The NLCS: Pre-game 3 notes and whatnot

cliff_leeSo how is this for the weather sampler: last week at this time we were watching the coldest playoff baseball in history in snowy and chilly Denver, only to be watching a workout in Los Angeles two days later as temperatures pushed into the 90s.

Now we’re back in Philadelphia where it actually feels colder than it did in Denver simply because we were teased with that dry, hot Southern California air. Plus, it feels windier here in Philly because the put the ballpark down in an area devoid of buildings or large structures and near a geographical anomaly where two major rivers converge.

Yep, it’s chilly.

For Cliff Lee, it will be two straight chilly nights on the mound. Certainly it wouldn’t seem ideal for a guy from Arkansas, but according to Southern California guy Randy Wolf, a pitcher who actually likes to pitch in the chilly weather, the pitcher is always the warmest guy on the field.

“I’ve always had a tough time pitching in Atlanta and Florida and I sometimes I turn about three shades pink and I overheat,” Wolf said. “In the cold I feel more alert, I feel like my energy level is always there and the fact that you can blow on your hands when you’re on the mound in cold weather, your hands are only affected. As a pitcher you’re the only guy that’s moving on every pitch. The pitcher has probably the easiest job of keeping warm.”

Here are your pre-game factoids and whatnot:

• Sunday night’s game is the 21st time a NLCS has been tied at 1-1. Of the previous 20 Game 3s played in a 1-1 series, the home team won 13 of them. More notably, the winner of Game 3 in those instances went on to win the series 12 times.
• The Phillies are 2-5 in Game 3 of the NLCS. Both of the Phillies’ wins in Game 3s are against the Dodgers (1978 and 1983).
• Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Phillies are 6-for-60 against Dodgers’ starter Hiroki Kuroda. That does not include Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS where Kuroda gave up five hits in six innings of a 7-2 victory. Counting that, the Phillies are 11-for-83 (.133).
• Finally, Ryan Howard can break the all-time single season record for playoff games with an RBI on Sunday night. He is currently tied with Carlton Fisk with six straight games in the playoffs with an RBI, which Fisk did during the 1975 World Series. The amount of RBIs Fisk had in those six games? Try six.

The all-time record for consecutive games with an RBI in the playoffs is eight by Lou Gehrig in the 1928 and 1932 World Series.

Fava beans and a nice chianti

Hannibal LecterSnow flurries are fluttering around here in The Lanc and it’s cold again. Perhaps going from perfect, sun-soaked 60-degree mornings in Florida to blustery winter evenings in Pennsylvania is a lot like jet lag.

Oh well, Mother Nature is perfect in her demented little way, so whatever… it’s just weather.

Anyway, it would have been nice to spend a few more days in the Tampa Bay area, specifically to head up to Dunedin to check in on the Blue Jays and their new third baseman. Apparently, he used to play for the Phillies or something like that. Also working out with the Jays this spring are fellow McCaskey High alums, John Parrish and Matt Watson. Parrish, a lefty pitcher and a wintertime signing for the Jays after spending the last few seasons with the Orioles and Mariners, could figure into the Toronto bullpen in 2008.

Watson is a non-roster invitee for Toronto after spending last season playing in Japan. Prior to the stint in Japan, he played in the Expos, Mets and A’s organizations with 34 big-league games under his belt.

So far this spring, Watson has gotten into two Grapefruit League games and is 0-for-2 with a strikeout. Parrish hasn’t appeared in any games yet, but he’s expected to pitch against the Devil Rays this afternoon.

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This spring, Major League Baseball required the first and third-base coaches to wear batting helmets when on the field. This decree comes as a reaction to the death of minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was hit by a line drive below the ear while coaching first base. Needless to say, a handful of coaches aren’t too jazzed about the new mandate, but have complied in almost all cases.

All except for one guy, of course.

“That’s not for me,” new Dodgers’ third-base coach Larry Bowa told MLB.com.

“My question is, how can I be in the league 40 years and the league says who wears a helmet and who doesn’t? One guy got killed and I’m sorry it happened. But bats break and they can be a deadly weapon. Do something about bats.

