card to come though. It comes in the form of three games at Fenway Park......
    The card dropped. With a general lack of suspense, and internal "I told you so's" finally running naked, the river came a KING.

    The King spoke to me tonight as I contemplated sleeping in the gutter where I belong. The King told me to go home.

    Go home everybody. This Red Sox team is a joke, like every Red Sox team before it. A waste of hope.

    If you will allow me one more time to channel the walking contradiction that is Lee Flowers. The Red Sox are now, and will, of course, remain, paper champions.
      Wrong again........
    This is the playoffs, and this year will be different.

    So wrong.

    The player of the game was very clearly John Lieber. What a game he pitched, only allowing four baserunners in seven strong innings. There are a lot worse things that could happen than getting swept at Yankee stadium in the League Championship Series, but on a baseball scale, this is about as bad as it gets.

    I still believe that the Red Sox can come back. I still believe that this Red Sox team is better than that Yankee team. I also am starting to come to my annual realization that it just doesn't matter.

    I'm a stats guy who believes in the unmeasurable. What sabremetricians affectionately refer to as luck, I usually attribute to character or--even more simply--one player coming through when it matters.

    In two games, the Yankees have, while the Red Sox have not. John Lieber steps up and pitches the game of his career. Johnny Damon strikes out four times in one game for the first time in his.

    The Red Sox have not come through when it matters. Not yet. It's like the Red Sox are holding an Ace-Ten. They have holes, they're not perfect, but if they would only sack up and play the cards they're dealt, they might be able to take those cards for a little ride.

    Which, of course, is not a good analogy, and some groupthink Yankee fan might stop by to interrupt my rambling self-pity. From the other side, one might say that the Red Sox HAVE played the cards they were dealt. They are just on the river and finally realizing that they are up against kings.

    One more card to come though. It comes in the form of three games at Fenway Park where the Red Sox are 55-26 (43-38 on the road). They did so well at home because their offense is built for Fenway, where they hit .304/.378/.504 vs. .260/.342/.441 at stadiums that are not safety hazards.

    But I suppose its only fair to mention that Game 3 starter Harmonica Arroyo has a 5.35 ERA at home vs. a 3.06 ERA on the road. I guess knowing that is sort of like knowing that only three cards in the deck give the Red Sox a winning hand.

    It doesn't look good, especially now that Curt Schilling might be done for the remainder of the playoffs. If sometime in the next several days I start talking about off-season projections for the Milwaukee Brewers, please have a little sympathy.

    For now though, I still have some faith. This is a very good team that could suprise everyone and pull something off. Baseball fans around the country ought not to hold their breath. Red Sox fans, I know you have no choice.
      You thought it would be easy?
    As this season started, I was fond of saying a few things. One of which was that if the 2003 Red Sox had Curt Schilling instead of John Burkett, there was to be no doubt in my mind that they would have beat the Yankees last October.

    Well tonight the Red Sox had Curt Schilling. Tonight Curt Schilling pitched like John Burkett.

    Hurt or not, this game was painful.

    And on an unrelated note, why can't I find a single bar in the United States where no loud mouthed Yankee fans need to make their presence felt? Is there no santuary on this planet outside of my own room?
      Oh, and.......
    ........head over to Sports Central to see the ol' opinions getting a little bad publicity. Consider:
    Baseball Told the Right Way tells it absolutely the wrong way....
    Way too easy, but nonetheless.....

    He's got a point though. The Angels were not a good team. Well fine, they were good, but the Red Sox were far superior. So Scioscia didn't have much to lose. It still was a horrible pitching change, doesn't matter if it happened on the first or the last game of the season. Makes no difference what is at stake.
      The way it was supposed to happen.

    Recent history between the Champions and their bastard step-childs to the north has come full circle. It would have been a disappointment to everyone if this matchup hadn't occurred. West Coast fans can whine all they want about East Coast media bias, but is there a League Championship that people would have rather seen?

    Now I suppose a reader here might expect me to make some grand case as to why I believe the Red Sox will finally beat the Yankees and move on to the World Series. I won't do that, because I don't know.

    The failure of the Red Sox over the years has been blamed on a made up curse. The curse is mostly the product of nonsensical blubbering morons, but lets look at the rationale behind it. A curse is a nice easy way to describe something that can't be explained. I can't even begin to explain it, so I usually devolve into random snippets of sanity. I get irrational. That's all there is to it.

