Cliff Lee making postseason history

Cliff LeeSo now that we have this time to ourselves as we wait for the American League to finish up, maybe we can reflect a little on the 2009 postseason. That is if we can remember what happened—the first two series happened so quickly that it felt like it passed in a blur.

However, that Sunday game in Denver where Ryan Howard crushed that two-out double in the ninth after walking up and down the dugout and pleading with his teammates to, Just get me to the plate, boys,” seems like a year ago.

Have only two weeks gone by since that game? That’s it?

Nevertheless, while perusing the Internets this afternoon I stumbled across a post on the Yahoo! Big League Stew blog regarding Cliff Lee’s performance in Game 3 of the NLCS. That was the one where the Phillies scored so many runs that Charlie Manuel was forced to take Lee out of the game headed into the ninth inning because he was way too good for the Dodgers to handle.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, but it’s based in truth. Because Lee had been so dominant and the Phillies had tacked on more runs in the bottom of the eighth to make it 11-0, Lee had to come out. Call it the Phillies’ version of the mercy rule.

Still, Lee’s pitching line speaks for itself. He went eight innings and allowed three hits without a walk to go with 10 strikeouts and no runs on 114 pitches, and that was enough.

In fact, according to the Bill James invention that stat geeks like so much called “Game score,” Lee’s outing in Game 3 was the best pitched outing by a Phillies in the postseason, ever.

No joke.

Lee’s “game score” was 86, which is based on a scale of 100. According to Big League Stew, game score is described thusly:

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James that attempts to index how good a start is, by rewarding the pitcher for innings pitched and strikeouts, and penalizing them for hits, walks, and runs allowed. It more or less operates on a 100-point scale — 0 is atrocious, 100 is tremendous, 50 is average, and scores below zero or above 100 are almost unheard of.

A score of 86 is pretty darned good. In fact, only 45 postseason starts since 1903 rated higher than the one Lee put out there in Game 3. Not on the list was the five-hit, 147-pitch shutout by Curt Schilling in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. That game rated only an 80.

Otherwise, the Phillies are absent from the top 50 pitching performances based on the “game score.” That goes for games pitched against them, too. Joe Niekro tossed 10 shutout innings against the Phillies in the 1980 NLCS, but that was good for just an 81. In the 1915 World Series, Hall of Fame pitchers Grover Cleveland Alexander for the Phillies went up against Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and Babe Ruth of the Red Sox and only Foster’s 85 in Game 2 came close.

Interestingly, in the 1915 World Series the Red Sox used just three pitchers in the five games and the Phillies used just four hurlers, including the only reliever in the series.

cole_hamelsThe only other Phillie to crack the top 50? Try Cole Hamels in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS. Remember that one? Hamels got an 86 by tossing a two-hitter through eight scoreless innings with a walk and nine strikeouts. Yet even with the two-hitter going through eight innings and with 101 pitches thrown, Manuel went to Brad Lidge in the ninth with a four-run lead.

I’m still curious about that.

Anyway, here is where the “Game score” thing is flawed. It doesn’t take the magnitude of the game or the human element of the actual game into consideration. For instance, when I think of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen, the top one on the list is Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves. For 10 innings Morris hung up zero after zero only to be matched by John Smoltz and two relievers.

Apparently 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 seventh game of the World Series the day after the winning team won Game 6 in the 12th inning on Kirby Puckett’s homer is only good enough for an 84.

Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series? That’s only a 94 and three games rated higher. Roger Clemens’ one-hitter against Seattle in the 2000 ALCS is the top-ranked game, followed by an 11-inning three-hit shutout by Dave McNally of Baltimore against the Twins in Game 2 of the 1969 ALCS.

A 25-year-old rookie for Billy Martin’s Twins named Chuck Manuel had a pretty good seat on the bench for McNally’s gem.

No. 3 on the list is a 14-inning effort by Babe Ruth of the Red Sox against Brooklyn in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers for their second straight World Series title that year.

So there’s the historical perspective on Cliff Lee’s effort in Game 3 of the NLCS. Apparently there haven’t been too many better pitched games in the history of the postseason. However, it’s more difficult to find pitchers who had better cumulative postseasons than Lee has had this year. In three starts he’s allowed two earned runs over 24 1/3 innings. In 1967 Bob Gibson gave up three runs in 27 innings, but all of his starts were in the World Series.

Let’s see where Lee ranks on the all-time list of great postseasons when this is all over. Chances are he has (at least) two more starts to go.

Good idea, bad execution

Punto!Ed. note: This post was supposed to be a little ol’ post here, but it turned into something bigger over at the CSN site. It’s not all that different, just longer.

The second biannual World Baseball Classic is in full swing, and already the disinterest and speculation over its relevance is palpable.

Or maybe not. I have yet to hear anyone say, “Hey, did you see that big play in the Mexico vs. South Africa game at the WBC?” In fact, I haven’t heard anyone talk about the World Baseball Classic at all. I haven’t read it in the blogs, either. It just doesn’t seem to be gaining a foothold.

Certainly that’s no knock on the WBC. After all, there is a veritable media saturation of sports, leagues, players and everything else that goes with it. Adding one more event into an already stuffed buffet is probably not the greatest of marketing plans.

Nevertheless, there are ways to spice up the WBC. For instance, it seems as if one’s country of nationality is no deterrent for which team(s) a guy can play for. Look at Alex Rodriguez – he was born in New York, raised in Florida and was playing for the Dominican Republic. Nick Punto was born in San Diego, raised in Mission Viejo and is playing for Italy in the WBC.

In fact, Hawaiian Shane Victorino was approached to play for Italy before the first WBC in 2007. The odd thing about that is Victorino isn’t Italian. He’s Portugese, Asian and Polynesian. In other words, American. He was asked to play for Italy simply because his surname sounded Italian.

So that gives me an idea…

If A-Rod can play for the Dominican Republic and Punto for Italy, why not just hold a draft. Open it up for all the nations kind of like that sketch from “The Chappelle Show” and let the players join the team that claims them. Let David Ortiz play for Italy or David Wright for China.

Since players can seemingly play for any nation even if they aren’t a citizen, just go ahead and make it All-Star tourney. Hey, if they are going to make a joke of the borders and citizenship, why not make a joke of the entire thing?

Better yet, why not just have trades? Say Mexico needs a left-handed bat at the top of the order – why can’t they trade for Ichiro? Hey, if Nick Punto can play for Italy, Ichiro ought to be able to play for Mexico.

Right?

Perhaps the best reason why the WBC is just plain silly comes from one of this site’s favorite topics, Curt Schilling. As jingoistic an American as there is, Schilling says he would turn down an invitation to play for the U.S. (or maybe Norway, too) in the WBC because it’s not fair to the pitchers. In fact, Schilling wrote in his blog, “38 Pitches,” that if he were a big-league GM he would not allow any pitchers on the 40-man roster to participate.

Schilling wrote:

… you just can’t ‘be ready’ for until you are truly ‘ready’. Until you’ve worked your pitch counts up, had a tough outing or two in the spring, stepping into a ML stadium full of fans ramps it to a whole new level.

If I were, and I know I am not, a GM I would have some sort of protection in contracts prohibiting any pitchers on my 40 man roster from participating.

I can’t speak to position players because their lives and their preparation are so vastly different than pitchers, but I can tell you as a pitcher that the last thing on this planet I would want to do would be to be asked to go ‘full tilt’ (and make no mistake about it, what you are seeing from them is everything they have at that point) at this incredibly early time in the season.

So is the solution batting tees or batting practice pitchers? Should the WBC become just a glorified home run derby kind of like the one they have at the All-Star Game?

Maybe if they did it that way people would talk about it.

Nevertheless, the WBC seems to be one of those “good in theory, bad in execution” deals. Like Marxism.wa

Eighth inning: Long time coming

Today’s attendance is the second-largest crowd in CBP history with an announced 45,929. The largest crowd was Game 2 of last year’s NLDS against the Rockies with 45,991.

I bet the record falls tomorrow.

