Sunday, December 28, 2003

It has been a quiet week in the baseball off season, but that is to be expected with the holiday week. When the big news of the week is that an owner fainted, it's a slow week.

The Boss did faint this week, but have no fear Yankee haters. Mr. Steinbrenner will not fade from your gun sights just yet. The big man just had too much sun or something but he's in good health. When it happened, the natural thought for fans was what impact the loss of King George would mean to the Yankees. If the Yankees could keep his money, I think the team would really take off and become the best baseball organization there is. For all his money and efforts, he short circuits his baseball men and strips them of prospects and continuity.

Isn't it amazing how the Tony Batistas of the world always seem to find a job until everyone smartens up and sees that he takes more away from a team than he adds in. Batista has hit under .250 four times in his career. He has a horrible .302 on base average for his career. He has a hundred more strikeouts in his career than homeruns. And he's never been much of a third baseman either.

But the Expos were fooled again, just like the Orioles, the Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays. Batista is a weird player who doesn't seem to try sometimes and I can't understand why anyone would want him.

On the other hand, Brian Jordan is a nice pickup for the Rangers. Jordan is a guy who has been held back by injuries in his career because he plays like a madman. But his play is inspirational and seems just the ticket for the Rangers who have been through some much surrealism this season.

I like the Red Sox pickup of Pokey Reese. The man is a wizard at second base and if he can have a career year and hit .300, look out A.L. East!

One more note from the perspective of a fan. I don't want Kenny Lofton to win the centerfield job in New York. He has always seemed like another player who turns it on and off at will and I don't think he adds as much as he detracts. There is a reason why his teams have never received the championship ring. And to throw six million at a guy who is at the end of his career is just plain stupid. Give me a gimpy Bernie Williams over Lofton any day of the week.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The Baltimore Orioles are giving their fans a present for Christmas: Hope. After signing Miguel Tejada and now Javy Lopez, the Orioles are tooling for success. Now they are setting their sights for Vladimir Guerrero.

The Orioles finished in fourth place in the AL East for six straight seasons. They brought in Mike Hargrove and the human rain delay was to be the team's salvation. But that salvation was delayed as well by bad personnel decisions and worse pitching. The first thing that the Orioles did was to bring in Lee Mazzilli. Mazzilli should be a breath of fresh air. But nice air is nothing without the horses.

General Manager, Mike Flanagan has brought in the horses. When you add Tejada and Lopez to Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Jay Gibbons and Luis Matos, you've got a pretty serious lineup. The only question with Javy Lopez is his health and whether or not 2003 was a career season for the slugging catcher. $22.5 million is a lot to invest in a 33 year old catcher.

So far, Flanagan hasn't addressed the starting pitching. In fact, the pitching has seemed to step backwards with the release of Jason Johnson and Damion Moss, who was the big part of the Sidney Ponson deal with San Francisco last year. I look at the team's roster and see a bunch of nobodies. Clearly, Flanagan needs at least two stud pitchers.

It is also clear that every team in the AL East has improved from the Yankees on down to Tampa Bay. Can the Orioles climb any higher than the top three this year?

In either case, Oriole fans have been quiet in their wait for some progress and continue to support their team well. It should be a happy holiday as there should be some more balls flying around Camden Yards.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

So the A-Rod for Manny trade is dead. For now. When the trade was just speculation, we could all pass it off as a rumor. But now that it's been revealed that the union got involved and killed the deal, we all know it was very real and close to happening. Now what happens to the teams and the players involved in the non-trade?

Actually, it was Bud Selig who killed the deal. He set a deadline for the madness to happen and when the union stepped in, he said that it was over. This was one time where I actually agreed with the commissioner, which proves that there is a first time for everything.

But now that the deal is dead, what happens to those players involved. A-Rod has been unseemly in his attempts to get out of Texas. The players there are tired of it and want him out of there. The Rangers can't go out and get great pitching because too much money is tied up in a player who doesn't want to be there. How chilly is that locker room going to be?

Manny Ramirez is just as unwanted as A-Rod by his team. The Red Sox tried earlier this season to give him away and no one would take him. This is a guy with a .300+ batting average, a gazillion homers and RBI and nobody wants him. How are the Red Sox players and management going to deal with him now that he is staying? How is he going to deal with them? Manny just doesn't seem like that bad a guy. Maybe if he can commit to playing 100% all the time things would change.

What about Nomar Garciaparra. He is a superstar. He is the local hero. This is the team he wants to play for. He is always compared in the top four with A-Rod, Jeter and Tejada. Now his team attempted to discard him as the Red Sox tried to go with who they thought was better. Why did that happen? Was it really because Garciaparra turned down an offer that the Red Sox thought was fair? My gut tells me know. My gut tells me it was all those lame at bats in the post season this past year when he popped up more than Yaz with runners on base.

I don't buy the statements by the Red Sox that Garciaparra blew it by not signing that contract. I think they see him as a batting champ who used to hit the ball all ways to every field in every clutch situation to a player who feels the need to pull everything. And why would he do that? Maybe because A-Rod hits homers and made the huge contract and the Red Sox offered him $8 million a year less?

This is ugly. This is very ugly indeed. The stomachs of Red Sox Nation must be churning right about now. At least they have the Patriots at 12-2 to keep their minds off the whole mess.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

With the news of the capture of Saddam Hussein and one of the final weeks of the NFL season going on in the front pages, the MLB off season continues to percolate along. It's been a busy week and many moves occurred that will move money and talent around.

The Yankees finalized their deal basically swapping the Dodger's Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver. Brown is a battler who knows how to pitch. But he's also 39 years old. Weaver was never going to make it in New York where he admitted to being overwhelmed. A fresh start in Los Angeles could help return him to the road to success that he seemed so certain to be on when he first came to the Yankees.

With the Dodgers' home park favoring pitchers, and with every ninth batter being the pitcher, Weaver has the chance still to be a big winner. He is still fairly young and the Dodgers certainly see something in him. New York always did too, but there was always one stupid hanging slider that followed three brilliant pitches.

The Marlins leaked a little more talent over the weekend when they traded Juan Encarnacion to the Dodgers for basically nothing. Encarnacion drove in 94 runs last year, his first full-time season. But he was a free swinger with only a .313 on base percentage. With Cabrera available for the outfield, Encarnacion should not be that big a loss to the team. Certainly, the trade is less of a loss than Ivan Rodriguez.

One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the free agent signing of Miguel Tejada by the Baltimore Orioles. The signing is a great one for the Orioles as Tejada is one of the top four shortstops in the American League. He can field, hit for power and he's driven in over a hundred runs for the last four seasons. The Orioles are going to be an impressive team this coming year. For the first half of the season last year, the Orioles were among the leaders in all offensive categories. Injuries ended that, but Tejada can't help but make them better. He is a superstar.

The Red Sox continued to strengthen themselves by signing Keith Foulke to be their closer. Acquiring Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke in one off season has to feel good for the Red Sox fans. Foulke give the Sox a real closer who saved 43 games last year and also sported a 9-1 record. That means he had a hand in 52, or half, of the team's wins. His WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched, ERA and batting average against were outstanding the last three seasons and his strikeouts per innings pitched last year was the best of his career. Now if only the Red Sox don't do something stupid like losing Garciaparra.

Two management decisions also happened this weekend--one that was good and one that was bad. George Steinbrenner signed General Manager, Brian Cashman, for another two years. Cashman is one of the best there is and has spent the Steinbrenner's money wisely.

The other was the exercising of Larry Bowa's contract by the Philidelphia Phillies. That is a terrible decision and the Fan can't understand just what the Phillies brass sees in Bowa that the rest of MLB fandom cannot. The man is a bad Billy Martin and is poison to that team. What's going to happen this year if the Phillies don't win despite having a very successful off-season.

And the surprise team of the weekend? The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The 'Rays have been busy! In separate trades, the Devil Rays acquired Jose Cruz, Jr., Geoff Blum, Rey Sanchez and Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson could be the most exciting addition as the pitcher had a fair rookie season after leaving the NBA. The Devil Rays have finally learned from history and are filling their roster with very useful, but not expensive players.

And finally, the Mets finished a successful off season week by signing Seattle's Mike Cameron. Cameron is only thirty and now that he is out of Seattle, might revive a career of great defense and great offensive potential.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Excuse the Fan a moment while he mourns the passing of a great Yankee.

Okay. I can go on now. Andy Pettitte agreed to a three year deal with the Houston Astros today. The 31 year old, 21 game winner took less money to go to Houston. Less money means $7 million less. Knowing how much the Yankees meant to Pettitte and how much he wanted to go home, it sounds like Pettitte did what was right for him and his family.

For Yankee fans, it hurts to lose such a valuable pitcher who was a part of the great teams from 1996 on. Pettitte is a great competitor, is still in his prime and should do very well for a number of years to come. The only worry for him is that he is a fly ball pitcher in Houston's little band box. Unless Pettitte can keep hitters up the middle in the air, he could have trouble.

The Yankees are trying to answer their need with Pettitte's loss by trading for Kevin Brown. Again, the Yankees go for a star over 35. Brown had a great year and finally appeared over two years of injury. But the man is 39 years old. The only good thing for the Yankees is that it would give them a chance to end the torture that was Jeff Weaver. The man has talent, but man oh man did he stink in New York.

The worst part of the stories about Pettitte was him mentioning that he is working on his good friend, Roger Clemens to pitch one more year in Houston. I hope that doesn't happen. Clemens went out in style and on top of his game. He should leave it there. Pettitte should leave it there.

