Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: October 2004


Funny Papers
2004-10-31 07:56
by Alex Belth

The Red Sox celebrated their first world championnship since 1918 yesterday. The portion that made the back cover of the Daily News here in New York was a sign that Manny Ramirez carried which read "JETER is playing GOLF today THIS IS BETTER!" Just when I resign myself to apprecaiting Ramirez--after all, "Manny is Manny" as they say--he does something unbelievably bush like this to make me question what I'm thinking about. The sign isn't that big of a deal. Just a bit more teasing really. But it underscores a major difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox and that is the Yankees don't mention Boston when they win; even in victory, the Sox--players mind you, not just the fans--are still thinking about the Yankees. You know the old saying, "Act like you've been there before?" Well, it's clear for some of the Red Sox, that this is the first time they've been anywhere close. Peace to Tim Wakefield and Trot Nixon and all the great Sox fans out there though.

On a completely unrelated note, if you want to read something truly funny, check out this lengthy Playboy interview with comedian Albert Brooks:

PLAYBOY: Your dad, Harry Einstein, played Parkyakarkus, [Eddie] Cantor's radio sidekick of sorts. Describe his style of comedy.

BROOKS: Well, he was a Greek-dialect comedian, so it was a lot of malapropisms. Parkyakarkus [pronounced "park-ya-carcas"] was a character he had been doing locally in Boston back in the Thirties. Eddie Cantor heard him and brought him out to Hollywood. He worked on the Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson radio shows. Then he got his own show, Meet Me at Parky's, which ran about seven years. One bit I always remember from that show: My dad was slowly typing up the menu for his restaurant and misspelling everything. Roast: R-U-S-T. Beef: B-I-F. His assistant at the restaurant came in and said, "All right, Parky, I'm in a hurry just give me the menu and give it to me quickly! I have a lot to do." He said "Okay, you want it quickly? We're going to have sirloin steak and tenderloin steak, good piece lamb chop, great big pork chop, nice fried onions, fresh peeled scallions, french-fried potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes; string beans, baked beans, hup beans, too; cookeral, hookeral, chicken stew; mickerel, pickerel, haddock, tripe; lobster, oyster, shrimp or pike; hot pies, cold pies, soft pie, mud pie, ickleberry, bermberry, stroomberry, too; stiff cream, whipped cream, plain cream, no cream; squashed-up apple, coconut, custard; mustard, ketchup, chili, salt and pepper and pick-a-lilly. Twenty-five cents!"

I memorized that from a record when I was seven and never forgot it. I try to check in with it every three years to see if my brain is still reasonably intact. I can just imagine being eighty and trying: "We're gonna have, oh, dammit—I know it was food! Oh well."

What We Do For Love
2004-10-30 12:06
by Alex Belth

My girl has been visiting her folks up in Vermont this past week and she's on her way home this afternoon. Em couldn't wait to watch the World Serious every night, and she educated her mom, dad and sister on the finer points of the game. Every morning I received e-mails from her informing me about how she would surprise herself with how much she knew. The funny part is she wouldn't have been especially interested in the games if she hadn't been familiar with at least one of the teams. She doesn't like the Red Sox, but she knows them better than any other team save the Yankees. And knowing a little something about them, recognizing their faces, means everything to her.

So dig this: she calls me this morning and asks me if I can tape the victory parade for her. Hello? I thought she was joking. But she was dead serious.

"Do you realize what you are asking me to do? Why in the hell do you want to see the Red Sox celebrate?"

"Well, because I've never seen a victory parade before and I'm curious."

"Yeah, but...Honey...Look, it's not even being televised here in New York."

Ten minutes later she calls back to say that it's being broadcast on ESPN News.

"I don't see what the big deal is. It's not like I'm asking you to watch it or anything. If I could find it up here I'd have my dad tape it for me. I just want to see what it's like."

I protested some more. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Finally, I held my tongue (After all, I do want to get laid tonight). I resisted calling her a bad Yankee fan, and all sorts of other nasty things, because well, she can be whatever kind of fan she wants to be. But my god, I was like Ralph Kramden ready to erupt. Brother. The things we do for love.

2004-10-29 13:36
by Alex Belth

It is cold and overcast in New York City today. For the first time in a long while I can't think of anything to write about. Oh, part of me wants to rant about Curt Schilling's latest comments, but what good would that do? It's fruitless and boring. I don't really have the stomach to talk about the Red Sox, though Red Sox Nation is rightfully soaking in plenty of good vibes at the moment. It's too early to talk seriously about the Hot Stove; heck, it's even too early to argue about awards. And I know this is just me, but the coming NBA season doesn't have me juiced up either. (De La Soul has a new record out but it isn't kicking my ass.) Anyone got anything inspiring? Um, heard any good jokes lately? There are plenty of bad ones making the rounds. Throw me a bone, peoples.

Sox Win, Sox Win, Sox Win
2004-10-28 09:10
by Alex Belth

Bill Bucker Finally off the Hook

Well, that wasn't hard, now was it? (Think Derek Lowe is going to get a nice contract next year? Hmmm.) The Red Sox shut out the Cardinals 3-0 last night to complete the four-game sweep of St. Louis, giving Boston their first World Serious championship since 1918. Yankee fans will be forced to discard their "1918" chant and memorabilia and come up with a new slogan. (How about "Red Sox Suck?" It's worked in Beantown for years.) After a rousing ALCS, the World Serious was a cakewalk for the Sox, as the Cards went out with a whimper not a bang. Yesterday,Mike Carminati to observed:

As an NL guy, I am now convinced that the NL is like the NBA’s eastern conf. The best team there isn’t as good as a borderline playoff team in the AL.

Meanwhile, congrats to the Sox and their fans. As I mentioned here before, my thoughts go out to my cousin Scott Adams, and my good friends John Parthum and Mark Pinell and Edward Cossette. In addition, I know Hart, Beth and Sully are whooping it up. It's a crisp and sunny day here in New York. I know they must be feeling wunnerful. As well they should. Finally, I couldn't help but think of my old friend Mary Lou Leddon as well. I met Mary Lou, a Boston native, when I was 11 or 12 years old and she became one of the pivotal figures in m life over the next 15 years. She grew up a die-hard Sox fan, though she warmed to Bernie Williams and Joe Torre's Yankees over time--she had lived in New York since the late 1970s. Mary Lou died of brain and lung cancer in 1999. So she missed last night, but I know somewhere, like so many Sox fans who passed away before getting to experience this moment, she is smiling.

Done Deal
2004-10-27 08:43
by Alex Belth

McFadden and Whitehead don't have anything on the Red Sox: these dudes are going to win the World Serious. The Cardinals are down 3-0 and as we've just learned, it's possible that they could come back, but yo, I wouldn't put any money on 'em, would you? St. Louis loaded the bases with one out in the first inning against Pedro Martinez last night but did not score a run. They had runners on second and third with nobody out in the third and could not score, thanks to a memorably bad bit of base running by Jeff Suppan. After Suppan was doubled up I threw my hands in the air and said, "Well, I might as well root for the Red Sox. At least they are playing decent baseball."

Shortly after, I turned the game off for the night. The Cardinals are getting spanked by Boston. As badly as Yankee fans feel about their team blowing a 3-0 lead to the Sox at least we can take some minor comfort in knowing that the Bombers put up a fight. Derek Lowe goes against Jason Marquis tonight as Boston goes for the sweep. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sox end it quickly, but even if the Cards snatch a game here, there is no way they can come back to win this one. I can deal with that. But it's unfortunate that they haven't made it a more competitive series.

It's a fine day in Red Sox Nation, huh?
Continue reading...

Nice Choke
2004-10-26 13:41
by Alex Belth

Phil Taylor has a good piece about the nature of "choking" over at Specifically, he addresses whether or not the Yankees choked in the ALCS this year:

We need to get something straight about choking, which is merely the most misunderstood concept in all of sports. It has become a catch-all term, applied to any player or team who: A) blows a huge lead; B) fails in a crucial moment; or C) loses an important game more than once.

...But not everyone who fails when we expect them to succeed is a choker. In fact, most of them aren't. The Yankees are the latest team to have the tag slapped on them unfairly, a result of their unprecedented collapse against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. There are any number of words that accurately describe the Yanks' failure -- "humiliating" comes to mind -- but "choking" is not one of them. A choker is a player or team who loses because the pressure of the moment adversely affects their performance. There is no way that could logically be said of the Yankees. They have thrived under pressure so often that it's absurd to think that they suddenly crumbled because of the magnitude of the moment.

What's Next?
2004-10-26 09:01
by Alex Belth

The Yankee brass is meeting with Boss George today in Tampa. Now the fun begins. Willie Randolph apparently had a positive interview with the Mets yesterday. If Joe Torre's bench coach is hired by the Mets, he'd become the first black man to manage a New York baseball team. But Willie's been down this road before. We shall see. One question for the Yanks is: who would replace him as bench coach? In an e-mail I got yesterday, Cliff Corcoran suggested that Joe Girardi would be a great fit. I think he's right.

Meanwhile, the wheels will be turning in Tampa. Questions will need to be answered. Should the Yanks dump Kevin Brown? (Please, please me, oh yeah.) Should they persue Pedro Martinez, or Carl Pavano? Will Carlos Beltran replace Bernie Williams as many people assume? You tell me. But be sure and brush up on Steven Goldman's most recent edition of "The Pinstriped Bible" before you answer.

Respect Due
2004-10-26 08:49
by Alex Belth

Is it sour grapes for me to bitch about Curt Schilling at this juncture? Yeah, it is. So here is a good excerpt from Joe Sheehan's latest:

I confess that I've never been a big fan of Schilling, who has always come across to me as a bit self-aware and self-serving in his populism, but I can't help but have a ton of respect for what he's done over the last week, which in turn has made him more likable to me. Sports media spends a lot of its time blathering about "character" and "heart," usually for no more reason than a guy's line drive happened to be hit in the right spot. Pitching through an injury that should have ended your season, while undergoing radical, if minor, medical procedures to do so, is an actual demonstration of heart, one that everyone should appreciate.

And here's Brian Gunn's take:

I've always had mixed feelings about Schilling. Sometimes I think he's a pompous ass; sometimes I think he's about the most admirable superstar in all of baseball. And sometimes the two opinions co-exist uncomfortably in my mind. Like that open letter he sent out after 9/11 -- one of the more heartfelt things I've ever heard from an athlete. And yet, I'm embarrassed to admit, a small part of me thought it was nothing more than Schilling grandstanding again. And then there was the time Schilling showed up at the memorial service for Darryl Kile in St. Louis. Mind you, Schill didn't really know Kile. They'd been teammates back in '91, but that was it. Yet Schilling flew to St. Louis anyway, because he considers everyone in baseball his brother, and he wanted to pay his respects in person. 99% of me thought you couldn't find a classier move in all of sports. 1% of me thought Schilling just wanted to show the world what a great guy he was.

But in the end it's the better part of Schilling's nature that wins out for me. For one simple reason: because whether he's altruistic or self-absorbed, whether he's authentic or simply posturing, he always comes across to me as a full-blooded human being, clearly a well-rounded poerson with a life outside of baseball. That's rare in sports, and great for the game.

I haven't been won over. I still think Schilling is a putz. But when I watch him work on the mound, I admire what an impressive pitcher he is. Often, I lose myself in a dream..."Man, wouldn't it be great to have a guy like that on the Yankees..."

St. Louie Nation
2004-10-26 08:33
by Alex Belth

The World Serious moves to St. Louis tonight. Rain is in the forecast for the next two days as the Cardinals hope to make a series out of it. They'll have to start against Pedro Martinez. We are familiar with the character of Red Sox Nation, but what about those famous Cardinals fans who are often labled as "the best fans in the country"? I don't know much about them outside of their reputation. I know my pal Will Carroll thinks they aren't all that, but he's a Cubs fan after all. I did run into a lot of Cards fans last year in the Bronx when I attended Roger Clemens' 300th victory in the Bronx and they seemed like a good bunch. If anything, I was ashamed of the way that Yankee fans treated them that night, taunting and chanting at 'em as we exited the stadium.

I asked writer King Kaufman, who currently lives in St. Louis, what he makes of Redbird Nation:

Cardinals fans are what they are. They're St. Louisans. Very provincial and proud of their own. They absolutely love their Cardinals. Except for Tony La Russa, the Cardinals can pretty much do no wrong. La Russa's image suffers from his A) not living here in the offseason and B) not being Whitey Herzog.

The mistake people make, I think, is thinking Saint Louis is a great baseball town. It's not a great baseball town. It's a great Cardinals town. If it isn't the Cardinals, no one cares. I think the great baseball towns are the ones that people move to. New York is one, San Francisco is another. Chicago, Los Angeles. You have fans of the home team but also fans of all the other teams. In St. Louis, baseball season ends the minute the Cards are eliminated. Sometimes it's hard to find the LCS on the radio if the Cards aren't still playing. You'll never see a non-Cards playoff game on a TV in a bar if there's a Rams or (except this year) Blues game going on. It's very different from what I'm used to in California, with a migrant population, and fans of all different teams around, so that it's baseball that everyone has in common, not just the local nine.