Nevertheless, the Phillies are three outs away from their first post-season victory since Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. That was the game where Curt Schilling tossed a three-hit shutout against the Blue Jays at the Vet.

I was there in the press box that day. In fact, I’ve been in the press box for the last eight Phillies’ playoff games in a row and 11 of the last 16.

I’m getting old.

Still, Cole Hamels is through eight innings with 101 pitches, two hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. If he’s going to top Schilling’s effort he’s gone to have to politick the hell out of manager Charlie Manuel because Brad Lidge is getting warmed up in the bullpen.

Whether Lidge or Hamels takes the mound in the ninth, they will face the top of the Brewers’ order.

On another note, both the Dow and the Nasdaq were down today. Hey, who needs to retire…

End of 8 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

Look who’s out of the house

I don’t get out much. That’s pretty obvious. I go outside to run, I buy groceries and I hang out with the kids in the yard or the Country Day playground across the field from my house. My friends have jobs and kids with early mornings looming. As a result, most of my conversations with people are electronic.

Then there is work, which usually takes place in a large stadium or arena with professional ballplayers and media types. Obviously, the nature of the conversation in this realm is limited as well. After the game is finished and the stories all finished it’s usually close to midnight or a little after and  I have to drive all the way back to Lancaster. That means my post-game social life is limited to time spent in the car with an iPod loaded with downloaded podcasts and loud music to keep me alert on the way home.

But that’s all fine. Besides, is there anything more pathetic than a guy pushing 40 just hanging out?

No. No there is not. It’s just plain creepy.

Anyway, because I don’t get out much and because my wife and I are always looking for different forms of entertainment, excitement and travel opportunities, she went all out and surprised me with tickets to see Pearl Jam in Washington, D.C. last Sunday. Actually, it was a Father’s Day gift for me, which is totally unnecessary. As long as I get a drawing from the kids or a bottle of Brut or Old Spice, I’m as happy as can be. I don’t wear anything like that – in fact, I don’t even brush my rapidly thinning hair [1]– but if my kids got me some I’d splash it on like it was pay day.

Hell, if they got me a wacky tie that didn’t match anything I have in my closet I’d wear that, too. If they took the effort to get me something, by golly I’m wearing that thing out in public… all the time.

But instead of Old Spice or a gaudy tie, we left the kids with my mom and went to The District so she could stare at Eddie Vedder for three hours (more on that in a bit). Sure, we could have gone to one of the two shows in Camden just before the band hit Washington, and perhaps I should have picked up on her hints when she asked me about going to Philadelphia vs. Washington. Instead, I lauded the drive from The Lanc to The District and ripped away on the town where I work.

“There is no comparison between the cities,” I told her and quickly tamped down any type of social activity that involved me going to Philadelphia for something other than work.

Clearly we made the correct choice. In comparing notes with a friend who attended the shows in Camden, the D.C. crowd was treated to a better show and the folks who skew toward the older end of the demographic didn’t have to tolerate ridiculousness from fellow concert-goers.

I’m sure there is another rip job on Philadelphia fans between those lines there. Let’s just leave it with what my friend told me:

“Everyone was either 18 and looking to buy drugs or trying destroy anything they could get their hands on,” he said, noting that Washington and Philadelphia “Were totally different.”

Having lived in both places I agreed, noting that the D.C. natives I knew well all were similar in that they were all intensely into what they liked. They focused on it passionately, yet always knew where to draw the line. With Philadelphians, the line doesn’t exist.

Needless to say, both approaches have their plusses and minuses.

Just like sweeping generalizing about residents of specific geographical areas.

When presented with a choice between seeing a rock show in Washington or Philadelphia, it’s a pretty easy decision. Barring that, if both cities were equal in terms of things to do and cultural selections, Philadelphia would lose simply because one has to drive on the Schuylkill Expressway to get there.

Yes, ultimately it comes down to the pavement.

So we went to Washington to see Pearl Jam, though, truth be told, I was more interested in the opening act, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. In fact, had any other outfit opened the gig for Pearl Jam, I doubt we would have even considered going and I’m sure there might have been like five or six other folks in the big Verizon Center, right there in the heart of downtown, with the same sentiment.

Regular readers of this little dog & pony show already know that we are big fans of the Pharmacists led by Ted Leo. In past missives I believe I wrote that I follow Ted Leo’s rock-n-roll outfit the way some folks follow baseball. If he plays within driving distance of my house and I can get away, I go. If not, I’ll check out the set list on the web and maybe even find an audio copy of what I missed because I was hanging out with the kids or watching a baseball game or something like that.

Generally, though, the venues Ted Leo typically performs in are nothing like the Verizon Center. When he played in Lancaster in November of 2006, Leo played at the Chameleon Club, which is a medium-sized rock house a lot like the 930 in D.C. or the Trocadero in Philly only… well, nicer. It’s in those types of places – or the steady amount of live radio interviews and sets – where Leo built his following and continues to pack them in with (strapping on the newspaper writer hat to drop the clichés) an energetic assault of melodic punk rock with a solid ‘70s feel, harkening back to the early Clash.

That’s what they always write, and it’s true. But there’s something missing there that doesn’t quite grasp the appeal of Ted Leo. Sure, he and the Pharmacists are energetic and have a tight, melodic sound – but there’s more. Maybe it’s something about the ethic of the guy and the fact that at 37-years old, there definitely were easier routes to take rather than fighting for everything in the indie scene? Maybe there is some hopefulness in just seeing someone like Leo – a Jersey native educated at Notre Dame with stints in D.C., Boston and NYC – sticking to the notion that the work and the aesthetic is the most important thing? Maybe with Leo there’s something there that people can touch – it’s real?

Then again, what do I know? Michael Bolton has sold 53 million albums[2].

Nevertheless, the idea of Ted Leo in the Verizon Center warming up the crowd for Pearl Jam was an intriguing concept. How would that D.I.Y. vibe and stripped down sound and stage work in a basketball arena? Would 20,000 people be in their seats waiting for him to go on? What would it look and sound like from the nosebleed section?

Truth be told, seeing Ted Leo & the Pharmacists in a quarter-filled arena looking like a Gibson-playing dervish dressed in white was… interesting. Yes, it seemed as if he was bringing the energy from the clubs into the big building, but with so few people in the seats there wasn’t enough to absorb the sound. As a result, the sharp-edged melodies bounced all over the place just like something Gilbert Arenas tosses around in the joint.

Still, in the 45 minutes he played, Ted and the Pharmacists ripped through 12 songs, half of which were brand new. Leo told the crowd that since he was a DCite of sorts and the people who were hyped on him likely knew his body of work, he trotted out the new stuff, which should appear on an album this fall.

I wish I could report on the details of the new material, but it took a lot of concentration to keep up with the sound before it was swallowed up by the vastness of the arena. However, compared with the last record, the spring ’07 Living with the Living, the new stuff sounded angrier.

That’s good. What also was good was my wife leading my four-year-old son in a sing along of the chorus of “Rappaport’s Testament,” the tune Ted sang to close his act.

I never gave up, I never gave up
I crawled in the mud but I never gave up

Afterwards, Ted and the gang helped the crew pack up the gear to clear the way for Pearl Jam.

***

OK, how does one write about Pearl Jam in a way that hasn’t been done before? Have they become so ubiquitous and so entrenched in the pantheon of agit-rock that all that’s left is for them to cruise into the ether much like their predecessors? Will they turn out to be like The Who, a group that lead singer Eddie Vedder claims “saved his life” and whose guitarist, Pete Townshend, Vedder says should receive a father’s day card from him every year? Twenty years from now are we going to see a Pearl Jam reunion tour like something out of the Rolling Stones’ playbook? You know how they do it – it’s always the last one ever until the next one.

I doubt it any of this will occur with Pearl Jam. You don’t stick round for a long time and produce meaningful work by getting old.

But whatever. The notion that someone should quit doing what they want just because they get old is arrogant and stupid. Who doesn’t want to do what they love forever? Hell, I hope I’m engaged in all of my passions when I’m old. Better yet, I hope I’m lucky enough to get old.

