October 2009

For them, it’s a Fall Crisis

Multiple-choice quiz time:
Who is most tortured by a Phillies-Yankees World Series?
(a) Mets fans, who have their crosstown rivals on one side and their braggadocio NL East rivals on the other.
(b) The Cleveland Indians, who must watch Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia light it up, no Chief Wahoo in sight.
(c)  The Pittsburgh Pirates, who are watching their cross-state rivals in their third World Series since they last had a winning season.
(d) Bobby Abreu, whose Angels lost to the Yankees and who now must watch his two former teams play on.
Tough choice. Don’t think any of the above will be the life of any World Series-viewing party. … 
So we’ve had a couple of 583-homer men making news lately. Alex Rodriguez, getting into his first World Series. And Mark McGwire, getting back into the game as the Cardinals’ new hitting coach. … 
This postseason has been anything but a yawner — unless we go by some of its principals. The cameras repeatedly caught Sabathia yawning on the Yankees’ bench and Mariano Rivera doing the same in New York’s bullpen. And then Ryan Howard admitted not having seen all of the riveting Game 5 of the ALCS — won by the Angels 7-6 — because  “I fell asleep at the end.” … 
In case you were wondering, the World Series will end during Week 11 of the college football season. … 

Mo (is still) money

Mariano Rivera’s postseason legacy is safe. But his continued excellence in the context of this October just adds another layer of marvel to his resume.
Other closers had a wretched time of it. Huston Street, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Braxton, Jonathan Papelbon, Brian Fuentes — they all had major meltdowns.
And in the midst of it all, it was still Mo Money. … 
Speaking of meltdowns … what is it with Angels left-handed relievers in the postseason?
Twenty-three years ago, Gary Lucas “blanks out” and hits Boston’s Rich Gedman with his only pitch of Game 5 of the ALCS. In the 2004 ALCS, Jarrod Washburn serves up a series-losing 10th-inning homer to David Ortiz. A week ago,  Fuentes feeds three identical fastballs to Alex Rodriguez, the third being swatted for a game-tying homer. And tonight, Scott Kazmir plays Frisbee with a bunted ball. … 
Do you realize there were no home runs hit in two of the three ALCS games in Yankee Stadium, after only one such game during the entire regular season? …
The World Series opponents are even in at least one regard: The Phillies’ starting infield jacked 109 home runs, the Yankees’ 112. …
Curt Schilling definitely is one guy who didn’t see Alex Rodriguez’s October revival coming. The former pitcher had dismissed A-Rod’s prospects a week before the start of the postseason, saying, “For a guy that’s as good as he is, he still strikes out a lot. Guys who strike out a lot tend to have a tough time in October.”
You mean, Curt, guys like Reggie Jackson? … 
Congrats to Tony La Russa for his new deal with the Cardinals? Nay – congrats to fans who will have the pleasure of the brilliant strategist’s and motivator’s continued presence in dugouts a little longer.
Following the bitterly disappointing NLDS, La Russa had briefly considered making his getaway from the Gateway. What changed his mind? Certainly not the lure of becoming MLB’s all-time winningest manager. Though La Russa is No. 3 on the list, he is 1,179 wins behind Connie Mack (although he now has a good shot at the 212 he needs to pass runner-up John McGraw’s 2,763). … 

Seventh-inning stretcher

That seventh inning last night? Baseball’s version of bungee jumping off the Empire State Building. . .. 
After last night’s Game 5 of the ALCS, I am convinced it IS easier to play in these games than it is to watch them.
I mean, these were nine innings of torture that put fans’ nerves in a vise. The emotional investment was way beyond even a federal bailout. Especially during a brutal ninth when Brian Fuentes repeatedly poked the fork into the outlet.
We’re dying out here. And what is the guy in the middle of it all thinking?
“It’s not like my life flashes before my eyes,” Fuentes said after the game, “and I’m thinking, ‘This is the ultimate moment.'”
You mean, there’s more? Oh, God. … 
Not saying this baseball postseason is too long — can’t have too much baseball — but talk about clash of the seasons: A World Series Game 7 would come during Week 11 of the college football season. … 
How’s this for potential bookends for Baseball 2009? Say the Yankees keep their World Series date with the Phillies. Say that Series goes the distance. Say both teams adjust their rotations so lefty aces CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee face off in such a Game 7 in Yankee Stadium.
The point? Lee, then with the Indians, and Sabathia faced each other in the very first New Yankee Stadium opener on April 16 (Lee and Cleveland were 10-2 winners). …

