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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Twenty-One

You knew it was going to happen some time. The Patriots couldn't keep winning forever. With the Red Sox win, there was definitely a "too good to be true" vibe pervading the Boston sports scene (the Celtics' awful preseason notwithstanding.)

It's just too bad that they looked pathetic in nearly every aspect of the game - their depleted secondary was burned to a crisp, they didn't stop the run especially well, they couldn't, without Corey Dillon, run the ball at all (well, they didn't even try, but Kevin Faulk's track record strongly suggesting calling more run plays wouldn't have worked too well, and they trailed big early anyway), and Brady kept turning the ball over. You'd have to go back to last season's Opening Day disaster in Buffalo to see a team that looked this lost.

However, better it happens now than during a playoff game, though this may mean having to go to that bloody awful grass in Pittsburgh instead of Gilette Stadium come playoff time. One hopes that this result is not indicative of what what happens in tough road games - like the one next week at St. Louis - the rest of the season.

I think almost everyone in New England would gladly accept this result as the price of a Red Sox World Series win, and for beating the Jets last week, giving us Boston sports aficionadoes another win to shove in New York's face.

So when the '72 Dolphins get together to celebrate the last unbeaten team of the season going down, it would be to watch the Philadelphia Eagles. Will the Steelers take care of them next week as well?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

New Morning

It's a new morning.

Some members of three generations of the Young and Henrickson clans lived their entire lives, from cradle to grave, in Massachusetts without ever living to see a day like this one. From this team, they knew only heartache and what it feels like to fall just short. Perhaps they were watching from another realm.

Perhaps the ghost of Babe Ruth was too.

Today, Bill Buckner, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, Pete Schourek, Mike Torrez, and Johnny Pesky could walk down Boylston Street and hear not a single discouraging word.

Though I wrote in one blog entry after another that I thought this team was capable of going all the way, there was uncertainty until the final out.

I was in middle school when Bob Stanley uncorked a wild pitch that Worcester's own Rich Gedman couldn't handle. When the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs. That year, they had come back in the ALCS from being one strike away from elimination, down three games to one, but only so the cruel hands of fate could mock Red Sox Nation once more.

I was in high school when the Sox went down, with hardly a whimper, to the Oakland juggernaut in the ALCS 1988 and 1990.

I was in college, staying up until the wee hours of the morning on a crisp night in 1995 to watch Game 1 of the first Division Series against Cleveland; former Red Sock Tony Pena, of all people, delivered the death blow in extra innings. The other two games were like a mere formality.

I was in law school in 1998, when the Sox finally won a post-season game again after a streak of 13 consecutive losses, dating back to what will forever be known as the "Bill Buckner game." But they fell short again, as they couldn't get the run they needed across the board in Game 4, which will be known as the "Pete Schourek game."

I had just learned of my passing the bar exam in 1999, when the Red Sox first showed that maybe things were beginning to change, coming back from down 2-0 to best the Indians, the team that ended the Sox' hopes in 1995 and 1998, in the Division Series, 3-2. But then came the Yankees in the ALCS, and the result was utter humiliation, in the form of a five-game, one-sided affair, tempered only by a pasting of Roger Clemens at Fenway Park in Game 3.

In 2003, they got even closer. They made another dramatic comeback, including an extra-inning thriller, in the first round, from down 2-0, this time to the Athletics, who had helped make the two of my Octobers back in high school so miserable. And then came a roller-coaster ride of an ALCS, once again taking on the hated Yankees. Which you can read all about here, if you're really interested in revisiting it.

And, for all the world, it looked like we in Red Sox Nation were on its way to another disappointment. Down 3-0 to the Yankees, who've had so much good fortune shined down upon them. Traditionally, they got all the calls, all the breaks, and could always be counted on to win when it mattered.

But something changed on October 17. We'll never know what it was. It could have all been one big coincidence, a series of independent events. It could have been the clock on my wall that stopped working then. Or it could have been Bambino's Ghost, at last laying his weary bones to rest.

Wherever Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, and Bill Mueller end up, their names will forever live on in Red Sox lore. We are grateful to them, and to Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, Keith Foulke, Mark Bellhorn, Tim Wakefield, and everyone else who made this historic and unprecedented triumph possible.

From the manicured lawns of tony Connecticut suburbs to the rocky shores of the Maritimes, from the high rises of the Financial District to the smallest Vermont hamlet, it's a new morning in Red Sox Nation. For those Red Sox fans born, and to those made, to those in the homeland, and to those in exile in Washington, or on the West Coast, or in New York, or somewhere in between...it's a new morning.

Boston 3, St. Louis 0

I am without speech.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Monster Slash

The latest bit of political humor - from the left-of-center, environementalist perspective, can be found here.

And, yes, on lead vocals, that is, in fact, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, the singer who co-wrote and song the original hit song "Monster Mash" back in 1962.

Boston 4, St. Louis 1
Sam Adams 3, Budweiser 0

If that's the last time Pedro Martinez throws a pitch in a Red Sox uniform, he could hardly have left Red Sox Nation with a more impressive parting gift, his first win in a World Series game. He overcame a shaky first few innings with help from - gasp! - heads up defensive plays, and he got key outs when he needed them. Larry Walker's solo homer in the bottom of the 9th off Keith Foulke, marring Foulke's up-to-now scoreless postseason, was the only real hiccup after the early inning jitters.

It can, however, only get easier for St. Louis hitters, at home facing Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield - though can they be confident that Jason Marquis won't be the fifth starter in a row not to survive five innings against this lineup? How long can their bats be kept quiet, how long can they fail to cash in on important scoring opportunities? The down-to-the-wire give-and-take of Game 1 gave way to the relatively one-sided affairs of Games 2 and 3. I know this team has some fight left in them, so I am making no assumptions about Game 4 or Game 5. I refuse to believe the Cardinals are dead until the last out has been recorded in the books - they've just proven themselves over the long season, and a long post-season, to be too good to just roll over.

Derek Lowe has a chance, even after a disappointing salary drive season that left him consigned to the fringes of the post-season roster, to one-up his outstanding performance against the Yankees in the Bronx in Game 7 of the ALCS. He too may be making his final appearance in a Boston uniform in Game 4.

Game 4 will be the first ever World Series that will bear witness to a total lunar eclipse, while the moon is nearly full to boot. What does this phenonemon forebode, if anything? If it means something strange is afoot, that could really cut either way. As strange as a Cardinal comeback would be at this point, would it really be that much more bizarre an occurrence than a Red Sox World Series victory?

Yankee fans probably slept pretty well after the 19-8 humiliation they handed the Red Sox at Fenway in Game 3 of the ALCS. I doubt, after seeing what happened to them, Red Sox Nation feels the same bravado their New York counterparts felt 11 days ago.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Down By The River

The World Series shifts to St. Louis. It appears the game might be rained out, which wouldn't be good for Red Sox fans. Compressing five games into five days instead of six would make Boston's strong bullpen less of an asset since they will tire faster and will have to be used judiciously. Not to mention they're a man shorter than they were in the Yankee series, since Kevin Youkilis replaced Ramiro Mendoza on the World Series roster, and it appears that Curt Schilling is done.

Still, having a 2-0 lead with Pedro Martinez, however mortal he has looked at times this season, on the mound for Game 3 isn't a bad position. The Cardinals still need to win at least one game at Fenway Park, no matter what happens in St. Louis. Jeff Suppan has been the Cardinals' best starter, but, well, Red Sox fans remember him well, and weren't exactly impressed with his recent Red Sox tenure.

This game is still pretty important for the Red Sox, since the pitching matchups in Games 4 and 5 are more favorable to the Cardinals. Jason Marquis has struggled as of late, but with the kind of season Derek Lowe has had, the Sox will need all the help they can, ALCS Game 6 notwithstanding.

I'm staying with the Sox in 7 prediction in the meantime. St. Louis is capable, especially now that they're on their home turf, of turning things around in a hurry.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Ironic

There were several differing rationales proferred for this Iraq invasion, before, during, and after the fact. One of the more persuasive ones - to many people at least - was the idea that Saddam Hussein had control of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (i.e. nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) and that he could not be trusted with them. Among the (problematic) scenarios laid out by war advocates was the notion that Saddam could strike at the United States through Islamist terrorist surrogates, using these weapons, since he could not realistically do so directly without reprisal.

It appears that the weapons inspection regimes in place did their proper job, and that there were no WMDs. Were the American people misled, or did the administration honestly think there were WMDs? Neither option reflects well on our leadership, but now it looks like it's even worse than it appeared before.

Some 380 tons of explosives have gone missing in Iraq. While the presence of caches of explosives is not in and of itself unusual in a war-torn country, before the invasion, officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency controlled this stockpile. Naturally, the IAEA left Iraq in the midst of the March 2003 invasion. The location of this stockpile couldn't have been a secret to the Americans.

And, whether in whole or piece by piece, these explosives have gone missing. One would think the guarding of this material would have been a high priority, at least on par with, for instance, the securing of the oil fields. But we haven't heard much about it until now. These explosives could now be in the hands of anyone, including - you guessed it - Islamist terror networks. As in, the sort of people who actually attacked America on September 11, 2001.

We are paying a dear price for the fantasies of delusional ideologues who dreamed of remaking the Middle East wholesale, and of doing it on the cheap to boot.

Behind The Music

While I was busy cleaning up from after my impromptu Game 1 World Series gathering Saturday Ashlee Simpson apparently got caught trying to lip-synch on Satruday Night Live.

The incident invoked the specter of Milli Vanilli, the gold standard by which facile pop music fakery is measured. Looking back at that more innocent time, what seems amazing now is that people bought "Girl You Know It's True" by the truckload. (Know anyone who'd admit to owning it now?)

I do admit to enjoying it a great deal when vapid pop stars are exposed for something less than they appear to be. Although given all the artifice that the American public seems willing to tolerate - just looks at how fake nearly every aspect of Britney Spears' stardom appears to be - it would be odd if this alone brought Ashlee Simpson down. (It doesn't help, however, that her whole marketing angle is that's she's more "real" than her sister Jessica, whose very name is virtually synonymous with a blonde popstar unburdened with real thoughts in her head, unless they involve trying to figure out where the wings are on buffalo.

It turns out Ashlee will get a chance to redeem herself at tonight's Radio Music Awards show. A true cynic would wonder if the whole SNL thing was just another publicity stunt.

