Saturday, September 06, 2003

The Boston Red Sox have turned things up a notch and pummeled the Yankees for the second straight day. Their fifth win in a row brought the Red Sox to just a game and a half behind the stumbling Yankees. The win combined with another loss for the Mariners pushes the Red Sox a game and a half ahead in the wildcard race.

Clearly, the Red Sox are on a mission. And you have to wonder how much that close door meeting with all the players and staff had to do with the current streak. The Red Sox were stumbling. Manny Ramirez wasn't playing and that led to the meeting where reportedly, the players all got to voice their feelings. Ever since that meeting, the Red Sox haven't lost and their potent offense seemed rekindled. The Yankees, especially with Jeter out, are going to have a tough time to keep the Red Sox behind them.

The Cubs also seem on a mission as Sammy Sosa and his team have won six of their last seven including four in a row. Prior won his fifteenth today despite not having his best stuff and still won. That's the sign of an ace. And Sosa now has 34 homers and 92 RBI. Not bad for a guy who missed a third of the season.

The Phillies also look rejuvenate and have won five in a row. Pat Burrell is starting to hit. Lieberthal is batting for a high average. Thome is hot. The pitching is coming around (word has it the pitchers are finally on the same page as their pitching coach) and bench players like former Yankee, Rickey Ledee, contribute every time they play. The Phillies are now a game up on the Marlins (who won big today) in the wildcard race.

The Dodgers have won seven of their last ten and are only 2.5 back from the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have fallen on hard times and have lost seven of ten to fall to within two games of a .500 record. The Diamondbacks, Astros and Cardinals are all in danger of falling out of the race.

The Twins and White Sox are both hot and will go head to head down the stretch. Unfortunately for baseball, the Royals are sinking finally after fighting on top or near to it most of the year. Sad...

And finally tonight, my Cy Young Aware nominee, Roy Halliday, matched his career high with nineteen wins with a stunning ten inning 1-0 shutout. His extra inning shutout was the first of its kind since Jack Morris had his career moment in the 1991 World Series. Halliday didn't give up a hit until the eighth inning and only gave up three hits in ten. Loiza has been great, but Halliday is my Cy Young.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Every day is a battle now and every day features nail-biting action. The Mariners led Baltimore the entire game until the fighting young Orioles tied the game with two outs in the ninth off a closer who hadn't blown a save in the last fourteen attempts. The Orioles then loaded the bases in the tenth but didn't score. The battle continues.

The Cardinals, now fighting for their life led their game 2-1 for most of the game until Isringhausen blew the save in the ninth. The two teams are now battling into the eleventh inning.

The Red Sox combined good pitching by Pedro Martinez and timely hitting from seventeen game winner, Andy Pettitte, to beat the Yankees convincingly in New York. The Red Sox maintain their small lead in the wildcard and pull within two games of the Yankees.

The Phillies won a squeaker from the Mets, 1-0 as Vincente Padilla won his 12th game. New closer and world traveler, Rheal Cormier, recorded his first save in his first chance. The win, combined with a Marlins loss to the Expos, puts the Phillies back on top in the wildcard standings.

The White Sox and the Twins both won to stay tied at the top of the AL Central. The Royals are trying to stay only a game back and are beating the Angels 2-0 in the fifth. The Padres are leading Houston. The Rockies are leading the Dodgers. The Cubbies beat the Brewers with Sammy Sosa's homerun and his 89th and 90th RBI.

While I'm waiting for the finals scores to come down, let's look at the Fan's favorite boxscore players and how they performed for the last seven days:

The Struggling Mariners Core:
Ichiro - 2 for his last 27 (.074)!
Edgar Martinez - 3 for his last 19
Mike Cameron - 2 for his last 19

The Reds just scored two runs in the top of the 12th to take a 4-2 lead over the Cardinals. Instrumental in the rally was Wily Mo Pena, of all people.

The future great Rangers:
Hank Blalock. 10 for 21 (.476!) with 3 doubles, 2 homers and 6 runs scored
Mark Teixeira. 14 for 25 (.560!!) with 4 doubles, a triple and 3 homers to account for 9 RBI!
Michael Young. 5 for 25 (.200) with 3 doubles, a homer and 3 runs scored.
Laynce Nix. 4 for 13 (.308) with 2 homers and 7 RBI.

Karim Garcia. 6 for 14 (.429) with 3 RBI.
Nick Johnson. 9 for 22 (.406) with a .511 OBP and 6 RBI.
Melvin Mora. 4 for 11 (.364) with 2 runs scored. He can still win the batting race with enough AB's
Rocco Baldelli. (steady each week) 7 for 24 (.292) 2 RBI and 4 runs scored. BUT also, 8 K's
Coco Crisp. A crisp 13 for 30 (.433) with 4 runs scored, 2 RBI and 4 stolen bases.
Pat Burrell. A good week! 7 for 24 (.292) with 2 doubles, a homer and 5 RBI
Miguel Cabrera. 2 for 24 Ugh! (.083) with 10 strikeouts!
Bo Hart. 3 for 11 (.273) with 2 doubles and 2 runs scored.
Scott Podsednik. 8 for 24 (.333) with a double and 6 runs scored.
Sean Burroughs (now batting leadoff). 7 for 24 (.304) with a double and 4 runs scored.

