Saturday, October 23, 2004

My Daughter The Bookie Returns 

So, I forgot to mention it, but my daughter picked Boston and Houston to get to the World Series.  (I would've mentioned it before, but by the time I remembered before, say, Game 3 of each series, I simply decided to wait.)

I asked her who she thought would win, Boston or St. Louis, and she said:

"I don't know... I think maybe Boston."

So there you have it.  Her money (or lollipops or whatever) is on the Sox.

As for me, the Championship Series proved moderately satisfying as scored by my Playoff Satisfaction (PS) score (see a couple weeks ago for the derivation).  American League = 32 points (or plus 8 when compared to a Yankees fan); National League = 16 points (or plus 4 when compared to an Astros fan).  The 48 points (+12) far outstrips my Divisional Series performance, in which I scored just 21 (+0).

Moving on to the World Series, I'll be cheering for the Red Sox, but only slightly, as the Cardinals are a fine National League representative.  On the 5-point PS scale, I want the Red Sox to win as a "2".  World Series preferences are quadrupled, so each game is worth 8 points.

I love how I'm making this up as I go along.

Two other bits of news from the Arizona Republic that I'm too lazy to link to...

There are three finalists for the D-Backs managerial position: ex-Seattle manager (and D-Backs bench coach) Bob Melvin, Lancaster manager Wally Backman, and Expos 3B coach Manny Acta.  Follow-up interviews will be this week, with a view to announcing the new manager as soon as the pre-World Series announcement ban ends.

Secondly, an article in the Business section talked about luxury home real estate agents and mentioned in passing that one of the subjects sold Steve Finley's Valley home recently after his trade.  Doesn't rule out his return to the D-Backs, of course, as his primary residence has been in California for many years, but that certainly doesn't seem to indicate a super-strong descire to return here, does it?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch... 

I was all set to say that nothing was happening on the D-Backs' front, because, well nothing really was happening, when Mark Grace reported that the D-Backs had decided not to offer him the managerial position. I don't think this was a huge surprise; the real news is that Grace said he'd be willing to serve as a coach or minor league manager. This was something we'd not previously heard from Grace. Although I didn't think he'd be a good choice as the D-Backs' manager right now, I would be interested in him getting such a position to see if he's any good. (In all likelihood a minor league position, because what new manager is going to want Gracie and his ambition around?) Maybe he'll prove all of us skeptics wrong.


Only a very good ending to another series of baseball, as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Houston Astros 5-2. I would comment, except I didn't see a single pitch of the game (heard the top half of the 1st inning on the radio; saw the post-game celebration). So the only other comment I have on this series is that I was amused every time I saw the neon "Casino Queen" ad out in the right field bleachers. Wilco fans -- and that means you, Robert -- you'll know what I'm talking about.


I really liked yesterday's "Get Fuzzy". So I thought I'd share.


Have a good weekend, everyone. Enjoy the World Series.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


"This is how the series ends... not with a bang but with a whimper." -- T.S. Eliot

OK, not really, but the (barely) modified quote from Eliot, born and raised in New England before eventually moving to England and becoming a British citizen, seems apropos for last night's game.

Really, would we have been so surprised if, say, Alex Rodriguez -- "The Slap" to his friends and enemies -- had dramatically switched allegiances by, say, knee-capping Jeter on the field in the top of the 9th while ripping off his Yankees uniform to reveal a Red Sox uniform underneath? (Yes, I've read too much Bill Simmons.) Or if seven-foot-tall left-handed-batting aliens with the ability to hit the ball into the bleachers in the short porch in right field in Yankee Stadium at will landed in the Yankees dugout and it turned out that they'd secretly been signed by George Steinbrenner two weeks ago and placed on the playoff roster and they slugged their way to a Yankees win?

Now, for family-related reasons, I was only able to watch the game from the sixth inning on. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw the score. 8-1 Sox. Now only in this series could somebody ground into an inning-ending double in the top of the 7th and lead millions (I can't have been the only one) to think, "Oh, that's not good, they really could've used an insurance run." With a 7-run lead.