    At least I don't need a curse for comfort. I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone. There is just something different about Red Sox fans. I tried to make that case in my pre-season expectations. I'm not sure I did. It's something you can't put into words.

    I recognize that this is a great team, with the potential to win it all, but at the same time I remember the pain, and I temper the optimism.
    But as sure as the sun--like every Red Sox team before it--this team will do something, pull off some miracle comeback, or dominate so fully in the first round that all of my inherent cynicism will vanish.
    I wrote that when the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth. Consider the prophecy fulfilled. Consider the cynicism vanished. This Red Sox team is VERY, VERY good. Unfortunately the Yankees are also VERY, VERY good.

    I know this upcoming series might end in any of a million ways. I also KNOW the Red Sox are a better team, if only slightly. But it won't matter unless they are able to do something that nobody in Yankee Stadium on Tuesday was alive to see.

    There are no ghosts.

    I used an analogy to start the season, and it seems even more appropriate now. I feel like an inmate on the eve of my execution. Either that, or a virgin on prom night. Take your pick.
      It's Lima Time??
    Jose Lima says it was the atmosphere in Dodger Stadium that helped him shutout the best-lineup-in-baseball Cardinals on Saturday night.

    I don't doubt him.

    That crowd on Saturday night was amazing, and Lima definitely fed off the energy. This game turned out to be the most exciting game of the playoffs so far. Who would have thunk it? Jose Lima: 9 innings, 5 hits, 1 walk, 0 runs.

    Let's take a moment to remember Jason Schmidt's 3-hit shutout or Josh Beckett's 2-hit 11-strikeout masterpiece or his gem to close out the Yankees in 2003. And that was only last year.

    This is exactly what I love about the playoffs so much. A pitcher, ANY pitcher, can turn in a performance like this and carry a team on his back. Hell, a pitcher goes out and throws a game like this and he carrys an entire city on his back.

    Jose Lima did exactly that. He may have been an unlikely candidate, but that crowd in Dodger Stadium on Saturday was something to die for. Let's hope it can carry over to tonights game, as the Dodgers look to force a Game 5 in St. Louis.

    I'm a sucker for great pitching. Old fashioned? Boring? Maybe, but I would much rather see a 1-0 pitchers duel than a back-and-forth, 5-lead change, 9-7 rumble.

    Jose Lima's gem on Saturday may not have been 1-0, but on the biggest stage of all, it doesn't get much better than that. He was hitting his spots, he pitched with confidence, and when he needed it, the crowd was right there to remind him of what most ballplayers play for.
    Just to close the deal with the nine million or so of you who have been coming by to get a picture of Pedro's little friend, 28-inch Nelson de la Rosa. In full celebratory mode, enjoy,

    Sometimes things are just too strange to put in words.
      The ABSOLUTE worst pitching change in the history of baseball.....ever.
    Last year we saw the worst NON-pitching change in the history of the game. This morning, Mike Scioscia has joined the halls of Grady "Gump" Little.

    After watching Francisco Rodriguez embarrass the best lineup in baseball for 2-2/3 innings, after watching only one solidly hit ball, after watching K-Rod make Manny Ramirez (the best non-Bonds hitter in baseball) look like a AAA callup TWICE. After all that, Scioscia decides that a lefty/lefty matchup is in order. Fine. Only problem: Scioscia doesn't have a lefty reliever.

    What he does have is Jarrod Washburn, only there's several problems with that option. Mainly, he already pitched game 1 and gave up 7 runs in 3-1/3 IP (including a walk and a single by David Ortiz).

    But for the moment lets not worry about that, or the fact that K-Rod's numbers against lefties (.213/.299/.265) are better than Washburn's (.225/.277/.387). The real problem with the move is that Washburn sucks and Francisco Rodriguez is really really good.

    So predictably we got a good hefty dose of Papi, Cookie Monster, Ortizzle. Choose your own nickname, but I give you:

    The Red Sox sweep. Arroyo pitched great, arguably better than Schilling, and just as good as Pedro. Tim Wakefield knew this would happen,
    Playing in front of our home crowd gives us a huge advantage and I look forward to Bronson Arroyo pitching a masterpiece in Game 3 at Fenway Park..........I think performing on the bigger stage isn't going to affect him at all.
    And it didn't. The Angels are a pretty good team, but Vlad can't pitch. And in the playoffs, only a pitcher can carry a team. Not even a bullpen can do that. After hearing so much about the Angels pen, and how that ensured close games, the Red Sox put up 10 earned in 15 innings of Angel relief pitching. After going 5-1 in the 2002 playoffs, Frankie Rodriguez is now 0-2 in this one.

