Team W L Win% RS RA Pyth% EqA DEF
New York 101 61 .623 877 716 .600 .280 .6977
Florida 91 71 .562 751 692 .541 .266 .7039
Offense RS/G AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB SO
New York 5.41 .271 .356 .453 230 304 684 1042
Florida 4.64 .266 .333 .421 157 292 515 978
RA/G AVG OBP SLG HR 2B BB SO
New York 4.41 .266 .313 .408 145 323 375 1119
Florida 4.27 .258 .325 .396 128 300 530 1132
While watching the ALCS this year, I had the same feelings I have had while watching the NBA Western Conference Finals during the past few years.
Spurs vs. Mavericks. Lakers vs. Kings. Lakers vs. Spurs. Each time, I got the feeling that I was watching the real NBA Finals. And sure enough, each year, the team that survived the West would go on and destroy the team from the East in the Finals.
So, did we all just finish watching the real World Series? In a way, yes. I do think the Red Sox and the Yankees are the two best teams in baseball, and their series was one of the best in recent memory, capped off by an incredible Game Seven victory by New York.
On the other hand, I see nothing from this Marlins team that would indicate they are going to roll over for the Yankees like the Nets and Sixers rolled over for the Western Conference teams in the Finals the past three years.
This is a strong Florida ballclub. They pitch, they hit, they play defense. Since getting rid of the definition of incompetence that was Jeff Torborg, they have one of the best records in baseball. Their "new" manager, Jack McKeon, has turned this team around in a huge way and they are now playing very good baseball and, perhaps most importantly, very confident baseball.
This series may not be the one most baseball fans wanted to see. Personally, I was hoping for a Giants-Twins matchup and I would have settled for Cubs-Red Sox. But this is still potentially a very exciting series and, last I checked, these two teams are still playing in the World Series, which is exciting enough for me.
An interesting thing about this series is that both teams have their pitching rotations completely screwed up.
All five of those guys pitched on either Tuesday night or Wednesday night, putting Jack McKeon in a tough spot in regard to picking a Game One starter. According to ESPN.com, McKeon will go with Brad Penny, who pitched on Wednesday, but threw just nine pitches.
The good news is that Penny should be fresh, having not thrown over 60 pitches in a game since his final regular-season start. The bad news is that Penny has a 10.24 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched during the post-season and was yanked from the rotation in favor of Pavano in the NLCS.
After Penny, Redman will go in Game Two, followed by Beckett in Game Three. I haven't heard Florida's plans for Game Four, but I would guess Willis will get the nod there, and then they'll go back to Penny for Game Five. Or, if Penny struggles in Game One, possibly Pavano or Redman on short-rest.
So, Florida's rotation will, I think, resemble the following:
That sets Josh Beckett up for a potential Game Seven, which is exactly what Florida wants, assuming they can make it that far.
The Yankees are in a similar situation, having used both Roger Clemens (65 pitches) and Mike Mussinaa (33 pitches) on in Game Seven on Thursday. They also used David Wells in Game Seven, but he threw just six pitches. Andy Pettitte threw 92 pitches in his start on Wednesday, which leaves him out of the mix for a Game One start.
Like McKeon, Joe Torre has decided to go with the guy who has been used the least during the last couple games, which is Wells. Of course, "the least" is all relative, because Wells threw 104 pitches last Tuesday, which means he will be making the start on three-days rest, and he pitched in relief during that time off.
When one of the other very serious options was to tab Jeff Weaver to start Game One, you can see why David Wells on no rest would look pretty damn good. Here's what New York's rotation should look like:
Mike Mussina/Andy Pettitte
Okay, so that isn't very clear at all, but I really don't think even Joe Torre knows exactly what he's going to end up doing at this point.
He has said he isn't sure if he'll go with Pettitte or Mussina in Game Two. I would guess it will be Mussina, because it is his "turn" in the rotation, although obviously that could be changed because of his relief outing.
After everyone makes their first start, Torre could either go back Wells in Game Five, or turn to someone on short-rest. If he sticks with Wells, that leaves either Mussina or Pettitte for Game Six and then pretty much anyone who has ever thrown a baseball while wearing pinstripes for Game Seven.
The obvious choice would be to go with whichever one of Mussina or Pettitte didn't start Game Six, but Torre could also go with Clemens on short-rest. Personally, I'd love to see Torre shock us all and go with Jeff Weaver on 32 days of rest. You never know, maybe Jeff just needs a good, solid month off to get ready for the most important game of the entire season.
It seems to me like more teams have been willing to use their starting pitchers out of the bullpen during this post-season than in past years. Whether it was Boston with Derek Lowe, New York with Mussina and Wells, or Jack McKeon and the Marlins with pretty much everyone, managers are trying to find ways to use their best pitchers in important spots, and I like that. Of course, as with many great things, it has some negative side-effects, namely that it messes up rotations eventually.
With the Yankees, who starts when isn't all that important. I would feel pretty good about starting any of those four veterans at any point in a series, particularly with how well Wells has pitched of late. For the Marlins, I think Beckett is head and shoulders above everyone else, and the rest of the guys all have some major question-marks.
An interesting development happening as a result of the rotation-shuffling is that it's very possible the Yankees will have lefties starting four of the seven games. That is, I think, fairly good news for Florida. As I discussed in my preview of their opening-round series, the Marlins hit significantly better against left-handed pitching this season, almost top-to-bottom.
As a team, Florida hit .292 against lefties and just .258 against righties this year. Their on-base percentage was 32 points higher against lefties and their slugging percentage was a massive 63 points higher against southpaws.
The amazing thing about Florida being in the World Series is that their hitters got very little opportunity to beat up on left-handed pitching in the first two rounds.
In the NLDS, they faced Kirk Rueter for one start and Scott Eyre and Jason Christiansen for a few at bats out of the bullpen. Against the Cubs in the NLCS, they didn't see a single left-handed starter. Overall, for the whole post-season, the Marlins have just 38 at bats against left-handed pitching in 11 games. They hit just .211 off them, although they did smack three homers and three doubles, good for a very solid .526 slugging percentage.
