Sunday, August 31, 2003

Wild Card Wonderment
"Wild is the wind
Give me more than one caress, satisfy this hungriness
Let the wind blow through your heart
For wild is the wind, wild is the wind"

David Bowie, Wild Is The Wind

Through yesterday, 17 of the 30 teams in the Major Leagues were either:

a) leading their division
b) leading a Wild Card race
c) within 2 1/2 games of the Wild Card leader.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Traffic Jam For NL Wildcard
"I'm not the only soul who's accused of hit and run
Tire tracks all across your back
I can see you had your fun
But darlin' can't you see my signals turn from green to red
And with you I can see a traffic jam straight up ahead"

Jimi Hendrix - Crosstown Traffic

Florida 70-63 .526 ----
Houston 70-63 .526 ----
Montreal 71 64 .526 ----
Philly 70 63 .526 ----
St. Louis 70 63 .526 ----
Arizona 69 64 .519 1
Cubs 68 64 .515 1.5
LA 68 64 .515 1.5

It almost boggles the mind. There are endless scenarios and possibilies on how this NL Wildcard traffic jam will ultimately resolve itself but for the moment, it's either a statistician's nightmare or dream. In the meantime, at least seven teams in seven cities are well within spitting distance and another two or three have logical chances if you consider all the illogical events that has led to this tie-up in the first place.

Puerto Rican Playoffs

Let's address the first absurd possibility: that the NL Wildcard will be decided, in part, in Puerto Rico. The Montreal Expos will play seven of their next nine games in tiny Estadio Hiram Bithorn, which holds 17,000 fans. More evidence of the genius of Baboon Selig, ultimate baseball subversive and a lasting member of the All-Time Laughingstocks. In a sense though, it does cobble together a semblance of internationalism. Before each game there are three (count 'em, three) national anthems sung. First, the Canadian anthem, performed entirely in English, then the Puerto Rican anthem in Spanish, and finally, the American anthem in English. A few more national anthems and they could qualify for the International Song Festival before each game.

What's even more absurd is that the Expos will play more games the rest of the season in Puerto Rico than they will at home in Olympic Stadium, where the Expos have an inordinate amount of success. The sweep of the Phillies last night was the second straight four-game sweep at Olympic Stadium for the Expos, who are 36-17 at the Big O. Now they're going to embark upon a season finale that will see them play only 6 of their final 27 games at home. It would be nice to recall that the Expos record is 10-5 in Puerto Rico at this point but it ain't easy because of some misguided sense of despotic idiocy, Montreal games played in Puerto Rico are designated as "home" games, not as "neutral" games so ESPN makes no distinction when you try to decipher the Expos schedule on their uselessly chaotic multi-media jumble of counterproductive and dysfunctional information. (sorry, that mini-rant is the result of poring over 10 different useless google searches without an answer to the burning "Expos record in Puerto Rico" question...)

In any event, back in late May and June the Expos were away for 25 consecutive days, beginning that stretch 32-18, 14 games above .500 and only two games back of Atlanta, the leader in the NL East Division. When they returned to Montreal on July 7, after playing 32 of 38 games on the road, their record had fallen to 47-41, nine games back of the Braves. When the Expos returned from their second trip to Puerto Rico in June, they conceded that tiredness had played a role in their slump.

"There's no doubt about it," Montreal catcher Brian Schneider said. "It's a natural thing. When things get tough your body adjusts to it and you overcome things. I have no doubt that we'll be ready and won't be tired."

Bud Selig doesn't want the Montreal Expos in the Major Leagues. Perhaps this is just his way of saying farewell.

Cy Young Sewn Up?

Eric Gagne earned his 44th straight save this season, setting a major league record as he closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers' 6-3 win Thursday night over the Houston Astros. Gagne beat Tom Gordon's 1998 record of 43 in a row to begin a season. Gordon still holds the record for consecutive saves overall, with 54. It was Gagne's 52nd straight save, dating to last season. Gagne has saved nearly two-thirds of Los Angeles' 68 wins. In '98 when Gordon saved 46 the year 43 of them were in a row, he saved 50% of the Red Sox's 92 victories.

Javier Vazquez threw eight shutout innings to extend his scoreless streak to a National League high 26 innings He has 27 strikeouts over the 26-inning scoreless streak. He's now 6-2 with a 1.68 ERA since the All-Star break. But he's not even the hottest pitcher on the Expos. Livian Hernandez is 5-1 with a 1.38 ERA since the break. Is it any wonder the Expos are riding a wave to the NL Wildcard race? That's almost comparable to Mark Prior's 5-0 0.69 ERA since the All-Star break, or Russ Ortiz 6-1 3.71 and Nomo's 6-2 2.55.

Reyes Is The Kings

"Reyes" is a Spanish for "kings," as though there were more than. Does this mean that we are seeing double? Jose must be. Last night he homered from both sides of the plate against the Atlanta Braves. The 20-year-old phenom also became the youngest player in major-league history to do so. Oh yeah, the second homerun of the night was a decisive two-out, two-run jack in the ninth as Kings Reyes drove in every run in the Mets' 3-1 victory over the Braves last night.

Reyes didn't even begin switch-hitting until after starting to play professional ball in 2000 and had never homered from both sides in the minors. He is batting .313 with 5 home runs and 32 runs batted in through 66 games. His 13 steals lead the Mets. Since the All-Star Game break, Reyes has the most multiple-hit games (21) in the league, and he had a 17-game hitting streak, the longest by a rookie this season.

Wow, that's alot of good news for Mets fans.

In the field, Reyes also made a spectacular backhand play to force out Robert Fick at second for the first out of the ninth. He has 21 multi-hit games since the All-Star break, most in the NL.

With the D-Train derailed, I think a very good argument can begun to be made for Jose Reyes as NL Rookie of the Year.

In the meantime, the Mets are "only" 10 games out of the wild card with 30 games to go. With the way things have gone lately and with the way teams in the NL Wildcard race just seem to lose, over and over and over again, as though no one wants to make it to the postseason, why couldn't the Mets make a run?

"We won't have psychologists calling us. We'll have hospitals with straitjackets," Al Leiter said of the possibility. "We're playing all these teams. If nothing else, we could make it miserable for them."

They can start with the phree-phalling Phillies whom they open a series at Shea Stadium against with Kevin Millwood facing Steve Trachsel, who goes for his team-high 14th win and fifth straight. Philadelphia roughed him up (1 2/3 innings pitched, seven earned runs, eight hits) the last time they met at Shea.

The Philly Inquirer reported that following last night's sweep at the hands of the Expos, Larry Bowa's emotions finally boiled over into a tirade behind clubhouse doors that one veteran player described as an all-timer, one of the worst explosions he has ever seen from the manager. The clubhouse became an even uglier scene several minutes later when pitcher Brett Myers and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan became involved in a heated, obscenity-laden argument in which angry demands for more respect were made.

Phillies have dropped to 1-9 on this four-city, 13-game road trip. If the Mets were able to sweep them, the Phillies could become the Seattle Mariners of the National League and we might witness some sort of frothing on-field cataclysm from Bowa, who must have his players wrapped tighter than Joan Rivers'face by now.

From Hero To...Rapist?

Earlier this month, Marlins backup catcher Ramon Castro, hit a game-winning home run Aug. 12 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 13th inning. Yesterday, he was arrested, jailed and charged with four counts of sexual misconduct after a 28-year-old woman told police she was raped by the player in the team's hotel early Thursday morning. Castro, who is married and has two young daughters, cooperated with police during their daylong investigation.

The Cardinals hope a similar fate doesn't await their new hero, Kerry Robinson. The Cards are back in a first-place tie with Houston in the National League Central race after Robinson's bottom-of-the-ninth homerun gave the Cards a 3-2 victory. The 384-foot blast off lefthander Mike Remlinger (5-5) was Kerry Robinson's first since May 29, 2002, and occurred five pitches after he showed bunt on Remlinger's first offering. The victory comes on a quasi-heroic effort by Matt Morris who, just one start removed from the disabled list and battling on a gippy left ankle allowed only four hits, walked one in seven excellent innings that can give Cardinals fans even more hope.

And because Mark Prior and Kerry Wood can't throw 150 pitches a game, the Cubs' chances with a distressing and pitiable bullpen, are fading fast.

The Cubs arguably held the edge in each game's pitching matchup against the Cardinals, but each night their bullpen imploded. They allowed three runs in the ninth inning of their 7-4 win Tuesday, four runs in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 4-2 loss and Robinson's blast Thursday.

Then again, the Cubs have lost 42 of their last 54 games in Busch Stadium, so maybe these implosions of failure were to be expected.

Keep Your Eye On The Ball, JERKijan

Now all I need is for someone to explain to me why, in the middle of the most confusing and stimulating playoff races in years, ESPN's Tim Kurkijan, as though living on another planet, in another time zone, stumbling through life like a somnambulist, is wondering about which teams are going to make it in 2004.

What's the matter, is he afraid someone is going to get the jump on him? Who cares?

Tim Kurkijan, soothsayer, fortunes told for cheap. Tell us Timmy, in your infinite knowledge of the future, WHO is going to win THIS year?

What an idiot.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Loser's Roll Call
Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas ... with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether." Hunter S. Thompson

Sometimes, a team gets hot at the right time and pulls away from the pack while other times, teams go stone cold and drop completely from a playoff race into oblivion. I don't know if it's the season, if it's the parity, or if it's just that everyone's bullpen sucks and no lead in anything is ever safe in baseball anymore, but there are quite a few teams in the thick of a playoff hunt and few, if any of them, seem capable of putting anything together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Les Expos Créent La Folie"

You've gotta wonder which was the bigger news that came out of last night's game: The continued collapse of the Phloundering Phillies or the fact that following the Expos dramatic 14-10 victory last night, which included overcoming an early 8-0 deficit, the NL Wildcard race has turned into a wild, seven team free-for-all where anything is possible:

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Marlins Idle Their Way Back To Wildcard Tie

Thank those Phillies, you last half-dozen Marlin fans with hopes of postseason prayers being answered. Of course, it took the Marlins having the night off and not having the chance to lose another game themselves to make it happen, but since the Phillies and my least favorite pitcher got hammered in Montreal last night by a 12-1 margin, the Marlins are tied for the NL Wildcard once again. New life. Fresh start. Even the Expos have pulled to within three games of the NL Wildcard lead. Can the Mets be far behind?

