Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World Series Theme Song

(Sung to the tune of the Gilligan's Island Theme Song)

Just sit right back and you'll hear of a game,
A playoff game for sure
That started with the threat of rain
Soon to be a downpour.

Bud Selig was commissioner,
Couldn't read the weather maps.
The fans in Philly they showed up
All wearing their rain caps, wearing their rain caps.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny park was tossed,
If not for the bravery of the grounds crew
The series would be lost, the series would be lost.

The rain and wind shut down that game and now who can we blame?
Bud Selig
The network too
The millionaires and their greed
Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon
They all ruined that game!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another MLB Embarrassment

Bud Selig continues to prove he's incapable of making decisions for the good of the sport, rather than for the good of today's finances. We've already belabored the topic of a whole generation of children who are getting no joy from baseball's postseason. They are off to bed when the drama happens, and wake up just to read a headline. Wow, pretty exciting.

Under Bud, the All Star Game has continually been evolving from a true spectacle of a game, to nothing but a spectacle. All aspects of it being an actual competitive game, rather than a circus show to parade baseball's heroes around, had disappeared steadily until 2002 when both teams basically ran out of pitchers and the game had to be stopped in a tie in extra innings. Desperate to breathe life back into the All Star Game, Selig pushed for the new rule that the All Star Game would determine home field advantage in the World Series. A creative solution, that should never have been necessary.

Now, rather than look at what every rational person knew was inevitable and simply postpone last night's Game 5, Selig was worried about the television implications with Fox rescheduling. Look, Selig, grow some stones would ya? Baseball is a hot commodity right now. Look at the weather forecast and think about how this will play out. How will this affect the glory of the game for fans to huddle in the rain, while players risk injury? There are no other baseball obligation to worry about. This is the last series of the year. He said it himself (after the fact), that they can wait until Thanksgiving if they have to.

So, DO IT! Look at the weather forecast and say, "the weather is miserable. This is not the stage for the glory of baseball to end this year on. We will wait a day or two until the clouds pass and resume action". If FOX TV has a problem with that, tell them, "Too Bad!". Tell them, "we are playing baseball in two nights. Deal with it!".

The end result is that MLB has screwed with history. The Phillies do not have a deep starting rotation. They had their only ace, Cole Hammels, on the mound in the series clinching game, which they fought for and deserved. Cole may have gone 7 or 8 innings and thrilled the world with a clutch game to secure a championship for his team. Now, he will be unable to continue as the starter in this game, and has to hand the torch to someone else, with a full 3 innings remaining in a tie ballgame.

MLB has essentially given the Rays a new chance. This is similar to stopping a boxing match in the middle of a round when one fighter is in trouble, toweling him off, giving him a swig of water, and resuming the round from neutral territory. The rhythm of the fighters is lost, the dance starts all over again.

This is just ridiculous and embarrassing. If you aren't outraged yet, imagine if this had been the Red Sox in the Phillies' position, with the only pitcher we felt fully confident in was Jon Lester, and the game got stopped and we had to resume with perhaps Tim Wakefield as the fill-in. Does that sound fun?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Playoff Game Times

When "your team" is in the playoffs, game times may be challenging but are never an obstacle. They could start at 2:00 AM, and you'd find a way to watch them. But, with my team, the Red Sox, out of the picture, my outside life and sanity begins to take more precedent, and the World Series is a fun thing to watch and be a part of, but not worth serious sacrifice.

In other words, why the hell do they need to run so late? I know - prime time. So tell me, does prime time cover the hours after 11:00 PM (All times are EST unless otherwise specified)? No. So, do they expect viewers and high priced ads after, let's say, midnight? Games are generally starting right around 8:00, but some at 8:30. The is the very beginning of prime time, and then the games run well after prime time. Throughout the entire season, east coast games started at 7:00 PM. We have two east cost team in the World Series. How about starting the games at 7:00, like we are used to? What about a game during hours that kids could watch?

The most exciting and thrilling part of a playoff game is the end, especially for a game 7. Nothing is more thrilling. But, if that ends at 12:30 in the morning, millions of people who would love to see it will miss out. I'd love to see the Phillies celebrating on the field after a stunning game 7 win in the 12th inning. But, guess what? I'll have been in bed long before. This is not "my team" and I have to work in the morning.