When Pearl Jam gets that old and takes their act out on the road, I suspect it won’t be any different than what we saw last Sunday in Washington. Stripped of all the bloated, rock-star excess, Pearl Jam played for nearly three hours. That includes short breaks between the pair of encores, though the extra sets lasted nearly as long as the initial, 18-song preliminaries. Actually, the 13-song encores went on so long that some of the workers in charge of cleaning up the Verizon Center had gathered near one corridor waiting for Eddie and the gang to call it a night.

Even when the house lights went on a little after 11 p.m., the band raged on for another 30 minutes.

But rather than beat the crowd into submission with a show longer than my last few marathons[3], Pearl Jam hosted a sing-a-long in which 20,000 folks screamed, chanted, pumped fists into the air and recited the lyrics back at the band. Unlike a lot of big-arena rock shows where some folks in the audience are intent on ingesting various organic and inorganic substances meant to alter some sense of reality, the Pearl Jam crowd in Washington was rapt by what was taking place on the spare stage decorated with just a mural of a pair of waves crashing toward each other in the background.

Some critics have written that the Pearl Jam crowd seems to be an updated version of a Grateful Dead audience in that many of the fans will travel from city to city to see the shows, they take a painstaking interest in the set lists and the scarcity of the performances of particular songs and they collect the “bootleg” versions of the shows the band offers for download on its web site.

But unlike Dead shows that I witnessed in three different cities in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was more of a sense of community in Washington last Sunday. Everyone (at least where I was) was focused on the music and the performance instead of “where their trip might take them.”

Besides, is there any band more overrated than the Grateful Dead? OK, how about The Doors?

However, similarly to Dead shows of a generation or two (or three) ago, the mainstream media (I guess that’s me, right?) likes to charge Pearl Jam shows as some sort of cultural statement or at least the antithesis of popular culture. That’s especially the case when it comes to Vedder, who in Washington railed against the White House, the war, off-shore drilling and voiced his support for a certain presidential candidate when he said, “It’s going to be great to get some color in the White House!”

But come on… how alternative can a group be when it has sold approximately 50 million records? How “anti-” can people be if they take one specific side in a two-party system? Better yet, why are people shocked when I guy with a microphone uses it to say something?

Hell, even some Pearl Jam fans don’t like hearing Vedder’s politics or opinions. That seems to be the general opinion about all celebrities too – a lot of people want their celebrities and rock stars to be just as vapid as there are.

And that’s a damn shame. Frankly, I wanted to see the Pearl Jam show in Washington more than any other city specifically because it would be more politically charged. I like hearing other people’s ideas – I know, it’s crazy. In fact, I don’t care if I agree with what’s being said at all, I just want to hear someone say something interesting. For instance, take baseball pitcher Curt Schilling – he and I probably agree on very few political issues. I’m sure I’d even ridicule some of the things he says to friends or in print (check the archives here, I’m sure I ripped him). But Curt Schilling isn’t boring. That counts for something.

Eddie Vedder isn’t boring either. Though he fronts a really tight band with guys who are stars in their own right, all eyes were on the singer. I know that because my wife was damn-near swooning from the second he took the stage. During a couple of stretched out jams, Vedder left the center of stage to wait in the wings where he drank from a bottle of wine, caught a quick smoke and chatted up some of the fans. Yet the entire time the band was wailing away, I heard, “Look at him… I wonder what he’s saying to them.”

It was the same thing in July of 2003 when Vedder showed up at Veterans Stadium before a Phillies game. Everyone swooned. Mike Lieberthal got an autograph, others tried to wiggle past the extremely large body guard to get close enough to say something to the singer. Hell, even I wanted to walk over to the guy and tell him that Fugazi is the greatest band of the past 30 years because I knew he’d agree.

And then we’d both be right.

Regardless, only one person – a player’s wife – penetrated the wall and chatted up Vedder and even she had the same look on her face that my wife had last week. Shoot, the guy was so short and wiry that I thought about picking him up and putting him in my pocket.

Yeah, that was creepy.

Anyway, Pearl Jam is far from perfect. There a few songs that are so odious that they have become very difficult to listen to. But presented in a nearly perfect rock show format even the bad ones are kind of good. For instance, the song “Black” is so heart-wrenching that I can’t stand to hear it. When 20,000 people sing along to one of the saddest songs outside of Elliott Smith, it’s tough.

The same goes “Last Kiss,” the remake of the early-‘60s number, which gave me a good chance to sneak out to the nearly deserted concourse to find the restroom. “Crazy Mary,” the sublime number from the Victoria Williams benefit soundtrack was a little overdone with the addition of keyboards.

However, “Yellow Ledbetter,” another one I always found a little… well, awful, was pretty good with the house lights up and guitarist Mike McCready finishing it off with a Hendrix-style “Star Spangled Banner.”

The highlight? Try Vedder singing “No More” from his solo record made for the film Into the Wild. Actually, it was just Vedder and an acoustic guitar singing a perfect, folk/protest song that he wrote as a tribute for a soldier injured in Iraq.

The song also made it onto the documentary Body of War.

Finally, the most in-the-know bit of stage banter came when Vedder introduced “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” with, “This one is for Mt. Pleasant…”

He didn’t have to come out and say Ian MacKaye, right?  I mean, Vedder is on record saying that MacKaye should be put up for sainthood – and he’s right – but everyone got that reference…

Right?

***
Afterwards, we rolled up to Adams Morgan to The Amsterdam Falafel Shop only to find it closed at 12:15 a.m.

Oh well, at least I got out for a change.


[1] I wash the hell out of it, though.

[2] Do you know anyone who owns a Michael Bolton album (or will admit it)? Fifty-three million! Who is buying 53 million Michael Bolton records?

[3] Was that me bragging? Yes, I believe it was.

Schilling down to his last pitch

Curt SchillingThe news from Boston today that Curt Schilling is headed for surgery to repair his right rotator cuff, labrum and biceps should not come as much of a surprise. When spring training began the question was whether or not Schilling would be able to respond to a rehab program and throw a pitch in a big league game before going under the knife.

Decidedly, the answer was no. No way.

Now, after Schilling has given up on the 2008 season as well as his tenure with the Boston Red Sox, a new question rears its head regarding the former Phillie:

Is it all over?

“There’s a pretty decent chance that I have thrown my last pitch forever,” the 41-year-old ex-Phillie said. “I don’t want it to end this way, but if this is the way it has to end, I’m OK with that. If it’s over and my last pitch was in the 2007 World Series, I’m OK with that. I just can’t stress enough where I am mentally with this. I have not a regret in the world.

“None of this makes me bitter or angry. It is what it is. In that sense, honestly, it’s very, very easy for me, because of what I’ve been able to experience compared to what I wanted when I first started my career. But if I have some say in how this is going to end, I want it to be different than what it is right now.”

That much is obvious. After all, Schilling would not be having an elaborate surgery on Monday with Dr. Craig Morgan, the renowned shoulder specialist in Wilmington, Del. on Monday if he was thinking about hanging it up. Really, who has biceps tenodesis surgery (when the diseased biceps tendon is detached from the bone and reattached in another location) as well as arthroscopic surgery to determine if more surgery is needed to the labrum and rotator cuff if the only ball playing he does is with his kids in the yard? The rehab process for those surgeries is difficult for a guy just looking to handle the remote control with more alacrity, the fact that Schilling is going through with it means he wants to pitch again.

But whether or not Schilling will pitch again could be determined in Wilmington on Monday. According to Dr. Morgan, Schilling’s future as a big leaguer depends upon what is found when the right-hander is scoped.

“The key issue there is frankly the rotator cuff,” Morgan told The Boston Globe. “If he does not have significant rotator cuff involvement there’s a good chance, even at age 41, that he can come back and pitch. But he must accept the fact that this may be career ending.”

Schilling understands that last part very well.

“If I don’t have surgery, my career is over today,” he said.