Well, good new for Mariners' fans as they pulled out the win in 13 innings. Bad news for Cardinal fans as the Reds came on to win that game 4-2 in 12 innings. The Dodgers have come from behind to go ahead of the Rockies. The Royals are up 5-0 in the 8th and the Astros have come back to lead the Padres, 5-4.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Driving home from work today, the Fan saw a few maple trees have already started turning their colors. The Jets and Redskins started the NFL season tonight on ABC and I didn't wear shorts for the first time since early July. These sure signs that summer has waned and Fall is knocking on the door means the climax of the Major League Baseball season is building. And the signs there are strong for an amazing climax.

In the American League, the climax will settle which of the Yankees, Red Sox, A's, Mariners, White Sox, Royals or Twins will be among the final four teams standing.

The National League climax will discern which of the Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, Dodgers, Braves, Giants, Diamondbacks, Marlins or Phillies will make the final four. Two will be the Braves and Giants which leaves seven teams fighting for the other two spots.

But it doesn't end there. The Cy Young races are wide open as are the Rookie of the Year races. The AL batting race has no clear cut favorite. Thome and Bonds will go down to the wire for the homerun race.

And the National League batting race has gotten interesting. Pujols and Helton are only .009 points separated with Pujols still maintaining the lead. Surprisingly, the top AL hitter is batting .322. That is low and seems to be part of a trend. In the 2000 season, both Todd Helton and Nomar Garciaparra batted .372 to lead their respective leagues. That year there were five players who batted over .350.

A year later, in the 2001 season, there were only two batters at .350: Larry Walker and Ichiro Suzuki. Last year, only Barry Bonds batted over .350 for the season. Manny Ramirez won the AL batting title at .349.

In the middle of a pennant race, a star player should never get thrown out of the game except for totally unacceptable behavior. The umpiring in the Cubs/Cardinals series has been abominable and neither Moises Alou nor Sammy Sosa argued strenuously to deserve getting thrown out of the game. The umpires are out of control and have become the story in these tight series. Umpiring should NEVER be the story. They are far too combative and provoke as many arguments as they avoid.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The old Yankee Stadium had one unfortunate feature that was rectified by the renovation of the 70's. If you did not carefully look at your tickets and at the map of the stadium found on their yearbook, you could have found yourself behind this huge girder holding up the upper decks. If that was your fate, all you saw was a third of the field. And there was no scoreboard replays in those days.

Last night was a girder night with the Fan's blog site. I tried for hours to get here and could not. I apologize for not making it here if you happened to stop by. And it's been a couple of exciting nights in baseball.

Now that MLB has hit September, the games get more important and more contentious. The Cubs and Cardinals featured beanballs and two managers shouting at each other. In between was a terrific game which Moises Alou used as his catharsis from last night's latest umpire debacle. Last night, Alou and others got thrown out of an important game because another umpire missed an obvious call as replays clearly showed chalk flying on an extra base attempt by Alou called foul by the third base umpire.

Tonight, Alou blasted the umpiring in general (for which I add my vote) before the game and took out his frustration on the Cardinals with five hits, including the game winner. The performance and the game kept the Cubs in the race after almost being counted out.

One area of concern for the Cubs is the persistent .500 record for Kerry Wood. The man has lights out stuff and is nearly impossible to hit. Major League batters are only batting .207 for the season and he has struck out 228 batters in 182 innings. His problem, and the reason for his 3.56 ERA is the base on balls. Wood has walked three batters per start this year and if you follow the statistic I heard recently where 50% of all bases on balls score, that would account for half of Wood's ERA. If he could cut his walks from 4.4 walks per nine innings to 2.4, he would be unstoppable. Mark Prior has walked half as many batters as Wood in nearly as many innings.

The Red Sox also had an exciting game as they blew a one run lead in the eighth as Mike Timlin gave up another homer. But the Sox hung tough and threw another runner out at the plate to extend the game. In the tenth inning, David Ortiz, who is rapidly approaching MVP type credentials, hit his second homerun of the game to win it for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox victory over the White Sox allowed the Twins to tie them for the division lead as the Twins scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth on a terrible play at the plate that cost the Angels the game and Benji Molina a season as he broke his wrist on the play.

The Royals also won to climb to within a game of the two leaders. All three teams have 66 losses in that all important column. The Royals looked like they were going to fold but manager, Tony Pena, is not going to let them quit and they are going to hang around at least a while longer.

The Mets swept the Braves as they are another young team playing good baseball. The Mets, Rangers, Devil Rays, Pirates, Padres and Brewers are all playing good baseball and will not be easy wins down the stretch for the contenders.

And on a final note, the Orioles have been one of the best offensive teams in the game and though they traded Conine away, still should have had enough fire power to win their share of games. But their offense went silent for two weeks and they lost a ton of games along the way.

Tonight the Orioles broke out of it with a 9-0 win tonight over the high flying A's. Is it a coincidence that the O's found their offense as Melvin Mora got back in the lineup after a long injury? The Fan does not believe in coincidences and Mora was a big cog in that offense as he is having a breakout year.