Assuming the Marlins didn't completely forget how to smack around lefties since the end of the season, I think they could really take advantage when Wells and Pettitte (and Felix Heredia and Gabe White too) are on the mound for the Yankees. New York's first two opponents, the Twins and the Red Sox, were both significantly worse against lefties this year.
Going from facing righties in all seven games against the Cubs to potentially facing four lefties in seven games against the Yankees could really give a boost to Florida's offense, which is a scary thought, considering they have 60 runs in 11 games in the post-season thus far.
Besides the rotation changes and the matchups caused by them, another interesting issue that suddenly comes into play is the designated hitter. Thanks to Hank Blalock, the Yankees have homefield advantage, which means four of the scheduled seven games will be played in New York, under American League rules.
For some National League teams, this could be a disadvantage. If you spend the entire season needing just eight hitters in your lineup, you are often ill-prepared to find a suitable ninth hitter to start in the most important games of the season.
When Mike Lowell became completely healthy recently, the Marlins benched Juan Encarnacion in favor of Lowell, Jeff Conine and Miguel Cabrera. I would assume that when the Marlins are allowed to add another bat to the lineup, Encarnacion will start in right field, with Cabrera going back to left field, and Conine sliding to DH. Adding Juan Encarnacion to a lineup is nothing particularly great, but it beats the hell out of Shawon Dunston, right?
In games started by lefties in Yankee Stadium (which is looking like Game One and also possibly Game Two and Game Six or Seven), the Marlins could put the following lineup on the field:
That's pretty scary. You've got two guys who get on base at a good clip at the top of the lineup and the a 3-4-5-6 spots with slugging percentages of .573, .655, .600 and .688. The bottom three don't hit lefties that well, but they more than hold their own. Heck, even Alex Gonzalez becomes a bit of an offensive threat against southpaws.
I really like Florida's chances of putting quite a few runs on the board against David Wells and Andy Pettitte. Unfortunately for them, it's very possible that the two games Wells starts will also be started by Brad Penny, which means the Yankees have a pretty good shot of scoring in bunches in those games too.
In fact, I think this entire series has the potential to be one big slugfest. I like the Marlins' chances of scoring against Wells and Pettitte and I don't particularly like the chances of Penny, Willis, Redman or Pavano holding down New York's offense at all.
In the end, I think this series will come down to a few major things...
1) The Marlins must beat Wells and Pettitte.
Those are the two pitching-matchups that I think their offense can dominate and they absolutely must do so, particularly if Penny (or even Pavano) end up facing off against Wells twice.
2) Josh Beckett has to be great.
I have always been big on Josh Beckett and I jumped on the bandwagon well before his impressive post-season, so I'm a believer. He is, to me, Florida's best and possibly only shot at shutting down New York's offense in this series. I'd be comfortable taking my chances with him against whomever the Yankees have to offer in Game Seven, but the problem for the Marlins is going to be getting that far.
If Rivera pitches like he did in the ALDS and the ALCS, the Marlins have almost no shot. The Angels were able to beat New York last year because they scored so many damn runs that Rivera was never even able to come into a game after getting the save in Game One.
The Marlins have two choices: a) they score runs in bunches like the Angels, keeping Rivera in the bullpen or b) they find a way to score runs off him.
The funny thing is, I can't quite decide if scoring a massive amount of runs against New York's starters is an easier task than scoring just a couple off Rivera.
This is, to me, a very hard series to try to predict. The Yankees are quite clearly a superior team, to me at least. But the Marlins have stepped up their game during the post-season and they are playing at their peak-level right now, which is perhaps even more important than who the "superior" team is at this point.
I believe Florida's offense will score plenty of runs in this series. I think they will do very well against Wells, Pettitte and the weak underbelly of New York's bullpen, and I think they will do reasonably well against even Mussina and Clemens (Rivera is a whole different story).
With that said, I just don't think the Marlins have enough pitching to win this thing. I don't think you can expect to engage in a slugfest with the New York Yankees and come out on top. Not with that offense and not with Mariano Rivera available at any time to come in and suddenly put an end to the scoring.
If I had more confidence in Willis or Penny or Redman or Pavano, I could definitely see going with the Marlins, but all of those guys look very vulnerable to me, and I think the Yankees will score runs in bunches whenever Josh Beckett isn't on the mound.
I don't want to hear any nonsense about a "curse." If you want a reason why the Red Sox blew the lead and lost Game Seven of the ALCS last night, you can look right at the Yankees, who played their asses off and fought back to win the game. And if you need to look at something else, if you need to find something or someone to place the blame on, look no further than Boston's manager, Grady Little.
Pedro Martinez wasn't quite Pedro last night, but he was close. He dominated New York's lineup for the first six innings, giving up just a solo homer to Jason Giambi in the bottom of the fifth.
Then in the seventh, with the Red Sox leading 4-1, Pedro gave up another solo homer to Giambi. The next two batters, Enrique Wilson and Karim Garcia, both singled, and it looked like Pedro was in some serious trouble. But he came back and struck out Alfonso Soriano swinging to end the inning, preserving Boston's 4-2 lead.
At that point, Pedro had pitched seven innings while allowing just two runs, and he had thrown 99 pitches. It is extremely easy and fairly ridiculous to second-guess after the fact, but I thought that taking Pedro out at that point, with the Red Sox up 4-2 with just two innings left to play, was a real option.
When David Ortiz hit a solo homer in the top of the eighth, it became even more of an option, with Boston's bullpen getting an extra run to work with, needing to preserve what was then a three-run lead. But certainly, Grady Little's decision to bring Pedro out to start the eighth inning was a defensible one.