The Phillies meanwhile, not only dropped to 1-6 on this four-city, 13-game road trip and have lost 12 in their previous 15 road games, but are now a sizzling 10-12 for the month of August. Since the All-Star break, they are 18-20 and if you subtract that aberration of a five game winning streak which concluded a week ago, you have to scratch your head and wonder how the Phillies have managed to stay in the wild card hunt at all. Sure, other than Pat Burrell, they can hit. But they led the league in runners left on base with 998. Their pitching is ranked 11th in the NL since the All-Star break. Here's what ugly looks like:

Kevin Millwood 2-3 4.32 ERA
Randy Wolf 2-5 6.60 ERA
Vincent Padilla 3-1 4.12 ERA
Brett Meyers 3-1 4.57 ERA
B. Duckworth 1-4 5.68 ERA

That's the starting rotation's numbers since the All-Star break.

Unfortunately, these stats do not incorporate a very significant factor in analyzing umpire Jim Wolf's games and that is, How Does The Game Effect The Phillies Phactor" His brother Randy could have used the help last night. Wolf suffered the worst start of his major-league career. In just 1 2/3 innings, he allowed nine runs, six hits and four walks and also hit a batter. It supports a growing trend: In his last six starts, he is 1-4 with a 9.30 ERA. In 30 innings, he has allowed 37 hits, 33 runs, 31 earned runs and 18 walks, with 25 strikeouts.

The already-apocryphal future of the Phillies rotation took a blow when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote Sunday that Millwood "has reportedly confided to friends he does not wish to return to the Phillies." That would be consistent with some recent clubhouse rumblings that have indicated Millwood will be tough for the Phillies to re-sign. Maybe not having Larry Bowa yank him out of the middle of a 3-2 game, like he did the other night in Milwaukee, would have helped. Too late now. Mets fans can continue the silly dream that they will outbid George Steinbrenner for Millwood's services next season.

As for the Marlins, they will start another push, this time through Pittsburgh which should be infinitely easier than pushing through Colorado and San Francisco. Through Saturday, the Marlins were 4-20 in their past four trips to Colorado and San Francisco. Mike Lowell is 1-for-20 with two RBIs on the road trip, while Ivan Rodriguez is 5-for-18 (.278) with no runs batted in.

Here's my favorite quote from the weekend: "I'm here now to provide depth to the pitching staff," said pitcher Rick Helling, signed this weekend by the Marlins, who was 7-8 (5.71 ERA) with the Orioles before being released. "Depth to the pitching staff" is code for I suck but instead of wasting a good arm on a few innings of work in meaningless games, there's always me.

Who's Your Bitch Now?

A little over a year after coughing up a huge first place lead to the Oakland A's, the Seattle Mariners are at it again. Last night's 8-6 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays combined with a despondant 8-1 loss of Seattle to Boston as Pedro the Lion won his 12th consecutive victory over Seattle, has evened an AL West race that once seemed just about over. Hey, we all thought after Mulder went down that the A's were toast for the season but all of the sudden, they've learned how to hit. The A's have scored 36 runs in the last three games. Miquel Tejada went 15-for-31 as Oakland went 5-2 on a trip to Boston and Toronto.

The biggest disappointment regarding the Mariners getting swept by the Red Sox is that they were never really in any of the games enough to allow us to see another big Meltdown by Armandogeddon. Sure, there were a few nailbiters, but Armando has been kept from any meaningful outings since manager Bob Melvin pulled him out of the fire in a game against the Red Sox last week when he almost blew a 9-4 lead on his own. Perhaps now we can say it is perhaps poetic justice that a choke-artist closer has been remanded to a choke-artist team and let it stew there for awhile.

The Mariners rotation is 3-9, with a 6.40 earned-run average in their last 15 games. They've got plenty of closers but no starters who can keep them in the game long enough to matter.

Here's another nugget for those Seattle Mariners who demanded a king's ransom from the Mets to get their man as manager, Lou Piniella. Since July 3rd, Piniella's Devil Rays, whom the Mariners face next, have gone 24-23 while the Mariners have gone 22-25. Even the Mets are 13-6 over the last three weeks.

But it's important to remember that these are pennant races and pennant races, like wildcard races, are going to have still more ups and downs, lowest of lows and highest of highs. Just a week ago, Red Sox fans were suicidal and now the Mariners have a turn at trying not to panic. The only thing predictable, as they say, is that things will be unpredictable. Who would have thought last week that there would be a three-way tie for the AL Wildcard? So take heart Mariners fans. After all, you could have the burden of being a Cub or a White Sox fan.

Matchups I Don't Want To Miss

Esteban Loiaza takes his career-high 16 victories and his career-high 149 strikeouts to face the old master Roger Clemens. Over the last three years, Loiaza is 5-3 with a 3.96 ERA in eight starts against the Yankees tonight. Clemens, on the other hand, is pitching against the White Sox for the 39th time in his career and is 20-10 with a 2.83 ERA in his career against the White Sox.

Can Brian Anderson jump right in an replace Kevin Appier for the Royals? After being acquired in a trade with Cleveland Monday, Anderson will go right to work for the Royals. He is 1-1 with an 0.81 earned run average in his last three starts for the Indians. He has a 2.87 ERA over his last 15 starts.

Mark Prior is 4-0 with a 0.58 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list. His next victims are the St. Louis Cardinals in a see-saw, three-way battle for first place in the NL Central while Houston will face the Dodgers.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Tight Squeeze


Houston 68-62 .523 --
St. Louis 68-62 .523 --
Chicago 67-62 .519 1/2

Cubs beat the Diamondbacks, also fighting for a playoff spot, 5-3. In two August starts against the Diamondbacks including last night's victory, Matt Clement is 2-0 while allowing three earned runs and eight hits in 15 innings, while striking out 16. This is nothing new. Clement threw a three-hit shutout on Aug. 24, 2002 at Arizona.

The Cubs reached their 67-win total of 2002 with 33 games left. Cubs starters have a 1.88 ERA in their 53 victories this season. That's how you offset an offense that entered Sunday's game with a .236 average in August, averaging 3.6 runs per game with a .302 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage. Sausage-beater Simon is already an improvement. Last night he went 3-for-5 and is 9-for-23 (.391) with six RBIs since joining the Cubs.

The Cardinals have a 2-27 record when scoring fewer than three runs. Yesterday, behind Brett Tomko, the Cards shut out the Phillies 3-0 to take this series two games to three at home. Tomko also was a main participant in a shutout in his last start at Busch, a 3-0 win over Florida on Aug. 7. Before those two games, Tomko had been 0-5 in 17 career starts at Busch.

"We kind of came out of Philadelphia last week with our tail between our legs," Cards 3B Scott Rolen said. "There were a lot of guys getting hit by pitches, just a lot of things going on. We get swept there, we drop the first game here and then we turn it around and win the series after all that. It shows a little something about this team." Rolen enjoyed a huge game against his former team, with two doubles, a single, two runs and several stellar defensive plays.

After a less than impressive debut with the Cards on Saturday, reliever Mike DeJean earned a save by pitching one shutout ninth innning with usual closer Jason Isringhausen having thrown 34 pitches on Saturday. DeJean was a closer in Milwaukee last year, accumulating 27 saves. He was especially good in September, when he was six for six in save opportunities with a 1.46 ERA.

Hitting machine Albert Pujols is hitless in three games since returning from his illness. Pujols will carry an 0-for-12 stretch into the three-game series with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday. The longest previous hitless streak in his career was 0 for 14, which he did twice in 2001. He could go hitless for another 97 at-bats and his batting average would still be above .300.

Houston's Jeriome Robertson, coming off two ineffective outings against the Chicago Cubs, held Cincinnati to two runs on four hits over seven innings to earn his 12th win of the year, tops among all National League rookies. Step down Dontrelle. Or step up and help the Marlins back on their feet. What was once a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year is now up for debate again.

The Astros, winners of just five of their last 13 games, evened their homestand record to 3-3 with six more to play after Monday's off day.

"We've been losing a lot of games lately, so we have to play hard," said Hidalgo, who fell a double shy of the cycle, came through with an RBI triple into the left-center gap, capping the scoring before a crowd of 35,730. "We just have to go on a tear as a team, because we have a good team that can do anything."

The Cardinals will play 26 of their final 32 games against teams within the NL Central division. The Cubs have 27 of their remaining 33 versus the NL Central. The Astros, on the other hand, will play more than half of their remaining games -- that's 18 of 32 -- against teams from the NL West. Since we don't really consider the Dodgers a contender over here, this looks like a fluff schedule that should help the Astros take the Central Title.

The Astros host the Dodgers and Padres to close out the current homestand and will travel to Los Angeles and San Diego to begin a three-city road trip. Houston will play 14 games against the NL Central -- four in Milwaukee (Sept. 8-11), three versus St. Louis (Sept. 12-14), three at St. Louis (Sept. 19-21) and four versus Milwaukee (Sept. 25-28).

What A Difference Less Than A Week Makes

Hey, think back to Thursday morning, 4 days ago. The Red Sox had just blown a big lead in yet another bullpen meltdown to the A's and had fallen two games back for the AL Wildcard race. Despite their victory, the A's were still no where within sniffing distance of the Mariners and now suddenly, after Boston's fourth straight win and Seattle's fifth consecutive loss, which is its longest losing streak since Sept. 9-14, 2002, the Sox are tied with the A's again for the Wildcard and the A's, perhaps incredibly, after suffering the shocking loss of Mark Mulder, are only a game behind the Mariners for the AL West lead!

On the 15th of August, the A's were five games behind the Mariners and looked to catch only the Red Sox for the Wildcard. Should the Mariners begin, with Pedro the Lion due to take the mound for the Sox today, to hit the panic button? A year ago yesterday, the Mariners gave up the first place lead they'd held for four and a half months and finished in third place. Suddenly, history is looking like an ugly woman getting ready to crash another party. The Mariners are under .500 in August (10-12). In the past 13 games entering last night, the Mariners had only one starting pitcher work more than six innings. Seattle has had a winning record in Boston only once in the last 17 seasons, 4-2 in 2001.

In perhaps what could be considered loud harbinger of opposite cars going in opposite directions, The A's pounded Toronto 17-2 yesterday to cut that once-overwhelming lead to one single little game.

Rich Lederer has a nice tribute to Bobby Bonds over at Rich;s Weekend Baseball Beat.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Home On The Range
'Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day"

The White Sox big homestand, during which they've won all six games they've played plus 10 of their last 12 and has seen them propelled into first place, concludes today. Frank Thomas will be one of the sadder White Sox to say goodbye since he's hit 26 of his 34 home runs at home. Only four AL teams have won fewer road games than the Sox and after today's conclusion to a seven-game homestand, 16 of the Sox' final 31 games are on the road. Only three of their road games will be against a team with a losing home record--the Detroit Tigers next week. Next stop: Yankee Stadium.

