Running Diary: October 7, 2004

Being a Red Sox fan, I’m also an American League fan. I pay more attention to the AL, have more interest in the AL and like to watch AL games more. So, I was a little annoyed when I found out that my first day off from work during the baseball playoffs would come on the day when the AL wasn’t playing any games.

Still, playoff time is playoff time, which made my schedule for Thursday pretty easy. Mike and the Mad Dog on YES from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., Astros-Braves on ESPN from 4 p.m. until the end of the game, and Dodgers-Cardinals on FOX from 8 p.m. until the end of the game. Since we haven’t done much on the NL series here at The Hardball Times yet, I thought I’d keep a running diary of my baseball day.

1:05 p.m.: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa good afternoon, everybody! Russo breaks out the super-long intro this afternoon. Must be pumped about today’s show.

1:08: Mike’s doing a nice job of defending Ron Gardenhire. As Aaron said yesterday, even if you thought Joe Nathan might not have anything left, there just weren’t good options for him to turn to.

1:15: Still talking about Gardenhire sending Nathan back out, Mike and Dog both say they can’t send Jesse Crain out to face Alex Rodriguez with two on and one out in the bottom of the 12th. However, they admit that neither one knows anything about Crain.

I just so happen to have some insight into Crain’s ability, as I saw him pitch several times for the Rochester Red Wings earlier this year. He has tremendous stuff, and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t become an excellent closer at some point.

However, while he posted a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings for the Twins, he didn’t do the thing he regularly did for the Red Wings — strike people out. He had 64 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings in Rochester but just 14 strikeouts in 27 innings in Minnesota. I don’t think Crain would have been able to get through A-Rod and Gary Sheffield without a run scoring.

1:47: Time for Mike and Dog to make fun of John Sterling. I love this part of the show. Sterling is probably my least favorite broadcaster, and Mike and Dog love making fun of him, which is fine by me.

This time, Sterling gave his typical “Ballgame over!” and then paused like he couldn’t think of anything else to say and eventually said, “Ballgame over!” again before going into his “Thuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh Yankees Win!” crap. Mike and Dog crack up — as they usually do when listening to Sterling’s calls — and give suggestions for what he might have been trying to say during the pause. Good stuff.

2:09: Wow, Tom Gordon has been really, really bad in the postseason (small sample, obviously). I remember him not so fondly from the 1998 playoffs when Jimy Williams decided to hold Pedro Martinez for Game 5 and got a gem from Pete Schourek and then Gordon blew the save after converting 46 in a row in the regular season.

Dog has been talking all year about how he doesn’t trust Gordon in a big spot (Dog’s a big fan of players proving themselves in “big spots” in case you don’t know), but I didn’t realize Gordon’s playoff numbers were that bad. I bring this up because YES just posted a graphic showing his 9.35 playoff ERA (only 8 2/3 innings, but yikes).

2:48: Mike says that last night, after the homer from Torii Hunter, was the quietest he’s seen Yankee Stadium since 1996, and that people were actually leaving the game before the bottom of that inning. My friend, Rob, who was also at the game, said that the feeling in the stadium was really, really nervous.

I’m not sure what to think of the circumstances of this postseason. Fans of the Yankees are really, really nervous about this team and its ability to win the World Series. Fans of the Red Sox are really, really confident in this team and feel it’s the best chance to win the World Series we could probably hope for. If these two teams meet in the ALCS, it’ll be interesting to see what the stories are like and what the talk radio callers sound like. I think the Yankees might be considered significant underdogs, especially if Mike Mussina can’t start Game 1.

3:17: Dog and Mike are taking Jeff Bagwell to task for his quote about how the Astros’ win in Game 1 means people can’t ask them questions about why they can’t beat the Braves, and I agree. Why is Bagwell thinking about what people can or can’t ask him questions about? He should be thinking about making sure his team finally gets out of the first round of the playoffs.

3:28: Oh boy, I just lost a lot of respect for Dog. Let me explain what’s going on. If you don’t watch/listen to the show, you probably don’t know who John Minko is. He’s one of the update guys and he’s probably one of the most easily flustered people on radio. Mike and Dog love making him talking about the things he does in his personal time.

