Feeling the Squeeze of Rationality
So, you have a speedy runner on third base with one out and a left-handed batter, also with fast feet, at the plate. It’s a 2-0 count, a hitter’s count. Forget about the suicide squeeze, right? After all, a medium fly ball or well placed ground ball would very possibly bring him home safely from third. Plus, with a left-handed batter at the plate, the catcher has a perfect view of any attempt by the runner to come barreling home. Perhaps the logic of Mike Scioscia, manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was this: Under these circumstances, the Boston Red Sox weren’t expecting the squeeze, and so he’d try it and catch them by surprise. But Erick Aybar, the batter, missed on the 2-0 pitch inside from Boston pitcher Manny Delcarmen, leaving Reggie Willits, the runner halfway between third and home, a dead duck for catcher Jason Varitek to tag.
Despite a major-league best and all-time franchise high100 wins during the regular season and a record 62 saves from closer Francisco Rodriguez, the highly-questioned and failed squeeze attempt in Game Four of the ALDS at Fenway Park will be the moment everyone in the Southland will be talking about for years to come. It also resulted the latest in a string of disappointing failures for the Angels, who are now 5-12 in the postseason since winning the 2002 World Series.
Of course, had Aybar laid the bunt down, Willits might be scoring and Scioscia would be praised for springing the element of surprise on the Red Sox, so give him credit for at least trying. Unfortunately for the Angels, the element of bad luck trumped that of surprise. Wait ‘til next year, Los Angeles of Anaheimers.
It's a Whole New Season in October
With the decisive first-round dismissals of the Angels and the Chicago Cubs, the postseason record for teams with the leagues’ best records throughout the 2000s is 70-70. Meanwhile, wild card entrants during the same time are 100-79.
Separated at Birth
For years we’ve been looking at Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and trying to pin a pop cultural reference upon him. His thick-rimmed glasses had us evoking Peter Sellars, but beyond the frames, Maddon was no dead ringer for the late British actor. Then, with a help of a San Francisco sports talk show caller this past week, it hit us between the eyes: The spitting image of Maddon (above, left) is the nefarious Don Licio Lucchesi (right, as played by Enzo Robutti) in The Godfather, Part III. (You know, the guy who demands to Michael Corleone, “All ships must sail in the same direction.”) Let’s just hope that Maddon endures a better fate than poor ol’ Lucchesi, who had his glasses fatally jammed into his throat.
Smells Like Tampa Bay Teen Spirit
Last week we reported about a Chicago-area school principal oblivious to an organization called the Chicago Cubs and demanding that a female student remove a jersey that had “Fukudome” lettered on the back of it. This past week, it appeared that Rays Fever was not caught by a middle school principal in Palmetto, Florida, some 25 miles south of St. Petersburg. After a student, a rabid Tampa Bay Ray fan, appeared at school with a “Rayhawk”a Mohawk by any other namein a show of support for his team, he was quickly suspended by the principal for violating the school’s dress code. Rather than protest, the student’s parents decided to transfer to another middle school where the Rayhawk, a craze began because of the hairstyles of several Ray players, is given the okay.
Would it kill marketing departments within major league front offices to come up with something more original than white towels to give out to fans during the playoffs? The towels may have been chic back when the NFL’s Miami Dolphins first broke them out as hankies, but that was 35 years ago. Please, just blow your nose with them and stick them in your back pocket.
And While We're Bitching...
It's time for MLB to stop with the 8:30 Eastern starting times for playoff games. If you're trying to attract the younger demographicsas in, the kidskeeping them up past midnight on the East Coast is not the way to do it. Yes, it's perfect for us on the West, where such games start at 5:30, but even with the excessive length of postseason conteststhe constant changing of pitchers, the extended commercial breaksit's hard to avoid the late-inning yawns as the game goes on, and on, and on...
Former catcher and long-time baseball TV analyst Tim McCarver harshly criticized Manny Ramirez for his behavior over the last few years at Boston before his trade to Los Angeles. “Some of the things he did,” said McCarver, “were simply despicable, despicablelike not playing, refusing to play. Forgetting what knee to limp on. And now it’s washed, it’s gone.” McCarver, who is working the Dodger-Phillie NLCS for Fox, is no stranger to tense relations with postseason lightning rods; in 1992, he had a bucket of ice unceremoniously dumped on him by Atlanta’s Deion Sanders, who McCarver criticized for trying to juggle two sporting assignments (the Braves and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons) in one day.
Peace and Harmony, But Only During the Break
It seemed too ironic during Sunday night's NLCS Game Three; during the commercial break that immediately followed the bench-clearing standoff between the Phillies and Dodgers, Fox ran a public service spot promoting baseball in the inner cities featuring two gangs that share high fives in the uniforms of the Phillies and Dodgers.
It was said on TBS that Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour, who closed out Game Four and the ALDS on Monday at Chicago, lives in his native Australia during the offseason. To us fair-weather fans, that sounds like a wonderful itinerary; hang out in Florida from March through October, then go home to the Land Down Under during the winterwhich is summertime south of the Equator.