    All three of the Red Sox starters will be rested. Wakefield will be ready out of the pen, if any game should go to extras. The Twins will have more to say, throwing Santana at home to avoid elimination, forcing a game 5. Let Quantrill, Gordon, and Rivera pitch in two more games, and let the four-trick Twins wear out Santana, Radke, Nathan, and Rincon. Either or, Yankees or Twins, makes no difference to me. The Red Sox will enjoy watching those games on TV, waiting to see where they fly off to, in preparation to walk all over their next opponent.

    It sure looks like its going to be Red Sox/Cardinals, but lets not get too far ahead. There are still plenty of games to play, mainly three big ones today. The Cards could clinch, the Astros and Braves are tied at 1, and the Yankees could clinch, but would have to go through Johan Santana to do it.

    Starting Santana is either really really smart, or really really dumb. You have to win two games to advance, Santana will pitch one of those, but it's a lot to ask from a young kid with injuries in his past, and a cautious work usage in his present. If this doesn't work out for Ron Gardenhire, there is potential for two new inductees in the Grady Gump Hall of Champions.

    And just one more:

      One down, 10 to go......
    Red Sox: 9, Angels: 3.
    Overall this game was actually pretty boring. A matchup of Curt Schilling and the best offense in the AL, versus Jarrod Washburn and the 7th best offense in the AL looked pretty lopsided on paper. The game ended up that way. I'll take a boring game though, with absolutely no complaints.

    At first pitch, Angel Stadium was still half empty. I wonder if the same will be true in Boston. Prediction: There will be more fans in Fenway for batting practice on Friday. Prediction that will never be tested: There would have been more staggeringly drunk fans at Wrigley Field for first pitch than the total number of fans, drunk or sober, at Angel Stadium for first pitch. I don't care if the game did start at 1 PM, if it started at 4 AM you could expect the same.

    On that note, starting a game at 4:00 should be a crime. Not to mention at 1:00. You should have seen the chaos driving in Boston as everyone tried sneaking out of work at the same time.

    Courtesy of the ESPN announcing crew (Tony Gwynn is cool, but Chris Berman can go to hell for all I care, wheres the love for Jerry Remy?) the Angel's best right-handed pinch hitter is Adam Riggs. This Adam Riggs? I think Adam Riggs might be the worst player currently on a postseason roster.

    Without Manny, the Red Sox offense would be merely good. Without Vlad, the Angels offense would be wretched. Either Vlad or Manny is the AL MVP, depending on your individual definition of the award.

    But that doesn't matter now. Why, it's the playoffs, and the Angels have to wonder if they have the personnel to be able to compete with the Red Sox. Vegas lines have tommorrow's game only at -120 for Boston, and it seems popular to be picking against Pedro. If you promise to not be suprised when Pedro spins a gem, then I'll promise not to come in this space tommorrow and say "I told you so".


    It's the vintage Afro of Bartolo Colon on the bump tommorrow against the vintage Jerry Curl of Pedro Martinez. The Rally Monkey against Nelson de la Rosa. You couldn't script this story.

    Twins: 2, Yankees: 0.
    Why MLB insists on scheduling only one game at a time is beyond my level of comprehension. Shouldn't their goal be acheiving the highest ratings possible? Are they really going to get more people watching games at 1:00 in the afternoon? Aren't 85% of the country at work at that time? And aren't the other 15% of the people at Wrigley, and the Cubs missed the playoffs. Makes no sense.

    Regardless, I was only able to see two games last night (and had to listen to the beginnings of one as I cut off old ladies and ran down pedestrians in a mad dash home from work). This second one was a much better game than the first. I'm not too sure about the outcome though.

    I can't decide if I want to root for the Yankees or the Twins. I want the Yankees to win because it just wont feel right if the Red Sox win without going right through that "curse" head on. The other half of me takes great pleasure at seeing the Twins--or any team--beat up on the Yankees. In fact, I get giddy as a schoolgirl when there is silence in Yankee Stadium. I love the look on New Yorkers' faces when they slowly file out of the Stadium in shock. Get used to that feeling you spoiled little brats. Mystique and aura, my ass.