In other news, the White Sox didn't lose all their good pitchers. They signed left-hander, Mark Buehrle. Buerhrle is only 24 and already has 53 major league wins. He had an off year, but there is no reason he won't bounce back and get back to his 19 win season in 2002.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Last night was one of those nights. I was excited to report on my take of the deadline that passed Sunday and the consequences the deadline had for three great Atlanta Braves players, the Phillies and the Florida Marlins. After writing a long post, I went to post it and Blogger burped. I lost the whole thing. Disgustedly, I shut the thing down and went to bed. I'll try to keep my composure tonight.

Sunday marked the deadline for teams to offer their free agents arbitration. If the teams failed to do so, those teams cannot sign the free agents until May 1. Failing to offer arbitration usually means the teams have no intention of signing the player. The Braves made such a statement to Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield and Javey Lopez.

Greg Maddux pitched for the Braves for eleven years. During that time, his average seasonal record was 18-8 with a 2.60 ERA. That's a pretty good run. The Braves gave up a chance to have their long time fans see Maddux reach the magical 300 win milestone in a Braves uniform. The Braves have to cut $20 million in payroll which just doesn't sound right considering their nationwide audience and long run atop the National League East.

The Braves also said goodbye to Javey Lopez and Gary Sheffield. That's 82 homers and 241 RBI of production gone from their lineup. I'm sure the Braves will remain competitive, but their reign on the NL East could come to an end. Especially with what's going on with the Phillies.

The Phillies did offer arbitration to Kevin Millwood. That means they have until December to sign him or let him go through the arbitration process. They would like to keep him at least one more year but do not want to commit to him long term. That makes sense these days where markets change. It doesn't make sense to sign a player for three years knowing that salaries have come down for two years and that player could be over priced by the end of the contract. Millwood hasn't exactly been the rock of health over his career either.

The Phillies did sign Tim Worrell who did a great job for the Giants last year closing games for their injured Robb Nen. Worrell had never been a closer and saved 38 games for the Giants. He should be a great tandem with Billy Wagner.

Bartolo Colon immediately improved the Angels' pitching staff by signing with that club. Who knows, if Colon ever gets in shape over the off season, he could become the lights out superstar that he's had the potential for his entire career. It's a risk for the Angels as there has to be a reason why Colon has bounced from team to team.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays continue their history of pursuing players nobody else wants. They offered a deal to Carl Everett today.

Everyday Eddie Guardado will no longer pitch every day for the Minnesota Twins. Guardado signed with the Mariners and should improve an already good bullpen there.

The Red Sox relationship with Nomar Garciaparra continues to get uglier. Nomar phoned in from his honeymoon with Mia Hamm to say how the trade talks rumored between the Rangers and Red Sox to swap A-Rod for Manny Ramirez. Garciaparra wants to play his whole career with the Red Sox.

It would be a big mistake for the Sox to lose Nomar and I don't know why one of the two shortstop can't play third base. Yesterday, Nomar's agent said that the trade talks are a slap in his client's face. Red Sox owner John Henry lashed back and called the agent's comments hypocritical. The agent has already turned down one high priced three year deal for Garciaparra.

This is stupid folks. Get a deal done. Too few teams have players left who started in their systems and became superstars. Nomar is one of the rare ones and should be kept at all a reasonable cost anyway.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Does the average Fan care much about Barry Bonds testifying before the grand jury in the BALCO case? If I am an average fan, the answer would be no. Oh sure, most of us--if not all of us--believe baseball should be protected from steroid abuse. But it's not a concern that is about the best interest of the game, it's about the best interest of the players. In a sport where so much money is involved, an athlete is not always going to make the right choice. MLB should help those players only have the right choice.

Why doesn't the average fan have much concern for the welfare and integrity of the game? Because most of us played the game at some level and understand that a hormonal boost, artificial or not, is not going to help a player hit a little white blur in a fraction of a second. Nor will it help that pitcher train his body to hit that little white rectangle called a strike zone.

The enhancements probably help in the training process and players are probably stronger, but I still don't buy that the increase of homers is a result of steroids or other enhancements. The extra homers are a result of too many mediocre sliders thrown by a thinner pitching pool. Anyone who watched the post season could see that good pitching still shuts down those artificially enhanced sluggers.

No, fans do not want steroids in baseball. But we don't want them because of Lyle Alzado and other athletes whose lives were cut short because of the price they were willing to pay to give them a perceived edge. But saying that, I am not aghast and mortified thinking the game is in mortal danger of scandal. Instead, I am appalled by the thought that some players are playing Russian Roulette with their health.

Lost in the big news of the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox moves, the Cincinnati Reds made Dave Miley their manager. Who? Miley has been in the Reds organization for twenty-four years and finished out the season last year after Boone was fired. This time he will have a chance to bring his own team into the season.

If Griffey comes back healthy along with the Reds core of other stars, he could look like a genius. More likely, the Reds will be also rans and Miley is on board to bring along young players. The Reds couldn't afford a high profile manager and instead promoted from within. Good for them and good for him. Anything has to be better than the Boone regime.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Fan doesn't buy all the talk in the press of the Red Sox and Yankees competing against each other for headlines this off season. What you are seeing are two very good general managers who have the luxury of larger payrolls trying to better their teams. Both are after pitching first and will shore up their lineups next. But these two teams aren't the only ones working hard to improve their teams. The Phillies are also having an active off season.

The Red Sox did the expected and hired Terry Francona as the team's new manager. Francona was strongly plugged by Curt Schilling and it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that hiring Francona was part of the deal. Francona brings a lot of energy to the team and is a young former player who was a smart player. He didn't fare that well with the Phillies but a manager can't always help the deal he was dealt. Look how unsuccessful Joe Torre was before he came to the Yankees. Francona's stint with the Phillies probably taught him a lot that will now be the benefit of the Red Sox.

The other nice thing about the Francona selection is that a non-Caucasian is coming to a club with a spurious history of fighting enlightenment. His signing has to give hope that we are making slow progress in this country towards going beyond our cave man past.

In a blockbuster trade, the Montreal Expos traded their best pitcher, Javier Vazquez, to the Yankees for Juan Rivera, Randy Choate and Nick Johnson. The jury is still out on Rivera's potential and Choate was basically a throw in to the deal. The real prize for the Expos is Nick Johnson. The 25 year old first baseman was coming into his own with the Yankees and had the potential to be one of their better players for a long time.

Although injury prone so far in his career, Johnson has shown real discipline at the plate and his loss in the lineup will really hurt the Yankees who strike out too much. I really feel that Johnson had a brighter future with the Yankees than Soriano. But that's baseball and the fans can only sit back and see what happens. Vazquez is a horse and will really help the Yankees. But even with the addition of Gary Sheffield in the lineup, how many 3-2 games will the Yankees continue to lose?

The Phillies quietly continued their quest for excellence. They acquired Eric Milton from the Twins for basically nothing and have really strengthened their staff. Milton can be a big winner if he stays healthy. Although he isn't a flame thrower, he's a pitcher with a proven ability to win and can win 15 to 20 games with the Phillies. Will this be the year the Braves run ends?

Monday, December 01, 2003

A couple of blockbuster stories fed the off season water cooler set this week. First, Peter Gammons announced that Gary Sheffield has agreed to sign with the New York Yankees. Next, after the Schilling to Boston deal was finalized (Schilling had to pass a physical), the Diamondbacks and Brewers pulled off a nine player deal with Richie Sexson moving to Arizona.

Brewers fans are going to be upset as Sexson was one of the most popular players ever to play in Milwaukee--and for good reason. Sexson has become one of the steadiest sluggers in the game. Sexson has hit 180 homers in the last four year and drove in 458 runs in that same time period. Sexson has also increased his walk total and lowered his strikeouts. You can count on Sexson to hit in the .270s every year as he is very consistent.

There will be some teeth gnashing in Milwaukee tonight because the Brewers didn't get a lot of real value in return. Overbay, Moeller and Counsell are all useful players, but none in the star caliber of Sexson. The only possible stars are Junior Spivey, who slumped badly after a great rookie campaign, and Jorge La Rosa, the minor league pitcher the Red Sox sent to Arizona for Schilling. La Rosa has a big upside but it's all speculative. Spivey is 27 years old but could still have a very good career.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have really upgraded their lineup and have erased what has been a left-handed dominant lineup that could be pitched around. It's tough to lose Schilling, but Sexson should get a lot of folks in Arizona excited.

Okay, call the Fan cynical, but why can't the Yankees sign a superstar who is less than 35 years old? Carlos Beltran would have been a much better long term option. Sheffield is a great player. But why has he been on six teams? He is another player who has found a negative place in fans' hearts. It will be interesting how well he fits in with the Yankee team culture, which starts with Joe Torre. Sheffield has also never played for a man like Steinbrenner.

Again, Sheffield has been a great player. But he's 35 and he's been a bit troublesome. I'm not sure I like this deal for the Yankees. Beltran could have taken over centerfield, moving Williams to left and Matsui to right. Now Williams will have to go back to centerfield and he has slowed down in the past two years. The only other option is to move Soriano to center, but that leaves Bernie out and he's getting paid too much money and is too much a part of the clutch Yankees to put to pasture.

It will be an interesting year in Yankee Stadium this year.

Friday, November 28, 2003

The Red Sox Nation has held its collective breath since Monday to see whether Curt Schilling would accept the trade from the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox. Tonight, the Nation could breath again as Schilling agreed--with the help of a contract extension--to come to Boston and bring a championship to the Red Sox.

On paper, the deal does much to bolster what should be a good pitching staff. The tough part about paper is making it reality. Will Pedro hold up? How much does Schilling have left at 37. Will the real Derek Lowe stand up? On paper, who Boston gave up to get Schilling doesn't seem to hurt much. It is unclear whether Casey Fossum will ever be a successful MLB pitcher and Brandon Lyon shows promise but not exceptional promise.

For Red Sox fans, this will be a bold strike and will hearten even cynical fans. Schilling is considered a superstar and anytime your home town team gets a superstar, it's exciting.