Today, they’re talking about a complaint he’s received from a parent of one of the girls he coaches on a 12-year-old travel softball team. I guess what happened is that this girl’s a pitcher and she got hurt and before she came back, he told a different girl she could start a certain game. Then the injured girl came back, Minko kept his promise to the other girl and the formerly-injured girl’s father was upset his daughter didn’t pitch.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Anyway, Dog says that the parents of the girl to whom Minko kept a promise should be in Minko’s corner, just like a certain three-line basketball star was in Gene Hackman‘s corner in Hoosier’s. The problem — big problem — is that he called Jimmy Chitwood “Jimmy Chillups.”

Now, I know Dog isn’t the most articulate guy in radio (actually, that might be the understatement of the century), but he’s got to know Jimmy Chitwood’s name.

3:43: Mike and Dog just finished talking to Minko about the complaints, and it might have been the best segment of the show. That’s what I love about the Mike and the Mad Dog show. They both say a lot of things I don’t agree with and several things that even annoy the heck out of me. But I love that they’re willing to take 20 minutes out of their show and joke around with each other or the update guys or the producers or whoever.

Plus, they even had a good point to make, because it sounds like Minko was dealing with one of those typical over-aggressive parents who can make youth sports a lesser experience than it should be. If they can call attention to those kinds of people and show that they’re out of line and have some fun while doing it, I think that’s great.

As long as Dog makes sure he gets his movie references right, of course.

4:00: OK, enough commentary. Now, it’s time for some actual baseball. I’m excited to see if today’s games give me a reason to get excited about either of these series, if that makes any sense.

4:12: Just after Craig Biggio hits a long fly ball barely foul, David Justice says that it would have been huge because the Astros already have momentum and getting an early lead today would have taken the crowd out of the game. I’m pretty sure the Atlanta crowd’s taken itself out of the game by not showing up in the first place, as it looks like the upper decks are pretty empty.

4:15: And there is that early lead for the Astros, as Bagwell takes Mike Hampton out to right field after flailing at the previous pitch. Bagwell only had 11 home runs in 310 at-bats at the All-Star break, but he has 17 in 268 at-bats since then (playoffs included). That means he’s hitting homers almost 80 percent more often since the All-Star break. Pretty impressive.

4:43: OK, Bagwell and Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman you can deal with. But when Brad Ausmus in Game 1 and Raul Chavez just now are hitting home runs off you, that’s not good. Ausmus and Chavez combined for five homers in 565 at-bats in the regular season (all five from Ausmus) and now they have two in five at-bats this series.

4:59: The Braves finally have a little something going against Roy Oswalt as Hampton leads off with a single and Marcus Giles hits a one-out single. They really need to get at least one run here and not let Oswalt keep plugging along toward the inevitability of Brad Lidge.

5:03: Bad game for J.D. Drew and Chipper Jones so far. In the first, Rafael Furcal led off with a single and, after Giles grounded out, Drew struck out and Jones grounded out to second. Just now, with two on and one out, Drew struck out and Jones grounded out to second.

If Atlanta’s No. 3 and 4 hitters can’t come up with a couple hits today at some point, this series is probably going to be over very quickly. It might be anyway, but without Drew and Jones hitting Atlanta will have almost no chance.

5:15: There are three people in the broadcast booth for this game — play-by-play man Dave O’Brien and color commentators Justice and Jeff Brantley. Do we really need two more people back in the studio giving us extra analysis?

Do we need to listen to Steve Phillips tell us that the Braves need to find some energy somewhere while they’re making the first out of the fourth inning? Sometimes (a lot of times, actually), ESPN’s love affair with itself gets in the way with the sport they’re trying to cover. Having five different guys talk about a game is just not necessary. Six, actually, if you count “sideline” reporter Dave Ryan.

5:24: Wow, the Astros try to give Hampton an out with a runner on first and Oswalt at the plate, but Hampton won’t let Oswalt bunt. Four straight balls, and the Braves are in trouble with the top of the order coming up.