“Umpires get hit with line drives. I’ve probably seen 50 of them get hit. If coaches have to wear helmets, umpires should. I’ll sign a waiver. And there should be a grandfather clause. These are very cumbersome. They talk about delay of game, and when the helmet falls off, you’ll have to stop the game. It should be an option. I know I’m talking for a lot of guys who won’t say anything. I’ll write a check for 162 games if I have to to not wear it.”

Bowa makes salient points. However, after seeing Bowa in action for four years as manager of the Phillies, perhaps simply wearing a helmet isn’t the best call.

No, Bowa might be better off out there with one of those masks they put on Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Next time: Billy Wagner and C.J. Wilson.

Running on empty

chicagoHad it not rained on Nov. 12, 2006 in Harrisburg, Pa., I would have been in Chicago last weekend for the marathon. At least that was the plan, anyway. But the rain and bitter wind ruined my potential trip.

How could a November rain in Harrisburg ruin a trip to Chicago in October?

Let me explain:

The plan last November was to run the Harrisburg Marathon well enough to qualify for the Chicago Marathon’s sub-elite program. That’s the program that allows guys who are almost good marathoners to start close to the front of the Chicago Marathon in attempt to burn through the pancake-flat course fast enough to get close to an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Baring that, it’s a good way to develop American marathoners, though the sport seems as if it is in good hands with dudes like Brian Sell, Alan Culpepper, Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, Khalid Khannouchi and Abdi Abdirahman (amongst others) holding their own against the best runners in the world.

Anyway, it takes a 2:22 marathon to qualify for the Olympic Trials and though there is no way in hell that I would be able to average the 5:20 miles it takes to do that, it would be a lot of fun to try.

But in shooting for a 2:36(ish) in Harrisburg last November, the 30-mph headwinds and raw temperatures had the last say. In fact, I didn’t even come close to running my target time even though I believe I ran pretty tough over the final five miles of the course in which I went from 12th to 6th place.

That part was fun.

But since then I trained hard through the spring and summer with my mind set on running well in October and/or November with a time that could get me in position to get into position to one day run well at Chicago.

Or something like that.

Then the baby came, and then I traveled around to write about the Phillies, which further curbed my training. There’s a reason why most sportswriters are bordering on obesity and it has nothing to do with the preservative, carbohydrate and fat-laden garbage they eat at the ballpark. Sometimes it takes more time to watch a guy run than to actually do it yourself.

Or something like that.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem as if there was anything fun about the Chicago Marathon last weekend. As some may have already read, the unseasonably hot temperatures turned the race into battle of attrition. In fact, it got so bad that the organizers had to stop the race when they were unable to properly take care of the runners on the course. According to published stories, there was not enough water on the course to take care of the runners on the course after four hours. Hundreds more suffered heat exhaustion and cramps because they were not properly hydrated or maybe trained for the race and the conditions.

Maybe there are too many people in the Chicago Marathon?

Believe it or not, marathoning is popular and it’s not just for the folks out there looking for good times. Over the past decade or so there seems to be a new breed of “runners” who run marathons in order to cross it off the “things to do” list. After pushing their body through 26.2 miles, is sky diving next?

Anyway, Frank Shorter wrote about the heat and what went wrong at the 2007 Chicago Marathon for The New York Times. But one thing Shorter and everyone else forgot to mention about the 2007 Chicago Marathon and the heat is this…

They moved up the race date.

In most years, the Chicago Marathon takes place during the third week of October. In most years, the third week of October makes for cool and comfortable temperatures that are perfect for running fast times on Chicago’s notoriously fast (easy) course. But for 2007 the race was pushed up to Oct. 7?

Why?

My guess is because the deadline for runners to achieve an Olympic Trials qualifying time was Oct. 7. In order to accommodate the handful of runners that wanted to go for one last effort to get that 2:22 on a relatively easy course before the Nov. 3 Trials in NYC, perhaps the race was pushed up two weeks.

If this is why the race was on Oct. 7 this year it’s not smart. Though I’m more interested in the fast runners and serious training and have little patience for the Oprahization of our sport, I understand where the bread is buttered. Shoe companies and sponsors go after the middle-of-the-pack and beyond runners because that’s where the money comes from. These are the folks willing to shell out top dollar for the fancy, high-priced shoes that no one really needs, or are willing to travel all over the globe to run/walk 26.2 miles over the same path that Phidippides may or may not have crossed at one point of history… or not.

