27 October 2004

Curses! Foiled Again!

What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on around here!?

Some curse. The only curses I can detect emanate from the lips of Cardinals fans each time the Red Sox inch themselves another out closer to Boston's first World Series title in 85 years. Yankee fans too, for that matter.

Frustrated Cards fan Posted by Hello

Personally, I don't really have anything against the Red Sox, specifically. It's just that I'm used to being able to pick on them, or at least I'm used to the Yankees being able to pick on them, and now they'll finally have something on us. A win. And not just any win, but a World Series Win.

The pundits who have told you that the Curse of the Bambino was over last week, after the Boston beat the Yankees in the Worst Choke in Postseason History were wrong. For one thing, calling the Yankees' performance a "choke" is an insult to the Red Sox, who deserve credit not just for beating the Yankees, but for not giving up when it seemed all was lost. A case can be made that the Yankees weren't themselves: than Kevin Brown was never quite right after breaking his hand, that they needed a healthy Jason Giambi or a rested Tom Gordon or whatever, but the reality is that Boston just played the hell out of New York for those last four games, and that they earned that win.

Secondly, the Red Sox have gotten to the World Series four times since 1918, twice against the Cardinals (1946 and 1967), and have lost all four of them. So if there ever was a "Curse" other than, "Damn you, Bucknah!", then it still exists.

At least until tonight.

Since divisional play started in 1969, there have only been five World Series sweeps, two perpetrated by the Yankees (1998 & 1999), one against them (1976), and also 1989 and 1990, for and against Tony LaRussa's Oakland Athletics. For whatever that's worth.

I don't think we're about to see a sixth addition to that list. Jason Marquis is, frankly, a better pitcher than Derek Lowe at this point in his career. He hasn't exactly impressed in the postseason thus far, but he pitched well in the regular season (3.71 ERA was 17th in the NL, 24th in MLB), and perhaps is bound to toss a good start this evening. I hope. Derek Lowe, on the other hand, has been pitching way over his head, after posting a 5.42 ERA in the regular season that ranked 78th(!) among the 86 MLB pitchers who pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title. Of the eight pitchers below him on that list, two spent half thier time in Denver (Shawn Estes and Jason Jennings) and two were the poster-children for overpaid disappointment, Estebomb Loaiza and Jose Contreras. (Those two, traded for each other in mid-season, somehow managed a 23-16 record despite a combinde ERA over 5.60. Have some Run Support with your Run Support. But I digress.)

Besides the pitching matchup, it would seem likely that the Cardinals' bats are due to escape the prison in which Boston pitching has kept them for the last three games. In total, St. Louis has hit only .208/.290/.344, for a sub-Neifi .633 OPS, scoring only 4 runs per game on average, well below the 5.28 runs per game they averaged in the regular season. Scott Rolen and Reggie Sanders don't have a hit between them. Jim Edmonds is 1-for-11, with zero RBI. With nobody on base in front of him, Albert Pujols has no RBI either, despite his .429 batting average. Cardinals second basemen are 2-for-13 and leadoff hitter Edgar Renteria has scored only two runs in three games.

Pedro looking to Daddy Posted by Hello

All in all, an impressive job by the Boston pitchers of shutting down the best offense in the National League, but I expect that the Cardinals will get at least one win in before the Curse truly ends.

I suppose we should have expected this. Not because the Red Sox had "momentum" or some silly notion such as "fate", but because the odds are simply against the team with the best record in MLB winning the World Series. Since the Wild Card format started a decade ago, only one team with the best record in MLB, the 114-win 1998 Yankees, has won the Whole Ball of Wax. One in ten. Well, one in nine, until tonight. Or tomorrow night.

For those of you who still believe in The Curse, consider this: Every time the Red Sox have lost in the World Series before, the series has at least been competitive. All four of those series went to seven games, and only one started out even 2-0 Red Sox, much less 3-0. Before last week's debacle, no baseball team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a 7-game series to even force a Game 7, much less win it. It is all but unfathomable that it should happen again in this lifetime, much less in a week.

Sox Hi-5's Posted by Hello

Speaking of this lifetime, if this pattern holds up, the Red Sox will be due to win another World Series 86 years from now. We'll both have reason to celebrate: the Red Sox their sixth World Championship, and me, my impending 116th birthday!

See you in 2090.

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21 October 2004

Maybe not... Posted by Hello

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19 October 2004

Spinal Tap Baseball

It seems that there's some cosmic force out there,working behind the scenes, to make sure that the Yankees-Red Sox games don't end at a reasonable hour. Prime-Time, drive-time, nine-innings, extra innings, it doesn't matter: this is the series that goes up to Eleven. PM, that is.