Unfortunately for Little, Pedro and the Red Sox, that is when it all fell apart. After getting Nick Johnson to pop out for the first out of the inning, Pedro gave up a long double to Derek Jeter and then gave up a run-scoring single to Bernie Williams.
It was 5-3 Boston, Pedro was at 114 pitches, and the left-handed hitting Hideki Matsui was coming to the plate. It looked fairly obvious to me that Pedro was almost completely out of gas and I figured Little would call lefty Alan Embree in from the bullpen to pitch to Matsui.
Embree is a big, hard-throwing lefty who has been extremely tough of left-handed batters throughout his career and Matsui hit much worse against lefties (.287/.335/.379) this season than he did against righties (.287/.360/.460).
Instead of making what seemed like the obvious move, Grady Little left Pedro in the game and Embree in the bullpen. Pedro got ahead of Matsui 0-2, but then threw a fastball right over the plate, which Matsui ripped into right field for a double. Runners on second and third, one out.
At that point, Pedro was at 117 pitches and he had given up three hits in a row and hits to six of the last eight batters he faced. With Jorge Posada up, Grady Little left Pedro in, and Posada drove in both Williams and Matsui with a hit to centerfield, tying the game at five.
I can understand wanting to stick with a pitcher as incredible as Pedro Martinez. And I can understand a manager's unwillingness to go to a bullpen that, despite being extremely good this post-season, was very shaky throughout much of the regular season. But at some point last night, before the New York Yankees tied the game, Grady Little needed to remove Pedro Martinez.
Personally, I may have told Pedro to call it a night after seven innings, with the score 5-2 Boston. Pedro was scuffling a little bit and he was right around 100 pitches. With just six outs left to get and a three-run lead, I think I would have liked my chances with Embree, Mike Timlin, Scott Williamson and Tim Wakefield.
At the very least, I would have brought Alan Embree in to face Hideki Matsui, and I suspect not making that move is what is going to cost Grady Little his job as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps the most important job of any manager is to manage the pitching-staff, and particularly the bullpen. Leaving a pitcher in for two or three batters too many can destroy a team and the choice of which pitcher is on the mound in which situations ultimately falls squarely on the manager.
I have heard complaints about Grady Little's managing throughout the season. Boston fans have not been pleased with his lineup construction at times, or his in-game tactical decisions and particularly his decisions regarding the bullpen.
I didn't follow the Red Sox closely enough all season to make large, sweeping generalizations about Grady Little as a manager. But I do know that his decisions last night ultimately proved incorrect, which is not something I fault him for. I do, however, fault him for not making decisions that, to me at least, seemed fairly obvious.
If Pedro doesn't start the eighth, does Boston's bullpen blow a three-run lead in the final two innings? It is certainly possible. If Pedro does start the eighth, but Embree comes in to face Hideki Matsui, do the Yankees still tie the game in the eighth? Again, certainly possible. If Embree or Mike Timlin comes into the game to face Jorge Posada following Matsui's double, can the Red Sox find a way to make it out of the inning with the lead intact? Who knows.
At some point between the beginning of the seventh inning and the end of the eighth inning, Pedro Martinez wore down and lost much of his effectiveness. If it was obvious to someone like me, watching the game at home without any inside knowledge of the situation, it had to have been obvious to Grady Little. He needed to make the tough decision, to turn to his bullpen, to take out his superstar pitcher. And he didn't do it.
You can talk about curses or mystique or aura or whatever other fictional stuff you feel like talking about, but the fact is that the Boston Red Sox were in a very good position to win last night's game and they didn't, because their starting pitcher was left in for several batters too long. And ultimately, that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Grady Little. If he makes it through the end of the month as Boston's manager, I will be incredibly surprised.
Of course, the other side of this tale is that the New York Yankees, as they have done so many times, came back and won a game in the post-season. They were down big early, their manager yanked their starting pitcher too soon instead of too late, and a cast of thousands came in from the bullpen and kept the game close.
All of the good adjectives for describing a pitcher have been used to describe Mariano Rivera's post-season play in the past, so I will just say that he is absolutely amazing.
During the regular-season, Rivera pitched more than one inning in just 15 of his 64 appearances. He pitched as many as two innings in just five of his 64 appearances, including zero times since the middle of July. And yet, once the post-season rolls around, he becomes a workhorse, capable of giving Joe Torre multiple innings at a time whenever it is asked of him.
Before last night's game, Rivera had pitched in five post-season games this year, going two innings in four of them. Last night, he was asked to go even beyond that and he was up to the challenge. Rivera shut Boston down for three innings, throwing a total of 48 pitches while striking out three, walking none and giving up just two hits.
Rivera did not throw as many as even 40 pitches during the entire regular-season. Or last season. Or in 2001. I would gladly tell you when the last time Mariano Rivera threw 40+ pitches in a game was, but sadly ESPN.com's "game logs" don't even go back that far.
The man is just such an incredible weapon to have in the playoffs. If the Yankees are winning, he can make it a seven-inning game. If the Yankees are tied, he can make it a 10 or 11-inning game, giving New York's offense several shots at winning it. Which is exactly what happened last night.
Rivera came in for the ninth and shut Boston down. The Yankees couldn't score.
Rivera came in for the tenth and shut Boston down. The Yankees couldn't score.
Rivera came in for the eleventh and shut Boston down. Aaron Boone hit a solo homer to lead off the inning, and the Yankees are in the World Series.
Game One is on Saturday night, in the Bronx. Florida versus New York. This post-season has been incredible so far and there is no doubt in my mind we are all in for a very good World Series.
I don't have much time to work on a preview before Game One, but I'll definitely have something up for you all to read first thing Saturday morning. Until then, sit back, relax and rest a little bit. Because there is still a whole lot more baseball left to be played!
It's hard not to feel bad for Cubs fans. They haven't experienced a trip to the World Series in nearly 60 years, and they haven't won a championship in 95. Meanwhile, the Florida Marlins have been a franchise for all of 11 years, they won the championship in 1997, and now they are going to their second World Series. It's definitely not fair.