5:28: And just when it looks like Atlanta’s season is on the verge of being just about over, Craig Biggio grounds into a double play. And Brantley goes crazy over Biggio not sacrificing the runners over. Biggio hit pretty well this year, he’s only grounded into 12 double plays the last two years, and the Astros are already up by two. Why, exactly, should they be playing for a run with their leadoff hitter up right now?

Beltran strikes out to end the inning and Atlanta still has a pulse.

5:45: Well, Hampton’s done about all I think the Braves could have asked of him — six innings, only two runs. Now Drew and Jones need to come through in the bottom of the sixth and get this game tied up — at the least — very soon.

5:49: Well, so much for that. I went to move my laundry along really quickly between innings, and by the time I got back there were already two outs as Drew and Jones both made Oswalt throw just one pitch. Since Oswalt had only thrown 65 pitches through the first five, that does not bode well. If the Braves let him get through eight innings and hand the ball right over to Lidge, they’re in big trouble.

5:59: Hampton gets the first out in the seventh inning and goes to 2-2 on Vizcaino before his knee injury (I assume) knocks him out of the game. It’s a shame because he really pitched a nice game. He walked three batters and gave up two homers, but he only allowed four hits and he struck out five. The Atlanta fans give him a nice hand as he walked off the field. Hopefully, the Braves can find a way to take advantage of the fact that he kept them in the game over the next couple innings.

6:10: Well, after six innings of nothing against Oswalt, a big hit finally comes via DeWayne Wise (baseball wouldn’t be any fun if it were predictable…). Furcal follows with an RBI single and suddenly it looks like Oswalt’s night is over.

Phil Garner came out and talked to the umpire and it looks like the bullpen phones aren’t working for Houston. Game 3 starter Brandon Backe had to run down to the bullpen and see if the relievers are warm yet, and Lidge is coming in for the bottom of the seventh.

This is a bit of a shock, to me, for two reasons. First, Oswalt had been cruising and Garner had a very quick hook there. Second, Lidge is obviously Houston’s closer and if the Astros are going to use him as such today, he’s going to need to get eight outs. This is some very interesting managing by Garner here.

6:18: Finally, this game is getting exciting. Furcal steals second and the throw from Chavez goes into center field, allowing Furcal to go to third. Then, Giles tries a suicide squeeze, but fouls it off the back of the plate and then strikes out on the next pitch.

Now, Drew needs to finally do something for the Braves. If they can tie this game here, it would be a huge change in the series.

6:22: Wow, Drew doesn’t even get the chance. Lidge’s pitch gets away from Chavez and Furcal tries to come home, but Chavez recovers quickly and throws Furcal — who paused before going — out easily. Still, the Braves aren’t in nearly as much trouble as I thought they’d be here. They’re only down by one run, Oswalt is out of the game and Lidge probably won’t be able to finish the game. I’m officially excited about this series, although the Braves will need to finish their rally for that excitement to last past today.

6:25: This game is now being played under protest. Apparently, Bobby Cox thinks that Garner was using the phones not working as an excuse to take a lot of time talking to the umpires to give Lidge more time to warm up. Obviously, protests are almost never upheld, but this game is really interesting all of the sudden.

6:30: John Smoltz comes in and cruises through the top of the eighth and the crowd gets loud as he finishes the frame with a strikeout. It’s amazing how much the feel of this game has changed in the last half hour. And I hate to keep harping on these two, but Drew and Jones will start things off for the Braves in the bottom of the eighth.

6:34: Well, it wasn’t necessarily what he meant to do, but Drew is on base as the tying run. He lined the ball of Lidge and Jeff Kent‘s throw to first was wild. After playing nearly flawless ball for six innings, the Astros have been pretty sloppy the last two innings.

6:38: Lidge just isn’t doing what he’s been doing all year. He got a free out when Drew tried to steal second and got thrown out, but Lidge then walked Jones and Estrada singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Suddenly the Astros are in a bit of trouble because Smoltz looked great in the eighth and this game’s probably over if the Braves can get both runners in.