YouTube Clip of the Week
TBS sideline reporter Craig Sager had some explaining to do to his outrageous wardrobe provider after Game Four of the Boston-Los Angeles of Anaheim ALDS, and this clip probably came in handy for him.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
In honor of the Chicago Cubs' 100th anniversary of their last World Series title, This Great Game is counting down the 40 years between 1909 and 2007 in which the Cubs came nearest to winning another. Our Tragical History Tour of Wrigleyville continues this week with:
3. 1935 100 Wins, 54 Losses
Lost World Series to Detroit Tigers
Something had to give in a World Series between two teams who hadn’t won a championship since hooking up in 1908the year of the Cubs’ last triumph. Alas for Chicago, the underdog Tigers snared their first-ever title in a six-game set which was made close thanks to two sharp starts by 20-game winner Lon Warneke, whose pitching provided the Cubs’ with their only two Series wins. The loss to the Tigers was a big disappointment for the Cubs, who had stormed through the season’s second half to the point of looking unstoppable, most memorably with a 21-game win streak that remains the second longest in modern times. Chicago was charged at the plate by Augie Galan (NL-high 133 runs and 22 steals), Billy Herman (.341 average) and NL MVP Gabby Hartnett (.344); the team led the NL in batting average, runs and earned run averagepushing the Cubs to 100 wins for their last time to date.
Look to the Sky and Bless
Friday was an emotionally challenging time for several Philadelphia Phillies. Manager Charlie Manuel learned, that morning, that his 87-year old mother had passed away three days after suffering a heart attack. Later that day, at the end of NLCS Game Two in Philadelphia (won by the Phillies over Los Angeles, 8-5), it was learned that outfielder Shane Victorino’s 82-year old grandmother passed away in his native Hawaii. Both Manuel and Victorino were graciously given space to themselves by teammates and the press following the game, and Manuel, after some deep thought on the subject, decided to continue his managerial duties for the remainder of the NLCS. As the great Rogers Hornsby once spoke after being asked why he was playing the 1926 World Series just as his mother had passed away, it’s the way she would have wanted it.
Brandon Backe, Blacke'd and Blue'd
Last we week spared Houston pitcher Brandon Backe (9-14, 6.05 ERA in 2008) the shame of being named the worst pitcher of the yearhe was one of a few solid contendersbut he made for some equally disgraceful headlines off the field when he was among a number of people beat up and arrested by police at a wedding reception allegedly gone wild at a resort hotel in Galveston, Texas. We stress the word “allegedly”; witnesses to the fracas said that Backe, along with numerous other wedding guests, did little to provoke officers who used excessive force. Backe sustained minor injuries during the melee, and an internal investigation has been launched by Galveston police. Beyond all of this, the first thought we had to the story was: What were they doing having a wedding in Galveston, itself so brutally beat up by Hurricane Ike just three weeks earlier? (Sources say the island city was, as late as a few days before the wedding, accessible only to residents while the massive cleanup of the hurricane’s damage continued.)
Saving a Corner of The Corner: An Update
While most of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium has been demolished, what’s left itthe double-decked section between first and third basehas been given a new lease on life...at least until March 1, 2009, anyway. A non-profit group called Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy convinced a majority of the Detroit City Council that it had $219,000 to cover costs of keeping the structure intact while it goes about searching for another $15 million that they would then use to turn the facility into a mixed-use recreational baseball facility, a mild version of the grand vision we proposed several years back. If they fail to secure the funds, kiss what’s left of Tiger Stadium, opened in 1912 and last used in 1999, bye-bye.
Dominican Car Crash of the Week
Chicago Cub reliever Carlos Marmol sustained minor injuries after being involved in a car accident this past week in the Dominican Republic. On the same day, former Kansas City closer and current New York Met Ambiorix Burgos turned himself in to Dominican authorities for his involvement in a far more serious incident: Burgos allegedly hit and killed two women with his SUV on September 30 and fled the scene, remaining at large for nearly a week before turning himself in. Ordered in jail until a trial, Burgos claimed his innocence to the Associated Press and proverbially threw a relative under his Hummer as well, saying his cousin was actually the one behind the wheel.
Stemming the Exodus
Fearful of a potential avalanche of player defections overseas, Japan’s major leagues this past week announced that it would penalize any player who bypasses their amateur draft and goes straight to another countrynamely, the United States. If such a player were to do that, any attempt to return to play in Japan would be preceded by a two-year ban. Would America turn around and do the same thing? Why would it, when any American going to Japan is doing so because he can’t make it here? It’s one more reason why the Japan leagues are, and always have been, inferior to Major League Baseball.
Loyalty For a Price
Apparently despondent over events of the past few weeks, a Chicago Cub fan attempted to sell his “loyalty” to the team on eBay to the highest bidder. eBay officials eventually caught wind of the offer and said no go. Amazingly, the high bid before the listing was removed was at $7,100.
Sunk With the Pool
Last week we mentioned that the high cost of baseball may become a challenge for major league teams as the U.S. economy continues to sink, and we’re already seeing signs of it. In Phoenix, Rivera Pools filed for bankruptcy less than a year after the start of a five-year, $1 million naming rights deal for the pool behind Chase Field’s right-center field fence. While the Arizona Diamondbacks have to scamper to find a new sponsor to refill their coffers, they also have to worry about this: In this climate, who will want to put up $6,500 to go for an evening swim at a Diamondbacks game?
At Home With the Crippled Treanors
Let’s hope there’s more than one pair of crutches at the home of Florida catcher Matt Treanorbecause if there isn’t, there’s going to be a lot of fighting over who gets it. Earlier this month, Treanor went under the knife to fix a muscle tear in his left hip. Shortly afterward, his wife, Misty-May Treanorhalf of the Olympic gold medal-winning women’s beach volleyball teamruptured her left Achilles tendon while, of all things, rehearsing her routine as a contestant for ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. Matt should be ready for spring training; Misty-May will not be ready for competitive volleyball until next summer.
Now Playing on TGG
Check out Ed Attanasio’s entertaining chat with one-game-wonder Stefan Wever in TGG's latest installment of the They Were There section. Also new this week, in our Opinion section, is Eric Gouldsberry's look at baseball's infatuation with bronze statues.