And the Cubs had it. They were so damn close. Up three games to one, going back to Wrigley, with Mark Prior lined up for Game Six and Kerry Wood in reserve for Game Seven.
They had a 3-run lead in the eighth inning of Game Six and saw the Marlins score eight straight runs in what was one of the most painful losses I have ever seen a team experience.
Then last night, the Cubs fought back from an early 3-0 deficit to take a 5-3 lead into the fifth inning. Wrigley was rocking, there was a huge crowd forming on the streets surrounding the stadium, and you could almost feel it in the air. And then the Marlins scored six straight runs and it was all over.
Kerry Wood was shaky right from the very beginning. He was quite obviously very pumped up for the game and he was over-throwing all of his pitches in the first couple innings, bouncing many of his breaking-balls. He gave up a triple to Juan Pierre leading off the game, walked Ivan Rodriguez two batters later and then served up a 3-run bomb to Miguel Cabrera. After just 22 pitches, it was 3-0 Florida.
But then the Cubs fought back behind, surprisingly enough, Kerry Wood's bat. With a man on base, two outs and the score 3-1 Marlins in the bottom of the second inning, Wood crushed Mark Redman's 3-2 offering into the bleachers in deep left-center. And just like that, the game was tied.
The atmosphere in and around Wrigley was electric after Wood connected. He had immediately given up three runs to put his team in a hole and then he quickly took all of those runs back with a monstrous home run. It was a brand-new game. Wood held the Marlins scoreless in the third and the Cubs added on two more runs, courtesy of a Moises Alou homer with Sammy Sosa on base.
I'll admit that I thought the game was over as soon as Alou hit it. Wood seemed to be over his early-game control problems, the Cubs had a 2-run lead after being down right away, and the whole thing just seemed right. Each time FOX showed the Wrigley crowd, every person was standing and cheering. The crowds outside the stadium kept growing. It just had to be.
Except it wasn't. The Florida Marlins, as they've done this whole post-season, fought back and won a game by putting an offensive blitz on their opponent. They knocked Wood out of the game in the sixth inning after he had already allowed seven runs, and then tacked two more on against Kyle Farnsworth the next inning.
In sports, the cliche that "no one expected them to win" is used far too much and in far too many instances where it is simply not true. I can't begin to count the amount of times I have heard a player on a team that was favored, either in a game or a series, say in an interview that the team was able to win because "no one expected them to win."
No matter if a #1 seeded basketball team just defeated the #8 seed or a football team favored by 25 points sweated out an overtime win, one of the players on the winning team will tell anyone who will listen about how they beat the odds and won, even though "no one expected them to win."
Well, for once, the cliche is true. I defy you to find one person not directly affiliated with the Florida Marlins and/or not on a massive amount of drugs who thought before this season began or even before the All-Star break that the Marlins would be in the World Series. Hell, I bet you couldn't find many people who thought last month that they'd be in the position they are in right now.
The Marlins don't have the best reputation as a franchise, they hadn't had a winning-record in six years, their best pitcher blew out his elbow a month into the season, they got off to a bad start and fired their manager, and they hired a 73-year old replacement who had never been to the post-season before in all his years of managing.
And now it is October 16th and the Florida Marlins are in the World Series, waiting to see who their opponent will be.
Jack McKeon deserves as much credit as any manager has ever gotten. He took over a team that was not playing well and that was going through all sorts of issues related to the injury of their star pitcher. He came in, got everyone on the same page, and led them to a 75-49 record.
Over the next couple of weeks you are going to hear all about how the Florida Marlins got to the World Series because they have such great team speed and they put pressure on the other team by stealing bases and all that other stuff that makes Joe Morgan smile. Don't buy it for a second.
Florida has a total of six stolen bases this entire post-season and their best basestealer, Juan Pierre, the man who is supposed to wreck havoc on the bases, has two steals and has been caught three times.
No, this Marlins team wins because it is deep and it gets production from many different sources. They don't have any superstars, although Ivan Rodriguez is pretty close, but they get solid starting pitching, they have a good bullpen, they play good defense and their offense is deep and balanced.
They have on-base ability (and speed) at the top of the lineup in Pierre and Luis Castillo, they have power in the middle with Ivan Rodriguez, 20-year old phenom Miguel Cabrera, Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell, and the bottom of their lineup - Jeff Conine and even Alex Gonzalez - are not automatic outs. They also have some good bench players, including Juan Encarnacion, a starter the entire year who hit .270 with 62 extra-base hits and 94 RBIs, and now finds himself on the bench because of Florida's depth.
I'm not particularly happy about the Marlins being in the World Series. Something inside of me feels like they don't "deserve" it as much as the Cubs do, as misguided a thought as that probably is. They have such a limited history as a franchise, with some very questionable incidents sprinkled in, and yet they are now in a position to win their second championship. I wanted the Giants. I wanted the Cubs. I wanted pretty much anyone but the Marlins.
That said, this is a good baseball team and they are, admittedly, a very fun team to watch. They pitch, they play defense, they score runs, they have some good stories on their roster and they have shown an amazing ability to fight back and handle adversity. And I admire that, even if their owner is a fairly horrible person and even if their franchise has had far too much success in its short history.
Of course, now the big question is who will have the honor of playing those pesky Marlins in the World Series...
As if introducing the world to both Ed Hillel and Steve Bartman wasn't enough, the 2003 post-season has now given us the Florida Marlins in the World Series, and tonight we all get a chance to watch Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez decide who their opponent will be.
As rivalries go, it does not get any better than the Yankees and the Red Sox. And as pitchers go, it does not get any better than Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. Tonight's game has history, it has emotion, it has drama, and it has two of the best pitchers in the history of the sport.
I don't think I have ever been this excited for a baseball game in my entire life. If you are interested in seeing history, seeing the very best in the world compete on the biggest stage, this game is for you.