Speaking of bad popstars...Britney Spears is apparently out to prove that not only can she ruin a good song with a dumb version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," but she can also ruin a song that wasn't very good to begin with in "My Prerogative." The first idea was pinched from, among others, Vanilla Ice, but the second marks a low we haven't seen in pop music since at least Kid Rock's inexplicable rendition of Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love." I can't be the only person who's noticed that Britney Spears can't sing her way out of a paper bag.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Boston 6, St. Louis 2
Clam Chowder 2, Barbecue Ribs 0

Behind Curt Schilling (and his ankle) the Red Sox yet again overcome four errors to take the second game and put the Cardinals in an 0-2 hole as the World Series shifts to St. Louis. Three clutch two-out base hits by Varitek, Bellhorn, and Cabrera did the damage, and the Embree/Timlin/Foulke combo keeps on delivering. Once again, the St. Louis starter doesn't even make it five innings.

It wasn't always pretty, and there were moments of tension, but in the end the Idiots (which is the nickname they seem to havce been stuck to them) triumphed yet again. (How come they keep letting Kevin Millar come up with the catch phrases, by the way?)

The worst case scenario for the next three games for the Red Sox would have them returning to Fenway down 3-2 with (hopefully) their best two starters on the mound; even that isn't the worst place to be. Any better than that, and the Red Sox look to be in good shape. If things go really well, they can close the Series down in St. Louis, though I wouldn't expect that outcome.

The Cardinals haven't been beaten in their home park in the postseason yet, but the Red Sox are a stronger team than the Dodgers or Astros. That said...Manny Ramirez playing left field in spacious Busch Stadium has to be a concern to Red Sox Nation, as does David Ortiz playing the field anywhere. The whole Red Sox defense, so good in the previous two series, has repeatedly failed during this one. So far it hasn't been costly, but the possiblity of lower scoring, National League-style baseball makes good defense more critical.

But the hardest part for the Red Sox is still to come.

Boston 11, St. Louis 9
John Kerry's Hometown 1, Dick Gephardt's Hometown 0

The Sox took a 7-2 lead but couldn't hold it as Tim Wakefield couldn't find the plate and the Boston defense, so good in the Yankee series, collapsed in key situations. They had to call on Keith Foulke to get the job done, and he delivered.

Woody Williams looked like the best St. Louis had to offer on the mound going in these playoffs in terms of starting pitching, and the fact that the Red Sox had a field day off of him bodes somehwat well for the rest of this series. These guys can hit.

And, befitting Boston in October, it was dramatic, and home runs entered the mix. Mark Bellhorn delivered the game-winner, but, once again, David Ortiz got it going with a 3-run blast in the bottom of the first.

The downside is that Bronson Arroyo and Foulke have already been worked hard, so there's that much less of a cushion should Curt Schilling or his ailing ankle falter in Game 2. It's going to be hard for any pitcher to hold these Cardinal hitters down for long.

But, the bottom line for Red Sox Nation is that here's a game they could have let slip away - exactly the sort of game they would have let slip away if it were played in June or July - that still ended up in the win column.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Tale Of The Tape

You knew this was coming, dear readers. I'm going to try to break this down as objectively and rationally as I can, but the signals are so mixed that I had to go with my gut and my heart on this one. I'm 6-for-6 so far in picking winners of the baseball playoff series, so we'll see if I can make this a perfect 7-for7. This one really could go either way.

Offense
First, the offenses: (AVG/OBP/SLG)
Boston: 282/360/472, 949 runs, 222 HR, 68 SB, 1189 K
St. Louis: 278/344/460, 855 runs, 214 HR, 111 SB, 1085 K

These are both outstanding offenses. The Red Sox score half a run a game more than the Cardinals, but that's playing half their games in Fenway and with the benefit of the DH. Especially when you consider that Busch Stadium is a slight pitchers' park, you could argue that the Cardinals have even more clout than the Red Sox.

Is there any reason to believe either offense is even better than these numbers? Yes, in both cases. Larry Walker was added to St. Louis late in the year, and most of the season his spot in the lineup was occupied by some combination of Ray Lankford and Marlon Anderson. Trot Nixon missed a majority of the year, and for much of that time Gabe Kapler was an everyday player. Aside from the brief period where Nomar Garciaparra played shortstop, Pokey Reese played there nearly every game. Though Nomar is a better hitter than Cabrera, Cabrera is an improvement on the April-July Nomar and Pokey aggregate. Kevin Youkilis filled in well for Bill Mueller, so his short mid-season injury didn't affect the numbers much. None of the Red Sox changes is as big as Walker, but they are bigger in the aggregate.

Position by Position
C: Matheny vs. Varitek. Not even close; Varitek is among the best hitting catchers in baseball, Matheny among the worst. Big edge to Boston.
1B: Pujols vs. Millar/Mientkiewicz/Ortiz. Albert Pujols is the biggest offensive force in either lineup, which is saying a lot here. Ortiz may (gulp!) play 1B in St. Louis, and he's a force at the plate, but... Edge to St. Louis, big edge if you count the other two guys for Boston only.
2B: Womack vs. Bellhorn. Apples and oranges. A middling traditional leadoff man having his best season vs. every statgeek's dream scrub middle infielder, having a breakout season. Neither is a great defender. Womack is speedier, more versatile and is less likely (as is anyone) to strike out in key situations...but Tony Womack isn't going to hit many game-winning home runs. Womack hit 40 points higher, but that was a pretty empty high batting average. Given how I expect this series to go, namely, where small-ball would be foolish, I'd rather have Bellhorn. Slight edge to Boston.
SS: Renteria vs. Cabrera. Renteria is somewhat better defensively and faster, Cabrera has shown slightly more pop lately. Both are good players, but Renteria is the one I'd rather have. Slight edge to St. Louis.
3B: Rolen v. Mueller. Bill Mueller may be a good hitter, and he may have won a batting crown last season, but he's not nearly as likely to be the difference maker as Scott Rolen is. Edge to St. Louis.
LF: Sanders vs. Ramirez. Reggie Sanders is somewhat more likely to drive pitchers nuts once he's on base. Manny Ramirez is way more likely to be on base in the first place, and cause some serious trouble at the plate. Edge to Boston.
CF: Edmonds vs. Damon. ALCS Game 7 notwithstanding, Johnny Damon just isn't the monster hitter Jim Edmonds is. Can you picture Damon hitting 40 homers? Me neither. Edge to St. Louis.
RF: Walker vs. Nixon. (Nixon often struggles against lefties, but the Cardinals don't have any in their rotation.) Slight edge to St. Louis.
DH: David Ortiz. Without worrying about David Ortiz trying to field, at least in home games. This is Reason #2 for why I'm picking who I'm picking to take this series. Fenway Park is a tough place for visiting teams. John Mabry has had a nice season as a super sub, but he's no David Ortiz. Big edge to Boston.
Bench: The Cards have speed on their bench, but no one quite like Dave Roberts. The Sox can match the Cardinals in pinch-hitting options, and have a good group of defensive replacements. Even.

We'll call this a draw and wait for the fireworks to start tomorrow night.

Pitching

Boston: 4.18 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 768 RA, 447 BB, 1132K, 159 HR
St. Louis: 3.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 659 RA, 440 BB, 1041 K, 169 HR

These are both good pitching staffs for their respective leagues. The Red Sox let half a run more in per game than the Cardinals, but that, at the risk of repeating myself, is while playing half their games at Fenway and having to face a DH most of the time, rather than a pitcher trying to bat. Despite these facts, the Cardinals have surrendered the long ball more often; that may prove important.

There's not a lot to choose between most of the spots on these pitching staffs. St. Louis has a somewhat deeper bullpen but there are questions about Jason Isringhausen's effectiveness. Keith Foulke appears to be the stronger closer, but Mike Timlin and situational lefty Mike Myers have been shaky at times. And Steve Kline isn't available, so that means Tony LaRussa has to choose where to use Ray King late in games judiciously. Terry Francona has had to use anyone and everyone in the Boston bullpen to keep the momentum of four straight wins against the hated Yankees, every last one a must-win game. Everyone remembers the hitting heroics of Ortiz and Johnny Damon, but the relivers were outstanding in 5 of the 7 games.

Woody Williams and Jeff Suppan have performed well in the post season, Matt Morris and Jason Marquis not so much. They have no true aces but all four of their starters are capable of getting hot and keeping even the best lineup in check for at least a little while. The Red Sox are going to start knuckler Tim Wakefield in Game 1, and no one really knows what to expect. Francona will have Bronson Arroyo ready in short order if things start to go awry; his questionable use of Pedro Martinez in his fiasco of an unecessary and ill-advised Game 7 relief appearance will be questioned even more intensely if Wakefield struggles. The prospect of rolling the dice with Derek Lowe in Game 4 is similarly fraught, though it came up with a winning roll twice against the Yankees, and two of Lowe's best starts this season were in NL parks.

The key to this whole series, of course, is Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. One team has them, the other team doesn't. Pedro had a rough season at times but was money nearly every time he didn't face the Yankees or Orioles, who probably know him too well now. And after Game 6 of the ALCS, are you going to bet against Curt Schilling?

Position by Position
Game 1: Wakefield vs. Williams. Edge: St. Louis
Game 2: Schilling vs. Marquis. Edge: Boston
Game 3: Martinez vs. Morris. Edge: Boston
Game 4: Lowe vs. Suppan. Edge: St. Louis
Bullpen: Foulke - Timlin - Embree - Myers - Arroyo - Leskanic - Mendoza
vs. Isringhausen - Tavarez - King - Eldred - Calero - ???

Conclusion

Home field is a big deal in this series. In Boston, Cardinal pitchers can't feel too good about that wall in left field while pitching to a lineup that is as relentless from 1-9 as any ever constructed. In St. Louis, Francona has to be nervous about Ortiz at first, Ramirez in left, and Damon's arm in center - not to mention having to bat pitchers who aren't used to hitting.

Boston's most obvious path to glory is to take 3 (out of 3 or 4) at Fenway Park and 1 of 3 in St. Louis. They can end the series early by taking a second game on the road and/or sweeping the first two at Fenway. The Wakefield start makes this Sox fan nervous, but St. Louis has played five playoff games on the road thusfar and lost all but one of them, and to two lesser teams to boot. Winning in five may be too much to expect but within the realm of possibility since the Red Sox are 4-2 on the road in this postseason. Two bad starts in the wrong place by the Cardinals dooms them to an early exit.