I need some sleep.

A week ago, my job necessitated me getting up at 2:30 AM to go with my boss as he made a presentation to the Navy regarding a research contract we were given. We spent about six hours driving to the facility in Maryland (roughly twice as long as I slept the night before) and spent a few hours in the meeitng itself. I got home about 7:30 on Tuesday night and then stayed up another three or four hours watching the Yankee-Red Sox game, which we won, 10-7, largely thanks to Curt Schilling's bum ankle. A game in which we were up 6-0 after two innings, and in which our own pitcher had been perfect through six innings, would not require me to stay up to watch the inevitable outcome, but as we now know, you'd have been wrong to think that. The Sox rallied to as close as 8-7 before the Yanks put them away for good, and despite only three hours of sleep and a 17-hour work day, I saw the whole thing, all three hours and 20 minutes of it.

Then, the very next night, still recuperating from the Needless Business Trip From Hell, another nail-biter (I may need to start with my toes soon...), another 3:15 game time, but a 3-1 victory. Saturday night, fans in Boston and around the country got to witness the longest nine-inning post season game in history, four hours and 20 minutes, a 19-8 laugher that looked like it might be competitive until about the third inning. I watched all of that one too, figuring that it was Saturday and that I wouldn't have to get up as early for church as I do for work. Sunday's game started at "Prime Time" and ended well into Monday, after five hours and two minutes, the longest post season game time ever, this time a Yankee loss, 6-4 in 12 innings. I missed most of that, having gone to bed at 11:00 or so, with the score 4-3 Yanks in the sixth, I think. No problem, New York was still up, three games to one in the Series.

And then Monday night, not to be outdone by, well, themselves, the Yanks and Sox played almost SIX HOURS, and ended with another Yankee loss, 5-4. Amazingly, this game started at about 5PM EST, and when my friends left after Monday Night Poker at about 9:30, I still got to watchan hour and a half of edge-of-your-seat baseball. This game was so long that I could have watched Patton twice! Then I could have rewound the tape to watch General Montgomery's embarassing entry into Palermo a third time, and still turned the game on i time to see David Ortiz single into center field to win the game, almost exactly as the clock struick 11:00. PM, that is.

By my count, that's a total of 21 and 3/4 hours of baseball in a week. Posada's and Varitek's knees must be killing them.

So the Yanks are now clinging to a 3-2 lead in the series. Assuming that they don't get rained out again, I expect the Yankees to wrap it up tonight. Here's why:

1) Jon Lieber is pitching for New York. Including the postseason, he's 12-3 with a 3.55 ERA at Yankee Stadium this year, compared to 3-5, 5.19 on the road. I don't understand it, but heck, it seems to work.

B) Curt Schilling is pitching for the Red Sox. Schilling's ankle, as you may recall, apparently consists of a lot of bailing twine and chewing gum, not unlike Curtis Leskanic's shoulder or Manny Ramirez' hair. I don't care if he wears the damn Ruby Slippers on the mound tonight, he won't be able to pitch well.

iii) Jeff Kellogg won't be behind the plate. There are few things that irk me more than an umpire with a Kleenex-sized strike zone that floats around home plate as erratically as, well, a Kleenex. Late strike calls is one of them. Kellogg does both. Enjoy that foul line assignment, Jeff! Can't say we'll miss you.

d) No one has ever, in the history of professional baseball, come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a 7-game series. Ever. And it's not gonna start now.

V) The Curse. No, not the stupid Curse of the Bambino. That's just an excuse for poor performance and/or bad luck. I'm talking about the Curtis Curse. No team with two pitchers named Curtis has EVER gotten to the World Series. Curt Schilling and Curtis Leskanic can wrap their bodies in as much duct tape and super glue as they want, it won't erase 100+ years of baseball history!

You could look it up.


By the way, I stumbled across a new baseball blog today, Fall Classic. Go check them out.

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16 October 2004

Playoff Ramblings...

Some random thoughts while I watch Saturday night's Yankees-Red Sox game...

I caught this game on the radio, in the second inning, and it was already 3-0 Yankees, so I thought it might be more of the same medicine we were administered in the first two games of this series: An entertaining, eventual Yankee win in which New York was mostly in control, even if the Sox did make it more of a contest at some point in the game. With Kevin Brown pitching tonight, who had been pretty good in his last couple of outings, and a home run from Hideki Matsui already, I figured the game might get out of hand early, and maybe I'd end up watching something from Blockbuster before the clock struck ten PM.

