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(transferred; posted Oct. 23)

I didn't have much to say after Game Two, because the World Serious was all even going to the NL park, and the 11-10 game was hardly the kind of decisive performance we have come to expect from Anaheim. I felt, as many Angels probably did, that they were fortunate to have pulled out one win.

Last night, Tim McCarver promised us that with no DH, the cool weather and the park effect, it was all going to be different; a National League game. He forgot to inform the Angels. In the second inning, trailing 1-0 on a tainted run -- Lofton looked out at first on two great Molina pickoff attempts, but he was out at second; ump Mike Reilly blew an easy call -- a clutch two-out Scott Spezio walk gave Adam Kennedy another chance to play hero. His double, on which Mr. Bonds didn't look very nimble, would have tied the score had it not taken a San Fran bounce into the stands. The "logical" intentional pass to 8-hitter Molina was followed by a feeble Ramon Ortiz whiff, so the Giants escaped trouble. Temporarily.
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(transferred; posted Oct. 20)

This is where I'm supposed to eat a morsel or two of humble pie. My admiration for Jason Schmidt has grown. I love him in fantasy ball; got him on waivers in the second half of 2001 and traded for him this year, just in time for the 13-K blowout of the Yankees. But I wasn't sure he could blow that ol' speedball by the Angels on his most glorious day, and I questioned his poise. Wrong, Coach. Both counts.

Barry Bonds singlehandedly changed my mind about interleague play this year. The show he put on in the game (fans booed the home team for trying to win; does this happen only in Toronto?) included a ninth-inning, opposite-field rope off a high Cliff Politte heater. (Halladay repaid Barry for the two intentional walks a couple of weeks later in Milwaukee.) I got more than my money's worth that night watching Bonds take batting practice, an awesome display by an almost superhuman talent. An interleague game, I am sorry to admit, now ranks among my most memorable "moments" in four decades of baseball. It does not surprise me that Barry, a vastly superior hitter these last two years, has already given the Series a defining moment. J.T. Snow shocked the hell out of me; he is in quite a groove.
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(transferred; posted Oct. 19)

You know me, Al.

I like baseball stats as points of reference, or conversation starters, but I do not revere them enough to be considered an acolyte in the Church of Beane. I prefer to think my pedigree goes back to Casey, through Whitey. My team wouldn't try to outslug an Earl Weaver team, or play little ball against Billy Martin. We would adapt our game to the opponent, to each situation, each at-bat, each pitch.

This team would hack away sometimes, but be patient when it counted. Guys would step up with spectacular catches and timely hits, winning most of the critical duels. This team would have a common goal with no individual agendas. Call them the Anaheim Angels.

It's obvious to me; the big, mean Giants wear black hats and the Disney team wears white. No further analysis should be necessary, but why stop here?
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I don't mean Carlos Delgado, but the Toronto Star, which must have a hidden agenda to keep so many writers busy spreading misinformation and unwarranted criticism of the Blue Jays. The chief curmudgeons have been columnists Richard Griffin and Dave Perkins, but Geoff Baker's fact average normally hovers near the Mendoza line, and he cribbed his recent Keith Law essay from the New Yorker like a high schooler facing a deadline. Today it's Allan Ryan, whose "by the numbers" pieces are usually recycled from Jayson Stark's work on ESPN, telling us about catastrophic financial losses suffered by the team.

I got as far as the second paragraph, in which Rogers Communications is described as a "minority" owner -- wishful thinking? -- before choking on my breakfast. (Though not all his shareholders are pleased, Ted owns 80%.) Ryan, supposedly a journalist, accepts the MLB party line (teams are all on the brink of collapse because of those greedy players) and reports it as news. I suppose he buys cars from Bud Selig and art from Jeffrey Loria, because they're so trustworthy.
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It's too bad about Griff. He used to be a funny guy. Dennis Martinez once strained his shoulder carrying his suitcase through a lobby; Richard (then Expos' PR wit) told the media it was "Samsonitis." Here's the link to his column about LaRussa, who has now lost more playoff series than he's won, and was embarrassed by Dusty Baker.

Re "the loud, but underachieving centrefielder" -- many GMs and most sabermetricians failed Baseball Chemistry 101. The often-bickering Giants may have won because they are less dysfunctional than the Cards, but that's not only Edmonds' fault; Vina's been a saboteur with his feet and his glove, and is a bit of a jerk. I think St. Loo honoured #57 sufficiently by getting this far. They're a #2 starter and a slugging 1B away from winning it all, and maybe it's time for a less "cerebral" manager. Tony's massive brain is getting tired. How does a PH on the bench feel watching Morris hit in the ninth? He'd be saying "c'mon, Matty" while contemplating managericide. What's that? No pinch-hitters because TLR carries three catchers and umpteen pitchers? Oh. Never mind...
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I see in today's Toronto Star where Richard Griffin, than whom, many are more constructive in respect of the local team, nevertheless finds LaRussa's "moves" refreshing. Griffin must have some strange places in need of refreshment if the Card's manager's wussy elixir will trickle down there. Leaving a tanked Morris in the game, not only to pitch, but to hit for himself in a tie game! And pitching to Bonds! Jeez, if you're gonna put him on, at least hit him in the ass. Excuse me. Do you suppose Pinella would consider a stop-off on the way back to Jersey? And what do you suppose he could get for the loud, but underachieving centrefielder?

(transferred; posted Oct. 15)
(transferred; posted Oct. 14)

Adam Kennedy was named MVP for his spectacular 3-homer game in the ALCS clincher, but the contribution of Troy Glaus was enormous throughout both series. David Eckstein was the catalyst all year, making anyone's playoff heroics possible, and Scott Spezio, emerging as a Gold Glove candidate who can hit, was the biggest surprise of the Angels' miraculous season.

All four members of the AL (soon to be World) Champions' infield are not household names, in part because of the time zone bias, in part because of the team's history of mediocrity. But they have matured at the same time, and like every member of Mike Scioscia's squad, have no interest in individual stats or honours. Unlike the more spectacular, headline-producing Miguel Tejada or Alfonso Soriano, both of whom are prone to making costly mistakes at the most critical moments, the Anaheim quartet play steady, reliable, winning baseball, and take turns providing heroics.
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(transferred; posted Oct. 11)

Last year, the cheering in Phoenix hadn't subsided when BeelzeBud sadly informed us that contraction was a necessity, primarily so one of his chief puppeteers could get handed a large sum of cash. Now, in the midst of an exciting playoff campaign that points out the gaping holes in the owners' "competitive balance" rhetoric, Selig isn't celebrating great baseball, he's whining that "Poor Carl Pohlad," an oxymoron with or without the "oxy," can't afford to keep his wonderful young team together. (Well, maybe, if those selfish Minnesotans would spring for a new stadium.) Everybody -- "awwwwwww."

Here's a news flash: NO team can "afford" to stand pat. When you're astute enough, and fortunate enough, to trade Chuck Knoblauch for Eric Milton and Christian Guzman, you "win" that deal from both the talent perspective and in terms of cost management. But once Milton and/or Guzman become too good, meaning too expensive, it's time to fleece the Yankees (or some other wealthy team) again, trading them for the right youngsters to invigorate your lineup and keep it affordable. If your organization produces a wealth of stars, you eventually have to choose which ones to deal -- again, to stay within a reasonable budget, but also to make room for the next generation from the fertile farm.
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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.

(transferred; posted Oct. 11)
(transferred; posted Oct. 9)

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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(transferred; posted Oct. 7)

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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(transferred; posted Oct. 7)

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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(transferred; posted Oct. 7)

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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(transferred; posted Oct. 7)

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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