For the Cardinals, the best-case scenario is a five-game series where they steal Game 1 (or Game 2) and hold down the fort in St. Louis, where they have yet to lose this postseason. That's not particularly likely, but they do have a good shot at taking a 3-2 lead into Fenway where they only need to win one of the final two games. Needless to say, that would put a lot of pressure on the Red Sox.

I think this one goes seven. The scene: Fenway Park. Halloween night. Nearly a full moon. St. Louis would have Matt Morris or Jeff Suppan on the mound, who would be hoping to hold the Red Sox - at Fenway - down long enough to get the game to Ray King, Julian Tavarez, and/or Kiko Calero, who in turn give way to closer Jason Isringhausen. Boston counters with Pedro Martinez, the combination of Timlin and Embree, and Keith Foulke in the ninth. Another year, and perhaps you could say you'd bet on the side of history repeating itself.

This incarnation of the Red Sox (call it the Pedro-Nomar-Manny Era for lack of a better term) have faced the specter of playoff elimination no fewer than 14 times, and 11 of those times they lived to fight another day. (During the same period, St. Louis is 4-3 in elimination games.) For four straight games, two of them in the very bowels of the enemy lair, Red Sox hurlers, running on fumes, with no tomorrow to look forward to, stared down a Yankee lineup every bit as potent as this St. Louis one, and made them blink. You want to bet against these guys now? In Fenway Park?

Me neither. Red Sox in 7.

100 Facts

I'm glad I've realized fairly early in life that I could never be a politician in America.

The fact that this election is even close, that there's any chance at all that George W. Bush isn't going to be leaving office in a few months with his tail between his legs, humiliated and utterly repudiated, is disturbing.

If America gives him another term, I wouldn't begrudge people in other countries engaging in the kind of childish crap that American right-wingers have regarding France and the rest of Europe. They can even call American Cheese (a.k.a "Processed Cheese Food") "Idiot Cheese" if they want to, for all I'd care. They can make a big deal about pouring American beer down their sewage systems - which is where a lot of it belongs anyway.

It most likely won't do them a damn bit of good, unfortunately, but I for one am not going to care. You could even do it in front of me, and I'd just shrug my shoulders in bemusement.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled baseball.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

St. Louis 5, Houston 2
Meet Me In St. Louis 4, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3

Yup, they'll be talking about the decision to start Peter Munro over Roger Clemens in Game 6 a lot in Houston this offseason, and not in a good way.

Clemens can't get it done in a big game, yet again, and Jeff Suppan keeps the Astros in check.

The Cardinals can now book their flight to Boston.

Meanwhile, the Astros' 42 year drought will continue.

Who was I pulling for? At first, Houston, but then I saw Brandon Backe emerge and thought of Josh Beckett last year, or Livan Hernandez in 1997. I saw Brad Lidge and thought of K-Rod in 2002. I saw Clemens and Red Sox farm product Jeff Bagwell and thought less of the Curse of the Bambino than I did the Curses of Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette. St. Louis has the bats to challenge the Sox, to be sure, but I like my odds against Cardinal pitching if I'm the Red Sox, particularly given how banged up the St. Louis pen is now.

Tonight, I wanted it to be close. I was pulling for the Cardinals, until I saw that the Astros were, on the ropes, down two and summoning Roy Oswalt in a last-ditch effort to save their season. From that moment on, I was pulling for the 'Stros to pull even and force an extra frame or two before winning out in the end. It would have made great baseball, great television viewing, and would have Houston coming into Fenway at a decided disadvantage. (By contrast, I don't think it matters as much who's ready to pitch Game 1 for the Cardinals - they're generally going to try to win by outslugging your hitters rather than outdueling your pitchers.)

This fine, dramatic, compelling series between the Astros and Cardinals got lost in the hype as the national media feverishly revved up the operatic melodrama of another Yankees-Red Sox showdown that went the distance. Now the winner of that other underappreciated series, a franchise itself steeped in history and tradition, gets to share the stage as the nation turns its eyes towards Boston and St. Louis.

Out Of Order

In the age of the CD, where you skip and shffule tracks, song order matters much less.

We are also witnessing another age of the single, thanks in large part to the Internet. The days where people were willing to spend $16 or more on a 12-song CD just for one or even two songs are coming to a close.

Those of us who still own numerous CDs treasure those discs that can be listened to all the way through, from start to finish, as a complete unit, designed by the artist or group. I find myself generally enjoying those more than "Greatest Hits" collections of discrete individual songs. (Of course, in certain genres of popular music, the single really is the proper unit by which to judge a disc; though there are great "albums" in the history of R&B and soul music that stand as a unit, most Motown and Stax/Volt recordings were intended exlcusively as singles.)

Most of the truly great albums of the classic rock era paid close attention to song order, how to arrange the different songs on the album. They had to be designed for the turntable, since it was more of a pain to jump from song to song on a record player than it is with more modern means of audio listening.

Working long nights in an office alone with headphones makes one truly appreciate a well-put together album. The first one that comes to mind is "Who's Next." There was only one serious choice to open the record, "Baba O' Reilly." There were two options for closer, "Song Is Over" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." The latter thankfully won out, and the former closed Side 1 on the record. Relatively lightweight songs "Love Ain't For Keepin'" and "My Wife" are paired nicely, nestled in between the intense "Bargain" and the powerful "Song Is Over." Likewise, the so-so rocker "Going Mobile" fits perfectly in between proto-power-ballad classics "Getting In Tune" and "Behind Blue Eyes," and feeds off the intensity of those songs so it doesn't sound too insubstantial. (Even more amazing, these songs were mostly culled from an abortive rock opera.)

Compare with most Led Zeppelin albums. Zep is a great band, but often their albums just don't flow that same way. There are song great song pairings on Led Zeppelin albums, but there are some changes that make no sense.

10 examples of classic rock albums that have the wrong song order for my taste:

1. Led Zeppelin, Untitled (a.k.a. IV/Symbols/Runes/Zoso) - Side 1
I'd switch "Battle of Evermore" and "Rock And Roll."
"Black Dog" works great as an opener, "Stairway To Heaven" a great side closer. It's not that "Black Dog" to "Rock And Roll" doesn't work, or that "Rock And Roll" into "Battle" doesn't work. My issue is with "Battle of Evermore" and "Stairway to Heaven" back to back. I think it's suboptimal to have two fairly lengthy down-tempo tunes ("Stairway" picks up of course, but not for over five minutes in) consecutively. "Black Dog" into "Evermore" works, "Evermore" into "Rock And Roll" works, and "Rock And Roll" into "Stairway" makes perfect sense.

2. Led Zeppelin, Houses Of The Holy - Side 2
The order here is "Dancing Days," "D'yer Maker," "No Quarter," and "The Ocean," three midtempo rockers and a slow-burning ballad. "The Ocean," with it's unusual coda, is a great parting shot. The three hole is the right place for "No Quarter," but it needs to follow something that leaves it momentum, and "D'yer Maker," while pleasant and somewhat catchy, doesn't do that.
"Dancing Days" does sound marginally better on a CD following "The Crunge" than "D'yer Maker" would. But, really,"The Crunge," is so awful that nothing would flow into or out of it well. When they made the four disc box set, "Dancing Days" set up "When The Levee Breaks" and followed "No Quarter." It actually sounds even better feeding into the brooding "No Quarter."

3. Genesis, Selling England By The Pound - Side 1
"More Fool Me" is, no doubt about it, a weak link on the album. It's position at the close of the side has the advantage of being able to take the record and simply turning it over after "Firth of Fifth" ends. But if you're going to try to make the album flow better, and hide the short weak track, you're better off sticking it between "I Know What I Like," which is strong if a bit slight, and "Firth of Fifth," the album's true classic, and a damn fine way to close an album side.

4. Eagles, Hotel California - Side 1
The title track, that opens the side, is of course an all-time classic. But I think "Life In The Fast Lane," batting third, makes for a stronger lead-off track. That's the kind of riff you can use to kick off a concert or an album. "Hotel California" is the kind of song, like "Stairway," in my opinion, that should be built up to, possibly as a side closer. "Wasted Time" wouldn't suffer following the title cut any more than it does following "Fast Lane," and you can say the same (in reverse) about "New Kid In Town," perhaps the best thing ever for which Glenn Frey is mostly responsible.

5. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours - Side 1
So you've got "Don't Stop" and "Go Your Own Way," two quinessential album openers. And they're buried in spots 4 and 5? For shame. The obvious move would be to switch two of the Lindsay Buckingham songs - putting "Go Your Own Way" as the opener and "Second Hand News" - which works just as well between "Don't Stop" and "Songbird" as "Go Your Own Way" does fifth. The other option is open Side 2 with "Go Your Own Way" and instead lead off in an ominous fashion with "The Chain." But you'd have to change a lot more than that, since they got one thing extremely right; "You Make Lovin' Fun" is the only song there that can follow "The Chain," since everything else is either a let down or too close in tempo for a good transition.

6. Rush, Permanent Waves - Side 1
This one's pretty minor by comparison to most of the other ones on the list. "Free Will" is a better way to close a side than "Jacob's Ladder," and it feels aesthetically better to split an album's two killer tracks ("Spirit of Radio" and "Free Will") up a bit. It's a minor point because either one leads fine into "Entre Nous" (first track on Side 2) and both sound good after "Spirit of Radio." But this is a change I always program when I can.