There are so many plotlines for this game that it is almost too much to think about. Beyond the obvious, which is the intense rivalry between the two teams that has gone on over the last century or so, you have the fact that Pedro and Clemens hooked up last week and it led to a very ugly set of incidents.
And then you've got the Red Sox, one of the most storied franchises in baseball, but with such a long history of disappointment and heartbreak. And the Yankees, who have experienced enough winning over the years for a dozen teams. And you've got Roger Clemens facing off against the team he starred on for so many years. And you've got Pedro Martinez, perhaps the most dominant pitcher of his generation, on the biggest stage he has ever been on.
Tonight's game is what baseball is all about. History and emotion and disappointment and euphoria, all wrapped up into one game, on one night, in Yankee Stadium. The House that Ruth Built, the house that Gehrig and Mantle and DiMaggio starred in. The place that has been home to such an incredible amount of winning, to so much excitement and drama.
And now it is the place where the Boston Red Sox will try to overcome their past, to overcome that ridiculous curse, to beat the team that has knocked them down so many times.
Anyone else have goosebumps just thinking about it?
Over the last few weeks, I have repeated a statement about Pedro Martinez that I think correctly depicts my feeling about him as a pitcher...
"Pedro is still Pedro and I'll only believe he loses a deciding game when I see it, and even then I will be skeptical."
Well, from the looks of his last start, Pedro is not quite Pedro right now. I don't know what ails him, but whatever it is has caused him to be not quite "right." His fastball doesn't have nearly as much life on it as it usually does and he is relying heavily on his curveball. He's not striking as many people out, he is giving up hits in places he usually doesn't, and he is actually giving up runs - 10 in 21 innings.
He has not been Pedro this post-season. He has not been the guy with the 2.22 ERA this season or the guy who went 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA in September. He hasn't been the guy who went 20-4 last year, or the guy who went 23-4 in 1999 or the guy who had a 1.74 ERA in 2000.
If the Red Sox are to win this game, to go to the World Series, to take another step closer to the championship that has eluded them for so long, they are going to need Pedro Martinez to be Pedro Martinez.
They need the guy with the 93 MPH fastball and that nasty curve. They need the guy who challenges every hitter, and then makes them look absolutely silly with that extraordinary changeup. They need whatever ails him right now to go away for just a few hours on an October night in the Bronx. They need to have the greatest pitcher in the world out on that mound tonight.
Will they get that guy to show? Who knows, he may not even be around any longer. But if he is, there is nothing more incredible to me than the thought of seeing the best pitcher in the world, on top of this game, on the game's biggest stage, going against Roger Clemens and the most storied franchise in baseball history.
Whatever does happen, I'll be watching, goosebumps and all. Because there is nothing quite like baseball in October.
After seven innings of last night's game, I would have given anything to have been a Cubs fan in Chicago. They were six outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945 and they had Mark Prior on the mound, mowing down Marlins left and right.
About 15 minutes later, had I been able to become that Cubs fan in Chicago, I probably would have killed myself.
Mark Prior got Mike Mordecai to fly out for the first out of the 8th inning, and suddenly the Cubs were just five outs away. At that point, Prior had the following line for the game:
IP H R BB SO HR
7.1 3 0 2 6 0
And then, just like that, the wheels came flying off.
Prior gave up a double to Juan Pierre and the next batter, Luis Castillo, hit a fly ball foul down the left field line. Moises Alou had a play on it, but a fan reached out and knocked it away. It wasn't "fan interference" in that the ball was in the stands and the fan had a right to it, but it was fan interference in that there should have been two outs in the inning.
Castillo ended up working a 9-pitch walk, and the rest of the inning went like this:
By the time Mike Remlinger got Luis Castillo to pop out to mercifully end the inning, Mark Prior was long gone. And it was 8-3 Marlins.
It was really very painful to watch from here in my dorm room in Minnesota. I can't begin to imagine how excruciating it much have been for someone sitting in Wrigley Field. To go from emotions that high, from the excitement of having a trip to the World Series just five outs way, all the way down to seeing the Marlins score eight runs in an inning must have been simply horrendous.
And to know that there should have been two outs in the inning before even a single run had crossed the plate probably makes it fifty times worse. The person who got in Moises Alou's way is no doubt going to become the most hated man in Chicago for the next 100 years or so. It's very likely things would have been much different if Alou had been able to make that catch for out number two, but that fan is going to get a lot more heat than he deserves.
For one thing, he interfered on a foul ball. It wasn't as if he got in Alou's way and pulled in a home run or something. And even if Alou had made the catch, there would have been just two outs in the inning, so assuming the second out was made does not exactly put an end to the possibility that the Cubs pitching-staff completely implodes.
Really, if you want someone to get good and angry at, try Alex Gonzalez, who made an error on a fairly routine ground ball that would have been, once again, the second out of the inning. Of course, you try telling that to a Cubs fan today and then let me know how it went when you get out of the hospital.
The way last night's game ended for Chicago, with a trip to the World Series being taken from them when they could all feel it so close strikes me as the sort of loss that could linger for a little while. In that sense, the bad news for the Cubs is that they have to play the Marlins again tonight. The good news is that they will have Kerry Wood on the mound.
On the other hand, the other bad news is that they had Mark Prior on the mound last night and...well, that didn't work out so well for them. It was fairly amazing to see someone who had been pitching that well simply lose it so abruptly, particularly when that person is Mark Prior.
I can't really tell you why it happened, but I will say that maybe Prior wouldn't have fallen apart in the late innings all of a sudden like that if Dusty Baker hadn't made him throw an extra 40 meaningless pitches in his last start. Did that extra work in a blowout cause Prior to tire a few pitches earlier than he would have had he not thrown as much? We'll never know, but it's certainly possible.
I do have a completely ridiculous theory as to why everything fell apart for the Cubs last night. You see, one of the best comedians on the planet, Bernie Mac, sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch. When he got to the part where he was supposed to sing, "root root root for the CUBBIES..." he threw everyone a changeup and sang "root root root for the CHAMPIONS..."
