Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Baseball Across The Time Zone Ocean via Radio
"A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure." -- Segal's Law

Got home in time last night to listen to the sole MLB "day game" via WHB in KC, to my preseason AL Central favourite-ChiSox pound their division rival KC Royals in their renovated US Cellular Field home opener. US Cellular Field has been the butt of jokes and an object of derision since it opened as the "new" Comiskey Park in 1991. According to the reviews, the latest renovations lend an "old" Comiskey feel to the South Side ballyard. A refurbished upper deck, an expanded center-field "fan deck" and a fresh paint job were among $28 million in off-season improvements.

Two things that jumped out me (and neither of them were drunken Chisox fans leaping over the rail onto the field): Cy Young 2003 bridesmaid, Esteban Loiza, 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA last season, appears to need more time to find his top form, surrendering 4 homeruns in a failed effort to give up the victory single-handedly. Secondly are the Chisox bats, and in particular, Paul Konerko is looking as though he wants to make up for all the wretched impressions he's given fans over the last season and a half. He's batting .370 with six runs batted in their first seven games. While you're at it, you might note that the Fearsome Foursome of Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Konerko and Carlos Lee, appear anxious to repeat 2000, the last time the Sox took their division, when those four combined for 120 home runs and 458 RBIs.

How about those Venezuelans? By all accounts, Ozzie Guillen is not a manager who is going to allow talent to go to waste in favour of player ego. Meanwhile, Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio, fellow Venezuelans who preceded Ozzie Guillen as All-Star shortstops for the Sox, joined new manager Guillen in throwing out ceremonial first pitches. We already remember Aparicio, but this Carrasquel feller...he was a 4 time All Star for the Sox in the 50s before being traded with Jim Busby to the Cleveland Indians for Larry Doby. However, Chico's MLB accomplishments pale in comparison to the understated grandeur of Estadio Alfonso Chico Carrasquel.

The Old Man and the Cards

Our grandest of dreams remain dashed. Whilst Andy Pettitte assures the world his cranky elbow nothing to panic over, Roger Clemens continues to defy the logical world outside of Nolan Ryan, this time moving past Terrific Tom Seaver in moving to 2-0 in April 2004, and shutting down the St Louis Cardinals on one run and two hits over 6 2/3 innings. His ERA, in the days we shall remember with dread and revulsion, is 0.66 in his two starts of the 2004 season.

The old man, who might still join the Hall of Fame in an Astros hat, was consistently hitting 93 mph into the sixth as he neared his 105 pitch total that earned a mere 3 strikeouts. Perhaps he was concentrating on hitting out in his two official at-bats to drop his 2004 batting average to .250. Four at bats and not a single fastball under his chin. Is Clemens the only philsopher on the mound who believes that hitting batters is a good way to keep them off the plate?

More notable to Astros fans might be Octavio Dotel's continued jitterbugging from the bullpen. Dotel gave up back-to-back homers to Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to lead off the ninth, but finally got the final four outs for his first save of the season.

Rally Monkies Bigger Than Mariner's Bullpen

Then, as dawn broke over the misty sheep fields of Warwickshire, the Rally Monkey was busy making its first appearance of the 2004 season as I listened over KOMO radio in Seattle. It isn't enough that the un-Met, Vladimir Guerrero, hit his third homer of the young season while Met fans pray collectively that a certain disc might herniate a certain former free agent to the disabled list in a vain effort to prove that tossing that much money on "damaged goods" would have resulted in just another Fat Mo. The Mariners were up 4-2 until the 6th when Bengie Molina hit a two run homer to tie the score. From thereonafter, it was only a matter of time for the Mariner's leaky bullpen to disintegrate. The "Herky Jerky Lefty" Mike Myers did a number on Mariner hopes by sheparding

Yup, looks like the Mariners, in losing their 4th straight game against the Angels, blowing 4-0 leads, are conceding the AL West already, choking a good four months earlier than usual. They have given up an unprecedented number of runs when they already have two outs. Last night's game saw them surrender two two-run homers with two outs. Whaddaya know, Mariners, holding steady in last place with one win in seven games thus far. Good. That's for Starbucks, baby.

Can anyone say "Repeat"?

Marlins sensation Miguel Cabrera homered twice, drove in three runs and extended his hitting streak to seven games and Brad Penny struck out ten and gave up only two hits over 8 innings as the Marlins continued their hold on first place.

In what should be a continued battle all season, it might be fun to keep a running count of basic batting stats between Cabrera and St Louis' Albert Pujols.

Thus far:

Cabrera: 7 games, 1.000 slugging, .429 OBP, .385 batting average, 5 homers, 8 rbis in 26 at bats. For those of you playing at home, that pans out to about 116 homers and 185 ribbies for the season. And they say that the dismissal of steroids and the advent of supahstah pitchers spell the doom of such numbers...

