Thursday, October 06, 2005

You're Going the Wrong Way

First of all, I'm an idiot. And not for the regular, run-of-the-mill reasons you might normally expect. Inexplicably, I was under the impression that the ALDS was a seven-game series. Yeah, it's not; it's still a best-of-five, just like it's been forever. And now that the Red Sox are down 2-0, that little assumption is throwing a monkey wrench in my long-term plan to see the Red Sox win back-to-back World Series titles.

Obviously, the play of the game was Tony Graffanino whiffing on the double-play ground ball that would've gotten Boston out of the fifth inning with a 4-2 lead. As it turned out, Chicago went on to score five runs in the inning and that proved to be the difference. I like Graffanino. A lot. And given how well he's played since coming to Boston, I can't begrudge the guy for making one mistake all summer. Hey, poops happens, and last night Graffanino's number was up. Offensively, the Red Sox were pounding the ball, even when they were hit right at people; defensively -- sans the Graffanino episode -- Boston was just as good. David Wells pitched like you expected he would and Mueller made his usual three great plays a game while Damon and Renteria were strong up the middle.

Games like this probably happen to good teams 10-15 times a season. Unfortunately for Boston, one of those times just so happened to be in the playoffs, after already losing the opener. Obviously, things are a little different from the 2004 post-season. Now Boston faces the task of having to win three in a row against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The upside I guess, is that this situation is nothing new to this bunch. The only problem is that at some point your luck can only carry you so far and the opposing teams' talent tends to play some role in the outcome. I'm certainly not ready to give up on the season, but Boston has some work to do. Anyway, before I start getting too philosophical, here are some random observations from Game 2:

... OK, let me get this right. In Game 1, Millar was in the lineup against righty Jose Contreras. In Game 2, Olerud played first with lefty Mark Buehrle on the mound. Let me state for the record (for probably the billionth time) that I'll never advocate Millar being in the lineup under any circumstances, but I like Francona using Jedi Mind Tricks when he makes out his lineup card. That's a great way to manage. And lucky for him, Ozzie Guillen, could pass for an Ewok so maybe he's onto something.

By the way, despite Olerud's inability to make facial expressions, what do you think goes through his mind when he takes a look at the lineup card and sees that he's on the bench while "Cowboy Down" is the starting first basemen. I don't care how altruistic you are, if Jesus Christ was on the Red Sox and he was stuck behind Millar at first base, I'm guessing he'd be talking some smack (and the thing is, no one would blame him).

... One of the ancillary benefits to subscribing to MLB Extra Innings during the regular season is that I never had to listen to the likes of Rick Sutcliffe, who actually seems a lot dumber than I remember (is that possible?).

... My favorite Tim McCarver F-up of the 2nd Inning was listening to Berman continually refer to David Ortiz as "Big Pappy." Yeah, I can see how even he would screw that up since Ortiz has only been called "Big Papi" for two years now. Here's an idea: pay attention.

... In the top of the 3rd inning, with Johnny Damon leading off, Sutcliffe was kind enough to share this nugget: "For Boston to be good, they need for Johnny to be good." Here's what I mumbled to no one in particular at the time: "Well crafted dumbass." (And I remember this specifically because my wife gave me one of those "aren't you a little too old for that" sighs.)

... Sam Ryan was a godsend to the network if for no other reason than she's good-looking and also able to hold a microphone while speaking into it -- something that Lisa Guerrero never quite mastered during her craptacular one-season on MNF. Well, Erin Andrews makes Sam Ryan seem like Lisa Guerrero. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before ESPN sucks the life out of her and she becomes intolerable too. Until then, however, I think the best thing ESPN could do is make both Sutcliffe and Berman wear Erin Andrews masks while sitting in the booth. That way, at least I can enjoy watching the game even if listening to it is still insufferable. Just a little outside-the-box thinking here.

... After seeing Tadahito Iguchi single-handedly win Game 2, this is the only thing I could think about: If Bret Boone was Japanese, and a million times better, he'd be Tadahito Iguchi. They're both a little chubby for 2nd basemen, and they both have that infuriating bat-flip after they make contact. And the thing is, it doesn't even matter where they hit the ball, they still think it's worth a bat-flip. Homerun: bat-flip; ball back to the pitcher: bat-flip; ground-rule double: bat-flip; foul pop to the catcher: bat-flip. OK, you get the point. As annoying as it was to read the last two sentences, multiply that by the number of hot dogs Millar can eat at a post-game spread and that's how annoying it is to watch guys like Boone and Iguchi, um, flip their respective bats. OK, I'm done whining.

... Aaron Rowand might be one of the best centerfielders in baseball. At least when I've seen him against the Red Sox. I don't think I've seen a ball hit the grass anywhere in his general vicinity, and he wears out Red Sox pitching -- particularly Tim Wakefield, Friday's starter. Sweet.

... The worst thing about Graffanino's error wasn't that it led to Iguchi's three-run bomb (although that was pretty bad), it was that for the rest of the game, I had to listen to Chris Berman hyperbolize (Is that a word? Well, it is now) every single thing and somehow relate it back to the misplay at second base. And just to make sure that all the viewers got the point, ESPN showed the replay of the ball going through Graffanino's legs upwards of 20 times during the last hour of the game. Yeah, that added a lot to the telecast. Maybe somebody should explain to whoever produces these ESPN telecasts that the idea isn't to make viewers dumber. It's actually OK if they learn something during the course of a game.

I think it says a lot when Mike Piazza is the voice of reason in the booth. Here's a current major league player with no broadcast experience outshining Frick and Frack (wonderfully portrayed by Rick Sutcliffe and Chris Berman) when it comes to explaining what's actually going on on the field. And in the interim, you have Berman referring religiously to his handy Book of Baseball Cliches and coming up with winners like, "Boy, Graffaninno would really like to make up for his mistake during his next at-bat."

If I were commissioner, I'd have one goal. Forget steroids, forget salary caps. I want to see Rick Sutcliffe manage a team for an entire season. And a good team, too. Maybe the Yankees, or the Cards. I'm pretty sure, based on his insane commentary, that he could turn either of those teams into 10-game winners. Easily.

... Here's a question: in the bottom of the 7th with two outs and Juan Uribe coming to the plate, why did Francona take out Wells? Seriously, what match-up could be so one-sided that it necessitated bringing in Papelbon, who I like a lot? I mean, we're talking about Juan Uribe for cripes sakes. Overcoaching, let me introduce you to Mr. Francona. You may remember him from such shows as, "My two-year love affair with Kevin Millar." And you won't believe this, but Uribe ripped a 1-1 pitch into left field for a single.

... OK, 12 months later and the Red Sox are right back where they started. Backs against the wall, and they'll need a sweep to keep their post-season hopes alive. Mr. Wakefield, let's get the ball rolling.