    Anyways, back to the game. Who's cooler: Ruben Sierra or Julio Franco? I'd say Julio just because he was born in the 50s, but Ruben is starting for the Yankees, a team that pride themselves on keeping people of character in the locker room.

    Oh, that game? Well Santana wasn't at his best, and Mussina pretty much was, and the Twins still won game 1. I still like the Yankees to win this series, but if the Twins can win only one of the next three games, they'll have Santana going again in game 5. Even though the Yanks hit Santana pretty hard tonight, I'd really like the Twins chances if it gets to that.

    Another Random Thought: how did John Olerud and Gary Sheffield end up on the same team? Even putting aside their opposing personalities for a second, their swings are exact opposites. Olerud has that smooth, effortless left-handed swing and Shef's righty swing threatens to send his arms flying out of their sockets at any moment. Both swings could win batting titles, and I love them both.

    Lieber against Radke tommorrow. That game could go either way, but I'd be inclined to say the Yanks will not be shutout two night in a row.
    Yes, that time of the year. Once again, the tension and intensity will inevitably build. The hope will follow. In all my years as a Red Sox fan, I still haven't found a way to slow it down. I try to keep telling myself that it will all end, almost assuredly it will all end in disasterous fashion.

    I always believe that at first, and I can temper the optimism somewhat. But as sure as the sun, this team--like every Red Sox team before it--will do something, pull off some miracle comeback, or dominate so fully in the first round that all of my inherent cynicism will vanish.

    Somehow, sometime in the next week or so, I will start to believe that this year will be different.

    At the same time, in some small section in the back of my brain, I will know that its all for naught. But just like every year before this one, that small section of rationality will be inaudible. Even if I could hear it, I wouldn't be able to understand what it was saying. It's a language I only understand during the regular season.

    This is the playoffs, and this year will be different.
      Motor City Hockeytown Home Field Advantage
    I apologize to Jeff and Dan, and any other Detroit readers out there, but I did find this comment by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen pretty funny. From the Chicago Sun-Times,
    BLIGHT BRIGHT: Guillen, who calls the now-closed Tiger Stadium one of his favorites, poked a little fun at the city of Detroit as the Sox prepared for their third and final series here this season.

    ''The reason we don't do well here is as soon as we land we get depressed,'' Guillen joked. ''They should be an undefeated team. Everybody that comes here, they go, 'Oh my God, we're going back to Detroit.'''
    Ozzie Guillen is a funny guy. I'm not sure its always intentional, but I like hearing him talk. When I can understand what he says, that is. And I'm sure glad he's not my manager.
      The Cubbies death sentence........
    While not officially eliminated from the playoffs, the Cubs are pretty damn close. The game at Wrigley is about to start, and to make the playoffs, the Cubs will have to win today, tommorrow, and hope that both Houston and San Francisco lost their remaining two. Not impossible, but not very likely, so I am pre-maturely pronouncing the 2004 Cubs dead.

    The Cubs may not even win 90 games, which is unacceptable for a team that was within five outs of the World Series and improved both over the off-season and mid-season with the trade for Nomar. It's never fair to dish out blame, but there has to be a reason for the disappointment. By all accounts, the Cubs fell drastically short of expectations. When they ABSOLUTELY had to win their games down the stretch, the Cubs instead have lost four in a row, and six of their last seven.

    It's been painful week:
    Last Saturday, the Cubs wasted 7-2/3 innings of four-hit scoreless ball from Mark Prior by bringing in Ryan "not a typo" Dumpster in the 9th. Dumpster predictably walked two to bring the tying run to the plate. Hawkins came in and gave up a three-run home run to rookie Victor Diaz to get a tough blown save. Its tough because if Dusty hadn't left Dumpster in a close game, its likely Hawkins and his 1.05 WHIP would have never even let the tying run get to the on-deck circle.

    On Sunday, the Cubs wasted a strong 7 inning, 3-run start by Kerry Wood by managing a meager 3 hits off the Mets. The Cubs left 12 men on base.

    Monday was the lone bright spot, beating the Reds 12-5. Although, they didn't really need 12 runs with Zambrano pitching well, maybe they should have bottled up some of that offense and saved it for the rest of the week.

    Tuesday, well, the Cubs just lost on Tuesday. It wasn't a particularly painful loss, but it still hurt to see my boy Maddux struggle, knowing how much the game meant. But you take this loss and put it behind you.