Look, I’m not sure if that’s the reason why the race was moved up from its traditional date. And as a result, only one guy made the 2:22 to get into next month’s Trials. That’s one person with a Trials qualifier and one person who died from heat-related stress.

Not exactly a fair trade-off, huh?

Meanwhile, what’s going on with the Chicago Marathon? Last year, as some might remember, Robert Cheruiyot slipped on the finish line decal and suffered a concussion:

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So the big race is just a little less than three weeks away… anyone have a guess on who the top three will be?

It’s hard to sleep on Khannouchi despite the 65:04 half marathon he ran last week. I’d be willing to guess that the top runners will be keying off him if he takes the starting line.

Otherwise, it’s also difficult not to like Ryan Hall or Ritzenhein. Plus, Culpepper always comes up big in national competitions and Brian Sell seems like a really smart runner. Either way, it’s bound to be one of the most exciting Olympic Trials marathons in recent memory.

Next: going to the B&N

Who turned on the heat?

Big Elk @ StanleyESTES PARK, Colo. – So I’m sitting at the tables closest to the door in Kind Coffee – my favorite coffee shop ever – with a view of the burbling Big Thompson River and the bundled up locals traipsing up Elkhorn Avenue for the October sidewalk sale with all sorts of thoughts running wild:

“Is the baseball season really over?”

“Man, I can’t believe I made that drive from Denver at 1 a.m.”

“This coffee is so #$&*@% good!”

“I can’t believe I’m in Estes Park in October and it’s 35 degrees… it’s 90 degrees in Lancaster and Philly.”

“It’s hard to believe that Colorado is on the same planet as Philadelphia.”

“Hey! Look… elk!

“That guy is wearing a funny hat. I wonder where he got it?”

You get the idea. It goes on and on and on like this – sometimes for days.

Anyway, if I had to guess, I’d say that I slept for seven hours since waking up on Saturday morning to go to the airport in Philadelphia. That part stinks because sleep is vital. If one gets the proper amount of sleep (and a little bit extra just for fun), there is no need to inject silliness like HGH into one’s bloodstream.

Be that as it may, I’ve been infused with a steady stream of coffee since arriving out here at noon (local time) on Saturday. From the airport I went to the ballpark and watched the Phillies’ season come to an end. When that ended and I turned the ignition on my car at 1:01 a.m., I drove to Estes Park.

On the way to Estes, I saw exactly four cars on the final 36 miles of the drive after exiting I-25. I was convinced an elk or coyote was going to jump out of the thick, inky blackness of the night and into the path of my car.

Instead it was just cold and windy.

Get this: when I left Philadelphia it was 90 degrees and foggy, but when I woke up on Sunday morning it was 35 degrees and windy with a few snow flurries dancing about. By 1 p.m. it was 55 degrees with a gentle breeze and the sunniest and bluest skies anyone will ever see.

ANYWAY, one of my goals in Estes Park was to spend the morning at Kind Coffee, which is where I started writing this, as well as Sunday’s (or Monday’s… I lost track) reprisal of the Phillies’ season. Check it out by clicking here.

Another goal was to see if there were more elk meandering about town than during the summertime.

Here’s how it worked out:

As far as the coffee joint went, I made it to Kind Coffee three times in less than 16 hours of which four were spent sleeping. As mentioned above, I started writing this post from the table nearest the door with a full view of the Big Thompson River flowing within spitting distance. To the table to my right sat a bearded, 27-year old seasonal employee of the National Park Service, who was discussing his existential crisis with an attentive and patient young lady. I know all of this because I heard the conversation as if I had snapped on the TV and was just listening to it as background noise. As I tap-tap-tapped away, waxing on about Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Jamie Moyer, the young man described how he was ready to retire and was sick of seasonal jobs, though he was not at all interested in working in an office where he might have to sit in a cubicle all day under set, rigid hours.

He also didn’t want to have to spend the rest of his life working only to retire and find out that he didn’t make enough money or invest properly.

