Can we just have the Red Sox and A's keep playing? They played five games this week and four of them were classics. After six days of game-winning bunts, game-winning pinch homers, game-winning eighth-inning comebacks and enough runner's obstruction calls to keep those old "You Make the Call" commercials in business for a year, the Red Sox survived a KO of their center fielder and a ninth-inning rally to eliminate the A's, winning three straight games after losing the first two.
You had to figure this was Boston's series after that collision play in center field in the seventh inning Monday night. With the Sox leading 4-2 and two outs, Jermaine Dye of the A's lifted a fly to shallow center. Red Sox second baseman Damian Jackson went out and center fielder Johnny Damon came in. The ball hit the pocket of Jackson's glove just as the two collided at full speed, Jackson's head slamming into the side of Damon's face. The two men and the ball fell to the ground. Jackson lay dazed while Damon appeared to be unconscious. Dye rounded first and headed for second.
Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra found the ball on the ground between his mates, picked it up and threw to second, where third baseman Bill Mueller, having raced over, applied the tag to a sliding Dye. Three outs.
What an incredible heads-up play by both Garciaparra and Mueller. Attention quickly turned to Damon, who was on the ground for nine minutes before being strapped to a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance, but that play, which kept the tying run from coming to the plate against a tiring Pedro Martinez, might have saved the series for the Sox.
The next batter, Chris Singleton leading off the eighth, doubled into the right field corner, which would have scored Dye had he been on second. The man after him, pinch-hitter Billy McMillon, singled him home. Without Garciaparra and Mueller's play, it could very well have been a tie game in the seventh. Instead, the A's never got closer than 4-3, the final score.
And how could Garciaparra and Mueller have prepared for that play? They couldn't have. There's no telling yourself before the pitch, "OK, if the center fielder and the second baseman collide on a popup to shallow center, my job is ..." It was simply smart ballplayers reacting quickly.
Derek Jeter of the Yankees has been dining out for two years on his heads-up relay throw to nail Jeremy Giambi of the A's at home in a pivotal moment in Game 3 of the 2001 Division Series, when the Yankees also came from 2-0 down to sweep the A's into oblivion. And rightly so. It was a splendid play. But this one was just as good. Really. The replay of Jackson and Damon colliding, a brutal shot, will become familiar, but keep watching on those rare occasions someone lets the clip run on. The rest of that play bought the Red Sox a ticket to New York.
Damon waved to the crowd as he was loaded into the ambulance. He was diagnosed with a concussion. Jackson stayed in the game.
The Red Sox move on now to play the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series starting Wednesday, a rematch of the '99 ALCS, which the Yankees won 4-1. That's good news for baseball. Yankees-Red Sox is a matchup everyone but A's fans wanted to see, one of baseball's great rivalries renewed with a trip to the World Series on the line.
But pity those poor A's fans, who have to feel like they're living through a curse without any of the charm and legend that go along with the afflictions that Red Sox and Cubs fans carry around. Sure Oakland has become a feel-good story over the last four years, showing everyone how it's done with a low payroll, but the A's have also turned into one of the great choking franchises of all time. They've now dropped six straight postseason series, dating back to their stunning sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990 World Series.
And since this is one of Fox TV's favorite stats, it's no secret that the A's have now lost nine straight games when they had a chance to eliminate an opponent in a playoff game. In the last three years Oakland has led best-of-five series 2-0, 2-1 and 2-0, and has gone 0-8 in the games that followed.
In a famous passage in "Moneyball," Michael Lewis' book about the A's, general manager Billy Beane, the architect of the club's success, characterizes the postseason as a crapshoot. "My job is to get us to the playoffs," he says. "What happens after that is fucking luck."
That's true to a point. In any given series, luck plays a huge role, because there isn't time for the luck to even out the way it does over the course of a long season, when skill is what finally separates the good teams from the bad. You can't fault a team for losing a single postseason series. You run into a hot pitcher, make an error or two, pop up a fat pitch -- all things that happen routinely in June and July to the best teams -- and your goose can be cooked.
