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Kudos to the New Haven Ravens, who knocked off the New Britain Rock Cats 2-1 in the deciding match of their five-game series last night to advance to the Eastern League Championship Series. The Ravens did something their parent Blue Jays don't do very often -- beat Eric Milton. The rehabbing lefty threw four solid innings, but gave up a mammoth home run to recycled Jays prospect Anthony Sanders and an RBI double to Shawn Fagan, giving the Ravens a lead they never relinquished. Sanders' homer, only the fourth to ever clear the centrefield wall at Yale Field, travelled an estimated 500 feet. Chris Baker, of all people, threw 7 shutout innings for the victory, while Adam Peterson issued a hit, two walks and a wild pitch, but escaped a jam in the 9th inning to preserve the win.
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For a meaningless September series between our third-place Fighting Jays and the toothless Tigers, this has been a dandy. Compared to Roy Halladay's genius yesterday, and Bobby Kielty's exciting pinch-hit game-winner, today's finale is sure to be a dog, complete with a chorus of baying hounds. Looking after my hyperactive mini-Schnauzer would make it impossible for me to enjoy the game, so we're staying home to watch on TV. Some of the players' pooches, including Chris Woodward's Sarah, will be there. Reed Johnson told me he'd bring his pal Shooter into the dugout every day, if it was allowed.

On the field, Josh Towers can stake his claim on a 2004 job with a good performance. He was terrific against the Mariners on August 20, scattering six hits and allowing just two runs (one earned) in a complete game victory, to improve to 2-1, 3.98 as a starter. Just four days later, asked to work out of the bullpen and understandably disappointed, he had a nightmare inning against the A's, but in two subsequent relief appearances, notched a win and a save in 6.1 solid frames of work. Considering Mark Hendrickson's recent struggles, Towers could move up to #4 for the rest of September, but even as #5, he should get two or three more opportunities this season.
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Great headline; wish I could take credit for it. John Lott's excellent feature on Aquilino Lopez is a must read.

"He's shy, but he's a bright kid," (J.P.) Ricciardi says, perhaps momentarily forgetting Lopez is no longer that 22-year-old the Mariners thought they had. "He can explain the pitching process. After he struck out Bret Boone [to end a game in Seattle], he told me he knew everybody in their dugout had told [Boone] to expect a slider. So he threw him a fastball."

Thanks to the BB reader who alerted me. I often miss Lott's work, because I rarely read that paper, but I will be visiting TruNorth Baseball more often. It's a great resource, with links to many interesting articles we may have overlooked here. There's even a mention of our "fascinating and wide-ranging" J.P. Ricciardi interview, and you can get lost in the archives. Check it out.
In his Notes at MLB.com, Spencer Fordin talks about Carlos Tosca's suspension (say it, don't spray it) and Mike Maroth's losses (thank goodness Brian Kingman's 15 minutes is up) but also lists the Howard Webster Award winners:

Syracuse - Simon Pond
New Haven - Alexis Rios
Dunedin - Jesse Harper
Charleston - Rodney Medina
Auburn - Vito Chiaravalloti
Pulaski - Robinzon Diaz
Pringamosa - Edward Rodriguez

Congratulations to all, especially B.C.'s own Simon Pond, a minor league free agent signing who has thrived in the Jays system. Elsewhere in the playoffs, Russ Adams (4-for-6, two doubles, a triple, three runs), Anthony Sanders (three doubles) and Dominic Rich (two doubles, two walks) supported David Bush's terrific start (a 3-hitter, 2 BB, 2 HBP in 7 IP) for the Ravens. Auburn lost 3-2 to Williamsport, as Shaun Marcum surrendered the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. It rained -- a lot -- in Florida.

There's lots of other baseball news, but no time to share it with you; it's a work day for me and there's a persistent little dog demanding to be walked. Talk about whatever's on your mind.