Still even if the damage to his shoulder isn’t severe and a return to the mound is not ruled out, Schilling knows the rehab process will be much more difficult. Age is the damndest thing – if Schilling were 10 years younger there would be no question that his career could continue in 2009. But even if everything goes perfectly and the tendons in the big right-hander’s shoulder turn him into the $8 million man again, the fact that he was born in 1966 instead of 1971 or 1976 makes a HUGE difference.

So too does the issue of contracts and ability to pitch for an entire season. No longer the horse every five days as ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade once claimed, Schilling says he will not be able to go to spring training for a team to compete for a job. A better scenario, says Schilling, is a post-All Star return to a team in the playoff race. But of course, that’s putting the cart before the horse.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting to think hypothetically. Let’s suppose the Phillies are in a similar position in 2009 as they are today – one where they lead the division but starting pitching is still a glaring weakness – do you take a chance and sign up Schilling for a second-half run?

Clearly it’s one of those low-risk/high-reward situations that general managers love so much (hello, Kris Benson!), but in Schilling’s case the intriguing part is his history not just as a big-game pitcher, but also as a pitcher for the Phillies. Though his regular season statistics aren’t shoo-in Hall-of Fame numbers (he’ll get in), his body of work in the playoffs and World Series place him with the biggest names in the sport…

And that was before the bloody sock.

Here’s one more question to ponder about Schilling until his future is decided: which cap does he wear on his Hall-of-Fame plaque?

Actually, this question is probably more apt… how long until Schilling is working on baseball broadcasts? Aside from big-time outings in big games, Schilling’s legacy will be that of a guy who liked to gab just a little bit. In fact there may have been the rare occasion where he did not rehearse his interviews in the mirror beforehand. One time at Fenway Park I wandered over to the home team dugout to search out Schilling where I was told by a teammate to, “follow the cameras.”

Guess what? That’s where he was.

Fishing for a Carp?

Hiroshima CarpCome on… did anyone really think the Phillies were going to sign Curt Schilling? For that matter, did anyone really believe that Schilling wanted to sign with the Phillies?

Or the Brewers?

Or the Diamondbacks?

Or the Tigers?

Or the Astros?

Or the Mets?

Or any other team he listed on his 38pitches.com site?

Nope, me either.

For the Phillies, Schilling was that girl that was way out of everyone’s league, but taunted everyone by thinking she was cool and down to earth. Ha! No one ever had a chance.

So what do the Phillies do now that their top choice to fill out the rotation has decided to remain in Boston? Who else is out there on the free-agent market? What about Tom Glavine? He really helped the Phillies’ playoff chances with his pitching down the stretch – could he do it in 2008, too?

Doubtful. Besides, the Phillies already have an over-40, soft-tossing lefty. Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva are two pitchers on the free-agent market that could fill the starting-pitching void, though the Phillies would likely have to commit a lot of money and years to either man. Meanwhile, the White Sox Jon Garland and the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis could be available in a trade, but then that opens up more issues if the Phillies want to keep those guys beyond 2008.

Where does that leave the Phillies? If they can’t make a trade or add a dependable pitcher via the free-agent market, where do they look?

Japan?

Yeah, why not.

When it comes to spotting trends and entering the modern age, the Phillies have always been slow. They were the last National League team to integrate its roster; they were slow to enter the market to sign Latino ballplayers (though the Venezuelan baseball academy got good reviews); and until Tadahito Iguchi joined the team last August, the Phillies had never had a Japanese player. Maybe that’s where they should look now.

Needless to say, I haven’t been keeping with the action in the Pacific or Central League in Japan, but every season there are plenty of players from those leagues ready to make the jump to the Majors. This season the top starting pitcher appears to be a fellow named Hiroki Kuroda, who is a right-handed veteran with 11 seasons under his belt with the Hiroshima Carp[1]. Though Kuroda will be 33 in February, he is coming off his best three seasons for the Carp and, better yet, won’t require a posting fee in order for a Major League team to negotiate with him.

According to reports, the Phillies, Royals, Dodgers and the Mariners are a few of the teams interested in Kuroda. However, Seattle might have the upper hand since the pitcher’s agent lives there.

Perhaps the Phillies will take a shot. If not, there’s always David Wells.


[1] See, even the names for the Japanese teams are better than ours.

Just Barry being Manny

Barry BondsAs far as updating his Web site goes, Barry Bonds is no Curt Schilling. Like a teenage girl with a Facebook profile, Schilling is always quick to update everyone on the latest news. Whether it’s revealing which teams called him during the preliminary stages of the free-agency period or what it feels like to win the World Series for the third time, Schilling has it covered.

In fact, Schilling updates his site so regularly that he supercedes the writers looking for fodder for those ubiquitous “sources” and “rumor rundowns” that have turned the sports pages into a glorified version of People magazine.

Sometimes the stuff doesn’t even have to be true.

But with Schilling, it goes directly to the horse’s blog… and when a horse says, “Nay,” it means nay. Schilling has always been known to say or write whatever is on his mind, unless, of course, he’s in front of a Congressional committee.

Bonds, on the other hand, used to do this, too. Because he chose only to speak to the press when he absolutely had to, Bonds posted all of his updates and news on his Web site, too. Unlike Schilling, Bonds updates his site like a teenage boy with poor grammar skills and trouble paying attention. But like Schilling, the so-called home run king (with his train wreck of a reality show) often provided his own scoops by going direct to his site instead of to the sporting press.

Frankly, I’m surprised more jocks haven’t copied this model… but then again, maybe they think writing is hard or something.

Anyway, Bonds appears to have given up on his site (unless he’s selling silliness like autographs or something) because he went directly to Jim Gray and MSNBC for an interview last night. Instead of saving it for a blog entry, Bonds told Gray that he “has nothing to hide,” and that the doping allegations are “unfair to me.”

He didn’t say whether the possibility for indictment by a grand jury for perjury in the BALCO case was “unfair” though.

The most interesting part of the interview – the part that the Associated Press grabbed onto – was where Bonds said he would boycott his potential induction into the Hall of Fame if the museum chose to display the ball his hit for his 756th home run. The reason is because the purchaser of the ball decided to affix an asterisk to it before donating it to the Hall of Fame museum.

Apparently, more than the possibility for indictment, the asterisk is offensive to Bonds.

“I don’t think you can put an asterisk in the game of baseball, and I don’t think that the Hall of Fame can accept an asterisk,” Bonds said. “You cannot give people the freedom, the right to alter history. You can’t do it. There’s no such thing as an asterisk in baseball.”

This is a cop out, of course. It’s just Bonds taking a pre-emptive strike against the Hall and the Baseball Writers Association of America, who (for some reason) are the electors for enshrinement. Perhaps Bonds is just saying, “Go ahead and don’t vote me in because I’m not coming…”

Then again, maybe it’s just Barry being Manny?

Anyway, Bonds is a free agent and is unsure where or of he will play next season. If he doesn’t play anymore, that means he would be eligible for election to the Hall-of-Fame in five years. Surely Bonds has the statistics needed to get into the Hall no matter how he achieved them. However, we all know that politics are just as important as mere numbers. Whether or not Bonds played that game well enough remains to be seen.

***
Brian Sell We’re quickly approaching the most-anticipated Olympic Trials marathon ever and the papers are loaded with stories and predictions It also brings up another point… with distance running as popular as ever and more people running marathons than ever before, why isn’t there more coverage of the sport? Oh sure, The New York Times and other big-city papers (excluding Philadelphia) cover the sport regularly, and so do the running hot beds, but what gives?

Anyone…

Then again, it seems as if there is a media overload of stories ahead of tomorrow’s big race. When the diehards are so used to getting next to nothing from the mainstream press, the recent coverage feels like standing next to a fire hose turned on at full blast.

Be that as it is, I enjoyed the one in the Times on current people’s favorite, Brian Sell. Read it for yourself here.

The quote I liked from Sell (a Pennsylvanian) is: “If you lose a race, that just means some guy worked harder than you.”

