King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Fox's tight close-ups reveal players' nostril-hair trimming habits, and a series-tying win for the Red Sox. Plus: Zimmer vs Martinez, the readers write.

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So we got through Game 4 of the American League Championship Series without any violence or mayhem except that done by viewers around the country throwing shoes at their television sets and screaming, “Show us the game, Fox!”

But those viewers were overreacting like Manny Ramirez on an inside splitter. It was possible, between extreme close-ups of various players’ nostrils, to work out that the Red Sox beat the Yankees 3-2 Monday night in a tidy little game that was over in two hours, 49 minutes, the playoff equivalent of a heartbeat. The ALCS is tied 2-2 with Game 5 scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Boston. They go back to New York Wednesday.

Even after a rainout Sunday, everyone was still talking about Saturday’s Game 3, which resulted in a coach going to the hospital, four players being fined and two more facing possible criminal charges. And still the Fox people go unpunished.

Extrapolating from blimp shots and loving studies of the large, buzz-cut head of Yankees reliever and possible future defendant Jeff Nelson, a central figure in Saturday’s bullpen beatdown of a Sox groundskeeper, it was easy to figure out that Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox had turned in his second solid start and collected his second win of this series.

He got off to a rocky beginning, seeming to have no idea where his knuckleball was floating to. He walked Alfonso Soriano to lead off the game, then gave up a soft single to Derek Jeter and a blistering line drive to Jason Giambi. But that drive found first baseman Kevin Millar’s glove, and Jeter was doubled off. After another walk to Bernie Williams, Wakefield struck out Jorge Posada looking. Side retired.

Judging by the contented expression Wakefield had on his face as Fox zoomed in for more extreme close-ups, he appeared to settle down after that. He pitched into the eighth, leaving with a 3-1 lead thanks to home runs by Todd Walker and Trot Nixon and a bases-loaded situation that yielded a run when Jason Varitek beat out a relay throw to stay out of an inning-ending double play. That third run came in handy when Ruben Sierra hit a pinch homer in the ninth off Scott Williamson.

But Williamson, who had struck out Nick Johnson to start the ninth, fanned David Dellucci and Soriano for a stylish save, and that was that. Boston’s finest, out in force, had nothing to do. Don Zimmer and Pedro Martinez, the septuagenarian Yankees coach and surly Red Sox pitcher who had tangled embarrassingly Saturday, stayed in their respective dugouts, Zimmer staring out from behind his jowls and Martinez glaring out from under the hood of a red sweat shirt.

Monday’s game lacked the sizzle of most of this postseason, but really it was a taut, well-played game that only paled by comparison with what has been an awfully entertaining bunch of playoff games, with only three real dogs. Usually there are at least twice as many pooches by this time. There have been 27 games so far. A third of them have been decided by one run, and five have gone into extra innings. And several games that weren’t as close featured terrific pitching performances, most recently Josh Beckett’s two-hit gem against the Cubs Sunday to stave off elimination for the Marlins, who trail in the NLCS 3-2 with Game 6 scheduled Tuesday night in Chicago.

That’s right, by this time tomorrow, the Chicago Cubs could be in the World Series, possibly waiting for the Boston Red Sox. A Cubs-Red Sox World Series would be fabulous news because of the whole triumph of the underdog thing, but also because it would mean we’d get to stop hearing about one of those two stupid curses, either billy goat or Bambino, depending on who wins, forever.

Now if we could do something about the curse of the extreme close-up, we’d really be getting somewhere.

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Game 3 fight: The readers write [PERMALINK]

Readers of this column had a lot to say about Saturday’s violence, especially about Zimmer, the 72-year-old Yankees coach who took a run at Boston pitcher Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and threw him to the ground.

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“What he did was exactly the same as [Ohio State football coach] Woody Hayes punching a player and Woody, who was near God in Ohio, was fired the next day,” writes Jerry Gale. “Not only is Zimmer still employed, but I have yet to read or hear about anyone calling for him to be fired. This is disgraceful. Zimmer’s crying apology doesn’t do it.”

“Yeah, Pedro’s no Jason Giambi,” writes Peter Stubbs, “but did Zimmer really think he could take him? Hell, for my money if you’re charged, the bozo doing it gets whatever you can dish out, carte blanche. Pedro shoved the moron to one side, which was a minimum of self-defense.”

“I think everybody has missed the main point behind the Sox-Yankees brawl,” writes Gil Grant. “With the designated hitter, A.L. pitchers don’t have to hit. They can headhunt all they want with no retribution. Amazingly, no one mentions this on TV or in commentary about the game.”

Actually, Fox announcer Tim McCarver went on at some length about this very point, in that way he does. That caused Marc Johnson to ask, “How silly is it for a man who caught Bob Gibson to rail against pitchers coming up and in? Not to mention blaming the DH rule (which I do hate) for this incident, when Pedro used to nail hitters at a prodigious rate when he was in Montreal.”

Martinez threw 912 and a third innings in the National League for the Dodgers and Expos and hit 38 batters, one every 24 innings. In the American League, he’s tossed 1,166 and two-thirds innings and hit 61 batters, one every 19.1 innings. So he hits more guys now, but not many more.

In a typical Pedro year of 200 innings, which is about what he’s averaged in non-strike years since he became a regular starter in ’94, Martinez is going to hit eight guys at his N.L. rate, 10 at his A.L. rate. It’s not exactly like he’s gone from timid to a headhunter. In fact, the difference could easily be accounted for by his improvement as a pitcher, which puts him in situations more often where he can afford to hit a batter if he wants to.

And besides: Who throws at pitchers? In six years in the National League, Martinez was hit by a pitch three times. Bob Gibson played 17 years and got plunked eight times. National League pitchers are near-automatic outs. The opposing hurler isn’t going to throw away an easy out to get retribution for one of his teammates getting beaned. He’s going to hit a position player — same as in the American League.

Zimmer did get a little bit of love from readers. Writing to the editor, F.S. Calvo says my “rationalization of a 31-year-old man body-slamming a 72-year-old coach is ridiculous.”

“I have no idea where Mr. Kaufman was raised,” Calvo continues, “but in most societies, including this one, 72-year-old people are afforded more respect, if not because of their age and wisdom, at least because of their physical fragility. Pedro Martinez showed himself to be well outside the norms of acceptable conduct, and his behavior demands a much stronger reaction from sports writers and the league.”

If Calvo and I were in the same room, I’d say, “You’re right about one thing: You have no idea where I was raised.” I love a cheap laugh.

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