Pittsburgh, baseball and Clemente

Roberto_Clemente_bridgePITTSBURGH – Once, Pittsburgh was a great baseball town. In fact, Pittsburgh is a lot like its cross-Commonwealth sister city, Philadelphia, in that sense. Baseball with its rhythms, consistency and old traditions was a perfect fit for cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh because those traits meant something.

But times change and things that were once popular sometimes fall aside. Sure, baseball is still popular in Philadelphia. A team just coming off a victory in the World Series can’t help but be popular. That’s been obvious all summer when fans from the east have traveled all over the country just to say they saw the hometown team in a different place.

Nowhere was that more evident than in Pittsburgh this week where the team’s hotel was overrun with fans, autograph seekers and gawkers hoping to catch an eyeful of the baseball champs. More amazed than perturbed, the Phillies’ traveling party could only curse Pittsburgh’s coziness, proximity to Philadelphia, and magnificent ballpark for folks desire to camp out everywhere the team went.

The difference between the two cities is that in Pittsburgh its football and hockey teams win championships. Aside from serving as reigning champs in both sports, the football team has won six Super Bowls in seven attempts, while the hockey club won its third title last spring.

Oh, don’t think Philly fans aren’t a touch envious. That’s especially the case considering the football Eagles are going on 50 years without a title, while the Flyers are inching toward their 35th straight Cup-less season.

Meanwhile, the baseball team just can’t seem to put together winning seasons or fill its beautiful ballpark. Unless the Pirates go on a historical run, they will finish the 2009 season with a losing record for the 17th year in a row. Nope, the Pirates haven’t ended a season above .500 since Barry Bonds left town for San Francisco.

Remember when Bonds played for the Pirates? You know, back when there were just two divisions in each league and Pittsburgh and Philly played each other 18 times a year. The Pirates were in the NL East back then and featured some really great teams. Bonds’ teams came so close to going to the World Series in three straight seasons with Jim Leyland in the managers’ seat.

Those were hardly the best Pittsburgh teams, though. The 1903 Pirates lost to the Red Sox in the very first World Series ever played, while the 1909 club is regarded by some baseball historians to be the greatest team ever. They won 110 games that season during the tail end of Honus Wagner’s career. Wagner, of course, is regarded as the greatest to ever play shortstop in baseball history. Ol’ Honus retired playing after the 1917 season and died in 1955, but he still olds the Pirates records in games, runs, triples and times on base.

first_WSAsk any Pittsburgher about their team and there will be stories about Dave Parker, Dick Groat, Elroy Face, the Waner Bros., Pie Traynor, and, of course, Willie Stargell and the fantastic run in 1979. Of course in the late 1970s there were always those brutally tough games against the Phillies that always seemed to determine which team would make it out of the NL East and into the playoffs.

There’s (rightfully) a larger than life statue of Willie Stargell outside of the ballpark where he seems ready to take a big swing and knock one into the far reaches of a ballpark somewhere. Until the new ballparks were built in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Stargell hit the longest homers in the Commonwealth. That old Stargell Star at the Vet was always a beacon as well as something of a tourist destination.

Of course what the Stargell statue in Pittsburgh does not depict is that whirly bat twirl he performed in the box before every pitch. How many kids from the ‘70s grew up imitating Stargell’s routines?

Moreover, there is a historical marker in a grassy area on the waterfront next to PNC Park pinpointing the approximate spot where the Pirates hosted the first World Series game in a National League city. In fact, Pittsburgh’s baseball history is a year older than in Philadelphia with the Alleghenys/Pirates starting in 1882.

Nevertheless, it’s been a rough decade-plus for the Pirates and baseball in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the thought was the beautiful new ballpark would spur a rebirth of sorts, but when every team has a new stadium or a bona fide historical site in which to play, the cachet and novelty of such a thing wears off pretty quickly.

In other words, there’s only so much a new ballpark can do for a club.

The argument that Pittsburgh is just the 20th biggest media market in baseball doesn’t explain things, either. After all, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oakland have all made the playoffs in recent years. That means there is no reason why a cash-strapped or smaller market ballclub can’t get it done.

Yet for some reason Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to win and that’s perplexing. The football team in Pittsburgh has won the most ever Super Bowls, while the hockey team is always competitive playing in a building that looks as if it popped out of some sort of futuristic Disney concoction from the late ‘60s.

In the future, man will play sports on ice indoors during the summertime.