On the other hand, neither the Royals nor the Twins seem to prefer playing at home. So far, the Royals have pulled out the last two of three in the Metrodome. Just last weekend, the Twins beat KC two out of three in Kauffman Stadium. Last night, the Twins went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners and lost 4-3. Aaron Guiel, the one who hit the game-deciding three run homer, was playing in Mexico when the Royals signed him to a minor league deal in 2001.

From the Here Is What You Get For The Fourth Lowest Payroll In Baseball Department: The Royals have a Dodge Buck Night for Tuesday's game against Texas at Kauffman Stadium. Hot dogs, small soft drinks and small packages of peanuts are $1 each. Wouldn't it be more exciting to have a Burn Buck Night instead and burn Texas manager Buck Showalter in effigy, charging "only" a buck for spectators who might want to take a swing at it with a stick and try to knock a wad of hundred dollar bills from a burning pinata? Kansas City will play 22 of its next 23 games against clubs with losing records.

Not that I've got anything against Buck Showalter. For awhile, he was the poor man's Tony LaRussa. But if his track record is any indication, the Texas Rangers won't win a World Championship until after Showalter leaves the team. The Yankees and the Diamondbacks both had spectacular success on the spoils of Showalter's astute evaluations and burn-out level intensity.

Smoked Marlin Recipe

"Shred the marlin pitching game by game and put some pepper, a tsp. mustard and a tbsp. vinegar, set aside. Put some miscues and failed late inning rallies and olive oil in a pan, add 1/2 chopped Dontrelle and cook until it's transparent, put the marlin and cook 10 minutes. Blend a small can of tomato McKeon with a garlic clove and serrano pepper put it over the fish and cook for 5 minutes in a football stadium on Dan Marino Blvd. Put some olives and some canned losses on a long road trip and turn off the heat as soon as it boils. You can serve it with rice and stuff it in third place, out of the wildcard race."

I'm officially hopping off the Marlins bandwagon. That sucking sound you just heard was all 17 Marlins fans jumping off the bandwagon at the same time. How do you root against the Giants the day Bobby Bonds finally dies?

It isn't just the five consecutive losses but inflaming the sore is the performance of Dontrelle Willis. We've been waiting in vain for The D Train ever since he outdueled Randy Johnson, the apex of his performance this season. Since then, his numbers are disturbing. The kind of numbers that leads your team to a third place finish and sitting out the post season. He's lost his sparkle, dulled his spitshine. Since that night at the end of July when Randy Johnson was outflayed, Dontrelle has started four games, pitching a total of 21 innings. In 21 innings, he managed to lose two games and surrender 17 earned runs for an ERA of 7.29. You don't run to the postseason by breaking through a 7.29 ERA finish line. Marlins manager McKeon said he does not believe Willis is fatigued, though the pitcher is nearing his single-season high in innings. Willis has thrown 149 2/3 innings between Double A Carolina and the Marlins -- eight innings fewer than last season.

NL Central Changing of the Guards

While Dontrelle fades into the wallpaper, another pitcher emerges to shape the NL races. Matt Morris. Morris, who has been troubled by shoulder miseries, fractured a bone in his hand, then sprained an ankle, held the Philadelphia Phillies to one run in five sharp innings yesterday just as the Cardinals pitching staff prospects were going into cardiac arrest while Sterling Hitchcock and Mike DeJean were summoned to revive it. If Morris can return to his April or May form, when he was 2-2 with a 1.77 ERA and 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA respectively, the Cardinals might be able to hold their spot in first place which they now co-hold with Houston, a half-game ahead of the Cubs.

In yesterday's 5-3 victory over Philly saw newcomer Sterling Hitchcock get a victory in his first appearance for the Cardinals. One inning pitched, one victory. As a Yankee, Hitchcock was like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, needing oil to be able to walk or talk. Now he's in St. Louis and the next thing you know, one hit, one walk and one strikeout later, he's already got a win in his first game as a Cardinal. Mike DeJean's debut was slightly less miraculous. He gave up two runs, a walk and two hits in his one inning. Two pitchers fired out of the starter's gun in two different directions. They will likely be appearing at home again for the big showdown against the Cubs beginning on Tuesday.

If Mark McGwire were still playing in a Cardinals uniform this season, would he have made any difference in the race? What would it have been like to have Pujols hitting ahead of McGwire, or vice-versa? Would that be like Hack Wilson, or Ernie Banks, hitting behind Sammy Sosa?


How Many Wolfs To Spoil The Stew?

"The angles are crazy," Cameron said. "I went back as far I could to try to make a play and I jumped. Anytime I jump I have it lined up and I thought I had it. Then I hit that damn monster and that popped it loose."

This helped keep the Red Sox even with the A's yesterday. Can the Red Sox Nation exhale now?

One member of the Red Sox Nation, yesterday's home-plate umpire Jim Wolf, must have by now. Wolf, brother of Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf, is clearly rooting for a Red Sox-Phillies World Series. For some crazy reason, he's allowed to umpire games that the Phillies primary competition, the Florida Marlins, are playing in, making one questionable call after another, three in one game that cost the Marlins a victory. Yesterday, he's calling a strikezone on Mariners' pitcher Freddy Garcia that a tailor couldn't have slid a needle through and then he blows a call on Mariner John Mabry, saying he didn't touch home-plate when he did.

"I thought I got it, but I'm not the one that counts," it was reported that Mabry, whose earlier double had keyed a three-run second inning, said. "I pointed at the plate and said, 'There's my skid mark.' Not only did I manage to get my front foot on the plate, but also my trail foot."

Whose going to be the home-plate umpire for tonight's series finale, John Henry?

The Mariners fourth loss in a row is allowing the crippled A's to regain a sense of equilibrium after the news of Mark Mulder's stress fracture. It's only two games now. The question is, can a patchwork rotation keep pace with the Mariners when they face each other six of the last nine games of the season or will the A's pick up another arm before then?

Saturday, August 23, 2003

The Burning Question: Can the Brewers Catch the Reds?

Have the Reds been sufficiently demoralized yet? They've lost half their roster to purges and the most recent trade of Scott Sullivan seems to have hit a nerve among the remaining Reds. Perhaps it would serve management right if they fall behind the abyssmal Brewers by season's end.

Cincinnati 57-70 .449 --
Milwaukee 52-75 .409 5

The Brewers are riding a 4 game winning streak and are 8-11 in August.

The Reds, after somehow holding off the Astros last night, are also 8-11 in August. The Brewers have a much tougher closing schedule. 26 of their final 35 games will be against teams still in the hunt for the playoffs including 3 @ Chicago, 3 @ San Francisco, 4 @ St. Louis and closing the season out with 4 @ Houston. The Reds have 17 of their remaining 35 games against winning teams, only 9 of which are on the road. All signs point to the Reds finishing better but you have to figure with the team being nibbled away week by week, interest in the end result will be pretty low.

Reds reliever reliever Chris Reitsma on trading Scott Sullivan:

"It's a joke," he said. "Sully is the kind of guy you keep around. It makes me sick, it really does. That guy has bent over for this organization year after year. He gets the chance to win now, but for me, he has been a teacher. He's a model citizen, and he knows how to treat people. For a lot of the guys in this room, it's a bad day, a really bad day. He is truly a class act."

More here from the Cincinnati Post on player disappointment.

White Sox Still in First

Last night's victory was the Sox's fifth in a row, and it improved their record to 68-61, a season-best seven games above .500. They are one game ahead of Kansas City and 1½ ahead of Minnesota, which lost to the Royals 3-2. Neal Cotts, a 23-year-old rookie left-hander, earned his first major-league victory. Veteran reliever Scott Sullivan, obtained by trade from the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday, relieved Cotts in the sixth, stranded three runners, struck out three and pitched two scoreless, hitless innings. Looks like a solid move for their bullpen.

The Dog Days of August

Sidney Ponson allowed two runs and six hits in six innings to FINALLY win for the first time in four NL starts as the San Francisco Giants beat the Florida Marlins 6-4 Friday night. Ponson (1-3), acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on July 31, won for the first time since July 24, when he beat the New York Yankees. He walked three and struck out five as he snapped his four-game losing streak. He's a combined 15-9 on the season.

watchyoutalkingbout willis? Dontrelle Willis (11-4), Super D Train, who grew up across the bay in Alameda and had about 300 supporters among the sellout crowd of 42,244, lasted three batters into the sixth inning. He lost his second straight after allowing four runs on six hits. He matched his career high with four walks and matched his career low with one strikeout.

"I faced a good team," said Willis, who rooted for the Giants growing up. "I just gave up too many hits. It's a wakeup call for me to get my stuff back."

Willis was four years old when Bonds made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986. Dontrelle is 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA post All-Star game.

A's Downward Rotation

Mark Mulder would likely miss the rest of the regular season because of a stress fracture injury. During Friday's game at SkyDome. A's general manager Billy Beane said the loss of one of his left-handed aces would create "a lot more focus on each individual game from here on out." That means a few guys better start getting hot at the plate and fast. How about the Boy Genius' superhero, Erubiel Durazo? He's hitting .213 over the last month. How about Eric Byrnes whi is hitting .139 over that same span? The only guys who have picked it up at the plate are Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez. Since the break, Tejada is hitting .304 and Chavez is hitting .321 with 6 homers and 21 RBIs over 35 games.

They aren't used to missing any of their aces. Since Barry Zito arrived to make it a threesome on July 22, 2000, the three young starters have put up numbers that are impressive on all fronts, but especially in their amazing durability. Hudson and Zito haven't missed a start since then, and Mulder's relatively minor bouts with injury haven't been devastating until now.

During that time, the three pitchers have combined to make 320 starts, going 171-80 with a 3.19 ERA, logging 2,152 1/3 innings -- or an average of more than 225 innings per man, per season.

There is still time for the A's to acquire a veteran starter in a trade - according to ESPN's Jayson Stark, Montreal's Livan Hernandez, Los Angeles' Andy Ashby, Texas' John Thomson and Baltimore's Pat Hentgen are among the pitchers who have cleared waivers - but that seems unlikely because of salary concerns and Beane's reluctance to part with the system's top prospects. Livan Hernandez is 4-1 with a 1.45 ERA since the All-Star break. Hentgen is 4-1 3.00, Thomson 5-1 4.68 Ashby, 1-3 4.50. By comparison, Barry Zito is 2-5 3.62. Former Oakland starter Cory Lidle, playfully expressed interest in the job Friday, and that might not be too far-fetched: Lidle (11-10, 5.95 ERA), who is slated to pitch against the A's on Monday, has cleared waivers, according to a source, and he wouldn't command much in a trade.