And, c'mon weren't we all thinking, "Here we go again" when the Yankees looked like they might make a real game of it in the bottom half of the inning? But Pedro didn't break, and he only gave up 2 runs. That right there was a moral victory. And then Bellhorn hit his homerun in the top of the 8th, and all of a sudden it looked like maybe this was, indeed, it.

In the end, it was the tensest 10-3 game ever played, I'm sure. I was disappointed to see, however, that the answer to the question of "how will fans at Yankee Stadium react if they lose" is "by leaving before the game actually ends."

So now the Red Sox are in the World Series, and the argument rages as to whether this "ends the curse." Is beating the Yankees -- in the manner they did -- sufficient? Do they need to win the Series? DOES IT REALLY MATTER BECAUSE THERE IS NO FREAKIN' CURSE!!??!

Which leads me, of course, to the St. Louis-Houston game, another baseball classic. Two walk-off game-winning homeruns in a row. A series that has been every bit the equal of Boston-New York in the quality and excitement of the games played. Dramatic homeruns, tremendous pitching (at times), and a generally high quality of play. I'm very happy that a Game Seven will happen, if only so the entire country can watch a game of this series in prime time.

But in the end, while the St. Louis-Houston series has been great baseball, the Boston-New York series was not only great baseball, it was a great story. The long history of those two eastern teams, recent and ancient, the course of the series itself made itself accessible to people who normally don't watch baseball or even care about baseball. It was above-the-fold in the Republic this morning, placement that the St. Louis-Houston winner won't receive tomorrow morning.

This is not to put down the St. Louis or Houston squads, two very good teams with very supportive fans who will give Boston a heck of a Series (and could easily win). And St. Louis especially has a rich baseball tradition. But as a Diamondbacks fan, I'm perfectly aware that the story will not be about you. It will be about your opponent. Which isn't great if you're supporting that (NL) team. But the story itself is great for the rest of us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

E-mail From Boston 

I have a friend from graduate school who now lives in the Boston area and whom I shall call "Local Color". I e-mailed him today to see what the mood was like there. His reply:

Interesting how I'm hearing from [our graduate school classmates] today (except [our huge Yankee fan classmate, whom I, Stefan, chose not to e-mail today]). Here is what I just wrote to [a classmate]:

> You're right -- it's probably best not to talk extensively until
> tomorrow. The mood around here is better than it was on Sunday, but
> no one is taking anything for granted.
> We're all pretty much zombies anyway.

> ("Must...ridicule...A-Rod...zzzzzz...") Forget the players needing a
> day off -- the fans desperately need a day off. The players are
> likely sleeping until noon in plush hotel rooms. I'm trying to get up
> at 5:30 am to catch a 6:30 train. Is a 3 hour game that starts at 5
> pm too much to ask?

And that pretty much sums it up. People are happy to have stretched the Yankees and driven most of New York to chainsmoking, hope against hope that tonight will bring a win, but aren't yet slipping into the normal masochistic delusional cockiness that Red Sox fans usually fall into before a big game. (One example that irked me last week -- the Herald ran a full-page headline on the back page to the effect of "Bring on the Yanks!" while the Twins were still alive, the point of the accompanying column being that there was no point in winning a World Series if the Sox didn't beat the Yankees first, and thus Boston was to root for the Yankees against the Twins. After 86 years, they decided to start attaching conditions to what defines "breaking the Curse", and heretical pro-Yankee ones at that...)

Almost no one in Boston is assuming anything.

Everyone knows that the Sox usually lose in a game like tonight's. Everyone knows that this "rivalry" is the most one-sided in history. But...

This time, I feel like the pressure is squarely on the Yankees. When was the last time *that* was true? This would be unquestionably the worst choke in sports history. (Yeah, I know it's happened twice in hockey. But who watches hockey? Has anyone even noticed that they're not playing this year?) How will the Yankees deal with that? How will A-Rod deal with the prospect of being called "Slap and Tickle" for the rest of his life? How will Torre and any player without a five year contract deal with the fact that Steinbrenner is sharpening a guillotine in the bowels of Yankee Stadium at this very moment?

All I can say is this -- this Boston team has heart, much of it from transplanted Twins. How can anyone outside of metro New York -- most especially me -- not root for them?