So, what about starting games at 7:00? They should end around 10:30-11:00. They would start prior to prime time, and cross right through it? What about the West Coast? Hmm, what do I look like, a programming genius? But, why skew east coast games? Why not let the game time favor the home team for each game?

Meanwhile, the series is all tied up at one game each. The Phillies had tremendous opportunities to win the second game, but they could not hit with runners in scoring position. Hmm, could be Rays pitching, because they did a similar thing to the Red Sox. The Phillies continually got the Rays against the ropes, but failed to land any damaging blows.

But, against the Dodgers, the Phillies looked vulnerable until they got home. So, don't be surprised the comforts of the home park help them light up the scoreboard. Looking for some real excitement and drama in this one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why You Should Root For Philly

With the World Series looming, and the Red Sox eliminated, baseball fans are now turning their attention to the World Series. But, if you have been cheering for the Red Sox all season, who should you support in the World Series? This is not always an easy question. You may have a secondary reason to support one of these teams. Maybe you have a friend who is a big supporter of one team and you now want to join in (or take the other side just to be a pain in the ass). Maybe you went to college in or near Philadelphia and have sympathy to them, or have an affinity to a player on one of the teams.

But, if you have no such secondary ties, and are wondering what to do, I am here to help.

My advise, is to simply root for the Phillies! I heard that. You just muttered, "another bitter Red Sox fan can't stand to see the team they lost to have more success than they did", or something to that effect, right? Well, I can see why you'd think that, but it is not true. As I have said before, the Rays were good all season, and deserve to be where they are. I harbor no ill will towards them (unlike our mortal enemies, the 'you-know-who' from 'you-know-where').

My reasons are more historic in nature, and lesson-building. Sometimes what is painful in the short term (like having a tooth pulled) is the best thing for the long term. If you are a parent, you'll understand the concept of not wanted to spoil your kids and make things too easy on them. Life is a struggle, and without struggling, we never learn how to succeed in life. When your child wants a new bicycle, do you run out and buy them one? When I was a teen in this situation, I was told that I could have a new ten-speed bike. All I had to do was earn the money and buy it. See what I am getting at?

Now, how does this relate to baseball? Being called "Champion" comes with struggle. Being a solid baseball community with undying support and loyalty to the home town nine takes years of work, hardship, and struggle. The Red Sox fan base understands this. The Red Sox have been in business since 1901 (as the Boston Americans who became the Red Sox in 1908). We endured 86 years of struggle starting after 1918, occasionally reaching the World Series, only to be denied the final victory. We had decades to grow, evolve and become part of the very fabric of the Red Sox. Our history has been built on generation after generation. The Red Sox, in part, defines who we are, and who we have been.

This is also true for the Philadelphia Phillies, who have been a team since 1883! They are also woven into the lives of generations of baseball fans. They also know the emptiness of forsaken years, and the frustration of years where the ultimate goal was within reach but slipped away unattained. They are now built on a foundation of rock. They have paid the price, and are due the reward. The Phillies have reached the World Series 5 times prior to this year, and have come away victorious only once, in 1980 when they defeated the Kansas City Royals. They are due.

The Rays, in contrast, were founded in 1998, over a century AFTER the Phillies. This is the very first generation that has been exposed to baseball in the Tampa Bay area. For many of them, they did not realize they had a team until this very October. They have not experienced any heartbreak whatsoever. "But, they have been a dismal team for 10 years, never winning more than 70 games prior to this year. How can you say they have not experienced heartbreak?", I hear you say.

It is true, they have experienced failure. But failure is not necessarily heartbreak. If I walk up to Cameron Diaz (presuming the restraining order had been removed) and ask her on a date, and she said no, that would not be heartbreak. That would be the expected result. On the other hand, if my wife of 16 years walked out on me, that would be true heartbreak. On the one hand, success was never a real possibility, an the other, success had seemed like it was a sure thing, and proven with the test of time.

The Rays, in the scheme of Baseball, are just children. They are cute, energetic, and bright. They make us proud, and show lots of promise. Like most children, they are idyllic and see the world as a wonderful place where good things are sure to come to them. They have not yet been beaten down by reality. Giving them the ultimate goal, so soon in their development, with so little effort, will only spoil them and avoid teaching them life's real lessons. This is like buying them a new car on their 16th birthday.