They could always dip into AAA again- Justin Duchscherer is 12-2 with a 3.22 ERA with Sacramento River Cats. They probably won't dig as deep as Double-A though, where Joe Blanton has compiled a remarkable 173 strikeouts and just 26 walks in 166 2/3 innings this season, 2-1 1.34 in five starts AA.

How about this for an even schedule down the stretch?

Mariners Oakland

3 games @ Boston 3 games @ Toronto
3 games vs. Tampa Bay 3 games vs. Baltimore
3 games vs. Baltimore 3 games vs. Tampa Bay
3 games @ Tampa Bay 3 games @ Baltimore
3 games @ Baltimore 3 games @ Tampa Bay
3 games vs. Texas 4 games vs. Anaheim
3 games vs. Anaheim 3 games @ Texas
4 games @ Texas 3 games vs. Anaheim
3 Oakland-Seattle games @ Oakland
3 games @ Anaheim 3 games vs. Texas
3 Oakland-Seattle games @ Seattle

2nd Half Cy Young? Since the All Star break, Mike Hampton is 6-0 2.61.

Eric Gagne tied a major league record with his 43rd consecutive save this season. Gagne got three outs for his 51st consecutive save, three shy of the major league record set by Tom Gordon, who saved 43 straight in 1998.

Last Gasps From St. Louis?

Is this big news or just a sad reaffirmation that the Cardinals, grasping at straws, will not make it to the postseason? The Cardinals sport the worst bullpen ERA in the National League at 5.08. Their 24 blown saves are the most in the league and the team sports a dismal 10-21 record in one-run games. So what do you do? Add Mike DeJean, 32, was 4-7 with a 4.87 earned-run average and a team-leading 18 saves for the Brewers. He has 58 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 3.63 ERA in 14 appearances since the All-Star break. primary right-handed setup man for closer Jason Isringhausen.

"We see him helping to set up for (Jason) Isringhausen," Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. "And when Izzy isn't available, we can use him to close." DeJean features a low-90s sinker, hard slider and splitter and has been especially tough on righthanded batters, who are hitting .218 against him this season, but let's face it, he isn't a season saver.

Neither is the other retread they traded for, Sterling Hitchcock. The 32-year-old southpaw was lost in the shuffle in New York, where he appeared in 27 games and was 1-3 with a 5.44 ERA. Still, Hitchcock retired 21 of 26 first batters he faced out of the bullpen, and stranded 12 of 16 inherited runners. His last outing against KC was a disaster. He pitched a third of an inning and gave up three hits and three earned runs. 7.71 ERA for the month of August. The price for Hitchcock was significant. Pope was the Cardinals' No. 1 draft pick in 2001 and Julianel was the 12th pick the same year. Both were at Class A Peoria. Pope was 4-1 with a 4.92 ERA, while Julianel was 4-2 with a 1.05 ERA and nine saves. Hitchcock will eventually join the starting rotation, though at first he may pitch out of the bullpen.

St. Louis fell into third place in the National League Central, but remained one game behind first-place Houston. The Cards missed a chance to move into a tie with the Astros after Houston lost at home to Cincinnati. The Cubs beat Arizona to move into second place, one-half game behind the Astros.

Kardinal Killer: Jim Thome, who homered in each of the Phillies` three wins over the Cardinals last weekend, has driven in nine runs against St. Louis in the span of a week. Thome is a career .449 hitter (22-for-49) against St. Louis, with 13 homers and 27 RBIs.

The Tigers, who had two nine-game losing streaks earlier, lost their season-high 10th straight.

Friday, August 22, 2003

It's A Long Way Down To The Soup Line

Don't look now but the White Sox are alone atop the American League Central after a 7-3 victory over Texas. Geez, White Sox returning home, where they are a 1927 Yankees-like 41-22 at U.S. Cellular Field, third-best AL home record, and the Royals having to face the Yankees in Yankee Stadium, then the Twins in the Metrodome. Hmmm. Never saw this coming...

Thursday, August 21, 2003


With the Yankees exacting a heavy price of payback for the Royals which now includes three straight losses, the American League Central race is getting tighter by the moment. Combined with the White Sox return home which has resulted in three consecutive victories and two consecutive victories by the Minnesota Twins, only .004 percentage points now separate these three teams from first place:

Kansas City 65-60 .520
Chicago WS 66-61 .520
Minnesota 65-61 .516

Just so the excitement stays hot, the Royals now open a four game series in the comforts of the Metrodome in what could be, for one of these two teams, a decisive series for the season. The Royals have a slight advantage, having taken 9 of 16 of the earlier matches against the Twins, but the two teams are split evenly in Minnesota, 3 wins and 3 losses apiece. The Twins outscored the Royals 27-12 last weekend while taking two-of-three at Kauffman Stadium.

After last night's close-but-no-cigar last minute rally, the Royals are now 2-13 in Yankee Stadium over the last four years. They could be like the Red Sox and blame some Babe Ruth guy whose been dead for over 50 years but the Royals could always point instead to their starting pitchers, who allowed 20 earned runs and 24 hits in just 14 1/3 innings during this series. Let's say that again, just for fun: Royals starting pitching: 12.59 ERA.

How does it look against the Twins? The Royals are just 3-8 against the White Sox and Twins since the All-Star break.

Rogers has won his last two starts. He had one of his strongest outings of the season against Kansas City on Aug. 15, allowing one run (none earned) and two hits with seven strikeouts in eight innings. Rogers has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last three starts. Paul Abbott, KC's fading hope, is 0-0 with a 11.17 ERA and 4-2, 6.15 lifetime vs. Twins.

Will the Royals have the AL's Rookie of the Year? Since May 6, Shortstop Angel Berroa has a .317 batting average. He has also settled down in the field, enjoying a 49-game errorless streak. That was the longest streak for a rookie shortstop in the Majors since Kevin Elster had a 61-game streak in 1988.

Meanwhile, out in Chicago, Esteban Loaiza's earned his 16th victory of the season in a 5-3 win over Anaheim which matches Toronto's Roy Halladay for the American League lead. Of Loaiza's 26 starts, 22 have been "quality starts" of at least six innings with a yield of no more than three runs. The 84.6 percent mark is the best in the majors. The White Sox, in first place for the third time this season, are going to get a chance to redeem their humiliating 3 game sweep at the hands of the Rangers of Texas who have now won 8 in a row. "We owe something to them," White Sox shortstop Jose Valentin said. Even after blanking the Tigers on Wednesday, the Rangers' team ERA of 5.70 is by far the worst in the league.

Some Hot Sox to keep an eye on: reliever Tom Gordon has pitched 4 2/3 innings in his last five outings and hasn't given up a run. Mark Buehrle, who will pitch Saturday against the Rangers, is only 1-1 in his last 3 starts but has a 2.24 ERA and has struck out 12 while walking only 2 over the last 24 innings pitched.

NL Central Spin and Rinse

Things are just about as tight in the NL Cental as the AL Central after the Cubs, led by savior Mark Prior, beat the Astros down in Houston, 6-0 to move within a half-game of first place. Since going on the disabled list, Prior is 4-0 and has allowed only two runs in 31 innings. He command has been sensational, as he has struck out 29 while walking only three. He allowed only three of 26 Houston hitters to reach three-ball counts.

Is this GM Jim Hendry a genius, or what? Sausage beater Randall Simon is hitting .500 with a homer and 4 RBIs in 10 at-bats since he joined the Cubs. Then, Tony Womack, who I whose pick-up I was ridiculing only yesterrday, had a three-hit in his first Cubs start. Aramis Ramirez, another Hendry pick-me-up, had a two-run homer last night and while he's only hitting .250, he's provided punch to the lineup with 6 homers and 16 RBIs in 25 games with the Cubs. That translates to 39 homers and 104 RBIs over a full season.

Maybe, as Mike Downey notes, with recent trades to Pittsburgh for Ramirez, Simon and Kenny Lofton, they should be called the Chicago Pirates. That trio, since joining the Cubs, have hit a collective .282 with 8 homers and 28 RBIs over 195 at-bats. It isn't Cooperstown, but it isn't Mudville, either.

Playing their final game against the Astros this season, Kerry Wood will take the mound for the Cubs. Wood had to exit his last start early because of a sore back. However, he says he expects to make this start. The right-hander, who leads the Major Leagues with 203 strikeouts, is 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA against the Astros, so this euphoric proximity to the NL Cental lead may be short-lived. Wood's second-half performance is troubling. He was 9-6 with a 3.19 ERA in the first half and is 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA since the All-Star break. Sadly for Cubs fans, Mark Prior can't pitch every game.

Doesn't Anybody Want the NL Wildcard?

How do the Phillies lose two in a row to the Milwaukee Brewers by a 16-5 margin?
How do the Marlins lose two in a row to the Colorado Rockies by a 19-5 margin?

The Marlins might be partially excused since they're playing in Coors Field but they have now lost back-to-back games to open a road series for the first time since they were swept at Montreal on May 22. Is the glass half empty or half full? They could have picked up two games and be ahead of the Phillies by 1 1/2 games after the Phillies two recent unexpected losses to Milwaukee. Instead they remain a half game back.

Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa offered a simple explanation for why his team is on the verge of getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that is 25 games under .500 and mired in last place in the NL Central Division,

"We didn't hit well and we didn't pitch well," he said. "They hit well and they pitched well. That pretty much sums up the game."

Hmmm. Why didn't I think of that?

Why Are Crappy Teams Suddenly So Good?

If you factor out the pathetic Detroit Tigers who couldn't even beat the pathetic 1962 Mets in a Fallen Classic, the last place teams in each division (NY Mets, Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Texas) have gone a collective 30-20 over their last 50 games.

Meanwhile, if you factor out the 8-2 Yankees from the list of first place teams, the rest of the first place squads, (KC, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco) have gone a collective 22-28 over their last 50 games.

So how come the last place teams are doing so well and the first place teams are so, well, mediocre?

Is it the influx of exciting new talent called up from the minors by teams with no chances for the playoffs, no expectations and no pressure? Is it a general apathy felt by better teams when squaring off against their weaker brethren now that a secure pattern of winning and losing has been established? Or is it the Sports Amnesia Principle which states that in hot months, youthful enthusiasm beats seasoned talent when divided by the square root of a lack of pressure.

It's Official: The Red Sox Tailspin Has Begun In Earnest

One minute you're watching the game and the Red Sox are ahead of the A's at home by what appears to be a comfortable 6-2 margin. You think to yourself, oh, the Red Sox are such demons at home, this one is in the bag and the AL Wildcard race is tied again.


