King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Don't make those World Series plans yet, Cubs fans. Plus: How long does it take an angry slugger to walk 60 feet? And: Beat up an old guy for the team!

Published October 13, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

You didn't think the Cubs would just waltz into the World Series, did you? You didn't think that having lost Game 1 of the National League Championship Series to the Marlins, the Cubs would win four straight times and give themselves five days off before they open the World Series, right?

Not the lovable loser Cubs. Not their first Series since nineteen hundred and forty-five, as Fox's Thom Brennaman says every time he says it, because nineteen hundred and forty-five is so much longer ago than 1945. You'd know that if you'd paid attention in Portentous Voice class at baseball announcer school.

The Cubs were interrupted on their way to their first World Series since you know when by Josh Beckett, the Marlins right-hander they'd knocked around like the S.S. Minnow in Game 1. He threw a two-hit shutout, striking out 11 and never appearing to be in danger of anything but getting spit on by Sammy Sosa as the Cubs slugger sputtered at him following a high and tight pitch in the fourth inning. Sosa, angry at a delivery coming close to his head, advanced on Beckett, 60 feet away, but was fortunately stopped only 59 and a half feet short of his prey by umpire Larry Poncino and catcher Ivan Rodriguez, whose presence gave Sosa an excuse to stop walking, turn around and argue.

That saved baseball commissioner Bud Selig from having to step in, and a good thing too: Sosa might have been halfway to the mound by the time Selig flew in from Milwaukee.

Fans hoping to see a repeat of Saturday's violence in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Boston were disappointed, especially because the situation in Miami represented the rare opportunity to watch different 72-year-old men get beat up on national television on consecutive days. But Marlins manager Jack McKeon, 55 days older, noticeably calmer and probably smarter than Yankees coach Don Zimmer, stayed in the dugout and out of harm's way. Rodriguez patted Sosa on the back, whispered sweet nadas in his ear, and defused the situation admirably. The Marlins cruised to a 4-0 win and sent the series back to Chicago for Game 6 Tuesday with the Cubs leading three games to two. The dugouts never even emptied.

They'd emptied in Boston Saturday after a similarly unsprightly advance on the mound by Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox, who took offense to a pitch by the Yankees' Roger Clemens that was so far inside it may have actually missed the inside corner. Ramirez, waving his bat and screaming obscenities, advanced on Clemens with the ferocity of a tectonic plate with a toothache. Clemens advanced also, shouting a two-word greeting at Ramirez.

Both teams poured onto the field and little shoving matches broke out all over, the most notable being the one between Zimmer, memorably nicknamed "The Gerbil" by Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee when Zimmer managed in Boston in the '70s, and Sox ace Pedro Martinez, who had started this whole thing by plunking Yankees right fielder Karim Garcia in the top of the inning, also the fourth. Martinez responded to the Yankees' angry response by pointing into their dugout, then at his head, and appearing to say he'd hit whoever he was talking to (Jorge Posada, apparently) in the head next time up.

Zimmer found Martinez in the crowd and advanced on him, yelling. Martinez shouted, "What? What?" -- gee, Pedro, what could Zimmer be upset about? -- and then found himself being attacked on national TV by a short, fat, vaguely ridiculous old man, which is pretty much the definition of a can't-win situation. Martinez put his hands up and shoved the onrushing Zimmer to the side, sending him tumbling, metal plate in his head and all.

This led to much disgusted sermonizing by the TV announcers and by others later on. "If that happened in New York we would have arrested the perpetrator," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period ... You just cannot assault people, even if it's on a baseball field."

That's an interesting point, Mr. Mayor, but on the other hand: Shut up. What was Martinez supposed to do? If Zimmer were 40 years old and robust instead of 72 and doddering, and the exact same thing happened, nobody'd be offended by Martinez throwing him down like that. Is Pedro supposed to let Zim beat on him just because he has his AARP card? It was Zimmer who did the assaulting. If he needs to be protected, can't handle the rough-and-tumble of baseball, even on the rare occasions when it turns violent, then he shouldn't be in uniform, or at least he should stay in the dugout when things start getting rough.

Zimmer had a little cut on his forehead and a strained groin. He tearfully apologized Sunday and said he was embarrassed.

This was all only the beginning of the fun. In the ninth inning, there was a fight in the Yankees bullpen involving reliever Jeff Nelson, Garcia, who was in the neighborhood because he was playing right field, and a Red Sox grounds crew hand named Paul Williams, who claimed the Yankees players attacked him for rooting for the Sox from the New York pen, which does seem kind of stupid. Garcia jumped over the outfield fence into the bullpen to get a few licks in and hurt his hand in the process. He had to leave the game.

The upshot of all this, aside from the Yankees winning yet another nail-biter of a game 4-3 to take a 2-1 series lead, was that nobody got thrown out, which showed remarkable and admirable restraint on the part of the umpiring crew. Under normal, non-playoff circumstances Zimmer would have been tossed for attacking Martinez, who would have been long-since gone anyway for his "I'll hit you too" gestures at the Yankees dugout. Garcia would probably have survived not only his hard slide into second base after his beaning but also his foray into the bullpen, but only because it wasn't clear that Yankees pitchers weren't being attacked. (It's still not, and Yankees and Red Sox officials are sniping at each other over the affair.)

A case could be made for any of these gents and probably a few others getting thrown out, but I prefer the let-'em-play thinking to that employed 13 years ago when Clemens, then pitching for Boston, got the thumb in the second inning of an ALCS game for arguing balls and strikes. Let the players decide the game. The Associated Press quoted an anonymous baseball official saying that fines had been handed out thusly: Zimmer $5,000, Garcia $10,000, Ramirez $25,000 and Martinez $50,000, about which I'm moved to say, "Whatever."

Rain kept Game 4 from being played Sunday night, and a thousand headlines including the words "cool off" bloomed. But I doubt the Yankees and Red Sox are going to cool off much by Monday night, when Mike Mussina and Tim Wakefield take the mound. These teams don't like each other, their bosses don't like each other and their fans don't like each other, and most people who don't root for either team have a healthy dislike for at least one of them, the Yankees because they're baseball's plutocrats, the Red Sox because their fans are awfully self-satisfied for a bunch whose darlings haven't won the World Series since nineteen hundred and eighteen.

This is all good, of course. It's fun when people who don't like each other compete. TV announcers can shake their hankies and complain all they want about disgraceful behavior and black eyes on baseball's good name, but I've never met any actual people who think that a snarling, venomous rivalry that occasionally spills over into beanball wars and bench-clearing brawls is anything but a rocking good time. It shouldn't happen every day. We've seen plenty enough of 72-year-old men getting thrown to the ground, but on the other hand we've seen enough of strapping sluggers whining about inside pitches that are barely off the plate.

The good news, though, is that everybody's good and mad, and they're likely to stay that way.

The postponement probably favors the Red Sox, because it allows them to send Derek Lowe out Tuesday for Game 5 at Fenway, where he's a much better pitcher (11-2, 3.21 ERA) than he is on the road (6-5, 6.11).

Meanwhile the Marlins not only have to win two straight games on the road to get to the World Series, they have to beat Mark Prior, who'll start Game 6 Tuesday against Florida's Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood, who would start a Game 7 Wednesday against Mark Redman. Things still look pretty dire for the Marlins except for one thing: The team they're playing is still the Cubs, and though they've been this close before, it's not for nothing that they haven't been to the Fall Classic since nineteen hundred and forty-five.

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