6:42: And now Houston is in big trouble. LaRoche doubles off the wall in left center field to tie the game and now there are runners on second and third with one out and Smoltz ready to close things out. Honestly, I didn’t think the Braves had this comeback in them. Lidge hasn’t been sharp, but you have to give the Braves credit for sticking with it.

6:48: Lidge, throwing almost exclusively sliders, recovers with a ground ball — with Wilson Betemit getting thrown out at home — and a strikeout to end the inning. I never thought it would happen when I sat down this afternoon, but this is a great baseball game. That’s what’s great about the playoffs — a classic can break out at almost any time.

6:55: Smoltz gets through the top of the ninth with no problem. The question now is whether Lidge comes out for his third inning or Dan Miceli comes in from the pen. It’s worth noting that because of Cox using two pinch-runners, Eli Marrero is the only position player left on the bench for the Braves.

6:57: Because Marrero’s the backup catcher, he can’t pinch-hit for Smoltz, so Smoltz stays in to lead off the inning against Lidge. Of course, he comes through with a single to right field.

7:00: After a bunt from Furcal and a groundout from Giles move Smoltz to third, guess who’s up with a chance to win the game? Drew, of course.

7:02: Lidge strikes out Drew, and we’re going to extras. What a game. Hampton and Oswalt were both pitching great, and then were suddenly out of the game (tight forearm for Hampton, by the way). Smoltz has been superb on the mound and at the plate. Lidge blew the lead in the eighth, but came back for his third inning and sent the game to the 10th. Just fantastic.

7:15: Pitching a third inning for the first time all season (I guess Gardenhire’s not the only one who’d rather see a tired bullpen ace on the mound than anybody else), Smoltz walks two but gets out of the inning by striking out Jason Lane looking. Three scoreless innings and a single? I guess that’s why he has a reputation as a pretty good performer in October.

7:35: With one out in the bottom of the 11th, Charles Thomas singles to right field and Cox takes the last player off his bench. Marrero pinch-hits for Alfonseca and fouls out to the catcher. From here on out Atlanta’s pitchers will have to hit for themselves.

7:38: And Furcal makes sure that won’t come into play by homering into the right field stands to tie the series. Unbelievable. I came into this game with very low expectations, thinking the Braves would lose fairly easily. Instead, I got to see a truly great playoff baseball game. You have to love October.

8:18: OK, 40 minutes to regroup from an amazing Astros-Braves game (who knew?), and I’m back for Game 2 of my day-off doubleheader. One of the NL series has officially captured my attention, now it’s time to see if the other one can as well. Just as I was pulling for the Braves earlier, I’m pulling for the Dodgers now.

8:24: And the Dodgers waste little time as Jayson Werth hits a one-out home run in the top of the first inning of Jason Marquis. Not much surprise there as pretty much all of Werth’s offensive value this season was due to his power — 16 home runs in 290 at-bats.

8:41: Solid start to the game there for Jeff Weaver. He walks two, but gets out of the inning without any damage by striking out Jim Edmonds. Weaver certainly hasn’t been great this year, but I don’t think anybody expected when the Yankees swapped him for Kevin Brown last spring that he’d end up having the much better season. Throw in Yhency Brazoban for LA and that was a heck of a trade.

8:49: It’s the top of the second inning and Tim McCarver has already made three analogies comparing certain baseball activities to other sports. Make of that what you will.

8:55: You know those little bloop singles that fall right in front of outfielders that make you think, “Aw, come on, you could have caught that.”? Well, there’s a reason they don’t try to catch them. Milton Bradley just tried and instead of a bloop single, Edgar Renteria has a bloop double. Reggie Sanders follows with a beautiful bunt single and the Cardinals have runners at the corners with nobody out.

9:03: After getting the first out without letting Renteria score, the Dodgers just hand him home plate. Weaver throws over to first base a little offline, and Shawn Green is a little lazy getting his glove over there, and the ball gets away letting the run score as Sanders moves to second. Weaver got the error, but Green could have helped him out. On Sanders’ bunt, Alex Cora barehanded the ball and flipped to Green, who couldn’t make the scoop. Neither play was really easy for Green, but the Cardinals might not tie the game if he makes either one.