Although the Marlins have promised their fans that the red tag sale that happened after their last championship won't happen this time, they do have to manage their money wisely. The Marlins' first attempt at that objective was to trade first baseman Derrek Lee to the Cubs for fellow first baseman, Hee Sheop Choi. I believe this trade hurts the Marlins.

Not only was Lee a pretty good hitter, he was one of the best fielding first baseman in baseball. The Fan has written in the past how much a good fielding first baseman improves total infield defense and pitching ERA. To repeat some of the points I made back then, look at how the Mets went from record setting defense with Jon Olerud to mediocrity the next year with Todd Zeile playing first. There is no coincidence that the Mets went from contenders to chumps in a short time after the Olerud trade.

Olerud is largely responsible for the great run the Mariners have had and he was a big part of the Blue Jays championship seasons because his defense allowed the Tony Fernandez and Bret Boones of the world range more freely and be more daring on the infield. The Marlins team defense will suffer without Lee and team defense is one of the reasons they were champions in the first place.

Indications are that the Marlins are far away from being able to keep catcher, Ivan Rodriguez. If they can't sign him, that will be two of the leagues best defenders lost in one off season. Yikes!

Monday, November 24, 2003

The Red Sox are on the cusp of making a blockbuster deal that would obtain Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks for Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon and two prospects. The deal hinges on whether the Red Sox hire Terry Francona as manager and agree to give Schilling an extension on his contract. But is he worth the risk.

Schilling’s career has a definite pattern. He pitched over 200 innings in 1992 and 1993 and broke down the next year. He combined for only 380+ innings in total for the following three years.

He repeated that pattern by pitching over 250 innings in 1997 and 1998. He broke down again in 1999 and only pitched 390+ innings over the next three years. The pattern isn’t a good one for the Red Sox as he pitched 250+ innings in 2001 and 2002 and broke down last year. Will history repeat itself? Would you want to risk $36 million over three years to a 37 year old pitcher to find out?

On the positive side, Schilling did strike out 194 batters in his 168 innings last year and kept his ERA under 3.00. It’s a gamble the Red Sox are probably willing to take.

The Angels made a great signing today in acquiring free agent Kelvim Escobar for three years at “only” $18.75 million. That’s not bad for a great arm that has big time potential for greatness with the Angels.

Warren Spahn died today. The lefthander with the most career wins had an astonishing thirteen twenty game winning seasons on the way to compiling 363 wins. He won 23 games in his 21st major league season! He then played three more years too long, but that did not diminish a sparkling career.

Spahn was a part of that great Braves refrain: “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” A decorated WWII veteran, Spahn still pitched from the early forties until 1966. I saw him pitch in the last years of his career while struggling with the 1965 Mets. But he was still a lot of fun to watch and you could just tell that the man lived to play baseball and had a joy that made his smile just shine throughout the park.

Spahn was legendary, but his charm was that he was also ordinary. Baseball fans everywhere will mourn his passing today and also celebrate what he meant to baseball.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Two recent stories warmed the Fan's Yankee sensibilities. First, Derek Jeter will not need thumb surgery this off-season. That is a major breath of relief as the soul of the Yankees would have started on the bench. What Jeter has accomplished the past two seasons despite chronic pain and injuries is phenomenal. He is the Brett Favre of baseball.

The second story was the trade of Tino Martinez from the Cardinals to Tampa Bay. Martinez will join another ex-Yankee, Lou Piniella which is fitting because the two are major cogs in separate Yankee championship runs. Piniella was the crusty, professional hitter that kept the Yankees together many times during the early Steinbrenner years and Martinez was a prominent member of the Yankee, post-Mattingly teams that won four championships in five years.

Martinez has never had it easy. He followed a saint in Don Mattingly in New York and I remember my own negative feelings about him taking the place of a beloved first-basement who was adoringly called "Donnie Baseball." All Martinez did was come in with remarkable consistency in anchoring the Yankee attack through all their championships.

Where Paul O'Neill was the fiery leader of the team, Martinez was the rock who drove in runs and hit important homeruns. There is no coincidence that the Yankees haven't won since Martinez moved on and O'Neill retired. Martinez drove in 690 runs in his six years with the Yankees. Now that is the definition of a rock.

The Yankees then let Martinez go and he signed with the Cardinals. There he replaced Mark McGuire. Mattingly and McGuire...imagine replacing those two players? Tino never got going in St. Louis and his production dropped off. Perhaps a fresh start in Tampa will revive his career for at least one season. I hope so as Tino has never been given the credit for those great Yankee seasons that he deserves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Today was one of those days that fans of MLB enjoy. There was a surprising trade, another award, a free agent signing and the culmination of another scandal. Let's look at the trade first.

Ted Lilly was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Bobby Kielty. The move was surprising as Lilly seemed to be coming into his own as a pitcher. There must be cash considerations involved as the A's consistently have to hold down their budget. The A's also have Rich Harden who showed promise in a few starts this past year. Lilly will be a big addition for the Blue Jays, especially in their multiple series against the lefty vulnerable Red Sox and Yankees.

Kielty also has a lot of promise and is excited about the opportunity to play in Oakland. He is a selective hitter and felt that the Twins wanted him to be more aggressive. The A's stress patience when hitting and he should fit right in. So this deal does both teams well, at least in foresight. Hindsight will have to wait.

Toronto also signed Pat Hentgen to come back home after four years away. Hentgen, who has won 129 games in his career, came back this past year from Tommy John surgery to post his best ERA since 1997. Hentgen was 6-3 in the second half with an ERA of 3.10 after the break. Toronto now boasts an effective starting staff with Lilly, Hentgen and Cy Young winner Halladay. If these moves work out, the Blue Jays could contend strongly this coming year.

Bobby Bonds won his third straight Most Valuable Player award. It's hard to argue with the selection as the Giants would have been a .500 ball club the last two years without him in the lineup. Pujols was also deserving but should have plenty more years to contend with the honor.

That leaves the AL MVP award as the only one of the year that seems arguable. There have been years where Alex Rodriguez could have won the award but played on non-contending teams. This year, he had a year that was less spectacular than past years but he wins the award. Carlos Delgado should have won the award as his batting average was higher and he drove in an amazing 145 runs.

A case could be made for David Ortiz, who carried the Red Sox into the post season. Ortiz had an amazing number of huge hits and provided an emotional core for the team. In my mind, he was the MVP.

And finally, Bill Singer paid for his stupid comments at the GM meetings with his job. Singer, who was just hired a few weeks ago, did not understand that these are a different time and world from the locker room he used to share with his fellow players. This is a world where our words are measured and an insensitive joke is going to blow up in your face. The man is probably a decent sort of guy who made a really stupid mistake. Gone. Thanks for playing.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

The general managers meeting broke up with only one trade plus a faux pas from the Mets' Bill Singer. The one trade was a great one for the San Francisco Giants as they picked up the Twins' catcher, A.J. Pierzynski for Joe Nathan and two minor leaguers. At first, I was upset for Twins fans at this trade until I broke it down a bit.

Pierzynski is one of the true leaders on the Twins. He is a great defensive player with a lifetime batting average over .300. He has had clutch hits in big games and is in the same class--though he is rarely mentioned that way--with Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek. So why would the Twins trade him other than for money reasons?

First, the Twins have Matthew LeCroy who only caught twenty games last year, but between catching and at DH, LeCroy had 17 homeruns and 64 RBI in only 345 at bats. Pierzynski was great, but he wasn't a big power guy. But even more exciting for the Twins is the world's best catching prospect ready to step in: Joe Bouer. Bouer was the minor league player of the year last year and has all the tools and then some. He is considered "can't miss." That's why the Twins could expend the arbitration eligible Pierzynski.

And! The Twins received big time arm, Joe Nathan. Nathan has pitched through some injury but has a lifetime (four years) record of 24-10. This past year he had more strikeouts than innings pitched and can be downright nasty. Nathan, minor leaguers and the ability to plug in Joe Bouer makes this trade a good one for the Twins and the Giants as Pierzynski will give them a solid presence where few are available other than Bonds.

The most embarrassing moment of the general manager meetings had to be the Mets newly hired Bill Singer making stupid guttural noises to mimic oriental speech in response to meeting Kim Ng, the Dodgers assistant general manager. How childish and boorish can you be? It will be interesting to see if the Mets fire Singer for this really stupid act despite Singer's public apology.

Former players are former players and they all have had sheltered lives. Pampered, set apart and sheltered from the real world for most of their early lives, players can get away with asinine attitudes and be somewhat excused for their lack of exposure to more enlightened thought and experiences.

The trouble comes when a former player now has to act in the real world of business. Let's face it, MLB is a business and general managers are on the business end of things. Singer, a former 20 game winner, now has egg on his face as he has made a major transgression that probably would have generated guffaws in major league locker rooms.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Major League Baseball finally started down the correct path by deciding to test all players for steroids. Random testing found that five percent of players tested positive for steroid use. Though that percentage is better than expected, it is enough to cause the fan to wonder about the performance of MLB's players.

I don't believe this will go smoothly and some players will be sure to attempt legal action to stop what they will call a loss of privacy. If players knew the minds of the fans, they would know how important this issue is. I don't believe that steroids help a player any more than cork in a player's bat. But if the perception is there that the competition is unfair, then MLB needs to take this stance and this action.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Many fans of MLB point to the parity of the NFL and how the salary cap is responsible for that parity. MLB on the other hand tried to deal with the issue by issuing a luxury tax on teams that spent more than a set amount. Neither method would help the current state of team payroll levels in baseball. No team proves that point better than the Milwaukee Brewers.

Today it was announced that the board of directors of the Milwaukee Brewers recommended that the Brewers cut their payroll from $40 million to $30 million. The recommendation means that the Brewers will probably have to trade their two best players: Geoff Jenkins ($8 million) and Richie Sexson ($8 million).

