Rich's Weeknight Baseball BEAT
Life is good. I'm home all alone Tuesday evening, sitting on the couch watching five baseball games on the west coast--all with postseason implications. I've got the remote control in one hand, pen and paper in the other. The only thing missing is my secretary to transcribe the following notes:
Boston Red Sox 7, Oakland A's 1. Johnny Damon hit the 15th lead-off home run of his career to open the Boston-Oakland game and the Red Sox never looked back. Bill Mueller, not known for his glovework at third base, chipped in with three superb defensive plays for the hottest team in the American League. Let's face it, the Red Sox are a bigger reason than Hurricane Frances as to why the Yankees were seeking a forfeit victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays Monday.
After defeating Oakland in the first round of the playoffs last year, Boston has taken seven out of eight games from the A's thus far this year.
Question: Does Billy Beane's "shit" not work in the playoffs or not work against Boston?
Anaheim Angels 5, Toronto Blue Jays 2. The Angels are within 1 1/2 games of the A.L. West lead after beating the Blue Jays with a strong performance by Bartolo Colon. The Halos have now won four straight and 16 of their last 21.
Colon yielded just one home run, a rinky dink fly ball off the bat of Gregg Zaun that landed in the first row of the seats just inside the foul pole down the right field line. Bartolo has now allowed 35 four baggers and is only three behind Manny Ramirez for the league lead. Oops, scratch that. Colon is a pitcher. Well, that's what the program said the last time I checked. Sheesh, it must be nice to be 14-11 with a 5.33 ERA. By comparison, Ben Sheets is 10-11 with a 2.93 ERA and a major league-leading 7.5:1 K/BB ratio.
I guess Bartolo must be doing a helluva job of "pitching to the score." Or perhaps Colon is benefiting from an Angels offense that is producing 6.56 runs per game for him (ninth best in the majors) whereas Sheets is being held back by a Milwaukee offense that is backing him with just 3.33 runs per game (second lowest run support in baseball).
Question: How would you like to be Arte Moreno, knowing you owe a pitcher who appears to be in the early stage of decline an average of $12.75 million for each of the next three years? Repeat after me. There is no such thing as a (31-year-old, 250-plus pound) pitching prospect--at least not one that is worth more than $50 million over four years.
Colorado Rockies 8, San Francisco Giants 7. The Giants get a ho-hum effort from Barry Bonds (2-for-3 with a HR and two BB) and slip a game in the race for the N.L. West title and the wild card spot. Jason Schmidt (15-7, 3.19) pitched well for six innings at Coors Field before tiring and giving up four runs in the seventh. The N.L. Cy Young Award is about as wide open as the A.L. MVP and Schmidt is right in the thick of things.
Bonds' four bagger was his 40th of the campaign--the eighth time he has reached that mark, tying him with Hank Aaron for the N.L. record. Babe Ruth holds the major league record with 11. It was also Bonds' fifth consecutive year of slugging 40 or more homers--two seasons short of Ruth's record, which is being challenged by Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa this year. However, A-Rod (33 HR) and Sosa (29) both need to step up their current pace if they want to tie the Bambino.
Bonds is now just two homers shy of 700 and two walks short of his major league record of 198 set in 2002. For a daily fix on this subject, be sure to track the Bonds watch on Lee Sinins' Around The Majors Reports, which are also published at The Hardball Times.
Question: Will Bonds become the Hall of Fame's first unanimous selection or will some writer show his ignorance by snubbing the greatest player of at least the last half century?
Los Angeles Dodgers 8, Arizona Diamondbacks 2. Robin Ventura hit the 18th grand slam of his career to lead the Dodgers to a six-run victory over the helpless Diamondbacks. The pinch-hitting ace Ventura, now tied with Willie McCovey for third place on the all-time list of home runs with the bases loaded, trails only Lou Gehrig (23) and Eddie Murray (19) in the number of career grand salamis.
In the meantime, the Diamondbacks slumped to 54 games under .500. The difference between the 2004 version of the D-Backs and 2003 is a lot more than just Curt Schilling. Arizona's offensive woes have been well chronicled, but the team's defensive ineptness has hurt starters such as Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb just as much.
One of the pleasures of watching a Dodgers game in September in the heat of a pennant race is listening to Vin Scully simultaneously calling the action live while giving a play-by-play account of game(s) affecting the team's pennant hopes elsewhere around the league. Scully's best work may have come in 1959 when he was broadcasting Dodgers games while giving his listeners updates on the rival San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Braves happenings. As a kid, I listened to Dodgers '59 so often that Scully's words are indelibly etched in my mind. Happily, I was fortunate to pick up a mint copy of the LP over the internet earlier this year.
"Big bouncer over the mound, over second base. Up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!"
Question: Has there been a more important "Dodger" than the redhead from Fordham University?
St. Louis Cardinals 4, San Diego Padres 2. Rick Ankiel made his first appearance since May 10, 2001. Believe me, you didn't have to be a Cardinals fan to get caught up in the moment. Ankiel gave up a bloop single on an 0-2 pitch to his first batter, then retired the side with a combination of 94-mph fastballs, sweeping curveballs, and a circle changeup. The lefthander benefited from a spectacular, "do or die" play on a bunt that Scott Rolen barehanded and threw to Albert Pujols for the first out of the inning.
The Cardinals have given up fewer runs than any team in baseball, yet most fans seem to think the team's success is strictly a function of its high-powered offense. I'll let you in on a little secret. The Cardinals pitching staff has also allowed the lowest combined on-base percentage and slugging average in the majors. The fewest runs and the lowest OPS. What's not to like?
Chris Carpenter (14-5, 3.37 ERA), Jason Marquis (14-4, 3.44), Matt Morris (15-8, 4.40), Jeff Suppan (15-6, 3.97), and Woody Williams (10-7, 4.00) may not win the award for the most talented staff in baseball, but they just may be the best performing set of starting pitchers around. The fivesome has not only put up good numbers but it has been durable, starting all but three games this year.
Jason Isringhausen, who is tied for the league lead in saves with 40 to go along with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, gives the Redbirds an elite closer. If Steve Kline can make it back for the playoffs, the Cardinals could have three southpaws in their bullpen to offset the club's all-righthanded rotation. Should St. Louis face San Francisco in the playoffs, let it be known that Ankiel has faced Barry Bonds three times during his career and struck him out every time. Talk about wild?
You may or may not think the Cardinals have good pitchers, but they sure as hell have good pitching.
Question: Are we going to have to endure the Hunt for Red October cliche every year that a team with such colors challenges for a spot in the World Series? Enough, OK?