That sounds a lot like the famous quote from another Pennsylvanian athlete known for his heavy-volume workouts:

There’s only one rule: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins. Period. Because you won’t die. Even though you feel like you’ll die, you don’t actually die. Like when you’re training, you can always do one more. Always. As tired as you might think you are, you can always, always do one more.

Yeah.

Let’s talk about… um… nothing

Curt SchillingWith the NBA season ready to kick off tonight, it means one thing in Philadelphia…

It’s hot-stove baseball time!

Yes, the rumors, innuendo and conjecture is in a full-court press as suggestions for ways the Phillies can re-build their NL East-champion club before the 2008 season. And just where do the Phillies start?

Pitching?

Center field?

Third base?

Another power hitter?

Pitching?

How about some pitching?

Did anyone mention pitching?

So far the Phillies have started by holding an organizational meeting in Florida in order to outline the plan of attack this winter. No doubt it all started with a Power Point presentation featuring the themes listed above. Or maybe someone just broke out some poster board and a Sharpie and scotch taped it to the wall. Undoubtedly they wrote:

Pitching?

Center field?

Third base?

Another power hitter?

Pitching?

How about some pitching?

Did anyone mention pitching?

Anyway, what has happened now that the official Major League season has been over for three days? Well… nothing. What was supposed to happen? Sure, Aaron Rowand and a bunch of other guys have officially filed for free agency, but that’s just a formality. It’s like signing up to bring a bag of Pirate’s Booty or a spinach dip tucked into a bread bowl to the next weekend party or something. You do it, but is your heart really into it?

Nevertheless, the Phillies have exclusive negotiating rights with Rowand and guys like Antonio Alfonseca, Jon Lieber (the fat man walks alone!), Rod Barajas, Jose Mesa and J.C. Romero for two weeks. After that… it’s on! Any team can talk to any free agent and put some scratch behind all the blather, too.

Plus, during the next two weeks of exclusivity, the Phillies can talk to other free agents though they are not allowed to discuss money or contract terms[1]. So, say for instance the Phillies want to call up… let’s just pull a name out of the air here… Curt Schilling and broach the subject about whether or not he’d like to pitch for the Phillies in 2008, they can.

As long as they don’t talk about money. Which is weird, because what else would they talk to him about?

“Hi… Curt?”

“Yeah, who’s calling? My caller ID didn’t register properly.”

“It’s the Phillies!”

“Oh hi… what’s up?”

“Oh nothing, just calling to see how everything is going… what’s new?”

“Oh, you know, nothing much. I was just in that World Series thing with the Red Sox and we won in four straight games. Other than that I have EverQuest convention coming up…”

“A what coming up?”

“EverQuest. It’s a game. You play it on the computer. It’s kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, only geekier…”

“Dungeons and what?

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think you called to talk about that.”

“No, you’re right, we didn’t.”

“So what’s up?”

“Nothing, we’re just calling to see what’s up with you.”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Well, nothing really.”

“Nothing really?”

“Yeah, nothing really… what are you getting at?”

“Well, we don’t know how to say this so we’ll just come out and say it… we like you. We really like you.”

“Thanks…”

“… And if you like us as much as we like you, maybe we can work together next year?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well, we can’t tell you how much we like you yet, but we will.”

“Maybe we can talk again then, right now I have Lord Doljonijiarnimorinar breathing down my neck and things are getting pretty tight. Why don’t you call me in a couple of weeks and we can pick this up then.”

“OK. How about in two weeks.”

“OK.”

“OK… we’ll talk to you in two weeks.”

“OK.”

“Talk to you then.”

“OK, bye.”

“Bye… Curt, we really li…”

click


[1] Yeah, like that really happens.

Wearing the suit

SchillingThere’s just something about Curt Schilling that just doesn’t fit. Maybe it’s the baseball uniform that makes him look unusually pale, dowdy and frumpy as if he were househusband from the Indianapolis suburbs. Surely Major League Baseball teams not only have the best and most artistic tailors on their staffs, but also hire stylists and Naomi Wolf to turn them all into the ultimate alpha-males covered in the latest fashions.

You know, like that guy Tom Cruise.

But since it’s baseball and it attracts C-list celebrities on crappy Fox shows, Tom Cruise is nowhere to be found. It’s more like that dude in the show “House,” who, truth be told, always looks like he’s a bit peeved about having to be on a show on Fox.

What are you going to do?

If you’re Curt Schilling you just pull on that uniform and deal with it. Oddly enough, though, Schilling’s Red Sox uniform is easily the most flattering. When he played for the Phillies, whose current unis debuted in 1992 and are becoming more and more tired looking that those ‘70s-styled maroon jobs that made Luzinski look like Philip Seymour Hoffman in a velvet shirt in Boogie Nights, Schilling looked as if he should be playing softball on a diamond behind the Holiday Inn on Packer Ave.

Boogie NightsBut doughy, stick-legged Curt with his body that he described as a “family curse,” really fooled with horizontal hold on TV sets across the country when he forced his trade to Arizona. With the Diamondbacks (the worst nickname in the game… just switch it to Snakes already) and their vest jerseys and purple pinstripes, Schilling looked as if he was set to audition as a reptile for a children’s television show. Or worse, those Arizona uniforms made Schilling look as if he was a purple bowtie and cummerbund away from a gig as an overfed male exotic dancer working in strip malls across the Rust Belt. I don’t know what his full stage name would be, though I’m pretty sure he might use the nom de guerre “Dash” in there somewhere. Like “Dash Fastball,” or maybe “Curty Dash,” or something like that. I don’t know how they come up with that stuff.

But yes, it’s a good thing he can throw a baseball.

It’s good that Schilling can throw a baseball because when he really puts on a bowtie and a cummerbund to go be seen at some ridiculousness like the ESPYs, a Dungeon & Dragons convention or a Bush rally; he can entertain us all by looking like the party crasher. You know, the guy with the look that says it’s just a matter of time before someone taps him on the shoulder and says, “Dude, you’re in over your head. Let’s go get you a trailer, a pair of cut-offs, a pack of Marlboros and a Kenny Chesney CD. Do you like the Olive Garden?”

Instead, he shows up, does his thing then shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “can you believe my life?” before stopping off on the way home to get the best Asian massage ever.

God bless that Curt Schilling. God bless him because he walked off the mound at Fenway in potentially his last game ever with the Red Sox having put them just 11 outs away from taking a 2-0 lead in the World Series over the Colorado Rockies. It would put the Red Sox two chilly night wins in Denver away from wrapping up their second World Series title in the last four seasons.

And certainly dowdy, gabby Curt would be more than an integral part of that. Imagine that – two World Series victories with the Boston Red Sox… the last pitcher to do that was Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth and Curt Schilling… talk about style.

Speaking of the Red Sox, get this. My oldest son is 42 months old and could live in a world where the Red Sox have won two of the four World Series played in his lifetime. One of the other two was won by the White Sox, whose previous title was in 1917. My grandmother is going on 90 and she has been on this earth for the same number of White and Red Sox Series titles as my 3½-year old.

That’s weird, wild stuff.

***
Here’s one that I found in the Rocky Mountain Sports magazine newsletter the other day:

Comcast Colorado in Denver CEO, Scott Binder, won the title for 2007 Fittest CEO in the World in the CEO Ironman Challenge World Championship in Kona. Binder beat out 12 other CEOs who earned their spot to Kona at one of six CEO Ironman Challenge qualifying events held around the world.

I have to admit I’m a little jealous because I’d love to properly train for an Ironman. That would be so much fun. However, I have no interest in being a CEO or the boss of anything. My ego would be satisfied with just an Ironman… that’s enough.

Curt’s bloggin’

SchillingAs the more astute baseball fans know, the loquacious former Phillie and current Red Sox, Curt Schilling, has a blog. It’s called “38 Pitches,” which is really clever because Schilling is a pitcher and he wears uniform No. 38.

See, clever.