Go Sox.

[Local Color]

P.S. I'm really, really tired.

The thought had occurred to me last night (as it did to Local Color) that if the Red Sox do somehow pull this off, does that mean that Steinbrenner blows this team -- which is still a very good team -- apart? Send Joe Torre and Brian Cashman their merry ways away and return to the high-spending, low-winning ways of the early 90's? Or does he decide to spend $250 million in salary next year?

I don't know if it's good or bad that we're not on the Eastern Seaboard right now. It's like being a political junkie in Wyoming in an election season. Sure there are enough other political junkies to make it interesting, but in the end you can escape it if you want to. But not in DC.

Finally, this poem does indicate why sometimes it's good to be on the West Coast. It's OK, y'all, you can get a good night's sleep Thursday... unless, of course, you need to know who your opponent will be Saturday.

Oxygen and the Brain 

Among all the possible Game 6 storylines I posited yesterday, only one really came to the foreground last night, along with one that came out of the middle of nowhere.

Well, Curt, you finally got what you wanted when you left the D-Backs -- you finally shut up 55,000 Yankee fans. Or 56,128 to be exact. Set aside the injury stuff, and you still have a great pitching performance by a pitcher who didn't necessarily have his best stuff. Save for a monster shot by Bernie Williams, he had the Yankees team and fans tied up in fits. Of course, we saw Curt's head buried in a towel in the top half of innings as many times as we saw Jon Lieber pitching during those innings. Smarter heads prevailed and the rumor that the Yankees -- who, er, set a major league record for home runs by a team this year -- would do nothing but bunt was proved false, but given their lack of success against Schilling there were points last night when maybe the Yankees should've given it a go.

How many nicknames -- printable or otherwise -- has Red Sox Nation given him in the last 12 hours? (I mean, new ones, not ones that are 10 months old.) Seriously, the man will easily reach Mays-ian homerun territory, if not more, and still I see no reason why he won't go through the rest of the career known as "The Slap" -- Alex "The Slap" Rodriguez. "I don't know what I was trying to do," said A-Rod, and I guess I'm willing to take him at his word. I think. He simply wasn't thinking, just reacting, as if his brain was had been deprived of oxygen. I don't know if he appeared contrite or accepted responsibility, but at least he seemed to understand why he was called out. He's right, of course, in that he should have simply just run down the line and do his best Pete Rose imitation to Bronson Arroyo. At the very least, Jeter would've stayed at second instead of being moved all the way back to first.

The umpires, after being criticized for poor performance on both sides of the ball in Game Five, came back and made sure the correct call was made twice, first on Bellhorn's homerun, then on A-Rod's interference. The calls and the barrage of beer bottles and baseballs "reportedly" thrown onto the field (the TV announcers talked about it, but I don't recall seeing any shots of it) made me wish that just once the "no-showing-replays-at-the-stadium" rule would be bent, because the only 56,128 people in the world who didn't think A-Rod had interfered with Arroyo on the play were sitting in Yankee Stadium.

So now we move to Game Seven. My chief concern here is how to explain to my wonderful wife, who's already beginning to think I've watched too much baseball this year and has not had enough attention from me recently, that this is, well, a really important game. Really, more important than last night's. I just have no way to convey the context, the history here to someone who thinks my brain has been deprived of oxygen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Catching My Breath 

I wrote up my thoughts on last night's game in such a pell-mell fashion that I forgot some stuff...