Personally, I knew it was over as soon as I heard that. A jinx like that from Bernie Mac is simply too strong, even for Mark Prior.
(Yes, I'm kidding...sort of)
The Game Seven matchup tonight will feature Kerry Wood versus Mark Redman.
Wood is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in the playoffs thus far and the Cubs beat Redman and the Marlins in his last start, Game Three. However, neither Wood nor Redman were involved in the decision, because that game wasn't decided until the 11th inning. Redman actually out-pitched Wood that game. They both pitched 6.2 innings, but Redman gave up just 2 runs, while Wood surrendered 3.
If I had to bet on one team for tonight's game, it would be the Cubs, simply because of Kerry Wood and the possibility that he could go out and simply dominate for nine innings. But Mark Redman has pitched well this year, he held his own against the Cubs earlier in the series and the Florida Marlins have shown, time and time again in this post-season, that they are not a team that is to be taken lightly.
This has been one hell of a series in one hell of a post-season, and the best parts haven't even arrived yet! Seriously, how great is baseball?
Oh, and there was this other game yesterday too...
If nothing else, both games yesterday showed just how quickly a team's fortunes can change.
At the start of the 8th inning, the Cubs looked headed for the World Series. A few moments later they were down 8-3 and the only thing they were headed for was Game Seven.
Well, Derek Lowe and the Red Sox lost to the Yankees yesterday. The series is now 3-2 New York, Boston's backs are up against the wall and now they must win two games in a row, the first of which will be started by John Burkett.
"Two out of three with Pedro and Lowe" sounded a whole lot better than "two in a row with Burkett and Pedro," didn't it?
Boston is still not out of this thing yet. John Burkett is not the type of pitcher you want on the mound in an elimination game, but he was in the same position against the A's in the first-round and, although he did not pitch well, the Red Sox still won the game.
Burkett made two starts against New York this year, one good one and one bad one. The bad one came in early July, when he gave up 4 runs on 10 hits in just 5.1 innings, as the Red Sox lost 7-1. The good one came a few weeks later, when he shut the Yankees out for 5.2 innings, as the Red Sox won 5-4.
And if Burkett gets into trouble before he can even complete a modest amount of innings, I have no doubt his hook will be incredibly short. Of course, if that happens, the Red Sox are in trouble any way, because it can become a 4-0 or 5-0 game in a hurry.
For New York, Andy Pettitte will get the start. He pitched very well against Boston in Game Two, holding them to 2 runs in 6.2 innings. He's also left-handed, and the Red Sox have struggled quite a bit against lefties in the playoffs thus far, including against David Wells yesterday.
Wells was at his best, flicking that slow curve over the plate all afternoon. He wasn't getting all the calls he would have liked from home-plate umpire Joe West, but he kept pumping curveballs over the plate. Those slow curves must have looked so good to Boston's hitters, but they just kept pounding them into the ground. They had several big chances to bust through with some runs, but Wells got the job done each and every time.
The offense that led the majors in runs and had the highest slugging percentage of any team in baseball history now has 32 runs in 10 games, and they are hitting just .230/.299/.392 in the post-season. They are hitting below .200 against left-handed pitching.
It's not looking good for Red Sox fans right now. However, this is an offense that has been capable of pounding out enough runs so that Boston's starting pitcher is made irrelevant. It's going to be very hard to do that against a left-handed pitcher as good as Andy Pettitte, but that might be Boston's only chance.
Of course, I don't believe in any of that "Curse of the Bambino" crap, but if John Burkett somehow wins Game Six and then Pedro loses Game Seven, I think I might become a believer. I know I'll be rooting for Burkett, simply because the idea of another Clemens-Pedro matchup to decide it all, in Yankee Stadium, is pretty damn exciting.
Amazingly, Game Four of the ALCS came and went without incident. Well, there was that thing in the 8th inning when the umpires strip-searched Jeff Nelson on the mound (seriously), but I think that was just an effort to prepare him for prison-life with charges for the whole Game Three bullpen-scuffle looming.
Tim Wakefield was fantastic, pitching into the 8th inning while allowing just 1 run on 5 hits. He did walk 4 Yankees, but also struck out 8. Grady Little yanked him from the game after he handed out a walk to Jason Giambi to start the 8th, bringing in Mike Timlin to relieve him.
Timlin continued his run of complete dominance this post-season, setting Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui down 1-2-3. Timlin has now thrown 7.1 perfect innings this post-season, while striking out 9 batters.
I thought it was an interesting decision to bring Timlin into the game at that point. As good as he has been this season and as great as he has been this post-season, Timlin struggled quite a bit with left-handed hitters for most of the year. Lefties hit .287 with a .502 slugging percentage against him in 150 at bats. So, bringing him in to face Williams, Posada and Matsui - all left-handed hitters - was a risky move, but it certainly worked out.
Then, with Boston up 3-1 heading into the 9th, Grady Little pulled Timlin in favor of Scott Williamson. Personally, I would have left Timlin in. He's been great of late and he only threw 11 pitches in the 8th. Of course, Williamson has also been fantastic in the post-season.
Williamson came in and was extremely good, except for one really awful pitch.
The first batter he faced was Nick Johnson and he got ahead of him 1-2 and then threw an absolutely disgusting slider down in the zone that Johnson swung right over for strike three.
Then he had Ruben Sierra in the same spot, down 1-2, and he threw him a fastball right over the heart of the plate. Sierra took a monster hack at it and deposited it into the seats in right-center. 3-2 Red Sox. Ruben Sierra isn't exactly a patient hitter and considering how silly the 1-2 slider made Nick Johnson look in the previous at bat, I can't figure out why Williamson would throw Sierra something that good in that spot.
To Williamson's credit (and Jason Varitek's too), he had David Dellucci 2-2 in the next at bat and threw him that same nasty slider, which dropped right off the table for a swinging strike three.