Watch out for this team next year if they get a couple of pitchers and one more good bat. Jay Gibbons is blossoming into a star and already has 91 RBI this season. After a long darkness, the Orioles are another team on the rise.

Monday, September 01, 2003

There were four major MLB stories today...well...three and one is still going: The Red Sox scored six runs in the ninth to beat the Phillies. The Marlins took over first place in the wildcard race as newcomer/old friend, Jeff Conine, drove in a run. Barry Bonds came out of the hospital to beat the Diamondbacks. And still in progress: The struggling Cubs and ace, Mark Prior, are dominating the division leading Cardinals.

The Red Sox looked down and out after the Yankee series, an emotional series that featured the Yankees dashing the hopes of the Sox gaining ground on the AL East. And the Yankees did so with Roger Clemens stuck firmly in the franchise craw. New acquisition, Jeff Suppon, was on the mound and he had not helped the Red Sox very much since his arrival.

Suppon gave up six quick runs but stayed in the game and gave the Sox a chance to climb back to a one run deficit, 6-5. The Sox then score twice in the eighth to go up by a run but Mike Timlin gave that back in the bottom of the eight plus two more runs and the Sox were down to their last three outs trailing 9-7.

The Red Sox exploded off of the woeful Jose Mesa which started when Lou Merloni, the Mayor of Boston, beat out an infield single with the bases loaded to get the Sox within one. Trot Nixon finished the inning off with a grand slam off Turk Wendell (who has, despite a good year, given up an astounding number of game winning homers). Final score: 13-9.

The game meant two things. First, it meant that the Red Sox are not finished and have a lot of character and secondly, the game showed that the Phillies are not armed to win a playoff spot. Larry Bowa cannot find the combination in the bullpen to win games and that fact will sink this team.

The Cubs have been in the same danger as the Phillies of falling out of the race. The day started with the Cubs having fallen to two games behind the Cardinals and four games behind in the wildcard race. Their season record sunk in the process to only three games above .500. The game today against the Cardinals, and this series, really is pivotal for the team.

The Cubs sent Mark Prior to the mound (yes, this story is now finished too) and not only did Prior have his fifth straight amazing outing to up his record to 13-5 and have eight shutout innings lowered his ERA to 2.47, he also went two for three at the plate with a run scored and an RBI. It is clear that without Prior, the Cubs would be under .500 for the season.

As mentioned, Prior has had five terrific outings since he came back from the fluke accident suffered when running the bases. Since returning from that outing, Prior has pitched 39 innings while giving up only three runs (a 1.44 ERA). During that streak he has had two complete game victories with a phenomenal 35 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio.

Prior is now 19-11 in his young MLB career with 332 strikeouts in only 284 innings. He is clearly the best young pitcher in baseball.

Between Barry Bonds emotional roller coaster with his father's illness and death and the aftermath of that, Bonds has played four games in the last two weeks. He has hit the game winning hit in each of those games with three of them coming via the homerun. Today, his RBI single in the ninth inning off of Curt Schilling to win the game 2-0 added another page to the glorious story that is Barry Bonds. Much like the Red Sox fans yesterday with Clemens, the world has to give Bonds his due as the best there is and of his time.

And the last big story of the day has to be the Florida Marlins re-taking the wildcard lead in the National League. Remember that this is the team that lost nine of ten to allow the rest of the wildcard contenders to catch up. They broke the losing streak with two wins against a very hot Expos team but lost star third baseman, Mike Lowell to a broken hand.

In contrast to the Marlins story of the last few years, the front office responded and in a perfect and brilliant move, brought Florida's favorite son, Jeff Conine, back home. Conine was this franchise for a long time before he was traded off to Baltimore in a cost cutting move. Conine has long been a real pro and one of the best clutch batters. Only someone of Conine's stature and leadership could have replaced someone like Mike Lowell. It was the perfect move.

And that perfect move paid its first dividends today as Conine went one for three and drove in the first of the Marlins five runs as the Marlins finished a sweep of the Expos. The sweep at home, like the Red Sox, announced that the Marlins were not going down with a whimper and that you better play well because the Marlins are in this thing to win.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

It was a bittersweet day for Red Sox fans as the arch rival, New York Yankees, defeated their team for the second straight day to take back a commanding five and a half game lead in the AL East division. Even worse, the A's and Mariners both won, thus hurting the wildcard race as well.

But they were defeated by Roger Clemens, making possibly his last appearance as a player in Fenway Park. It was one more chance to see the hero of the '86 Red Sox and the man who holds the Red Sox record for wins in their long franchise history. The game was the last opportunity to see this Hall of Famer who can still pitch as he gets ready to ride out into the sunset. And, as if something in the planets aligned, the win was Roger Clemens' 100th win at Fenway Park.

And so the Red Sox fans did what makes them great fans: When Clemens was pulled from the game in the seventh inning with an 8-2 lead (but with the bases loaded), the Red Sox crowd at Fenway and thousands more who were watching the game like I did, cheered too. Like him or hate him, Clemens has earned his spot in history with hard work and determination. And we were there to see it pay off.