Thursday, October 28, 2004
86 years in the making.
Red Sox 3, Cardinals 0
I always feel a twinge of remorse when the baseball season comes to an end. No matter who's playing, I always try to catch the last out -- or, in the case of 2001, 1997, etc., the last pitch, hit and run. But this year, I couldn't wait for this final out. Edgar Renteria, the guy who got that hit in the 11th inning in Game 7 in 1997 to drive Craig Counsell home with the Marlins' winning run, tapped one back to Keith Foulke, who jumped to grab it, twitched a little with it coming down, jogged toward first and double-clutched, almost appearing afraid to let go of it, not sure he can make the toss to get The Out. The Final Out. 1918-2004, as Sportsline.com put it. And what does it say about the Red Sox that they're celebrating on the field in St. Louis, rather than in the clubhouse? At least for a little while?
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
First and foremost, I just have to thank God for the opportunity to write this blog.
Why not them? I have to say, having not been a part of all the Red Sox fans' heartaches over the years, I also don't suffer from the pessimism that's come to define them, to an extent. Boston has a 3-0 lead right now, and while some may allow themselves to believe what they don't want to say out loud, there are just as many who are noting that just 10 days ago, it was the Red Sox down 0-3 -- to the Yankees, no less -- and they're not allowing themselves to think about what could be a reality in 24 hours. But ever since the Red Sox took that 6-0 lead against the Yankees, I've started to let myself think about it. I've started to allow myself to believe it could happen -- it will happen -- and, as a result, my outlook of the World Series has been that it's going to happen. I can't explain it, but I've just felt since Friday that this is going to become a reality.
Of course, I'm not going to actually type out the words just yet, but I'm confident that, even after a possible Cardinals win or two, it will indeed come to pass.
So Pedro Martinez still has it, and now he's the one people are calling Daddy. I'm a little tired of the "what might be Pedro's last start as a Red Sox" talk. Leave that for the postseason. Fox played it up with Roger Clemens -- his last start ever! -- in last year's postseason, and look what happened there. A lot of the talk on New York's sports radio today was about the Mets interviewing Willie Randolph for their managerial opening yesterday and what the Yankees will do in the offseason to improve, from signing everyone from Carl Pavano to Carlos Beltran to Eric Milton to Pedro Martinez, to trading Kevin Brown and Jason Giambi and getting Troy Percival to set up Mariano Rivera. I just don't see how Pedro would come to the Bronx. First of all, George Steinbrenner doesn't want him. For one thing, the Yankees have done very well against Boston when Martinez pitches, so it's not like he's killing the Yanks every time out, something that might prompt George to go get the guy. Second, I just don't see him as a pitcher George covets, and we all know George gets the players he wants (Gary Sheffield over Vladimir Guerrero, Kenny Lofton over, well, anyone). Finally, a left hander is more important for New York, so Milton or Randy Johnson will be the target.
But that's hot-stove league talk. There's still at least one more game left in this baseball season.
Monday, October 25, 2004
How can Boston not win the Series? This Curt Schilling story is a tale of athletic heroism straight out of Hollywood. It's like Roy Hobbs rounding the bases as his jersey gets bloodier with every step, only without the sexy circumstances causing the injury. These postseason starts on his bum ankle clearly make the start of the 2005 season a target date for Schilling's return from surgery, but will he be able to make it? Major surgery on one of the most important parts of a right-handed pitcher's body seems like it would need more than five months (the time from November 1, the first day after a potential Game 7, to April 1, just days before Opening Day) to make a full recovery including rehab and rebuilding strength and stamina to be able to take the ball to start a game. It means I'll have some big decisions to make when deciding my fantasy baseball keepers, is all. But we're not there yet.
Last night, Schilling became Greg Maddux. His stuff wasn't vintage Schilling, it wasn't as powerful as it usually is. He won, as Peter Gammons pointed out, by controling his location and never throwing the same pitch in the same situations to the Cardinals hitters. In two games, the Red Sox have committed eight errors and left 21 men on base. Those numbers would usually mean an 0-2 deficit, not a 2-0 lead. But Boston's ahead because, in Game 1, they overcame those errors at the plate, scoring 11 runs. In Game 2, they won because they bore down and got the outs despite the miscues. Look at Bill Mueller -- two outs, he commits an error, then Mark Bellhorn does on the next play, but then the next batter hits a shot to third that Mueller fields cleanly and takes to the bag for the final forceout. Perseverance. Determination. Execution. That's what's carrying these Red Sox.
Today is the 18th anniversary of Mookie Wilson's ground ball through the legs of Bill Buckner. I was 10 at the time, and in bed when I heard my father's screams from downstairs. I missed the actual play, but I was out of bed and down the stairs in time to see the countless replays. What a lot of people forget -- or never knew in the first place -- is that the play, while it lost the game for the Red Sox, didn't blow a lead. That had already happened; the game was tied when Mookie came to bat. Second, Bob Stanley wasn't covering first base and part of the reason Buckner missed the ball is because he was already moving toward first, hoping to beat the fleet Mookie to the bag -- which was also unlikely. And, of course, just like the Cubs against the Marlins last year, Boston still had Game 7 it could have won. Just as Steve Bartman didn't lose the NLCS for Chicago last year, Buckner didn't lose the World Series for the Red Sox in 1986. Buckner may have cost them Game 6 (and Bartman, at most, cost the Cubs one lone, single out in an inning), but he didn't cost them three other games. In fact, he had two hits in Game 7.
Those were the early days of my interest in baseball and the Mets. They're still the only team I root for, from Opening Day through their final game, with an excitement and passion that rivals my feelings for Notre Dame. For me, nothing tops my allegiance to the Irish, because I spent four years there living the experience. But only the Mets come close. I follow the Devils but take only a passing interest during the season; the playoffs, as everyone knows, are when the NHL gets exciting. I have no NFL ties nearly as strong and I loathe the NBA. I rooted for the Nets out of New Jersey pride more than anything. Now that Bruce Rattner has bought the team and is scuttling it to make some money before he moves them to Brooklyn and loses a ton, I hope it all blows up in his face. I haven't been to a game or supported the NBA in any way in nine or 10 years, and I don't intend to start anytime soon.
But I've discovered something this postseason: I have an American League team. I have friends who purport to back a second team in addition to their primary squad, usually choosing one from the opposite league to call his NL or AL team, depending on which applies. While I was hoping any of the three AL playoff participants not from New York this season would reach the World Series, and I was prepared to root for any of them in that quest, but it has occurred to me, particularly as I've watched these two games against the Cardinals, that I am a Red Sox fan. This isn't simply a World Series choice; it's bigger. While I'll root for the Mets in any potential Boston-Queens matchups, in all other instances, I'm an immigrant to Red Sox Nation.