2004-10-25 13:17
by Alex Belth

As it turns out, Alan Schwarz hit the nail on the head when asked to predict what would happen in the ALCS:

I will offer you the same prediction that Clubber Lang had for his first match up with Rocky: "PAIN."

Can you feel me? No? Well, just axe Jermone from the Bronx.

2004-10-25 08:51
by Alex Belth

I'm currently residing in the bitter'n'hell cut-out bin of The Sore Loser Record Shop. There is a World Serious going on and I have watched portions of both games. The Sox are playing sloppy defensively but it hasn't mattered much because their hitters are mashing St. Louie's pitching. There are no Yankee articles in the papers today. The winter is upon us and though I felt exhausted at the end of ALCS, dag, I just didn't feel ready for it to end. Not like this anyhow. But it is what it is. I just don't have to be happy about it. Seriously.

The Beat Goes On
2004-10-23 11:19
by Alex Belth

Hey out there Yankee fans. Any of youse gunna watch the Serious? I think I will. I may not stay up for all of the games, but I'll be checking them out. Emily took off with her sister to visit their folks in Vermont this morning, so I've got the place to myself. But there is something missing. It's been slow in coming, but I'm really starting to feel sad that the season is over for the Bombers.

That said, I've got to admit that I'll be happy if the Red Sox win. First, because I have some close friends who are card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation and I'd love for them to experience the thrill of their team finally winning a championship. Also, as a baseball fan, I'm interested to see how the Sox culture will be effected by World Serious victory. It's been said that Boston fans won't know what to do with themselves if their team wins it all, but I'm not so sure about that. I think they'll know exactly what to do: have a year-long celebration. In time, their identity will change, but I don't expect that to happened immediately. The rivalry with the Yankees won't wan, not until both teams are mediocre again, and even then, it will be spiked with intensity. Should the Sox win, their fans will simply find new chants to hurl at the New Yorkers (as well as golden oldies like "Yankees Suck") who will suddenly be without their old stand-by of "1918."

Yes, some Sox fans may lose interest. And yes, the Sox won't be "special" in the same way anymore. But I don't think Red Sox Nation will lose interest. They are as smug and self-absorbed as we New Yorkers are, and they'll continue to puff themselves up and believe that they are special for new reasons. Ever hear a Sox fan tell you that their eventually World Serious celebration will be better than all 26 Yankee championships combined? That's a good one. It won't be better but it sure will be unique. Again, as a baseball fan, I'd be lying if I wasn't curious to see how that plays itself out. Shoot, at least I'll have something to write about.

But in spite of those feelings, I just can't find it in my heart to actually root for Boston. Nah, I'll be pulling for St. Louis (never thought I'd want a team managed by Tony LaRussa to win). I think the Sox should win, but what do I know? If I could put a hex on em I would. How about you guys? Who would like to win? Irregardless, I hope everyone has a good weekend.

The Success of Failure
2004-10-22 14:07
by Alex Belth

Mulling over the end the 2004 season got me thinking about failure as a motivating element in our lives. Particularly as it applies to the creative process. Allow me to indugle myself here. First of all, do yourselves a favor and check out two first-rate articles on the Yankees: "Mythbusters" by Larry Manhken, and the latest installment of The Pinstriped Bible by Steven Goldman (oh, and look at David Pinto's defense of Alex Rodriguez while you are at it too).

How can we view failure in a positive light? In an interview with Mike Shannon (from the book "Baseball: The Writer's Game"), Pat Jordan explained:

I recently wrote a piece on failure for a magazine called Men’s Fitness. They wanted me to write a piece on success. They said, “Well, you’ve been a successful baseball player”…these were people who obviously didn’t know much about my career…”and now you’re a successful writer; write a piece on how to motivate yourself for success in whatever you do, etc., etc.” But I ended up writing about failure instead. I told them, “I’ve made a whole career out of failure. I failed in baseball and made a career in writing through that, and everytime I write a piece I fail because it’s never as good as I want it to be and that makes me write another one. So I owe my whole life to failure.”

Jordan isn't alone. The great William Faulker regarded perhaps his finest book, The Sound and the Fury, as a noble failure. In an interview with Jean Stein which originally appeared in the Paris Review, Faulker elaborated:

Faulkner: Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish, as the mother loves the child who became the thief or murderer more than the one who became the priest.

Interviewer: What work is that?

Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. I wrote is five separate times, trying to tell the story, to rid myself of the dream which would continue to anguish me until I did. It’s a tragedy of two lost women: Caddy and her daughter. Dilsey is one of my own favorite characters, because she is brave, courageous, generous, gentle and honest. She’s much more brave and honest and generous than me.

Interviewer: How did The Sound and the Fury begin?

Faulkner: It began with a mental picture. I didn’t realize at the time it was symbolical. The picture was of the muddy seat of a little girl’s drawers in a pear tree, where she could see through a window where her grandmother’s funeral was taking place and report what was happening to her brothers on the ground below. By the time I explained who they were and what they were doing and how her pants got muddy, I realized it would be impossible to get all of it into a short story and that it would have to be a book. And then I realized the symbolism of the soiled pants, and that image was replaced by the one of the fatherless and motherless girl [Caddy’s daughter] climbing down the rainpipe to escape from the only home she had, where she had never been offered love or affection or understanding.

I had already begun to tell the story through the eyes of the idiot child, since I felt that it would be more effective as told by someone capable only of knowing what happened, but not why. I saw that I had not told the story that time. I tried to tell it again, the same story through the eyes of another brother. That was still not it. I told it for a third time through the eyes of the third brother. That was still not it. I tried to gather the pieces together and fill in the gaps by making myself the spokesman. It was still not complete, not until fifteen years after the book was published, when I wrote as an appendix to another book [The Viking Portable Faulkner] the final effort to get the story told and off my mind, so that I myself could have some peace from it. It’s the book I feel tenderest towards. I couldn’t leave it alone, and I never could tell it right, though I tried hard and would like to try again, though I’d probably fail again.

Wow. One of the great books in modern literature and its creator considered it a failure. Furthermore, Faulkner looked at failure as a virtue. Consider his feelings about Ernest Hemmingway given in an 1955 interview:

I thought that he found out early what he could do and stayed inside of that. He never did try to get outside the boundary of what he really could do and risk failure. He did what he did really could do marvelously well, first rate, but to me that is not success but failure…failure to me is the best. To try something you can’t do, because it’s too much (to hope for0, but still to try it and fail, then try it again. That to me is success.

How does this relate to the Yankees? I'm not certain, other than we Yankee fans are dealing with failure this morning. But that's what baseball is all about, right? Failing most of the time. Accepting it and moving on. Just ask every other team in the league with the exception of the Sox and the Cardinals. The season may have endeded poorly for the Yanks, but as a whole, I wouldn't characterize it as just a failure. As Goldman points out in his article, there was a lot to be appreciate about the Yanks this year. Hopefully, the team can learn from their failures, lick their wounds and then try again next year. The point isn't that they failed, it's that they pick themselves up, determined to try again. That's all we can ask from ourselves and that's all we can ask from them.
Continue reading...

Kind of Blue
2004-10-21 15:32
by Alex Belth

Man, am I ever looking foward to getting some sleep. I feel OK today except when I look at the papers or ESPN, so you know what? I decided to stop looking. As awful as it was for the Yankees to lose like this, it doesn't compare to the pain of losing in 81 or 95 or maybe even 2001. Though it ended bitterly, I'm proud that the Yankees played so hard this season and gave us more memories--both good and bad--for the vaults. I really liked the team this season. Until last night's dud, every single game of the ALSC was thrilling. They might not always win, but you can't say the Yankees are boring. They've made the competition better and they are still a tough out. And that is good for the game. Sure, I'm subdued today. But we Yankee fans have got a decade worth of warm memories to keep us warm throughout the winter (never mind the 20th century). Truthfully, I wouldn't trade places with any other fanbase, would you?

I wanted to mention how much I appreciate the kind words so many readers left in the comments section last night. I started this blog almost two years ago so that I could write about baseball on a regular basis. I did it for my own satisfaction. But after awhile I became aware that I had an audience. I always try to write with the reader in mind but still this blog is a labor of love and I primarily do it for myself. The fact that it has entertained a group of you out there really means a lot to me. I feel as if your presence keeps me in check and helps make me a better writer. I'm a continue writing during the off-season, so stop on by if you are so inclined. Just cause the season is over for the Yanks, doesn't mean I'm going on hiatus. As Earl Weaver once told Tom Boswell, "This is baseball, we do this everyday." (Well, almost everyday.)

I also want say how much I've enjoyed reading Steven Goldman, Larry Mahnken (and company), Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, Derek Jacques, Steve Bonner, Shawn Bernard, Patrick O'Keefe, Travis Nelson, Joe Sheehan and the other great Yankee voices on the Net this year. I'm happy to belong to this kind of club that would have somebody like me as a member.

Hope everyone enjoys the rest of the post-season. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

ALCS Game Seven: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3
2004-10-21 00:25
by Alex Belth

And That's That

The Red Sox creamolished the Yankees tonight in the Bronx to advance to the World Serious for the first time since 1986. Truthfully, it wasn’t much of a contest at all. Johnny Damon led off the first inning with a single to left off of Kevin Brown, and promptly stole second. He was thrown out at the plate moments later, but then David Ortiz deposited a room service fastball into the right field seats to give Boston a quick 2-0 lead. Brown, who enraged teammates and Yankee fans alike when he broke his left hand punching a clubhouse wall late this season, didn’t have anything. He recorded a grand total of four outs and left the bases loaded for Javier Vazquez in the second inning. Damon glicked Vazquez’s first pitch into the right field seats for a grand slam.

Damon was having a truly awful series until tonight. He would add a two-run moon shot into the upper deck later on for good measure. Meanwhile, Derek Lowe’s sinker was working and the Yankee offense went down with much of a fight. Lowe allowed one run on one hit over six innings. Curiously, he was replaced by Pedro Martinez in the top of the seventh with the Sox comfortably ahead 8-1. The only explanation I have for the decision is that Terry Francona wanted Martinez to exact a measure of revenge against the New York crowd. So Pedro gave up back-to-back doubles to Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams. Kenny Lofton added an RBI single and for the first time all night, the crowd was energized, chanting, “Who’s Your Daddy?” I think it was a cheap move by Francona but I understand his thinking. Johnny Damon and the rest of the team showed a class and restraint as they whupped the home team but good. Bringing in Pedro in that spot struck me as crass.

However, it would be the only speed bump in an otherwise glorious night for Boston. Martinez worked out of the inning and Mark Bellhorn blasted a home run off the right field foul pole off of Tom Gordon in the top of the eighth; Boston tacked on another run in the ninth. There would be no great Yankee comeback this time. At 12:01 on Thursday morning, October 21, 2004, Ruben Sierra grounded out to second base as the Red Sox finally beat their arch-rivals in a money game.

Fact is, this game will go down as one of the single most deflating losses in Yankee history. Plus, losing this series, after leading 3-0, just three outs from the World Serious in Game 4, has got to be one of the most painful, if not the most painful failures in Yankee history. There will be plenty of time for Yankee fans to examine what went wrong over the winter. There is blame to go all around: pitching, hitting, managing. The 2004 Yankees will be remembered as the team that choked, that blew the pennant, which is a shame because although they were a flawed team—no, $183 million couldn’t buy a flawless squad—they were an enjoyable and for the most part, likeable one. They gave us a lot to be thankful for this year, which only makes losing like this sting even more.

For the moment, I simply feel numb. But what can I say? The Yankees didn’t deserve to win and the Sox did. They earned it as much as the Yankees squandered it. This is easily one of the most significant wins in Boston sports history. There are plenty of card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation at Yankee Stadium and they have unleashed a celebration that is sure to last for the next several days.

I’d like to take this time to wish the warmest congratulations to my cousin Scott Adams and my good pal Johnny Red Sox. This has been a long time coming for you guys. You deserve to feel this good. Same goes out to my man Edward Cossette, not to mention the other Red Sox voices out there on the Internet like Sully, Beth, Hart, William Bragg, and Ben Jacobs. I’m sure I’m forgetting many more. But again, congrats. I know how sweet it is, just as I’m sure you’ve got some insight into how low I’m now feeling. The Yankees will be back next year. But for now, they’ve got a long winter staring them straight in the kisser, while the Red Sox will represent the American League in the World Serious and attempt to win their first championship since 1918.

Game Seven: Open Thread
2004-10-20 16:46
by Alex Belth

Humina, humina, humina. Let's Go Yan-Kees!