7. Police, Ghost In The Machine
This one needs a complete rearrangement, weird considering how their previous effort, "Zenyatta Mondatta," almost totally masked its relatively shallow bench. The big hit songs "Spirits In The Material World," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," and "Invisible Sun," are 1-2-3. The album's middle is dominated by a horn section, in which many of the songs start to blur together in a mass of mediocrity. Then keyboards and guitars take over for the last three tracks. "Spirits" is a good opener, but you have to get "Every Little Thing," which is that rare jewel that sounds great wherever you plug it in, out of there to break up that middle bloc. "Demolition Man," with its long and often inspired jam, works to close Side 1, but get it away from "Hungry For You."
1: Spirits - Rehumanize Yourself - Hungry For You - Invisible Sun - Demolition Man
2: Too Much Information - Every Little Thing - One World - Omegaman - Secret Journey - Darkness

8. Def Leppard, Hysteria
This album doesn't have anything with killer opener potential - the best candidate of the lot, "Pour Some Sugar On Me," is best left where it is, behind power ballad "Love Bites." The big problem is breaking up "Women" and "Rocket," which sounds too similar - even for Def Leppard - to be placed alongside each other. It might also help to put "Armageddon It" on Side 2. "Rocket," though a bit overlong in its album version, isn't a bad way to open things up. Switch "Women" to Side 2, and take one of those songs and put it in the #2 slot, between "Rocket" and "Animal." Take another of the Side 2 songs, and switch out "Armageddon It." Whatever you pick will gain some power from batting behind "Sugar," and it will need that help more than "Armageddon" does.

9. Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
One minor quibble - I'm of the opinion that opener "Sympathy For The Devil" is the kind of song that needs some buildup in front of it. Side 2 opener "Street Fighting Man" is a better choice for leadoff, as would be "Stray Cat Blues." (Note that "Let It Bleed" is an exemplar of song order perfection in my mind.)

10. Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
It works pretty well untouched, but I've always thought Side 1 should be Side 2 and vice versa. Why? "Born To Run" was born to be an opening cut. Period. Nothing against "Thunder Road," but "Born To Run" shouldn't be Track 5 on a CD.

Boston 10, New York 3
Rebel Alliance 4, Galactic Empire 3

The Death Star exploded tonight.

Derek Lowe pulls it together long enough to pitch perhaps the best 6 innings of his life, the second consecutive clutch pitching performance by a Red Sox starter in Yankee Stadium. The only downer of the night was the boneheaded idea of using Pedro Martinez in relief in the 7th inning, a near-fiasco that woke up the then-sleepy crowd that came to a quick and merciful end.

To say that Johnny Damon woke up is an understatement. Grand slam. 2-run homer. After 3-for-29 in the first 6 games. David Ortiz cemented MVP honors with his 2-run homer in the top of the 1st.

Only thinking in choppy fragments now. I'm still busy trying to convince myself that I actually watched this game happen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

St. Louis 6, Houston 4
Big River 3, Southern Comfort 3

They'll be talking about Phil Garner's call to save Roger Clemens for Game 7 and Roy Oswalt for a possible World Series Game 1 for a while, and not necessarily in a good way. It's a gambit that might have paid off, but the problem is that the game went into extra innings and had the 'Stros to use stud closer Brad Lidge for three innings.

And after those innings Jim Edmonds hit a walk-off 2-run homer off Dan Miceli.

Garner was hoping to have Roger get the Astros into the 7th with a lead that he would then turn over to Lidge and only Lidge, since, well, the rest of the Houston pen isn't very good. But now that plan looks bad; there's no Plan B if Roger struggles, and the extra innings made the Lidge aspect of the strategy problematic.

Roy Oswalt is rested enough for an emergency appearance, which has to be what Sox fans are pulling for.

That Cardinal lineup sure looks intimidating, especially at home, especially when the home team has won every game of this series.

Both Yankees and Red Sox fans had to be pleased by this evening's early game.

Boston 4, New York 2
Dean Wormer 3, Delta House 3

"So put me on a highway/ and show me a sign/ and take it to the limit/ one more time." - The Eagles

First, they won back their dignity. Then, they won back their pride. Now, they've made history, being the first baseball team to go down 3-0 and force a Game 7. This is literally uncharted territory, both for the Red Sox, and for anyone else.

Likely a cast of thousands will take the hill for the Sox in the Bronx tomorrow night in what might be the most watched baseball game in the history of Planet Earth. Two tired pitching staffs will see which one can outlast the other, which one can best fight off the other team's powerful offense.

The hero? Curt Schilling. There was blood on his ankles. Win or lose tomorrow, his start goes down in history as one of the all-time clutch pitching performances. And the gutsiest outing I have had the pleasure of witnessing. It wasn't always flawless, but he got the outs when he needed them. And thanks to him, Red Sox Nation has one more day to be on pins and needles.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Far Side Of The World

Interesting story about British people opposed to Bush writing letters to undecided American voters, in a campaign coordinated by the left-wing newspaper The Guardian.

I don't think this was a good idea, but it's hard for me to ascertain how bad an idea it was without knowing anything about the language contained in the letters. The head of Democrats abroad seems to think it was a bad idea, and that it will help George Bush win votes. I'd like to think that the British writers used appropriate and deferential tones when pleading their cases, but, well, I've seen television footage of Premier League crowds.

It's my impression that the sort of people that would care much about international opinion are almost all committed to Kerry, and that that's not nearly enough for a majority. I'm going to conclude that this will probably have a minimal effect on things; I don't think that someone who would write back to the U.K. something like "Real Americans aren't interested in your pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions. If you want to save the world, begin with you own worthless corner of it," or "Hey England, Scotland and Wales, mind your own business. We don't need weenie-spined Limeys meddling in our presidential election," was in the "persuadable" category anyway.

There are obviously sensitive sovereignty issues, but I'm less bothered by this than by Americans trying to bully other countries, since it's not as if American voters are operating under a cloud of intimidation when a few left-wing Brits send a pleading letter or two across the pond. It's not like any other could credibly instigate a coup if we elected someone they didn't like - compare with, well, the United States vis-a-vis pretty much any nation in Latin America. Besides, in a very real sense, this is the world's election, as it will likely have strong implications far beyond America's borders. As misguided as I think this effort by the Guardian was, I can hardly blame them for it.

At least the letters didn't come from France.

Houston 3, St. Louis 0
Swamps 3, Prairies 2

Minutes after the end of the Red Sox game, Jeff Kent delivered a walk-off 3-run homer to break a scoreless tie in the bottom of the 9th before the home crowd in Houston. Guess Kent didn't like the fact that Jason Isringhausen gave Lance Berkman a free pass so he could pitch to Kent.

Now it's St. Louis, battered bullpen and all, that's on the brink of elimination, and they have to beat Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt in succession, although they will be at Busch Stadium. Is Brandon Backe this year's answer to Josh Beckett, Fransisco Rodriguez, and Livan Hernandez, the rookie who comes in and takes the postseason by storm, having held Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, and the rest in check the whole night long?

The home team has won all 5 games in this series - can the Cardinals hold serve and advance to the World Series?

Boston 5, New York 4
Ivan Drago 3, Rocky Balboa 2

"Just when I thought that I was out...they pull me back in!" - Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), Godfather, Part III

Clocking in at nearly 6 hours, this was the longest game in post-season history. 14 innings, on the heel of a 5-hour, 12 inning marathon the previous night. The players are tired, the arms in the bullpen burned out. Left for dead by many, the Red Sox found a way to stay alive, scoring a late-inning tying run off of Mariano Rivera for the second time in as many games. And, once again, the hero is David Ortiz, with the dramatic walk-off hit.

This was A good way for the Fenway Faithful to say goodbye to some departing players, possibly including Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Bill Mueller, Derek Lowe, and others - one last win on the home turf, with at least a dim hope of a triumphant return. Whatever happens now, at the very least, the Yankees will not be celebrating their latest pennant in front of the Fenway fans, and this year's Red Sox will not be remembered forever as the biggest flop in ALCS playoff history. Pedro ran out of gas too soon, but his team rallied for him.

Rumor has it that Curt Schilling, he of the injured ankle, is going to try to start Game 6 in the Bronx. Here he attempts to make his case for the ages in front of a hostile crowd. His career record is nearing the point at which those who guard the keys to Cooperstown may have to at least consider his name, late start notwithstanding - but his time on the diamond is running short. His Game 1 start was a nightmare - will his Game 6 start go the same way?

The Red Sox have given us another fine season, and are, at worst, going down fighting. Tonight they lived to fight another day, no matter how weary they may be.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Boston 6, New York 4
Mystique and Aura 3, Law of Averages 1

I can't help but think that this game merely delayed the inevitable; however, it did give Red Sox Nation at least a few positive memories to look back on what would otherwise seem like an endless offseason. Ortiz taking Paul Quantrill deep in the bottom of the 12th is in the all-time Sox homers pantheon, but it's well behind, say, Fisk's famous 1975 blast. (Which may be the all-time most famous World Series home run, aside from Mazeroski's walk-off 1960 shot and perhaps Carter's 1993 homer, odd considering that Fisk's home run merely forced a Game 7, which was then lost by the Sox.)

At the absolute minimum, the Fenway Faithful get one last chance to give Pedro Martinez his due sendoff tonight. Pedro will need his best stuff, but if he has it, and the offense can deliver, the Sox may spare the Fenway fans the ignominity of watching the Yankees celebrate another freakin' World Series appearance in Boston, forcing them to do it on their own damn turf.

That's about all we can ask for right now.

Houston 6, St. Louis 5
Rice Side 2, Corn Side 2

Will anyone remember Carlos Beltran's game-winning home run in Houston, given what happened in Boston a few hours later?

It will probably have more impact on the post-season picture, East Coast bias notwithstanding.

Kellogg's Crispix is crispy times two.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

New York 19, Boston 8
Tires 3, Squirrel 0

I couldn't even make it through this one.

Tonight I hope I can make it through...so I can say goodbye to Derek Lowe, probably Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller as well.

Houston 5, St. Louis 2
Show Me 2, Lone Star 1

Clemens, a decade and change later, finally irritates Tony LaRussa and puts Houston back in business.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Sleaze Factor

Delight in the misfortune of others is a vice I normally prefer not to indulge, particularly if the misfortune involves the basest of emotional anguish.

But when it's something caused by their own behavior, and it's someone as obnoxious as Bill O'Reilly...it's hard to resist. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

If you've been living under a rock, Bill O'Reilly has been sued for sexual harassment. Never one to lay low, he's fighting back in the public arena, even going so far as to file a lawsuit of his own.

As for the complaint...read it for yourself.

The nice people at The Smoking Gun were good enough to highlight what they thought were the juiciest parts of it, but really, the whole thing from Pages 6-18 is worth reading.

The four things I took away from reading this lurid complaint:
1. For an allegedly heterosexual male, he's got what seems like an unhealthy interest in vibrators.
2. He confused a "loofah" with "falafel." Unless, of course, he really wanted to rub someone's unmentionables with a fried patty of crushed garbanzo beans.
3. He claims he's well-endowed. Of course, so do all guys.
4. I can only dream of how utterly repulsive phone sex with Bill O'Reilly must be.