The A's scored 4 runs off of Red Sox "closer" Byung-Hyun Kim in the 8th as the bullpen suffered yet another catastrophic meltdown and the A's won 8-6 to pull two games ahead of the Red Sox for the AL Wildcard.

Hear This: It might as well be TWO HUNDRED games ahead of the Red Sox because this was it. This confirms the suspicions, this begins the annual funeral march, this is the final straw, the fork stuck in.

The Red Sox are Finished.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Strike Up The Band, This Could Be The Red Sox Swan Song

If it's August, this must be time for the hopes of Red Sox fans to begin to fade. But an outsider can only nod knowingly. No one bangs the drum of misery better than the Red Sox fans themselves.

David Heuschkel has already jumped into tune with a Wonderful World of What Ifs:

"consider how much better off the Red Sox would be if they had played the second half 11 games over .500 instead of one over: What if the Red Sox had: Won four of six at Texas and Baltimore instead of losing four of six on the first trip after the All-Star break; Won three of four from the Orioles instead of losing three of four to end their previous homestand; Gone 4-3 instead of 3-4 on their recent West Coast swing to Oakland and Seattle."

I've got one. What if Derek Lowe hadn't developed a blister after pitching 6 masterful innings of holding the A's scoreless? What if the Scott Sauerbeck had ever pitched in a pennant race before instead of wallowing down in Pittsburgh 100 light years from the nearest postseason excitement his entire career? Would he still have walked Eric Chavez to lead off the seventh and then walked Erubiel Durazo after getting Miquel Tejada out?

What if Scott Williamson had ever gotten closer than second place in his career? Would he have still served up the three-run bomb over the Green Monster to Ramon Hernandez that gave the A's a 3-2 victory?

We'll never know because now, the Red Sox are a season-high 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and are now even behind the A's again for the AL Wildcard.

Tonight's another game, another year, another history. Let's see if it repeats itself. Tim Wakefield takes the mound for the Sox and is 8-4 in his career against Oakland. The veteran knuckleballer is 4-2 with a 3.86 ERA at Fenway. That might cure some woes.

The Ozzy Curse

Joining the Red Sox as perennial collapsers (when they aren't 20 games out of first by July 4th, that is), are the beloved Cubbies of Chicago. Just last week, August 15th, to be precise, the Chicago Cubs were sitting pretty, a full half-game ahead of the Astros and the Cardinals.

Now look at them. Three consecutive losses, including last night's hideous slugfest loss to the Houston Astros, 12-8 and they are now already one and a half games behind the Astros for first place.

If you want to point a finger of blame, point it at Ozzy Osbourne. Every since his ghoulish Alzheimer's rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame, which the Chicago Tribune said went like this:

"Let's go out to the ballgame.
Let's go out to the bluhhhhhn.
Take me a ee-yan eeya (humming) the field.
I don't care if I ahh-uhn ack.
Da da da da duh da da da eam.
Duh ee, da da da da dahhh.
For a fee, two, three strikes you're out at the old ballgame. Yeahhhhhh."

The Cubs have lost every game since. They lost the night he sang, 3-0, failing to stage the faintest rally or comeback and they lost last night. Chalk it up to The Curse of Ozzie, the worst ever to sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame according to the Trib poll of its readers, by margin of 64% to 5.3% that Mike Ditka garnered.

Meanwhile, the desperately wheeling and dealing Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry acquired infield insurance Tony Womack yesterday. The Womack deal is the fifth Hendry has made since June 19, acquiring six position players.

"Hey, it's Aug. 19 and we're still in it," Hendry said. Turn the calendar ahead a few pages, Jim. Take a peak. The Colorado Rockies acquired Womack from Arizona on July 18, hoping he would help fuel their unlikely wild-card bid. They decided to cut their losses after he hit .190 in 21 games as they fell 10 games behind Philadelphia in the crowded race. Pitch selection appears to be a problem. Womack had 80 at-bats for Colorado without a walk.

In addition to regulars Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton, Hendry has added part-time players Doug Glanville, Randall Simon and Womack. He began this flurry with a deal for Colorado third baseman Jose Hernandez, who was sent to Pittsburgh in the deal for Ramirez and Lofton.

Tonight, Mark Prior, who has won all three games he's pitched since coming off the disabled list and sports a 12-5 record on the season with a 2.65 ERA, takes the mound for the Cubs, hoping to put an end to their tailspin. One little problem with that theory however is that Prior has a problem with Houston and is 0-1 with a 8.10 ERA against the Astros this year.

Super Bonds Bonds

People can say whatever they want but there is nothing like Barry Bonds, who follows one spectacular moment with another and is the best baseball player since...that guy named Ruth, the guy he says whose home runs he'll take "... and that’s it. Don’t talk about him no more.”

Last night, making his first appearance since taking five days of bereavement leave to be with his cancer-stricken father, sent a towering walk-off solo homer into McCovey Cove in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Giants a 5-4 victory over Atlanta, snapped their season-high six game losing streak and sent the crowd of 42,307 at Pacific Bell Park into a frenzy.

"I owe the Braves an apology," Bonds said afterward of a rather physical demonstration of his happiness as he circled the bases after the home run. "I hope they understand I've just got a lot of emotion. With an early celebration like that, I just hope they don't take offense to it. I just have a lot of emotions going through me from my dad right now."

I'm sure the Braves understanding will be helped by the fact that they even with the loss, they still hold an 11 1/2 game lead over the Phillies and a 12 game lead over the Marlins, both of whom lost last night.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Power To The People

Frank Thomas has a theory. You need to set the tone against opponents by hitting massive homeruns against them.

His manager, Jerry Manuel didn't seem to agree. On Friday he said Thomas could benefit the team more by striving for base hits, RBIs and a high slugging percentage.

Thomas disagreed, saying: "Sure, I can take my walks. But when you start doing that, you lose that aggression...What's wrong with hitting a few more home runs and a few more doubles? With my [lack of] speed, for me to get singles really doesn't do us much good anyway. But with me hitting doubles and home runs, it is really going to help the team down the stretch."

Last night, Thomas tied the game with a two-run blast in the seventh inning and won it in the ninth with another two-run shot, including his American League-leading 22nd home run at home this season to lead the White Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Anaheim Angels before a lively, quasi-sober crowd of 32,381 at U.S. Cellular Field.

It looks like the verdict is in.

After losing 6 of 7 games on the road over the last week, the White Sox came home where they rank third in the American League with a .627 winning percentage (37-22) at U.S. Cellular Field, trailing Oakland (.677) and Boston (.672). On the road, the White Sox have a .400 winning percentage.

You have to wonder why the White Sox are so much better at home than they are on the road. After all, there isn't such an enormous difference between their home batting average (.259) versus on the road (.258). One glaring differerence you can point to is what kind of hits they get at home versus on the road. For example, on the road, they average 1 homer a game versus 1.64 homers a game at home. They score an average of 5 runs at home but only 4.4 on the road. Combine that with the team ERA of 3.98 at home against a road ERA of 4.62 and you can see that they score less and give up more runs on the road.

Regardless, the White Sox victory last night, combined with the Royals loss to the Yankees, puts them only two games back again.

Then again, maybe the U.S. Cellular Field has opponents worried because they don't know what kind of redneck drunk is going to stumble on to the field and attack one of them. Perhaps over 30,000 potential drunken assaulters is more of a home field advantage than anyone knows.

I Left My Heart In August

Man, what's up with the Giants lately? They've been swept by the Montreal Expos, who became the first club since 1900 to sweep a season series over the Giants, and they've lost now lost 11 of their last 16 games. Sure, Barry Bonds has hit .467 with 4 homers and 9 RBIs during the month of August, but how about some of this teammates? During August, shortstop Neifi Perez is hitting .189, Marquis Grissom is hitting .220, Pedro "Happy" Feliz is hitting .225, Andres Galarraga is hitting .172 and Jose Cruz Jr., .269. Since the All Star break, the Giants are hitting .255. Prior to the break, in happier times, they were hitting .265.

When you come to think of it, ever since the Giants traded for Sidney Ponson at the trading deadline, they've floundered. They lost to the Cubs that day and have continued to lose in bunches ever since. You can't just blame Ponson's 0-3 record and 4.03 ERA since coming to the Giants. But having a 5-11 record since he arrived is quite a strange coincidence, isn't it?

Despite such a lousy record, they haven't lost all that much of their NL West lead. On July 31st, they were 12 games ahead of Arizona and 13.5 ahead of Colorado and the Dodgers. As of last night's games, despite a season-high, six-game losing streak, they are now 8.5 ahead of the Diamondbacks and 9 games up on the Dodgers. The Giants will now go back home to face the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins.

In other games of interest, Kevin Appier will face Andy Pettitte and the Yankees, Mark Mulder, who has lost his last two starts, including last Wednesday vs. Boston in Oakland, where he gave up nine hits and six runs in 6 1/3 innings, faces the Red Sox and Derek Lowe, who is 7-2 with a 3.53 ERA at Fenway Park. The Cubs are going to Houston, Florida is going to Colorado, Philadelphia goes to Milwaukee, the Cards are home against Pittsburgh, the White Sox face the Angels again and the Twins are at Cleveland.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Cliff Floyd DL Superstar

You can never accuse Cliff Floyd of overstaying his welcome. In fact, he seems to be leaving a bit prematurely.

On the day before he was due to shut it down for the season in "preparation" to have surgery on his Achilles tendon at the end of the month, Floyd went 4-for-4 and was intentionally walked as the Mets won their fifth straight game and 9th of their last 12 games. Floyd is shutting it down after this afternoon's game in order to have the the bone around his Achilles shaved down in a procedure that is scheduled for near the end of August and will have him out until Spring Training begins in February.

You might wonder why a guy who has 10 hits in his last 11 at-bats (an unheard-of .909 batting average) over the last three games would be calling it quits for the season to have season-ending surgery when he's still doing so well. Playing hurt, he's hit .410 during the month of August. Not the kind of numbers for a guy winding it down for the season but apparently, Floyd knows that surgery is the only way to solve his Achilles problem once and for all. This same Achilles tendon was torn in 1999 and Floyd had an MRI at the start of this season which revealed no significant damage, but he believes the condition has worsened since then.

This isn't about 2003. This is about considering the long-term welfare of a guy who is in the first year of a four-year, $26-million contract.

"It's weird, because I feel real good right now," he said. "It's kind of scary, because I do feel pretty good. I really want to keep playing, but I have to say no and be firm with my decision. This is a serious thing, and you can't mess with surgery."

If anything, Floyd has shown detractors that he can and will play in pain. Hopefully, he doesn't have to be on the cusp of the DL every season to start hitting his $6.5 million salary worth.