With so much going for them such as a picturesque city that enticed the French traders with its lush hills carved out of the terrain by the confluence of three major rivers in one location, it’s a wonder the baseball ops folks can’t get it done. Really, they have it all:

Nice ballpark – check.
Beautiful city – check.
Earnest and diehard fans – check.
Historical franchise – check.

What’s the deal then?

Until the Pirates figure it out, there will be one name that represents all that is good about baseball anywhere.

clementeRoberto Clemente played for Pittsburgh and he was the man.

Certainly everyone knows all the important details of Clemente’s life and career by now, but if not, pick up Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss biography. In the meantime, it’s tough for students of baseball history to walk the streets of the city and not think of Clemente. Simply put, he was more than a baseball player – they don’t name schools, parks and awards after mere ballplayers.

And that’s not just in Pittsburgh. All over the country homage is paid to Puerto Rico’s prince. Some have suggested that Clemente’s No. 21 be retired all over baseball just like Jackie Robinson’s No. 42. It’s not a bad idea since some folks view Clemente’s emergence as a star as a touchstone moment not just in baseball or sports, but in the larger culture.

They say Clemente is as significant a figure as Jackie Robinson. Considering the influx of Latino players in professional ball, they just might be onto something, too.

In baseball the Roberto Clemente Award is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team,” as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. The Phillies’ most recent nominee for the award is Shane Victorino who was born long after Clemente died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to earthquake ravaged Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve of 1972.

But Victorino understands Clemente’s legacy and his place in culture. No, he doesn’t sense Clemente’s spirit when in Pittsburgh, but he’s impressed with what he has been able to glean from highlight footage. After all, in some ways Victorino is the same sort of player.

“He played the game hard and had an unbelievable arm,” Victorino said. “He was someone who changed the game. The way he played the game, he could do it all. He wasn’t just good at one part of the game.”

What impressed Victorino the most was the footage from the 1971 World Series where Clemente did everything. His throws from right field and helmet flying off his head as he dug for a triple left undeniable marks on the game and became something more than a MVP-type ballplayer plying the intricacies of his craft. It was fodder for art and culture. In a city that was once defined as the manufacturing center for steel and industry, Clemente was the graceful hero. He was elegant as opposed to the brutish nature of football that now keeps the city rapt.

It’s a shame that baseball is not popular in Clemente’s town, but maybe that’s a good thing, too. Clemente set the bar so high that maybe it will be impossible to match those glory days.

Then again, maybe the best way the modern Pirates can do proper honor to the legacy of Clemente and his brethren is to get it together.

Game 2: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

There have been some close ones – that save from Game 1 of the NLDS and the clincher against the Nats stand out. But for the most part, Lidge has made it look easy.

That’s 45 up and 45 down for the Phils’ closer. He’s a pack rat… he saves everything.

This time, though, Brad Lidge nailed one down to put the Phillies within two victories of the World Series. After this game, the next time the Phillies play at Citizens Bank Park it could be against the Rays or the Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series.

Let that sink in for a moment…

If the Phillies do come back to Philly for the NLCS, it will be to close it out. But needless to say, these guys smell blood. They don’t want to come back here.

Certainly though, Lidge made it a little interesting in the ninth by giving up a pair of walks with less than one out. As a result, the tying run came to the plate and the go-ahead run waited on deck. But before anyone could say “Black Friday: The Sequel,” Lidge struck out Matt Kemp and Nomar Garciaparra with 45,883 towel-waving and screaming fans freaking out.

Still perfect.

Game 2: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

Happ conjures memories of Bystrom’s September

Manager Charlie Manuel was not enthusiastic when asked if lefty J.A. Happ would get a chance to start during the September playoff race. Instead of coming right out with straightforward answer, Manuel hedged by telling folks that Happ was going to be a good Major League pitcher one day soon.

During a handful of stints in which Happ shuttled back and forth on the Northeast Extension between Citizens Bank Park and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Manuel lamented the chances he was not able to give the 25-year-old rookie. Sure, Happ received two starts for the Phillies when Brett Myers went back to the minors in July, but as soon as Manuel had his veterans back in the rotation Happ was back on Route 476 and heading north.

Manuel was even reluctant to use Happ out of the bullpen saying, “I’m not afraid to pitch Happ out of the bullpen, but I look at Happ as a starter.”