Game 7: Vida O Muerte
2004-10-20 11:26
by Alex Belth

Derek Lowe will start against Kevin Brown tonight, that much we know for sure. After that? I'd expect everyone but Jon Lieber and Curt Schilling to be on call. If Brown gets beat around early, Vazquez will be available. If he can make it through four or five, perhaps we'll get El Duque for an inning. After the fifth, we could see Gordon and Rivera for the duration. I'm not exactly sure why Wakefield isn't starting for the Sox. Maybe Boston feels he's better suited coming out of the pen in case Lowe falters by the third or fourth inning. I can certainly see Pedro Martinez coming into the game in a tight spot and doing very well. And I sure hope that Kenny Lofton gets the start at DH over Ruben Ruben.

I was talking with Cubs/Red Sox fan Alex Ciepley this morning and he made an interesting point. It's far more compelling for the casual baseball that the Yankees lose tonight. Now there is a storyline worth relishing. After all, if the Sox lose, hell, we've already covered that ground. That theme has been beaten to death. But the Yankees losing a game that everyone assumes that they'll find a way to somehow win? That's juicy.

There is already talk that should the Yanks lose it will go down as the biggest choke job in history. I don't see it that way, although I'm sure Gene Mauch wouldn't mind. It may go down as the biggest playoff collapse in history, or as one of the biggest failures in Yankee history, but though the Yankees have played a major part in each one of the last three losses, it's not like they've been smoked. If the series had started out 1-1, that storyline would be moot. (Of course, if pigs could fly, I wouldn't be theorizing like this either.) What I mean to say is that these teams deserve to play a Game 7 because they are that evenly-matched. They were last year and are again this season.

What will happen tonight is anybody's guess. Whatever pitcher or hitter can come up with a big performance could determine the winner. So could a lucky bloop hit, a timely call, a fortunate bounce. Oy. The anticipation is agonizing. But you got to give it up to both the Sox and the Yanks: they are living up to the hype and we are getting our money's worth. And then some...Pass the Prosac, pal.

ALCS Game Six: Red Sox 4, Yankees 2
2004-10-20 00:24
by Alex Belth

It was another close one. The Sox got a boost from their scrubs--Millar, Cabrera and especially Bellhorn. Curt Schilling wasn't brilliant but bully, giving the Sox a solid outing. Jon Lieber made one egregious mistake--the three-run home run to Bellhorn. The Bombers made it interesting with a run in the eighth to close the score to 4-2. But after Alex Rodriguez's interference call, and some ugliness on the part of the Yankee Stadium crowd, Gary Sheffield went down softly. The Bombers had another chance in the ninth. Matsui walked, then Keith Foulke struck out Bernie Williams and got Jorge Posada to pop out to third. Ruben Sierra, with three strike outs to his name managed a walk. But it was just too much to ask of Tony Clark to put the ball in play. Foulke fell behind the giant slugger 2-0 and threw a room service fastball smack down the heart of the plate. Clark took it. The count eventually went full and Clark, predictably, whiffed to end the game. At least you can't say it's been dull. Both Yankee fans and Red Sox fans had their hearts in their hands during Clark's at bat. While I hoped for the best, I'm sure deep down, Sox fans knew they could count on Clark to come up empty.

Again, what else could we have expected but a Game 7? The pitching will be a patchwork affair for both teams tomorrow. Hope is the thing with hair for Red Sox Nation tonight, while Yankee fans can nervously mull the possibilites of becoming the first team in history to blow a 3-0 lead. As it stands, the Sox are the first team to ever force a Game 7 after trailing 3-zip.

One more game. Does it get any more exciting than this? (Never mind that this kind of excitement I could live without.) We don't have a cherce. Let's everyone try to enjoy it. Because when you get down to it, what's the worst that can happen? I know, the Yanks make history with a major collapse. Sure, we can look at what they've done wrong these past three games: they can't get a big hit, Joe Torre refuses to use his bench at all. I'm sure there are other valid criticisms that we'll torture ourselves with should they lose, but on the other hand, the Sox are a worthy foe. Damn how I loath them at this moment, but they will have earned a trip to the Serious if they can comeback from this kind of hole.

That said, it ain't over til' it's over. Go Yanks.

Game Six: Open Thread
2004-10-19 14:51
by Alex Belth

Dying time's here...I was talking to a friend this morning and he suggested that should the series go to a seventh game, players will simply start dropping dead. Medic! Down goes Tony Clark. I think Nixon just dropped too. Somebody get a stretcher. It rained all night and has been dark and dreary here in Manhattan all day. The rain is supposed to keep up throughout the evening, but I don't think it's going to be heavy enough to cancel the game. We shall see...

Please, if you don't have a therapist, or feel inclined to punch something with your non-pitching hand, resist the urge, and leave let your feelings be known in the comments section below. I'm sorry I haven't provided more in-depth write-ups of the previous two games. It may look suspicious considering the results but the truth is, I've been illing from a stomach flu since late last week and just haven't had the energy to do a proper job. Some timing. Anyway, I don't need to fill most of you in on what happened cause you are watching it yourself. But if you do get a chance, and want some cheap laughs, check out my correspondence with Sox fan Edward Cossette over at the home page.

Let me say it one more time, with feeling: Let's Go Yan-Kees!

Hurts So Good
2004-10-19 09:37
by Alex Belth

Emily got home late last night but sat down to watch extra innings with me. After an inning and a half--I think it was in the top of the 11th--she turns to me and says, "I don't like this feeling." Isn't she just a dear. "Welcome to my world, hon," I answered. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.

ALCS Game Five: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4 (14 Innings)
2004-10-18 23:09
by Alex Belth

"As Balzac said, 'There goes another novel.'" Alvy Singer.

The Red Sox proved why they are a tremendous team. They had calls go against them but their bullpen was terrific again and David Ortiz won the game with a bloop single to center in the bottom of the 14th. It came off of Esteban Loaiza who pitched tremendously for the Yanks. Ortiz's game-winning at-bat is one for the ages. The Yanks could not score a clutch hit, and the bullpen blew a 4-2 eighth inning lead. In all, it was a thrilling game. Exactly what we've come to expect from these two teams. Rest up good, the series returns to the Bronx tomorrow night. This one is a long way from over.

ALCS GAME FOUR: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4 (12 Innings)
2004-10-18 09:54
by Alex Belth

Idiot's Delight

The Yankees were three outs away from returing to the World Serious. But the Red Sox were not about to go down without a fight. For the second time this October, and only the fourth time in his career, Mariano Rivera blew a save. After pitching a scoreless eighth inning, Rivera walked Kevin Millar on five pitches to start the ninth. Dave Roberts pinch-ran for Millar and Rivera threw to first base three times before throwing another pitch. No matter, Roberts broke for second on Rivera's first pitch to Bill Mueller and safely swiped second base. The throw from Jorge Posada was on the third base side of the bag; a perfect throw may have gotten him. Mueller then knocked a single to center and the game was tied at four. Rivera would work out of a bases-loaded jam, but after scratching together two runs on softly hit ground balls against Mike Timlin in the sixth inning, the Yankee offense was shut-down by Boston's bullpen. They had their opportunities (Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams both were unable to get a key two-out hit with the bases juiced). Finally, David Ortiz ended it with a two-run dinger off of Paul Quantrill in the bottom of the 12th.

Wake up the kids, the Red Sox refused to go out like chumps. It was a tough loss for the Yankees. Fortunately, they had a three-game cushion. That's about the only good thing about it. Game Five is start late this afternoon at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez will go against Mike Mussina. Should Boston manage to win, the series will return to New York, where anything can still happen.

Game Four: Open Thread
2004-10-17 18:05
by Alex Belth

The Sox have their backs up against the wall tonight. They need to win in order to continue their season. El Duque Hernandez hasn't pitched in weeks but hopes to shut Boston down and send New York back to the World Serious. Derek Lowe goes for the Sox. Feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section below. Enjoy the game.

ALCS Game Three: Yankees 19, Red Sox 8
2004-10-17 11:20
by Alex Belth

Bomb Squad Buries Boston

It was cold and rainy late yesterday afternoon in Manhattan when Emily and I arrived at the Colony Club on Park Avenue to attend the wedding of Em’s cousin. The Colony Club, one of the oldest private clubs in New York. Man, I never thought I’d be in an exclusive place like that, unless I was working in the kitchen or delivering flowers. The Colony Club is on northwest corner of Park avenue and 63rd street, directly across the street from where Woody Allen used to edit his movies. I worked for Allen for six months in the mid-90s and hadn’t been back to that neck of Manhattan more than once or twice since. What made the experience inherently weird is that Em’s direct family is so unpretentious that you'd never expect to see them at a place like the Colony Club.

I borrowed my cousin Scott’s tux, and made like the good boyfriend that I am. (Is it cruel or just unusual to mention that Scott is a die-hard Sox fan?) Emily was pleased because she doesn’t get to see her family too often, and she’s fond of a few of her cousins. The rest of the scene was good for laughs, as there was plenty of fodder for jokes. Most all of the women had huge rocks on their fingers, and their husbands either looked like zhlubby accountants or the kind of rugged, handsome scoundrels you see on the Lifetime network. During the ceremony, I looked around the room and was reminded of those grotesque audience shots from Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose,” and “Stardust Memories,” (which he lifted from Frederico Fellini). Here is part of a conversation I overheard between two women moments before the bride walked down the isle:

First Lady: So he refuses to buy a Rolex. He says it's just a waste of money. But then he goes around and buys a Bentley. So I say, what's the difference?

Second Lady: He's so full of it.

First Lady: Well, he says, 'You know, you can get a decent watch for $500. A Bentley is luxurious.'

Second Lady: Really.

First Lady: But what are you paying for a Bentley? He tells me $165,000 dollars.

Second Lady: Don't you believe it.

First Lady: For a quarter of that price he can have a Lexus which is just as luxurious and comfortable. But then he tells me, "\'People notice you in a Bentley, and not in a Lexus. They notice a Bentley. They can't even see a Rolex.'

Second Lady: He does have a point.

It was that kind of crowd. The bride seemed genuine, and happy but the affair was an exercise in excess. The whole thing left me feeling melancholy. Fortunately, Em was having a good time and that’s all that mattered.

At one point, I heard a curly-headed Yankee fanatic sitting at the next table say, “Six-six, third inning.” What? Man, I was trying avoid hearing anything about the game. It’s only the third inning. It’s almost 10:00. Awww man, here we go again. I told the guy only to give me updates if there was good news. Needless to say, I heard nothing but happy reports from then on out.

We got back to our place in the Bronx in time to watch the bottom of the ninth. The fans who remained had their hats turned inside out, and most of them were smiling. (Got to laugh to keep from crying at that point.) Those are true fans I thought. I only got to see the highlights, but it seemed like a horrible game to watch from an aesthetic point of view. Of course, I can’t complain because the Yanks now have a 3-0 lead. The offensive numbers for New York's middle of the order are staggering:

Alex Rodriguez, 3-5, 5 runs scored, 3 RBI; Gary Sheffield, 4-5, 3 runs scored, 4 RBI; Godzilla Matsui, 5-6, 5 runs scored, 5 RBI, Bernie Williams, 4-6, 1 run scored, 3 RBI.

So while I can’t offer any analysis of the game, here is some of the media reaction: Larry Mahnken, Edward Cossette, The Soxaholix are the only bloggers up early this morning. But the mainstream media had plenty of time time before the end of the game to file their stories. Check out the latest from:

Bob Hohler, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Jackie MacMullen, Tyler Kepner, Jack Curry, Bill Madden, Mike Lupica, and John Harper.

El Duque Hernandez will start for the Yankees tonight; Derek Lowe goes for Boston. Let's Go Yank-ees.

Game Three: Open Thread
2004-10-16 10:20
by Alex Belth

Warshed Out

There was rain but no baseball in Boston on Friday night. Thankfully, the good people at Major League Baseball didn't attempt to get the game in. Fenway Park has an antiquated drainage system but hopefully the field will be in decent shape tonight. Game Three will be made up on Monday. The question is, which team benefits more from the rain out? Ahhh, you tell me. An extra day of rest just can't be bad for Kevin Brown and El Duque. Curt Schilling had a bullpen session yesterday and obviously will try to get in another start should the series return to New York. In addition, now Pedro Martinez can pitch Monday on full-rest. No changes have been announced, but I would expect to see Mike Mussina pitch on Sunday and El Duque go against Pedro Martinez, and not Derek Lowe, on Monday if necessary.

I'm going to miss the first part of the game tonight on the count of a wedding. For real. One of Emily's cousins is getting hitched and there is no way out, I gotta go. But it's not a big deal. It should be funny. We've got to get all decked out in the fine threads; the wedding is being held at some snooty-ass joint on Park avenue. It starts in the early evening so I figure we'll catch the last couple of innings in the car on the way home. Since I won't be around to watch--though I'll most likely tape it--I'd sure appreciate it if y'all you could leave me your thoughts, impressions, and all of the gory details.

Go Yanks.

Series Moves to Boston, Sox Hope to Rain on Yankees' Parade
2004-10-15 10:21
by Alex Belth

Rain is in the forecast for tonight up in Boston. Terry Francona announced yesterday that Curt Schilling will not pitch Game 5, so the press is playing it like the Red Sox are hoping for Game Three to be rained out. But even should that occur, who knows how Schilling would perform should he pitch again in this series? As for Game 3, Bronson Arroyo will start against Kevin Brown. The Yankees are acutely aware of how important it is to win this game. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

[The Yankees] are confident, but hardly complacent.