As a final curtain call and an excruciating promise of what might have been and what might still be, maybe he can hit four homers for us on the way out.

Floyd even has his own blackout story: Floyd and his gimpy Achilles didn't have it so easy getting back from the cancelled game at Shea Thursday night. It took him a while to get back to his East Side apartment building. When he did get there he had to walk up 32 flights of stairs.

"And I don't cook so we had no food," Floyd said. "We had to make due on two bottles of water and a Snickers bar. You take everything for granted. I know I do." Ahhh. Don't worry. Pretty soon Cliffie, you'll be living the high life, dining on hospital food.

After striking out a season high 10 batters yesterday, Al Leiter is 4-1 with a 1.75 since coming back from the DL and has won his last 7 decisions to go to 12-6 on the season. During August, the other pitching disappointment, Tom Glavine, is 2-0 with an 0.75 ERA. Of course, that's because he hasn't faced the Braves again. Against his former teammates, Glavine is 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA in four starts. Wisely, the Mets rotation is being realigned so Glavine doesn't have to face them again this season.

Jose Reyes take his hitting streak to 16 games in a 6-4 win yesterday over Colorado, the longest streak by a Major League rookie this season. We know the D-Train is a near shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year, but Reyes is now hitting .313 for the season and is easily the most electrifying batter/base runner in the National League this year. But here's a little smelling salts for those, like me, who want to write him in to the Hall of Fame next season: Reyes' streak is only the second-longest by a Met rookie ever. In 1975, Mike Vail had a 23-game streak. Yeah. Mike Vail. You remember him, right? In a ten year career that followed, he bounced around 7 different teams and hit an underwhelming .279 the rest of his career, lasting with the Mets for three years before going to Cleveland.

Still, Reyes is no Mike Vail. Since the All-Star break he has just gotten better and is hitting .363 with 7 doubles and 9 stolen bases. The switch-hitter still hits righties better than lefties. Against righties, he's hitting .335. Against lefties, .258.

Another guy who seems to have suddenly learned how to hit is Roger Cedeno. Since the break, he's hitting .378 with a .415 OPB and has scored 14 runs in 14 games.

The Mets seem to have several Rookie of the Year candidates. Besides Reyes, Jason Phillips is hitting .324 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs in 101 games and Ty Wigginton has been steadily unspectacular but stable while learning third base on the job.

Oh the future looks so bright through rose-colored glasses. Reyes and Cedeno excelling at the top of the order, Piazza with a month and a half and an entire off season to learn how to play first base, Cliff Floyd going out for the season with a bang and promises of greatness next year. With the dumping of Alomar, Burnitz and Armando, enough cash to spread around for a front line free agent pitcher like Kevin Millwood and a front line batter like Vladimir Guerrero, blahblahblah.

Before anyone says a word, let's remember that next season, the two Met "aces", Leiter and Glavine will both be 38 years old. The only eight 38-year-olds who have made at least 10 starts this year, and of those the oft-injured Kevin Brown, the currently disabled David Wells, Roger Clemens and Jamie Moyer have pitched well. Since 1990 only nine 38-year-olds have reached 200 innings and two of those (Tom Candiotti and Charlie Hough) were knuckleballers.

The Races

The Red Sox and the A's are tied again after the A's beat up on Toronto's ace, Roy Halladay, to a tune of 7-3 while the Red Sox were busy losing to the Mariners. The Sox went a respectable 3-4 on their murderous 7 game road trip to Oakland and Seattle and are in the catbird seat for the moment. They face Oakland and Seattle again this week but this time, on their own turf. They're off today but then begin a 12 game homestand that will see them face the A's, Mariners, Blue Jays and Yankees. Whew.

The Royals upped their division lead over the quickly-fading White Sox and the surging Twins by 3 games a piece by avoiding a sweep at home against the Twins last night. But the news of the future is not good. The Royals begin a seven-game road trip on Monday with the first of three at New York, then go to Minnesota for four. Meanwhile, the Twins will be partying it up against Cleveland.

The White Sox, on the other hand, can't get home fast enough. They are now 26-39 on the road, by far the worst road record of any team still in playoff contention. In fact, there are only 4 teams worse than the White Sox on the road: Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit and Texas. The good news is they will now begin a 7 game homestand just as the Royals are embarking on a 7 game road trip. The Sox are 15 games above .500 at home. Better than the Yankees, KC, Minnesota and Seattle. You can pretty much predict the White Sox future by how many games they have left at home and on the road. 16 of their next 22 games will be at home so this is when they have to make their move.

The Phillies remain a half game ahead of the Marlins for the NL Wildcard. The Phillies have a 13 game road trip coming up while the Marlins embark on a 9-game road trip at Colorado, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Lest you think this neck-in-neck stuff is new to the Phillies and the Marlins, just consider that last season, the Phillies finished in third place, a mere 1 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

The Sunday Slant

"Is Chicago!
Is not Chicago!
Is Chicago!
Is not Chicago!"

Soul Coughing: Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago

NL Central Merry-Go-Round Goes Round Again

The Cubs' stay in first place in the National League Central lasted less than 24 hours as they dropped a half-game behind Houston. They hadn't been in first after 121 games since they won the East Division title in 1989.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Blackout Interruption Edition

Well, not only did the Mets game get postponed on Thursday night, but without power or a transistor radio, I wasn't able to follow any of the pennant and wildcard races via television, radio or the internet. It wasn't until getting up at 5 in the morning Friday, going outside to survey the smoldering remnants from the previous night's bonfires and block parties and make it to a bodega that I was able to get ahold of some local newspapers and check the early editions for boxscores and highlights.

Alot happened in the interim.

The Cubs managed to overtake the Astros for first place in the NL Central, the Phillies nabbed a half-game lead over the Marlins for the NL Wildcard and the Red Sox are back ahead of the A's for the AL Wildcard.

Cubs in First Place in August? Enjoy the Anomaly While You Can

Apparently, I missed the merry-go-round. In the 30 hours my power was out, the NL Central went from the Astros being in first to the Cardinals and now, the Cubs. If 50 million can have their power knocked out, I suppose it's just as possible that the Cubs can be in first place in August. The last time the Cubs were in a playoff race this late in the season was probably 1998. Meanwhile, last night the Cubs moved into sole possession of first place in the National League Central thanks to their 2-1 victory over the Dodgers and losses by the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. The Astros and Cardinals now trail the Cubs by a half-game.

The Cubs are doing it with their revitalized starting pitching. Carlos Zambrano is one of the National League's hottest pitchers since the All-Star break, having gone 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA since then. Mark Prior, who got the victory last night after his seven-hitter, is 3-0 with a 0.75 earned-run average in the three games since coming off the disabled list. In fact, since August 1, Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement are a combined 8-2 with a 1.63 earned-run average, allowing 6.3 hits per nine innings.

Having won four in a row at home, the Cubs have finally moved their record at Wrigley Field above .500 to 32-30. Only four times since the Cubs moved into Wrigley Field in 1916 have they produced a losing record at home and a winning record on the road - 1917 (35-42 home, 39-38 road), 1944 (35-42 home, 40-37 road), 1994 (20-39 home, 29-25 road) and 1995 (34-38 home, 39-33 road).

NL Wild Card Race

The Marlins were able to ease some of the tension of a tight four game series with the Dodgers that saw them rise into the lead for the NL wild card only to be knocked from that lead two days later, with a 10-0 blowout of the lowly San Diego Padres. It was also the Marlins' highest run total since July 26, when they hung 10 on the Phillies.

Bad Penny must be a vampire. Penny, who threw seven scoreless innings in the Marlins win last night, improved his record in night games to 11-3 with a 2.81 ERA. Pitching during the day, Penny is 0-6 with a 7.55 ERA.

Calling all Conspiracy Theorists: Jim Wolf, the brother of Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf, is an MLB umpire. "Coincidentally", he was the first base umpire in Thursday's Marlins game, one in which he was involved in three close plays that favored the Los Angeles Dodgers. After that game, Marlins pitcher Mark Redman never accused the umpire of favoritism but said the fact he's related to a player on a team the Marlins are battling for a wild-card playoff berth is something "that crosses every player's mind."

Phillies manager Larry Bowa acted outraged at the implication but really, what the hell is the brother of a Phillie doing umpiring a game that involves their closest competitors for the wild card spot?

In a game that had bearings on both the NL wild card race and the NL Central Division lead, Woody Williams, making a fourth try for his 15th win, allowed the Philadelphia Phillies five first-inning runs on six hits, starting the Cardinals on a 7-4 loss before 28,962 at Veterans Stadium and knocking the Cardinals from first place in the NL Central.

The Phillies spent $85 million over six years to sign Jim Thome and $17 million over four years for David Bell. Do you think they are getting their money's worth? Since the All-Star break, Thome is hitting a frail .234 albeit with 8 homers and 23 RBIs in 28 games. David Bell is on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain which is probably a good thing for the Phillies lineup. His last game was over a month ago, July 10th, at which time he was hitting lifeless .198 with 4 homers and 37 RBIs over 83 games. Combine that with Pat Burrell's .205 batting average and season-long struggles at the plate and you have to wonder how the Phillies are in this at all.

In many ways, you have to wonder what's holding these Phillies together. Other than Vincent Padilla, who is 3-0 with a 3.96 ERA since the break, no one else on the pitching staff is going great guns. Staff "ace" Kevin Millwood is only 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA and Brandon Duckworth is 1-4 with a 5.68 ERA. Sometime closer Jose Mesa is 1-1 with 3 saves and an eye-gouging 14.09 ERA since the break. But the Phillies bullpen has otherwise been sterling. Dan Plesac hasn't given up a run since June 8th and has a 1.38 ERA for the season. Rheal Cormier has a 1.43 ERA in 49 appearances, Terry Adams has a 1.20 ERA over his last 16 appearances, my former favorite Met Turk Wendell has a sharp 1.95 ERA on the season and recently acquired Mike Williams hasn't given up a run in August yet. That is a very well-balanced and effective bullpen, despite the presence of Jose Mesa.

Red Sox Yo-Yo

The Red Sox got clobbered by the Mariners last night with Jeff Suppan starting. Suppan has been consistently lousy since coming to Boston: In three starts since coming over from Pittsburgh, Suppan has given up 20 hits in 16 1/3 innings, including a whopping 16 extra base hits. Although they've fallen behind the Yankees by four games, they retained their hard-fought one game lead over the Oakland A's when the A's lost to the Blue Jays last night.