Talk about being in limbo – Happ was a pitcher that was ill-suited for the ‘pen and not seasoned enough for the manager to confidentially throw him into a regular starting role even when two-year veteran Kyle Kendrick struggled. In fact, twice in one week Manuel used Myers and Jamie Moyer on short rest and has reconfigured the rotation so that the No. 5 spot will come up just one more time for the rest of the season.

Needless to say, Manuel’s confidence in the end of his rotation has increased considerably after Wednesday night’s 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

That’s because Happ took over Kendrick’s spot and kept the Phillies in first place in the NL East by spinning six innings of shutout ball in Atlanta for his first big-league win. In his first start since pitching for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on Aug. 26, Happ held the Braves to just three hits and a walk on 86 pitches.

“It was awesome,” Happ said. “I understood the position we’re in. I just wanted to get us back in the dugout, keep the momentum on our side and keep us on the roll we’ve been on.”

Happ’s outing drew rave reviews from a fellow starter who is 20 years his senior.

“He pitched the way you’re supposed to pitch, not like the clown who pitched [Tuesday] night,” said Tuesday night’s pitcher Moyer. “He’s obviously worked hard from last year to this year. He had great poise tonight. He threw the ball down in the zone. He pitched well up. He held his own. The more opportunities he gets, the better off he’ll be.”

If anything, baseball is all about the here and now. Sometimes a player is only as good as his last swing or pitch. Everybody is trying to get their foot in the door and keep it there.

“If you give a guy a chance, you don’t know how he’s going to react,” Manuel said. “Heck, Columbus took the chance.”

Indeed he did. It also appears the Phillies will give Happ another chance on Monday, which brings us to another issue that doesn’t really stick to the here-and-now. Instead, Manuel’s decision and Happ’s strong performance conjure up memories of past Phillies glories when another manager took a chance on an unproven rookie during the heat of a September pennant race.

“At that age you didn’t know what it means,” said former Phillies pitcher Marty Bystrom. “I didn’t know the history of Philadelphia and how much they wanted a championship. I had only been in the city for a month, so it was kind of a good thing. I was able to free up and focus.”

Bystrom, as devotees to Phillies’ lore know, joined the team as a September call up in 1980 World Championship season and was thrust into the starting rotation by manager Dallas Green when Larry Christenson went down with an injury. But instead of pitching like a 21-year-old kid, Bystrom proved to be an important cog on the staff alongside Steve Carlton, Dick Ruthven and Tug McGraw by going 5-0 in five starts with a 1.54 ERA. Factor in one relief appearance and Bystrom’s ERA dipped to 1.50 while holding opponents to a .195 batting average.

Interestingly, Bystrom’s first start was on Sept. 10, 1980 when he helped the Phillies remain a half game behind the Montreal Expos by tossing a complete-game, five-hit shutout at Shea Stadium. Yet the most lasting memory Bystrom has from that first start wasn’t the pressure of the pennant race – though that was evident. Instead, he was a bit jittery about making his first big-league start with Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa and Bob Boone in the field and the taskmaster Green in the dugout.

“[My head] was spinning, that’s for sure. It was really hard to grasp the situation. It was amazing,” Bystrom said.

Bystrom followed up his debut with a seven-innings of shutout ball in an 8-4 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Vet before going 5 1/3 innings for a 7-3 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

In that one, Bystrom gave up his first runs as a big leaguer when Dave Kingman clubbed a two-run homer in the fourth inning. To that point the rookie right-hander had gone 20 straight innings without allowing a run.

“I tried to get a slider over and he hit it over the center field fence,” Bystrom remembered.

Perhaps Bystrom’s biggest start that September came on Sept. 25 at the Vet when he went 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 victory over the Mets. Thanks to that victory the Phillies moved into first place by a half game over the Expos and remained either in first place, tied or mere percentage points behind the rest of the way.

His last start of the regular season was on Sept. 30 when Bystrom went seven innings in a 14-2 win over the Cubs at the Vet.

By that point, the folks in Philadelphia were wondering, “Where did this guy come from?”

“I went to spring training with the Major League club and pulled a hamstring. The talk back then was I would break camp with the Phillies, but it wasn’t until July when I finally pitched for the Triple-A club,” Bystrom said. “When Dallas called me up, he knew me. He was the minor league director before he became manager so he knew my arm was there. It was just a matter of maturity.”