Good thing that DVD isn't due back tomorrow.

Kevin Brown didn't make it past the second inning, after giving up four runs in that inning on a Trot Nixon homer, a Derek Jeter error and a few other hits. The Yanks trailed 4-3 at the end of the second, but that didn't last. Alex Rodriguez hit the 4th pitch he saw over the Green Monster to tie the game. Then a Gary Sheffield walk, a Matsui double and a Bernie Williams RBI single chased Sox starter Bronson Arroyo. Ramiro Mendoza, former Yankees swingman, proved not to be much "relief" as he balked while facing the first batter of his night, Jorge Posada, to score another run, making it 6-4, Evil Empire. Mendoza did retire three straight to get out of the third, but was yanked after hitting Miguel Cairo with a pitch to start the fourth, even though Boston had scored two in their half of the previous inning to tie the score at six apiece.

That happened because Javier Vazquez was brought in to relieve Brown, who was probably so relieved that Vazquez was in there giving up hits and runs instead of him that he punched another wall. Javier has proven himself to be more than an enigma over the course of this season. He's been an absolute disaster, at least since mid-July. An All-Star four months ago, with ten wins and an ERA around 3.50, he's won only four games since, with an ERA of nearly 7.00 in the regular season, and an unimpressive outing in the ALDS against Minnesota (5 IP, 5 ER, 7 hits, 2 walks, 2 HBP) last week.

From watching Vazquez in that third inning tonight, it seems to me that he's got some real issues with his mechanics. His release point is all over the place, as he falls off the mound to the left in his follow through on some pitches, and finishes straight-up facing the plate at other times. He's got a straight three-quarters delivery, but his arm flattens out on his fastball sometimes, which puts a nice tailspin on it, but also keeps it from being a strike fairly often. I am not a pitching coach, but I can pitch a little and I watch a LOT of baseball, so I have some iea what I'm talking about. I don't know why this should be the case, if perhaps Vazquez just thrived in the low-pressure situation of Montreal, but that wouldn't explain how he did so well in the first half of this season in New York.

To his credit, he has pitched better over the last three innings or so than he did in the third, but even though hes kept the Sox from scoring any more, it's been anything but a walk in the (Fenway) park. A walk, three hits, and a few hard-hit outs have kept vazquez on his toes a little, though it's possible that the five to ten-run cushion he's been given has helped him to relax and "trust his stuff". Of course, as I typed that, Jason Varitek hit a 2-run homer to dead-center field, making it 17-8. Three scoreless innings bracketed by two 2-run innings do not constitute a good pitching peformance, in my book. Neverthless, it was enough, and with now 19 runs from the indefatigueable Yankee bats, I suppose I can't complain too much. But Paul Quantrill is pitching now, and he'll do well to endear himself to Joe Torre by giving him another scoreless inning or two.

Speaking of he Yankee bats, how's about an LCS-record 19 runs? They've hit five homers, eight doubles, including two each by Matsui and A-Rod, and every starter except John Olerud has at least one run or RBI. Hideki Matsui holds the ALCS single-game RBI record, with five in Game Two, and another five tonight after his second homer, but also five runs scored in this game, which ties the new record that Matsui now shares with A-Rod.

As you've probably heard, no team in baseball history has ever returned from a 3 games to none deficit to win a seven-game series, The Yankees under Joe Torre have never lost a playoff game in which they scored at least seven runs, and=I'm sure that the 9-run lead they're taking into the ninth inning is a record of some kind as well.

The FOX broadcasters sought out well-known Red Sox fan and author Stephen King, to get his take on things. At the time, the Yanks were only up by seven runs, and King said that if he had the chance to write the story for tonight he would have penned a big, dramatic comeback for the Sox. That doesn't look like it's going to happen. King also plugged his new book, a children's pop-up version of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, who once pitched for Boston but has since Turned to the Dark Side. As Gordon un-Flash-ingly finishes off his former franchise-mates, I doubt that girl fosters much love for him, or for anyone else in a Yankee uniform tonight, as they put yet another nail in yet another Red Sox coffin, burying thir World Series hopes for one more year.

It's just a matter of time now.

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11 October 2004

MVP Trophy Not So Valuable If You're Dead

It's often said that most players, when given the choice of a longer, undistinguished career or a shorter, more glorious one helped by steroid use, would choose the latter, even if they knew it would be followed by some health issues. I wonder if they'd make the same choice if they knew they wouldn't live to see their 50th birthday?