The plight of the Brewers is complicated as the community put up a lot of money to build the Brewers a stadium. They have a right to expect the Brewers to be entertaining. Sexson and Jenkins play hard, play well and play exciting ball. Now with Podsednik and pitching starting to fall in place, the team had a chance to be much better. Will it be able to now?

One of the reasons given for the cut is the drop in attendance to 1.7 million. Geez, the Devil Rays would have a celebration for that kind of attendance. Even if the average ticket price was $10--and it has to be higher--that's $17 million. Add in the TV rights, MLB products and their results from the same luxury tax the Yankees are paying and you have to wonder why the team would need to cut payroll.

What's the answer? Put in a salary cap? Make the cap $80 million? The Brewers are still going to spend only $30 million. How is that going to help poorly run teams? There is no provision that the poor owners spend the luxury tax on their teams. Then what good is it? For every George Steinbrenner there will be a Carl Pohldad or Bud Selig's daughter. The Brewers story is a sad one and is a lightning rod of warning for the storm that baseball still faces.

So far, the awards seem to be going to the players that earned them. Berroa and Dontrelle Willis are the correct choices though I wouldn't have argued if Podsednik had won the award in the National League. Halladay won the AL Cy Young award. The National League will announce theirs on Thursday. If that decision follows the common sense winners to this point, Eric Gagne will win that award.

Friday, November 07, 2003

A fixture on the field at Yankee Stadium for half a decade has been hired to manage the Baltimore Orioles. Lee Mazzilli, the former outfielder for the Mets and Yankees had to be the underdog since he was competing for the job against former Orioles, Rick Dempsey and Eddie Murray as well as Grady Little and Terry Francona.

Mazzilli was a popular coach with the Yankees and he was frequently used by television crews to wear microphones during important games. He inherits what could be a very good team. The Orioles played half a season with an offense that was right up there with Boston and the Braves before injuries to Melvin Mora and others derailed their progress. Don't be surprised if they become a contender in the coming season.

In what I thought were classy moves, both Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner and manager, Joe Torre, praised Mazzilli and were excited and positive about Mazzilli's opportunity.

Speaking of underdogs, the Mexico team beat the United States team and knocked the defending country out of the Olympics in Athens. The stunning loss means that if the Olympics would have been one last way to see Roger Clemens pitch, that dream is over and his win in the World Series could be his last game ever.

Tommy Lasorda, who managed the gold medal winning American team in the last Olympics said it was a shock and a disgrace that the American team lost. That criticism won't sit very well with Hall of Famer, Frank Robinson, who managed this year's Olympic hopeful team.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Baseball news has been pretty quiet the last few days. 208 players have already filed for free agency including Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte of the Yankees. Clemens, of course, has said he is retiring. But if he changes his mind, he will have the right to talk to any team.

Andy Pettitte has said that he can't imagine pitching for any other team and who can blame him. He was drafted by the Yankees and has pitched for them since the 1995 season. His record of success is remarkable judging from his record as it's one of the best in winning percentage history. Add that to his post season success and he seems like a must sign for the Yankees.

The Mets did score a very good victory in landing Oakland A's pitching coach Rick Peterson. Peterson has developed the A's remarkable pitching story and his philosophy is used through the A's farm teams. The Mets were always famous for their development of pitching talent but that has not been the case in recent history. There hasn't been a Doc Gooden, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman or Nolan Ryan come out of their farm system in a long time.

Peterson will upgrade the entire Mets' system and the addition of Bill Singer to the Mets front office to find the talent to develop means that the Mets are doing all the right things to rebuild that franchise. But Bobby Valentine will be in Japan. Alas!

I have to wonder what will become of the Athletic's pitching with Peterson's departure. Will their big pitchers continue to develop without him? Will they continue to keep coming up with great arms from the minor leagues. Look what Peterson did for Ted Lilly in his first full year with the team. Lilly went 12-10 in his first full season and had a perfect ERA in the playoffs (0.00).

In the "I've-got-to-see-this" category, the San Diego Padres announced that they will have new uniforms this coming season. What a victory for that team! That's even better news than having a new stadium. The Padres have consistently had the worst looking uniforms in baseball. They went from those awful brown and yellow uniforms in the 80's to equally ugly blue uniforms in the 90's.

Have you ever seen pictures of Dave Winfield in those old Padres' uniforms. Yeesh! No wonder he wanted to get out of there. Speaking of Winfield, I remember watching him while he was with the Yankees. No one consistently hit the ball harder than Winfield. Infielders used to play in the short outfield when he came up. Anyway, he had this way of wiggling his butt when he was waiting for the pitch. That used to drive the women crazy. It didn't do much for me but I can imagine what they were looking at.

There wasn't a picture in the news reports about the uniforms but they were described as a tri-color pattern of sand, navy and sky blue. Hmm...sounds like an improvement.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The first big bombshell of the off season has exploded with the Astros trade of closer Billy Wagner to the Phillies for Brandon Duckworth and two minor leaguers. Wow!

The Phillies Achilles heel all last season was the bullpen, especially with Jose Mesa closing games. Mesa had an ERA over 6.00 well into the season and never looked effective or even scary. Wagner will come in with his 100 MPH fastball and his 44 saves in 47 chances and give the Phillies a legitimate shot at making the game a seven inning game.

Brandon Duckworth is a big potential pitcher who has shown short flashes of his capabilities in two seasons with the Phillies. Yet he has a losing career record and has given up more hits than innings, which isn't a good sign for a supposed power pitcher.

Houston has a lot of arms in the bullpen but they need every one of them as their manager is a bullpen killer. Houston also has a penchant for having their top arms come up injured in a similar way to the Marlins before Jack McKeon took over. Most likely, Houston will try Dotel as a closer and if that doesn't work out, go with another of their electric bullpen arms. But you have to ask the question: What does it tell the fans and your team to trade away a sure thing in what looks like a money deal?

Two managerial decisions came down today. Both were surprising. First, the Chicago White Sox made a great decision in choosing Ozzie Guillen as their new manager. Guillen will bring fun and enthusiasm to a team in sore need of it. In much the same way that Tony Pena brought a spark to the Royals, Guillen could do the same for the White Sox.

The move is also a big day for MLB as Chicago now has a former African American in charge of the Cubs and a former Hispanic player in charge of the White Sox. We've come a long way when one of the top cities in the country can boast such an alignment. Good for Chicago and good for baseball.

The second decision is somewhat sad in that Bobby Valentine decided to sign a three year deal to go back to Japan and manage over there. He said the money was flattering and that at this point in his life, it's important to him to feel needed and wanted. It's a shame that there wasn't a spot for Valentine on the American field as he is a creative and fiery competitor and manager.

Valentine also did a super job on Baseball Tonight for ESPN and always seemed on point and dead on with his commentary and analysis. He will be missed on that show and on this continent. I hope he comes back someday.

The Yankees made an excellent move in bringing Don Mattingly in as their batting instructor. Mattingly did wonders for Tino Martinez when Tino got in slumps. It is a good sign when the first move the Yankees make after their disappointing loss to the Marlins is a classy one that will please the fans. Mattingly is one of the most popular players to ever wear the pinstripes and should have the respect of his players.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

As predicted, Manny Ramirez did not inspire any MLB general managers to spend twenty million a year to grab him. There is no doubt in the Fan's mind that the Red Sox will feature Manny in their opening day lineup.

Unfortunately for Chicago White Sox fans, Frank Thomas decided to exercise his option and stay with them. In better news, the team also announced that Esteban Loiza is staying too.

Thomas did hit more than forty homers this past year for the first time since 2000 but for a man with a lifetime batting average of .310, he has hit .252 and .267 the past two years. His runs scored and walk totals were below his lifetime season average while he has posted his career high in strikeouts the past two years as well.

Thomas is hard to totally dismiss. From 1991 to 1997, the man was amazing, scoring over 100 runs, knocking in over a hundred with total numbers never seen before in the majors. Perhaps, after looking at the numbers, even I have not given him his due. After all, he has driven in 1390 runs in his thirteen year career while walking 1386 times to go with his 2018 hits and 418 homers.

There is just this feeling in baseball and in baseball fans that he has been the number one reason the White Sox have never been to where it always appears they should go. It's hard to say why and it's certainly a mystery.

Loiza came out of nowhere and won twenty-one games. That kind of year just can't be a fluke and I saw him pitch a couple of times and he just seems to know how to do it. His season reminds me of Dave Stewart who pitched for nine years with a total of 39 wins before he exploded for four straight twenty win seasons. Loiza can be that kind of pitcher.

Across town, Sammy Sosa also decided to ignore the clause in his contract that would have allowed him to walk away after this year to become a free agent. The decision means that he will be a Cub for at least two more years. The news is great news for Cub fans and for the game of baseball.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

There were lots of emotional reactions today in Red Sox Nation with the news that the team put Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers. The move means that the Red Sox are pulling a Henny Youngman: "Take my Manny...please."

But the move doesn't mean that the Red Sox will lose Ramirez. Any team can claim Ramirez but then they would have to pay his $20 million price tag and who besides the Yankees (who don't want him) have the money to pay him?

The move was a plea from the Red Sox for anyone in baseball to make them a offer...anything or anyway for the Boston team to unload Manny's salary and his one-dimensional play.

Isn't it sad that someone as talented as Manny Ramirez will never really be wanted for very long by anyone. Can he change that? Does he want to?

In any case, the odds are good that the Red Sox lineup on opening day will feature Manny Ramirez...the best hitter in baseball nobody wants.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The MLB off season has already started to be fun to watch. Several key Braves have filed for free agency including Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez. Most sources do not believe that Maddux will sign with the Braves as the Braves will want him for much less than the $14 plus million he made this year. Sheffield and Lopez will be interesting to watch as their big bats led the Braves to their most potent lineup in recent history.