How much of this is true? Neither O'Reilly nor his attorney have denied that conversations of a sexual nature had taken place. His attorney said that some of O'Reilly's statements could have been "taken out of context" or "spun for exaggeration." (I'd love to know the proper context for encouraging your employee to purchase a vibrator.) The level of detail - excruciatingly lurid detail - in the complaint implies that the conversations were tape record, which is a no-no without the other party's consent under New York law.

O'Reilly, for his part, alleges that there was a shakedown. I do wonder why Andrea Mackris came back to work for O'Reilly and Fox News if she was so creeped out. We don't know what Mackris and her attorney asked for prior to the commencement of this round of litigation. The legal experts quoted here in this article seem to think O'Reilly would have a very hard time proving exortion.

The vague threats against Al Franken and against some other, unspecified persons is an interesting additional angle. Those certainly sound like they could have come from O'Reilly's big mouth. The overall tone of the alleged statements seems in character with the bullying exuded by O'Reilly on a regular basis on his television and radio appearances.

It doesn't look likely that large sums of money will change hands, in either direction, but it does appear that O'Reilly's image as a "family values" man will take a large hit.

The Tempest

Let me get this straight...

Talk radio and cable television blowhard and Illinois GOP Senate hopeful (perhaps hopeless is more appropriate) Alan Keyes calls out the Vice President's daughter, Mary Cheney, as "hedonistic" and "selfish" for her "lifestyle" of "sin." Keyes then suggested that the Cheneys should talk to their daughter about her sins. These coarse insults, as far as the general public knows, go unanswered by Dick and Lynne Cheney.

Meanwhile, it appears that Keyes' dauhghter Maya is a lesbian. What is with all the gay and lesbian children of prominent conservatives? Mary Cheney, Maya Keyes, Phyllis Schlafley's son, Randall Terry's son..the list goes on and on.

Fast forward a week and change...

John Kerry refers to Mary Cheney in his debate with George Bush: "We're all God's children...and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you she's being who she was...I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice."

There are certainly no insults there - unless you're the sort to consider the word "lesbian" itself an insult, which Mary Cheney presumably isn't. There is no criticism of Mary Cheney as a human being, and no condemnation of Dick and Lynne Cheney as parents. If anything, Kerry is praising the Cheney family, as John Edwards did earlier, for sticking by their daughter. In other words, there's nothing objectionable in there, especially when compared to Alan Keyes' remarks.

Naturally, the Cheneys are loudly upset with...John Kerry.

Huh?

And this phony dustup is what the press is talking about? If the press is going to play dumb "Gotcha!" games with Presidential candidates, they would be smarter to note that Bush flatly denied that he never said he didn't know and didn't care where Osama bin Laden is, an easily refuted denial. Hello!

St. Louis 6, Houston 4
Budweiser 2, Exxon 0

Houston gets no relief as they fail to steal a game in St. Louis. Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt will (in theory) pitch four of the remaining five games, but the margin for error is gone. The Cardinals take care of business, but the bottom line is that they still have to win at least one game started by one of Houston's pair of aces to advance.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Colour By Numbers

When I wrote back in the spring about a Washington Post series about voters living in "Blue" and "Red" states, I took them to task for flogging easy stereotypes. At the same time, I suggested the opposite task, finding the lonely bleeding heart in rock-solid Bush country and the lonely right-winger in a city where Bush is wildly unpopular.

So, when they did just that, I figured I had to, even if it was an obvious move, give the Post due props.

They found a liberal Democrat living in Clinton, Mississippi
and a conservative Republican in Manhattan. In their own words, they each describe what it's like to be outnumbered, and the sense of isolation they feel in an alien political cutlure.

If I had to guess, it'd generally be worse being a liberal in a conservative area than vice versa. I'd probably have more luck trying to put up Bush/Cheney signs in, say, my neighborhood in heavily Democratic Arlington than put up Kerry/Edwards signs in suburban Richmond. The small towns and cookie-cutter suburbs that are the backbone of Republican strength aren't especially welcoming to people who don't march to their beat; those who do who happen to be from there generally leave the first chance they get. Aside from a small and relatively powerless fringe, American liberal enclaves (at least the ones I know well) aren't quite so hostile; we're more likely to just ridicule right-wingers behind their back rather than attempt to drive them out of town.

But, yeah, just three years after a we were supposedly united again, we're as divided as ever.

St. Louis 10, Houston 7
Riverboats 1, Supertankers 0

The Redbirds get a needed home victory, taking advantage of Clemens and Oswalt being unavailable, and continued to pound the ball. St. Louis has a good chance at taking a 2-0 lead tonight as Houston hopes to steal home field advantage.

New York 3, Boston 1
Sauron 2, Fellowship Of The Ring 0

Things look pretty dire right now. One of their aces fails miserably and appears to be too injured to play again in the series; their other one pitches reasonably well, but loses because the team forgot how to hit.

Stranger things have happened, but the Sox appear to be down for the count. Will Fenway Park cause them to rise from the canvas? We'll find out tomorrow night.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Jackass

I wish the voters of Maryland would put William Donald Schaefer out to pasture.

Now State Comptroller, formerly Governor, and before that Mayor of Baltimore, he specializes in making a fool of himself and whatever his constituency happens to be at the time on a regular basis. And people in Maryland keep electing him to high office.

Not only is his advocacy of mandatory registration of people infected with HIV and his remarks about AIDS victims callously insensitive, they're made on behalf of a stupid policy as well.

We should not be encouraging discrimination against HIV-infected persons. There is a stigma attached to this disease, and remarks like this only make it worse.

More importantly, we shouldn't be providing such a strong disincentive for people to find out their HIV status through testing, especially those in "high risk" categories. There are already enough reasons why people don't get tested for HIV, even though they should, without this buffoon adding fuel to the fire.

New York 10, Boston 7
Grendel 1, Beowulf 0

If it weren't for an injured Curt Schilling looking bloody awful and reportedly being too injured to pitch again, I wouldn't be too down about this result. They took a game that was looking for all the world like a soul-crushing humiliation, and turned it into a ballgame.

They've got some fight left in them yet. And this war is far from over, as bad as things looked at times last night.

That said...if Pedro doesn't go Oedpial on his alleged "daddy" tonight, the Sox are in trouble.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Other Side

We have a Wild Card underdog and sentimental favorite that can't match the storied history or the win total of the triple-digit top seed. But the underdogs has a winning record against their bitter rivals, and a pair of ace starters stronger than anything the opposition can claim. On paper the division champion looks better, and they have history on their side.

Yankees v. Red Sox? Nope, it's the other League Championship, the NLCS, featuring the Cardinals and Astros.

Houston's got some bats, with the old warhorses Biggio and Bagwell joined by Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent, and young stud Lance Berkman. But they can't quite match the Cardinals, with Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, Walker, and Renteria in the offense department. St. Louis also has the deeper bullpen, as well as more and better options for #3 and, especially, #4 starter.

Is Oswalt and Clemens enough?

I say no. Perhaps if the Astros had dispatched Atlanta more swifty and had been able to reset their rotation, I'd give them more of a chance. I don't think Houston has a good fourth option, and I think they're going to go to a the well with their pair of aces one too many times. With their pitching depth and hitting clout, I think the Cards take this series.

Cardinals in 6.

Showdown

New York Yankees v. Boston Red Sox

Back, as if by popular demand, Red Sox-Yankees II.

I know I'm supposed to be expounding on every last facet of this potentially apocalyptic matchup, but other people have more than adequately done so.

I think the bottom line is as follows:
* The Red Sox were more than good enough to win last year's ALCS, even if they failed to do so; the Red Sox were not, as they were in 1999, outclassed by the Yankees. This year, the Sox went 11-8 against them.
* The biggest advantage the Yankees had going into last year's ALCS was in starting pitching. If anything, the Red Sox have the advantage this year with Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez as the #2 starter, Bronson Arroyo (who's been as good all season as anyone the Yankees could slide in the #3 spot,) and Tim Wakefield, who has generally performed well against New York in recent years.
* The offenses are still both outstanding, with the Yankees upgrading and the Sox trading a little lumber for some leather. Adjusting for Park Factor arguably tips the scale slightly in favor of New York; however, these games will only take place at Fenway and in Yankee Stadium, generally a park well-suited to the Sox lineup.
* New York improved their defense, but not by as much as Boston. Neither team is considered to have a great defense, but this was the Sox' biggest weakness early in the season, and it's by and large been fixed.
* The Sox can't match Mariano Rivera, but they've shown more ability to hit him recently than anyone else, and the rest of the Red Sox bullpen is considerably better than that of the Yankees, who can only really count on setup man Tom Gordon. (Obviously, chasing the Yankee starters before the 7th inning will be critical for Boston.)
* The only big advantage the Yankees have left is...history. And we've already seen the Houston Astros overcome history.

Though it's unfortunate that the Twins failed to push the Yankees to the limit in their playoff series, the Sox' three-game sweep of Anaheim has to be comforting. They blew a 5-run lead late in a game...and still won. The crowd at Fenway fell eerily silent, the announcers began reciting the litany of famous collapses (even bringing up the Dave Henderson homer in '86 off of Donnie Moore, suggesting a karmic reversal in favor of the Halos) but this team still came through.

As I said in a previous blog, being a pessimist has not pre-empted disappointment when the Sox lose. I'm going to be an optimist this time, not only because it might work, but because it's rational.

Red Sox in 6.

Houston 12, Atlanta 3
New Blood 3, Old Guard 2

The Astros have won their first post-season series in franchise history, and in emphatic fashion. Do they have what it takes to take down the Cardinals? Tune in Wednesday...

Monday, October 11, 2004

Three's A Crowd

I know they say that deaths come in threes. I'm a tad suspicious of old sayings like that one, but it was strange to check my e-mail and find that three famous people had just died - actor Christopher Reeve, baseball player Ken Caminiti, and writer/philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Weird.

Another reason I love quizbowl - if you drew a Venn diagram of people who knew about these three men, you'd find few people outside of quizbowl familiar with the achievements of all three, but many quizbowl-type people.

No Code?

I have numerous thoughts on the second Bush/Kerry debate, but there's one thing I've been following lately on which I wanted to go into detail.