"We don't know that we're going to find a way to win," said [Mike] Mussina, who retired the first 19 batters in Game 1. "That's taking something for granted. The last thing we're going to do is take something for granted.

"Even now, we won the first two games, but that doesn't mean anything. They win the first game up here, and all of a sudden, it's a whole new series again."

That is why the Yankees will approach Game 3 on Friday with the urgency of an underdog - which they were, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, when the series began. Mussina said the players were aware that no team in baseball history has lost a postseason series after winning the first three games.

"The difference between 2-1 and 3-0 is immense in a seven-game series," Mussina said. "Immense."

I'm remaining cautiously optimistic. But one thing that makes me feel better is knowing that the Yankees don't take anything for granted. They know the deal. But yo, remember how I wrote about trying to enjoy this series a few days ago? Time to get a shrink. I'm more nervous now than I've been at any point this season. I won't elaborate because regular readers don't want to hear my fatalistic spiel anymore.

I'll leave it at this: Let's Go Yankees! (I'll be hiding behind the couch, biting my nails, hoping for the best and bracing myself for the worst...what can I say, make jokes if you want, I'm incorrigible.)

ALCS Game Two: Yanks 3, Red Sox 1
2004-10-14 11:21
by Alex Belth

As expected, Pedro Martinez pitched his heart out at Yankee Stadium last night. After struggling with his control early, he displayed his trademark toughness, setting the Yankees down with a mid-90s fastball, and a devastating change up. But Jon Lieber, the quiet man on the Yankees starting staff, was even better, shutting the Red Sox out through seven innings. He allowed a base runner to start the eighth (who would eventually score) but otherwise both bullpens were perfect. It was a lean, tense game, which the Yankees won 3-1. The series now moves north to Boston for three games this weekend.

Martinez’s stuff looked good in the first inning, but it took a few batters before he could harness it. With his stringy hair hanging out of his cap like a raggy mop or month-old Christmas tinsel, Martinez walked Derek Jeter on four pitches, all fastballs, to start the game. Jeter took off for second on Pedro’s first pitch to Alex Rodriguez. It was a breaking ball and Jason Varitek made a perfect throw to the second base side of the bag. Mark Bellhorn reached back for it as Jeter slid into the tag, and the ball popped out of his glove. Jeter would have been out easily; instead he was standing on second. Rodriguez worked the count to 2-2 and then was grazed on the wrist by an inside fastball. Gary Sheffield swung at the first pitch and lofted a liner to center. The ball hung in the air long enough for Jeter to pause several times. But when it fell in safely, Jeter still had plenty of time to score. (The only person on either team with a worse throwing arm than Johnny Damon is Bernie Williams.)

Runners on first and second and nobody out. The class acts at the Stadium started to roar, “Who’s Your Daddy?” This wasn’t a small chant by a group of yahoos; it a pronouced Stadium-wide effort, which came across loud and crystal clear over the TV. Martinez gathered himself and struck Hideki Matsui out looking with a fastball over the inside corner. Next, he got Bernie Williams looking on a 2-2 breaking ball over the outside corner. Both strike out pitches were just nasty. Jorge Posada grounded out weakly to second to end the inning, and Martinez escaped relatively unscathed. Again, his pitches were good, but he didn’t have any rhythm. Jason Varitek visited the mound four times. The Fox announcers were all over the Red Sox, but they figured the reasoning behind it was that Boston suspected that once a base runner was on second, the Yankees were tipping the hitters off as to the location of Martinez’s pitches.

Meanwhile, Jon Lieber breezed through the Red Sox in the first two innings. With two out in the first, Lieber got ahead of Manny Ramirez, 0-2. He threw a pitch way up and in and Ramirez dropped his bat with disdain. But Lieber had set him up perfectly, and got Manny to wave at the next pitch, a slider dipping low and out of the strike zone. David Ortiz walked to start the second but Lieber needed only six pitches to retire Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek.

The Yankees continued to make Martinez work in the second. John Olerud ground out sharply to Mark Bellhorn before Miguel Cairo worked a walk. Kenny Lofton swung at a fat, first ball fastball, and lined a single into center field. Martinez fell behind Jeter 2-0 but got him to fly out to Damon for the second out; Cairo moved to third. With Alex Rodriguez at the plate, Kenny Lofton took off on the first pitch, which was fouled off. After a ball, Martinez pulled the old fake-to-third, look-to-first move, which came dangerously close to being a balk. He pulled the move again during the at-bat and threw to first once too. Rodriguez worked the count full and the Stadium stood and roared. But Martinez buckled Rodriguez’s knees with a back-door breaking ball for strike three. Who’s Your Daddy, indeed. Sit down New York.

The next two innings moved along quickly. Orlando Cabrera singled off of Lieber to start the third but and moved to third on two ground outs but was left stranded when Bellhorn lined to center to end the inning. David Ortiz just got under a pitch with one out in the fourth; instead of a game-tying dinger, he launched a sky-high pop out to Cairo in shallow right field. Martinez worked a perfect third, now starting the hitters off with his off-speed pitch, and after a walk to Posada to start the fourth, retired Olerud, Cairo and Lofton easily. He blew Lofton away and the two players glared at each other.

Boston went down in order in the fifth. After five innings, Lieber had thrown just 45 pitches. After Jeter grounded out, Alex Rodriguez tapped a change up on the outside part of the plate toward third and beat it out for an infield hit. Martinez, using a slide-step delivery, left a breaking ball over the heart of the plate on his first pitch to Gary Sheffield, who fouled it back. It was a pitch to crush and he missed it. The count went to 2-2 and Sheffield fouled off a good change up, low and away, barely staying alive. Martinez then blew a fastball past him for the strike out. Oh, baby. It was right in Sheff’s kitchen too. Beautiful stuff. Matsui put forth a tough at bat and worked the count full but was frozen by another back-door breaking ball, called strike three.

Both pitchers were in fine form, but the biggest difference in the game was that the Yankee hitters were making Martinez work much harder. That changed with one out in the fifth when Johnny Damon finally made Lieber sweat a little bit. Damon had a terrible night against Mussina and hadn’t looked much better early on against Lieber. He fell behind quickly but then started fouling pitches off like crazy. The count went full and on the fifteenth pitch of the at-bat, Damon hit a low line drive to center field. It appeared as if Bernie Williams temporarily lost sight of the ball in the lights but he stood his ground and made the catch. Was this the moment Boston had been waiting for? Would Lieber be spent? Mark Bellhorn worked the count full and whiffed on a slider in the dirt that would have been ball four.

Pedro Martinez reached the 100-pitch mark with one out in the bottom of the sixth. It was a ball to Jorge Posada, who would eventually walk. Pedro got ahead of John Olerud with a change up and then a fastball on the outside corner. Jason Varitek set up outside again, but Martinez’s fastball tailed back inside and Olerud, with his short, level swing, lined a home run over the short, right field porch in right to make the score 3-0 Yankees. It was the 106th pitch of night for Martinez. Miguel Cairo put together a pesky at-bat before striking out and Lofton popped out to Bill Mueller to end the inning. Exit Martinez.

The heart of Boston’s order came to bat in the seventh. Manny Ramirez grounded out to Jeter and then David Ortiz smacked a single to right. Lieber got ahead of Kevin Millar 1-2, and escaped any trouble by inducing the bearded-one to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Mike Timlin and Alan Embree each allowed a hit in the bottom of the inning but the Yankees did not score. Lieber came back in the eighth and promptly served up a single to Trot Nixon. And that was it for him. Flash Gordon replaced Lieber and looked far from crisp against Jason Varitek who worked the count full. Gordon threw a tits-high fastball that the Boston catcher ripped into right center field for a double. But Nixon, who suffered with leg injuries this year, was not running on the pitch and was only able to reach third. For the second straight night the Yankee starters held Boston down for the first part of the game and now the Red Sox were threatening again. Cabrera grounded out to Jeter and Nixon scored. Mueller grounded out to Cairo and Varitek moved to third. That was all for Gordon. Joe Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch to Damon. Rivera’s first three pitches to Damon were cut fastballs in on the hands. The first went for a ball, and Damon fouled the next two off. He fouled off a fastball that was out over the plate on the fourth pitch and then Rivera missed high with another heater. Posada slunk outside for the next pitch and Rivera hit his mitt, getting Damon looking on a fastball right over the outside corner of the plate. Unfair.

The Yankees threatened in the ninth but Keith Foulke got Alex Rodriguez to fly out to right field with the bases loaded to end the inning. Mark Bellhorn bounced a soft grounder to John Olerud for the first out in the bottom of the ninth and then Rivera quickly got ahead of Manny 0-2. The next two pitches were ball and then Rivera left a cutter up too high that Ramirez crushed into left field for a double. Ortiz, 7-13 lifetime vs. Rivera, followed and struck out on three pitches. Millar saw four pitches. He waved at the last one, a fastball, high and out of the zone, for strike three. Rivera had himself another save, and the Bombers had a 2-0 series lead.

This is a long way from over, especially with Brown, and the combination of Hernanez and Vazquez looming as big unknowns. Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield have faired well against the Yanks too. Things can change in a hurry. After all, this isn't a 3-0 lead, it's 2-0. Still, the Yankees have to be extremely pleased taking these two games. So long as they don't get swept in Boston, they should be okay.

Game Two: Open Thread
2004-10-13 16:29
by Alex Belth

Here's another open forum for Yankee and Sox fans to leave their thoughts tonight before, during or after an important Game Two, which pits Pedro Martinez against Jon Lieber. Should be another tense ride. Try and enjoy.

Common Sense

Steven Goldman offered some sage and sobering thoughts on the ALCS yesterday in the latest edition of The Pinstriped Bible. I think they are worth sharing:

Though the American League Championship Series promises to be a highly diverting contest, bursting with great baseball play, compelling personalities, and high-pressure situations, enthusiasm cannot help but be dampened by the sure knowledge that some so-called fans will use this series and the anonymity granted by large crowds as an excuse to drink too much, say too much, and act badly out of over-identification with one team and unearned hostility towards the other.

Baseball: it's just a game, not life and death. In the case of the Yankees and the Red Sox, it's not even a game. It's a spectator sport, which means except for a select 50 of us plus associated hangers-on, we're watching, not playing. Nothing is happening to us that will change the course of our lives. Most of us will simply enjoy these games, but some will make them into Ken Caminiti and Christopher Reeve, and use that as an excuse to treat their fellow spectators and the players to abuse. Pity them, for they lack both perspective and humanity.

The rest of you, have a swell time. It should be fun to watch.

Right on.

ALCS Game One: Yankees 10, Red Sox 7
2004-10-13 09:12
by Alex Belth

You didn't think it was going to easy now did you? Well, okay, maybe Yankee fans were feeling pretty good about themselves with thoughts of a perfect game dancing in their heads as Mike Mussina started the seventh inning with an 8-0 lead. But before you could chant "Who's Your Daddy?" the perfect game was lost and the Red Sox were alive. It took a clutch double by Bernie Williams and a four-out save by Mariano Rivera to finally kill Boston for the night, but the Sox threw some kind of scare into the Bronx along the way.

Which was to be expected. Although these two teams affect different aesthetic personalities, they have more in common than not on the field. Both offenses are resilient and relentless. The Sox mount a comeback and then the Yanks add some insurance runs of their own. How do you stop these teams? The Yankees came away with the win yesterday but it was by the skin of their teeth. Why wouldn't this series go to the last inning of the seventh game again? It may not, but that's at least how it feels with these two teams.

Curt Schilling was off his game and the Bombers got to him early. Unable to push off his ailing right ankle effectively, Schilling's fastball was clocked in the high 80s instead of the mid 90s. With two out in the first inning, Schilling hung a 3-1 breaking pitch to Gary Sheffield which was lined into left for a double. He got ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2 and then Godzilla poked a good split-fingered fastball into left for an RBI double. Bernie Williams followed and smacked a first pitch fastball into center for an RBI single.

Schilling hung an 0-1 slider to Jeter to start the third, which went to center for a single. Alex Rodriguez reached on an infield single to shortstop and then Gary Sheffield walked. Schilling threw a fastball--was it a flat cutter?--to Matsui which was roped off the right field wall for a double. Trot Nixon slipped allowing Sheffield to score all the way from first. Sheffield threw threw an imaginary punch in the air and then chest-bumped Alex Rodriguez, clumsily knocking the helmet off his head in the process. Matsui would score on Jorge Posada's sacrifice fly and Schilling did not return for the fourth inning. According to the Boston Globe:

"If I can't go out there with something better than what I had today, I'm not going back out there," he said. "This is not about me braving through something. This is about us and winning the world championship, and if I can't give them better than I had today, I won't take the ball again."

