King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Astros join the Red Sox in the world of serious trouble. Plus: NFL Week 6 picks.

By Salon Staff
Published October 15, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)
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You know what really needs to happen now? The underdogs in the two League Championship Series really need to start winning some ballgames, toot sweet, or else we're going to be in for a long week of watching the Yankees and Cardinals taking infield practice and being interviewed about their pets.

The Cardinals made it 4-for-4 for the overdogs Thursday by beating the Astros 6-4 in a steady drizzle. St. Louis leads the NLCS two games to none. The Yankees lead the Red Sox two games to none in the ALCS, and the series now shift to Houston and Boston, where the home teams had better win Game 3.


Heavy rain was threatening to postpone the game in Boston Friday night, which would push a game to Monday, a scheduled off day.

Stranger things have happened than the Astros and Red Sox coming back to win these series. Or at least things just as strange. At this exact point in 1985, it was looking very much like a Dodgers vs. Blue Jays World Series, with Los Angeles and Toronto both having won the first two games at home. But the Cardinals and Royals both rallied to win, and then the Royals did the same thing to the Cards in the World Series, losing the first two, this time at home, and then winning in seven.

Which leads to this important question: Why am I talking so much about 1985?


Maybe it's because 2004 isn't looking so hot at the moment. I think that's temporary. The Astros appear to be a team capable of losing 50 straight to the Cardinals, but that perception will likely change over the weekend when they'll be back home and sending Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt to the mound.

The Red Sox I'm not so sanguine about. I wouldn't be shocked if they managed to scrape together two wins over the weekend to send the series back to the Bronx. But I also wouldn't be surprised if they did so without ever appearing to have a chance to win. The Sox announced Thursday that Curt Schilling, struggling with a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, would not make his Game 5 start, but everyone involved is still hoping he can be ready for a possible Game 6 or 7.

Translation: Unless there's enough rain to postpone Game 6 till after his surgery, Schilling's done for the year.


The Yankees were supposed to be the team with the rotation problems, but in the first two games they've given up one single in the first six innings, and they've beaten the Red Sox's two big guys, Schilling and Pedro Martinez. With Schilling out and Martinez only able to start one more game, where are the wins going to come from for Boston?

They'll have to just beat the Yankees into submission with their bats, which had better wake up. But remember: Mariano Rivera comes out of that bullpen in the eighth, so the Sox have to do their damage within the first 22 or 23 outs.


Over in Houston the Cardinals will try to get into the Astros' bullpen, not just because that means getting Clemens and Oswalt out of there, but also because Astros manager Phil Garner appears to make his pitching decisions with guidance from a Ouija board.

On Thursday the Astros needed a new pitcher for the bottom of the eighth. Dan Wheeler had come in to pitch the bottom of the sixth with St. Louis leading 4-3. He did a great job, tossing two perfect innings, keeping the Cards close while the Astros pushed across the tying run in the seventh. In the top of the eighth, Wheeler was lifted for a pinch-hitter, and just in time to save that perfect line, because the Cards had the heart of the order coming up.

Now, let's review. It's the eighth inning, 4-4, the Astros down a game in the series and looking to steal a win to go home and get the ball to their two aces with the series tied. Coming up in the inning for the Cards: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds. You may remember them from discussions about the MVP award.


So the Astros have closer Brad Lidge warm in the bullpen. All he did this year was post an ERA of 1.90 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 5.2 to 1. Opposing batters hit .174 against him. Since June 22, when he became the Astros' closer, his ERA was 1.49. I could go on a bit here.

Sounds like the guy you want, doesn't it? If there's anyone out in that tired, shaky Houston pen with a decent chance to keep the Cardinals quiet for two innings and give the Astros a chance to win it in the ninth, it's Lidge.

So in comes Dan Miceli. You might remember Miceli from his previous postseason work, with the Padres in 1998. Or you might remember him from his days with the Pirates. Or the Tigers. Or the Marlins, Rockies, Rangers, Indians or Yankees. Or the Rockies again, or his first time around with the Astros.


Yessir, Dan Miceli has certainly given people in a lot of cities a chance to get to know him! To be fair, Miceli had a career year this year, going 6-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 77 and two-thirds innings, his most work since 1997. To be frank, if that's your career year, you're not the guy to be pitching to Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds in the most important inning of the postseason to date.

Here's how it went to Pujols: Ball one, home run. Here's how it went to Rolen: Ball one, foul ball, foul ball, home run. Not that extra distance counts for anything, but if you live in West Virginia look out your window Thursday afternoon. You might see Rolen's home run go by.

It's easy to sit around and second guess. One of the reasons I always maintain that game-strategy decisions are an overrated factor in judging how well a manager does his job is that bad decisions so often work out well and good ones turn out poorly. Who's to say that Lidge wouldn't have come in and given up a pair of home runs on his first two pitches, and then another one to Edmonds for good measure?