A lot of you who watched the debates Friday night were probably as confused as I was regarding Bush's answer to a question about what kind of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court were he awarded a second term. In addition to referencing a line of cases centering around "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, he cited the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision as an example of the judicial activism he was decrying and that he supported the judicial philosophy of "strict constructionism." (Never mind that even right-wing jurists and legal scholars, from Justice Scalia on down, are generally uncomfortable with the label "strict constructionism.")

Along with millions of other viewers, I was perplexed by this reference. It's not as if Bush needed to take a position against the appointment of pro-slavery judges. Even I didn't think Bush wanted a pro-slavery Supreme Court.

I did note that I was fairly sure that Bush was wrong about there being no basis for Dred Scott in the Constitution of the time:
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due. (Art. IV, Sec. 2)

The Constitution doesn't contain the above passage anymore, but it did in 1857.

The court in Dred Scott ruled that legislation enacted pursuant to the Missouri Compromise, specifically a law in which Congress purported to restrict slavery in the territories, was unconstitutional. As pointed out in the link, Chief Justice Roger Taney based his decision largely on strict constructionist grounds. Not that I thought of George W. Bush as a legal scholar or anything.

Turns out Bush was speaking in code.

It's been a common rhetoric tactic in the anti-abortion movement to liken and link itself to the abolitionist movement. And this article points out that pro-life propaganda websites are fond of drawing a connection between Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade.

The implication is clear: He wants Roe overturned, and that reference was his way of communicating that fact to anti-abortion activists that his Supreme Court nominees would share that belief. But at the same time he didn't want to highlight this position to everyone else. So he said (or was told to say) something that most people wouldn't understand fully, but that the far-right core would understand.

Bush is of course free to advocate whatever policies he likes as effectively as he can. If he wants abortion outlawed, and wants to work to outlaw or at least severely restrict the availability of abortion, he is free to make that case. I'm not suggesting otherwise. Nor am I even suggesting that it was necessarily below the belt to attempt to make these communications.

However, I think that Bush's positions on this ought to be known, and that the citizenry and the media ought to be calling him out on this one.

I don't think it reflects well on Bush, and I'd like to think he's not going to get away with this trick. This whole idea of speaking in code runs contrary to the widespread public image of Bush as, love or hate his policies, a man who is forthright about his clear stances on issues of public concern. (Not that this issue is the only example of wavering, mixed signals, or outright obfuscation the Bush team has employed - try following his various positions about the desirability of a Patients' Bill of Rights, for one.) Along with numerous other examples, it also gives the lie to the idea that he is a uniter rather than a divider.

There are probably at least some voters who are probably leaning towards Bush who'd be forced to reconsider their leanings if they had a good reason to believe that another Bush term was going to precipitate the recriminalization of abortion.

I'm more hesitant than many in the blog world to trumpet how the blogosphere has changed everything. But one thing that has changed by the lightning-fast transfers of information is that the news "spin cycle" is sped up and that information management is tougher. Just four years ago, the meme that Bush "won" the first Presidential debate against Al Gore only emerged after several days, in part because Karl Rove's spin operation was superior, and the Republican campaign apparatus mounted a PR offensive in the following days that overwhelmed the Democrats. I don't think either side could pull off a spin reversal of that magnitude anymore. And I don't think that anyone is going to able to use a coded message like this very effectively anymore.

St. Louis 6, Los Angeles 2
Cardinal Red 3, Dodger Blue 1

The Cardinals come back to St. Louis ready to face the winner of tonight's tilt between the Astros and Braves. One of those pitching staffs is going to need to figure out how to slow down the St. Louis attack for more than one game.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Atlanta 6, Houston 5
Undifferentiated Urban Sprawl 2, Undifferentiated Urban Sprawl 2

Houston, trying to keep Clemens fresh for the NLCS, tries to go to the back of the bullpen to finish off the Braves, and it backfired. The fifth and deciding game will be tomorrow night. How far can Roy Oswalt go in that game?

19th...Nervous Breakdown?

Not a chance.

Pats beat the Dolphins to win their NFL-record 19th straight game.

While Pats fans might have been nervous about Miami defending a record held (in part) by their franchise in what otherwise looked like a classic "trap" game, this team is very good at taking care of business. Everyone remembers a seemingly unstoppable 11-0 Chicago Bears team losing in the Orange Bowl on a Monday night in late 1985, so that the 1972 Dolphins remained (and remain) the only undefeated full season in NFL history. But this game was in New England, and that 1985 Dolphins team was, well, good. (They almost certainly would given the Bears a better game in the Super Bowl than the Pats did that year.)

The Patriots defense was good as usual, and Brady put together his usual solid performance.

Unfortunately for them, the eyes of the New England sports world are still on the baseball diamond, as Boston gears up for another showdown with the Yankees.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Los Angeles 4, St. Louis 0
Rust Belt 2, Sun Belt 1

Thanks to Lima Time, the Cardinals' celebration is put on hold another day, at least. Can the Cardinal hitters, so effective at Busch but silenced at Chavez Ravine, wake up tomorrow evening, or is this series going back to St. Louis?

New York 6, Minnesota 5
Goliath 3, David 1

Once again, the Twins win Game 1, only to drop the next three straight, including two at home, to the Yankees. Ron Gardenhire's decision to take out Santana will be scrutinized over the Hot Stove in the Twin Cities for sure.

And once again, it's Red Sox/Yankees for the right to go the World Series.

Houston 8, Atlanta 5
Oilers 2, Flames 1

Houston bats reawaken in this one, bringing Atlanta to the brink. Astros hope to close out the series tomorrow, with the Rocket on short rest; Braves will try send the series back to Houston for a fifth and deciding game.

New York 8, Minnesota 4
Spendthrifts 2, Cheap Skates 1

Yankees break it open while I'm watching the debates. (More on that later.) Eh. The Twins really needed to have nailed down Game 2, since Santana is coming back on 3 days rest for Game 4, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. (Of course, so does the idea of a Kyle Lohse start in an elimination game.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

Boston 8, Anaheim 6
Sweet Caroline 3, Thunder Stix 0

Seriously...how many people in Red Sox Nation thought for sure there'd be a game being played tomorrow after the Guerrero grand slam? David Ortiz comes through in the clutch, and now the Sox wait for the winner of the Yankees/Twins series.

And the baseball world is spared the stupid Thunder Stix and the insipid Rally Momkey for another season.

Wired?

Nice bulge there.

The conspiracy theories are all over the Internet now. Was Bush getting instructions about what to say and how to respond to the moderator, and to Kerry? Even more suspicious: the Bush campaign specifically demanded that camera shots from behind.

However...I'm more inclined to believe that it was something else, like, say, part of a bullet-proof vest.

While I wouldn't put it past Team Bush to cheat at something like this, the idea of Karl Rove feeding him instructions like "Say 'It's hard work! again!'" through a wire is pretty amusing. If they were cheating, whatever it was they were trying obviously didn't work very well.

Or would it have been even worse for Bush if he wasn't being instructed?

Meet Me In St. Louis

Bush and Kerry will spar at Washington University tonight in a "town hall" debate.

On the one hand, this format could hurt Bush, since he's much a better speaker when he has script that he can follow to the letter, and is used to speaking only in front of hand-picked audiences of devoted supporters.

On the other hand, Kerry has some definite tendencies toward veering into windbag territory. The format in the first debate, with its strict time limits and those memorable red lights, turned out to be very much in Kerry's favor.

This is Kerry's first chance since the Democratic National Convention to hit Bush in front of a national stage on the domestic policy record of the Bush administration. Topics that could come up that have received little attention up to now on which Bush may be vulernable include environmental issues, the funding of administration educational initiatives, Bush's energy policies, and stem cell research. And, of course, there's a new jobs report to discuss.

Kerry needs to keep Bush on the defensive, and to make Bush's mismangement of the country Topic 1. If Bush starts to outline a proposed policy that sounds good, Kerry needs to point out that essentially nothing has prevented Bush from doing whatever it is he proposes to do now over the last four years. There has been precious little in terms of checks and balances, with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress (not to mention the judiciary) during almost all of Bush's four years in office. Attack politics work. People may be turned off by ad hominem attacks, but there's nothing wrong with ripping Bush's administration up one side and down the other for, say, sitting on its hands while Enron and other similar companies largely manufactured a phony power "crisis" and robbed California (and other western states) blind, or does nothing about ending favorable domestic treatment for corporations that relocate their headquarters to tax havens.

When Iraq comes up again, note that Bush has come up with yet another post-hoc justification (allegations involving Saddam's misuse of funds derived from the oil-for-food program) for an costly and protracted war that was unnecessary and misguided. It now looks like there were no weapons of mass destruction, and no realistic plan for their manufacture anytime soon, so that this rationale belongs in the circular file next to justifications that centered around alleged connections with the 9/11 attacks and/or the al-Qaida network. The new administration talking points about the humanitarian benefits of the war, aside from representing the mother of all policy flip-flops, ring somewhat hollow considering how many Iraqis are being killed, not to mention the Abu Gharib scandal. None of the various explanations the administration has cooked up justify how many new enemies are being made, and how many new terrorists are being created.

Rather than refighting the Vietnam War and the parallel Culture vs. Counterculture clashes of the '60s and '70s over and over again, this election needs to be about who's looking out for the American public and who's mostly looking out for their well-connected and well-heeled friends. This time the other side has a record to defend, and it's not pretty. They're going to try to blame everything on someone else, anyone else. But, just like liberals are smugly told every day, voters don't like whiners or excuses. "It's hard work!" and "It's Clinton's fault!" sound suspiciously like whining and excuses from here.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

St. Louis 8, Los Angeles 3
Floods 2, Wildfires 0

The Cardinals put on another hitting clinic as Dodgers pitchers are embarassed in St. Louis yet again. Can L.A. at least make a series out of this one? Tune in tomorrow.

Atlanta 4, Houston 2
Beef BBQ 1, Pork BBQ 1

Braves earn a split; if Rafael Furcal, who hit the game winning home run tonight, decides to celebrate with a drink or two, let's hope he doesn't get behind the wheel.

Two Headaches

Welcome to my morning commute.

According to the Washington Post, the Orange Line is getting worse. I can't imagine the planned Tysons Corner/Reston/Dulles extension is going to make the situation there any better.

