Saturday, September 27, 2003

It was as good a day in MLB as a day can get in the regular season. Of course, Astros fans will disagree and who can blame them. But the Cubs won the pennant and Roger Clemens pitched his last regular season game and won his 310th game of his historic career. There is one more day in the regular season, but everything is settled now so let's reflect on the Cubs and Roger Clemens.

Let's start with the Cubs. The Cubs lost a lot of ballgames last year. If they didn't lose a hundred, they came close to it. And this year, they were in a dead heat with the Astros with three games to play. But the Cubs couldn't play the first of those three because of a rain out (boy, weren't the Cub fans happy about that!). If you have followed baseball as long as I have, you would know how hard it is to win two games of a double-header. But that's just what the Cubs did.

The Astros didn't have their best pitchers available for the games that were on the line (that's hard to figure) and lost two games to the pesky Brewers and it's over. The Cubs win the pennant. Somewhere, Harry Carey and Leo Durocher are smiling.

Sammy Sosa hit his fortieth homer in the second game. That gives both him and A-Rod six straight forty homer seasons. Of course, Sammy's included three years in the sixties! Sosa has played fourteen years now and has 1450 RBI. The 103 per season would be impressive enough, but Sammy has packed that into ten years as he wasn't a starter in four of his first five seasons. Consider Sosa's run of RBI from 1998 to 2001: 158, 141, 138 and 160. And now he's off to the playoffs. Good luck Cubs!

Roger Clemens pitched his last regular season game today and pitched six strong innings with only a run given up. The win gave the 41 year old 17 for the season (!) and 310 as his final career tally. The reaction he got from Yankee Stadium upon leaving the game was very touching and in a class act, Mike Hargrove and the entire Orioles bench were standing and clapping too.

I have tried in the past to put Clemens' career in perspective and here are some more numbers that may help. In MLB, a quality start is considered six or more innings and three or less runs. Clemens CAREER was a quality start as he averaged 7.01 innings per game and three runs a game.

Roger Clemens pitched thirteen seasons with more than 200 innings. Only eight of those seasons featured Clemens giving up more than 200 hits. In 18 years, Clemens never gave up more than a hundred earned runs in a season. In 18 seasons, Clemens only needed to intentionally walk 52 batters. Think about that one for a while.

Roger Clemens struck out more than three times as many batters as he walked in his career. And he averaged 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings lifetime. He had fifteen seasons where his winning percentage was over .600 and five where it was over .700 (two over .800!).

Roger Clemens was one of the best pitchers of all time. He isn't quite done yet. He has to win some playoff games before he quits.

Javy Lopez, the catcher for the Braves set a new Major League record for homers by a catcher when he hit is forty-second of the year today. He broke the record set by Randy Hundley. Forty-two homers for a catcher is unbelievable. What a great season.

Here are the Fan's post-season awards for the 2003 season:
- AL Cy Young - easy. Roy Halliday. Estaban Loiza had a terrific year, but he lost four in a row down the stretch when the White Sox needed the wins for the pennant drive. Andy Pettitte had a nice year but his ERA is too high for the award.

- NL Cy Young - also easy. Eric Gagne. I don't like the award to go to relief pitchers, but the man has been totally amazing.

- AL MVP - I have to go with David Ortiz. A-Rod and Delgado were the players of the year, but Ortiz win a lot of big games for the Red Sox and I can't see them where they are without him.

- NL MVP - Javy Lopez. His game calling and bat made a so-so Braves team special.

- AL Rookie of the Year - Mark Teixeira. Teixeira started slow but had a great second half with a lot of homers and RBI.

- NL Rookie of the Year - Mark Podsednik. The Brewers leadoff man stole the award from others (Webb, Willis).

- AL Manager of the Year - Everyone will say Tony Pena. But the Royals didn't get there. The Twins did and Rod Gardenshire gets my vote.

- NL Manager of the Year - Jack McKean. The Marlins were flipping in shallow water until McKean came along and finally got that "potential" word off of the young pitchers heads.
Before we get to the important stuff, the Fan has to get something off his chest. I have watched a ton of games this year and even more highlights. The lack of basic fundamentals in MLB is alarming. The players are the most talented, strongest, best conditioned athletes in the games history. Just don't ask one of them to bunt.