But unlike most jock web sites or blogs, Curt actually dives into the fray on his. He has the comments section wide open, updates it fairly regularly and probably even picked out the design by himself with help from the good folks at WordPress. And yes, they are good folks.

Anyway, Curt lets it fly on his site, which we mentioned earlier, is pretty cool. After all, if one is going to operate a blog they need to:

  • Update it regularly
  • Keep it from getting stale
  • Keep it from being boring

With those rules in mind I’ll offer a pre-emptive apology.

Curt has no reason to offer such an apology, though he should offer some sort of mea culpa for the shoddy grammar and stylistic errors. C’mon, big fella – English isn’t a second language is it?

Jokes aside, in his latest rambling post that reminds me of that scene in the underrated film Election when Chris Klein gives his breathless campaign speech in the gym in the all-school assembly, Curt starts with offering kudos to Josh Beckett for winning the MVP of the ALCS, then moves on to lauding his skipper Terry Francona for just being Tito, and then opines on the Joe Torre situation and the Yankees.

About Torre and the Yanks, Schilling writes:

A few random observations. The Red Sox in me is happy Joe Torre is no longer in charge in NY. The person in me wonders how does a guy who obviously has the respect and loyalty of his entire roster, a guy who’s taken his team to 12 straight post seasons, a guy who exudes class and respect, how does he, in the midst of what might have been his most challenging and defining season and post season, not only have to manage his team in a best of 5 win or go home series, but also answer a billion questions about being basically told ‘win or you’re out’? How did it come to that? I have never had a chance to get to know Mr Torre beyond handshakes of congratulations or hellos, but I have never heard a player on his team utter anything but respect for the guy. Much like Boston, managing a 175m+ roster of super star players, in that market, with a hack to writer ratio bordering on 100-1, how does he basically win pretty much every year, get to the post season and get an ultimatum at THAT point in the season? I have always thought very highly of Mr Steinbrenner as well, anyone that pours that much of himself into his team, is that dedicated to his teams fans is ok by me and I would think ok by pretty much anyone that plays for him since he never makes issue with paying the huge salaries players make these days but only adds the caveat of “Just win a World Series”. I don’t think players have ever had problems with owners like that.

Then he gets ‘offered’ a pay cut with strings? That sucks. Was very cool to see the mass of Yankee fans at the “keep Joe” rally though. Amazing how that loyalty card plays out in the public eye and through the media when the shoes on the other foot. Managers don’t win ballgames, players do, and I think you’d be surprised to know how bad we feel when managers we care about get fired because we know, if we have one ounce of integrity, that our failures as players are, most times, what gets a manager fired.

See what I mean about rambling? Sheesh! It’s like reading Faulkner while hopped up on greenies. Anyway, the rambling rant didn’t stop there. Oh no! Ol’ Curt moved back to our boy Tito and how things have worked out so well in Boston after he got “hacked up” in Philly. In fact, Curt doesn’t just fire willy-nilly into the air with the broad, sweeping charges against the Philly hacks. Oh no, that’s not his style.

Curt names names.

To wit:

Terry Francona is a genius since he arrived in Boston? Having been on his team the first day he managed in the big leagues through today I’ll tell you up front that he is not much different. He does suck much more at cribbage now than he ever did and his fantasy teams continue to suck as well, but as a manager he’s not really different. I think the interim jobs he had in Cleveland and Oakland showed him the inner workings of baseball front offices more and helped him in some areas but in the clubhouse, dugout, and on the field he’s pretty much the same non-jersey wearing guy he was in Philly, he just has a front office comprised entirely of people that understand winning games on the field matters more than anything else. The ‘know it alls’ in Philadelphia, from Conlin to Cataldi to Macnow, aren’t really know it alls are they? Their people who’s life it is, who’s entire job description, revolves around creating news or stories where there is none, to make you think their ‘in’ and you’re not, and if you want to truly know or get smarter, listen to them. Pretty cool when you can be wrong pretty much 90% of the time and still be considered an expert.

Wonder how smart Tito looks to the guys that hacked him in Philly now? 3 post seasons, 2 world series appearances in 4 years here. Nice to know he gets that last laugh.

Et tu, Curt? Et tu?

Yeah, so how about that? Good to see gabby Curt is preparing himself for a smooth transition back to Philadelphia in 2008, huh?

Sending out the old, bringing in the new

Curt & JoshThere’s a very strong possibility that tonight’s game at Fenway could very well be Curt Schilling’s last with the Red Sox. That is, of course, if the Red Sox do not win the next two games of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians to advance to the World Series to face the Colorado Rockies.

Schilling, though, is likely headed toward free agency and one more contract (possibly for two years?) before closing down a pretty stellar career. Will it be good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? Probably, eventually. Schilling was one of the best big-game pitchers of his era, and was certainly better than Roger Clemens in the playoffs.

Better yet, if one wants to know how good Schilling was, just ask him. Actually, read his web site or just follow the TV cameras… if there is a bright light shining somewhere, Schilling likely will be trying to stand in front of it.

Anyway, there will likely be a lot of attention paid to the notion that Schilling could be pitching in his last game for the Red Sox during tonight’s telecast of Game 6 of the ALCS on Fox. In fact, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck with song-and-dance man Rosenthal… whathisname… Ken, that’s it… anyway, Tim, Joe and Ken will probably bring up the idea of Schilling returning to Philadelphia to pitch for the Phillies in 2008.

It’s doubtful, though, that the trio will bring up the notion of Schilling upsetting the harmony in the clubhouse or anything of that nature. But then again, you never know. That could be a topic for discussion since those playoff games on late-night TV tend to last five to six hours. Plus, the idea of Schilling returning to the Phillies and wrecking havoc in the clubhouse is a fair topic. It could happen. Oh sure, some might argue that if Brett Myers didn’t mess up the clubhouse chemistry then how could Schilling?

True. But then again, Schilling is reasonably intelligent. Smart people are more difficult to write off as a mere nuisance.

But back to the real point… perhaps the most interesting element of the ALCS thus far hasn’t been the notion of Curt Schilling pitching in his final game for the Red Sox. Instead, it has been Josh Beckett’s first playoff appearances for Boston. In that regard it would be fair to say that Beckett has been noteworthy.

Just a little.

In three playoff starts this year, Becket is 3-0 with 26 strikeouts with one walk in 23 innings. His ERA is 1.17, his WHIP is 0.43 and he is the reason why the Red Sox are still alive in the post-season and still have a chance to go to the World Series. Based on Beckett’s playoff run with the Marlins during the 2003 season in which he was named World Series MVP, it looks as if the younger right-hander is taking over for the older dude as the best big-game pitcher of the era.

In nine playoff appearances, Beckett has 73 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings with a 1.78 ERA. For comparisons’ sake, Schilling had 73 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings for a 1.62 ERA in his first nine playoff appearances. His 10th was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The numbers, the right-handedness and the big-time outings in the playoffs are not the only similarities between Schilling and Beckett. They both also seem to be royal pains in the ass.

Schilling’s track record in that regard is well documented as everyone in Philadelphia certainly remembers. He was, as ex-GM Ed Wade pointed out, the horse on the day he pitched and the horse’s ass the other days of the week. That’s easily Wade’s best line ever.

But as far as Beckett goes, his horse’s assiness is starting to gain more momentum. Phillies’ fans might remember the incident from the pre-season exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park in 2006 when Beckett trash-talked at Ryan Howard so much and for so long that the Phillies’ gentle giant finally had enough, tossed his glove aside and called Beckett out.

Conveniently enough, Beckett safely had a dugout full of teammates and a railing between him and Howard lest he be turned into the slugger’s personal hand puppet. Which may have been the case during Game 5 of the ALCS when Beckett repeated the potty-mouth act with ex-Phillie Kenny Lofton, who after flying out took a special detour back to the dugout via the pitchers’ mound where he acted as if he had the intention of slapping Beckett.

Singer lady Again, Beckett was safely nestled in a cocoon of teammates so Lofton couldn’t get close enough to take a whack.