But lose a few series in a row, and you've moved beyond luck. The Yankees are 15-4 in postseason series since their current run of winning began in 1995. That's a pattern of winning. The Braves are 12-11 since their run began in 1991, and they've lost five of their last six playoff matchups, dating back to the '99 World Series. That's a pattern of losing. And the difference is not just luck.
The A's, by losing in the first round of the playoffs in the last four years, can't just say it's a crapshoot anymore. When the last two outs of the season are made by batters striking out looking with the tying and winning runs in scoring position, as was the case for the A's Monday night, you're no longer just talking about rolling snake-eyes or drawing a deuce when you need an ace.
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A tell-tale look to second [PERMALINK]
The Red Sox won the game in the sixth inning against A's lefty Barry Zito, who had been sharp through five. After a leadoff home run by Jason Varitek tied the game 1-1, Zito walked Damon and, an out later, hit Todd Walker with a pitch, bringing up slugger Manny Ramirez. On the first pitch Zito turned around and faked Damon back to second.
I said out loud, "Zito's done."
Ramirez had been struggling, with three hits, all singles, in 18 at-bats in the series. If Zito, pitching on short rest, had had anything left, he'd have gone right after Ramirez, the way he'd gone after hitters in the first five innings. That look-the-runner-back thing: That's a tired pitcher.
I don't understand why I, a mere cartoon, could see that but the professional baseball people running the A's couldn't. Ramirez worked the count to 2-2, fouled a fastball straight back, then hit a cripple fastball for a towering three-run homer to left and a 4-1 lead.
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Bambino? How about the curse of Fox [PERMALINK]
"How'd you like to be a .300 hitter and not be the best athlete in your family?" chirps Steve Lyons, going on to talk about how Nixon's wife ran the Boston Marathon in less than three hours, 52 minutes in 2000.
What I would like, Steve, is to be able to watch a dramatic moment in the ninth inning of a deciding playoff game without some chimp chattering endlessly about unrelated trivia. Put your index cards away. Viewers are not interested in personal anecdotes with the game hanging in the balance.
Miguel Tejada struck out in the fourth inning after being ahead in the count 3-0. He was furious at himself, and kept screaming a single word at the top of his lungs as he walked back to the dugout. From the center field camera, it was obvious that that word was "Fuck!" As Tejada reached the dugout steps, Fox switched to the dugout camera. Following the unbreakable rule, it also gave us the audio from that camera, and sure enough, Tejada yelled, "Fuck!" Quick cut to another camera.
A moment later, a shot from another camera found Tejada standing in the dugout, gazing out at the field, obviously still fuming. Think the microphone on that camera was open? You bet! Hey, Miguel, anything on your mind that you feel like shouting at the top of your lungs?
In the top of the fifth, Kevin Millar led off with a single that was misplayed by center fielder Chris Singleton, who ran down the loose ball and fired to second in time to cut down Millar. Switch to the center field camera for a shot of Zito, the pitcher, watching all this. "Fuck yeah!" he says.
Note to Fox: You need a powerful directional mike on that center field camera. I had to read Zito's lips.
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Bold predictions [PERMALINK]
Matching my record from the first round last year, I correctly predicted one of the four Divisional Series, the Yankees over the Twins. A chicken pecking at objects marked "Twins," "Yankees," "Braves," etc. would have a good chance of predicting playoff outcomes more accurately, but fortunately for me I work cheaper than your average chicken.
Undeterred, I will boldly pick the Marlins to beat the Cubs in six, the Yankees to beat the Red Sox in seven and the Yankees to beat the Marlins in the World Series in six. My picks are so obviously wrong I'm not even going to back them up with any actual talk about baseball. I respect you too much to waste your time with my wrongheaded ideas.
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