Only two more games left on their dangerous road trip to Oakland and Seattle and they'll be back in the friendly confines of Fenway, where they are hitting .323 and outscoring their opponents by an average margin of two runs, to face both of them all over again. You have to marvel that if the Red Sox don't collapse completely in Seattle, or if the A's, gasping with three consecutive losses, continue their losing ways, by the time they get to Boston, the Red Sox might have a chance to fatten up their wild card advantage.

Pedro the Lion pitches against the Mariners today. Martinez has been dominant against the Mariners. Lifetime against Seattle, he is 10-0 with a 0.94 ERA. In 77 innings he's allowed 37 hits, 8 earned runs, and 19 walks with 110 strikeouts. At Safeco, his ERA is 0.68.

I know I was going to swear off Armando rants since he's finally out of New York but with some Armando Apologists still desperately clinging to the absurd notion that he isn't as bad as all we rabid fans in New York claim he is, and after having a good laugh watching him almost blowing another game out of control last night against the Red Sox, I will address:

Armando Sucks, Reasons #413 and #414

Last night, in the 8th inning, he allowed a double to Manny Ramirez and then walked the next three batters, which included walking in a run, before Seattle mangaer Bob Melvin came to his senses and pulled him out of the game before he somehow turned an 8-4 lead into a deficit. Certainly had he been left in there, you can be sure either Gabe Kapler or pinch-hitter Kevin Millar would have blasted one of Armando's pitches for a grand slam and a 9-8 lead. If it wasn't for Hasegawa coming in to save the day with his 12th save in 12 chances, where would the Mariners be this morning staring down the barrel of a disgusting loss, a classic Armando Meltdown and getting ready to face Pedro Martinez?

Meanwhile, Armandogeddon damage control continues with the theory that if you only let him pitch in meaningless games in the comforts of warm and fuzzy Safeco Field, he can really pad his stats and make the Seattle front office look like geniuses. Since being traded twice around to American League teams, he has faced the Red Sox three times. He's 0-1 with a 7.82 ERA while the Sox are hitting .364 against him. We already know he gags anytime he gets anywhere near New York City (a 9.00 ERA this season against the Yankees already) and in one appearance against the A's so far this year, he gave up a run in a mere third of an inning. That doesn't leave much as far as playoff opponents the Mariners can feel comfortable allowing Armando to pitch against.

So let's not hear any more cackling about how well Armando is going to do in Seattle, please. If he doesn't blow the season for the Mariners all by himself, they should consider themselves lucky.

AL Central Warfare

I was going to do a bit about the combined payrolls of Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins versus the payroll of the Chicago White Sox figuring that the White Sox far outspent both the Royals and the Twins but it isn't really accurate. True, the Royals have the 4th lowest payroll in the Major Leagues at $ 48,475,322 but the Twins, who are supposed to be one Bud Selig bobbing head doll from extinction because they don't have any money or the market to support a competetive team, are paying out $ 65,318,977 while the Twins are paying out $ 71,336,029, all as of July 15th figures. So the three teams fighting for the AL Central have a combined payroll of about $185.1 million.

That's more than the ENTIRE budget of Dijbouti, which has a $182 million budget, Burundi with a $176 million budget and even more than the ever-popular Liberia, who spent $ 90.5 million last year to starve their people and fund a civil war. It just goes to show you that Major League Baseball is not going to have a franchise in Africa any time soon. And that's just too bad because I'd like to see someone like Raul Mondesi standing around in right field in some dirt town in the third world trying to catch a fly ball with gazelles, zebras and giraffes wandering all around him. It would seem somehow appropriate.

But since that has nothing to do with the AL Central race, what does matter is that Royals brief starting pitcher phenom Jimmy Gobble gave up 5 runs in three innings of "work", if you want to call it that, against the rival Minnesota Twins. With notorious Kenny Rogers limiting Kansas City to two singles through his eight-inning stint, the Twins rolled to a 9-2 victory and closed to within three games of the Royals in the American League Central. Kansas City, 64-56, maintained a two-game lead over the second-place White Sox, who lost to the Rangers.

Kenny Rogers was the pre-21st century version of Armandogeddon, if you recall. Back in 1999, in the 11th inning of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, pitching for the Mets who had foolishly made a late season trade for him, he walked three straight after a leadoff double and Braves finally finished off the Mets and the NLCS. Prior to that, he'd been a big disappointment for the Yankees. His postseason record, all coming with either the Yankees or the Mets, is 0-3 with a 9.47 ERA. Before August, when he has now pitched well the past two times out, his ERA season has gotten progressively worse. In April, his ERA was 3.77, in May, 4.83, in June, 6.12 and in July 6.23. Perfect, you think to yourself. If Kenny Rogers is pitching badly, the Twins have a chance for the playoffs.

But if Kenny Rogers is pitching well this late in the season for Minnesota, it must now mean they don't have a chance for the postseason.

It's all up to the White Sox to help themselves. But they stubbornly refuse to. With two games still to go, the White Sox have lost 4 of 5 games on this road trip. In that stretch, the three tenors, Colon, Buehrle and Loiaza have gone a collective 0-3 and surrendered 28 hits over 19 innings with 6.63 ERA. But they're nearing the promised land. In two days, they'll be back home where they are 37-22 this season. Meanwhile, after fighting it out with the Twins, the Royals have to face the music in Yankee Stadium after humiliating them in Kansas City earlier this week.

Blackout Redux

Back in 1977 on a sweltering night on July 13th, with Lenny Randle at the plate for the Mets in the sixth inning and the Cubs leading, 2-1, the lights went out and nine million people were left without electricity for up to 25 hours. Major League Baseball's site recalls it.

The lights were literally going out on the Mets. World Series winners in 1969 and then bridesmaids in 1973, they were breaking it all up in the blackout days. Dave Kingman had been traded away on the same day as Seaver. And Jerry Koosman was symbolic of the decline, in a remarkable way -- going from a career-high 21 wins in 1976 to a career-high 20 losses in 1977.

"Kooz" was the Mets' starter on that blackout day, and he would get the 5-3 loss to a first-place Cubs team when this game would be made up in September.

As a city shuddered in fear, the Mets and their fans tried to make the best of the situation. Bob Mandt is now a vice president and consultant for the club, and he has been with the team since its inception in 1961. He was the ticket manager on that July 13, and he remembers that blackout well. They didn't play the next afternoon, either, because the power was still out.
"The scoreboard wouldn't work, we had to worry about the food stuff because of the refrigeration," Mandt said. "The pumps wouldn't work to keep the plumbing going so there were health concerns.

"But the night the lights went out, it was fairly bright. We had all the emergency lighting on. And I remember Bud Harrelson and a bunch of other guys went and pulled their cars through the center-field fence and shined the headlights on the field. They pantomimed the game for a while to keep the people calm but there was really no need. There was no panic."

Those actions of the Mets provided some much-needed comfort at the time, a small example of baseball's ability to help in chaotic times. Consider this excerpt from a Newsweek article on July 25, 1977:

"At Shea Stadium, the blackout caught the Mets trailing the Cubs, 2-1, in the sixth inning. The PA somehow survived; the organist struck up 'Jingle Bells' and 'White Christmas,' and 22,000 fans made for the exits singing Yuletide carols in July. In the commonwealth of darkness, New Yorkers rediscovered their kinship with one another, and celebrated it."

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Royals Hand Yankees Another Royal Beating, 11-0

Is it official now? Either the Royals are for real or the Yankees are really stumbling in a pathetic, aimless sort of way that a team with a $190 million budget has no business doing. Last night, newly acquired Kevin Appier tossed a three-hitter as the Royals won a home series against New York for the first time since 1993, and gave his new team a 1 1/2-game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. The Yankees have no lost four of their last five games against playoff contenders. Hardly the sort of performance that would expect them to advance in October or, if they do happen to squeak into the playoffs, not the kind of play that will get them past the first round.

Brent Mayne, who started the game in an 0-for-18 funk, went 4-for-4, walked and drove in two runs. Mike Sweeney drove in four runs, two in the first and two in the seventh off Bret Prinz, who gave up a two-run homer to Mendy Lopez in the eighth.

They say Jeff Weaver's problem is pitching in New York but Kansas City last night, he gave up three runs in the first when he was un-nerved by a check-swing call that didn't go his way. From there it went downhill. Weaver's record dropped to 6-9, while his earned run average inflated to 5.78. He is 3-7 in his past 14 starts, giving up at least 10 hits in six of those starts.

Torre called Weaver's outing "a disappointment," but you've got to wonder why he singled out the pitcher when it wasn't Weaver who managed only 4 hits or Weaver who made two errors. Still, surrendering 9 earned runs in a little over six innings of work is not Cy Young material nor the kind of pitching you want in the middle of a pennant race.

"It's great to be struggling at this point in the season and still be in first place," Derek Jeter said. "A lot of teams would like to be in the position we are in right now."

It helps that the Red Sox, who, prior to last night, had lost 9 of their last 14 games. Last night, they finally defeated the A's to tie up the wild card race again. They did it against Mark Mulder, a guy who had been 10-1 at home and had thrown consecutive complete games in his last two starts.

Meanwhile, the "other" Sox, after seven innings of brilliant defense, one little bobble and a couple of timely the were unable to hold on against the Anaheim Angels who scored a run in the eighth inning to knock off the White Sox 2-1 and increase the White Sox deficit in the American League Central grow to 1-1/2 games. The misery may be over soon though. The White Sox are now 5-29 over the last two seasons in Anaheim, Seattle and Oakland, with today's game in Anaheim their last of the season in the three cities.

Part of the explanation for Billy Koch's struggles this season has been his loss in velocity. Yesterday Koch was put on the disabled list with the kiss of death, elbow soreness. Koch is 5-5 this season with a 5.55 ERA and is nowhere near the 99 mph on which he previously has relied. His fastball has been in the 92 mph range this season.

Magic Marlins Win Another By Walk-Off Homer

For those who missed the heroics and excitement of two nights ago when the Marlins took a 13 inning marathon against the Dodgers with a walk-off home run by third string catcher Ramon Castro, they did it again last night.

With two outs in the bottom of the 11th on Wednesday, Mike Mordecai authored his team's second walk-off homer in as many nights over the Dodgers. A sparingly used utility infielder, Mordecai sent left-hander Victor Alvarez's 2-2 breaking ball high over the American League scoreboard in left to clinch the 2-1 win over the Dodgers at Pro Player Stadium. Alvarez pitched in Tuesday's marathon, and Mordecai observed he likes to throw off-speed pitches. So after Alvarez, who was ahead 0-2, threw back-to-back fastballs for balls, Mordecai guessed on a changeup. He got it and drove a shot that cleared the high wall in left.