Actually, a good beating is the best revenge

Vengeance continues as the dominant theme of this postseason. And no one is entitled to more of it than are the Yankees, who for a decade had been dissed by the Angels. …
It’s tough not to root for Brad Lidge, whatever your team allegiance. The guy is extremely down-to-earth, level-headed and unassuming. And the list of pitchers who would have been terminally eaten up by what he underwent during the regular season is longer than Bernie Madoff’s IOU list. Yet here’s Lidge, flipping the switch in October … 
Congrats to Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke for winning the 2009 NL and AL Cy Young Awards. No, those haven’t yet been officially awarded. But they received comparable honors from The Sporting News, baseball’s version of Hollywood’s Golden Globes. Whoever gets those in January usually gets the Oscars in March. … 
Incidentally, for a rare insight into what makes Greinke tick, be sure to check out his cool sit-down with MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel. … 
You already knew that Bengie Molina couldn’t run. But did you also know he can’t walk, either? This season, the free-agent catcher had 10 unintentional walks in 520 plate appearances. … 
The next time the conversation turns to unbreakable records, inject Bobby Cox’s 150 ejections. The Braves manager has been tossed from more games than a scuffed-up baseball. … 
Umpire Tim McClelland had to feel “in my heart” that Nick Swisher had left the bag too soon. Because he couldn’t see it in his eyes, since they were focused on center fielder Torii Hunter. … 
But know what? If Joe Girardi could feel in his heart that Alfredo Aceves better matched up with Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis than did David Robinson, then McClelland is entitled to his own gut feelings. … 

Mauch would have approved

Somewhere high above Angel Stadium, Gene Mauch was smiling Monday afternoon. Especially when Joe Girardi came out to get Dave Robertson with two outs in a quiet bottom of the 11th. Girardi turned to Alfredo Aceves, who in no time turned the Yankees’ looming ALCS sweep into a contest.
Finally, late over-manager Mauch had company. Girardi’s unnecessary move smacked of the one made by the Little General in the ninth inning on the same field on Oct. 12, 1986.
Remember? Mike Witt got Dwight Evans on a weak pop fly to third. Two outs. Angels leading 5-4 in the clinching game of the ALCS. No one on base.
Here comes Mauch to take the ball from Witt and give it to lefty Gary Lucas – who plucks Rich Gedman with his first pitch. So here comes Mauch again, and Donnie Moore happens. Dave Henderson happens, and the Red Sox — one out away from elimination — don’t look back.
Well, not until that ball goes through Bill Buckner’s bowed legs.

Twins remain on-target to move out in style

Thanks to Scott Baker, the Twins remained on-target to become only the fourth team in at least the building-boom of the post-expansion era to say farewell to their ballpark with a postseason game.
Baker’s win in Detroit on Thursday afternoon pulled the Twins within two games of the Tigers in the AL Central race, on their way back home for the final regular-season series in the Metrodome, against the Royals.
If the Twins make up those two games while the Tigers are lowering the curtain against the White Sox, the teams will play a division tiebreaker Tuesday in the Metrodome. If they do even better — sweep while Detroit gets swept — they’ll steal the division title, much as they did in 2007, when the Tigers virtually led wire-to-wire  but gave up the flag on the last day (although surviving as the AL Wild Card, all the way into the World Series).
Either way, the Twins, moving over to Target Field for the 2010 season, would join these teams in turning out the lights with a playoff game:
  • 1996 Braves, lost Game 5 of the World Series to the Yankees, 1-0, on Oct. 24 in the final game at Fulton County Stadium (moved into Turner Field in 1997).
  • 1999 Astros, lost Game 4 of the NL Division Series to the Braves, 7-5, on Oct. 9 in the final game in the Astrodome (moved into Minute Maid Park in 2000).
  • 2005 Cardinals, lost Game 6 of the NL Championship Series to the Astros, 5-1, on Oct. 19 in the final game in Busch Stadium II (moved into Busch Stadium III in 2006).
If they get the chance, guess the only thing the Twins would want to do differently is become the first outgoing team to actually win the finale.
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