Conversely, Mike Mussina was brilliant. His stuff was sharp and he kept the Red Sox guessing. In the top of the fourth, Mussina went to a full-count on the first two batters (Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn) and struck them both out looking; Damon on an inside fastaball, Bellhorn on a fastball away. He then froze Manny Ramirez with a breaking ball to get him looking too.

Curt Leskanic and Ramiro Mendoza worked the fourth and fifth respectively for Boston. Kenny Lofton led off the sixth with a solo home run off of Tim Wakefield. Derek Jeter followed--he would ground out to third--and the Yankee fans loudly cheered "Who's Your Daddy?" Moving along, Johnny Damon struck out for the third time of the evening in the bottom of the seventh. At that moment the only tension in the game was whether or not Mussina could pull off the improbable perfect game. He got ahead of Bellhorn with fastballs 0-2 and then Bellhorn smacked an outside heater off the wall in left center field for a double. So much for perfection.

Manny Ramirez hit a first pitch curve ball to Jeter for the second out, and then it got exciting. David Ortiz fought off an inside curve ball to right for a single. Mel Stottlemyre came to the mound for a visit. Then Kevin Millar lined a double off of Matsui's glove in left. The Yankee lead was 8-2. Matsui sprinted for Millar's ball and got a glove on it. But he couldn't hold on. The first pitch to Trot Nixon nailed Jorge Posada in the chest and scooted away, clearly a cross-up between Mussina and his catcher. Millar moved to third and scored when Nixon singled to center on the next pitch. So much for perfection, Mussina's night was over.

Taynon Sturtze replaced him and threw two fastballs past Jason Varitek. Boston's switch-hitting catcher was 0-36 at Yankee Stadium this year at that moment, but Sturtze got greedy and tried to muscle another fast ball past him. But it wasn't high enough and Varitek pounded it over the right field fence for a two-run dinger. 8-5. The chanting ceased, the sweating commenced.

Tom Gordon came on in the eighth and Bill Mueller reached on an infield single. Miguel Cairo made a terrific diving stop to his left but couldn't get the ball out of his glove smoothly to make a throw. Damon followed and whiffed for the fourth time of the night. Mark Bellhorn flew out to Matsui. Mariano Rivera, who didn't arrive at the Stadium until after 8:00 p.m., started warming up. Manny Ramirez then fisted a breaking ball that was up and in into left for a bloop single. A great piece of hitting. Mueller advanced to third.

I figured Torre would go to Rivera to face the lefty Ortiz. So did the Fox announcers. But he stayed with Gordon who fell behind the "Cookie Monster" 2-0 and then 3-1. Ortiz then launced a long fly ball to the deepest part of left center field. It was a few feet short of a home run. Matsui tracked it down and then ran past the ball at the last moment. Looking like a backward elbow macaroni, Matsui reached for the ball which knocked off his glove. Two runs scored and Ortiz was reached third. It could have been a game-tying home run, it could have been the third out. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Enter Sandman. Rivera came on to pitch to Kevin Millar and promptly fell behind 2-0 before getting the burly first baseman to pop up to Jeter to end the inning. Yankee Stadium was officially shook. Who's your daddy now? The hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin retired Derek Jeter to start the bottom of the eighth and then threw two fastballs past Alex Rodriguez. The next pitch was up and in and brushed Rodriguez back. After two balls that missed outside, Rodriguez lined a single into left. Timlin got ahead of Gary Sheffield and narrowly missed striking him out with a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner. Sheffield fouled a pitch off and then dumped a single to left. Timlin stayed in the game to pitch to Matsui, who had 5 RBI on the evening, and got him to pop up to short. But Bernie Williams shot line drive over Manny Ramirez's out-stretched arm in left for a double, scoring two runs to give the Yankees a three-run cushion. Ramirez one-upped Matsui misplaying the ball.

In the ninth, Trot Nixon popped out to Jeter on Rivera's first pitch. But Rivera left several pitches up in the zone to Jason Varitek who eventually singled hard to right. Cabrera bounced a single through the hole to left and suddenly Bill Mueller was at the plate representing the tying run with just one out. Yipe! He worked the count even at two, then Mueller hit a ground ball to Rivera who started the 1-6-3 double play. Exhale. Game over. The Yanks pound Schilling, Mussina was close to perfect, the Sox mount an impressive rally, neither bullpen was especially good, Rivera saves the day and the Yanks snake away with the victory.

Game One in the books. And they're just getting warmed up. What's next?

Game One: Open Thread
2004-10-12 16:29
by Alex Belth

Red Sox fanatic Edward Cossette and I will have a running correspondence throughout the ALCS this year which will be posted at the home page. Be sure to check it out. Part One is up this afternoon.

Im leaving an open thread for anyone to leave their thoughts and reactions to the game tonight. Red Sox fans are welcome to hang with the Yankee faithful here. Let's just make an effort to keep it as civil as possible and may the best team win. (In addition, I'm going to be posting later than normal tomorrow, most likely not until noon. For game recaps I suggest checking out the nighthawks, Larry Mahnken, Steve Bonner and Cliff Corcoran.)

Whatta Ya Hear, Whatta ya Say?
2004-10-12 13:26
by Alex Belth

I asked several writers for their thoughts or feelings about the ALCS between the Yanks and Sox. Here is what they had to say:

Allen Barra (author of "Brushbacks and Knockdowns"):

Like many of my colleagues, I feel the Yankees are going to win, though no amount of analysis is going to tell me exactly how. That's because no amount of analysis has given me a satisfactory answer as to how the Yankees came up with the best record in the American League this year and how they are currently just four wins away from the World Series.
After the lost of their best hitter, Giambi, and then the breakdown of the pitching staff, I must have said at least fifteen times during the second half of the season and through the playoffs that "If they don't win this game, that's it." I said it three more times against the Twins, and each time they came back to win. I don't get it, except to say that this team probably had more heart than anyone has given it credit for.
On the practical side, there is no reason why Mussina pitching at home can't cancel out Schilling. Or for that matter, Lieber pitching at home can't beat Pedro -- who most certainly did not pitch the game against the Angels that the TV commentators were saying he pitched. (There were at least four times when a single pitch gone the other way could have knocked him out of the box.) By my count that now gives him five unimpressive starts in a row. The big X factors are El Duque's tired arm and Kevin Brown's sore back in Boston.
Two things. First, it is absolutely ridiculous the way commentators have taken the loss of Nomar and the acquisition of Cabrera and what's-his-name at first base as what turned the Red Sox around. A bunch of other guys simply got hot is what happened. The defensive difference at shortstop is slight, to say the least, and there are two holes in the Sox batting order now that can be exploited. Second, I have no idea how Mariano Rivera's loss will affect his pitching. I suspect not at all. Most professionals tend to hunker down and play better after moments of great tragedy. But that is all rather beside the point. What happened to his family members is of far greater import on any human scale than a baseball game, and I think it's rather vulgar for all of us to speculate, so I'll stop.

Howard Bryant (Boston Herald columnist, author of “Shut Out”):

Sox in five. And no, this is not a joke.

Daniel Habib (baseball writer, Sports Illustrated):

OK, deep breath: Predicting the outcome of this series is an exercise in hubris. Over the past two seasons, they've been so evenly matched it's hard to imagine anything other than seven tight games, and seven between these two would be so fraught with potential for luck, happenstance, etc., that honestly, I might as well toss a coin. That's how closely I feel the Sox and Yanks match up. However: I'm going to hang my hat on Schilling, because he owns the Yankees in October. If he's healthy, my gut tells me he'll pitch in at least three games, impacting each one, and that will be the difference.

Pat Jordan (author of "A Nice Tuesday"):

The Twins were intimidated by Yankee glory. Too bad. Now, perennial losers Red Sox will self-destruct, too.

King Kaufman (columnist

My gut feeling is that the Red Sox are going to take them this time. I think they're a much better team with the Twins, especially the way the Twins diluted Johan Santana by using him on short rest. I know Beckett made me look bad for saying it was a mistake to pitch him on short rest in Game 6 last year, but I still think it's generally bad news to take a guy -- particularly a young one -- whose spent the whole year, and probably his whole career, pitching on four days' rest and throw him in on three days' rest in the most important game of the year. But I digress. I think the Big Two are an advantage, Rivera has lost a little of his invincible sheen, and the Sox can just slug and slug. It's going to be a tight one, I think, and a Yankees win wouldn't surprise me -- it never does. But I'm picking the Red Sox by a whisker.

Michael Lewis (author of “Moneyball”):

None, except I'll bet if they [Boston] win the World Series Theo [Epstein] will downplay the role of sabermetrics.

Buster Olney (author of "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty):

I have no credibility with predictions at this point. I chose the Cubs to win the World Series before the season started, and I picked Anaheim to win the ALCS at the start of the post-season. So I will qualify everything:

The Red Sox will win if:
1. Pedro is effective against the Yankees.
2. The Boston starters pitch long enough to limit the responsibility of the Red Sox middle relief, which is weak.
3. Kevin Millar doesn't kill Boston with a series of atrocious screw-ups at first base.

The Yankees will win if:
1. Kevin Brown pitches effectively and doesn't attack any more walls.
2. They drive up the pitch count of Schilling and Pedro and get into the Boston bullpen during the sixth innings.
3. A-Rod continues to thrive in the spotlight of New York (and so far, even cynics like myself have to give him lots of credit).

Dayn Perry (columnist Fox Prospectus):

The consensus is that Boston is better equipped to win it. That may be true, but I think it's too close to call. I think the fact that both teams will use four-man rotations will benefit the Yankees. Schilling and Pedro > Mussina and Lieber, but I like the back end of the Yanks' rotation, even in disrepair, better than Arroyo and Wakefield. It'll be critical for the Yanks to show up in Fenway when they have the Brown v. Arroyo and Vazquez v. Wakefield matchups (Or Orlando Hernandez, if the Yankees decide he's healthy enough to start Game 4). I think the series will ride on the Yanks' ability to win Games 3 and 4. If they do that, they'll win the series, I think.
Alan Schwarz (Baseball America/ESPN columnist and author “The Numbers Game”):
I will offer you the same prediction that Clubber Lang had for his first match up with Rocky: "PAIN."
Glenn Stout (author of Red Sox, Yankee and most recently Dodger Century):
Everything is lined up for the Red Sox to win. For once, their pitching staff is rested and the starters they want are all in a line. They also seem to have successfully addressed the weaknesses that have long plagued Red Sox teams--not enough pitching, defense, speed and depth, although I think there are still some holes in the defense--it’s almost a guarantee that Ramirez will botch at least one routine fly ball and that someone will run on Damon and score a run they shouldn’t, but all in all, much improved. On the other hand, the Yankees seem beatable, particularly given the possible loss of Rivera and the unavailability of El Duque. Add it up in any logical fashion and Boston should win, perhaps even easily.

Maybe that’s why I think they won’t. Rivera’s loss give the Yankees that cheesy but nevertheless effective jolt of “us against them,” underdog status, A-Rod and Jeter appear to be playing an internal game of “top this,” and vets like Bernie Williams seem determined to give one last demonstration that he can still play. Meanwhile the Red Sox, for the first time, suffer from the “expectation of victory” premise and for a team that over the year has shown a propensity to blow hot and cold, they’ve had to sit around for a few days – hard for hitters to stay in a groove.

Two more things tip the Yankees way. Torre has a big edge over Francona. The Yankees, not the Red Sox, have won an awful lot of games they should have lost this year and Torre is much the reason. Granted, he probably has more tools at his disposal, but he knows how to use them. And the home field advantage of Yankee Stadium is enormous this time of year. I’ve long held to the “big ballpark theory” in the post season. Historically, over the past decade or so, teams that play in larger ballparks not only tend to reach the post season but to defeat those teams that play in smaller parks. I don’t know why – perhaps random acts of chaos take place more frequently in smaller parks – but it seems to happen nearly every year.

So while I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Red Sox win in about five, a little voice, maybe history, tells me that won’t happen. If NY steals a game pitched by Schilling, it starts to tilt their way. Besides, way too many books are already being written in anticipation of a Boston world championship, and that’s usually the kiss of death. And like last year, I think that whoever wins this Series may be too gassed to win the World Series. So for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, this series may mark the effective end of their season. That’s what everyone is hoping for everywhere else. Because for the rest of the country, there are two “evil empires.”

2004-10-12 08:48
by Alex Belth

Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken have kept tabs on the Yankee-Red Sox feud all season long over at The Hardball Times with their column called "Rivals in Exhile." (The reason for the title is that they both live in Rochester, New York.) Be sure to check out what they've got to say as the ALCS unfolds. And while you are at it, peep Mahnken's separate preview--a study in objectivity--as well as Aaron Gleeman's analysis.

For more predictions and pre-game hype, head on over to Baseball Think Factory's "Newsstand," for links to all of the papers in Boston and New York. I perused the New York papers this morning and came away uninspired. (The one bit of significant news is that Mariano Rivera is scheduled to return and be available to pitch in Game One.) The tabloids are pumping up the "Curse" nonsense, George Vecsey wants the Red Sox to win, Dave Anderson has obligatory piece about Washington Heights' favorite son, etc. You know the routine.