The latest manifestation of the degradation (two long words in one sentence!) of fundamentals (three) occurred in the second game of a Yankee double-header. I know that the Yankees have already clinched the division, but there is still the matter of home field advantage for having the best record. Here is what happened:

After winning the first game by a wide margin, giving Andy Pettitte his twenty-first win, the Yankees were in a nail-biter in the second game. Rookie pitcher, Jorge De Paula pitched no-hit ball for the first six innings of his first major league start. A single in the seventh off De Paula's glove cost him the no-hitter in the seventh. The suddenly lost Jeff Nelson then cost him the win with shoddy relief. The Yankees found themselves tied 2-2 as they batted in the bottom of the ninth.

Bernie Williams began the inning with a double. Rookie, Fernando Seguignol, then hit a little dribbler that couldn't be handled and it was first and second with no outs. All Karim Garcia had to do was move the runners to second and third and a fly ball would win the game. Garcia got the bunt sign and looked so foolish on his first two attempts that he had to swing away and did so for strike three. The Yankees were done in the inning and would lose the game in the tenth.

How can a twenty-eight year old Garcia grow up playing baseball his whole life and not know how to bunt? Phil Rizzuto had it right when he said there is to a bunt is to catch the ball with your bat. It's not a difficult thing to do. After all, every pitcher in the National League can do it. Heck, I can do it. But Garcia is not alone in the inability to lay the ball down.

And bunting isn't the only example of poor fundamentals. The Astros tonight had a golden opportunity to put pressure on the rained out Cubs. Instead they had a starting pitcher who couldn't throw strikes (only seven of his eighteen pitches were strikes) and the Astros made four errors and lost the game. Four errors!!

How many highlights to you see where outfielders are vaulting themselves in the air to throw the ball home in an attempt to prevent the run from scoring. That is terrible fundamentals. Where is Dwight Evans when we need him? To make a good throw from the outfield, you get behind the ball, take a step to plant and rifle the ball overhand on a low line drive. But instead, the current MLB outfielders end up on their bellies throwing up the lines or over everyone's head. Ugh!

How many players do you see rounding third to go home so wide that they are in danger of falling into the dugout? The Red Sox lost a big game the other day because their starting pitcher didn't cover first in time.

Obviously, MLB needs to start buying the instructional video you see on TV all the time about learning the fundamentals to the game. Perhaps with the emphasis on so many sports in youth, it is difficult to teach the fundamentals. Perhaps most youngsters see the long ball and focus on offense without learning the things we learned as kids on how to play the game.

But baseball isn't the only sport where sloppiness is rampant. Travel is a regular occurrence in the NBA as is palming. The fact that it's never called indicates just how rampant it is. And the NFL is no better. It seems that every play incurs a penalty. All this clumsy play is the reason why someone like Derek Jeter is extolled for his great fundamental base running and play. Twenty years ago, what Jeter does was the norm, not the exception.

I guess will talk tomorrow about the playoffs and the year Richie Sexson is having, or Bonds being two behind Mays or how the Phillies quit the season and how it showed tonight against the Braves. The flagrant rant of this Fan went longer than expected.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Oh no! The Fan had all his ducks in a row. The Red Sox won the wildcard. The Marlins swept the Phillies (a team I also love, but I can't stand Larry Bowa and he should be fired). The Yankees clinched. All the Fan needed was the Cubs. But they lost 9-6 to a team they had shut out two games in a row AND despite two homers by Sammy Sosa.

And of course the dratted Astros won (there is a lot of heart on that team) to force the NL Central Division into a tie with three games left. The loss gives the Fan a sinking feeling. The Cubs aren't going to make it. There will be no Cubs/Red Sox World Series. I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy and I bet a lot of Cubs fans are too.

And to top even the playoff chase, Carlos Delgado hit four homeruns tonight in four consecutive at bats. The four homers in a game has only been accomplished fifteen times in the entire history of MLB. The feat is as rare as a pitching perfect game. Delgado now has 41 homers and (staggeringly enough) 141 RBI.

Congratulations to the Marlins and Red Sox for coming through when they were supposed to.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Marlins! The Florida MARLINS! What an exciting development to see this young team--that has played all year to empty stands--come to the wire and, by force of will, take on the Phillies with the wildcard on the line and take two out of two. The Marlins are now three games up with four games to play. The MARLINS!

I discovered south Florida seven years ago and have returned for a couple of weeks every summer since then. That first year (1996), I went to a Marlins game with a friend. It was the first time that I had seen a MLB game in a park other than Yankee Stadium or Fenway. I remember the ballpark being cozy and friendly. The parking lot was very accessible right off the highway.

