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"Lou is not talking about mechanics when he goes out to the mound,"
~Chicago Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild

Friday, September 30, 2005

Big Night In Baseball

The MLB playoff race is red-hot. Tonight, the White Sox took on the Indians, the Red Sox hosted the Yankees, the Astros had the Cubs in town and the Phillies tried to take one from Washington. The White Sox needed the win to maintain the best record in the American League for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (including the World Series, since the AL won the All-Star Game). The Indians needed the win to stay tied for the Wild Card lead. The Red Sox were a game back of the Yankees in the AL East when the day started. The Astros were two up with three to go over the Phillies.

Well, the White Sox won 3-2 on a 13th inning two run double by first baseman Ross Gload (playing in his 26th game this year) after an intentional walk to pitch hitter Paul Konerko. Konerko and Scott Podsednik scored on the center field double. Ronnie Belliard crushed a 1-2 pitch into the centerfield bleachers in the bottom half to make it close. But, the Indians are now on the outside looking in, a game out of the playoffs with two games to go

Ozzie Guillen started only two starters (Podsednik and Joe Crede) but still came away with the win. He got the last laugh, because a lot of sportswriters were bashing him for saying yesterday he owed it to the Yankees and Red Sox to play these last three games the right way, and then tonight starting all the bench players. It helped to have Orlando Hernandez come out of the bullpen to pitch a 1-2-3 seventh, including two strikeouts. Probably means he's not in the playoff rotation. He's been shaky as a starter (9-9, 5.24 ERA, 1.46 WHIP), but looked good tonight. Mark Buehrle pitched 5.2 shutout innings, allowing only three hits with six K's and three walks. His ERA is back down to 3.12 with a 1.19 WHIP. Ace material.

The Yankees were in Boston to try and take control of the race, but the Red Sox had other ideas. David Wells uncharacteristically walked two in the first and allowed a RBI single by Hideki Matsui, but settled down after that (holding A-Rod hitless) until he gave up a seventh inning two run homer to Derek Jeter. But, lucky for him, that only made the game 5-3 since Boston had a first inning RBI by (MVP?) David Ortiz, a second inning homerun by Jason Varitek (crushed to CF), and a big three run bottom of the sixth. In that inning, Johnny Damon started it off with a single to right and a steal of second base (his second SB of the game). Then, after a K by Edgar Renteria, Chien-Ming Wang intentionally walked Ortiz. Three pitches later, Manny Ramirez singled to left and loaded the bases. Wang should feel lucky because on the second pitch Ramirez almost took out a camera guy on the roof just left of the LF fairpole.

What happens then? Trot Nixon walks on five pitches and Damon trots on home. Then, Varitek slapped a little 0-2 dribbler to Jason Giambi, who threw a one-hopper to Jorge Posada at home to attempt to get out Big Papi, but Posada couldn't handle the throw, and the second run of the inning scores. Finally, John Olerud hit the second pitch he saw to Bernie Williams in centerfield, and you know he can't throw out anyone at home, and Manny sprinted on in.

The Yankees and Red Sox are now tied atop the AL East and the Wild Card race. A little breathing room for both of them, but the Indians aren't done yet. Like I said, it was a great night for baseball, and that was just in the American League.

In the NL, the Astros hosted the Cubs and tried to clinch the NL Wild Card race with a win. Andy Pettitte had won his last seven starts coming in, and had a great outing, lasting 7.0 innings, allowing only one run on five hits, six K's and not one single free pass. However, Carlos Zambrano also came out smokin' and went seven innings and also giving up only one run. He had eight K's of his own with three walks and four hits, smacking a single of his own, raising the switch-hitting Zambrano's batting average up to .300. Unreal.

So, it came down the ballclub's pens, and we all know who's back there in the 'stros pen. Brad Lidge. He had converted his last 24 save opportunities. If you're Houston, you're supposed to get the lead, get to the ninth, hand Brad the ball and the game's over. The Cubs had other ideas tonight, getting three consecutive singles off of Lidge by LF Matt Murton (single), RF Jeromy Burnitz (single) and C Michael Barrett (RBI double, JB to 3rd).

Then, after a FC dinker by Corey Patterson, Lance Berkman throwing out Burnitz at home, Dusty Baker actually made a good move.

I know, I know, I should have warned you to sit down before I said that. Sorry if you hurt yourself.

He called upon Todd Walker to pitch hit. Walker can barely run (with an obvious limp), but he somehow roped a 3-0 single in between first and second, scoring Barrett from third and putting the Cubs up 4-3. It turned out the be the game winner, because Ryan Dempster came in and got his 33rd save on the year, his 19th in a row. And yes, Joe, he walked someone again (raising his WHIP up to 1.45 on the year).

And, last but not least, the Phillies were in DC trying to hold on to their hopes of NL playoff dreams. Two games back to start the day, they desperately needed a win. Another good pitching matchup with 13-11 Cory Lidle going up against 15-10, Nat's Ace, Livan Hernandez. It was Lidle's night tonight. He allowed just one earned run over 6.2 IP, with 8 K's and 1 BB. Hernandez allowed four ER's, including a two run, second inning shot by Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Howard (his 21st HR), who's hitting .284/.352/.558. Jimmy Rollins extended his hitting streak to 34 games with two singles on the night. Kenny Lofton, Chase Utley and Mike Lieberthal all had two hits as well, Utley and Lofton both getting two-baggers.

With the Phills up 4-2, they too turned to their lights-out closer. Fireballer Billy Wagner. But the Nats weren't ready to quit just yet. Marlon Bird hit a one out, pinch-hit double to center and then leftfielder Brad Wilkerson was hit by the second pitch he saw.

Crazy, eh? They still weren't done, because Byrd stole third with Wilkerson taking second as well. Jamey Carroll then came to the plate and fought off a 2-2 pitch and knocked a little grounder to Rollins at short. Byrd scored on the throw to first and Wilkerson went to third.

Well, that's when Wagner figured he had enough and he reached back and fired in a 99 MPH heater inside to Nick Johnson, who broke his bat trying to hit it and popped out to Wagner. Nick was left standing there holding on to splinters. Game Over. Philadelphia creeps back to one game back and makes the last two games of the season really interesting.

Can you believe all the excitement? Me either. It's time for a cold one. I'm ready for tomorrow's matchups.

Oh, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays bought out the last year of Lou Pinella's contract. It's his last days in Tampa, and I'm sure he's happy about it. Wonder who'll pick him up? I'd be nervous if I were Joe Torre and they don't make the playoffs. Too bad the Cubs won't get him.


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