The tragic and premature deaths of people like Caminiti and Lyle Alzado ought to provide a harbinger to the MLB players' union. Donald Fehr and the MLBPA are so busy protecting their own asses (and pocketbooks) under the guise of "defending the players' right to privacy" that they refuse to see steroids for what they are: a quick-fix that creates more problems than it solves, and a potential killer. If a link can be found between Caminiti's steroid use and his heart attack at age 41, Fehr and the MLBPA lawyers ought to be tried as an accomplice to negligent manslaughter.

Please note that I think Ken Caminiti, like anyone else, is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but the Union should be protecting the players, even if it means protecting them from themselves, in whatever way they can.

Caminiti chose to use steroids, knowing the potential dangers associated with them, and he had substance abuse problems that exceeded the arena of performance-enhancing drugs, cocaine and alcohol, at least. But you can be sure that the steroids didn't help things, and you can also be sure that Caminiti would have traded in that one, great season of an otherwise undistinguished career for a few more years of life.

In a heartbeat.

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09 October 2004

I Don't Get it

Well, you win some...you lose some, right?

Unless you're the Twins and you're playing the Yankees, apparently. In that case, you win some, but you lose about three or four times as many, it seems. Minnesota's defenders coming into the ALDS argued that these Twins aren't the same Twins who lost 20 out of their last 23 contests with the Yankees. These twins are better, more experienced, more seasoned, with an ace pitcher who's as good as anyone to toe the rubber this side of Sandy Koufax, and the Soul-Train outfield, or whatever their stupid nickname was.

And do you know what? They're right. Almost everyone who's not with the team any longer from the 2003 season wasn't much good anyway: Denny Hocking, Doug Meintkiewicz, Eric Milton, A.J. Pierzynski. All are over paid, overrated, underperforming, or all three, and are no longer an albatross around the Twins franchise's collective neck.

But in the end, it didn't matter. The Yankees won anyway, though not without some excitement. The first game saw the Yankees lose by two runs in a game Johan Santana started but didn't finish, just like last year. Game Two saw the Yankees come back to win, as did games three and four. But where ten runs separated the two teams over the four games of last year's series, only four runs separated them this year. Two of the three Yankee wins, including tonight's ALDS-clinching game four victory. Yesterday's 8-4 victory wasn't really even that close, as three runs were scored on the Yanks' mop-up guys before Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to stop the nonsense an get two outs to end the game, which he did.

It's hard not to give some of the blame/credit, perhaps the largest share, to Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire has, by most accounts, the best starting pitcher on the planet, in Johan Santana, and yet he yanked him after seven innings and only 93 pitches in game one. Granted, they won that game so I look silly criticizing a move Gardenhire made in it, but he took a bog chance taking out Santana and entrusting two innings of a two-run lead to his bullpen. Of course, it helps that he's got one of the more effective closers on the planet, with Joe Nathan, who pitched well in Game One.

And in Game Two, for that matter, at least until he tired in the tenth inning, as I mentioned a couple of days ago. Another questionable decision by Gardenhire, and this one led to a loss. Game Three hardly offered the opportunity to second-guess Gardenhire, since Carlos Silva and the Twins were already down by five runs when the bullpen came into things in the sixth inning.

But Game Four? Game Four is a whole different story. Again provided with Santana to start the game, Gardenhire made perhaps the strangest decision we've seen in the playoffs thus far. He pulled Santana again, this time after 87 pitches and only five innings. And not five so-so innings either, five innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball. Don't get me wrong. I'm as big a believer as anyone in the effects of high pitch-counts on short term pitcher effectiveness and long-term injury risk, but with your season on the line, I think you can afford to leave in a guy who's pitched so well for so long in for another inning or two. What's he saving him for? Spring training against the Reds? Heck, Santana averages 111 pitches in five June starts against the vaunted offenses of the Mets, Devil Rays, Expos and Brewers (twice). One of the FOX commentators said that he'd seen Santana in the tunnel after he was taken out, and that Johan indicated that he was still raring to go, wishing he could still have been pitching. But at least he'll be fresh for those all-important March contests against the University of Central Florida.

Admittedly, the main reason the Twins lost this game was that Juan Rincon could not get the outs he needed. He managed to get one, but an RBI single and a three-run homer by Ruben Sierra ended his night prematurely. Anything is possible, of course, but it's quite likely that another solid inning or two out of Santana would have allowed Grant Balfour to bridge the gap right to Joe Nathan, who could have closed it out and necessitated a Game Five. Nobody really knows, and frankly I'm not complaining really, but I think I'd rather be second-guessed for doing what everyone else does, what I've done all year, and having it fail, than for pulling a stunt like Gardenhire did tonight.