Note:Apropos of nothing, here’s something funny about Lofton: he has a rep as a bit of prima donna in his relations with the press as well as a clubhouse lawyer, but for some reason I always found myself rooting for Lofton to clean house when he was in a few minor fracases over the past few years. That’s interesting to me.

It keeps going with Beckett, too. Coincidentally, or at least so they say, the Indians hired Beckett’s ex-girlfriend to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch while the pitcher waited on the mound for her to finish. Needless to say, Beckett was asked about the “coincidence” during the post-game press conference, and, well, let’s just say he gave a pretty honest answer.

Take a look:

Warning: the video contains a popular vulgarity and Josh Beckett. Do not play the video in front of children or anywhere else where it would be deemed inappropriate.

See. He didn’t have to do that, though it’s definitely more interesting that he did. Speaking of spicing up a post-game press conference and Boston-area pro sports, a Dallas radio station sent a dude to ask questions of the Patriots’ Bill Belichek and Tom Brady speaking in the rat-a-tat-tat cadence of the old newsreel reporter. The incident made quite a splash because writers working on a deadline have no sense of humor about what questions are asked and when and what the responses are/aren’t.

This is understandable, but then again, anything that makes humorless scribes whine and complain even more than the typical once every three seconds is hilarious to me.

Here it is:

Warning: the video contains Bill Belichek

Truth be told, however, I have to say I’m a little peeved at the old timey newsreel dude from Dallas. Actually, “peeved” is the wrong wrong. “Jealous” is more like it. You see, Matt Yallof and I came up with the idea first. In fact, I double-dared him to burst into the coat closet-sized visiting manager’s office at Shea Stadium and pepper then manager Larry Bowa with questions about “the local nine.”

Then I set the over/under for when he would get punched in the face by another media member or Bowa at 90 seconds.

Nevertheless, Matt and I thought the gag was so funny that we spent the entire drive back to Philadelphia from Shea speaking only in the old-time radio announcer’s voice. I’ll admit that it was a hoot for the first hour of the drive home, but then I began to feel sorry for our driver/photographer, Chris Smith… the things he had to tolerate.

But that doesn’t mean we ever broke character. Plus, I think there was a point where Matt turned his rendition into a bit for a TV story. He had a fedora, an old Smith-Corona and a clipped, rapid-fire monotone. Needless to say, all of this together spelled TV gold.

Blast from the past
I was reading through some of these old posts the other day and came across this from Dec. 13, 2006 regarding a special clause in Adam Eaton’s newly signed three-year contract.

It reads:

Upon signing, Eaton received a certified doctor’s note from the best psychiatrist in Philadelphia addressed to the commissioner’s office, informing them that he must wear an iPod while pitching to drown out the inevitable boos that come with playing in Philadelphia. This, the doctor argued, will keep Eaton’s fragile psyche in check, allowing the city’s residents to sleep in peace without worrying about another “ugly incident.”

No, it this wasn’t written by Nostradamus, but maybe it should have been.

The Rockies win again… ho-hum

UbaldoLast night’s plan was to get everyone in the house to bed, finish up some work on my laptop, and then relax in front of the couch to watch Ubaldo Jimenez pitch for the Rockies in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The kid throws hard, and everybody talks about his stuff, but sometimes you don’t get to see the finer details when you are in the press box for a game. Though Ubaldo pitched against the Phillies twice in the past month and I was there to write about it, I didn’t get the chance to appreciate it.

Hey, this is what constitutes as a wild Friday night these days.

Anyway, though I did get a chance to watch most of Ubaldo’s five-inning stint (5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 6 K – 94 pitches, 50 strikes), that was about all I saw. Ubaldo finished up at about 12:30 a.m. EST. By that point I was fighting to stay awake – as I mentioned, it was a wild Friday night – and since the Rockies had a one-run lead, I figured that was enough. So I went to bed.

As I’m reading now, the game went on for another two hours when Manny Corpas and his shirtball couldn’t hold the lead in the ninth. In the 11th that wily Willy Tavarez – the guy who challenged Ryan Howard for the Rookie of the Year Award in 2005, drew a bases-loaded walk to send in the winning run.

That’s right: a bases-loaded walk in the 11th gives the Rockies the winning run…

But that was after Tavarez (apparently… I didn’t see it) made a diving catch in the seventh inning to rob Tony Clark of a game-breaking hit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Rockies will not lose again for the rest of the year. What are they up to now? Nineteen of the last 20? And last night they did it will one extra-base hit in an 11-inning game with a 23-year old rookie on the mound?

Admit it, you didn’t have the Rockies vs. Indians in the World Series when the season began, did you? How about Rockies vs. Red Sox?

***
Curt & Unit Speaking of the Red Sox, the erstwhile Paul Hagen had an interesting tidbit in today’s Daily News in which Curt Schilling admitted that he wouldn’t mind pitching for the Phillies in 2008 IF (and it’s a big IF) the Red Sox did not want him back.

My guess is that Schilling will return to the Red Sox for 2008. I’m not basing that on anything, but if a dude helps pitch a team to the World Series twice in four years, bringing him back for one year to sail off into the sunset is kind of the sporting thing to do.

Then again, it appears as if both the Phillies and Schilling are giving the matter serious thought. Plus, the big-mouthed righty has “reinvented” his repertoire by fine-tuning his changeup and off-speed pitches. Could that fact save some wear-and-tear and give Schilling, 40, a couple more years?

Could he be the loud yin to Jamie Moyer’s thoughtful yang in the Phillies rotation?

Maybe.

***
Meanwhile, it appears as if Jimy Williams might be looking for a gig elsewhere. According to Todd Cougar Zolecki of the Inquirer, the Phillies have reached an agreement with all of the members of the 2007 coaching staff except for Williams.

The team also will not renew conditioning coordinator Scott Hoffman’s contract. Hoffman was the guy who led the team through its pre-batting practice stretching routine. He was also the most ignored man affiliated with the team.

Later: The Chicago Marathon and the trip to the B&N… I promise.

Monday randomness

Things got pretty busy as they are wont to do during a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox, so this is my mea culpa for not offering any posts for a couple of days. I really wanted to, and certainly had plenty of stuff to write, but duty kind of called.

It happens.

So what was so interesting last weekend. Well, Tito Francona was in town, which is always a treat. If anyone deserves success in this game, Francona is up there at the top of the list. He certainly has sacrificed quite a bit during a long career as a player, coach, scout and manager.

Curt Schilling was back in town, too. He’s gone now and certainly the scribes are much happier, though the TV-types kind of like him. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, writers and TV folk are very different. One group works for a living and the other, well… they wear makeup.

Come on, it’s a joke…

Anyway, everytime I see Schilling I think back to the June, 2004 series at Fenway when I asked a former Red Sox pitcher (he’ll remain nameless, though these days he pitches for the Dodgers and had a really good 2004 post-season) if he knew where the “media-friendly” pitcher was.

“Just follow the cameras,” that former Red Sox pitcher said.

As an aside, that trip to Fenway was one of the most fun (in a baseball and work sense) ever. Any trip to Baltimore and Clearwater rates really high, too, but that particular weekend in Boston was really good.

As another aside, trips to Washington, my former hometown, are always a blast, too, though that has nothing to do with the baseball. Put it this way: it’s hard not to have fun in Washington.

Anyway, Schilling was up to his old, teasing, preening and flirtatious ways with the local TV types last weekend. He lead them on, danced around and pretended like he had soooooooo many important things to do. But in the end, did anyone really think he was going to turn away from a rolling TV camera? Curt Schilling?

Of course not.

The writers, for the most part, ignored Schilling. That story has been told too many times, thank you very much. Besides, as erstwhile scribe Dennis Deitch suggested, perhaps it was time for a statute of limitations on Schilling stories. If a player has been out of town for seven years, it’s only proper to ignore him forever. After all, that’s how the IRS works, right?

So yes, Schilling was in town.

Appropos of nothing: Does anyone out there have doubts about that bloody sock?