If the Red Sox come through with these last two victories, I won't celebrate like a long-suffering fan. I haven't lived through the losses the way New Englanders have. But I'll appreciate the championship as a fan of baseball and of history (and baseball history) and of a different game in 1918 -- before the Black Sox, before the Babe became a slugger and rewrote the record book and the way the game is perceived and played. And, most of all, I'll be happy for all those Red Sox fans.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Here's what I would've said: Both teams have great lineups, the Cardinals have better defense, especially in St. Louis, when David Ortiz has to play first base just to get his bat in the lineup. I think Boston's pitching is better overall, particularly the starters, and that could end up being the difference. The thing about the Red Sox is that they can afford some defensive mistakes (see Manny Ramirez in the seventh last night), build a lead with their bats, and then replace Kevin Millar and Mark Bellhorn (and, in Missouri later this week, Ortiz) with Doug Mientkiewicz and Pokey Reese.
These may be the two best ballparks in the country when it comes to fan support and atmosphere in which a visiting team has to play. The Cardinals haven't lost a playoff game at home this year. However, I feel both teams are capable of winning on the road. I also feel that the home team could win out just the same. Something like the last seven World Series involving the Cardinals have gone seven games, and this one very well could too. I think it will: Red Sox in seven.
As for last night, everything I was going to say (and, let's face it, it's not original; I feel the same way most people do about this series) pretty much came to pass. I watched some of it at home, listened to some of it from the other room while I played cards with my parents, and saw the middle innings unfold without sound in a bar. Game 2 is about to start and I'm hankerin' for some peanuts. Time to crack some shells and watch the show. James Taylor is singing the national anthem. Nice touch. I'll do my best to finish up the rest of the baseball season with a whole-hearted effort in these pages. And I've yet to give my opinions on the major awards. I'll have to do that now without the bias of the postseason. I meant to (and should've) get them posted before any extra games every started.
Friday, October 22, 2004
Cardinals 5, Astros 2
Cardinals win series 4-3
The last time the Cardinals were in the World Series, 1987 against the Twins, the home team won every game. The same happened in this NLCS, sending St. Louis back to the Fall Classic. Should that trend continue, well, that means Red Sox in seven. This will be the third meeting between these two clubs in October, but we'll look ahead to that matchup later. For the Cardinals, as it was for the Red Sox and Astros, just to get to a seventh game, superb pitching performances from unlikely starters meant the difference. For Boston, it was Derek Lowe with six one-hit innings on two days' rest. You could even make a case for Curt Schilling's Game 6 start after his drubbing in Game 1 on the bum ankle. For the Cardinals, it was Jeff Suppan last night. Craig Biggio put Houston on top in the first, but Suppan settled in and didn't let the Astros build a comfortable lead behind Roger Clemens. I've heard it was the first time that two former teammates met on the mound in a postseason Game 7, though I don't know if I remember the circumstances correctly (that is, it could've been the first time ever in postseason history, or the first time in Game 7 in the NLCS, or either LCS, etc.).
What did in the Astros, I contend, was the decision to wear those ridiculous rust-colored jerseys for a Thursday night postseason game. I've discussed my displeasure for alternate jerseys before, though my main complaints are with breaking tradition (how the Mets simply adopted black as an official color simply to have a black jersey, rather than introducing the black beforehand or making the alternate jersey the classy, shimmering blue that used to define their spring training uniforms) and the inconsistency of when and where those jerseys are used. For the most part, there's no rhyme or reason to when a team decides to go with the colored top instead of the home white or road gray. However, I've noticed -- in highlights and on my Extra Innings package -- this season that the Astros tended to only wear the rust jerseys at home on weekends. I don't remember if it was Saturday or Sunday. And I may be wrong on all counts. In any case, why they went and switched things up last night I just don't get. Apparently, Major League Baseball either asks or requires the players to wear his team's standard home or away uniform, because in Houston this year I did not see any alternate jerseys, even on players whose teams love to use them -- the Cubs and Sammy Sosa, the A's and Mark Mulder, and so on. Why won't Bud insist -- or request, but I'd prefer a firm stance on this -- that in the postseason, teams should stick with their main standard uniforms. The Red Sox, who wore their red jerseys regularly on Sundays in Boston this season, abandoned them for Sunday's Game 4 at Fenway. It just doesn't seem right to see the celebratory pile-on when all the players are in black softball tops like the Marlins are fond of wearing. The game doesn't seem big enough if that's how they look. Some may contend that banning the jerseys for entire series, or the postseason, is a little strong, so then make it apply only to night games or, at least, potential series-ending games. But that's probably just me.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Red Sox 10, Yankees 3
Cardinals something, Astros less
Red Sox win series 4-3
Let's face it, this was the game of the year. Sure, my prediction from the start of the postseason turned out to be wrong, but as I said then -- I couldn't see myself calling it until it was proven possible. That is, I couldn't foresee a Red Sox victory, either in the division during the season or in the postseason, until they managed to pull it off once. And now they have. Is this the start of the Curse of A-Rod? It's been 86 years since the Red Sox won a World Series, and 1986 was the last time they even got to one. If they manage to win it all, we'll know one thing: to break the curse, Boston had to go through New York. Knowing that, Red Sox Nation would've been calling for the wild card in 1965. It figures it would take something as monumental and historic as becoming the first team to win a playoff series after losing the first three games. And the Yankees just looked defeated last night. Not physically, on the field, but emotionally, because they knew they had it, and they blew it. Several times.
It had to be clear that the Yankee mystique, that all those ghosts, would fail them this time. Yesterday was Mickey Mantle's birthday, after all. Maybe that's the Yankees' problem (or at least their fans') -- they did not go into yesterday's game saying, "I think they'll win tonight because Brown's due to come up big and Lowe's been horrible all year." They -- particularly New York radio host Mike Francesa -- were saying, "We're not going to lose tonight because it's Mickey Mantle's birthday." That kind of reasoning only holds up for so long.
I wonder at what point last night George Steinbrenner started firing people. You know he wanted to during the game, that's for sure, but is he the kind of guy who decides to sleep on a decision rather than making a knee-jerk move? And is Brian Cashman in trouble because Fox showed him on camera after Damon's grand slam screaming, "Fuck!" from his suite?