Here's to second-guessing.

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07 October 2004

Who Wants a Blow-Out Anyway?

What a great, close couple of games we've had, at least in the Yankees-Twins series.

Tuesday night the Yankees had to face Johan Santana, easily the best pitcher in baseball for the last four months and probably the 2004 AL Cy Young winner. If he's not, they ought to stop giving the award. His streak of 21 consecutive quality starts (6+ innings 3 or fewer earned runs) was snapped not by the Yankees, but by his own manager, Ron Gardenhire, who yanked him to save him for the playoffs. Gardenhire for some reason felt it necessary to remove Santana from a game last week in which he had thrown only 71 pitches in five innings, allowing only four baserunners and one run, despite the facts that the Twins were up by only two runs with four innings left to play. The Yanks made them pay, coming back against what really is a strong Minnesota bullpen, to win a game that helped solidify the Yankees' homefield advantage in the playoffs.

But anyway, that was last week. Tuesday night, Santana was not removed after five innings, but threw seven strong in beating New York in game one of the ALDS. In the process, however, the Yanks made him do something he hadn't done since May 23rd: allow more than nine baserunners in a game. They somehow got nine hits, a walk and a hit-batter out of Santana's Golden Arm, and had baserunners in six of the seven innings he pitched, but couldn't bring any of them home. Alas, it took an unprecedented-in-the-playoffs five double-plays to keep the Yankees from scoring that night. Twin-killings, indeed.

Wednesday night was different for a number of reasons. For one thing, they started the damn game at 7PM instead of 8PM. There, now was that so terrible? Is it too much to ask to start a game so that a reasonable person who has to get up at 7AM the next day could watch the end of a nine-inning contest and still hit the pillow by 11:00? I don't think so. Of course, the game didn't end until 11:30 last night, but we got three free innings of playoff baseball out of the deal! A fair trade if ever I've heard one. And I got to watch it! Had it occurred at 12:30, I probably would not have gotten to see the Yankees come back not once, not twice, but three times in one game.

The 2004 Yankees had more come-from-behind wins (61) than any team in history this year, which is probably more an indictment of the quality of their starting pitching than some indicator of the team's 'moxy' but it's still a lot of wins. I wonder which team had the most come-from-behind, come-from-behind, come-from-behind wins?

On a different note, I saw some pretty questionable bullpen moves last night. First of all, Jon Leiber (not Leiberman as Joe Morgan kept referring to him on last night's broadcast) had been innefective in the first couple of innings, but apparently something had clicked in the third and the Twins hadn't done much since. Leiber had not only four and two-thirds straight scoreless innings under his belt with a man on second base in the seventh, he'd only thrown 78 pitches! He hadn't thrown so few since June 23rd, and of course you'd get yanked with a low pitch count too if you were down 7-0 after three innings and change. But he was pitching well last night in the seventh, and had one of the best ground-ball/fly ball ratios in the American League this year, and therefore (in my mind) had as good a chance as anyone in the bullpen at inducing an inning-ending grounder from pinch-hitter Jose Offerman. Offerman hadn't played much this year, but his 2001-03 seasons saw him hit only .238 against ground-ball pitchers. At 35 years old, he's just not the speed-demon he used to be. I suppose it's still possible that a grounder could have gotten through the infield, but the infield defense hasn't been nearly as bad this year as in the past, and since the light-hitting Offerman doesn't strike out very often, it seems silly to bring in a strikeout-pitcher like Flash Gordon to retire him.

Regardless of Joe Torre's intent, it worked, though just barely. Offerman lined out, and Gordon pitched well until he didn't. Or at least he pitched well until Torre made him stop. He struck out Jacques Jones on a curve in the dirt that Posada couldn't hold onto, and then gave up a single to Torii Hunter with one out in the eighth.

Again, almost inexplicably, Torre summonned help from the bullpen. A grounder to anywhere in the infield would likely have ended the inning. Gordon had held lefties (like upcoming rookie cleanup hitter and Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Justin Morneau) to a miniscule .185 average this year, had only thrown 17 pitches and had an off-day coming to boot. Mariano Rivera was summoned, apparently before he'd had enought time to warm up, for the proverbial "tough-save" with the tying run in scoring position and needing to get five outs to hold onto the win. Rivera promptly surrendered a single to Morneau, loading the bases, and an automatic (not ground-rule) double to Corey Koskie, which scored the tying run. Thankfully, Mo struck out clearly-overmatched rookie Jason Kubel (0-for-6, 2 K's, 5 Left On Base; Please, Ron, keep starting him!) and got Christian Guzman on a grounder to escape the eighth. Mo was sharp in the ninth, retiring the side on ten pitches.