The year Javy Lopez had would be considered a career year. It is hard to imagine that he could put together another one like it. But even if he hits thirty plus homers and drives in ninety to a hundred runs, that's better production than any catcher out there with the exception of Posada and Ivan Rodriguez.

Recent Brave history also indicates that they are downsizing their budget and it wouldn't be surprising if all three big stars move on. Will this be the year the Braves incredible run of division titles ends? It seems really hard to imagine that they wouldn't want to have Maddux go for his 300 victories as a Brave. But that just goes to show how little warmth there is in that franchise from and for its stars.

An even more intriguing deal rumored is the New York's Soriano for Kansas City's Carlos Beltran. Beltran will cost too much for the Royals and Soriano has a few more years before eligibility for free agency. I like this deal as Beltran can play center for the Yankees, moving Williams to a corner position. Beltran brings as much excitement and strength to the Yankees as Soriano does.

Beltran has hit 25 plus homers three years in a row which is great in a big park like Kansas City. He has driven in over a hundred three years in a row and scored more than a hundred in those three years as well. He has also hit over .300 in two of those years and most dramatically lowered his strikeout total from 135 in 2002 to 85 in 2003. That shows more maturity in his plate presence. And best of all, he stole over forty bases this year too.

Yes, I like this deal. Soriano seems impossible to teach and prone to prolonged stretches of ineptitude. He has a lot of upsides, but I would take Beltran over him any day. And Beltran is only twenty-six years old.

Oh yes, this is fun and there will be a lot to talk about this long, cold winter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The Fan has had a ball this season writing this post every day. I have always wished that I had been a journalist and this outlet at least lets me act like one.

I have been writing every day since March 3, and I think I missed a total of six days during the season. I really appreciate some of you who have become loyal readers. That meant a lot to me. I would like to continue. Any baseball fan knows that the off season can be as much fun as the season. Speculating on what teams do what and reacting to moves that are made are part of the tradition and fun. I want to share that with you.

I want to thank for doing what they do. It's a great service for people like me who have a need to express in ways not normally available. I'm sure there are a lot of really bad blogs out there but there are many more good ones. The baseball blogs I have read have been excellent. The sites that link other baseball blogs are super and hopefully I'll soon figure out how to return the favor.

So...the post-post season begins and the first big bombshell is not from the Yankees but from Boston. The firing of Grady Little seems incredulous at first glance and maybe the second. Here is a guy that took a team that started with no bullpen, only two or three legitimate stars and brought them within five outs of the World Series. And you know what? The Red Sox could have beaten the Marlins.

But Little left Pedro Martinez in the game in the eighth inning when hindsight says he should have removed him. Let's compare this to the Marlins sixth game of the World Series. Josh Beckett has won fourteen games in his MLB career. Until the post season, he had NEVER thrown a complete game. Here he is in Game Six on three days rest and nearly every inning from the sixth inning to the eighth, the Yankees had at least one runner on base. There was no way that his manager was going to take him out of the game. If Beckett had given up a game tying or winning homer with one of those runners on base and the Yankees came back and won the series, should he have gotten fired?

Beckett's manager went with his gut and stayed with what he thought was his best pitcher. He's a hero and just signed on for next year. Little did the same thing and is fired. He is the John McNamarra of his day. Sometimes baseball isn't fair.

Little did stir the pot a little bit to his own demise. Peter Gammons reported that Little wanted guarantees for next year but he was under contract and could have come back without the guarantees but was incensed when he did not receive them (for Gammons' column, see Bad move.

But all I can remember as a fan was watching Boston's players hugging each other before they even got to the playoffs. This was a team that came together and played together as no team I've ever watched before. You have to give some of that credit to the manager. Two years ago, during the September 11th tragedy, a much more talented Red Sox team folded quickly because they had no cohesiveness and no respect for each other or anything else. Some of that credit went to the manager and he was fired.

Grady Little deserved another season. He was a good manager who made some colorful choices. That's baseball. Do you think Mike Hargrove would have won 96 games with that team? Enough said.

Oh, and one of the candidates for Little's job is Bud Black. Have you seen a picture of him? Let me just say that he is the spitting image of Grady Little. Weird...very weird.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Sometimes you just have to tip your cap. The Florida Marlins won the World Series because they made the clutch plays, pitched the clutch pitches and hit the clutch hits. They had great pitching, great defense and a good enough offense to beat some of the best starting pitchers who have played this game.

That's not all very easy for me to say. In the course of writing here every day, I've endeavored to present a fair and unbiased view of baseball. That's not always possible but I did try. The Yankees have been my team since 1965...a year after their great years ended. I grew up with a Met fan for a dad and grand dad, but the Yankees were my team.

When the final four teams shook out and it was the Yankees, Red Sox, Marlins and Cubs, I thought, "Great! I'll be happy whichever team wins." But the truth is, I am crushed that the current Yankees didn't win it all. I turned the game off in the seventh inning the last game because I knew they were going to lose and I didn't want to watch. I had a day of mourning and life goes on.

But isn't that what makes this game so good? Such loyalties are long-standing and palpably real to the true fan of baseball. I enjoyed the Red Sox season and the Cubs charge and the Marlins. The four teams I rooted for all year made it to where I wanted them to be. But deep down, despite my words, I wanted Jeter to win another one and Roger Clemens to go out a champion and all the other players I have come to root for. But it wasn't meant to be for two reason. One is that the Yankees had too many holes despite the $180 million and two because Beckett wouldn't let them win.

Let me start with the latter. Again, you have to tip your cap to what Beckett did. It reminded me of what Jared Wright did to the Yankees in 1997 when Cleveland beat my team to go to the World Series. It was that good. What made it hard to watch was that, though Beckett pitched a game for the ages, he is my least favorite Marlin and one I have no respect for.

The kid is a punk and showed himself to be with his disrespect for Sammy Sosa and Sosa's reaction to a ball thrown at his head. If Beckett was a good person, he would have understood that Sosa is a proud man and had been beaned in the head not once but twice in the same season. But Beckett had to use the occasion to put Sosa down and his disrespect for one of the greatest players in the game's history was scornful.

And of course, any semi-lip reader could understand the filth that was pouring out of Beckett's mouth whenever something went well or poorly for him. Bad people shouldn't win, but he was good enough to do so. In fact, he was masterful. So my cap is tipped, but I will be waiting for his humbling and it will come someday.

Another reason the outcome was sad for me is that I've followed Steinbrenner too long to not know that he will dismantle this team. Like I said, the team has holes, but instead of plugging the holes, some of the good things will go to. Pettitte will be gone. Don't be surprised if Bernie Williams is gone. Zimmer is already gone. Stottlemyre might be gone. And don't be surprised if Joe Torre is gone. This won't be the same team for a long time.

So it was a last hurrah for this Yankee team. The Marlins were better. It's sad, but I tip my cap.

Friday, October 24, 2003

The Yankees of this current generation have never been in this position. The argument could be made that this is a generation away from the late 90's team that seemed invincible. The heart of the team is still in place: Jeter, Williams, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera. But that seems to be the trouble. This heart has all performed well--even spectacular. But with the exception of Matsui, the new pieces around this core have done little to help.

And so the Yankees are a game away from elimination. Second place in the World Championship doesn't count. Just ask the Braves who have only won the big show once in their incredible run. The Boss won't be happy but that matters little. What matters is that this proud core who have been champions four times can't stomach losing but probably have little choice.

The odds are strongly against the Yankees down 3-2 in the Series. Florida's pitching has been spectacular. Except for Redman, there hasn't been one falter by the Marlins' staff. The odds got tighter when McKeon tapped Beckett to start Game 6 on three days rest. To some that would seem like a risky call. But anyone who has seen Beckett pitch this post season would know the Yankees are in big trouble.

The only positive might be that Beckett won't be able to go as deep into the game and the Marlins' bullpen is less secure than the starting staff. The only other positive is Pettitte, who has rescued the Yankees on a number of occasions. Pettitte rarely has had two strong outings in a row but will need to pitch one of the best games of his life tomorrow.

The Yankee core has been let down by the new guys who haven't performed. Soriano, Giambi (though he shouldn't be faulted for being hurt), Boone, Garcia and others have played terribly. Soriano is completely lost and his struggles couldn't have come at a worse time. Right now, I wouldn't count on Soriano to hit the bench without lunging and missing it. Boone and Garcia have left countless rallies stranded on the bases.

In a way it's a shame that so much of the focus has been on the trouble of the mighty Yankees. A lot of focus should be on the Marlins who have scrapped and sweat and laughed their way to this improbable position. They have been the ones to play like champions and have come through in every instance. This just might end up being their series to the chagrin of a lot of Yankee fans. And after watching them since they started their run in August, this position the Marlins are in is no fluke. This is a damn good team.

Yup, the Yankees are in a lot of trouble. And in one ironic side note that defines how much trouble the Yankees are in, Blogger's spell check gave only one possible replacement for the supposed mispelling of "Giambi" and that word was, "gimpy."

Thursday, October 23, 2003

These late night games has the Fan whipped and since this game is well in Florida's hands, it's time for bed. Tough break for the Yankees to have Wells go down with a bad back after one very good inning.

The odds are really against the Yanks going back home down 3-2.

Goodnight everyone...
What an amazing game! Tied at three going into the Marlins' half of inning number twelve. In every one of these bottom halves, the Marlins can end the game with a single run. But Contreras was lights out and Jeff Weaver, of all people, had a one, two, three eleventh. Weaver is now into his second inning and the first batter, Alex Gonzalez, hit a walk off, Mark McGuire-like laser just over the left field wall to end the game. Weaver, the permanent Yankee dog house member, continued his unfortunate year for the loss.