There are only so many hours in the day, and I have to work during many of them, but it would've been fun to sit at home all day and listen to the New York talk radio shows. But I'm not going to try to say this any better than Tyler Kepner, who ended his game story in the New York Times with this paragraph:
It was actually happening. The nerd was kissing the homecoming queen. Paper was beating scissors; scissors were beating rock. Charlie Brown was kicking the football. The Red Sox were beating the Yankees for the American League pennant.
And no one can put it better than ESPN.com's Bill Simmons. Well done.
Cardinals-Astros series tied 3-3
I think, in a way, it's good that the Astros didn't clinch yesterday, because today is all about the Red Sox. We'll deal with this outcome after tonight's game.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Red Sox 4, Yankees 2
Yankees-Red Sox series tied 3-3
Holy shit. First team down 0-3 to even get to Game 7. So I guess this series did turn out to be quite exciting after all. It's down to one winner-take-all game, Derek Lowe against someone, as of this morning, yet to be determined. Kevin Brown? Orlando Hernandez, who was warming up in the ninth last night in the event the Yankees tied it? You know everyone will be available, with the exception of Jon Lieber. Turns out the Red Sox had the Yankees just where they wanted them, and wanted themselves. They've admitted they play loose and coming back to New York, there was no pressure on them. There might be some tonight, but it's still not as much as that which is on the men in pinstripes. We're starting to see it, both from the Yankees and their fans. What is Alex Rodriguez doing trying to knock the ball out of the pitcher's hand on the tag play going to first? That's a play made by a Little Leaguer who doesn't know the game -- it's a childish play. And the fans had no right to get upset over the umpires convening to make the correct call (except for the fact that few of them probably saw what actually happened). In the end, it was sad to see that the fans forced the riot police to line the field for the final two half-innings. That's New York for you. I'm not saying it's New York and nowhere else, but it is, indeed, New York. I have no idea how to look at tonight's game, how to peg it. But I do have a feeling on one thing: food consumption will be down in New York and Boston today, because there are a few hundred thousand fans who will be too nervous and excited heading into tonight to find a way to eat. At least that's the way I'd be.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Red Sox 5, Yankees 4, 14 innings
Astros 3, Cardinals 0
Astros lead series 3-2
Watching the other game while working tonight, we didn't flip over to check on this one at all. So when it came over to Fox, we saw the scoreless game featuring two one-hitters -- an amazing pitching duel, the kind of games that quickly become postseason classics. After Brad Lidge easily dispatched of the top of the St. Louis order, striking out Larry Walker and Albert Pujols, I saw that Carlos Beltran was leading off the ninth. "This is it," I said to my co-workers. Sure enough, Beltran led off with a single and stole second -- his first in the series, making him 31-for-31 since joining Houston -- after Jeff Bagwell flied out to center. With first base now open, Lance Berkman was walked, and then Jeff Kent ended it with a three-run shot to left. Now the Astros return to St. Louis needing one of the two games to head to their first World Series. The belief is that they will pitch Roger Clemens in Game 6 on Wednesday on three days' rest. His numbers in such situations isn't good throughout his career, but can Phil Garner really go with Pete Munro in a potential clincher? He's in a tight spot, one in which he will probably be second-guessed either way. Perhaps the better option is to send Munro out there -- he allowed three runs on six hits in 4 2/3 in Game 2, which isn't horrible -- and, if a Game 7 is needed, start Clemens on full rest and have Roy Oswalt (then on three days' rest) available out of the bullpen as a bridge to Lidge. Or, if Clemens is strong, Oswalt can be saved to start Game 1 of the Series. One thing's for sure: No matter how much Garner's moves have been questioned, they've still gotten the Astros within one win of the World Series.
Yankees lead series 3-2
How exciting and intense would this series have been if it hadn't started out 3-0 for New York? There is definitely some electricity and excitement buzzing around Boston right now, but how much momentum do they really have? Both games were won in extra innings, so it's not like the Red Sox rode a wave of emotion and fan support and breezed through Games 4 and 5. There were times in both games when Fenway came across on TV like the 18th green at the Masters, only with less anticipation and hope in the air. Despite these two nail-biting wins, there's still that feeling that the Sox are merely putting off the inevitable. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, for one, felt like Boston could win two at home and bring the series back to New York, and under other circumstances, they'd still be considered to have a chance. But seeing as how no team has ever come back from 0-3, the order in which they've won these games is what has Yankee fans still feeling somewhat confident. But there's this: If Curt Schilling does pitch Game 6, and if he can get over his ankle injury -- if it really is comfortable enough to not be a factor -- then it's down to a winner-take-all seventh game in which anything can happen. It won't, but there have to be some normally pessimistic Red Sox fans who are at least a little bit excited at the prospects.
Astros 6, Cardinals 5
Red Sox 6, Yankees 4, 12 innings
Cardinals-Astros series tied 2-2
Well, here we are. Series tied. Fresh start. Best of three. We'll have to see how the rookie Brandon Backe does tonight at home, where the Astros haven't lost since August 22, when the Cubs won the rubber match of a three-game series 11-6. If this series was any indication, the AP story said, Houston is going to have a tough time overtaking the Cubs in the standings. Chicago was only a ninth-inning rally on Saturday away from a sweep. "This puts us in a bind," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "We're not out of it, but it's going to be tough." At the time, the Cubs were 67-56, the Astros 61-62. Chicago went 22-23 the rest of the way, Houston 31-8. No matter what happens tonight, the thinking is that Roger Clemens will get the nod on three days' rest to pitch either a season-saving or a potential clinching Game 6 in St. Louis on Wednesday. What's been really great about this postseason is watching Carlos Beltran emerge as the superstar fantasy players and many others truly believed he was. The tragedy will be if he really does sign with the Yankees in the offseason.
Yankees lead series 3-1
Imagine if this game had happened in any other game than a Game 4 with the Red Sox down 0-3. It's the kind of game that can turn things around, that can propell a team on a run that ends in a series -- or a World Series -- victory. It's the kind of loss, particularly when you note that, once again the Red Sox got to Mariano Rivera. Yet, all it does is make it a 3-1 series, basically pushing back the inevitable and making it one Boston win from allowing the Yankees to clinch the AL pennant at home. No team has ever bounced back from an 0-3 deficit to win, and while it will happen one day, it's probably not going to be the Yankees who blow it.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Cardinals 6, Astros 4
Astros 5, Cardinals 2
Yankees 19, Red Sox 8
Cardinals lead series 2-1
There was little attention paid to baseball the past few days because Notre Dame was playing Navy at Giants Stadium, and with so many college friends and their families in, we didn't spend too much time watching the LCS. During last night's relaxing dinner party at my apartment, however, we did flip back to the games when football contests were slower or in commercial, so we saw a bit of Roger Clemens' strong performance capped by the devastating slider of the former Notre Dame pitcher, Brad Lidge. At the moment, the Astros are tied 5-5, but I'll hold off on further comment until the game is final. I have to say, though, that my favorite uniform for Houston is the white jersey without the pinstripes and the brick-red "Astros" and cap. I don't like the red BP jerseys they're wearing today, and the black pinstripes and hats aren't as cool.