Amazingly, and for essentially a lack of any better option, Tanyon Sturtze pitched reasonably well in the tenth and eleventh innings, though he did give up a go-ahead run in the 12th before Paul Quantrill stopped the bleeding. That run ended a whopping 13-consecutive scoreless innings for Sturtze, but I'm not yet convinced that seven appearances and thirteen innings say more about him than the previous 180 games and almots 700 innings, in which he has an ERA over 5.25. Hopefully he starts another streak tomorrow.

The real stories, or at least the ones on which the mainstream media are focusing, are Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez getting a few clutch hits and Twins closer Joe Nathan being left in too long. Both of these I think have been a bit over-blown, but I'll comment on them nonetheless.

Regarding A-Rod: Clutch This!
The A-Rod thing deserves the least discussion. The man hit .301/.384/.525 with runners on base, .357/.432/.679 with a runner on 3rd base and fewer than two out, and a completely reasonable .273/.360/.416 in "Close and Late" situations. He hit 36 homers, drove in 106 and even stole almost 30 bases to make himself more of an asset to the club. He had a rough month or so, which happened to coincide with the Red Sox unbelieveable 20-2 run, during which the Yankees relinquished a lot of ground despite winning more often than they lost. It was almost entirely a creation of the media, whose main business is to find something to harp on, whether or not there's anything actually wrong, just like the Democrats. Sorry, did I say that out loud?

Regarding Closers and Pitch Counts: Bad Call
Joe Nathan threw 53 pitches last night, and even if you discount the last four as not really "pitches", an intentional walk to Gary Sheffield, that was about 20 more than he'd thrown all season. For that matter, it's more than he'd ever thrown in the two-plus seasons since returning from a two-year rehab stint after arm surgery and being made into a full-time relief pitcher.

In his own defense, Gardenhire said that he asked Nathan and Nathan said he was OK, to which I respond, "Duh! WHat did you think he was going to say?!" In a culture in which men are men and women (supposedly) laugh at men when they cry, you can't really believe that. The manager's job is to take what the pitcher says into consideration, and then do whatever he wants anyway. He's a kid, you're his boss, do your job!

Gardenhire also said that his velocity was fine, but again, that's not the only indicator of a pitcher's health/effectiveness. As a pitcher tires, his arm and body mechanics suffer, and sometimes he has to alter them to get the giddy-up on his heater or the snap on his breaking ball - that's when injuries happen. Being able to hit 95mph on the gun (106 on the FOX gun) is not such a good thing if he's straining more than normal to do so. Especially given the fact that Nathan was having a LOT of trouble finding the plate, missing badly on several pitches, and that you're going to need him for the rest of the series, I think the manager has to do his job and manage that guy out of the game when it's clear to the other 60,000 people in the stadium and a few million watching on TV that he's lost his control.

A lot of research, such as that done by Baseball Prospectus, has been done on the effects of high pitch counts on starting pitchers, but I doubt that anyone has looked as intently at the effects of relatively high numbers of pitches for relievers, especially relievers who've had arm problems in the past. On the other hand, if Nathan's arm doesn't bounce back well, it may help the Yanks win the series, so ultimately I can't complain too much. Yet.

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04 October 2004

2004 PostSeason Picks

AL Division Series:

AL Wild Card winner Boston will play Anaheim in one of the Division Series matchups, probably the toughest to pick. Boston has a heck of a team: a great offense, significantly improved defense, a solid bullpen and potentially great starting pitching. I say 'potentially' because Pedro Martinez was only 2-4 with a 4.95 ERA in September. He lost twice to New York, who are, after all, his Daddy, but also twice to Tampa Bay, an unforgiveable offense, especially condisering how little of it the D-Rays have. If that Pedro shows up to face the Angels, the Red Sox are going back to Bean town Red-Faced, because they can't win. Curt Schilling can't pitch every day. A suddenly healthy and scary Anaheim team will chew them up and spit them out.