The game started with what the Fan thought was going to be a sad sight. Clemens gave up three runs in the first and one more hit would have finished him off. It was going to be an incredibly sad end to his storied career. But he pulled it together and pitched six brilliant innings after that and kept the Yankees in the game. He struck out five in those final six innings and walked none in his seven innings. It was a gutty and fitting final start for one of the greatest pitchers ever.

Fittingly, the Yankees didn't let him get the loss and tied the game in the ninth for a Ugeth Urbina blown save. The Yankees could have won the game right there with one more hit and couldn't come up with it. The Yankees later had Chad Fox on the ropes with the bases loaded and only one out. Looper came out of the bullpen and the Yankees couldn't push a run home. The key at bat was Aaron Boone swinging at five balls inside to strike out for the second out. With some plate discipline, he would have walked and Rivera would have finished the game up.

But that's why the games are played and the Marlins showed why they belong here. They pitched terrific from start to end with the exception of Urbina and then got the game winning hit off the pitcher they should have hit. The Yankees had their chances, but the game goes to the Marlins.

Now we're tied at 2-2 and it's a three game series for the title. What a great World Series!

The odds are very much against Bud Selig reading these comments, but we've got to get these games started at least at 7pm instead of 8 so that it isn't 12:32 Eastern Time when the game ends. For those of us who work for a living, these late games are killers. And for a sport that wants to attract young fans, most of them are in bed when these exciting games could be the spark that makes them fans or players for life.

The glaring holes in the Yankees lineup, especially in the clutch are Soriano at lead off and Giambi at cleanup. One can understand Giambi as he is playing on bad wheels. But Giambi has always been a smart hitter who doesn't miss his pitch and doesn't swing at bad pitches. After Jeter doubled with two outs to give the Yankees a chance to win the game, Giambi let a hanging slider fall harmlessly into Ivan Rodriguez' hands, he then swung at two sliders way inside by his feet. What's happened to his eye?

Soriano has simply been pathetic. There is no hope of him ever getting untracked. He can't lay off of the slider a foot outside and he can't lay off of the high fastball. He isn't aggressive on hittable pitches and he's overly aggressive on balls out of the strike zone. One at bat seemed to say it all. Ball One. Ball Two. Swing at Ball Three (now 2-1). Swing at Ball Four (now 2-2). Weak fly out to centerfield.

Soriano is raising up out of his stance and that does not allow him to drive through the swing and so he is swinging with all arms and most of the time with his hips flailing helplessly toward third base. He has been terrible...absolutely terrible.

In this space the other day, I mentioned that Mike Mussina had not won a big game in the post season. And I was correct with that assessment. But his performance last night turned that around as he was masterful and an artist and deserved the win. Rivera was just as amazing in his two innings to save the game.

So does Wells pitch tomorrow? Must be. It's a big game and he is a gamer. We'll see Brad Penny pitching for the Marlins. Those are both pitchers who could be terrific or awful. Congratulations to Alex Gonzalez and the Marlins for a big win that changes the entire series.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Game 3 of the 2003 World Series is in a rain delay with the score tied 1-1. It will be interesting to see how the starting pitchers react to the time off the field. Both starting pitchers had pitched really well with Mussina shaky early and coming on strong and Beckett strong early and then becoming shaky. The field is being prepared and time will tell.

Much has been made of the difference of these two teams. The Yankees, it is pointed out, are the world class team with 26 World Championships. The Marlins have been around for ten years and have one championship. The Yankees are the $180 million team and the Marlins are the $50 million team. But baseball still boils down to the eight position players against the other team's eight and the two opposing pitchers.

The two teams actually have some similarities. Nine of the 25 men on the Yankee roster are home grown from their own system. The number would be eleven if you could include Matsui and Contreras but I wouldn't count them that way. The Florida Marlins have eight of their 25 man roster from their own system.

The two teams have masterfully crafted their teams with creative and intelligent signings. Both teams stress pitching with a mixture of power pitchers and crafty ones. Both teams have great fielding shortstops and clutch hitting, great fielding catchers. Both teams have older managers whose demeanor and treatment of players get the most out of their clubs.

With that said, the core of the Yankee home grown players are battle tested and have played in clutch situations most of their careers. The Marlins core has not been there before and only one or two were around in 1997 when the Marlins won it all. But to their credit, they believe they can win and they have the smarts and the talent to get the job done.

With the score 1-1 and the series 1-1, either team can win this World Series. It should be exciting.

Whew! A big jam goes by the boards for the Marlins as Mussina really got out of that inning well.

Monday, October 20, 2003

As the World Series takes a breather, the Fan will do so as well. The matchups for Game 3 do not favor the Yankees and the prediction is a 4-1 Marlin win.

I'll see you tomorrow night as we find out how it will all play out.
I heard with astonishment the other day as an announcer stated that Andy Pettitte's post season record was overrated. Overrated?? The man just tied a record for most post season victories and just look what he has done this post season: Win three Game 2 contests after the Yankees had lost Game 1. Andy Pettitte has consistently given the Yankees a strong outing whenever they really needed it in the post season.

Pettitte's outing tonight did all of these things:
- Shut down the Marlins momentum by ending their four game winning streak in the post season.
- Shut down the top of the order and their running game.
- Sent the Yankees to Florida with a split instead of being down 2-0.
- Saved Mariano Rivera and the rest of the bullpen by pitching well into the ninth.
- Kept the post season's most dangerous hitter, Ivan Rodriguez, quiet.
- Made a very hot Derek Lee look silly.
- Pitched on three days rest and therefore set up the Yankees rotation for the rest of the series.

It was a huge win and Pettitte has done that time after time.

Some World Series notes:
- Brad Penny looked sharp last night but Mark Redmon appears to be throwing darts and though he had a good year, will not fool post season batters.
- It will be interesting to see if Mussina can break into the win column this post season. He is 0-3 so far.
- Soriano finally had a big hit tonight with a two run homer and seemed to lay off more bad pitches than in previous games this post season.
- Aaron Boone made two mental mistakes as he lifted his eyes twice on slow rollers and made an error on them both.
- Nick Johnson went three for four tonight and will be rewarded by sitting when the series shifts to the National League site.
- Much has been made of the Yankees losing a batter because there is no DH in the National League park, but the Marlins have the same dilemma: Cabrera's inexperience in right field or Juan Encarcion at the expense of Cabrera's bat?

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The Yankees have the Florida Marlins right where they want them: In front by a game. The Yankees have lost the opening game of each series this postseason. In fact, the Yankees have lost the first game in many series in the last eight years and are the only team with a winning record after that event. And yet, this Florida Marlin team is a different opponent than any the Yankees have played in the past eight seasons.

The Marlins have great defense, pitching, relief pitching, speed and power. They are just starting to feel their strengths and it wouldn't be a stretch to see the Marlins pull off four in a row. And despite the Yankees' penchant for last minute heroics, there are glaring weaknesses in their ability to do so.

Alfonso Soriano is the worst post-season clutch hitter of all time. There hasn't been a rally yet that he has contributed to. And when he is up with men in scoring position, he has been absolutely terrible. Tonight, Soriano had a runner on second with no outs and grounded weakly to short. He reached out to an outside pitch and tried to pull the ball. That's a cardinal sin as you have to get that runner over.

Nick Johnson has been terrible in the clutch as has Giambi and Boone. The only consistent clutch hitters the Yankees have with men on base are Jeter, William and Posada.

If I were a Yankee, I'd be worried. I know this Fan is.

Friday, October 17, 2003

It was good to have a day off from baseball. The wild ride of the past week has been dizzying and baseball fans everywhere needed a day to catch our breath. Breathing brings reflection and reflection reveals that it is a shame that the focus on the past two league championship series was on the losing managers or a poor fan in the wrong place at the wrong time. Reflection shows that two very good teams with a lot of character have overcome the obstacles and face each other in the World Series.

Absolutely, the unfortunate circumstances that befell the Cubs and the Red Sox will be rehashed for a long time and that is too bad. The Cubs beat the mighty Braves in a thrilling division championship and the Red Sox dismantled an Oakland team that was the best team in baseball down the stretch. Their seasons were improbable and triumphant. The Red Sox and the Cubs just didn't make it all the way to the top.

"What ifs" will always be part of the game. The Fan will always hold John McNamara responsible for Boston's heartbreaking 86' loss to the Mets. Buckner shouldn't have been where he was and the game shouldn't have gotten to where it went and so Buckner is absolved. And remember, the Buckner error was in Game 6 of that series. Is Buckner responsible for the Red Sox losing Game 7 too?

And what of that poor fan who interfered with the foul ball that every Cub fan in the country blames for the Cubs loss in Game 6 of that series. Few would admit that it could have been anyone who went after that ball. And few recognize that Prior was gassed and should have come out of the game after Castillo reached base. But that's baseball and the Cubs lost. But again, that was Game 6. Did that fan lose the seventh game too?

Baseball is a team sport and a team loses or a team wins. Individual performances help or hinder the results but baseball players are imperfect just as we are perfect. Sometimes they are heroic and other times they fail. But those players on those teams helped get their teams as far as they got and that should be celebrated. Dusty Baker got the Cubs into a position to go to the World Series after the Cubs lost 95 games the year before. Go ahead and crucify the guy for leaving Prior in the game too long.

Should Pedro have pitched the eighth inning? Hindsight is perfect and the answer is no. But games aren't played in hindsight and Pedro pitched and he lost. Frankly, his stuff was only so-so all game and the eighth inning could have happened any inning. It took 160 plus games for the Red Sox to gel their bullpen. Despite the playoff bullpen heroics, one can forgive Little for not having full faith in a staff he had to juggle all year.

Second guessing is part of the game too and Grady Little and Dusty Baker will be victims of it for a long time. That's why they get paid well. If I screw up my job, somebody returns a $500 software program. I'm glad my picture isn't in the paper with goat horns on my head.