Yankees lead series 3-0
I'm just not in the mood. I'll address it when it's time.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Yankees 3, Red Sox 1
Cardinals 10, Astros 7
Yankees lead series 2-0
Red Sox Nation is calling it. Time of death: 10:28 p.m. Or whenever Olerud's homer landed in the right-field seats. The long-suffering Boston fans can't see a comeback from an 0-2 hole. At least there shouldn't be any offseason second-guessing and questioning -- Schilling's injury will go down as the turning point in this series. They may not admit it, but Yankee fans are relieved he may not pitch again. And they won't want to hear it, but the Sox' ace clearly wasn't able to pitch in Game 1 and that, more than anything, is why he was beaten. There has been a history of the home teams winning every game in a seven-game series, so if the Red Sox manage to sweep the games at Fenway, all they'll need is one of the final two in the Bronx. It's not out of the question, but first they need to win Game 3, then Game 4. Then Game 5. I would be surprised if it's a sweep -- however, if the Yankees take Game 3 ... well, Sunday might be a day of rest for everyone.
Cardinals lead series 1-0
I think this was the game the Astros had to win. Their chances seemed better with Backe than they do with Pete Munro tonight. Man, what a different series this could be with at least either Andy Pettitte or Wade Miller. Interesting that this game was decided by the same score as the Yankees-Red Sox Game 1, with the home team winning. As for tonight's second game, Matt Morris has been up and down all year. Maybe Houston's batters can jump out to a good early lead and give him some breathing room, settle him down, allow him to relax just enough to pitch well. I'll be rooting for the Astros tonight, only because a 1-1 series would essentially be starting over with the games in Houston and Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens on the mound.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Yankees 10, Red Sox 7
Yankees lead series, 1-0
After it was 8-0, I wasn’t watching. So I guess I missed the actual game. Well, it clearly showed us a few things: 1. The Red Sox are never out of it. We already know the Yankees – they of the 61 come-from-behind victories this season – fit that description. The Red Sox have all year, the way they can hit. But there are some who feel that Boston is a different team when playing the pinstripes. Last night showed that such an assumption is false. 2. Curt Schilling is probably hurt. We know he “tweaked” his ankle, but that performance last night was not a Schilling performance. He’s a big-game pitcher; last night’s game was the reason he came to Boston. He may not be able to pitch again in this series. There’s more to be said here, but it can’t be said until after tonight’s game. 3. Hideki Matsui is the difference in the Yankees lineup this year. He’s had another year to adapt to baseball in the U.S., and as many predicted, he put up better numbers this season. Bernie Williams is clearly on the decline and while he’ll still come through with some big hits, he’s not the Bernie of old. Derek Jeter is as he always was, and Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield will always be feared. But Matsui is a key to the lineup, in part because he’s their most powerful left-handed bat (with the exception of part-timers Tony Clark and Ruben Sierra). When the series moves to Boston this weekend, getting Matsui out with runners on second and third and two outs will be more than just two potential runs kept off the board. It could be a three, four run turnaround when the Sox start slamming the ball off the Green Monster and send Matsui scurrying around left field like a 6-year-old chasing gulls on the beach. At least it’s simple for the Red Sox tonight: Get seven solid innings (NO MORE) out of Pedro Martinez, then turn a two- or three-run lead over to the bullpen. Then head up to Beantown to start over in a best-of-five series.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Astros 12, Braves 3
Astros win series, 3-2
Thirteen division titles -- or whatever it is -- and one measly World Series victory to show for it. This has got to be the worst dynasty ever. Watch: the first team to win the division other than the Braves will probably go on to win the Series. Atlanta's inevitable crumbling aside, how big is that Carlos Beltran trade now? The fans of Houston won't care if he signs with the Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees this winter if the Astros win the World Series. I think both the players and fans in Houston and Boston know that it's this year or, like, 2007, when they can come back with some seasoned younger players mixed in with a new crop of veterans. Guys like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Brad Lidge and Andy Pettitte will still be around (even if they're not now, in the case of Miller and Pettitte) then, but this is the last best chance for Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent and Roger Clemens. The Astros, who took 10 of the 18 meetings with the Cardinals this season, will have to earn a split in St. Louis with the likes of Brandon Backe and Pete Munro. There's a chance. Each team has swept a series on the road this season. Could Backe be this postseason's Josh Beckett or John Lackey? Then that sets up Clemens and Oswalt for starts at home in Games 3 and 4, and also leaves one available to start (and the other to relieve?) in a potential Game 7. I'm sticking with my Cardinals pick in the upcoming series, but just like in the ALCS, I can see Houston riding the wave at least one more step.
This afternoon in New York, "Paul Revere" was to ride through Times Square announcing that the Red Sox were coming. The Red Sox are coming! I think it was a stunt by ESPN Radio (that's where I heard the announcement, tacked on to the end of a "SportsCenter" update), and while the excitement of the rivalry and the buzz about town is great -- I love that stuff -- I hate it when they bastardize things and screw up history. There are two things about this series for which this Paul Revere stunt might apply: The Red Sox wear red coats, just as the British soldiers did, and they're from Boston. That's it. He's a Boston figure, and if anyone gets to have him ride through the streets in a contemporary call to arms, it's the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Revere warned of the enemy coming to Boston, not Boston invading New Amsterdam. I once commissioned a cartoon from the artist of our campus newspaper to draw Paul Revere riding through the streets of Boston shouting, "The Irish are coming! The Irish are coming!" in advance of a Notre Dame-Boston College game. Now, that was clever.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Astros 8, Braves 5
Yankees 6, Twins 5, 11 innings
Dodgers 4, Cardinals 0
Braves 6, Astros 5
Cardinals 6, Dodgers 2
Yankees win series, 3-1
There wasn't much doubt how this one would turn out, especially after the Twins blew Game 2. Even when the Yankees aren't as good as they're perceived to be, or they've been in past seasons, they somehow seem to get the job done. Now they head into the Red Sox Rematch -- er, ALCS -- with the added drama of "Do It For Mo," Mariano Rivera, who'll be coming back from Panama, where his wife's cousin and the cousin's son died when they were electrocuted while cleaning Rivera's pool. There's always something with the Yankees. The Red Sox have a better chance of pulling it off this year -- it could be their best chance to win the Series since 1986 -- but they've got one particular stat to knock off first: The Yankees have never lost in the ALCS. They're 10-0, including 6-0 since 1996. New York's only postseason losses since returning there in 1995 were in the Division Series (to the Mariners in '95, the Indians in '97 and the Angels in '02) or the World Series (the Diamondbacks in '01 and the Marlins last year). Unless the Yankees beat Curt Schilling once, Pedro Martinez twice or a combination of that, along with taking out Tim Wakefield, this one's going seven games. Schilling could very well win three games this series, and if he does, that'll do it, because the third start, naturally, would be Game 7. And if he doesn't start it, he'll be available out of the bullpen, that's for sure. But as I said in my postseason preview, I can't go against the Yankees here until it happens. I'm rooting for it with my heart, but I'm thinking that it'll be Yanks in seven. We'll see.