Meanwhile, Happ finds himself in a similar situation as Bystrom did nearly 30 years ago. Though he stands to make just one more start, Happ is not eligible for the post-season roster because he was not on the 25-man squad before Sept. 1. Bystrom was in a similar situation during the ’80 run, too, however, an injury to Nino Espinosa opened up a post-season roster spot.

On the strength of just five Major League starts, Bystrom not only was with the club during one of the most memorable league championship series ever, but also started the fifth and deciding game against Nolan Ryan and Houston in the Astrodome. Strangely enough, Bystrom said he didn’t know he was going to start the deciding game until the Phillies won in Game 4.

“I hadn’t pitched in nine or 10 days and Dallas came up to after Game 4 and said, ‘You got the ball tomorrow, kid,’” Bystrom said. “I said, ‘I’m ready.’”

Bystrom called that NLCS finale “the toughest game I ever pitched.” More than just the pressure of a game with the World Series on the line, Bystrom recalled that the noise from the fans in the Astrodome was deafening.

“I took a suggestion from Steve Carlton and put cotton in my ears,” Bystrom said, adding that pitching with Rose, Schmidt, Bowa and Boone on his side in the field made things a lot easier.

Green later tabbed Bystrom to start the pivotal fifth game of the World Series in Kansas City – a game best remembered for the Phillies’ ninth-inning rally and McGraw’s heart-stopping pitching to win it.

“It was a moment I dreamed about since I was five or six years old,” Bystrom said of pitching in the World Series. “Then, all of sudden, it was today is the day – this is the day I was dreaming about all of those years.”

The 1980 season was kind of the beginning of the end for Bystrom, which is more proof that baseball is all about the here-and now. An arm injury suffered just after the 1981 players’ strike curtailed the tall righty’s career in which he reached a career-high of six wins in two seasons. Following the 1989 season where he pitched in the Indians’ organization (after stints with the Yankees and Giants chains), Bystrom called it quits at age 30.

These days Bystrom lives in Geigertown, Pa. and works as the vice president of broker relations for the Benecon Group in Brownstown, Lancaster County, where he has worked since 1995. He moved back to the area at the end of his playing days when he was still pitching with the Yankees, and noted that every time a young kid comes up during the last month of the season, people always seem to remember him.

“It comes up,” Bystrom laughed. “There was a story in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago about September call ups and my picture was in it. I guess it has to go down as one of the best Septembers for a call up ever.”

It’s hard to argue with the 5-0 record and 1.50 ERA in the middle of a pennant race.

Happ could leave us conjuring up Bystrom’s magical month again if he pitches well on Monday. After that, who knows… maybe a few post-season starts will help history repeat itself.

Bystrom’s advice for Happ: Just stick with what got you there.

“[He just has to] relax as much as possible and stick to the normal routines.”

It’s as simple as that.

The price of success

RockiesHere’s a question:

Did it matter that the Rockies had eight days off before facing the Red Sox in the World Series? Did it matter a little, a lot or not at all? Oh sure, the Rockies players will say that the vacation in between the NLCS and the World Series didn’t matter because they got beat by a better team, but that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

Did it make a bit of difference?

Rockies’ manager Clint Hurdle told the Fox sideline boy after his team was broomed out of the World Series that there was no way to quantify how an eight-day layoff affected his team and kind of threw aside the question in order to give the Red Sox credit for winning the series.

But Hurdle did not say that the layoff didn’t have an effect on his team. Why not? Because it did.

Since Cactus League games began during the end of February, the Rockies played nearly every day. In fact, the Rockies, like every other Major League team played 162 regular-season games in 180 days, plus a wild-card playoff the day after the season, plus three games of the NLDS against the Phillies with just two days off, plus four games of the NLCS with just one day off.

That’s 170 games and the longest break some of the players on the team got was the three days for the All-Star Break. Though three days doesn’t seem like much to some, that break is like an oasis in the middle of a desert to guys who are used to going to work every single day of the week. And it’s not just baseball either. Research shows that runners and endurance athletes start to lose some fitness in as little as 48 hours of inactivity.

Some rest is good to help the body recover, but imagine taking eight days off after playing every game for a month as if it were do-or-die only to be given eight days off before being told to go out there to play in the biggest set of games in your life.

Good luck.