The next batter was Alfonso Soriano and when he got down 1-2, Williamson threw that exact same filthy, sharp-breaking slider down in the zone for strike three, ending the game.
I normally get annoyed when an announcer says a pitcher "made a mistake" every time someone gets a hit (and particularly a homer) off him, but in this case I definitely think the 1-2 fastball to Sierra was a mistake. Not necessarily a physical mistake (although it was not a good pitch), but more a case of a pitcher and catcher trying to get too "cute." When you have the ability to throw a slider like Scott Williamson was throwing last night, that should be the one and only option anytime you have two strikes on a hitter and you're ahead in the count.
Wakefield was awesome, the Sox bullpen was great (anyone complaining about that whole bullpen-by-committee thing any more?) and the series is now tied at two games each.
By the way, is anyone else wondering if Tim Wakefield could possibly start Game Six? I know that sounds crazy, it being on Wednesday and all, but trying to come up with a way to avoid a Burkett start seems like a good plan and Wakefield is a knuckleballer, after all. I mean, does his arm get tired?
Okay, I'm sure it gets "tired" in the same way my arm gets tired when I play catch for an hour, but does it get tired like most pitchers' arms get tired? Does he have to ice it after a game? Does it get swollen the next morning? Does his arm get so tired that he needs more than a 48 hours to recoup before he can take the mound again? Who knows. I think I might take my chances with Wakefield on 1-day of rest, throwing the knuckler left-handed before I gave a fully-rested John Burkett a shot at this point.
Some other random thoughts on last night's game and this series...
Only fellow Bill Simmons fans will understand this, but when Jeff Nelson was called into the game from the bullpen last night I suddenly thought of this...
"OH MY GOD! That's...that's...THAT'S JEFF NELSON'S MUSIC!"
I watched Don Zimmer's tearful apology yesterday and I now feel sort of sorry for him. I still think what he did was very stupid and very wrong and that Pedro is getting far too much heat for defending himself, but I do think Zimmer is genuinely sorry for what he did and I can respect that.
I also saw some clips of Grady Little talking to the media. It was the first time I had ever seen or heard Grady Little speak for an extended period of time. Where exactly is his accent from? That is perhaps the strangest and most disturbing way of speaking that I have ever heard. It's like a cross between the guy from Sling Blade and Forrest Gump, except not as intelligent sounding.
What is up with Todd Walker?! The guy slugs .428 with 13 homers in 144 regular season games and he's already got 5 homers in the playoffs? He's hitting .393/.452/.964 in the post-season so far. Can you imagine if a certain shortstop on the other team was doing that? I think Tim McCarver might have an accident live on the air.
As good as Walker has been, Nomar Garciaparra has been nearly that bad. He went 0-4 last night, striking out once and grounding into a double-play. He's down to .216 in the post-season overall, and he's now 2-17 in the ALCS. It seems like he is either popping up to the infield or striking out in every at bat, and Nomar is not a guy who whiffs very often. Nomar also hit just .170/.248/.351 in September, so this isn't just some 3 or 4 game slump that he's in.
What exactly is the deal with Boston's idiotic baserunning? I believe they have botched a hit-and-run in every game of this series, which is simply something that cannot happen to a team that had the best team slugging percentage in the history of baseball. Sure, they have been hitting into a few double-plays, but they had like three billion extra-base hits this year, so it might be best to just keep everyone in one place until someone smacks a ball off that gigantic green wall in left field.
The Sox also had runners on first and third late in the game, with Johnny Damon at the plate. The runner on first, Jason Varitek, took off for second base and then stopped about half way there. Jorge Posada made a strong throw to second, at which point Varitek was a dead man. Trot Nixon took off for the plate to draw a throw home, which is the smart thing to do in that situation, but then he tried to scramble back to third and was gunned down to end the inning. Sure, there were two strikes, but Johnny Damon is a pretty good bet to make contact and even if you had the love-child of Russell Branyan and Rob Deer at the plate, a catcher taking off for second in that spot is really stupid. Not just regular-stupid, I'm talking Jessica Simpson eating tuna fish stupid.
The Official Part-Time Announcer of Aaron's Baseball Blog was once again awesome last night. Bret Boone and McCarver once again bickered throughout the entire game, which is always a lot of fun. I particularly liked when Boone was talking about how he did something at the plate (hitting the knuckler, I think) and he then asked McCarver how he did it, asking "Do you remember way back then?"
At one point there was a shallow fly ball hit to CF with Alfonso Soriano on third base. Soriano bluffed a tag, drawing a throw home from Johnny Damon. To say Johnny Damon throws like a girl is fairly inaccurate, because I have seen many girls throw with at least some semblance of correct form and with at least a reasonable amount of velocity. Johnny Damon throws like whatever the gender or species on this planet that is the worst at throwing a baseball is.
I would run on Johnny Damon's arm in almost every situation. And I mean that literally. I would run on him, as in me, a big, slow goofball who probably hasn't run more than 30 consecutive feet at any point in the last 3 years. If I was Soriano, I would have tagged up, scored, and then gone back to third and done it again, in the hopes that the umps would award my team two runs instead of just one.
Speaking of Boston's outfielders, Manny Ramirez is an improved and underrated left fielder, but every time a ball is hit to him I get the feeling he is incredibly annoyed by being forced to move to catch it. It's like when someone asks you to take out the trash or to clean your room. You know you should do it and you do it, but you don't have to be happy about it.
While watching Tim Wakefield pitch last night, was anyone else completely overtaken by the urge to go outside and play catch?
I enjoyed the "WE WANT NELSON!" chant while Jeff Nelson warmed up in the Yankee bullpen late in the game. It was not quite as good as Yankee fans calling out Pedro with a "WE WANT PEDRO!" chant earlier in the series, but it was still funny.
I was also amused by Jeff Nelson who, when he got Nomar to hit a grounder to Derek Jeter with a runner on first base, hopped off the mound, turned toward second base and then screamed "TURN IT!" at the top of his lungs.
