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."

Sunday, October 05, 2003

With the exception of the Yankees' workman-like dissection of the Twins, the division playoff series has been as exciting and unpredictable as the regular season. As stated many times before, unless you are a Braves, Giants or Twins fan, this has been the best season ever.

What a day! It started with an exciting come from behind win from the Red Sox to tie their series with Oakland after being down two games to none. The A's were five outs from moving on to the next series. But first David Ortiz, who was oh for the series, got his latest big hit of the season to put the Sox ahead. Scott Williamson held the lead and now they head back to Oakland and the pressure is all on the A's.

The series will boil down to Barry Zito against Pedro Martinez. You can't get a better pitching matchup than that.

Following the Red Sox win was the final board on the Twins' coffin as they had no chance against David Wells and the Yankees. A year ago, the Yankee starters had an ERA over ten in a disastrous series against eventual Series winner, Anaheim Angels. This year, Mussina was fine with a 3-1 loss. Pettitte was remarkable in the second game. Clemens was not to be denied in game three and Wells gave up only one run in the clincher.

If the Yankees continue to pitch like that, there is no chance for any of their opponents--especially when you add in four unhittable innings from Mariano Rivera. I continue to believe that the Yankees match up better against Boston than they do Oakland. But Boston has proved that good pitching will stop Oakland and now that Hudson is hurt to go along with Mulder, Oakland's situation gets grimmer.

And then tonight, in one of the most remarkable achievements of the year, the Chicago Cubs beat the dominant Braves to again send the Braves home early in the post-season. It's unthinkable to believe that this has happened. A year ago, the Cubs lost 95 games. They had not won a post season series since 1908. And here they go out and beat the highly favored Atlanta Braves. Amazing.

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood have arrived as the most dominant duo in baseball. It's almost guaranteed that they will win two games in every series the Cubs play for the rest of the year. Wood was unhittable on only three days rest to win his second game of the series.

The Cubs won! Can you believe it!? A Cubs/Marlins NLCS! You can't beat that for fun to think about.

It really is a shame that the unbelievable run of the Braves will always be remembered for their post-season failures. This has been a team for the ages but they just couldn't seem to get it done in the playoffs. There will always be two statements concerning the team: "They won their division twelve years in a row." And: "They only won the World Championship once." I predict that this was their last hurrah and they don't even make the playoffs next year.

And now we wait for the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics to see who will complete the winning foursome that continues on to the quest for the World Championship.