1. Another indication that the playoffs have crowded out any other sporting thoughts in my brain -- I didn't realize until this morning that they'd played football last night. I'm not a huge NFL fan, but I'd normally at least check out the Monday Night Football score. Not so last night -- it never even entered into my mind that there was something else going on.
2. Add these to the storylines:
-- Kevin Brown, pitching in really cold, really wet weather, so wet the game might be rained out
-- Tim Wakefield, 2003 Game 7 goat, flummoxes everyone (Yankees, Red Sox catchers)
-- Will Curt Schilling endure Death By Bunt?
-- Are Matsui and Sheffield returning to merely Very Good Status from Oh My Just Walk Them Status? I mean, Matsui was MVP 48 hours ago... has he ceded that to David Ortiz, even if the Yankees win the series?
3. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a special baseball section. Nothing in particular reached "must-read" status, but they did have an article on MLB's TV contract with Fox -- they're in the 4th year of a 6-year contract, with Fox paying $417 million per year. The article also mentioned they're charging up to $380,000 for 30 seconds of ad time in the playoffs. Even assuming Fox is only getting $250,000 for 30 seconds during the ALCS (which could've been pre-sold knowing the Yankees and/or Red Sox would likely make it), that means they're getting a cool half-million a minute. During the 11 hours of game time in Games 4 and 5, you've got to figure that there were at least 100 minutes of ads (52 half-inning breaks at 1.5 minutes each, plus a good dozen mid-inning pitching changes). That, my friends, is $50 million in 48 hours. (Yeah, maybe I've overestimated the number of ads, but I didn't include any of the pre- or post-game ad time.)
4. Phrases I Do Not Care To Hear In Tonight's Broadcast:
-- Curt Schilling is a "warrior"
-- "Mr. October" associated with any player except for Reggie Jackson. (Seriously, can't he copyright that so that we don't have to hear about it anymore?)
-- "Curse of the Bambino"
5. How is the World Series going to top this?


Unlike Game Four, I decided to watch Game Five. Well, as best as I could, given that I had household errands to run (Trader Joe's) and fatherly duties to perform (daughter's bath time and getting-ready-for-bed time).

So I only heard Ortiz's 8th inning homerun on the way to the grocery store.

And I was muttering under my breath when the radio announcers took forever to announce the score in the bottom of the 11th on the way home.

And was amazed that in between the time I turned off the ignition and when I rushed in to turn on the TV, they were already on break. (That was fast... a double play? Sigh. A double play.)

During bath time, wife coming in to report that they went to commercial break ("was it because they were walking off the field?," I asked, trying to determine whether it was a pitching change or the end of the inning.

But I saw all of the bottom of the 14th.

This series -- I didn't even need to tell you which Game Five, did I? -- has just sucked the oxygen out of the room. I turned off the TV before Jeff Kent came up to bat in the other series (or, rather, it took too long for his at-bat to start), and so missed an incredibly dramatic conclusion to an incredible game.

And I didn't care, because I felt like if I had any more drama, I just wouldn't sleep at all.

So, really, the Houston-St. Louis series, which in any other year would be beginning to be described as "classic," is seen by, what? -- 10 percent of the country?

The Yankee team looked exhausted. The Red Sox looked exhausted. Happy, yes, but exhausted. And the Red Sox fans at the game... speaking of oxygen, somebody please tell them to breathe, please. It looked like every Red Sox fan caught on Fox's cameras (and that must have been, well, half the crowd?) wasn't breathing. Deep breaths, folks. (Of course, this comes from a man who was at Game Seven of the 2001 World Series, a game which the crowd spent most of the game cheering as if at a non-Phoenix/FBR Open golf event, too paralyzed by fear to sustain a roar. So take my jibes with a grain of salt.)

Seriously, this is how good the series has been -- at some point in extra innings last night, I wondered whether a best-of-4 series that ended in 5 games could be considered a "classic." In other words, had the Yankees won last night, would the series be considered "classic"? And I decided the answer was "yes." I mean, the 2001 World Series had 3 "classic" games. This series has had two undeniably great games, with Game 1 maybe added in there.

We move on to Game Six, and the number of storylines is dizzying. David Ortiz, doing to the Yankees what his former teammates the Twins could never do. Johnny Damon, playing horribly, but managing to get on in the 14th and score the winning run. The umpiring, exhausted, maybe, giving Mussina a narrow strike zone but blowing the call on Ortiz' steal attempt in the 10th. (And you don't know whether to say, "Serves you right," or, "My goodness, it took the umpire to bail you out of a missed caught stealing that I could've made.") Louiaza, reminding Steinbrenner once more that he wanted Randy Johnson instead of what he got (which was a really good pitcher for a little more than 2 innings). Jeter, playing badly and hitting .182, but also driving in 3 runs. The Sheffield comments. Oh, and Curt goes tonight.