Cardinals win series, 3-1
Four games: pegged it. At least Lima Time is back in effect, and it helped the Dodgers end their eight-game postseason losing streak. The Dodgers' pitching wasn't considered all that spectacular by many (a view I held too), so the St. Louis lineup will have to somehow put up the same output against Houston or Atlanta if it wants to move on to the World Series for the first time since 1987. Those teams can hit, and the Cardinals may benefit from the potential of playing four of the seven games at home, but they'll have to keep either the Astros or the Braves off the board at some point to notch a win or two. Depsite the 4-0 Dodgers win in Game 3, the Cardinals still averaged 5.5 runs per game in the series, allowing 3 per game to L.A., which only scored more than three runs in its shutout victory, when, it turned out, one would have been enough. The point is, there will probably be one or two games against either the Astros or Braves in which eight runs is not enough to win.
Astros-Braves series tied, 2-2
I said the Astros would sweep, and instead, it's the only series that comes down to a decisive Game 5. Clearly, I never thought it would be coming back to Atlanta, and my sweep pick was more that I thought the Braves were the most sweep-able team of the eight. Not so much. What Houston has going for it is Roy Oswalt. He's Ace 1A on this team, and he can clearly lead the Astros to their first postseason series victory in the team's 42-year history. But he'll have to go seven or eight innings to do it, which means Houston will need a 3- or 4-run lead to keep him from getting pinch-hit for in the sixth or seventh. So more than just the way he pitches will determine how far he goes in this game. Phil Garner's getting a little heat for the way he's managed this series, and he's a bit lucky to have Oswalt going here because he couldn't use an ill Clemens to pitch the wild-card clincher on the last day of the season, so his division series rotation was set for him. The Astros should've wrapped this one up at home yesterday, and in going with Clemens on three days' rest, why lift him after five? (Ron Gardenhire's getting the same heat for lifting Johan Santana after only five innings, and he deserves it more. Why go with your ace on three days' rest in Game 4? Well, when you're down 2-1 facing elimination, it's logical. But you have to get at least six, if not seven from him.) Anyway, in Game 2, Oswalt went 6 1/3, allowing a run on eight hits and a walk, striking out four. Brad Lidge was asked to go 2 2/3 for the save, and he didn't get it, and Atlanta won on Rafael Furcal's game-winning DWI -- er, game-winning RBI -- a two-run home run in the 11th. Back in May, Houston took two out of three in Atlanta, losing the middle game (started by Oswalt) 5-4 in the 10th on an Andruw Jones home run. Essentially, that's what the Astros would be doing tonight, taking a three-game series in Atlanta after losing the second game. My pick for tonight: 7-2 Astros.
Friday, October 08, 2004
Red Sox 8, Angels 6, 10 innings
Yankees 8, Twins 3
Red Sox win series, 3-0
Done and done. Good job. The Sox rolled over the Angels, and it appeared to energize John Kerry, who rolled over George Bush in the debate. Yet I digress. While listening to the Sox game on the radio as I drove home from work, Buck Martinez mentioned, twice, that Bronson Arroyo struck out 11 consecutive Mariners earlier in the season. It's a little inaccurate, which I think Martinez had right one of the times. He had 11 straight outs by strikeout, but there was a walk that made it 11 strikeouts over 12 batters. I figured I would've remembered if someone had broken Tom Seaver's record of striking out 10 consecutive batters. What a dramatic way to go on a three day rest. It's just what the Sox need. They shouldn't have to worry about losing any momentum or rhythm, because if they play the Yankees, as they most likely will, they'll be jazzed. And rested. And have Curt Schilling going in Games 1, 4, and potentially 7. If they need that many.
Yankees lead series 2-1
Ninth inning, Yankees leading 8-1. No outs. Corey Koskie is hit by the pitch. Then Lew Ford is plunked. And yet -- the Twins fans are booing Felix Heredia?? Um, hello: You're down seven runs in the ninth. A loss means you're down 2-1 in a best-of-five series. You need runs to win. You need baserunners to get that win. HBPs are GOOD. FOR. YOU. This is the problem with baseball today. It's not the Twins fans' fault; it's not just them. MLB as an organization has ingrained the thought in casual fans' heads that throwing inside to gain an advantage as a pitcher is not part of the game if you can't do it without hitting a batter. The game has become so soft because umpires are too quick to warn benches and the commissioner's office is wrong to issue directives insisting that they do so. Of course, Bud Selig isn't going to do anything to hurt The Great Bonds and his supplement-fueled, body-armored climb through the record book. On those two hit-by-pitches, the Metrodome should've been rocking like it was when Dan Gladden slid home with the winning run in '91. Johan Santana might be able to bring the series back to New York, but it's going to be a tough task for Minnesota to advance. They missed their golden opportunity in blowing Wednesday's game.
I'm off on vacation until Monday, so I'll be missing some of the weekend's action, as will this blog. So the two of you can discuss amongst yourselves until I return.