With the Yankees facing Minnesota, having home-field advantage, and frankly most other advantages as well, I can't imaging that this series can come out any way other than the a Yankee victory. The Yanks are 17-2 against Minnesota in regular season play since 2002, 20-3 if you include last year's Division Series. A 20-3 record won Roger Clemens a sixth Cy Young Award a few years ago, that's how good the Yanks have been against Minnesota in these three seasons. I know, I know, that wasn't always against Johan Santana, who will probably get to pitch twice in this series, and has been all but unbeatable for the past four months. Believe me, as a Yankee fan, nobody's more scared of Santana than I am, but like Schilling, he can't pitch every day. All they have to do is get a run or two out of him, and work his pitch count high enough that they can get into the bullpen, and the Yanks can win one of those. And that's all they'll need.

Anaheim in four.
Yankees in Five.

NL Division Series:

The Houston Astros are primed to finally end their drought of postseason victories. They've gone 54-36 since the trade for Carlos Beltran, including 47-26 since the All-Star Break and an astonishing 23-7 in September/October. There is no hotter team in the playoffs, for whatever that's worth, and they'll have their best pitchers available to start against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday and Thursday, with Roger Clemens likely to return from his stomach virus just fine and Roy Oswalt to follow him. Atlanta's pretty good too. You don't usually win your division by ten games if you're not, but the Astros should prevail.

The Dodgers just barely eeked out a division title over a two-man show in San Francisco. They've got a great bullpen and a good offense, much better than last season, but still not great. Their starting pitching, despite the advantage Chavez Ravine offers, is not particularly scary, and probably won't let the team hang in there for long against the best offense in the National League. Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds are or were all viable MVP candidates at some point this season, and will likely eliminate the Dodgers from the race in pretty short order.

Houston in four.
St. Louis in four.

AL Championship Series:

Assuming that the Angels and Yankees do in fact win the ALDS, as I have suggested, this is a tough matchup. Anaheim's offense is only decent overall, ranking 7th in the 14-team American League, but they've played better of late, especially since getting back some of the talent that wallowed on the DL most of the season. Still, if they go through with their decision to keep Jose Guillen suspended for the post-season, they'll have a hard time beating the Yankees, whose offense is much better, and much less prone to triking out than the team the Angels beat en-route to their 2002 World Series Championship. New York's chances hinge upon Kevin Brown and/or Orlando Hernandez being healthy and effective, and perhaps on Javier Vazquez pitching like he did in Montreal, or even like he did before the 2004 All-Star break (10-5, 3.56) rather than after (4-5, 6.92). Don't bet on the latter, but expet the Yankees to escape by the skin of their teeth.

Yankees in Seven.

NL Championship Series:

Though the Cardinals' offense and pitching strength allowed them to cruise to a 13-game lead in their division and win it handily, I have a hard time seeing them as an all-time great. They've got solid starting pitching, with five guys who have at least 11 wins and 180 innings to their credit, but you don't need five starters in the playoffs, and none of those who will pitch has an ERA much under 4.00. They've got a great bullpen, and a great offense, but Houston is one of the few teams that found a way to beat them this year, going 10-8 in the regular season, and they'll do it again.

Houston in Six.

World Series:

As I'm looking at it now, this matchup seems really improbable. Nevertheless, should the Astros face the Yankees in the World Series, this is how it will turn out:

Game One: Mussina vs. Clemens at Yankee Stadium
Mussina continues Sept-Ober dominance and Rocket gets a revisitation by his stomach virus, and has to leave after three innings, trailing, 6-0, to get an IV to rehydrate himself. Mussina goes seven strong innings and Flash and Mo close it out. Yanks up, 1-0.

Game Two: Roy Oswalt vs. Jon Leiber at Yankee Stadium
Leiber's six-inning, nine strikeout performance is wasted on an error by Miguel Cairo and an implosion by the bullpen. Oswalt goes the distance, Houston wins, 4-0. Series tied, 1-1.

Game Three: El Duque vs. Brandon Backe at the JuiceBox in Houston
El Duque's shoulder flares up again, and he leaves in the third trailing 2-0, but Kevin Brown pitches six solid innings of relief for the win. Backe and the Bullpen blow the lead and it becomes a laugher, 10-4, in which Brad Lidge never gets a chance. Yanks up, 2-1.

Game Four: Mussina vs. Carlos Hernandez at the JuiceBox in Houston
Hernandez is a late replacement for Clemens who's either still got a stomach virus or has converted to Islam and therefore can't pitch because it's Ramadan. Nobody's exactly sure. Hernandez doesn't disappoint. Well, he disappoints the Houston fans, giving up six runs in four innings before Scrap Iron tosses him on the scrap heap. Moose shines for eight innings and Torre adds insult to injury by letting Tanyon Sturtze pitch the last inning. Left-handed. Yanks up, 3-1.