So let's spend a few minutes celebrating the Florida Marlins and the New York Yankees. These two teams won the games to get them to this point. And let's celebrate two players: Ivan Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera. It's a team game, but these two players rose to every occasion and never faltered. Rodriguez consistently got the big hit and Rivera pitched his longest outing in seven years and he was a towering hero of resolve and nerve. Second guess if you will. I will tip my cap at these fighters and their resilient teams.
For once, the Fan is speechless. Part of me feels joy from my boyhood team coming from behind to tie Pedro and then the homer in the eleventh inning from Aaron Boone. Another part of me feels pain for the Red Sox fans a night after pain for the Chicago Cubs fans.

But the biggest part of me just feels amazed at the quality and wonder of this season followed by this post season. It's been the greatest year of my forty plus years as a fan of Major League Baseball.

My memory of Mariano Rivera laying prone on the Yankee Stadium mound join hundreds of other images from this season and post season that will last me a lifetime.

And Red Sox fans and Cubs fans...I feel you and I understand profoundly about the loss you feel. But consider this: It was fun, wasn't it? I mean, at least you weren't a Tigers fan. It was fun all the way and it isn't quite over yet.

The World Series is going to have a tough time to not end up an anti-climax.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Fan was driving home from work today and the radio, set to an oldies station blared the BTO song: "Taking Care of Business." When I arrived home and saw the score and then read about how it happened, I saw that the Red Sox must have been singing the same song.

With the Red Sox 9-6 win to even their series with the Yankees at three games apiece, the Sox now have a 50/50 chance of winning the series with Pedro on the mound Thursday night. The game could go a million different directions as you are dealing with a 41 year old legend trying for one last hurrah and a fading superstar who will look to have just enough to play the ace he has been for so long. It's almost too intriguing to watch.

I will report here one more time that Joe Torre made the wrong move by taking Pettitte out after the fifth inning. I'll take a roughed up Pettitte over anyone in the Yankee bullpen and that bullpen allowed five runs in three innings and cost the Yankees the win and maybe the series.

Speaking of watching...the Cubs game has been almost too sad to watch. First, they answered a quick three runs from the Marlins with a Kerry Wood homerun. Then Moises Alou put the Cubs ahead by two and Wood looked terrific. But as with last night, the tantalizing hope was excruciating when the walls fell in.

The walls fell in during the fifth inning when Kerry Wood got out of rhythm and walked two batters. That is a fatal mistake and two innings later the Marlins have the lead 7-5.

I have loved the story of both the Marlins and the Cubs this year. The two teams made for terrific drama during the magical regular season. And then their dramatic wins in the division series cemented the fascination. But the Cubbies have had so much history of bad and their fans are so faithful and long-standing. It became impossible to root against them. My heart goes out to those fans and I feel their pain.

But you have to give it to the Marlins. They never quit. They battled. They took the pitches they needed to take. Pudge Rodriguez has been incredible. Miguel Cabrera plays like the next coming of Alex Rodriguez no matter where on the field you put him. And after the Marlins stayed close on the lollipop offerings of Mike Redmon, the Marlins had nothing but fireballers to finish the game. The game isn't over yet, but Cubs' fans already know in their hearts that it is.

It will be settled tomorrow night and then it will be the World Series.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Is there any more agony in American sports than to be a fan of the Cubs and the Red Sox? Tonight was a microcosm of everything those fans have endured for decades of their faithful patronage. And you could see the pain and the doubt in both sets of fans as they filed out of Fenway and Wrigley. Heartbreak snatched from the hands of victory.

The Cubs, up three games to two and needing only one win to get to the World Series, had their best pitcher on the mound and five outs to go with a 3-0 game lead. Pierre doubles. No problem. Prior has been in total control all night. Luis Castillo then hits foul pop to the left field line. Moises Alou is primed to jump and catch the ball. He jumps and one of his own fans reaches out and knocks the ball away. The announcers state that the fan did not reach over. My view is that the fan did reach over. No matter, the result is that the second out is now just a strike.

Castillo then walks. And then Gonzalez boots another out and all hell breaks loose. Eight runs later and the Cubs fans are stunned, demoralized and fighting long held demons. It doesn't matter that Kerry Wood is pitching tomorrow--their second best pitcher. What matters is that these tired fans fear and dread the worst. And who can blame them.

The Red Sox game was far less dramatic. The Yankees simply beat them with sound fundamentals, great pitching from old warrior, David Wells, and cold, cold hitters in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.

As reported here yesterday, Torre made a mistake by not pitching David Wells in his normal turn. Wells has won so many big post-season games for the Yankees and if he had pitched yesterday, the Yankees could have entered today's game up 3-1 instead of tied at 2-2. But Wells did pitch today and he was fantastic. The man simply knows how to pitch. No longer overpowering, Wells changes speeds and eye levels better than most pitchers in baseball.

Now the Yankees go back home with a 3-2 lead and Pettitte pitching tonight and Clemens in reserve for the seventh game if needed. The equally fractured fans of the Red Sox would be down by the state of the series, but more so since it is against the Yankees. These tired fans also fear and dread the worst. And who can blame them.

They still have to play the games and anything can happens but...a Cubs/Red Sox World Series would have been a celebration and it was a pleasant dream while it lasted.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Three things seemed spectacularly clear from watching the Red Sox tie their series with the Yankees at two games a piece. The first is that the Yankees have a terrible plan or no plan when it comes to facing Tim Wakefield. Knuckleballs are very difficult to hit, but if you wait back long enough and react to the ball at the last moment depending on which side of the plate the pitch goes to, you should be able to adjust.

The Yankees only want to swing from their heels against Wakefield and pull every pitch no matter if the pitch is outside or in. Since the pitch is so slow, you have plenty of time to react at the last moment and drive the ball to the opposite field or up the middle. If the pitch is inside, it's slow enough to move the hips out of the way and jack the ball. But the Yankees could have batted for thirty innings against Wakefield and not figured out how to get the job done. In fact, they are half way there as Wakefield has now pitched 15 innings and allowed only a run. A big swing must be started early and you cannot start early against a knuckleball.

The second thing that is clear is that Mussina cannot or does not rise to the occasion on big games. He has now lost three games in the post-season...all the games the Yankees have lost. Sure, he only gave up three runs. But in the playoffs, you have to step it up and hold the other team scoreless. Mussina continually kept the ball up and he is very hittable when he does that.

I totally disagreed with the decision to start Mussina. The Yankees have had a consistent rotation since the beginning of the season and it was David Wells' turn to pitch. Wells would have been a good start because even if he lost, you have Mussina, Pettitte and Clemens for the last three games. Not only that, but Wells always comes up big in big games.

The last glaring truth is that if I were an opposing pitcher, I would never throw anything to Alfonso Soriano other than a slider low and outside (off the plate). Soriano simply cannot lay off that pitch and at least one hundred of his strikeouts this season. And I would throw that pitch every at bat until he has clearly proven that he can lay off of it.

The Red Sox have one more game at Fenway and if they win the next one, it will be nearly impossible for the Yankees to come back. I would feel that statement was more possible if Garciaparra would only get a hit.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

For at least one game, the Florida Marlins showed why they made it all the way to the National League Championship Series. Twenty-three year old Josh Beckett threw the best game of this year's playoffs. Mike Lowell, only twenty-nine years old himself, hit a two run homer, his second of the series and his second game winning hit. Twenty year old Miguel Cabrera went one for two and is batting .353 for the series. He also played right field flawlessly. And veterans, Jeff Conine and team leader, Ivan Rodriguez, hit solo homers.

The Florida win staves off elimination and sends the series back to Chicago. Watching the Marlins today, one hopes that Marlin ownership can keep this team together as they will be a good team for years to come. Signing Rodriguez will be critical.

There was only one negative to the Marlin win and that was Beckett's post game reaction to Sammy Sosa's irritation at being pitched up high and inside. Beckett was quoted as saying: "He over reacted a lot. I don't know if he was trying to pull a Boston Red Sox-Yankee thing...It was pretty ignorant. I'm not trying to hit him.''

The comment was insensitive to the fact that Sammy Sosa, one of the greatest sluggers of all time, has been beaned twice this year. Sosa may have over reacted, but Beckett shouldn't have been so disrespectful.

The game was a wonderful showcase for the Florida Marlins and a tribute to their season and their future. The win also postponed elimination. But any hopes the Marlins have for coming all the way back for this series to continue are undone by two words: "Prior" and "Wood".
Whew! What a day. What a fiasco. The boxscore says that the Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-3 and that Clemens got the win and Martinez got the loss. Too bad the facts aren't that simple.

In what became an embarrassment for baseball, the game became surreal as a beanball by Martinez set the stage for one of the ugliest baseball games in history. My respect level for Martinez plummeted as it seemed that he blew his cool when confronted with the fact that he could not dominate a game. His days of domination are over as he can no longer throw 94 MPH to go along with his pitching skill and guile.

The loss of Pedro's fastball has to gnaw away at him. And when the Yankees jump on him for four runs in a critical game that the world still expects him to dominate, his reaction was to throw at someone's ear. Very uncool.

In year's past, Pedro was an absolute. There was no doubt that he would bury you with a combination of Greg Maddux-like pitching skill combined with a power fastball that ranged from 94 to 98 MPH. He still has the pitching skill which is why his record during the regular season was 14-4. He also kept his ERA down. The difference shows up in the big games.

Against Oakland in the division series, Pedro didn't dominate. Today he was pushed around by the Yankees. His answer was to head hunt. A stunt you'd expect from lesser mortals.