Even if this series didn't pit these 2 teams with so much history, recent and ancient, against each other, this still would be an awesome series.

Monday, October 18, 2004

High Risk, High Reward 

The D-Backs' season was one of high risk and (we hoped) high reward. Take a chance on trading some pitching (Schilling) for some hitting (Sexson). And maybe, just maybe, if everything went right and nobody got injured, and our Baby Backs followed through on their next season, then maybe we'd make the playoffs.

It's the implicit bargain we all make whenever we follow a sports team. Chances are very high that in the end our team will fail, nothwithstanding hundreds of hours of TV-watching, radio-listening, newspaper-reading, and blog-writing on our part.

Unless, of course, you're a Yankees fan. You're not guaranteed a victory, but your chances of "being at the table" are pretty good. Which explains why:
1) the thought of Carlos Beltran joining the Yankees in the off-season ticks me off so, and
2) I turned off the TV after the 8th inning of last night's Red Sox-Yankees classic.

The Yankees signing A-Rod last winter didn't bug me so much because the Red Sox had a good chance at him first; it seemed that Boston ended up being pennywise and pound foolish. But Beltran? It's one thing to sign the best player in the league; it's another thing entirely to do it two years in a row. Should it happen, I wonder whether the fan reaction will reach a point at which baseball is forced to do something.

As for turning off the TV, I did it with the full realization that I might be turning off an all-time classic comeback. But I was tired, it'd been a long weekend, and the possible outcomes were:
a) Rivera shuts the Red Sox down in the 8th. Series over, Yankees win.
b) The Red Sox come back in the 9th, but the Yankees win in extra innings. Series over, Yankees win.
c) The Red Sox pull out a comeback. Red Sox now down 3-1.

I decided that the possible benefits of sticking around were outweighed by the possible negatives. (Who wants to see the Yankees celebrate at Fenway? Who wants to see the crowd reaction?)

So here's hoping that the Red Sox make a game of it again today. Here's hoping the still relatively-ignored but entertaining Astros-Cardinals series stays that way (at least the "entertaining" part.) And here's hoping some team besides the Yankees decides to make a play for Beltran.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Start of Something Big... 

The first (annual? more-than-annual?) D-Backs' Blogging Get-Together was
held last night at Scottsdale Stadium as we watched the Arizona Fall League
and the Scottsdale Scorpions take on the Peoria Javelinas. We spent the
game talking about D-Backs baseball and stuff in general. We also suffered
along with the rest of the crowd the Red Sox-Yankees game, as the stadium
announcer would give us occasional scoring updates, each double-digit Yankee
score drawing a more audible gasp than the last. I'd keep suggesting to Jim
that perhaps this would be the point at which the Red Sox would start a
historic comeback, but I knew I was thinking with my heart much more than my
actual brain at that point. At the very, very least, attending the AFL game
meant we didn't have to suffer much of the Red Sox game.

The two D-Backs who saw action (at least through the 7th inning stretch,
which is when I left) were Conor Jackson and Corey Myers. Jackson showed
some pop in his bat, but I don't recall him having much to do in left field
(or, at least, I don't recall any glaring problems or outstanding catches).
Myers had some great pop in his bat, ripping a 400-foot homerun to
left-centerfield in his first at-bat and ripping a 390-foot double in almost
the same spot in his second at-bat. His fielding at 3rd base was a little
less impressive, as he did get charged with at least 1 and I think maybe 2
errors. He did make a nice play, however, charging the ball on a short hop
to end the 7th. Oh, and for you ASU alums out there, Dustin Pedroia, now of
the Red Sox organization, played decently at shortstop and got at least one
hit. (But he definitely looks small compared to his teammates.)

Many thanks to Jim and Chris (who paid for much more of my stuff than I paid
of theirs) and Diamondbacks Bullpen Forum poster Terry, who stopped by for
dinner beforehand, for an enjoyable evening. We don't plan on this being
the last such get-together, so hopefully we'll see more of you out there
next time, either at an AFL game, spring training, or watching the D-Backs
next year.