Game time can't come soon enough.

Whatchu Grinnin at?
2004-10-11 14:27
by Alex Belth

Here I is, a heppy ket, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx last Saturday, just hours before the Yankees beat the Twins to win the ALDS. Emily, Alex Ciepley and I grabbed some great food, and I just had to get a photo in front of this old-timey candy store. Fortunately, you can take pictures with your telephone these days. At least Alex C can:

Here's a cock-eyed close up featuring a busted-ass smile:

Seltzer, seltzer. A malted, maybe?

Calm Before the Storm
2004-10-11 08:31
by Alex Belth

Standing on the downtown platform of the 231rst street station this morning I read the news about Mariano Rivera's two relatives who were electrocuted over the weekend. Rivera joined his family in Panama yesterday but is expected back in the Bronx tomorrow night. It is officially cold here in New York. Looking up from the paper, the sun had yet to rise over the eastern skyline. Small clouds littered the blue sky and they were moving south quickly. The sun reflected through these clouds, coloring them orange and then yellow. It was a striking sight. I wished I had remembered my scarf.

I leafed through the Post and the News on the train ride to work to learn that along with Rivera's tragedy, Christopher Reeve and Ken Caminiti died this weekend. Of course, the Yankee-Red Sox hype has begun, but I just couldn't get juiced up about it. When I got out of the subway at 50th street, I noticed that the fruit cart which is positioned at the top of the subway steps was gone. Maybe it's because today is a holiday, or maybe it's finally time to pack up shop for the winter. Either way, it's a somber start to the week around these parts.

It will surely pick up tomorrow night uptown when Curt Schilling starts for the Sox against Mike Mussina and the Bombers. I know there are segments of Yankee fans and Red Sox Nation who couldn't be more amped for this confrontation. But as was noted in the comments section here a few weeks ago, there are also Yankee and Sox fans who are ennervated by the match-up. What do you feel? Any predictions? For what it's worth, my gut tells me that the Sox could steam roll the Yanks in five games, but if it goes to six or seven, the Yankees should prevail. I think the Yanks could swipe Game One tomorrow, and that Pedro will pitch a whale of game on Wednesday. Irregardless, as they say in the Bronx, may the best team win.

ALDS Game Four: Yankees 6, Twins 5
2004-10-10 11:06
by Alex Belth

Moving On Up

It doesn't ever get old, it doesn't ever get boring. Down 5-1 to start the eighth inning in Minnesota yesterday, the Yankees rallied against Juan Rincon to tie the game and eventually put the Twins to sleep for the year in extra innings to advance to the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Emily and I were entertaining some friends: Jay Jaffe and his lady, Alex Ciepley and two of our dearest friends Lizzie Bottoms and her husband Andrew. Watching baseball with a group of people makes it harder to retain the details of the game. There is all sorts of conversation happening and I like to enjoy the company regardless of what's happening on the field. Which is not to say that we weren't paying close attention. There was a great, hushed tension in the room during the late innings when the score was tied.

Alex C was the lone voice of support for the Twins. When Lew Ford broke the game open with a two-run double, he was a happy man. And then when Esteban Loaiza relieved Javier Vazquez, Jay said that the Yankees were all but sending up the white flag. The game plodded along, Loaiza wasn't sharp but he didn't allow any runs either. "We've got em right where we want em," I said several times.
Little did I know how it would pan out. Johan Santana threw a decent amount of pitches but was pulled after just five innings of work. With the season on the line, why so early? I don't know but Grant Balfour mowed the Bombers down and so it didn't seem like a point worth persuing. But New York mounted a rally in the eighth inning. A good three batters before the decisive blow, Alex C said, "Ruben Sierra is going to tie this game."
And sure enough he did. Sierra couldn't catch up with Rincon's fastball, but he connected with a hanging slider, knocking a three-run dinger to right-center field which tied the game. Tom Gordon pitched two scoreless innings and Mariano Rivera did the same.

Alex Rodriguez lead off the bottom of the ninth with a double in the left field gap off of Joe Nathan, virtually a carbon copy of his game-tying double off Nathan in Game Two. But the Yankees couldn't get him home. Gary Sheffield went 1-6, Jorge Posada was 0-5, and Mr. Teflon, Derek Jeter was 1-6 with four strike outs. Rodriguez doubled down the left field line with one out in the eleventh off of Kyle Loshe. He proceeded to steal third base, without drawing a throw from Pat Borders, who replaced Henry "Home Run" Blanco. The Twins continued to pitch to Sheffield. But Loshe threw a breaking ball in the dirt which Borders couldn't handle. The ball skipped away and Rodriguez scored standing up. Loshe retired Sheffield and Matsui, and then Mariano retired the Twins in order to give the Yankees another big win.
It was a great series for the Yankees. Curiously, the post-game celebration was disrupted by a personal issue concerning Mariano Rivera. The details were sketchy but something sure kept the party subdued.
I was geeked up last night unable to fully enjoy what had happened, because I was already fretting about the Boston series. Surely, the Yankees have their hands full with this Red Sox team. The New Yorkers may actually be underdogs this time round, figure that. Regular readers of Bronx Banter know that I'm a pessimist by nature, and am always waiting for the Sox to finally overwhelm the Yankees when it counts. And it's not hard to rationalize why Boston will defeat New York this year. But while Boston may be the superior team right now--mainly due to Mr. Schilling, and a relentless PS2 offense--it would be silly to over-look the Yankees. They've been so tough, and such a rewarding team to follow this year, I've just got to have faith in them, warts (pitching staff) and all.
And regardless of what happens starting Tuesday night, it would be a shame if I didn't spend a majority of my day soaking in what the Yankees accomplished against Minnesota. More terrific memories for us Yankee fans who have been spoiled with dozens of such victorious moments since 1995. It's a sunny, crisp day in New York. And it's a good time to be a Yankee fan. Am I right or am I right?

ALDS Game Three: Yanks 8, Twins 4
2004-10-09 11:21
by Alex Belth

The Yankees took a 2-1 series lead last night behind a strong six innings from Kevin Brown. The offense put the game away the middle innings; every Yankee had a hit with the exception of Alex Rodriguez, who went 0-4. Derek Jeter went 3-5 with 3 RBI, Gary Sheffield had two hits and smoked the ball every time up (save his first trip), and Bernie Williams lined a two-run homer which helped break the game open. Paul Quanrill pitched very well in relief. The only downer for the Yankees was that Mariano Rivera had to enter the game to record the final three outs.

Felix Heredia, who relieved Quantrill to get the final out of the eighth, started the ninth by hitting Corey Koskie and Lew Ford. Tanyon Sturtze replaced him and gave up an infield hit to Christian Guzman--his third such hit of the night--which loaded the bases. Michael Cuddyer lined sharply to center scoring Koskie. The score was 8-2 and Torre brought Rivera in. Mariano retired all three men he faced, with two inconsequential runs scoring in the process. After the game, Torre was more upset about having used Sturtze--who won't be available today--than Rivera. Anyhow, it was a cruddy way to end a solid win, a real buzz kill.

It was far from the thriller that we witnessed in Game Two, but hey, a win is a win. Without jumping ahead of ourselves, it was a game the Yanks needed. Jacque Jones hit a solo home run in the first off of Brown, but the Yankees came back in the second with five straight two-out singles off of Carlos Silva to jump ahead 3-1. Several of the hits were bloops (Cairo, Lofton), and two others (Olerud, Jeter) were a result of turf field. After Bernie launched his line-drive homer (on a hit-and-run play of all things) in the sixth, Derek Jeter came up with a two-out, two-run single.

Torii Hunter lead off the bottom of the inning and dumped a double into left field. Hideki Matsui botched the play and the ball kicked off his back foot. Hunter gambled and continued on to third. But Matsui was able to recover and throw him out. It was not a smart play considering the situation. After Justin Morneau flied out to Godzilla for the second out, Corey Koskie lined a base hit into left center field. He tested Bernie Williams, which has become standard practice for the League, but Bernie made a perfect throw to second to nail Koskie for the third out.

It was just one of those nights for the Twins. And it got worse in the top of the seventh when Hunter characteristically tracked down a long line drive by Matsui on the warning track. Hunter had the ball in his glove as he crashed into the outfield wall. But he could not hang on to it, and the ball bounced out of his mitt, over the fence for a home run. That pretty much said it all for the Twins, who look to their ace, Johnan Santana, pitching on three-days rest, to keep their season alive later today.

It may be tempting for the Yankees, and their fans, to gear up for the Boston Red Sox, who completed a sweep of the Angels in style yesterday. But should Minnesota win today, anything can happen in New York tomorrow night. Red Sox Nation is flying high, their confidence is soaring, and they would like nothing more than to trample the Yanks on their way to the World Serious. They have until Tuesday night to soak up the good vibes. Their rotation will be set up exactly how they want it. Then all they need to do is go out and win the eight biggest games in franchise history.

And Another Thing
2004-10-08 08:46
by Alex Belth

I talked to a lot of people yesterday about the final play of Wednesday night's Game Two between the Yanks and Twins. Here is Joe Sheehan's salient take from his latest column for Baseball Prospectus:

The final play of the game has been the subject of a lot of debate, with the consensus being that Jacque Jones screwed up. I don't know that it's so easy to grill him. Upon catching Hideki Matsui's line drive, Jones was on his heels. He appeared to focus more on getting rid of the ball quickly rather than making a good throw, and as such becomes the first player in history to be criticized for hitting the cutoff man.

It's a split-second choice--set up for a good throw or just fire--and I don't know that I can ride Jones for the decision he made. What we do know is that Jeter made his own decision, to put his head down and run. That, as much as Jones' poor throw, was the key part of the game-ending play. It's not easy to score from third on a fly ball to right field in Yankee Stadium. Jeter did, displaying the excellent baserunning skills that are a hallmark of his game.

Stand and Deliver...Pretty Please

In case you hadn't noticed--and I know that you have--the Red Sox are creaming the Angels. The series moves to Beantown this weekend with the Sox up 2-0. New York Times columnist George Vecsey is ready to see this Boston team go all the way and win a championship:

I know they're trying. Let's make it clear that these current Sox have very little to do with the past. Every year is different. Last year, Kevin Millar introduced the cowboy-up theme. This year, Johnny Damon has pronounced the Red Sox to no longer be cowboys but idiots.
Fine. Whatever it takes. These 2004 Sox need to do away with all those failures and fumbles committed by other people in other decades, other centuries. Give us all a break.

They need to do it not only for the so-called Red Sox Nation but also for baseball fans out there in America who have taken on the Sox as some kind of auxiliary cause.

...In my early childhood, I was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, with charismatic, skilled legends at almost every position. From 1946 through 1954, we ultimately experienced terrible pain every autumn.

Our suffering seemed like forever. In reality, it was only nine years. In 1955, the Boys of Summer won a World Series. Just one. I can still hear the bells chiming all over Brooklyn. The Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918.

Might I suggest they are overdue?

Please, somebody, cowboy or idiot, star or sub, please take everybody - even those of us who observe from an emotional distance - out of this ancient misery.

What's All the Hubbub, Bub?
2004-10-08 08:28
by Alex Belth

There are articles in the New York papers this morning about Kevin Brown and some about Alex Rodriguez, but as usual there are more about Derek Jeter than anyone else. Like him or not, nobody captures sportwriter's fancy more than the Yankee captain come October. While it may seem difficult to get an objective opinion on Jeter in New York, may I offer the following piece by fellow writer, and native Californian, Rich Lederer.

The Man Some Love to Love and Others Love to Hate

By Rich Lederer

Derek Jeter? I have no reason to like him, and I have no reason to dislike him. I'm not a Yankee fan by any means, but I'm not a Yankee hater either. What I am is a baseball fan.
I also pride myself on being non-partisan when it comes to evaluating, comparing, and ranking players. I believe statistics can tell us a lot about a player's value, but I don't subscribe to the theory that numbers can tell us everything.
Look, I'm not here to make excuses for Derek Jeter. His numbers stack up with the very best shortstops in the game today, and he is on pace to rack up career totals that will likely place him among the top ten at his position in almost every important category by the time he retires.
You want numbers? OK, try this on for size. Jeter was one of just four players this year to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases at a success rate of 85% or better. (Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, and teammate Alex Rodriguez were the others.) Only 36 players in the history of baseball have put together such a combination of stats in a single season. Moreover, there are just eight players who can say they have performed this feat more than once.
Derek Sanderson Jeter is one of those elite eight. The others? How 'bout Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds, Eric Davis, Kirk Gibson, and Carlos Beltran. Not a bad list by any means, huh? However, did you notice something? Of the eight players, all but one was an outfielder. The lone exception? That *$%^!@# overrated Yankee shortstop!
I realize Jeter's defense doesn't measure up to his offensive production. But I don't think it is quite as bad as his harshest critics in the sabermetric community would lead you to believe. Yes, he has a slow first step when moving to his left and, as such, covers less ground than the average shortstop. But he is also athletic and posseses a strong arm, and this combination makes up for some of his deficiencies. I think what annoys the studious fan is the fact that Jeter has a habit of making easy plays hard and hard plays easy.
Jeter dives into the stands and catches foul balls and gets criticized. He catches pop flies over his head with his back to the infield and on the run and gets criticized. He sprints across the diamond, cuts off an errant throw, and tosses it to the catcher to nail a runner trying to score at a critical moment in a postseason game and his critics point to his low UZR.
On Wednesday, Jeter tags up from third and scores the winning run on a shallow line drive to right field in a situation in which at least half of the players in the majors would not have had the sense, the guts, or the speed to not only challenge the throw but to beat it. Where does that heads up play show up in the alphabet soup of stats?
The guy is a winner. He plays hard. He plays everyday. He has great instincts and smarts. He is well-liked by his teammates and respected by his opponents.
Finding fault in Jeter's game is similar to finding fault with Ichiro Suzuki. Jeter can't field and Suzuki can't hit for power. Don't mind the fact that Derek can hit for average, hit for power, and steal bases. Forget the fact that Ichiro can hit for a very high average, steal bases, and field and throw with the best of them. Let's concentrate on what they can't do rather than what they can do. It's kind of like looking at the Mona Lisa and questioning the slight smile rather than the overall beauty and elegance of the portrait.