Do they have a Boston Penal League or will they let Nelson serve his time in New York, so he can play for the Prison-Yankees? Either way, I can't wait for that Jeff Nelson-Rick Vaughn matchup in Game One of the Penal League World Series next year.
Has there ever been a worse time for a rainout in the history of Major League Baseball?
Not only is this Boston versus New York and not only is it the American League Championship Series, the game was supposed to be played about 24 hours after one of the craziest games in baseball history.
Now all of that has to wait another day. I was really excited to see Game Four, but I was even more pumped up about seeing whatever extra-curricular stuff was going to take place. If I was a betting man, I would have put the odds of another "incident" at about 2-1 for yesterday. 24 hours later, with even more time for cooler heads to prevail, I'd say we're looking at at least 4-1.
Personally, I was hoping the Red Sox would send Johnny Pesky onto the field to attack Derek Jeter. But then the Yankees would probably have responded by letting Yogi Berra loose on Manny Ramirez and, before you know it, you've got every elderly former baseball player fighting someone on the infield in Fenway Park.
I don't blame you all for not reading though. After all, I haven't written anything on the weekend for a very long time, so it's not like you had any reason to think there would be something new for you to read here on Saturday or Sunday. The amount of people who came to this blog combined between Saturday and Sunday was about the same amount that comes here on a typical weekday, which means about half of you probably haven't read my little rant on Don Zimmer and Pedro Martinez yet.
If you're one of those people, make sure to check it out. Don't go now though, finish reading today's entry and I'll post a link to it at the end.
I read quite a few articles about the game and some of the things that were written struck me as either totally false or at the very least utterly ridiculous. Some of the false stuff I read included things like Pedro Martinez hitting Karim Garcia in the head with the pitch, and some of the ridiculous stuff included how Pedro Martinez, in the few seconds he had to react while Don Zimmer charged at him, should have realized it was an old man and either run from Zimmer or simply stood there while he hit him. The thought being, of course, that no 72 year old man could ever cause any pain to a younger man. The next time you see your grandfather, tell him to go across the room, take a running start toward you and then punch you in the face. See how you like that, and then imagine it just happened on national television.
"If that happened in New York we would have arrested the perpetrator," Bloomberg said. "Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period."
Did Bloomberg even bother seeing what actually took place? Pedro Martinez did not attack Don Zimmer. Pedro Martinez was standing near Boston's dugout and Zimmer can running at him. If you don't believe me (hey, why don't you believe me?!), check out this video clip, courtesy of someone shooting home video from the first base line.
I also take issue with Bloomberg's use of the cliched "blah blah blah, period" line. This is obviously meant as a way to make your point and then end all discussion. I have been guilty of using this in the past.
In this case, Bloomberg is saying that there is no instance in which "throwing" a 70-year old man to the ground is acceptable. I would agree with that, except I would have one minor exception to the rule, which is that it is okay to do so when that 70-year old man IS ATTACKING YOU!
Lots of people emailed me to say that Pedro should have known better than to think that Don Zimmer could ever possibly hurt him. Not only do I disagree with that (I had my grandpa punch me in the face yesterday and my nose is still bleeding), I also would like someone to explain to me what Don Zimmer was attempting to do in that instance, if it wasn't to hurt Pedro Martinez.
Before I let Bloomberg off the hook, he had one more brilliant statement:
"You just cannot assault people, even if it's on a baseball field"
Again, did he watch the damn game? He is angry at Pedro Martinez for shoving Don Zimmer to the ground, saying that "you just cannot assault people." Yet he has no response to Don Zimmer charging at Pedro and taking a swing at him?
People act like Don Zimmer is some defenseless little teddy bear. He's an old guy, no doubt about it, but he's also a former athlete who happens to be pretty hefty at this point, and he certainly thought that he was capable of inflicting some pain on another human being when he decided to take a run at Pedro.
What happens if Zimmer runs at Pedro, Pedro shoves him to the ground and, in doing so, hurts his hand or his shoulder or something? Is what Don Zimmer did (or tried to do) so innocent and acceptable if Pedro can't pitch any more?
And just to be clear, I am in no way defending Pedro's actions leading up to the incident with Zimmer. I am, however, defending everything he did from the time the benches cleared in the bottom of the fourth inning until the time order was restored.
Okay, enough about the Pedro/Zimmer crap, because I'm sick of hearing about it, I'm sick of writing about it and I'm sure you're sick of hearing me talk about it...
Last night's rainout not only means that everyone has a little more time to calm down before they take the field again, it also means there will be changes to both teams' pitching rotations.
Last night was supposed to feature John Burkett against David Wells. Instead of Burkett going in Game Four, the Red Sox will now turn to Game One starter Tim Wakefield. Who starts Game Five isn't quite clear.
According to ESPN, Grady Little hasn't decided whether he will use John Burkett in Game Five or if he will go to Derek Lowe. I'd be willing to bet it will be Lowe, particularly if Boston loses Game Four. The Sox are also saying that, no matter what happens, Pedro Martinez will not pitch again until Game Seven. That means, either way, Burkett will be starting a game in this series at some point. That makes sense in that keeping Pedro on full-rest is always a good idea, but I wonder if "no matter what happens" will change a little bit if they are heading back to New York down 3-2 in the series.
I was worried that, with the rainout, the possibility of a Pedro/Clemens Game Seven matchup would be ruined. But that was under the incorrect assumption that there would still be an off-day between Game Five and Game Six, giving Pedro the chance to start Game Six on full-rest. There will be no off-day, which means Pedro/Clemens to decide it all is still a very real possibility, assuming we get that far, of course.
Can you imagine the ratings for that? And will Don Zimmer be forced to sit in the dugout, strapped down and muzzled like Hannibal Lecter?
If you aren't already sick of all this Zimmer/Pedro stuff, check out my entry on it from this weekend...