Unfortunately, alleviating the one main choke point in the system, the tunnel under the Potomac River that can only handle one train in each direction, would cost $1 billion.

It's most unfortunate that, unlike other mass transit systems, Metro has no dedicated source of funding. Three jurisdictions that regaularly lock horns over finances and everything else find it difficult to have any sense of coordination in the system. They've hiked fares twice in three years, and apparently it hasn't helping much with funding.

They could start by the District not spending $440 million to finance a baseball stadium. If pro baseball owners want to relocate here so badly, they should put up more money. I can't stand Marion Barry, but he and his fellow additions to the City Council are on the right side of this issue. This is a taxpayer rip-off all the way. So, naturally, they're going to try to hold a vote while the three defeated pro-stadium City Council members are still in office.

I don't necessarily have anything against business spending, but this whole episode - in contrast to an increasing blind eye to many of the nation's social problems - is one of the more blatant examples of "Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor" that I've seen.

Boston 8, Anaheim 3
Wally The Green Monster 2, Rally Monkeys 0

The vaunted Anaheim bullpen just taken down a couple notches, and Pedro looked more like Pedro than he has in several weeks. The Red Sox leave Orange County hoping not to return again until next season, and the Red Sox faithful will be bringing the brooms to Fenway.

At one point I was deathly afraid of being forced to watch footage of Mark Bellhorn slipping and falling while trying to get a lead off of second base with the bases loaded and David Ortiz at the plate over and over again the entire offseason.

In the meantime, whoever did this bloody awful cover of "In The Air Tonight" that's being featured with this year's ESPN telecasts needs to be forbidden from releasing any more music.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

New York 7, Minnesota 6
Senators 1, Highlanders 1

Heartbreaking extra-inning loss for the Twins as a tiring Nathan comes unglued. Can the Twins recover in the friendly confines of the Metrodome? Coming Friday to a TV set near you...

Houston 9, Atlanta 3
Bayou 1, Piedmont 0

Clemens wins a big game, a pretty rare occurrence in his career.

The Score

I watched the Vice Presidential Debate twice last night, once while playing NTN and sometimes checking the Yankees/Twins game in a crowd of people, and once more at home with my undivided attention.

The web polls when I looked at them leaned strongly to Sen. Edwards, but this didn't match what either the chattering classes were saying on television, or my own observations. I had the debates called as roughly a draw, and this CNN story seems to bear that out.

I was more impressed with Edwards the second time through, as I noticed less his deviations from the set debate format. I missed that Cheney had broken with protocol first, as he used a question about Israel to discuss a number of issues unconnected to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

There were times during the first half of the debate when it looked like Edwards was really getting to the Vice President, going after Halliburton's record of shady dealings, the numerous times Cheney and other Administration mouthpieces implied connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, and the difficult situation in Iraq.
Cheney hit back on what are obviously the Democrats' main stumbling block, foreign policy issues. The Bush/Cheney campaign is focusing on the notion that it would be "risky" to make a change in the White House this November, and Edwards' relative newness to the Wwashington scene makes this meme more plausible to more people.
They believe that this meme will inoculate them from their vulnerability on most domestic issues, and from dissatisfaction with the situation in Iraq.

Consequently, it's the job of the Kerry/Edwards campaign not only to keep domestic issues on voters' minds, but to present a level-headed approach to foreign policy and security policy. That's why scoring points about inadequate security at points of vulnerability is critical.

Cheney, however, had no answer to some of Edwards' best zingers of the night:
* Edwards delivered an attack on a string of Cheney's House votes - against Head Start, against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela, against a ban on plastic guns designed to evade metal detectors. Some of these positions, unpopular when they were adopted, look even worse now than they did at the time. Cheney didn't even try to respond.
* On two different occasions, Edwards pointed out that the administration initially opposed the creation of an independent commission to study the 9/11 attacks. He also noted that they opposed the creation of the Homeland Security Department (until they were able to turn the proposal into a back-door attack on worker protection for government employees.)

Those of us in the know might have been annoyed that Edwards hit (after Kerry did once) on the lack of a connection between Saddam/Iraq and 9/11 no fewer than three times, but that appears to be an important issue on which there is much confusion. If you believe in a strong connection between Saddam/Iraq and 9/11, you're with Bush all the way; if you don't, you're much more likely to want Bush out of office. And lots of people simply aren't in the know on this issue.

The argument over the failure to recruit an effective coalition got bogged down on an argument about whether to count Iraqi forces as part of "coalition forces." Either way, the same number of Americans are dead or wounded, and the same number of taxpayer dollars that could have spent helping rebuild our own economy, our public health system, or fighting real terrorist threats are being spent in Iraq and that while many of these costs were borne by other nations during the first Persian Gulf War, they are by and large falling to Americans in this one. This new Republican technique of claiming that Iraqis are somehow gravely insulted by Democrats pointing out that things there are not all sweetness and light in their country shouldn't work, though no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Another line of theirs, that claiming that the Iraq war wasn't a great idea will hurt America's standing and credibility in the world strikes me as a case of trying to lock the barn door after the cows were stolen. Furthermore, George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's advice about staying on the good side of world opinion belongs in the same circular file as Drew Carey's advice about high fashion.

Cheney hit Edwards on his lack of experience, and his campaign trail disagreements with Kerry, which is would you expect the Vice President to do. And he didn't sound nearly as mean-spirited doing it as one might have expected. Cheney is blessed with a soothing voice of a granfatherly sage, no matter what he happens to be saying. The Republicans played the low expectations game well here, taking advantage of the momentum Kerry had built up in his debate with Bush by talking up Edwards' supposed goal of a "Few Good Men"-type moment where the Vice President would blurt out an expletive or two. Cheney's goal here was not to get torn to shreds by Edwards, and he survived, in the process humanizing himself to a degree. He's a seasoned Washington professional, much more so than George W. Bush, so Edwards was unlikely to have delivered a death blow last night.

For Edwards, the evening was an opportunity to take more shots at the Bush/Cheney record. In 2000, Bush could credibly play the outsider looking to shake things up; that is no longer the case. The key was keep the incumbents on the defensive, since the more this campaign is about Bush/Cheney and their record over the last four years, the less the various machinations of the GOP noise machine will matter.

I don't think this event moved the ball much one way or another.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Minnesota 2, New York 0
Contraction Kids 1, Evil Empire 0

What more can be said about Johan Santana? He's awesome, he got the Yankee batters out when he needed to, and Mike Mussina couldn't quite match him. (Remember that the Yankees lost Game 1 last year in this series as well.)

Boston 9, Anaheim 3
Nor'Easters 1, Santa Ana Winds 0

Sox hitters, as if answering a challenge by St. Louis batters earlier in the day, answer the call. Schilling lives up to his billing as the Red Sox' ace in the hole. Can the Sox take both games in Anaheim? Tune in tomorrow.

St. Louis 8, Los Angeles 3
Heartland 1, La-La Land 0

The Cardinal hitters put on offensive show that would make Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce envious today.

4x4

World Series matchups - in order of personal preference:

1. Red Sox/Astros: The Battle of the Wild Cards. Other than the Dodgers, the team the Sox would most want to face. Clemens gets to prove yet again that he can't come through in the big game, and he's not going to have the Mike Mussina to bail him out this time. Wouldn't it be great to see a team from the Cradle of the Revolution take a Series from a team from Texas, the state that is the World's Leading Source of Bad Ideas? We've got John Kerry, Houston brought the world Enron and Halliburton. Irresistible. And probably good for baseball.
2. Red Sox/Cardinals: Rematch of 1967...except this time, the Red Sox have the closest thing to Bob Gibson to run out to the hill. Lots of firepower on both sides, and some guys capable of some great play. Could be one for the ages. Added bonus: The Cards are the team I'd least mind losing to.
3. Red Sox/Dodgers: Maybe this should be higher, since the Sox would be an overwhelming favorite in this Series. But the Dodgers just don't interest me much.
4. Red Sox/Braves: I'm tired of the Braves, and they're pretty nondescript.
5. Twins/Cardinals: I have fond memories of the 1987 World Series, and that same vibe is here. Johan Santana tries to step into the Frank Viola role, the young stud lefty ace while Brad Radke seeks to play Bert Blyleven, the veteran righthanded #2 man. The Twins try to exploit their home advantage in the Metrodome to maximium affect. The favored Cardinals have no ace but bring a strong bullpen and a well-regarded manager to the table, just like in '87. Key difference: Rather than singles and speed, the Cards have a power offense this time. Bonus: Selig would hate this.
6. Twins/Braves: A rematch of the pretty good 1991 World Series, in which Minnesota tries to play the role of...Minnesota. Bonus: Selig would hate this.
7. Angels/Cardinals: I'd watch most of this, as a casual Cards fan.
8. Twins/Dodgers: A 1965 rematch. The sheer improbability of this one is interesting, but not much else compelling going on, unless you're really into pitchers' duels.
9. Twins/Astros: Blah. There are players worth watching on both teams, but I'd watch this one like I'd watch most BCS Bowl Games - not caring much either way. Guess I'd be pulling for the Twins. Bonus: Selig would hate this.
10. Angels/Astros: An all-Class of '62 faceoff. Probably even less at stake for me than Twins/Astros.
11. Yankees/Cardinals: The one World Series involving the Yankees that I would try to watch most of. Pulling for St. Louis all the way in that case.
12. Angels/Braves: If Twins/Astros is a BCS game, Angels/Braves is closer to the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl. (Do they still play that one?) I might watch some games, but not much interest.
13. Yankees/Astros: The thought of Roger Clemens coming back to spurn and burn the Yankees might give them a sense of how Red Sox Nation feels about him. Not that that would necessarily happen, of course. Otherwise, this doesn't hold much interest for me.
14. Angels/Dodgers: The Battle of Southern California. I wonder if people would leave Game Seven of this one in the 7th inning to beat the traffic. Lots of 10:00 starts, and I have to get up in the morning to go to work. Fox would hate this matchup, but so would I.
15. Yankees/Dodgers: Not only would this Series be lopsided beyond belief, but it would be one of those East Coast/West Coast things that would bore people to tears by the end. It'd probably get good ratings, but I'd make no effort to watch any of it. Downside: Selig would love this matchup.
16. Yankees/Braves: Would anyone not in the fan base of either team watch another one of these Braves/Yankees tilts? Would anyone doubt the eventual outcome? Is there anyone not sick of these teams yet?