Braves 4, Astros 2, 11 innings
Cardinals 8, Dodgers 3
Astros-Braves series tied 1-1
Why are they still doing the Tomahawk Chop in Atlanta? It's done. It's tired. The fans aren't even into it. When I went down for the Mets-Braves NLCS Game 1 in 1999, they handed out those foam red tomahawks to everyone who entered. They're probably still giving them out because they made so many in the 90s, expecting the Braves to advance in the postseason, that they've got boxes of them in storage in Decatur. But in the third inning, or some other early point in the game when Atlanta got a runner on with two outs, someone in the production room on the press level pressed a button, and the canned chant came from the P.A. system, and about a quarter of the 40,000 fans in the ballpark started chopping with their foam tomahawks. Not even into it. Nevermind all the offensive and politically incorrect connotations (it's way more offensive, in my mind, than a team called the Indians), but it's so yesterday and passe. And they need to be prompted! They don't start chanting or cheering until the P.A. prompts them! Ridiculous. The only team that might have less of a homefield advantage in the playoffs right now is the Angels, and that's only because of all the Red Sox fans who have migrated to Southern California. If it were the A's or Twins or another team playing Anaheim, there wouldn't be that problem. So the Braves managed to eek out a win when they tied it in the eighth and John Smoltz worked three shutout innings until Rafael Furcal -- who will go to jail when the season's over and cannot participate in any postseason celebrations because of his second DWI arrest and recent sentence -- lined a two-run homer in the 11th. So no sweep for the Astros, but I'm still sticking with my belief that this was the Braves' final home game of the season.
Cardinals lead series 2-0
It has just become official: Anyone mocking the mandated "I'm John Kerry, and I approve this message" tag that's required on campaign commercials is lame. That joke has jumped the shark. Jared -- from Subway -- began a commercial for the chain during the game. Through last night, the Dodgers are now 0-8 in postseason games since Orel Hershiser jumped into the arms of catcher Rick Dempsey in 1988, and I'm not sure a game at home with Jose Lima up against Matt Morris is going to temporarily put off that ninth loss. Getting nine losses before two wins seems to me to be a lock. Maybe Lima can bring back some of that old magic from his Astrodome days, but it would only be putting off the inevitable for one day. In the final few weeks of the season, the atmosphere had changed around Dodger Stadium -- fans were coming early and staying through the end of the game. And why wouldn't they? The Dodgers were battling, playing exciting baseball in a tight pennant race with their arch-rivals. They had something like 56 come-from-behind victories this season, second only to the Yankees. Down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, I don't expect the seats to be filled all the way to the ninth if L.A. falls behind by three or four runs. They're going to have to have a lead or be within a run or two to keep the fans around.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
Astros 9, Braves 3
Yankees 7, Twins 6, 12 innings
Red Sox 8, Angels 3
Astros lead series 1-0
Early in the season, when Roger Clemens was something like 9-0, I didn't want to think he was still that dominant. I figured a lot of it had to do with changing leagues and facing lineups who had never seen him and his impressive splitter. As the Astros faded, he didn't get the same press, and I look up his numbers in September, and he's 18-4. OK, that's good. He may have struggled yesterday, but he got out of those jams. He may be a bit of an ass, but he's from Texas. A lot of people are. At least he's a little more likable, and more subdued, than Barry Bonds. I can enjoy watching Clemens set milestones. But the Braves are in trouble. They've never drawn well, so they gave fans who purchased tickets to yesterday's game free tickets to today's game, just to fill seats. Yeah, great fans they have in Atlanta. But Carlos Beltran showed why he'll be the most coveted free agent this winter. Since the all-star break, when the Astros were just 44-44 and struggling, he hit only .257, with 17 home runs and 41 RBI. But he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio ever so slightly (51 Ks to 45 walks pre-break, 50-47 afterwards) and upped his on-base percentage 5 points to .370. The biggest difference, however, was his aggressiveness on the bases: 27 post-break steals to 15 before the midsummer classic. And all three of his caught stealings came in the first half. But it's Clemens I keep coming back to, and if Roy Oswalt mimics Rocket's output, hometown boy Brandon Backe will have a chance for another big -- and historic -- win in Game 3 in Houston.
Twins-Yankees series tied 1-1
As much as the Yankees and their fans would have talked calmly and acted cooly if they had gone down 0-2 -- "We've just got to take it one game at a time"; "We've been here before"; etc. -- this team would have been in trouble going to Minnesota in such a hole. Sure, it was a big win for the Twins too, which is why Ron Gardenhire had his closer out there to finish off the game in his third inning of work. It's just that I don't get why he was out there in the 10th to begin with. Gardenhire said he left Nathan in for his third inning after the Twins had taken a 6-5 lead on Torii Hunter's home run off Tanyon Sturtze because he "didn't like our options" left in the bullpen. When you're on the road, you know you're going to have to protect a lead with the home team getting one last at-bat, so why was Nathan in there in a tie game to begin with? When the Yankees rallied, he had to bring someone in after Nathan, so why couldn't J.C. Romero have started the 10th? If he got into trouble, then Gardenhire could've brought Nathan in to get out of a jam. The Yankees were lucky to come away with this one. Mariano Rivera faltered again, and Sturtze, who was one of the relievers the team was talking up as having finished the season strong, would have been the losing pitcher. Now the question is: How will Kevin Brown pitch? He's obviously not Joe Torre's first choice, or the decision would have been announced earlier than yesterday. This may seem like an obvious expectation, but my feeling is Brown will either get shelled and not make it through the third, or he'll be brilliant and scatter four hits over seven.
Red Sox lead series 2-0
It's over. Boston isn't the Oakland A's, the Red Sox are not going to blow a 2-0 lead. There's a very slim chance this series will even get back to California. It might not make it to Saturday. Pedro sure sounds like a different pitcher now, far from the "the Yankees are my daddy" comments two weeks ago. "I was the No. 1 today, and that's all that matters," said Martinez, 0-4 with a 7.72 ERA to finish the season. "I don't care what the experts have to say, they were talking trash. Every time they give me the ball, I'm special." The Red Sox may have celebrated their postseason-clinching victory in Tampa Bay (while the Yankees like to talk about how they don't make a big deal out of postseason appearances because that's expected and their goal is to win the World Series), but Boston is playing like a calm, confident, focused team determined to be one of the last two playing this season. Bronson Arroyo might not scare many as the opposing pitcher in an elimination game, but are Angels fans really confident with Kelvim Escobar as their savior? In Boston, which might be the biggest home-field advantage this side of the Metrodome? I'm not so sure about that one.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Cardinals 8, Dodgers 3
Red Sox 9, Angels 3
Twins 2, Yankees 0
Cardinals lead series 1-0
Hooray for Larry Walker. Good for him. Sixteen years in the majors, six in Montreal, nine-plus in Colorado, one playoff appearance with the Rockies in 1995. He he .214 with just three hits, one homer and three RBI. In his first game back, he slams two home runs. I listened to the game a little on the radio, called by the Mets' own Gary Cohen and Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez (it seemed like every inning there was a former Diamondback on the field -- Steve Finley, Elmer Dessens, Tony Womack), while I was on the road. And leading up to the game, it seemed everyone had the same feeling I did: is there one pitcher on either staff (Eric Gagne aside) who scares you? Not really. Walker's performance got me thinking about the Expos that got away, mostly because Montreal has had a great farm system and player development run the last 15-20 years, but the team can never keep its own talent because of financial constraints. Walker may have been the biggest: one of Canada's own, he didn't want to leave, but Montreal couldn't keep him. We've also got Vladmir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon (not brought up and developed by the Expos, but unable to stay because of financial reasons) in Anaheim (along with Andres Galarraga, who's not on the postseason roster, and backup outfielder Curtis Pride), Orlando Cabrera and Pedro Martinez in Boston and Javier Vazquez in New York. So with former Expos on four of the eight playoff teams, we've got a shot at seeing one of them soaking in champagne in three weeks.