Game Five: Oswalt vs. Leiber at the JuiceBox in Houston
With their backs against the wall, the Astros again turn to their true ace, Brad Ausmus. Just kididng. Roy Oswalt goes the distance again, shutting out New York's vaunted offense, and Leiber doesn't pitch nearly as well on the road as he had at home. Javier Vazquez comes in for long-relief in the fifth and the ThreeBees all homer of him in the same inning to win it for Houston, 8-1 and send the Series back to New York. Yanks up, 3-2.

Game Six: Brown vs. Backe at Yankee Stadium
With 35-going-on-60 year old Orlando Hernandez still nursing a stiff shoulder, Brown gets the nod and pitches well, but doesn't have the stamina and leaves after five and change. The Yankee bullpen blows another lead, and Houston's offense puts on another fireworks display against the likes of Sturtze, Paul Quantrill and Javier Vazquez, who despite the best efforts of the Yankee coaching staff, escaped from the hotel room in which they locked him in Houston and got a flight back to New York in time for the game. Houston wins, evening the Series at three games apiece.

Game Seven: Mussina vs. Clemens at Yankee Stadium
Roger Clemens converts to Judaism because somebody points out that they don't have any more holidays until December, at which point Roger will either be retiring or signing a one-year deal with the Cubs. Or both.

Clemens takes the mound in the top of the first to a hail of boos and batteries, but the crowd cheers up quickly. Rocket's best efforts are spoiled when Brad Ausmus is accosted in the clubhouse by Mike Piazza (6'3", 215 lbs), who gags him, stuffs him into a locker, and somehow squeezes into Ausmus' (5'11", 190) uniform, entering the game in disguise. Piazza gives the signs away to Clemens' former teammates, who tee-off on him for half an inning before Phil Garner comes out to yank his starter, who's down, 5-0. Piazza, as Ausmus, pats Clemens on the butt REALLY hard on his way out, causing Clemens to wonder, but Piazza hides his face and nobody knows the better until after the game.

In a surprise move, with nobody of much starting pitching prowess left on his roster, Garner calls in 58-year old Larry Dierker, a one-time 20-game winner for the Astros, albeit in 1969, reasoning that this gives him two 20-game winners and besides, he's still younger than El Duque. Dierker breaks out a knuckleball and keeps the Yankees in check, allowing one run in two innings and change.

Another surprise move sees Roy Oswalt come out of the bullpen to pitch four more shutout innings on one day of rest to keep New York from scoring any more and Brad Lidge makes his first World Series appearance, striking out the side in the bottom of the eighth. This is, in fact, really an accomplishment, as suddenly not-sure-handed "Brad Ausmus" drops three third strikes, allowing each of the runners to reach first base, but K-Lidge strikes everyone out, becoming the first pitcher in World Series history to amass six strikeouts in one inning.

The damage had been done, though, and Garner's creative bullpen antics fall by the wayside as the Yankees win their 27th World Championship. Brad Ausmus escapes from the locker into which Piazza had stuffed him after the top of the first, and tells his tale to anyone who will listen, but to no avail. Garner issues an official protest of the game, but the Commisioner's office figures that the two solo homers Piazza hit as Ausmus, with his catcher's mask on, more than compensate for the first-inning ruse that got Clemens yanked. Bud Selig has already handed the Commissioner's trophy to George Steinbrenner, and once he sees how ugly the thing is, Garner drops his appeal.

Jim Gray corners Mike Piazza in the parking lot and asks him repeatedly why he won't admit, just admit it now, here on national television, once and for all, c'mon, why don't you just admit that you're gay. Piazza decks him, since he was standing in the way of his path to his car, a pink Cadillac with maroon shag interior. Chad Curtis says he talked to his teammates and they're boycotting Jim Gray, but then someone realizes that Curtis hasn't played for the Yankees since 1999, or for any major league team since 2001. The embarassed network quickly cuts back to the victory celebration on the field, just in time to show Kevin Brown riding a police horse around the staduim in a victory lap, and then promptly falling off and reinjuring his non-pitching hand. George Steinbrenner immediately announces that horseback riding is expressly prohibited by Brown's contract, and that they'll release him before spring, but try to re-sign him at a lower rate, maybe $14 million.

Roy Oswalt becomes only the second player in history to win a postseason MVP award playing for the losing team, going 2-0 with 22 scoreless innings.

Steinbrenner files an immediate protest.

The Fans. C'mon,wouldn't it be interesting if it happened like that?

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