The methodical, consistent Roy Halladay will treat this like every other game, and as always, has an excellent chance to win. Maybe better than usual; Doc is 7-1 with a 2.05 ERA in his career against the Tigers, who he beat fairly easily on July 2 in Detroit, and was superb in his latest, fanning 10 Yankees in a 4-hit complete game. He seems oblivious to his Cy Young candidacy, which would be enhanced by winning 20 games and striking out 200 batters.

Though Doc's leading the majors in most of the "workhorse" stats -- innings pitched, batters faced -- he has been remarkably efficient, requiring fewer pitches per plate appearance (and per inning) than any AL starter. His 6.14 K/BB ratio is by far the league's best, and second in all of baseball to his mentor Curt Schilling.
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This article was originally published Sept. 5, 2003 -- in advance of publication of the series recapping the interview(s) with Griffin and Baker. It was revised and republished as an archive for the series after all 10 parts had been published. Contact the author.

Richard Griffin. Geoff Baker. These are names nearly as familiar to Toronto baseball fans as those of Tony Fernandez and Joe Carter -- the specific comparisons will become evident later.

The work of these erstwhile Toronto Star regulars has been the subject of debate -- and let's be honest, sometimes derision -- here on Da Box. In reality, these are just a couple of Concordia guys who made it to the Star by way of Montreal. They both would pay to see Barry Bonds and Ichiro -- and if you think they’re just "paid to watch baseball," you need to think again.

In the Fall of 2003, we visited in-depth with Griffin and Baker, as they stepped resolutely into Da Box to face Coach and the ZLC. Who played the role of Carter, and who was Mitch Williams? Or does the fact that we all share an understanding of just what that question means prove that it doesn't matter?

Here's what we learned in the course of a spirited 10-part series:
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Steve Simmons of the Sun talks to another great Toronto righty about Roy Halladay:

"I'd get mad if I had a bad season or a bad game," Stieb said. "That's the way I was. I took everything personally. I don't know if I could have gone through what he went through. And now look at him. He's so in control. He's absolutely commanding."

Dave knows what it's like to have awesome stuff with limited support. He figures he missed out on three 20-win seasons and a Cy Young or two because of shoddy relief, so he's sympathetic to the plight of the current ace.

"Look at that bullpen. He's on his own and inside he knows it. He's not going to get any help. So you push yourself, and you push a little harder. You don't want to rely on anyone else. You can't."

Being a one-man team is a lonely job.
With a voodoo doll on his side, Mike Maroth hopes to avoid making history tonight as the first pitcher in 23 years to lose 20 games in a season. It seems inevitable, as the hard-luck lefty should make at least four more starts this year, all against tough opposition. He's a much better pitcher than his 6-19 record suggests, and did beat the Jays here June 30, allowing just two runs in seven innings. A semi-regular reader of this space actually predicted a 20-loss campaign for Maroth back in spring training. Nice call.

Carlos Tosca loads up on righty bats, with Reed Johnson and Mike Bordick at the top of the order, and Dave Berg filling in at second base. Kevin Cash will catch Mark Hendrickson. The big fella was abandoned by his listless mates in a 5-0 whitewash at Comerica on Canada Day. His 4-5, 7.29 home split isn't pretty, and his last two starts haven't been great, but Lurch did spin seven strong innings August 21 at the Dome against Seattle. This is a game he is supposed to win, and he's still trying to establish his role for next year. Mark's only slightly ahead of Josh Towers, who has been named Sunday's starter, allowing Escobar to face the Yankees Monday on normal rest.

The Jays' opponent this weekend is riding high, having won three in a row.

Break up the Tigers!

Overall, of course, it's a sorry outfit that makes the trip up Hwy. 401, and the Jays hope to deal Mike Maroth his twentieth loss tonight. The Tigers have underwhelming pitching, mistake-prone baserunning and defence, and good hitting by players named Young -- but utterly wretched production at the plate from the Detroit "hitters" who actually are young. You wouldn't expect a team with a 37-102 record to do a lot of things well. Accordingly, the Tigers don't.

Things to watch for this weekend include a starting pitcher from Ottawa on Sunday; a utility infielder from Leamington, who can hopefully shake off an injury in time to get some game action at the Dome; and the answer to this question: How much fun can Roy Halladay have with this opposition lineup on Saturday?