Worse it’s kind of rude… the Rockies got all worked up and became the biggest story in baseball by winning 21 of 22 games. But then, because the Indians nor Red Sox could figure things out, Hurdle and the guys were left to wait. It was like… vasocongestion. Yeah, that’s what it was. After a heroic and historic run, the Rockies could never shake the lingering sensation of heaviness, aching, or discomfort when the Series finally came around like an old man trying to figure out what to order in a deli.

It just wasn’t fair.

With the aid of hindsight, there’s no question that the Rockies this season and the Tigers in 2006 were penalized for doing their jobs too efficiently. I’m not saying the Tigers or the Rockies would have beaten the Cardinals or the Red Sox to win the World Series, but the fact that both clubs breezed through their respective league playoffs so easily proved to be a determent while the winners of the last two World Series were aided by playing seven-game series in the league championships.

The Tigers in ’06 and the Rockies in ’07 were penalized for being too successful.

How can this be fixed? Is there anything Bud Selig and his gang can do to make it so teams that win with ease can have a fair shot in the World Series? I don’t know. It seems as if the baseball playoffs are full of imperfections and everyone seems to appreciate the quirkiness for it. In other words, the Rockies and Tigers just have to take their beatings and enjoy them.

But how about this:

In the instance where a team like the Rockies and Tigers rip through the league championship only to wait a week or more for their future opponent to take care of business, allow the team that’s waiting for it all to be sorted out to get home-field advantage in the World Series. I don’t know if it will solve anything, but it’s better than giving the home-field advantage to the league that wins a meaningless, midseason exhibition that features players that will be at a Sandals resort when the playoffs roll around.

No, having the last at-bat in the first two games of the Series won’t be significant – after all, it didn’t help the Tigers too much last year – but at least it’s a gesture or a reward. It might not be much, but if a team has to sit around like the rest of us and listen to those dudes from Fox, they ought to get something out of it.

***
The latest issue of The New Yorker features a very riveting story on Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez. It’s written by Ben McGrath and is another sprawling, erudite pieces that the magazine always seems to run, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

The Extortionist: Scott Boras, the Yankees’ bête noire, has changed baseball forever.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Peter Gammons calls out Boras and A-Rod for the timing of the announcement that they had chosen to opt out of the deal with the Yankees:

The new dynasty?

Red SoxSo we live in a world where the Red Sox have won two of the last four World Series. Meanwhile, the White Sox, a club that had not won the Series since 1917, took the one of those titles during the Red Sox current “dynasty.”

What’s next? Will the Cubs finally win a World Series?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Anyway, two out of the last four counts for a pretty good dynasty these days. Though Major League Baseball does not have parity like the anti-American NFL, generally any team can win the World Series if they follow the Sox and Yankees’ formula. Since the institution of the Division Series in 1995, three teams have won the World Series more than once (the Yankees; the Marlins; and the Red Sox). That means any team can do it at least once… or at least get there. Only four teams (all of them expansion) haven’t won a pennant: the Mariners, Devil Rays, Rangers and the Nationals.

Of that four, one team clearly is not interested in winning.

The Red Sox second World Series title since 2004 makes one wonder what the hell they were doing for the 86 seasons between 1918 and 2004. No, there was no curse and people who believe in curses and jinxes in sports should put on their pink hat, untuck their jersey, sit down quietly in the club box seat, ask the waitress for another “Lite” beer and wait for the wave to come around again.

The real reason it took the Red Sox 86 seasons to win the World Series? They were stupid.

What’s the Phillies’ excuse? It approaching three decades since the Phillies’ last (and only) title, which would be worrisome if the Pirates had won since 1979, the Giants since 1954, the Indians since 1948, and, of course, the Cubs since ’08.

Ty Cobb was in his second full big-league season when the Cubs last won the World Series.

So how can the Phillies do what the Red Sox have done? Do they have to clean house of all the old-time thinking and get some new, fresh ideas like the Red Sox did? Do have to continue to build the team around their offense and the uber-cozy confines of their home ballpark? Hey, if the Rockies can win with good pitching at Coors Field, why can’t the Phillies do the same thing at Coors East?

Or do they need a manager like that Terry Francona who seems to always push the right buttons for the Red Sox over the last four seasons? Why can’t the Phillies ever get a guy like that?

***
Mike LowellAs the World Series entered the late innings last night, whipper-snapper sideline dude, Ken Rosenthal, announced that Alex Rodriguez had opted out of his contract with the Yankees and will become a free agent.

No surprise there.