ALDS GAME TWO: Yanks 7, Twins 6 (12 Innings)
2004-10-07 09:06
by Alex Belth

It's difficult to avoid writing in tired old cliches when you write about sports. Though I'm acutely aware of this problem, I fall prey to the same old descriptions as much as the next guy. For example, how many times have you read, "The Yankees won in dramatic fashion," this season? It may accurate, but after a while, it comes across as dull, unimaginative writing. Which is a shame because what you are trying to describe is anything but dull. So at the risk of being redundant, the Yankees actually did win in dramatic fashion last night, beating the Twins with two runs in the bottom of the 12th inning to tie the ALDS at one game apiece. Derek Jeter, who cranked a long home run into the center field black in the first inning, scored the winning run on Hideki Matsui's line-drive sacrifice fly, while Jacque Jones' throw from right field inexplicably went to the cut-off man and not through to the catcher. Mariano Rivera blew a save and Alex Rodriguez was the offensive hero. But Tanyon Sturtze and Derek Jeter came up with major contributions too.

The Twins scored early off of Yankee starter Jon Lieber; an RBI double by Justin Morneau in the first, followd by an RBI single by Michael Cuddyer and a sacrifice fly by Henry Blanco in the second. Once again, Minnesota's speed was on display and they ran the bases shrewdly. New York tied the score at three in the bottom of the third when the slumping Gary Sheffield nailed a line drive, two-run homer into the left field seats. Jon Lieber settled down and with the Yankees swinging at Brad Radke's first pitch with regularity in the middle innings, the game sailed along.

Alex Rodriguez hit a towering solo dinger in the fifth and then dumped a soft RBI single to left in the seventh scoring Miguel Cairo (who had walked and was sacrificed to second by Jeter). Three hits and two RBI for Rodriguez, a two-run lead for the Yankees and all looked fine in the Bronx. Tom Gordon replaced Lieber with two out in the seventh and got pinch-hitter Jose Offerman to line out to Miguel Cairo.

Shannon Stewart worked the count full to lead off the eighth before lining out sharply to Sheffield in right. Next, Gordon struck out Jacque Jones on a nasty curve ball in the dirt. The ball got away from Posada and Jones reached first. Oh, shades of Mickey Owens. Torii Hunter followed and smacked a liner to Bernie in center; Jones held up at second. That was it for Flash as Torre brought in Mariano Rivera. I got a call from Rich Lederer at that moment and he first-guessed Torre's move, believing that Gordon could work out of the jam. I saw that Stewart and Hunter hit the ball hard so I wasn't upset to see Rivera in the game.

After the fact, Joe Morgan, the color man on ESPN's broadcast, wondered if Rivera had had enough time to warm up. Justin Mourneau blooped a single to right scoring Jones and putting runners on the corners with just one out. Rivera got ahead of Corey Koskie but the veteran third baseman worked the count full. Morgan commented that Rivera was going for the strike out, as he threw more fastballs than cutters. Luis Rivas was brought in to pinch-run for Mourneau. Sure enough on the 3-2 pitch, Rivera went with a fastball on the outside corner instead of busting Koskie inside with the cutter. Koskie slapped a line drive down the left field line for a grounds rule double. It was a rare mistake for Rivera, who blew only his third save in 33 post-season opportunities.

Fortunately for New York, Rivas wasn't allowed to score. Rivera struck out the rookie Jason Kubel easily and ended the inning by getting Christian Guzman to ground out. The Stadium was shocked. I know I was silent, sitting on my living room floor enveloped by a sense of dread. The bullpen was now on for the Twins and they were outstanding. Rivera was much sharper in the ninth working a one-two-three inning. But he was replaced by Taynon Sturtze when the game went to extra innings and shoot, as good as he's been of late, anything was bound to happen then.

Minnesota's bullpen didn't allow a base runner from the eighth inning until Miguel Cairo walked with one out in the bottom of the 12th. Sturtze was solid again for the Yanks until Torii Hunter launched a two-out solo bomb into the night giving the Twins a 6-5 lead in the top of the inning. Awww, nertz. There it is. Memories of Jeff Weaver in last year's Serious. (Actually, that's not entirely fair as Sturtze really did perform well.)

Joe Nathan buzzed through the the 10th and 11th innings and was brought out for a third stint in the 12th. Minnesota's options were limited, and Ron Gardenhire felt that he needed to go for the juggular with his closer. John Olerud whiffed on a check swing to open the inning but Nathan walked Cairo and then Jeter. Rodriguez saw a ball, patiently took a strike and then cranked a fly ball into what used-to-be-known as Death Valley. Rodriguez thought he had a game-winning homer. I thought Shannon Stewart was going to track it down and make the catch, but the ball fell between Stewart and the wall, falling in for another grounds rule double. Cairo scored the tying run.

Now, the Twins were really in a fix. They walked Sheffield and brought in the soutpaw J.C. Romero to pitch to Hideki Matusi. The infield was positioned at double-play depth but the outfield was playing in. Godzilla jumped on the first pitch, which under normal circumstances would have likely gone for a single. It was a low, line-drive hit right at Jones. No way Jeter could score I'm thinking. But he didn't stray far off the base and he tagged. Perhaps Jones didn't believe that Jeter would try to score because he threw the ball to first baseman Matt LeCroy. Jeter slid home with the winning run and the Yankee stadium crowd, which had been up-and-down like a yo-yo all evening, erupted with cheers. Finally, relief!

Had the Yankees lost, they would have been in some spot. Now, the series is even. Game Three becomes critical with Johan Santana penciled in for a Game Four start at the Metrodome. But before I get ahead of myself, let's soak in yet another exhilerating come-from-behind victory by the Yanks, a team that proved once again to be one tough out.

Game Two: Open Thread
2004-10-06 16:35
by Alex Belth

Batgirl and I have a running commentary on the Yankee-Minnie series over on the All-Baseball home page (Round One and Round Two). Give it a gander...In addition, feel free to throw in yer two-cents on tonight's game as it unfolds. Go Yanks!

ALDS Game One: Twins 2, Yankees 0
2004-10-06 08:47
by Alex Belth

The game went according to plan for the Twins. Their ace Johan Santana pitched seven shut-out innings, and the back-end of the Minnesota bullpen pitched two scoreless to finish it off. Torii Hunter made two characterisitcally deft defensive plays and the Twins scrapped together just enough offense to win. In theory, the game also went according to plan for the Yankees as well. Mike Mussina allowed two runs over seven innings; Flash Gordon pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera did the same in the ninth. The offense had a runner on base in each of the first eight innings and they racked up nine hits against Santana.

So wha' happen? Well, five, count em' five, double plays killed the home team, who were shut-out for the second consecutive time in the post-season. According to Joel Sherman:

With runners moving in the first inning, Bernie Williams struck out into a double play. The combination of Jorge Posada's slow legs and Torii Hunter's powerful arm merged to produce an improbable out at home in the second inning. Miguel Cairo failed in two sacrifice attempts in the fifth. And Ruben Sierra swung on a 2-0 pitch with two out and none on in the ninth with the Yanks down two runs.

Did we mention the Yanks produced five double plays, and went 2-for-15 with men on base, hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position?

It was a frustrating night for the Bombers and their fans. The crowd had to sit on its hands as the Yankees failed to come up with a big hit. Ruben Sierra, who hit the ball hard in his first three at-bats, hit a home run foul, which was initially called fair. The fans started to cheer and then held their breath as the umpires huddled and eventually made the proper call. Vexed again. (As an aside, the playoffs always attract a ritzy crowd in New York. Did you get a look at the corporate fatheads sitting behind home plate last night in the "rattle your jewlery" seat? It's enough to make a true-blue Yankee loyalist empathize with those who regard New York as US Steel.)

Mike Mussina pitched a good game. In fact, his stuff seemed sharper than Santana's did. But an RBI single by Yankee-killer Shannon Stewart and an opposite field solo home run by Jacques Jones was enough to do him in. He was a hard-luck loser once again. According to the Daily News:

Mussina's most glaring mistake came in the sixth inning, when Jacque Jones hit a one-out homer to left field. He said he threw the ball on the outside part of the plate and doubted that the ball would go out when it left Jones' bat.

He also suggested that he wouldn't take that pitch back, or change anything else he did last night, since it should have been good enough.

The Yankees hit the ball hard but again, failed to come through with a timely knock. Hideki Matsui had two hits, as did Alex Rodriguez. After a cheap infield single, Rodriguez stroked a line drive to center in his third at-bat and was robbed of an extra base hit by Hunter in the eighth. Gary Sheffield was 0-2 with two walks; Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were each 1-4. Give Santana credit for winning on a night when he was far from his best. There are two ways to look at the game. Either it was just bad luck on the part of the Yankees, and if they play the same way again tonight, things should fall their way, or, they squandered a golden opportunity to beat Minnesota's ace when he was vulnerable. Should they face him again, what are the chances that Santana will be off his A-game?

But it is just one game. According to Larry Mahnken:

And as disappointing as the loss was, I don't see it as being much more than that -- a disappointment. A letdown, a lost opportunity, but hardly a demoralization. They knew what they were facing here going in, and that if they didn't beat Santana they'd have no margin for error. They've have to beat Radke twice and Silva. They can beat those guys, and they can get good pitching out of Lieber, Brown and Vazquez. But now they need it.

The Yankees are looking a huge game tonight while the Twins are playing with house money. Who would have thought that it would come down to Jon Lieber? The Bombers have lost plenty of Game One's in recent years. But they've never had such uncertainty with their pitching staff either. Big game in the Boogie Down tonight. Keep the faith and Let's go Yanks.

Brrrr in Da BX
2004-10-05 16:01
by Alex Belth

Open Thread

It's going to be mad chilly in the Boogie Down tonight. I won't post my thoughts on the game until tomorrow morning, but for those of you who are following the game within typing distance of your computer, feel free to start a conversation in the comments section below.

Let's hope for a good game tonight. I'm headed out to Brooklyn after work to get a hair cut from my favorite barber. Figure I've got to represent and look sharp: it's the Yankee way, right? Before the game I'll say the same prayer I say every year as the post-season starts--although two games will already be in the books by the time the Yankee game begins: that is, no matter what happens, I just hope the Fates don't have it out for some unsuspecting zhlub. I know we love to have heroes now, and that means somebody will be labled as the goat as well. But please, don't let anyone--even if he's a Red Sox--become the next Fred Merkle or the next Bill Buckner. I don't wish that on anyone, least of all a Yankee. (Shudder.)

Enjoy the game and stay warm.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks
2004-10-05 15:52
by Alex Belth

If anyone is following the Angels-Red Sox game this afternoon and wants to share their observations and impressions, feel free to do it in the comments section below. I'm going to miss it, and y'all know that I love to hear how the other have lives.

Preview Madness
2004-10-05 09:22
by Alex Belth

The New York papers are replete with previews, puff pieces and predictions this morning. While there is nothing especially remarkable, Jack Curry has an informative piece on Johan Santana. Meanwhile, Aaron Gleeman, Seth Stohs preview the series from the midwest. I asked a couple of writers about their thoughts on the Yanks-Twins match-up. Here is what they've got to say:

Allen Barra (author of "Brushbacks and Knockdowns: The Greatest Baseball Debates of Two Centuries"):

To tell you the truth, I feel the Yankees will win, but that they'll win in some way that is just not apparent to me.
Though the Yankees swept the Twins last week, the unpleasant truth is that they were behind in both games (as I recall) when both Santana and Radke were lifted, which doesn't bode well for this series.
Yet, I've got to hand it to Mussina. After a horrible first inning, he gutted it out and kept the Yankees in a position to win. I don't suppose he's likely to have a second stright game with a horrible first inning, particularly at Yankee Stadium. My gut feeling tells me that the Twins will probably be tougher than whoever the Yankees play in the second round.