On to the Advance Scout!

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We rarely give Carlos Tosca credit around here for using his bullpen perfectly, but my hat's off to the skip for last night. Stayed with the hot hand and knew when to play his ace. Quite a contrast to me pushing all the wrong buttons on my fantasy roster.

I had one of those Grady Little 'visions' about Nate Robertson, so I decided to get rid of him. Suddenly, another hunch whispered that the Expos were due; maybe Tucker could steal a 4-K, 1-walk W for me against Millwood. Yeah, right. It looked like a brilliant plan after one inning, you have to admit.

My bullpen management was just as bad; worried about getting burned by Jamie Walker in a foolish attempt to earn a save, I cut him on the day he gets a win. Giving Jennings a start on the road was an idiotic decision; I'm so mad at myself, I released him. That 9.00/2.00/1.00 line squandered much of the lead Curt Schilling gave me in those categories. It could have been worse, but Brian Lawrence saved the day.
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This is just a PSA to let all the Bauxites know that Baseball Prospectus will be having one of their increasingly famous Pizza Feeds in Toronto on September 27.

Details are available on the BP Pizza page.
MLB has opened the polls for voting on the 2003 Hank Aaron Awards, which goes to the top offensive player in each league. Carlos Delgado won this award in 2000, and I think he has a good shot at it this year... my votes have gone to Delgado and to Barry Bonds. Incidentally, Vernon Wells is also among the six nominees for the AL award.

The voting booth is at the MLB website. If you don't want to receive spam from MLB (I like MLB's e-mail; not everyone does) then remember to untick the boxes.

This has been an excellent series. Doc tossed a masterpiece, Kelvim battled, the bullpen came through and there have been plenty of timely hits, especially from Box favourite Josh Phelps. The team has climbed back to .500, with a chance to clinch their season series with the AL's finest.

Tonight's starters underline the difference in philosophy between the Yankees and the Jays. Jose Contreras, all tools and reputation, hasn't produced anything near $8 million in results. Cory Lidle, "rented" for $5 million as a one-year stopgap, has also disappointed, but Toronto isn't on the hook for three more years and another $24 million.

The Cuban righty, who has battled inconsistency and shoulder woes, made five relief appearances against the Jays earlier this year, allowing six earned runs in nine innings, walking six and striking out twelve. He was brilliant against the Orioles in his first start off the DL, only to be rocked by the Red Sox in his latest for seven runs in three innings.
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Down on the farm, the Ravens and D-Jays are into their post-season tourneys. New Haven defeated New Britain 3-1 in their opening playoff game, as my man Dave Gassner did his best Jackie Chan impression, dodging bullets all night long (5 hits and 4 walks in 4 innings) but emerging unscathed (no runs, 3 Ks). Alexis Rios' 2-run homer in the first gave the Ravens all the runs they'd need, though the red-hot Tyrell Godwin chipped in with a double, two singles, a run scored and the team's third RBI. The win went to Gustavo Chachin, the Tanyon Sturtze of the Ravens' bullpen, while the one-two relief punch of Jordan DeJong and Adam Peterson closed with 2 1/3 scoreless frames. Catcher Guillermo Quiroz is recovering rapidly from his collapsed lung, so much so that he could play Saturday if he gets medical clearance. To say the least, that's impressive.
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Let's hope Kelvim Escobar can reverse his unfortunate trend of pitching worse at SkyDome than anywhere else, and rise to the occasion. He was very good at home against the potent Rangers August 9, so it's not impossible. On the other hand, Kelvim is a very shaky 1-1 with an ERA of 11.88 vs. the Yankees this year. Maybe the new J-bird will inspire him.

Reed Johnson gets a night off; leadoff man Frank Catalanotto is 429/459/743 with two HRs and five doubles in 35 AB off Mike Mussina, a Jays nemesis for years. Kevin Cash also sits; Greg Myers is behind the plate. That means Josh Phelps is the DH against a tough righthander. Good call. Mike Bordick is at SS, batting second.