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Johnnie B. Baker, just as motormouth Tim McCarver was "explaining" that Tony La Russa "might not be more likely to put on a squeeze, but more likely than Dusty" -- huh? -- had Ramon Martinez do exactly that in the ninth inning of Game Two for a back-breaking insurance run. With lead-footed J.T. Snow on third, even a "safety" squeeze was "suicide;" but Martinez and Baker surprised McCarver, La Russa and the reeling Cardinals with a perfectly executed bunt they should have seen coming.

Considering that closer Robb Nen was on deck, and Snow's leadoff triple could otherwise have been wasted, it was a great call. So is starting Russ Ortiz in Game Three, setting him up for an unlikely Game Seven or the Series opener, and bumping Livan Hernandez and his baffling changes of speed to the twilight game the following day.

If they had come to blows the night before, Dusty would have laid a good whupping on the lawyer. It may be oversimplifying (and I'm certainly slighting Jason Schmidt) to say the managers are deciding this NLCS, but Baker has boosted his free agency campaign for a big raise and/or a new job, while La Russa's impact has been nil. It takes guts to pull a SS who has homered twice in a double-switch, but Dusty is no coward, and the eyebrow-raising move turned out just fine for the Giants.

Is there a hope that McCarver, who also worked two awkward football analogies into his "analysis" and never says in one sentence what he can say in ten, would be embarrassed enough to shut up for a moment? Nope.

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Put those Red Sox rumours to rest, and jump for joy. My latest column on ESPN implies (more politely) that Boston CEO Larry Lucchino's incessant meddling in personnel matters was largely reponsible for Ricciardi's decision to withdraw interest in his self-described "dream job" and stay in Toronto. His choice was made easier by the fact that his position players are very young, very talented and (with one notable exception) very reasonably paid compared to the slow, aging, high-priced BoSox. Paul Godfrey, his boss with the Jays, won't interfere with his GM's plan, at least until it includes asking for cash to sign a free agent for the 2004 pennant drive. Godfrey knows he'll be lauded for signing J.P., and this five-year deal (specifically, its lack of an escape clause) illustrates, finally, that the commitment is mutual.
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I'm eagerly awaiting details of J.P. Ricciardi's rumoured contract extension. If the GM retains his "out clause" with six month's notice, what difference does it make if he has two years, five, or seven, remaining on his deal? Unless he surrendered the right to pursue a better situation, it's all optics, something Paul Godfrey is quite familiar with, and J.P. is learning fast. In other words, it's more important to give Toronto fans the impression Ricciardi will turn down the Red Sox job (if offered) to honour his commitment than it is to actually finish what he has so brilliantly started.

I'm a huge fan of J.P., comparing him way back in March to Pat Gillick as a "superscout" who could restore the franchise to its glory years. In fact, Ricciardi is as good as St. Pat used to be -- the 2002 model of Gillick, approaching retirement, isn't as tuned in to the talent of other organizations' low-level prospects as he once was, and J.P. would never have added the washed-up, expensive James Baldwin to a contender's pitching staff. However, there's a huge difference in personality between the GMs: Ricciardi seems more impatient, more autocratic, and less adept at "generally managing" the perceptions of the fans and the media. I'm not saying I don't trust his judgement on player personnel matters, but I'm suspicious of his public statements.
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Some will say the Twins, having avoided contraction, are the AL "team of destiny," but I don't think they're good enough to stop Mike Scioscia's bunch.

In the NL, it's impossible to root against St. Louis on their "win it for D.K." mission.

You know the powers that be are disappointed; without the Yankees, ratings will be down, and interest will be perceived as regional. And the defending champs, though irresponsible with their budget, at least had star pitchers everyone knows.
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(transferred; Posted Oct. 7)

It's not a good time to be a Southern Ontario baseball fan. Spoiled by the excellence of Dan Shulman's play-by-play and Buck Martinez' analysis, we now have to endure the ignorance and incompetence of three different networks, unable or unwilling to find talented broadcast crews. All I can say about Rob Faulds (Sportsnet) and Rod Black (TSN) is they make Brian Williams (CBC) sound knowledgeable. Williams, best suited for roles like studio host during the Olympics, has at least asked some intelligent questions this year, but unfortunately they were evaded by fence-sitting, bland "colour" man John Cerutti. The least flaky left-hander in history, Cerutti is so dull, he makes "aw, shucks" good ol' boy Pat Tabler seem like interesting company. Neither analyst has been able to educate his partner on the nuances of the game; Black and Faulds consistenly get all excited on foul fly balls and shallow popups, and are the last in the building to realize when something imprtant is happening.
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I was going to call this "Al Newman & Squandered Opportunities" but decided on a less obscure title. I know the Twins won Game Five anyway, but when their third base coach, shaped like his Seinfeld namesake (hello, NEWman) didn't allow his best athlete to score from second on a two-out single, it could have been the ball game.