Pujols: 9 games, .725 slugging, .405 OBP, .294 batting average, 4 homers and 11 rbis in 34 at bats. You can almost feel him losing his grip on everyone's favourite phenom, can't you?

Of course, when you're thinking about MVP again, you're thinking about Barry Bonds, who after hitting 661 doesn't appear to wither from the steroid critics who have still only proven by implication, not by fact.

Bonds: 8 games, .960 slugging, .588 OBP, .440 batting average, 3 homers and 8 rbis in 28 at bats.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Home Openers In Three Cities
"Begin at the beginning, the King said gravely, and go till you come to the end, then stop." - Lewis Carroll

660 in San Francisco

The SBC Park capacity crowd of 42,548 gave Bonds two standing ovations before the home opener even started. Perhaps in deference to the boos he received whilst playing away and hearing all the sarcasm about steroids tainting his power and grace.

The third standing ovation came in the fifth inning, when Bonds turned on a 3-1 inside fastball from Milwaukee's Matt Kinney and hit a 442-foot home run into McCovey Cove that tied his godfather, Willie Mays, for third on baseball's career home run list. This was the 28th dinger Bonds has homered into the water. It was also Bonds's fourth in five home openers in SF and he finished the day 3 for 3 with four runs batted in and a walk.

Guess those steroids are really kicking in now, eh fellahs?

According to El Lefty Malo, a half-inning after Barry hit the big one, Jon Miller was hyping a "Barry Bonds 660" commemorative hat + T-shirt package for the low, low price of $42.

Better still, Bonds' 3 run banger gave the Giants a 5-4 lead. Like, why were they pitching to him with two outs, two men on and a stiff like Pierzynski on deck? "Maybe I'm just too stupid to walk him every time," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. Yes, maybe so. Too stupid. Good credentials for being the Brewers manager.

Shea Stadium

With a lineup that resembled the B squad more than the starters, Cliff Floyd on the disabled list, Mike Piazza on the mend and Jos? Reyes rehabilitating in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the Mets thrashed the hated Atlanta Braves EVEN with Shane Spencer and Todd Zeile hitting third and fourth in the batting order. In doing so, the Mets took over sole ownership of second place. Heady days indeed.

A magnetic resonance imaging test on Floyd's right quadriceps revealed a strain, but the injury was not as serious as initially feared. Piazza said he should be able to return from his strained right elbow in a couple of days, and Karim Garcia said he hoped to play tomorrow despite a fractured left ring finger.

Matsui, in his Shea debut, reached base three times, drove in two runs with a double, and raised his on-base percentage to .529. Sushi concession at Shea? Cameron, in his Shea debut, made one stunning catch running straight toward the fence and also knocked in two runs with two hits. Not bad.

Perhaps best of all, they had seven runs in two and two-thirds innings against Met no-wanna be and habitual liar, Mike Hampton. Not so happy now, are yea, Mr Hampton? "Hamp-ton, Hamp-ton," "fans taunted the loser and liar, who allegedly left here for the fine Colorado schools, not the $121-million contract that the Rockies quickly regretted bestowing upon him."

Wrigley Field

A decidedly unhappier story opened Wrigley's 2004 season with Greg Maddux taking the mound for the Cubs at Wrigley for the first time in 12 years, Maddux gave up six runs, five of them earned, on eight hits with five walks in 3 2/3 innings. His record dropped to 0-2, and his ERA rose to 7.45. The Cubs lost by a 13-2 margin to the lowly Pirates of Pittsburgh. Seven games into a new season, Kerry Wood is the only Cubs starting pitcher who has won a game and one wonders how long before Cubs fans overreact to the slow start. They are now two games behind the "first place" Cincinnati Reds!

Outside the park, sidewalk vendors peddled cute "Curse Breaker" stuffed billy goats for $10. The Miller beer billboard in the right-field corner had a new motto in place: "Curse Quenching."

It didn't take long for Cubs fans to see the bigger picture. The sellout crowd of 40,483 began booing when Maddux continued to struggle in the third inning after giving up five runs in the second.

Of course, isn't this the modus operandus of Maddux early in the season? Over the past three seasons (2001-2003) he has a 4.06 ERA and a less-than-sterling 7-7 record.

Chances are, when it comes to August and September, Cubbies will be able to rely on Maddux as a cherished third starter.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Elbow That The Long Term Contract Forgot

"The left elbow has always awaited that final, fat contract before squawking its last protest and blowing out entirely. I'd even imagined that while signing the contract with the Astros, it will later be revealed, the final flourish in his signature was the telling blow and that horrific ligament damage had been sustained in the left elbow even as the ink was drying." - Sports Amnesia, 11th December 2003 on the Pettitte signing.