Red Sox lead series 1-0
I'm not going to get ahead of myself here (because it's only a 4-1 Astros lead in the third), but could you imagine a World Series Game 1 in Boston with Curt Schilling facing Roger Clemens? Fox executives would be all tingly inside. The Red Sox seemed determined yesterday, and depending on which Pedro we see tonight, this one could end a lot faster and end up more wide-open than anyone expected.
Twins lead series 1-0
I think even the biggest Yankee fans expected this one. Johan Santana is pitching like God, but with a better slider. I'm not sure, but I think I saw Rudy Giulliani on ESPN this morning -- taking a break from his tireless campaigning for President Bush -- trying to convince everyone that, despite appearances, the Yankees actually won this debat- er, this game. But all this means is that the Twins didn't let last week's sweep in the Big Apple affect them. They may need to watch out: In 2001, Tony Womack's father passed away, and Fox loved that storyline. It helped that he had some big hits in that World Series for Arizona. I can't tell you how many times I heard someone at the network explain last night how Jacques Jones took the redeye back from California, where his father died over the weekend, and will return there after tonight's game for the funeral tomorrow before meeting the team back in Minnesota for Game 3. Jones homered last night.
It's the top of the fourth in Atlanta right now, and the Braves have left seven men on in three innings. Clemens has gotten into two bases-loaded jams and wiggled out of both, allowing the one run in the first. If they can't get those guys in, they're done.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
But first, let's look at how things fared compared to how I thought it might go. It's not pretty.
NL East predictions
NL East reality
More so than last year, this was the Phillies division to lose, and they did. And so did Larry Bowa, who's now looking for a job. What I got right: 1. "It just means that [the Marlins have] got a good chance of having their first winning season in which they don't win the World Series." 2. "... while I'd like nothing more than to see J.D. Drew continue his mediocre career, something tells me that there's going to be a little bit of that inexplicable Braves magic that keeps him healthy for 145 games this year." He played exactly 145 games. 3. "Seventy wins this season [for the Mets] would be a small improvement and probably not enough to bring Art Howe back." They won 71.
NL Central predictions
Astros (wild card)
NL Central reality
Astros (wild card)
The Cubs' injuries were just too much -- 20 starts each from Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa out a month and his streak of 40 home runs and 100 RBIs is snapped. Despite all that, they were in the driver's seat with a couple of weeks to go, and they couldn't win. I'm annoyed that my Mets had to play spoiler to the Cubs, taking two out of three at Shea on the next-to-last weekend of the season, but the Cubs then went and dropped three of four to the Reds and couldn't beat the team they would've faced in the division series, the Braves, when their backs were to the wall. They gave up after losing those two 12-inning games to the Reds. The difference between the Astros and Cubs, both of whom had solid starting pitching and a dangerous, if aging, lineup? Houston lost Andy Pettitte and Wade Miller for longer stretches than Chicago lost Prior and Wood, and they didn't fold. What I got right: 1. "... [if] they don't lose Sammy Sosa for a month ..." 2. "In this division, second place should still mean new life in the postseason." 3. The Astros did win the wild card, though that wasn't decided until the last day of the season. 4. I don't know exactly when it happened, but at some point you could draw a line in the standings after the No. 3 team in this division, and those three on either side of the line would stay on that side of the line. 5. Reds fourth, Pirates fifth, Brewers sixth. 6. The Reds did have a 100-HR outfield, but they needed four players to do it: Adam Dunn (46), Ken Griffey Jr. (20), Austin Kearns (9) and Wily Mo Pena (26) = 101. 7. "Once it's clear that Kris Benson is back from his injuries, he'll be traded for prospects."
NL West predictions (ugh)
NL West reality
I don't know why I put so much faith in Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez and Richie Sexson. This team was nearly as bad as the 2003 Tigers, and Detroit didn't have anyone close to the caliber of a Big Unit, a Gonzo, a Sexson or a Steve Finley. Of course, come September, Johnson was the only one still coming to Bank One Ballpark every day. This one was a car wreck. What I got right: 1. The Padres were in contention. 2. "I really think any of these five could finish anywhere in the division, with the exception of the Rockies in first and the Giants in last." At least I hedged my bets with the possibility of the Diamondbacks crumbling. 3. I'm really stretching here: "But perhaps more than any other team in contention, the Diamondbacks need to avoid DL time by its [d'oh! should be "their"] stars. They can't afford to go two weeks without a start from the Big Unit, or lose Luis Gonzalez and his injured elbow to season-ending surgery. If either of those happen, they're done, making this a very risky pick."
AL East predictions
Yankees (wild card)
AL East reality
Red Sox (wild card)
Yes, I picked with my heart and not my head. Certainly, the Red Sox had the talent to take the division, and they pushed the Yankees until the final week of the season. Had they not fallen 10 back in August, it might've happened. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I guess, like with the Braves in the NL East, I really can't believe anything else will happen until it does. What I got right: 1. For the first time since Tampa Bay came along, the order of the division was different, only it was the Devil Rays in fourth and the Blue Jays last, instead of a change at the top. 2. The wild card went to the second-place team in the AL East. 3. "The Yankees will probably win the division with the Red Sox taking the wild card." How's that for taking the easy way out? 4. "I also suspect you'll see Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams on the DL at some point." OK, that one too was like predicting the Pope would pray today. 5. "Hideki Matsui will improve upon last year's numbers and Enrique Wilson will not play second base all season." 6. "Kevin Brown will likely break down again." 7. The Orioles finished third!