We Won On Jeopardy?

Before this blog is totally subsumed by baseball playoff coverage, just wanted to point out this Washington Post story. The reporter actually did a good job, by my estimation, capturing as much about quiz bowl and its unique subculture - now on the national radar screen thanks to Ken Jennings and other various and sundry game show winners.

(More on him later; I've been studiously avoiding discussion of his Jeopardy! run, but be assured that I'm working on something.)

Suffice to say that I met a lot of great friends (including the lion's share of my blogroll) through this activity. It's a group of bright, talented men and women (but mostly men, as it turns out) who can usually turn conversation topics on a time, from pro wrestling to postmodern literature, from Lenin to Led Zeppelin, from Bernini to Bohr, and you can always learn something.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Faith

Like most Red Sox fans, I'm a pessimist by nature, and not without reason. Time and time again they've let me and the rest of Red Sox Nation down, often in the most improbable and painful fashion. Most of you, dear readers, know the litany - I am not here to repeat it. A remarkable string of letdowns it is indeed.

Trying to brace myself for what I've heretofore seen as an inevitable letdown has never worked.

This team's never-say-die performance in August and September has persuaded me to cast off the pessimism. So many moments in the last few months have made me a believer again. Jason Varitek stood up for his pitcher when Alex Rodriguez tried to intimidate Bronson Arroyo after an errant pitch struck A-Rod. Trot Nixon came back late in the season and thrived. Arroyo was great down the stretch, and Tim Wakefield turned a late-season slump in the final weeks. Pedro is struggling, but he's still Pedro. And Schilling almost makes me feel the way Pedro used to make me feel when he pitched. Instead of wilting on the customary late season trip to the West, they tore through that division, not only dealing Oakland a blow from which they never recovered, but taking down hot Anaheim and Texas squads as well. I've seen more walk off hits happen at Fenway this year - specifically, in the second half - than I can ever recall before. They can hit, they can catch, they can throw, they can run, they can start, they can finish.

Though they may not need to do so, they are more than capable of beating the Yankees. Pedro may have said the Yankees were his "daddy" (actually, this year, Baltimore has been his daddy) but I wouldn't put money on him being any worse than whatever the Yankees throw up against him. The Yankee hitters specialize in killing lefties, but the Red Sox won't put lefties out there. Apart from Mariano Rivera, whom the Red Sox have proven they can get to at times, Torre's pen is weak and he knows it. The Yankees have offense, but the Sox have more offense.

Though I respect their bullpen, no one in the Angel rotation scares me. Among their hitters, I fear only Vlad Guerrero. The Angels' baserunning is intimidating, but their power and their batting eyes aren't. They're pretty good - don't get me wrong - but I think the Sox are better.

I'm in awe of Johan Santana. But he and Joe Nathan aren't going to be enough in a seven-game series after they've been battling the Yankees. Their bats don't really frighten me, and the ones that should cause the most concern are largely unseasoned. Nor does, at least in a seven-game series, the Metrodome, scare me, however hideous it may look from inside and out. The Twins are good, but I think the Sox are better.

The National League? Some good teams there, to be sure, but I don't know if any of them have what it takes to go into Fenway Park and get out alive. Not even the admittedly powerful Cardinals offense is as relentless up and down the order as the Boston attack. Houston's got the best one-two pitching punch of the lot, but I think Boston's is just as good. I'm unimpressed by the Dodgers, but the other three teams (Braves, Cards, 'Stros) all have a lot going for them. I think the Red Sox have more going for them.

There are some who say that Bambino's Ghost walks the earth and makes sure that the team that cast him away (and, by extension, their fans) shall forever suffer. If that's the case, I think that it's high time the Babe went to a higher plane and gave himself a well-deserved rest. And force Fox to use a little more creativity the next time they put together an opening montage for a Sox-Yanks game. And irritate the hell out of Dan Shaughnessy and everyone else in Boston who thrives on negative vibes.

If the perennial sad-sack Patriots can bring a ticker tape parade to the streets of the Boston, so can the storied and capable Red Sox. Let's get it done.

As for me, pessimism has never worked. Perhaps faith will.

Play Ball!

The regular season is over, and the matchups are set.

Here's how I see it breaking down for the first round:

American League
New York Yankees (101-61) vs. Minnesota Twins (92-70)
Season Series: NYY (4-2)
The Twins had clinched a spot in the playoffs a while ago, but couldn't secure themselves home field in the first round, and have the unenviable task of facing the Yankees. But they do have some important weapons at their disposal, most prominently the pitching of probable Cy Young winner Johan Santana, who comes into the playoffs on a blazing hot streak, shutting down the offenses of all comers - including the Yankees last week, and impressive wins against the potent Boston and Cleveland attacks.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, if there's any team that could get to Santana, it's the Yankees, who have several lefty-mashers in tow - Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams all hit lefties very well. The Twins offense is by far the weakest of the four AL playoff teams, and they owe their record in large part to having the softest schedule in the majors.
The Twins have a superior first two starters in Santana and Brad Radke, and a stronger bullpen, traditionally a Yankee strength, so they have a chance to pull off the upset in a five-game series. Joe Nathan has been essentially the equal of Mariano Rivera, and while Tom Gordon has been the only reliable set up man for Joe Torre, Ron Gardenhire has had success with Juan Rincon an Grant Balfour as of late. The Twins, as always, bring good defense to the table. They've got a nearly 50/50 chance of spoiling all the "Curse of the Bambino" montages depicting the eight decades of the storied Yankee-Red Sox rivalry that Fox is feverishly preparing as we speak.
But between the postseason experience, the deeper (if less spectacular) starting corps and the vastly more powerful offense of the Yankees, they should have more than enough weaponry to get past the Twins. The Twins are a better team than last year's edition that lost in four to the Yankees in the ALDS, but I still don't think they have quite enough to take out the Bronx Bombers. But it's going to be a dogfight.
Yankees in 5.

Anaheim Angels (92-70) vs. Boston Red Sox (98-64)
Season Series: BOS (5-4)
The good news for Anaheim is that they survived multiple stings from the injury bug and the annual Oakland August surge to get into the playoffs, and get home field advantage. The bad news is that they draw the Red Sox in a five-game series, a team that looks built to win a short series. The Angels have a respectable rotation but no starter that equals Curt Schilling, and don't have the bats to match the Red Sox attack.
Anaheim does have, with Barry Bonds out of the postseason picture, the most fearsome hitter in any surviving lineup in Vlad Guerrero, who after toiling in relative obscurity in Montreal, at last gets to grace the October stage. And anyone facing the Angels in a short series has to be concerned about the depth and quality of their reliever corps, especially if the Angel starters can keep the games close into the later innings, something they emphatically couldn't do the last time these teams faced off. Also, if the Angels can get runners on base, especially their faster baserunners (David Eckstein, Chone Figgins, Darrin Erstad) they can manufacture runs since the Sox are generally easy to steal and run on; the Angels led the majors in steals with 143. However, that's a big if, since Angel batters walk less than most of the league despite a league-high .283 average.
Boston counters with a strong group of starters (Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and two guys who finished strong, Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield) and an top-to-bottom offense no playoff team (or non-playoff team) can match. Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon, and company should strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers, and their versatile bench can provide speed and defense instead of clout if those attributes are what the situation calls for. That offense should be enough to power them into the ALCS and, should the Yankees similarly prevail in their opening round matchup, set up a sequel to last year's epic confrontation.
Pedro comes in struggling, Nixon may still be gimpy, and everyone's probably underestimating the Halos. But the Sox are still favored, and they deserve to be.
Red Sox in 4.

National League
St. Louis Cardinals (105-57) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (93-69)
Season Series: STL (4-2)
St. Louis is rested and ready for the playoffs, as the Dodgers had to work much harder to get in. Not that the Cards are terribly dependent on any one pitcher, as their calling card is a powerful offense led by Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, and Jim Edmonds. Tony LaRussa is known for having deep and capable bullpens, and this year is no exception, with Isringhausen, King, Tavarez, and Kline.
The Dodgers have Eric Gagne as a fearsome weapon for the 9th, and capable set-up guys Carrara and Brazoban. And their offense is not without some firepower; consider the breakout season of Adrian Beltre and the two strong months Steve Finley delivered down the stretch, not to mention Shawn Green and headcase Milton Bradley. Can Jeff Weaver be hot instead of cold? Can Jose Lima keep his latest remarkable resurrection going? How good of an ace can Odalis Perez be with only seven wins? The Dodgers have more questions than answers going into the playoffs, and that's never good if you're facing a 105-win team.
The Cards, despite their impressive regular season record, are vulnerable to being taken out in a short series, especially without rotation anchor Chris Carpenter for this round, and questions about Scott Rolen's health. But I don't think that upset happens here.
Cardinals in 4.

Atlanta Braves (96-66) vs. Houston Astros (92-70)
Season Series: Even (3-3)
The Braves are back; yet again, they got the last laugh as observers wrote them off. Like the Red Sox, the Astros played the role of highly-touted underachievers (44-44 when Jimy Williams was fired) for the first half of the season, only to come on strong down the stretch, leapfrogging ahead of the Giants, Padres, Cubs, and Marlins to grab the NL Wild Card.
In past years, teams would worry about Atlanta's starters mowing them down, but this year it's the Astros holding the pair of aces, with Roy Oswalt and a re-rejuvenated Roger Clemens. Nonetheless, a rejuvenated Jaret Wright, rescued-from-Planet-Coors John Thomson and Mike Hampton, and Russ Ortiz have all been solid contributors. Juan Cruz and Antonio Alfonseca capably back up closer John Smoltz. Little of it is flashy, but it's worked like a charm, and like clockwork, Bobby Cox is back in the playoffs. And all of those pitchers are preferrable to Brandon Backe and Carlos Hernandez, who figure to fill out the Houston rotation with Andy Pettite and Wade Miller sidelined for the season. Can they keep things close against the Joneses Andruw and Chipper so that Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, and Jeff Kent can de the difference makers?
The 'Stros, in their 42 year history, have never won a post-season series (in seven tries) at any level. But the same could be said about the 2002 Angels before they went all the way. Roger Clemens' history in big games isn't promising, but this may be a year where all the old rules are broken. I'm going with the hot team here.
Astros in 5.

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