    On Wednesday, the heartbreak continued. I was talking with John on the phone at the end of this one, and given how much it hurt me just hearing about it, I'm suprised John didn't throw the phone through a window. The Cubs offense wasted another great pitched game, this time a 1-run outing from team-MVP Glendon Rusch. Even after leaving 19 men on base, the Cubs were still in a position to win, but Hawkins blew it in the 9th. With two outs, D'Angelo Jimenez tripled. Hawkins then threw two fastballs by Austin Kearns. Ahead in the count 0-2, instead of finishing off Kearns with some high cheese, LaTroy proceeds to do EXACTLY what John predicted (and advised against) and go to his breaking ball. Boom, tie ball game. Like I said, I am infinitely suprised that John's phone is still in one piece.

    There is not much to say about Thursday. Mark Prior goes 9 innings, giving up three hits, one run, and striking out 16. Cubs leave 20 (20?!?!) men on base and lose 2-1 in extra innings. Then, on Friday, the Cubs stranded 15 more, lost by one run and effectively eliminated themselves from the playoffs.

    What a week.

    Who do we blame?
    I've heard people put undue blame on LaTroy Hawkins. I don't think that is entirely fair. Hawkins has blown nine saves, as many as Octavio Dotel and Danny Graves, but its hard to fault someone with a 2.67 ERA in a team-leading 81 relief innings. If anything, LaTroy was the rock in that bullpen. But the two blown saves that hurt the most happened in his last two outings, and they will always be fresh on our memories. The blown leads against the Mets and the Reds were heartbreaking and do stick out, but overall, LaTroy was one of the best relievers in baseball this year.

    The other thing that sticks out is the offense. Much has also been made about the Cubs striking out way too much as a team, especially in clutch situations, but it's hard to really back up that claim when the three division winners (Atlanta, LA, and St. Louis) all struck out more times than the Cubs. Also, the Cubs hit .270 on the season, and hit exactly .270 with runners in scoring position, striking out once every 5.8 plate appearances in both situations.

    Instead of blaming it on the two obvious choices, I have two things Cub fans really ought to blame it on. Those two things are embodied in the persons of Jose "I can play short" Macias, and the long lost son of Bret Saberhagen, Mark Prior:

    You're blaming Jose Macias?
    No, I am not trying to pin all the blame on just Macias and Prior, but both are representative of what went wrong. Macias because he symbolizes the playing time that the Cubs have given to absolute schmucks this year, and Prior because he symbolizes the massive amounts of injuries the Cubs have sustained as a team. One may have a lot to do with the other, but regardless, these are the two best reasons I can come up with.

    The Cubs had four offensive bats healthy all season, Alou, Patterson, Lee, and Barrett. Sammy missed time, and had a wretched season by his standards when he did play. Aramis missed time and wasn't healthy when he played the others. Todd Hollandsworth, their best bat off the bench missed most of the season. Nomar missed time down the stretch prompting a lot of starts from the Ramon Martinez, Neifi Perez, and Jose Macias triple headed monster.

    In fact, a team that gives 808 ABs to some combination of Ramon Martinez, Jose Macias, Alex Gonzalez, Neifi Perez, Rey Ordonez, and Tom Goodwin is in trouble, whether or not their fans would like you to believe that.

    Injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior hurt too. They were offset somewhat by suprisingly solid pitching from Glendon Rusch, but its hard to win when you get 40 starts instead of 60 from your two best pitchers.

    Taking the easy way out?
    Yeah, lets be realistic, injuries are no excuse for falling this short. The rational thoughts inside me like to think that the Cubs bench was horribly inadequate to overcome injuries, that Jim Hendry was too slow in making deals to help fix the glaring holes, and that they really needed to improve on their team .327 OBP. I can't use rational thoughts at a time like this.

    I started to like this team at the end of 2001. I followed them through their disappointing 2002, and started getting real excited during the playoff run of 2003. I look at the 2004 team and I see a team with a pretty good offense, a pretty decent bullpen, and the best rotation in the league. The Cubs outhit and outpitched their opponents this year.......just not by enough.

    The statistics nut inside me like to think there was some reason, but the baseball fan inside me has come to the conclusion that the Cubs just didn't do the "little things". I hate saying that more than anything, but its all I can come up with for this team. They are just way too talented to be sitting at 88 wins right now. The playoffs are all but gone, but it's 0-0 in the 2nd--Braves at Cubs--theres still a sliver of hope.