Some say the Phillies could take a big step at building a World Series contender by signing Alex Rodriguez as the team’s new third baseman. In theory, this is a nice idea, but for one season of A-Rod, the Phillies would likely have to pay him 30 times what they paid Ryan Howard in 2007. Besides, if I had to bet, A-Rod will not be playing third base in 2008… he’ll be playing shortstop for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox third baseman will likely remain Mike Lowell, who priced himself out of the Phillies’ budget last night by being named MVP of the World Series. If I had to guess, the Red Sox other free agent on the Phillies’ radar, Curt Schilling, will likely return to Boston for one more run, too.

Schilling and Lowell would (could?) fit in nicely with the Phillies, but maybe Joe Crede could fit in nicely at third base as well? As far as starting pitchers go, free agents Livan Hernandez, Bartolo Colon and Carlos Silva will cost more than $10 million per season. Is that out of the Phillies’ budget? If it is, perhaps Randy Wolf would be a bargain at $8 million or so?

Better yet, maybe the Phillies can work on a trade.

Next: The Trials are four days away, which means we will have all sorts of running stuff coming this week.

This past weekend I watched the Centennial Conference cross-country championships, which (damn-near literally) took place in my back yard. If there were such a thing as a cross country video game, the designers should have pixelized Baker Field. That’s because the rain on Friday and Saturday morning turned the course into the quintessential mess, featuring standing water, slippery mounds and mud so deep in spots that when I ran the course on Saturday afternoon, my foot was buried up to my calf.

Though the World Series is over and the baseball season has come to an end until the middle of February, we will continue to write about baseball here. I’d write about sports outside of my realm (baseball, running, cycling, etc.), but I’m not so interested and I’m not good at faking it.

World Series predictions

Jeff Francis & MonsterI’m on record in many different mediums proclaiming that the Colorado Rockies will never, ever lose again, and I’m going to stand by that. But if the Red Sox win the World Series in six games I won’t be too surprised by that, either.

Be that as it is, I figured I’d send out an annoying mass e-mail to solicit predictions from some of the top baseball writers in the business.

Here’s the e-mail:

Dear Sirs:
I’m soliciting predictions for the World Series. If you want to send me which team will win and in how many games for publication on my little dog-and-pony show, I would be most appreciative. For your trouble you will get a link on a web site that was rated by Word Press as the sixth up-and-coming site on its platform.

Yeah, pretty cool, huh.

If you want to add some trenchant and interesting analysis, I’ll accept that, too. But just remember the audience I have cultivated — we like our BS full of bluster.

Thank you in advance.

truly,
jrf

So what did these “experts” predict? Take a look:

John FingerComcast SportsNet/Raconteur
Rockies in 4
pithy analysis:
Using logic and baseball acumen, it’s tough not to believe the Red Sox will win the World Series. After all, the Red Sox are Goliath having smote (smited?) that mantle from the Yankees. So yes, logic dictates that the Red Sox should win. But someone explain the logic behind the Rockies’ streak in which they have lost just one game since Sept. 15? Or the logic in making a team wait eight days in the middle of a playoff run? Go ahead, someone find the logic there… you can’t can you? Yeah, well, while you work with your logic and conventional thought, I’m going out on the ledge…

Mike Radano – Camden Courier Post
Red Sox in 6
pithy analysis:
Colorado can’t beat Beckett and he could start three times in the series.

Ken Mandel – Phillies.com
Red Sox in 6
pithy analysis:
What?

Jayson Stark – ESPN.com
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
I explain it all in my column tomorrow.

Scott Lauber – Wilmington News Journal
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
Will the layoff affect the Rockies? Sure. They may actually lose a game. But Destiny’s Children won’t be slowed by a layoff, Josh Beckett, Manny or Papi. The Sox can roll out the Dropkick Murphys, Kevin Millar and any other good-luck charms. It’s just the Rockies’ year.

Marcus Hayes – Philadelphia Daily News
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
Surely the Red Sox, with Inquirer-dubbed genius Terry Francona at their helm and Bloody Curt on the mound, will have no problem with a young, energized, under-the-radar team coming off 9 days of rest and playing an aging Red Sox club that faced elimination three times in its last three games.

Rich Hofmann – Philadelphia Daily News
Rockies in 5
pithy analysis:
McNabb throws for two touchdowns and, oh, wait…

Todd ZoleckiPhiladelphia Inquirer
Red Sox in 5
pithy analysis:
Why? Because I think the layoff for the Rockies will cool them down, much like last season with the Tigers. And I just think the Red Sox are a better team.