Join the club, buddy. And save as much of your fire watching money as possible now – sell that top-of-the-line iMac on eBay… better yet, stay away from anything that has a small letter in front of a capital letter. That type of [stuff] is expensive. Better yet, start buying Folgers at the Safeway up the hill. Buying that Kind Coffee every day adds up.

Trust me.

Famous last words, huh?

The StanleyAs far as the elk meandering about goes, I thought there would be more, though there were a bunch just chillaxing near the Lake Estes trail as well as a big ol’ buck and his brood hanging out behind the Stanley Hotel.

Oh yeah, I also bought a weird hat that no one else likes. In fact, my sister doesn’t even like it and she’s a bit odd (eccentric?).

To shorten this up a bit, the trip was too short. All of it. Time in Colorado is always much too short, and the Phillies’ run in the playoffs was almost criminally short. I realized this as I drove past Coors Field on Sunday night and saw that it was all dark. I said out loud: “Hey, this would be about the time the first pitch would be thrown.”

I’m going to dig into the off-season this afternoon, where I’ll attempt to offer what we could expect from the club this winter. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here’s what I was writing for this site when Jeff Baker singled off J.C. Romero with two outs in the eighth inning on Saturday night at Coors:

Game 3 of the NLDS has really heated up and, yes, we mean that metaphorically. Heading into the eighth, the Rockies have turned it over to funky lefty Brian Fuentes, who whiffed Jimmy Rollins, got Chase Utley to fly out harmlessly to left, and then struck out Pat Burrell to end the inning.

To punctuate the feat, Fuentes gave a strong fist pump with his left hand and a little leg kick.

But Burrell nearly had Fuentes hanging his head. His long, loud foul ball started its flight looking like it was going to land in the seats for a homer, but instead turned out just to be strike two.

The Rockies sent the meat of their order up against Tom Gordon in the eighth. Gordon started his second inning against Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins up.

I’m betting that J.C. Romero will face Helton…

And here comes Charlie with his lineup card to pull off a double-switch. Romeo to face Helton, Jayson Werth to left to replace Burrell. I imagine Charlie will use Brett Myers to face the righty Garrett Atkins even if Romero doesn’t retire Helton.

Uh… oops.

Wha’ happened

BlackoutWhat the…

Hey, who turned out the lights?

Just as Shane Victorino was digging in to lead off the second, all of the power went out in the ballpark. I don’t know if it’s related to the windy conditions, or if it’s in the neighborhood as well. All I know is that my cell phone won’t connect with my number back in Lancaster.

Weird, wild stuff.

OK…

I’m told it was a computer glitch and not related to the weather or whatever else. Either way, the delay lasted 14 minutes and it’s getting windier and colder. What a weird day. When I left the house this morning there was pea soup fog with reports of record-breaking temperatures and nasty humidity. Then I get here and it’s a perfect, sun-soaked day with humidity at 9 percent.

If the locusts show up, I’m gone.

Have I mentioned that it’s windy here?

Back in the baseball game, wily veteran Jamie Moyer is throwing strikes. He also threw one that Garrett Atkins normally would have smashed up to the concession stand where the sell the Rocky Mountain Oysters, but the gale-force winds knocked the blast down so that Pat Burrell could make an easy catch on the warning track.

Moyer loaded the bases on a pair of weak singles and a walk before getting out of the jam on a close play at first on a grounder hit by pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.

Oh, but it’s getting odder. I just had to move all of my stuff off of the table in front of me so that a man could walk on top of the rows here in the press box to close the windows.

Apparently, it’s cold and windy out there. I don’t know any more because the windows are closed.

Greetings from Blake Street

Coors FieldDENVER – Yay! I made it. Actually, I think I am the only person to be on the premises of both the Phillies and Rockies stadiums today. In order to pull off such a stunt, one has to get up early…

I’m sleepy.

Nonetheless, we have a big ballgame tonight. Apparently the weather is going to take a wild turn as a front comes in, but I will report that the wind has been fairly fierce. There have been some gusts that could knock a big, strapping fella on his duff.

I can’t believe I used those terms in that sentence.