This incident came a month after hurting Soriano and Jeter in what was known as a deliberate act in the Yankees last Boston series of the regular season. Don Zimmer, the little pepper-pot who has adopted Jeter and Soriano, took exception and during the bench clearing after the stupid, childish reaction of Manny Ramirez to a high pitch (but not inside) and went at Pedro. Pedro in what appears to be a defensive move grabbed Zimmer by the head and threw him to the ground. Zimmer is way beyond the age of being able to hurt anyone. So though I understand Pedro's defensive reaction, a cooler head would have just fended Zimmer off until security or another player separated the two.

Harold Reynolds of ESPN really did a good job at putting into perspective how Pedro's beanball hurt his own offense and it clearly showed with how Ramirez was buckling every time Clemens pitched. So it was no surprise that a high pitch that wasn't even close to being inside (a fact verified by Manny's own manager) set Ramirez into such a defensive posture that he then did a foolish act to cause the bench clearing incident. When players perform acts out of fear, they are on new ground and that ground is not very pretty.

And as if that wasn't embarrassing enough for baseball, an incident happened in the Yankee dugout in the eighth inning where a Boston grounds keeper somehow got in an altercation with Yankee pitchers in the bullpen. Somehow Karim Garcia, the man Pedro plunked, ran back to assist the bullpen and became part of that melee. Who knows what an investigation of that incident will bring.

But the boxscore does tell the final story. Clemens adds a win to his impressive career statistics and wins his last game at Fenway. Pedro loses. Rivera, the best reliever in history got the two inning save and the Yankees go up 2-1 in the series. I just wish the facts were that simple. Ugh!

I had to feel terrible for wildness that Dontrelle Willis had tonight in his game with the Cubs. It's such a shame that a great rookie year will be marred by the memory everyone will have for his last outing of the year in which he gave up six earned runs that included five walks in two plus innings. It was very sad to watch.

Don't get me wrong, I would be happy with either the Cubs or the Marlins in the World Series as both were remarkable stories this year and both became the Cinderella teams that lit up this season as the best one ever. But you'd like to see both Cinderellas play well in the series and the Marlins have not played well. It looks like the Cubs are going to the World Series.

Friday, October 10, 2003

The Yankees had their money men on the field tonight and the money men did what is expected: Win the big game.

The Yankees would have been in serious trouble if they had lost tonight's game after losing last night to Wakefield and the Red Sox. Going back to Boston for three games starting with Pedro and being down 2-0 in the series would have been a real hole. But the money men came through.

Money men could speak of the millions that Pettitte, Williams, Jeter, Giambi, Contreras and Rivera are making. But money men in this context means the horses that give you a win when a win is critical. Pettitte has always been especially miraculous when the Yankees are behind the eight ball. That distinction goes all the way back to the Braves series of 1996 when the Yankees were down three games to one and Pettitte beat the Braves' ace to prolong the series that the Yankees eventually won.

Tonight, Pettitte gutted out the first two innings when he only gave up one run on six hits. Once through those innings, and thanks to a Nick Johnson homer, Pettitte got into a grove and coasted to the seventh.

Money men also includes Bernie Williams who always seems to get a big RBI when the Yankees need one. His single to drive in Jeter gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead which was psychologically much more comfortable than a 2-1 lead. Williams and Jeter always find a way to get it done.

Money men meant Jose Contreras who pitched the Yankees out of a jam in the seventh by inducing Nomar Garciaparra to pop up with runners in scoring position. Contreras knows what it is to pitch in big games as he brought Cuba victory all those years in amateur baseball. He was nearly unhittable tonight and really for the second night in a row.

And of course, money men is personified in Mariano Rivera, who does indeed look like he is back in the late 90's and unhittable. His rediscovery of the strikeout high in the zone after getting ahead of batters resulted in two strikeouts in the last inning.

So now the series goes back to Boston. No matter how much a Fan I am of Roger Clemens, the advantage goes to Pedro Martinez in their head to head matchup. The Red Sox will need to get Roger to throw strikes and elevate his pitch count to get Clemens in trouble by the fifth or sixth inning.

Boston hits Clemens well, especially Trot Nixon, who has nailed Clemens on a couple of occasions, most notably in the famous Clemens-Pedro matchup a couple of years ago when the two pitched nine scoreless innings each only to see Trot Nixon hit the game winning homer in the top of the tenth off of Roger.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

The Cubs jumped all over Brad (bad) Penny, Nate Bump (and runs) and Rick Helling tonight to score twelve runs and Mark Prior pitched well enough on an empty tank to even the NLCS at one game a piece. The series is now a five game series with three of those games featuring Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. The Marlins are in good shape and bad shape all at the same time.

An extended series works in the favor of the Cubs who have home field advantage and two dominant pitchers. The Diamondbacks showed two years ago how two dominant pitchers can win you a series. The Marlins have to have that cold chill when considering the situation. Yet, at the same time, every road team hopes to split the games in the other team's ballpark.

Another concern for the Marlins is the sudden offensive juggernaut of the Cubs offense. The Cubs only averaged four runs a game all year. The first two games featured twenty runs scored for the Cubbies. A Florida pitcher has to plug the dyke and give the Florida pitching staff some confidence.

And one more concern for the Marlins--as if I haven't pointed out enough already--is that Sammy Sosa has awoken from his slumber and has hit two homers in two days. His 495 shot to centerfield tonight sealed the game and electrified the fans and his teammates. Sosa will feed off of that and should stay hot the rest of the series.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox took it to the Yankees tonight in the first game of their series. Wakefield danced through six innings and the Yankees managed only three hits the whole night. Their offensive effort was reminiscent of their first game against the Twins. The offense seemed okay after that, but time will tell in this series.

To have someone other than Martinez or Lowe win a game had to be a big lift to the Bosox. They also got a lift by some great relief pitching.

On the other side of the field, the Yankees have to be concerned about Mussina's second bad performance in the post season. Mussina's post season ERA is 4.97. Not good.

Today inched forward the hopes of all who dreamed about a Cubs/Red Sox World Series.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Mike Lowell is a pretty good insurance policy sitting on your bench. Having the Marlins leading homerun hitter available for extra inning pinch hitting duty is like trumping an ace with your Rook card. His homer in the top of the eleventh has put the Marlins on top of what has been an extremely good game.

Sammy Sosa put the game into extra innings with a monster, two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. But neither team could score until the eleventh when Lowell came up against Antonio Alfonseca. The Marlins may not be done as they have runners on first and second with one out.

The Marlins had to feel good to see Antonio Alfonseca on the mound. After all, Alfonseca gave up 117 baserunners in 66.1 innings of pitching this year. You would almost need all six of his fingers on one of his hands to represent his ERA. In other words, running Antonio Alfonseca out there is like throwing up the white flag. Now it's bases loaded with one out. Ugh! He's awful. A line drive...caught! Double-play! Cubs fans are thankful for atom balls.

While I wait for the bottom of the eleventh, I'll tackle the Red Sox/Yankee series:
In the Yankee's favor:
- More rested.
- Their starters are in place and not overworked.
- Relief pitching is rested.
- They have had very timely hitting and look like they are brimming with quiet confidence.

In the Red Sox' favor:
- More of an emotional team that is tight as a unit.
- Two great pitchers that can win at least three games in the series.
- The best hitting in baseball with no fear of the Yankee starters.

I really don't know how this series will play out. I do know the fans in both parks will be rocking the house.

The Florida Marlins have won game one. This is going to be a great series.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Oh man! The Fan is near hyperventilation. Those Red Sox never do it the easy way. First they are down to the A's 1-0 and Zito looks absolutely unhittable. Then Varitek hits a homer to tie the game. Manny Ramirez then hits a three run homer for his first RBI of the series. The Red Sox squander several more rallies and the A's close it to 4-3. Now it's the last of the ninth and the Red Sox Nation have to deal with Scott Williamson closing the game. Scott Williamson??

Williamson hadn't saved a game for the Red Sox all year. Williamson has only 54 saves in his career. Williamson's ERA for the Red Sox was 6.20. And he's closing the game? So the Red Sox Nation starts sweating. Williamson's first three pitches aren't close--all high. After a strike, he walks the first batter of the inning. "Okay," says the Nation, "Here we go."

Williamson then looks worse on the second batter and now it's first and second and no outs. Grady Little then does the smartest thing he's done all year. He brought in Derek Lowe. Three years ago, Lowe saved over forty games for the Sox. Since then, Lowe's won 38 starts in his two years as a starter. "Okay," says the Nation, "That's better." Was it ever!

But it wasn't easy. Lowe's first batter bunted and got the runners over. Now it's second and third with one out. Yeesh. Do you walk the next guy? Nope. Pitch to him with the infield in. Oh no! Thoughts of Luis Gonzalez come to mind with the Yankee infield drawn in. Bloop. Series over. "Okay," says Red Sox Nation, "Here comes the heartbreak."

But the heartbreak didn't come for the Red Sox. On a 2-2 count, Lowe threw a Greg Maddux type fastball that crashed into the inside corner. Two outs. But it still doesn't come easy as Lowe walked the next batter. Bases loaded, two out. "Okay," says Red Sox Nation, "I'm still hoping but I know I'm going to get crushed again."

Lowe didn't fool around with Terrence Long. First pitch strike. Second pitch ball down low. Third pitch fouled off. Fourth pitch...another Maddux-like inside corner job and the game is over. "Okay," says Red Sox Nation, "It really happened."

You can't take away from the Red Sox what they accomplished. To be two games down and facing elimination for three straight games, and then to win three is remarkable. But just as remarkable is the Oakland streak of the last four post seasons. This loss was their ninth straight loss when trying to close out a post season series. The Red Sox Nation can no longer feel the most abused. Neither can the Cubs fans. The Oakland fans have to be the most disheartened of them all.

So now the Red Sox will travel to New York for the series everyone wanted. The Red Sox against the Yankees. And it doesn't matter what happens. The Red Sox have an a fairy tale season and have been more fun to watch than any team of them all.

"Okay," says the Red Sox Nation, "I bet we lose to the Yankees."