Once it left the park, the Marlins spilled out of the dugout and created what center fielder Juan Pierre called a "College World Series-type atmosphere." Before Pierre knew it, sidelined reliever Kevin Olsen was banging a celebratory beat on his head.

A crowd of 12,323 was treated to the Marlins 15th last at-bat win. They had not won back-to-back extra-inning games since Aug. 10-11, 1999 against the Giants. Having their team in the middle of the playoff race and leading the pack for the National League wild card apparently isn't inspiring enough to bring more Marlins fans to the stadium. Whew, baseball fever, catch it! They managed to draw a whole 20,298 to watch the D train pitch but in the last two nights, the Marlins have averaged 12,174 fans per game.

Inexplicably, with the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th, the "bonus" coverage offered by ESPN 2, was cut off so that they could bring us some little &%$*#@**$ girl softball game!?! Shades of The Heidi Game?

While the victory allowed the Marlins to stay ahead of the Phillies and the looming Arizona Diamondbacks, you can imagine what it might do to demoralize the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have now fallen back 4 1/2 games behind the Marlins in the Wild Card playoff chase.

Piazza Comeback

Fittingly, it was Italian Night at Shea last night for the return of Mike Piazza, who had a homer and five RBIs to lead New York, which won for the sixth time in its last nine games. The game marked Piazza's first action since severely tearing his groin muscle May 16 in San Francisco.

Perhaps the brightest aspect of Piazza's return and the subsequent homerun was that it was Piazza's eighth homer of the season and his 344th as a catcher, leaving him only seven behind Carlton Fisk for the top spot on the all-time list. If he catches Carlton Fisk before the season is over, it means his selfishly personal crusade to get the all-time homer mark for catchers at the expense of his team, may be over and he can spend the offseason learning how to play first base where he can do less damage defensively and his presence on the team can be positive once again. Good luck Mike. Here's to getting that all-time homer record for catchers as fast as possible so you can concentrate on the good of the team.

Cubs top Astros Again

Moises Alou, a former Astro, belted a three-run homer to power the Chicago Cubs to a 6-4 victory over Houston and closed to within 1 1/2 games of the Astros in the Central Division. The Astros have been in sole possession of first place since July 9 but their lead over the St. Louis Cardinals has now shrunk to a lone game. Sammy was 0-for-4 and struck out three times

Joe Borowski picked up his 22nd save in the ninth when Jeff Kent flied out with the tying runs on base. But this was a save for the entire bullpen, with Mark Guthrie, Antonio Alfonseca, Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Remlinger holding the Astros to no runs and one hit in 3-2/3 innings.

''That's how you win pennants,'' said Cubs catcher Damian Miller, who played for the 2001 World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks.

Houston lefty Jeriome Robertson (11-6), bidding to become the first rookie this season with 12 wins, entered the fifth with a 4-3 lead before giving up singles to Kenny Lofton and Alex Gonzalez.

Jay Mariotti of the Sun-Times believes the Cubs success has alot to do with Manager Dusty Baker:

Given their various injuries, scandals and crises, the Cubs should be 10 games under .500 right now and doing little more than distributing free bobbleheads at the gate. But Dusty Wristbands has refused to let the usual dark clouds settle in. They weren't lying about his positive-reinforcement mojo, which has spread optimism and faith throughout Cubdom when other managers would have worn failure and frustration on their faces. We'd be foolish not to mention the good luck of being in the league's weakest division, widely known as the Comedy Central. That duly noted, the Cubs are overachieving by any standard.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Running Out of Steam Or Just Can't Take The Heat?

For a day at least, the wildcard two front-runners have been knocked from the hill. Last night's loss 5-3 loss to the Oakland A's knocked the Boston Red Sox from their AL wildcard perch while the Philadelphia Phillies did even worse, getting knocked from the lead by the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, who defeated the Phillies last night 6-3.

For Boston, today marks the first day since June 24 the Sox haven't been either leading the divisional or wild card standings. There's a simple reason why: since they made a splash by getting Cincinnati relief pitcher, 1999 Rookie of the Year Scott Williamson, the Red Sox have gone 5-9. Meanwhile, Williamson has a 7.71 ERA in the six games he pitched. To be fair, Williamson isn't the only acquisition the Red Sox made that has fallen flat on his face. Jeff Suppan has pitched two games from the Red Sox since he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates and is 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA. The only recent acquisition that hasn't floundered is Scott Sauerbeck, acquired from Pittsburgh on the 22nd of July. Sauerbeck hasn't given up a run in his eight appearances to date.

Since August, some of the hitters the Sox have come to depend on have floundered as well. Manny Ramirez has hit .186 with 1 homer and 2 RBIs in 12 games. Trot Nixon is hitting .189, Todd Walker is hitting .140 and David Ortiz is hitting .250. Only Garciaparra, who is hitting .340 with 5 homers and 10 RBIs and Johnny Damon, hitting .327, have been pulling their weight.

It can't even be pointed out anymore how much better the Sox play at home than on the road. During this last 12 game stretch, yes, the Sox are a miserable 1-6 on the road but at home, they aren't much better, 4-3. They can take some consolation in the fact that following one last game at Oakland and another 3 game series at Seattle, they will play their next 12 games at home after that. If this isn't the traditional Red Sox late summer collapse, the long homestand will help right them.

The Philadelphia Phillies, on the other hand, have lost 7 of their last 10 games. Last night's loss to the Brewers was particularly repulsive since the Brewers' starter, Wayne Franklin was 0-2 with a 14.00 ERA in his last two starts after allowing 17 hits and 14 runs in just nine innings. But he stymied the Phillies while their own starter, the terminally inconsistent Brandon Duckworth, their fifth starter, was unable to pitch through the sixth inning in for the 12th time in his last 17 starts. Ironically, the Phillies have lost 7 of the last 10 games Duckworth has pitched.

While the Phillies were losing to the Brewers, the Florida Marlins who beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-4 amid great drama, on a walk-off homer by Ramon Castro in the 13th inning. The Florida Marlins are now in the NL wildcard lead for the first time all season.

So two teams, the Red Sox and the Phillies, who seemed shoe-ins for at least wildcard berths, are losing their way, disoriented in a free fall and have lost their exhaulted places as the wildcard leaders.

Welcome home.

If This Is August, Why Are We In Chicago?

Don't look now but this is only the 11th time in the 102 years that both teams have existed that both the Cubs and the White Sox are competing simultaneously for a postseason berth this late in the year.

The Cubs have not played in a World Series since 1945 against Detroit, and they have not won a World Series since 1908, when they topped the Tigers.

The White Sox last played in a World Series in 1959 against the Dodgers. They have not won the World Series since 1917, when they beat the New York Giants.

Neither is likely to make it as far as the World Series and I have serious doubts that the Cubs will even make the postseason, but for now anyway, Chicagoans are free to dream.

Victor Zambrano earned his fifth straight win Tuesday night, hurling his first complete-game shutout in a 3-0 win over the Houston Astros before 39,751 at Wrigley Field to move the Cubs to within 2 1/2 games of the Astros for the Central Division lead. In his last five starts since the All-Star break, Zambrano has an earned-run average of 1.43, striking out 34 and walking 13.

This afternoon, the Cubs will have to face Jeriome Robertson, who in three starts, is 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA against the Cubs. Shawn Estes, 2-1, 7.04 against the Astros this season, will start for Chicago.

At the same time, the White Sox despite pitching the disaster-in-waiting, Neal Cotts, who made the leap from Class AA Birmingham to start the game Tuesday, were able to roll to a 10-4 victory against the Anaheim Angels. Cotts was pulled after allowing six walks in 2-1/3 innings, but the end result left the White Sox JUST a half-game behind the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central. It was just the Sox's second win in their last 11 tries at Edison International Field.

Flyin' Fish

It may have taken three days and 13 innings, but the Marlins can finally lay claim to sole possession of the National League wildcard lead. Ramon Castro, a back-up catcher, who had just 40 at-bats for the season, hit a walk-off homer off Paul Shuey with two outs in the 13th inning lifted the Marlins to a 5-4 win over the Dodgers, ending an exhausting 4-hour, 5-minutes marathon in front of a miserably small crowd of 12,025 at Pro Player Stadium. It was the Marlins' first win over the Dodgers this year in five tries.

When play began on July 4, the Marlins were six games off the wild-card pace and trailing eight teams. They have since cruised past the entire group by going 22-11.

The bullpen, which has come on strong for the Marlins, was stellar again. Five relievers combining to throw seven scoreless innings. The Dodgers last hit came in the seventh.

The walk-off homer wasn't the only excitement in the game. A storm of controversy surrounded the Dodgers taking a 4-3 lead in the fifth. On a bang-bang play at the plate, Dodger Paul Lo Duca was called safe on what was clearly a missed call by first-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, who was covering home because home-plate umpire Scott Nelson shifted over to third. Irate at the ruling, catcher Ivan Rodriguez slammed his facemask into the ground and was immediately ejected by Wendelstedt.

TV replays support Rodriguez's claim that Lo Duca should have been called for the third out. "The ump didn't really have the right angle," said starter Josh Beckett. "He was back behind the plate by me. Pudge is out there fighting for us. The replay confirmed Pudge was right."

Right or not, Pudge has been getting a little too hot as the race for the wildcard gets tighter. Last night was his third ejection of the season, all within the last two weeks. The veteran catcher said he was ejected three times in his career before this year.

Big Shots Coming En Masse To Shea

Which was the bigger arrival, Barry Bonds, who hit career homers number 649 and 650 at Shea last night, or former President Bill Clinton, who stayed all nine innings and watched the New York Mets' 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants?

Clinton visited both clubhouses before the game, signed baseballs and shook hands with dozens of fans. It was his first visit to Shea since Jackie Robinson Night on April 15, 1997, when the Mets honored the man who broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers 50 years earlier. Robinson's No. 42 was retired by every team in the majors.

Clinton, looking trimmer than during his days in the White House from 1992-2000, smiled as he greeted fans up the first- and third-base lines and behind the plate. He looked ever the politician, offering a few thumbs-up and waves to fans yelling out his name.

Bonds meanwhile, continued his hot ways against the Mets. So far this season, he is hititng .500 with 8 hits in 16 at-bats, 3 of which have been homeruns. Last night was his 60th career 2-homer game.

And it looks like Mike Piazza is ready to return. The All-Star catcher, out since May 17 because of a severely strained right groin, planned to join the Mets in New York and work out with the team before Wednesday night's game against the San Francisco Giants. If all goes well, he could be activated in time to play. Piazza went 3-for-17 (.176) with one homer and two RBI with the Tides. Just what we needed. A catcher who can three-hop a throw to second base and take away valuable playing time from rookies who have performed admirably in his absence.