If we want to help the Rays, the best thing is to let them experience the hardship of life. Let them learn how elusive true success really is. Pull their fan base in and make them unite through trying times. The United States was never more close and united than after a tragedy, such as 9/11. Supporting each other and uniting in the face of tragedy may be necessary to build a strong nation. This could be the beginning of generations of Rays fans bonded in baseball.

Or, it could be short lived. An easy win over the Phillies could spoil them. They'll wander away, wondering why everyone else gets so worked up over these things. That wasn't so hard. Then, when the Rays have a bad season, no one will show. They will know this is not one of "those years", but those years will come. They will think baseball is about only showing up for the occasional "good year", and reveling in an easily attained title.

The Phillies need to correct that thinking. Let the Rays learn and grow and become ingrained in baseball, ingrained in their team. Let them grow into a true baseball town!

Convinced? Okay, let's go Phillies! Your nation's time is at hand. To battle!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pre-World Series Thoughts

Now that our beloved Red Sox have seen this incredibly fun season come to an end, what do you see ahead? Football? Hot stove talk? Rest and relaxation?

What you should be doing is getting ready for the World Series. This is not passing judgement, only presenting an observation. If you have no intention whatsoever of watching any of the World Series this year, then you are not a true baseball fan. The fact that you are reading this means you have an interest in the Red Sox, or are a family member who's wondering what I'm up to (hi Mom!), or both. Nothing wrong with that really, but baseball is so much more than just whether or not the team on Boston wins. Baseball is in our blood. It flows through our country, and marks the passage of time.

So think about that for yourself. Are you a fan of baseball, or just the Red Sox? When I was a kid, baseball was king. We knew almost every player throughout the league, thanks in large part to collecting baseball cards. Sure, we knew all about the Red Sox, our favorite team, but we knew history as well. If you asked me who my all time favorite player in history was, I would have answered Willy Mays, who never played for the Sox. We were enthralled with All Star Games and World Series contests, each one an official piece of American history. This week, another chapter in the history book will be written.

Will the Rays become the first team in U.S. professional sports history to go from dead last place to World Champions in one year? Will the 126 year old Phillies franchise add a second Championship banner to their beautiful new ballpark? Yes, one of those two events will take place. What players will make their mark in baseball lore? Which ones will exceed expectations, and which ones will crumble under pressure?

With your team out of it, yes, it is less personal, but in many ways that is easier. You do not need to raise your blood pressure, or pull your hair out. Just sit back and enjoy baseball at its highest level. Ponder the moves being made. Enjoy the beauty of each well executed play. Marvel at the precision of a pitcher and enjoy the crack of the bat when the batter wins the battle.

All of this is on our doorstep. So, are you a baseball fan? Then let's get it on.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Who's To Blame for the Red Sox Loss? You Are!

The Red Sox lost, for the second time in history, when they were faced with an opportunity to advance to the World Series (the other time was in 2003 against the Yankees). Back to back World Series appearances would have been incredible to see, but that did not happen. Why? Was it because Terry Francona stubbornly stuck with Jason Varitek? Was it because Big Papi lost his mojo? Was it the loss of key members of the offense, like Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell (MVP's of the last 2 Red Sox Championships)? Was it too much pressure for some of the new guys (Jason Bay, Mark Kotsay)?

I think the real blame lies with one of you fans out there. Yes, you know who I am talking about. We all have our lucky traditions that always ensure a Red Sox victory. It might be the shirt you wear while watching the games, it might be where you watch the game. Maybe, between each inning you hop around the couch on one foot while singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game".

Whatever it is, one of you did not stick with your tradition. Theo Epstein asked me to help him track you down, so make this easy on all of us and confess. Did you accidentally wash the socks you've worn throughout the series? What was it? These guys fought hard throughout these playoffs, and you go and forget your silly little tradition and now look what happened!

How about the game itself? Aside from the disgusting spitting going on out there, Matt Garza did a terrific job. Garza went 7 innings and only allowed 2 hits, one of them a first inning solo home run to Dustin Pedroia. When Pedroia hit that one, I thought Garza might be in for a long night. The problem was that he was afraid of the crowd. Garza came out with, what looked like, tissue crammed into each ear. I guess if you cannot mentally block out the crowd, you do it physically. What he needed to do was embrace the noise, which he did in the second inning, and rolled through the game after that.