I kept score that day and taught a new friend how to do so as well. The Marlins were a decent team in the middle of the pack in their division with a .500 record. The team was a diversion for the locals as the area's hockey team made a run to the Stanley Cup that year and of course, the Dolphins were number one. After the day was over, the Marlins had another fan: After all, the game was on my birthday.

The Marlins beat the Cubs that day and the hero was a man named Jeff Conine, who hit the game winning homer. After asking around down there, I found out that Conine was a local hero who did a lot for the community and was loved by all. I became his fan as well.

Seven years later, the same Conine, after a side trip to Baltimore (where he was a good player), has killed the Phillies with great defense and timely homers. The Marlins...the last team anyone expected...are a game closer to the playoffs.

The only close race is the Cubs/Astros for the NL Central pennant. Both teams won today in impressive fashion. The Astros' Billy Wagner smoked a 100 MPH fastball past Barry Bonds to clinch the game. The Cubs got a big performance from Shawn Estes who enjoyed the Cubs six-run third inning to cruise to a victory. All the Cubs have to do is keep winning and their one game lead will hold up. I still dream of a Cubs/Red Sox World Series with one of those two teams having to break their eighty year droughts.

Sammy Sosa hit his 37th homer and knocked in his 98th run which are both amazing numbers considering where he was at the start of July. Sammy also got beaned tonight for the second time this season. Scary!

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

In past posts, the Fan has labeled Kerry Wood a .500 pitcher. And the claim wasn't incorrect. Despite the stuff, despite the hype, Wood was only a game over .500 last year and has hovered around .500 most of this year. But pennant races have a way of defining careers and Wood has defined himself as special.

Tonight, with the season on the line, with the Cubs in a dead heat with the Astros, Wood pitched lights out--seven innings, one hit and twelve strikeouts. The performance capped a spectacular September after a mediocre August. In the month of September, Wood's line looks like this:

36 innings, 22 hits, 5 runs, 9 walks and 47 strikeouts. That's a 1.25 ERA.

When the Cubs needed big performances coming down the stretch, Wood and Prior have been huge. The Cubbies are now a game up with five to play.

Dontrelle Willis pitched tonight for the Marlins against the Phillies as the Marlins tried to hold on to their slim one game wildcard lead. The highlights stated that he didn't have his best stuff. Indeed, when he left the game in the seventh inning, he was down 3-0 and compared to Kerry Wood, you could say that Willis didn't come through. But the key is that he held the Phillies to the three early runs and kept it there.

All you can ask of a pitcher is to keep your team in a big game and in this case, the Marlins asked a rookie to do so. And that's what Dontrelle Willis did. By doing so, he allowed Jeff Conine (welcome home, Jeff!) to come up with a big three run homer off of Phillies ace, Kevin Millwood and then Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo to dink the Phillies to their possible death. The Marlins are now two games up with five to play.

And in the league's most exciting finish, the never-say-die Boston Red Sox came back from the dead (a three run deficit with two outs in the ninth) as oft-maligned, Todd Walker, hit a two out, three run homer to tie the game. Team MVP, David Ortiz, then hit the game winner in the bottom of the tenth to ice the game.

The Red Sox are the most fun team to watch in baseball. I've never seen a team play harder together, root harder for each other and celebrate so exuberantly. These Sox deserve to win and if they make it to the World Series over my favorite Yankees, then I'll still smile and cheer them on. The Fan has been won over by this wonderful team.

And speaking of my favorite team, the Yankees put a five spot on the board in the top of the ninth that should clinch the game (it's currently a 7-0 game as Jose Contreras pitched another great game--or the White Sox rolled over - you make the call). The game was a tight one until Jason Giambi broke it open with a grand slam. Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera also homered in the game and Hideki Matsui drove in his 106th run. A win will clinch the division win for the Yankees.

We are one game closer to the resolution of the regular season and things couldn't be more exciting. The finish of the season has not disappointed what has been the most exciting season in this fan's lifetime.

Monday, September 22, 2003

The Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox did what they had to do tonight. They both won their must win games tonight. The Marlins beat the Braves 6-3 behind Mark Redman. The Red Sox beat the Orioles behind a strong performance by Jeff Suppon. The Red Sox are in full control of the AL Wildcard Race while the Marlins head to their big series with the Phillies with a positive frame of mind after splitting their four game series with the Braves.

Mark Redman should be a serious candidate as the Marlins most valuable player. He has won big games all year including three wins over the Braves, three over the Phillies and two over Arizona. Add a win against the Expos, and Redman has won nine of his thirteen wins against the Marlins' direct competitors.

Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera had the big hits tonight as Lee drove in four and Cabrera, two. Cabrera now has 59 RBI in only 80 games. Double that amount in a full season and Cabrera would have 42 doubles, 24 homers and 114 RBI!

Jeff Suppon pitched six innings tonight and only gave up one run. He has gotten better and better with each Boston start and seems to be settling in now that he has exorcised his early Red Sox career memories.

Manny Ramirez, Todd Walker and David Ortiz were the Sox hitting stars. Walker seems to be back from a terrible slump and is hitting well lately. Ortiz should get MVP consideration as his 28 homers and 96 RBI in just 428 at bats. There is no way the Red Sox would be where they are without him.

How good must it have been for the Cubs tonight as they watched what was going on during their day off. The Astros just lost to the Giants and the Dodgers are losing big to San Diego. The Cubs are now a half a game behind the Astros without having to do anything but watch.
The Fan has been on record of not being a member of the Greg Maddux Fan Club. I have never liked him as he has always seemed like an arrogant SOB. But...I really am a fan of Roger Clemens...who is an arrogant SOB. I have scoffed and scorned when Maddux has given the home plate umpire an evil eye or worse. But...I have seen Clemens do the same thing. But like Clemens, Maddux is at the top of the heap of pitchers of this generation and possibly for all generations.

Compare the string of wins for the two pitchers:

Maddux - 18, 19, 15, 15, 20, 20, 16, 19, 15, 19, 18, 19, 19, 17, 16 and 15
Clemens - 24, 20, 18, 17, 21, 18, 18, 11, 9, 10, 10, 21, 20, 14, 13, 20, 13 and 16

Clemens has had more spectacular years while Maddux has been more consistent. Maddux didn't have to reinvent himself as many times as Clemens has since Maddux wasn't a power pitcher. Clemens put the ball in the zone and relied on his arm to win the battle. Maddux out-thought his opponents and lived on the corners.

Another big difference in their approach has been that Clemens is an emotional pitcher. His emotions fueled his will and sometimes got him into trouble. But it's always easier to identify with the emotional than it is to the tactical, stoic way Maddux has always gone about his business.

No, the Fan has never liked Greg Maddux, but he's been a helluva pitcher--one of the two best I've ever seen.
A week ago, several races in MLB were too close to call. Like political coverage, this news station reserved calling the "election" until all the precincts were closed. A week later, several of those races are all but decided and only two real races remain: The NL Wildcard and the NL Central Division. And the Cubs are in the thick of both of those races.

Remember Spahn and Sain and then pray for rain? With the Cubs it's: "Wood and Prior and then pray with the friar." When Prior and Wood pitch, there is a good chance the Cubs will do something positive in the race. When Zambrano pitches, there are good times and bad. When Clement pitches, there are too many bad for what is a great talent and arm.

But even with this mixture, the Cubs have inched closer to the leaders in both the wildcard and division. As the Phillies and Marlins spin around and lose big games, the Cubs have climbed up to a game within the Astros (who will not give in and win and win) and a game and a half behind in the wildcard.

The other races are all but over. The White Sox stunning and sudden collapse along with the Twins inspired play has insured the Twins a division title and will be a scary team for any playoff contender to play. The White Sox collapse has been so sudden that it is morbid. The game is over for them this season.

With six games to play, the valiant but out powered Mariners will not overtake the Red Sox as the wildcard team. Between Joel Pineiro's sudden struggles and Ichiro down to mortal earth, the Mariners will be out of the playoffs as the wildcard is out of reach and so is the division.

The Yankees kept it close for a while, but now will not let Boston even come close. I have to find the schedule for the playoffs depending on who the final teams are. The only known is that the Yankees can't play the Red Sox in the opening round of the playoffs. Who they play will depend on some final tie breaker type things.

And finally, three of MLB's best pitchers were on the mound tonight. Greg Maddux pitched only five innings, giving up only one hit, but that five inning stint earned him his fifteenth win. That is sixteen consecutive seasons that Maddux has done that, passing a record long held by Cy Young.

Pedro Martinez handcuffed the Indians for seven innings in a clutch performance that all but buries the Mariners. Martinez is now 14-4 for the year and has looked very strong in his last two outings and is setting up nicely for the playoff run.

And once again, hat's off Roger Clemens as he won his 309th game. Can he get to 310? Time will tell.