If you prevent the other team from taking advantage of all their opportunities to score, and if you make the most of your chances, you will win more games. The smaller the sample, the more vague that statement. In one inning, you can survive a mistake, maybe two. Over an entire game, the law of averages can still be skewed. Even a five game series proves less about the relative merits of two teams than a seven game set; I would prefer the World Series to be a best of nine over nine straight days on a neutral site, but I digress.
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How about Livan Hernandez last night? The big fella isn't always motivated during the regular season, which makes him frustrating to fantasy owners, but he's never lost a postseason game, and with the Giants facing elimination, the former NLCS and World Series MVP showed his best stuff. But it was a fielding play that mattered more than any of his pitches, and sent his team to tonight's deciding game.

When a harmless infield popup fell in for a "hit" (see my next post about "team errors") and the next batter bounced one up the middle that deflected off Jeff Kent's glove, the emotional Cuban was visibly upset. So on the next ball in play, a grounder to the right side, neatly fielded by J.T. Snow and fired to second, where was Livan? Hauling ass (for him it takes two trips) over to first in time to make an athletic catch-and-step at full speed (insert your own clever remark) and complete a brilliant, critical 3-6-1 double play. I want to play the video for my high school pitchers next spring; it was a great example of putting the team, and your responsibilities, ahead of personal frustration.
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The dust has settled. Nobody's going to miss the Yankees and D-backs more than Fox, whose TV ratings will suffer. The rest of us will enjoy seeing new and exciting teams in the World Series for a change. I'm on record as the biggest detractor of Arizona management's irresponsibility, and predict not only a competitive slide, but bankruptcy in Phoenix by 2004. It's harder to assess Mr. Steinbrenner's empire.

They are stuck with another year of Raul Mondesi showing off his RF cannon in between whiffing on curves in the dirt and getting thrown out at third or home. They can't intend to keep all three of El Duque, Rocket and Boomer; it's not just a waste of money, these guys are well past their "best before" dates. Unless football hero Drew Henson suddenly develops pitch recognition skills and patience, the same applies to 3B, where the fine career of Robin Ventura, never a speedster, is slowing to a crawl.
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The fifth inning of the Angels-Yanks game was a season unto itself. First you had umpire Joe West making a gutsy and correct call as Troy Glaus' throw pulled Scott Spezio off the bag. West's counterpart Mike Winters had blown the easiest of calls at the plate on what would have been the 12th run of the Twins' romp, failing to notice Dustan Mohr's great slide, so it was good to see an ump with post-season chops.

Young Mr. Soriano, as undeserving as Miguel Tejada of MVP buzz, delivered a clutch double, advancing Rivera (aboard on the Glaus error) to third. Derek Jeter, whose reputation was made in such spots, delivered a sac fly RBI but a superb running catch by GA saved the Angels another run, and an out. The determined Washburn, with 1B open, pitched to and got Giambi, then overwhelmed Bernie, so you almost knew what was coming. My boy Woot made the Yankee lead moot with a leadoff HR, my $1.00 9th-round hitter Benji Gil got on, the little pest Ecks-ecuted a perfect hit-and-run, and Darrin Erstad, looking pressure in the eye, delivered the go-ahead run, with Soriano lost on the shallow flare. Then the Kingfish ripped Boomer for an RBI, and the crowd, like the Angels, smelled blood. Wooten and Gil added their second hits of the inning before the rout was over, and Anaheim, winners of their first playoff series -- ever -- can scout the A's Twins rubber match with confidence.

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That's not what an MVP does! Oakland SS Miguel Tejada made a horrible throw in the fourth inning, allowing the Minnesota Twins to take control of Game Four and get back into the AL Division Series.

Unlike the Angels' quiet, efficient leader Garret Anderson, who contributes with textbook play in LF and brilliant baserunning, in addition to his timely hitting, Tejada is a talented athlete who frequently plays out of control. The same goes for MVP "candidate" Alfonso Soriano; occasional brilliance merely balances all the mental and physical errors. A real MVP shows up every day and maintains a consistent level of excellence, like A-Rod.

Miguel's panicky toss over the head of Eric Chavez into the dugout gave the Twins their first lead, and as so often happens, opened the floodgates. A Tim Hudson wild pitch let another run score, then Scott Hatteberg's brutal throw to the plate turned what had been a 2-2 nailbiter into a 5-2 rout, and Hudson didn't survive the inning.

Warning to Oakland: when you open the door to a "team of destiny" through sloppy play, you deserve whatever happens.

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A great day for baseball; the irresponsible, overspending Diamondbacks face extinction, and the over-exposed Yankees have their backs to the wall. I am hoping for the same World Series matchup as I imagine the Pope is -- Angels vs. Cardinals.

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My trusted dugout advisor was generous enough to lend us space on his store's Web server (thanks, Billy) so this site can use the Greymatter engine. It's interactive -- anyone can post comments -- and we expect stimulating discussions. Play nice, people. To register as an Author and post your own articles, e-mail me. It is my pleasure to publish "pinch-hitters" in the Batter's Box; you'll enjoy Jordan Furlong's excellent 2002 Jays analysis.