And David Wells was in Philadelphia, too. In fact, the always chatty and round lefty was in town long enough to kind of, sort of allude to an idea that Phillies’ pinch hitter David Dellucci had used steroids. From watching and listening to Dellucci speak about the comments, it was very obvious that he was very hurt and disappointed with what Wells had to say.

Since I wrote it late on Saturday night when most people were out and about doing stuff or inside sleeping, here’s a reprint of what went down:

Much ado about nothing?
During a pre-game conversation where he discussed everything from his upcoming minor-league rehab assignment, his age, and Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run, controversial Red Sox pitcher David Wells was his typical self. This time, though, Wells brought a former teammates and current Phillie into the mix.

While talking about baseball’s steroid controversy, Wells mentioned David Dellucci and the fact that the Phillies’ top pinch hitter has just one homer a season after stroking 29 a season ago for the Texas Rangers.

“You see a little bitty guy hitting 30 home runs, what, Dellucci, I guess?” Wells told reporters. “How many home runs did he hit last year? 29. Has he ever done that in his career? How many has he hit this year? So, the numbers have gone down tremendously since all this has come up. I know Dave, I’ve never suspected him of doing them.”

After the game, a visibly upset Dellucci cleared his name.

“I’ve been tested. I’ve been tested this offseason. I’ve been tested a number of times last year,” Dellucci said. “I leave the stadium after midnight every night because I’m working out. I do that this year, and I did that in Texas.”

What Wells failed to mention is that Dellucci hit 29 homers last season in 128 games and 516 plate appearances in the hitter-friendly American League. That comes to a home run every 15 at-bats.

This season Dellucci has appeared in 34 games for 40 plate appearances primarily as a pinch hitter. If Dellucci hits a home run in his next time up, he will be averaging one home run for every 16 at-bats.

— John R. Finger

The next day, Wells issued a kind of, sort of mea culpa through the Red Sox PR staff. Francona, in a classy move that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him, offered an apology in person to Dellucci. Still, Dellucci was rightly still stinging from Wells’ comment.

As far as the baseball stuff goes, this Red Sox club doesn’t appear to be as strong as the one that stormed through Philadelphia last season, which, for me, was one of the best teams I have watched during my years on the job.

The others (in no particular order):
2001 New York Yankees
2001-02 Arizona Diamondbacks
2003 Seattle Mariners
2004 St. Louis Cardinals
2005 Boston Red Sox

Finally, Kevin Roberts of the Courier Post writes my new, favorite blog.

Wade chooses not to wonder about the one’s that got away

bloody sockDramatically, the TV cameras zoomed in on the blood-stained baseball sock where the picture explained in great detail the heart of a pitcher that carried 86 seasons of shattered hopes and dreams of a self-proclaimed Nation.

At the same time, velvet throated announcers and poetic scribes proclaimed the pitcher’s greatness using words like determination, guts and hero.

But what they all failed to mention is the fact that he wanted to be here. He wanted to be one of us. To paraphrase W.C. Fields, if all things were equal, Curt Schilling wanted to pitch for the Phillies or Yankees, not the Red Sox.

It’s funny how things work out. Instead potentially pitching his adapted hometown Philadelphia to the playoffs for the first time since he did it in 1993, Schilling has the Red Sox two victories away from their first World Series title since the Woodrow Wilson Administration. So instead of a bloody ankle in front of the crowd at Citizens Bank Park, millions around the world are watching the one that got away.

Interestingly, the only way everyone gets to watch the pitcher once described by his boss in Philadelphia as a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four, is because the team’s doctor performs an innovative operation that involves suturing a torn tendon sheath. The technique involves stitching the tendon in place so it won’t fall over Schilling’s ankle when he pitches.

His victories over the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS and in Game 2 of the World Series were described by Fox commentator Tim McCarver another former Phillie as a “performance [that] will go down forever in New England baseball lore.”

Go figure.

Had general manager Ed Wade been able to work out a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks last November, who knows if the Red Sox would be two wins away from exercising nearly nine decades of ghosts. Who knows, if Wade had ponied up Brett Myers, as the Diamondbacks reportedly asked for, instead of Carlos Silva and Nick Punto, which Wade reportedly offered, maybe the St. Louis Cardinals with castoffs Scott Rolen and Marlon Anderson would be wrapping up a title against the Yankees.

However, one thing is for certain. If Schilling landed back home instead of Boston, Terry Francona would probably still be the bench coach for the Oakland A’s instead of the manager for the Red Sox.

It’s funny how things work out.

Francona, of course, is the manager Ed Wade fired after the 2000 season and replaced with recently fired Larry Bowa. Since leaving town, Francona has worked for the Indians, Rangers and A’s before hooking up with his old ace and taking Boston on its historical run. Actually, some have written that good old Tito is the perfect manager for a team that is a self-described band of idiots.

“I’m very happy for Terry Francona. I had a great fondness for Terry when he was here and it was a difficult for us to remove him as manager,” Wade said. “I talked to him at the end of the year when they had a crucial series against the Yankees and I told him I was very happy for him.”

Easy-going and friendly, Francona makes long-lasting relationships wherever he goes, particularly with his players. In Philadelphia, Francona was especially tight with Mike Lieberthal, Randy Wolf and Rolen. Before the World Series started last weekend, Francona told reporters about the special relationship he had with Rolen when they were both in Philadelphia.

The same could not be said for Wade and the rest of his staff in the front office. Actually, Wade has gotten pretty good at dodging questions about Schilling and Rolen. Sometimes he’s even a bit cranky about it.

“As far as players, I mean I can sit there and say, ‘Schilling was with us, Rolen was with us, Marlon Anderson was with us,’ the same way the Marlins can say, ‘(Kevin) Millar was with [them] and (Edgar) Renteria was with [them],’ and Anaheim can say, ‘we probably should have never got rid of Jim Edmonds,'” Wade said. “Look at the rosters and see how many home-grown players are involved on each side and how many guys came from somewhere else and the situations that dictated making that happen.”

Yeah, but what about those fans that tune in to the World Series and see a reunion of old Phillies. Aside from Francona, Schilling and Rolen, Anderson latched on with the Cardinals as a decent left-handed bat off the bench after Wade non-tendered him. Then there’s Sox’s setup man Mike Timlin, who the Phillies received from St. Louis in the deal for Rolen, and John Mabry, who spent a short time in 2002 with the Phils before being shipped away for Jeremy Giambi.

Then there is Game 3 starter Jeff Suppan, who the Phillies could have had at the trading deadline in 2003. Instead, Suppan went to Boston before hooking up with the Cards and becoming their top pitching during the postseason. Reportedly, the Phillies could have had Derek Lowe, the winner in Game 7 of the ALCS, for Kevin Millwood.

Is there any wonder why a lot of fans watching the series think to themselves, “Why couldn’t that be us?”

“Yeah, we could bring [Mike] Schmidt back. We could have had it so he wouldn’t have retired in ’89,” said Wade a bit smart-alecky. “I understand why fans do that and I understand how memories fade over time and reality sort of becomes blurred over the years.”

“There’s nothing I can do. I can’t stand here and say Rolen said, ‘there’s no amount of money that we could give him that would make him want to stay in Philadelphia.’ Or that Curt Schilling didn’t pull me into the back room of the trainer’s room at Shea Stadium and tell me he wanted to be traded. I can say those things, but then people would say, ‘Yeah, but you’re messing up a perfectly good story with the facts.'”

But he’s not messing up the story for the Cardinals because they got to the World Series with Rolen. And he can’t mess it up for the Red Sox fans either, because they think Francona and Schilling are going to do something that several at least three generations of Americans have never seen.

Who knew that it would take Terry Francona and Curt Schilling to break the Curse of the Bambino?

So who is going to help the Phillies break their malaise? Carlos Beltran? Nomar Garciaparrra? Carl Pavano? Randy Johnson?

Who?

“I won’t be happy until we’re playing,” Wade said, singing to the choir. “It’s not any fun being a non-participant regardless of how close the games have been.”

He can say that again.

E-mail John R. Finger