But here's something Garner should be thinking about during the off day: When you've just lost two close games to the best team in the league, with both of those games up for grabs in the late innings, and your best pitcher has yet to take his jacket off, it's time to reevaluate how you use your bullpen.


If Garner gets good outings from Clemens and Oswalt, which is a big if against the St. Louis lineup, he still has time to get it right.

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Every NFL team has played at least four games, which is a quarter of the season, so we're starting to get a picture of how things are shaping up.


I don't mean on the field, where everything's still up in the air, and if a Dolphin threw it it's about to be intercepted. I mean in this column's Pool of Experts, who pick the winners every week. This group includes experts from ESPN, Yahoo Sports and the Sporting News, as well as a group of Yahoo users who can be looked at as offering the consensus pick. I'm also guessing that the Users' favorites correspond pretty neatly, if not exactly, with the bookmakers' favorites.

And how things are shaping up is: Everyone's terrible. Despite three straight weeks of going 7-7, your humble servant has still not managed to lose a share of first place. No one has come close to picking two-thirds of the games correctly.

Last year's Pool of Experts champ, Ron Jaworski of ESPN, has managed for two straight weeks to stay one game ahead of my son Buster, the coin-flippinest 1-year-old in America, who picks winners with his trusty quarter. But in Week 5, ESPN's Chris Mortensen turned in the worst performance of the year by anyone, 4-10, and thus managed to fall all the way to the cellar.

That's right, ESPN football reporter Chris Mortensen, who watches film, interviews people, studies trends and generally comports himself like a professional, is not as successful at picking the winners of NFL games as a 1-year-old flipping a coin.


Here are the standings at the quarter poll:

Mike Golic, ESPN 47-27 .635
King Kaufman, Salon 47-27 .635
Yahoo Users 46-28 .622
Larry Beil, Yahoo 44-30 .595
Cris Carter, Yahoo 44-30 .595
Mark Schlereth, ESPN 44-30 .595
Joe Theismann, ESPN 41-28 .594
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News 43-31 .581
Sean Salisbury, ESPN 43-31 .581
Eric Allen, ESPN 43-31 .581
Merril Hoge, ESPN 43-31 .581
Ron Jaworski, ESPN 40-34 .541
Buster, Coin Flip Fancy 39-35 .527
Chris Mortensen, ESPN 38-36 .514

We now continue the august October tradition, begun last week, of describing each pick with two (2) sentences. Winners in caps, as always.

Carolina (1-3) at PHILADELPHIA (4-0): Pack it in, Panthers. Too many injuries have made this NFC Championship Game rematch a mismatch.

CINCINNATI (1-3) at Cleveland (2-3): Let me get this straight: These are two different teams, right? Just checking, and then picking the one with stripes.

Green Bay (1-4) at DETROIT (3-1): Not sure how much to read into that shellacking by Tennessee last week for the Packers. But enough to believe the Lions will actually be 4-1.

Houston (2-3) at TENNESSEE (2-3): Not sure how much to read into that shellacking of the Packers last week by Tennessee. But I'll go with it.

KANSAS CITY (1-3) at Jacksonville (3-2): Everyone's going to jump off the Jaguars bandwagon and onto the Chiefs bandwagon after this. But just you wait.

Miami (0-5) at BUFFALO (0-4): "And that's the end of the ballgame, folks." "I tell you what, Bob, it's really a shame that one of these teams has to win a game like this."

SAN DIEGO (3-2) at Atlanta (4-1): The Chargers, clicking on offense, beat the September-darling Jags in Week 5 to catch them at 3-2. They'll do the same thing to the September-darling Falcons in Week 6 and catch them at 4-2.

Seattle (3-1) at NEW ENGLAND (4-0): The Seahawks really should still be undefeated, but it seems they thought last week's game against the Rams was only 50 minutes. They won't need to bend over backwards like that for the Pats to win their 20th straight.

SAN FRANCISCO (1-4) at N.Y. Jets (4-0): What the Heck Pick™ of the week. If this one comes in, I'm going, as they say here in the Midwest, to the boats.

Washington (1-4) at CHICAGO (1-3): I'm just not going to be picking the Redskins anymore until they win again. And then, of course, I'll pick them and they'll lose.

DENVER (4-1) at Oakland (2-3): Remember that joke about interceptions a few paragraphs ago? I could have used Kerry Collins.

Pittsburgh (4-1) at DALLAS (2-2): It's a lot tougher to pick the Cowboys in this one than I would have thought three or four weeks ago. But I'll still do it.

MINNESOTA (3-1) at New Orleans (2-3): The Jim Haslett About to Be Fired Tour makes a stop in prime time. Such a talented team, too.

Tampa Bay (1-4) at ST. LOUIS (3-2): The Rams are still pretty tough at home. And the Bucs don't look like they're ready to put together a two-game winning streak.

Season record: 47-27
Last week: 7-7 (this is a recording)
What the Heck Picks™: 3-2
Number of times I've actually felt like my luck was running so hot that I should go to the boats: 0

Previous column: Lieber stifles the Sox

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