Anyway, well be coming at you live just like in the first two games, so get ready. In the meantime, here are the lineups:

Rockies
7 – Kaz Matsui, 2b
2 – Troy Tulowitzki, ss
5 – Matt Holliday, lf
17 – Todd Helton, 1b
27 – Garrett Atkins, 3b
11 – Brad Hawpe, rf
19 – Ryan Spilborghs, cf
8 – Yorvit Torrealba, c
38 – Ubaldo, Jimenez, p

As you can see, Clint Hurdle is sticking with the same lineup that he used in the first two games. Hey, if it ain’t broke…

Phillies
11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
26 – Chase Utley, 2b
5 – Pat Burrell, lf
6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
33 – Aaron Rowand, cf
8 – Shane Victorino, cf
51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
3 – Abraham Nunez, 3b
50 – Jamie Moyer, p

With Moyer on the mound, Charlie Manuel is going with a more defensive lineup. Those nine guys remind me of something Moyer and I chatted about the other day – I told him that 50 percent of good pitching is good defense.

He said: “Ha! In my case it’s 99.9 percent.”

What a card!

Do or die in Denver

Clint HurdleThe Coloradoans are having fun. As a brief diversion from the Broncos for a couple of hours, the folks in Colorado are chirping about how great their Rockies are. The entire state of Colorado pretty much shuts down whenever the Broncos play, and they are known to take hardcore sports participation to a degree that Philadelphians… well, don’t. But that’s just the way it is when the county due north of Denver is home to more than 60 people who were in the last Olympics.

And yes, they are chirping. They’re chirping like crickets near the lake on a hot summer night. In making some arrangements to pay some visits in Estes Park over the next couple of days, I informed folks that as long as the series was in full throttle I would be busy in Denver.

“So you will be around Saturday night and all day Sunday, huh?”

Yep, they’re really confident about the Rockies chances. Actually, so are the Rockies.

“We believe we’re going to win every game,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve been playing in the loser’s bracket for a month.”

There is some hope for the Phillies fans, though. For instance, the Phillies are 8-2 in their last 10 road games and the Rockies are just 11-7 in games at Coors Field when the wind blows harder than 10 mph. According to the weather forecast,

Still, the Rockies have won 16 of their last 17 games and are 8-3 in the last 11 at Coors. A “front,” as they like to say out there, is moving in and that means temperatures are going to drop 30 degrees as quickly as it takes for a room to get dark after flipping a switch. Saturday night’s game should be breezy, though OK for a ballgame. But if there is a Game 4 on Sunday night it’s likely that the temperatures will be a touch warmer than freezing. There’s even a chance for a few snow flurries, too.

But that happens out there all year round. In fact, I remember a time a few years ago when it was a comfortable and sunny August day with temperatures in Estes in the mid-80s. But after a short drive up Trail Ridge Road we had to pull over because it was snowing and hailing too hard to negotiate those tricky mountain roads.

That was August.

This was July in the relative low altitude of Denver:

So if you’re going to Denver and can’t get tickets for the game (it’s sold out), go check out the El Chapultepec, a bar a block or two away from Coors on 1962 Market Street. It’s one of those holdovers from the pre-gentrification Denver where Kerouac and Cassady along with Sinatra and Bono have been seen having a few while eating authentic Mexican food from paper plates and listening to jazz from the stage. The music is what that really drives folks in, they say.

El Chapultepec is a little trendier than it used to be, but it doesn’t look like it from the outside.

See how close it is to Coors:

map to El Chapultepec

Other than that, my wife has stopped in the Chop House for a pre-Coors lunch. She still talks about the salad she ate there two years ago.

For those looking for the old Denver of the Beats, there are tours to take.

Or, if you want to really see the mountains, drive the 60 miles up to Estes to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a Swiss-inspired little town where the elk out-number the people. Plus, Stephen King stayed at the stately Stanley Hotel for inspiration for The Shining.

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Speaking of horror stories, did everyone see all those bugs swarm onto Joboa Chamberlain in last night’s Indians-Yankees game? Wow. That was almost like something out of Hunter Thompson, only in his case he was fighting off low-flying bats.

There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge.

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Oh yeah, Ian is ALIVE!

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I’m on the way to Denver and will make posts here during the game just like in Philly… I’ll check back from Coors.