9:07: With two outs, Tony Womack drives a pitch to right field and Bradley makes another bad defensive decision. Instead of playing it off the wall, he tries to make a leaping catch and the ball bounces back past him for an easy triple for Womack. It doesn’t end up mattering as Larry Walker hits a double that would have scored Womack just as easily from second.

9:12: Weaver tries to throw a wild pitch, and then does throw a wild pitch. Just a very sloppy inning for the Dodgers. Weaver gets Pujols to end the inning, but LA is already down 3-1 and they have to be careful to fall too far behind because they just don’t have as much firepower as the Cardinals.

9:30: And we have our first appearance from Scooter, the annoying cartoon baseball that explains pitches. I don’t know a single person who likes the baseball coverage from FOX and it’s mostly because of things like Scooter, and pointless extra cameras, and pointless extra graphics, all of which simply detract from the only point of the whole broadcast — the game.

9:36: Green tattoos the ball into the right field stands and Bradley follows with a right-field shot that’s even harder, and suddenly the Dodgers aren’t in trouble any more. Almost as important as tying the game, Bradley’s home run comes on the 82nd pitch from Marquis — and there aren’t any outs in the fourth yet. Jason may not be long for this game and while the Cardinals have a fine bullpen, I don’t think they wanted to have to use it for as many as five innings.

9:43: Marquis finally gets the first out of the fourth, but then he walks light-hitting backup catcher Dave Ross and nearly hits Weaver while he’s trying to bunt, and that’ll do it for him tonight. The Cardinals are probably going to need their incredible offense because good things don’t tend to happen when you call on the bullpen in the fourth inning.

9:49: Not only did Marquis have a terrible outing, he also timed his exit terribly. The pitcher spot is going to come up in the bottom of the fourth for the Cardinals, giving Tony LaRussa three bad options. He can burn a reliever for two outs despite needing his pen for 5 2/3 innings, he can make a double switch and burn a position player already, or he can let the pitcher hit third in the bottom of the fourth. He didn’t make a double switch, so it will be interesting to see if Cal Eldred hits for himself.

Of course, Eldred has to make it out of this inning first. After getting Weaver to pop up a bunt, he walks Cesar Izturis and Werth to load the bases for Steve Finley.

9:56: Eldred goes to 3-0 on Finley, but comes back with two strikes and then gets him to fly out. Huge out there.

10:03: Eldred will not hit for himself as Sanders reaches on an infield single and Matheny bunts him over to second. Marlon Anderson pinch-hits and Dan Haren will come in to pitch the fifth. The Cardinals are going to have to use many more pitchers than they want to this game, and I think it’s going to cost them the game.

10:07: While McCarver’s talking about how Womack’s a winner because of two hits he got in the 2001 postseason, Weaver strikes him out looking to end the inning.

10:32: Unfortunately for LA, Weaver didn’t last too much longer than Marquis before he imploded too. Two hit batters and three singles in the bottom of the fifth give the Cardinals a 6-3 lead and knock Weaver out of the game. This game might not end until midnight.

11:22: When the Dodgers were having their pitchers meeting to talk about the St. Louis lineup, I don’t think they spent a ton of time on Matheny, who is now 2-for-3 with four RBIs today. At any rate, this game is just about over 8-3, and it’s going to be as tough for non-Cardinals fans to care about this series as it is for non-Red Sox fans to get excited about that series. Just not much reason to care about a 2-0 series in which both games were blowouts.

11:55: Well, it almost went until midnight. All in all, a pretty good day of baseball. There was a solid Mike and the Mad Dog show, and excellent Astros-Braves game and then an uninspiring Dodgers-Cardinals game (and I was wrong about the St. Louis bullpen, it was excellent). This postseason isn’t shaping up to be as good as last year — when all four division series were at least good and both championship series were tremendous — but at least there are two promising division series going on.

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