Tim Marchman (NY Sun):

I think this will be a really telling series for the Yankees. Their offense is structured around the walk and the home run, and Santana and Radke are going to take away the walk. (Carlos Silva will, too- 70-some Ks and 35 BBs in 200+ IP! An unnoticed and bizarre season.) They’re not good at hitting for average and they’re not going to get much better at it with the Twins’ defense in the picture, and that leaves them with the home run.

For a team that hit 241 HRs, this isn’t a team of power hitters. Matsui, Jeter, Sheffield and Rodriguez all wait out the pitcher and swing for line drives, which often go over the wall. If they can change their approach, swing at more fastballs early in the count and swing for the fences, I think they’ve got a decent shot at winning one against Santana and a great shot at splitting the other two. Whether they can do that is an open question, and, I think, points up how remarkable the O’Neill/Martinez Yankees were, because what they did better than anyone was adjust their approach to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses. The Twins aren’t a great team, and past Santana I’m not even sure they’re a very good one, but in my mind they’re the slight favorites here. (Of course, I said the same thing last year…)

Bruce Markusen (Author of "Ted Williams: A Biography"):

Here are a few key points to consider in the Division Series matchup between the Yankees and Twins:
1) Reversed Roles: There's something unusual about this series. In Game One, the home team usually faces additional pressure because it is expected to win and thus avoid the "dreaded" split. In this case, however, the Twins are facing a bit more pressure because Johan Santana (who deserves the Cy Young) is pitching, making them the favorites in Game One. If the Twins lose the first game with Santana on the mound, they're in real trouble. If the Yankees lose the first game, they know they will be facing weaker pitchers in Games Two and Three, and also know their recent history of coming back in the Division Series after a Game One loss.
2) Bernie Williams' Arm: In last week's series, the Twins showed an ability and willingness to run on Williams, twice extending what should have been routine singles into doubles. As a team, the Twins are excellent baserunners and hustle from the swing of the bat, which makes them dangerous on the basepaths. When the Yankees face right-handers (Radke, Silva, and Lohse) in the series, Kenny Lofton HAS to be in center field, with Williams either handling the DH chores or coming off the bench. In games against Johan Santana, Joe Torre faces a quandary: logic dictates that Williams plays center against the left-hander with Ruben Sierra DHing, but I'm not so sure that is the right way to go; I might use Williams as the DH, play Lofton in center, and let him try to bunt or hit-and-run against Santana. Although Lofton doesn't hit left-handers well, he might not be any worse than Sierra, who struggles against Santana's change-up. It wouldn't be the conventional move to play Lofton against Santana, but it would certainly improve the defense and give the Yankees one more baserunning threat.
3) Artificial Turf: This Yankee team is better prepared to play on turf (in the third and fourth games) than recent clubs. The infield defense has been terrific in the second half, much improved over every infield position on last year's club. With John Olerud, Miguel Cairo, Derek Jeter (playing much better in the field than last year), and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have better hands everywhere and improved range at first and third. Plus, Cairo turns the double play much more effectively than Alfonso Soriano. Again, if there's a concern, it's Williams in center field, but that's why Lofton should start with Bubba Crosby available for the late innings.
4) The 11-Man Pitching Staff: Ordinarily, I'd be strictly opposed to carrying 11 pitchers against the Twins, simply because you don't need that many pitchers in a five-game series. The situation with Orlando Hernandez, however, dictates using 11 pitchers. The Yankees probably won't know until Wednesday whether Hernandez' sore shoulder will allow him to pitch Game Three on Friday. Given Hernandez' success this season (he's been the Yankees' best starter for half a season) and his postseason credits, the Yankees have to take the gamble that he will be healthy enough to pitch. If he can't, the 11th pitcher would give the Yankees another bullpen option and easily allow Kevin Brown to move back into the rotation. Simply put, if there's any chance that "El Duque" can pitch, the Yankees have to take that chance. As a result, the Yankees will probably have to leave Jason Giambi off the 25-man roster, leaving them with 14 position players and a bench consisting of Flaherty, Clark, Wilson, Sierra, and Crosby.

Joe Sheehan: (Baseball Prospectus)

Random thoughts:
A team that can't pitch against a team that can't score. Sounds like fun.
The Yankees' lack of any left-handed pitching would have hurt them less against the Angels. Not being able to attack Morneau, Koskie and Jones will be a tactical problem later in games.
The Yankees are as unstable as they've been in the Torre Era. The lineup after the top three is basically unpredictable, especially with Giambi. The rotation is scrambled as well, although Moose's strong September at least provides the chance of beating Santana.
There won't be any blowouts here. The Yankees have to hope to get good starts and take advantage of maybe a tiring Radke, or a slumping Juan Rincon. If they can split the first two, Game Three will be the chance to take control.
I'm not optimistic. This looks a little like the '01 DS against the A's, and we won that one by the skin of our teeth.

Joel Sherman: (NY Post)

I think Game One is vital for the Twins. I would think they have to win the games Santana starts. Also, if Santana wins decisively (something like eight innings, four hits, one run) then he becomes a Mike Scott-ish specter waiting at the end of the series again for the Yanks. But if the Yanks were to tattoo the Twins' Hershiser, then perhaps Minnesota would have its confidence severely impaired for the rest of the series.

I think the Yanks come back better from a Game One loss than Minnesota would. However, the Yanks do not have Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells lined up the rest of the series. So falling behind this year becomes much more perilous. I think this Yankee team will still find a way to beat Minnesota, but I wouldn't bet big dough on that.

Twin Billin: Yanks Get Minnie in ALDS for Second Straight Year
2004-10-03 22:20
by Alex Belth

The Yankees beat the Blue Jays 3-2 in the final regular season game of the 2004 season, giving New York 101 wins on the year. Not bad for an old team with lousy pitching, right? While no offensive player--with the exception of Hideki Matsui--had a career year, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams all had interesting, productive campaigns. Miguel Cairo, Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark were all valuable role players. While the pitching wasn't as good as we've seen in recent years, Mariano Rivera had one of his greatest seasons, and Tom Gordon was terrific too. The return of Orlando Hernandez made for a good story, though his status for the post-season remains in doubt. Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez and Mike Mussina have had their moments but overall, they've been inconsistent. Moose has been sharp of late and will start Game One. Along with the surprising El Duque, only Jon Lieber has pitched up to pre-season expectations.

As expected, the Yanks will host the Twins begining Tuesday night in the Bronx. They will have to deal with Johan Santana and Brad Radke, not to mention Minnie's deep bullpen, and scrappy offense. For the first time in a long while, many prognosticators see the Yanks as ripe for the taking. While it is hard to disagree with the fact that New York's pitching is indeed suspect, I'm sure the Twins--and their fans--aren't getting ahead of themselves just yet.

It was sunny but chilly in New York today. It feels like the playoffs. Hopefully, there is still some good baseball ahead of us. Anyone excited yet? I'm feeling calm myself. Talk to me on Tuesday afternoon, and I'll be jumping out of my skin, ready to go, geeked, but cautiously optimistic as always. It'll be great to see the Yanks play in some big games again, but of course, Mr. Santana is waiting too. It won't come easily for New York, but then again, if it were easy it wouldn't be as much fun, right? Here's to them being up for the challenge.

Lets go Yank-ees.

2004-10-03 08:55
by Alex Belth

While the Yankees JV team dropped two games in Toronto, there are more serious matters transpiring around baseball. The Cubs and the A's played themselves out of the playoffs. The Giants are hanging on by a thread after a devastating loss to their arch rivals in Los Angeles yesterday. So while things are looking up in Los Angeles for both the Dodgers and the Angels, I'm been more consumed with the failures in the Bay Area and the Windy City. (I am pleased for Jon Weisman and the Dodgers fans, less excited for the Angels fans, simply because I don't like Anahiem...still, if they wind up playing Boston, that should be some kind of serious.) Maybe it's because, like Roger Angell says, baseball, like life, is more about failure, about losing rather than winning. It's funny, but more than anything, I'm feeling for my fellow team-oriented bloggers. Down goes Ruz and Alex, there goes Athletics Nations, and Mark and Elephants in Oakland...John Perricone is teetering.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for fans of the Cubs and A's who watched their team's bullpens let them down this past week. (Of course, both teams had other problems, but the bullpen disasters are tangible and dramatic from a distance.) I've tried to put myself in their shoes and ask how would I be feeling if this were the Yankees? Man, as much as I can empathize with a Chicago fan, there is no way I'm presumptuous enough to suggest I know how they feel. There is just no way. But if anything, following the fates of the Cubs and A's closely the past week has made me feel a whole lot better about the Yanks, who have a shaky bullpen themselves. Hey, at least the Bombers are still playing. No matter what happens in the playoffs, at least they've got an opportunity to entertain us, or break our hearts--or like in 2001, both. At this point, every game (excluding today's regular season finale, of course) is gravy, every win is something to savor.

El Duque wasn't effective on Friday night and there is no telling if his shoulder will hold up enough to get him through a post-season start. However, Kevin Brown pitched well enough last night for him to be a suitable replacement. Mariano Rivera also threw a scoreless inning yesterday, which brought his season ERA to 1.94. Unless he pitches again this afternoon and get's lit up, he'll end the season with an ERA under 2.00. And that's a small, good thing.

Thanks Yanks
2004-10-01 08:57
by Alex Belth

I stayed late at work last night and then strolled down to Murray Hill to see an old friend. Actually, he's a former boss. I loaned him a book years ago and recently was overcome with the urge to get it back. I followed the Cubs game on Gameday and was thoroughly upset for my labelmates Ruz, Will and Alex C when those not-so-lovable losers found a way to sperl a gem by Mark Prior. It was a pleasant autumn evening in New York, not quite chilly yet, but cool enough to need a jacket. I hadn't been in Murray Hill for a minute, and there a lot more restaurants and bars along 3rd avenue in the 30's than I remembered. Almost each one of them had a series of big-screen televisions, all showing the Yankees-Twins game. (As I passed by, the Twins were up 1-0.)

I hadn't seem my erstwhile employer in a few years and was taken aback when he greeted me at the door. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and wore a light green bandana on his head. His head was shaved. The reason this was striking is because he usually sports a head of big hair. "Nice doo," I told him. "Yeah, well, it's a long story." "Jesus. You have cancer." "Yeah. I think I'm in the clear now, but it was a bad summer. Yeah, a really bad summer." This coming from a guy who doesn't ever complain. "God, are you really pissed?" "Yeah, I'm filled with rage."

He invited me in and he found my book, "The Faulkner-Cowley Letters." We chatted for about twenty minutes, catching up. He was as aimable as always. He isn't the sort of guy to delve into his personal problems, so our conversation was light. How is so-and-so, what are you working on, my brother has a kid, that kind of thing. He looked good all considering. And though he isn't so much of a baseball fan, yet I could hear the game on the TV in the other room. His ten-year old kid was in his pjs getting ready to watch the debate. I left hungry, but pleased that I finally had my book back. I passed by the bars and the score was now 2-0, Twins.

By the time I got home the lead had changed hands several times. Emily was sitting on the couch sorting through some bills. I had time to take my jacket off and then Godziller Matsui tied the game with his 31rst dinger of the season. I settled in, watched the home plate ump upset both teams with questionable strike calls and finished a quick dinner. After Matsui walked with one-out in the bottom of the ninth I turned to Em and said, "Wouldn't it be fitting if Bernie ended it right here?"

Then he did just that, smacking a line-drive homer over the left-centerfield fence. Alex Rodriguez and Kenny Lofton were the first teammates to grab him as he approached home plate. Derek Jeter was next. The team celebrated, having clinched the American League East once again. Williams' homer set the team record for long balls in a season by a Yankee team (241). It was the 100th win of the year for New York. I thought that it would have been cool to be walking past those bars down in Murray Hill, just to feel the excitement in the air. But truth be told, I was content right where I was: at home, with my girl, where I've been all season.

While the Yanks swept the Twins, Minnie will be a formidable foe should the two teams meet up again next week. The Yankees won't sleep on them, not with Santana pitching, not with their bullpen. Still, it last night was a good night in the Bronx. The team celebrated in a tempered manner. They weren't business-like or morose; they were smiling and happy. Emily enjoyed watching the locker room interviews. I am too spoiled by the team's success to get too excited about a division-clinching celebration. To be honest, I also started thinking about my friend having cancer. Our conversation was so casual, so typical, that it was easy for me to forget the seriousness of his condition, even if his diagnosis looked good.

I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about him for a good while. Then I tried to distract myself with the Yankees, the memory of Bernie rounding the bases. It's been another terrific year for us Yankee fans, no matter how much we worry about how the team is lacking, no matter what happens in the playoffs. As the fans celebrated the win, the YES cameras showed a woman in the stands who held up a hand-written sign which read, "Thanks Yanks."

Amen to that.