You may be tempted to blame the Sox hitters, but, other than Pedroia's home run and Jason Bay's single, no one could put the bat on the ball. Batters were tentative and unsure. I've never seen so many check swings! Speaking of which, I flipped out when the home plate umpire called JD Drew out with bases loaded on a check swing. The ball was no where near the strike zone, and the check swing was borderline (Varitek later was given a ball for a worse check swing). At least check with the third base umpire! I hate seeing the umpire take the bat out of their hands, but at the same time, Drew did not know what to do with those pitches. Just wish he had another chance.

Also, what was with the mystery strike three on Mark Kotsay in the 9th inning? Clearly a ball, and replays showed it (even though the announcers glossed over that one). Yes, I'm unhappy about those calls, because each little thing matters at that stage of the game. But, that's not why they lost. They lost because the Rays stymied the Sox bats. The Sox pitched great; Jon Lester was terrific allowing only 3 runs in 7 innings. You cannot expect to win when you only score one run. That is the problem. The Rays' pitching did not succumb to the pressure. They shook it off, and pitched great. The umpires helped a bit, in the examples I cited, but that is all part of the game too.

It turned out to be a well done, well played, exciting series. The Rays had a great year, never let up, and managed to survive a classic Red Sox ALCS comeback. They deserve their place in the World Series. Now, get out there and make this an exciting WS for us, represent the American League well, and we'll be back to do it all again next year.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Red Sox Smell Blood

I'm still a little confused. Are the Rays named after a fish, or a beam of light? They have a fish tank in center field full of Rays, and yet they have a sunshine sort of symbol on their jerseys. If they are fish, I might quip, "the tide is going out fast on the Rays' first post-season", or I might say "the sun is setting on the Rays' brilliant season", or something like that. Either way, I cannot help but hum a Queen song in my mind as I think about their plight; "Under Pressure".

I think the Red Sox have made it clear, once and for all, that it is simply a waste of time to count out a playoff team, even when their back is to the wall. You cannot say, "it looks like it is all over for the Red Sox this year", or anything like that. Instead, you need to say things like, "the Red Sox are down 3 games to 1, and are in a perfect position to make this a truly exciting playoff series".

Yes, I was very nervous about Terry Francona's move to start Josh Beckett in yesterday's game. I knew Beckett would battle like a gladiator, but there is only so much a wounded soldier can do. In the end, Beckett was no where near his 2007 post-season brilliance, but he did pitch well, relying on spotting his fastball, and mixing in the curve ball more than usual. The result was that he lasted 5 innings, only allowing 2 solo home runs. The bullpen gave him incredible support with 4 shoutout innings from Hideki Okajima (2 innings), Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon.

The Sox matched the Rays' solo home runs with 2 of their own, thanks to Kevin Youkilis and our very own captain, Jason Varitek. Tek had made us all groan in the second inning when the Sox looked like they were about to run Rays' starter, James Shields, out of the game. But runners at first and second with two outs, Varitek ended the inning with an easy fly out. The solo home run in the 6th inning made up for that nicely.

The Rays did not completely implode last night, but they look like they are feeling the pressure. The swagger has lost a touch of its swag, the head held high is drooping just a bit. This team has never faced this kind of heat. Playoffs are one thing, but getting bowled over in game 5 by an historic come-back team while standing directly in the bright hot light of the national media seems to be getting them nervous.

The largest crowd, by my estimation, ever to attend a Rays' home game was in the stands last night. 40,947 people came out and brought a real playoff atmosphere to the dome. I tip my hat to you all for that. Hopefully even more will turn out tonight. Regardless of the outcome, tonight's game will be a piece of baseball history. Either the Red Sox will have miraculously escaped, yet again, from the jaws of defeat, or the Rays will be on their way to their very first World Series.

Now, if the contest was to see who could spit the most times per inning, I'm afraid Jon Lester would have his work cut out for him. Matt Garza can spit with the very best players in history (just watch him tonight, and count how many times he spits in an inning). But, thankfully, spitting does not count, and a rested Lester should prove to be a hell of a challenge for the Rays tonight. My real concern is for Papelbon. He did a nice job last night, but his fastball was about 5 or 6 miles per hour slower than normal. I doubt that was intentional. If he was fatigued last night, he'll be more so tonight. If this game is close, I can't imagine being with an effective Papelbon. Keep you fingers crossed on that one.

Under Pressure!