Jim SalisburyPhiladelphia Inquirer
Red Sox in 6
pithy analysis:
Eight-day wait cools off Rox…

Ellen Finger – wife/teacher
Rockies in 7
pithy analysis:
Why do I always have to explain everything to you?

Mike Wann – neighborhood gadfly/sports illiterate
Al Qaeda
pithy analysis:
Apparently no one can stop those bitches.

Matt Yallof – SportsNet New York
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
Colorado’s lineup is deep and balanced and Josh Beckett can’t pitch every night. After losing one game in the last month, I cant imagine they’ll lose 4 in week and a half.

Marcus Grimm – future Boston qualifier
Red Sox in 5
pithy analysis:
What the Rockies did was impressive, but 8 days will have cooled them off, and Boston’s just a better team.

Stephen Miller – Allentown Morning Call
Rockies in 7
pithy analysis:
Logic tells me to pick the Red Sox. Of course, logic also helped me pick the entire NL playoff field incorrectly before the season. I’m done with logic.

Andy SchwartzComcast SportsNet football maven
Rockies in 7
pithy analysis:
Boulder is so much cooler than Boston.

Dennis Deitch – Delaware County Daily Times
Rockies in 5

Snowy Series?

Paul ByrdSo we can all thank Paul Byrd for giving us a Colorado-Cleveland World Series. Really? Colorado will play Cleveland in the World Series in nighttime games scheduled in late October? Wow. Does anyone want to bet that the first-pitch temperatures never make it above 50 degrees? Better yet, will there be snowflakes falling during all the games or just the ones in Denver?

Of course Cleveland hasn’t won anything yet. Though they lead the ALCS, 3-1, with the next game scheduled for Thursday night in Cleveland, it seems pretty academic. Then again, most people thought the same thing when the Red Sox went down 3-0 after losing by 14 runs to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Look what happened then… yeah. It didn’t work out too well for the Yankees, did it?

Anyway, the interesting part about the Indians is what they did to get to the precipice of the World Series. During and after the 2002 season, the Indians got rid of Charlie Manuel as the manager despite the fact that he guided the team to the AL Central title in 2001. Then they allowed Jim Thome to walk away via free agency and used that money they saved to built around “system guys” like Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta on offense, as well as C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Rafael Betancourt and Fausto Carmona on the mound.

This core group mixed with Phillies castoffs like Byrd, Jason Michaels, David Dellucci, Aaron Fultz and Kenny Lofton with a under-40 manager in Eric Wedge, appears set to knock off both the Yankees and the Red Sox in the playoffs.

And all it took was getting rid of Manuel and Thome?

That probably wasn’t the entire case. After all, Indians’ fans really wanted Thome to re-sign with the team instead of going off to Philadelphia for six-years and $85 million. But then again, Thome’s departure (obviously) didn’t hurt too badly, either.

But, it could be argued that for the Indians it was Thome and Charlie – no. But Byrd, Michaels, Dellucci, Fultz and Lofton – yes.

Incidentally, those “yes” guys were all players Ed Wade brought in (except for Dellucci) to help the Phillies get to the playoffs… was Ed Wade on the right path here in Philadelphia?

bath So we’re looking at a Colorado-Cleveland World Series… I wonder what the folks at Fox think about that? Do they have the modern-day, TV execs’ version of smallpox and whiskey to thwart the Indians and get the big-market Red Sox to the World Series. Maybe when the World Series begins the Rockies will actually lose a game and make it interesting.

More importantly, what’s the difference between the Red Sox and Yankees these days anyway?

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Speaking of ballplayers getting and wanting six-year deals worth $85 million, I just talked to a “source” about Aaron Rowand (because talking to sources is actually better than talking to the man himself… after all, it’s better to be “well-sourced” than, you know, anything else) and it seems as if the free-agent centerfielder has lessened his demands a bit. According to the “source,” Rowand does not want six-years and $84 million as a well-sourced “sources” indicated. Instead, the Phillies likely will offer fewer years and money, but will trump all deals with a “One Free Backrub” coupon.

Also, according to the “source,” Rowand wants all the brown M&Ms removed from the pre-game, clubhouse spread.

There will also be incentives for an All-Star appearance, home runs and fences run into and all that jazz, but apparently the backrub coupon is the deal breaker.