AL Central predictions
AL Central reality
So much for the Garth Brooks Theory. Having the country singer in spring training did not help the 2004 Royals the way it did the 1998 NL Champion Padres or 2000 NL Champion Mets. Maybe because they're in the AL. At some point this season, it actually looked like Brooks had a chance to be called up by Kansas City. I should've read into my own comments when I noticed (as I just did now) that I didn't say anything specific about players actually on this team and instead talked about the guy who wrote "Friends In Low Places." Is the AL Central basement low enough? What I got right: 1. "While four out of the five teams in the NL West have a shot at the division title [not so much that part], it's a race among three here. By September, it will be down to two." It was a race among three, when the Indians made their August run. By September, it was down to the Twins and White Sox. 2. "88 games may be enough to win baseball's weakest division." It would have been -- the first-place Twins won 93, the second-place White Sox 83. 3. "[The Tigers] may have a chance to fight Cleveland for fourth place." OK, so they took fourth place by 14 games. But I said they could have a chance. 4. If you move the Royals from first to last, I had the order of the other four teams correct.
AL West predictions
AL West reality
I did it! I pegged the first two teams in the division! I got one right! Whew. OK, that's enough to bring me back next year. Just don't read what I wrote about Texas. What else I got right: 1. "It's going to be a great race, that's clear." 2. "... many question whether Arthur Rhodes can truly be a closer." Welcome, Octavio Dotel. 3. "Seattle's biggest detriment is its age."
Now, quickly, on to the postseason.
Twins vs. Yankees
If Minnesota hadn't been swept in New York last week, I'd give them a shot. But after that result, I think they may be doubting themselves. Johan Santana very well may win two games in this series, but the bullpen will probably blow one, and it could be the clincher. Let me say this (and I'll try not to play it safe in every series I pick here): If the Twins beat the Yankees, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bud Selig handing a very large trophy to a champagne-drenched Ron Gardenhire. Pick: Yankees in five.
Red Sox vs. Angels
The last time the Angels won the AL West was 1986. They faced the Red Sox in the ALCS. I don't think that matters, I just wanted to point it out. OK, this is hard. I was about to write that I really, truly believe that either of these teams could win the AL pennant. Which means I would've been picking any of these four teams. Look, as good as the Angels are, they're going to have to face Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez in three of a potential five games. They may have been able to win the division without Jose Guillen, but can they win a best-of-five series? I don't know. Besides, everyone wants to see a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS go seven games again. Which means it probably won't happen. I'm going with it though. [A caller to WFAN today made a very good point: The Red Sox had better win in three or four, because if it goes to a fifth game, that would be on Sunday, and Curt Schilling would pitch, meaning he won't be available until Game 3 of the ALCS against the Yankees on Friday.] Pick: Red Sox in four.
Dodgers vs. Cardinals
Good pitching beats good hitting, huh? Both have good pitching, but not much more than that. Do the names (and stats) of guys like Jeff Weaver, Odalis Perez, Jose Lima, Matt Morris and Jason Marquis seem like the top pitchers on division winners? Not so much, in this day and age. I'll probably be rooting for the winner of this series to to go The Series. Pick: Cardinals in four.
Astros vs. Braves
What a run by Houston. The best thing going for them may be that they're the hottest team heading into the postseason, and the last two champions -- the 2002 Angels and 2003 Marlins -- carried the same title on their October runs. Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt may in fact be the best 1-2 pitching punch in the playoffs (No? Who then?). Had he not missed the season finale with a stomach ailment, Clemens would've won 19 to go with Oswalt's 20. But that missed start means he gets to start Game 1 in Atlanta, followed by Oswalt. Why is all the Cy Young talk among Clemens, Jason Schmidt, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano? It could be Oswalt's. As for this series, I think it could be the first series win for Houston. And I'm going all in on the prediction: Pick: Astros in three.
Red Sox vs. Yankees
No, I'm not going to do it. As I said in my AL East review earlier, I just can't imagine it until it happens. I'll be rooting for it, but I'm going to wuss out and go the other way with my pick. But I'll put it this way. What the Red Sox need to do to win: Like the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks, they may need four wins from their two aces, Schilling and Martinez. But can Pedro do it against the team he called his daddy? Maybe 1-1. Tim Wakefield could pick up the other one. Essentially, the Sox need two wins from either Schilling or Pedro, and at least one against the Yankees bullpen. What the Yankees need to do to win: Not blow leads in the late innings. If the bullpen is perfect, the Yankees move on. I'm keeping it that simple. I figure that each team will win a barnburner and a close one -- 11-9 and 3-2 type games -- which puts us at 2-2. Throw a blowout to each team and we're at 3-3. Game seven, Yankee Stadium. Pick: Yankees in seven.
Astros vs. Cardinals
An all-wild-card World Series would mean Roger Clemens goes back to Boston. Another Yankees vs. wild card World Series means Clemens returns to the Bronx. I don't know ... Clemens took off to start the season and never really slowed down. To think he will now may be falling for the same thing all over again. But I'll bite. I just love St. Louis' lineup and defense. Look, no one stands out on their pitching staff, but they've got capable starters and a reliable closer. Remind you of anyone? The 2002 Angels, perhaps? Granted, Anaheim didn't lead the majors with 105 wins, but they got it done in the postseason. Pick: Cardinals in six.
Cardinals vs. Yankees
No matter what the World Series matchup, there's a good chance there will be a lot of talk about history. Yankees vs. Cardinals, Dodgers or, for the third time in eight years, Braves. Yankees or Red Sox vs. Clemens. Cardinals vs. TWins. Twins vs. Braves. But a St. Louis-New York Series would pit the two cities with the most titles against one another (Yankees, as everyone knows, have 26; Cardinals have nine. The A's do as well, but they don't get to play this postseason, and they've done it in two cities). So Yankee fans may think otherwise, but I just don't see them as the favorite heading into this postseason. They're not the perceived lock that they've been in past seasons. Yet only once since the start of the wild card era in 1995 has the team with the best record in the regular season won the Series -- the 1998 Yankees. But this time, their pitching is the weakest it's been on this run. Their best pitcher is Mariano Rivera, and he's been worn out this year, pitching the most innings since 2001 (75 2/3 this year to that season's 80 2/3), and we all know how that ended. Sure, it was only five more innings than last year, but he's 34 now. Eh, that probably doesn't mean anything. Still, that Yankees lineup that everyone thought was the best in baseball? No better than second-best. St. Louis slugs it out.
Pick: Cardinals in six