October 2009

Live chat with Kimberly Jones

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php?option=com_mobile&task=viewaltcast&altcast_code=8789853d1a” >Kimberly Jones World Series Game 3 chat</a>

Prelude to Game 1

Couple of quick thoughts before I have to stow away the computer for the night:

Let the fun begin:
If yesterday’s Media Day was indication, this will be a fun series. (A better indication, of course, is that both teams are playing at a very high level.) Rollins stood by his prediction. Jeter paused, shook his head and laughed when I asked him about facing Pedro again. And pedro275.jpgLidge told me he does think the Phillies’ staff can effectively pitch to Alex.

Media Day was set up like it is at the Super Bowl. (Good idea.) Pedro drew a crowd of reporters that Peyton Manning would have been proud of — easily the biggest of the day. And he seemed to relish his return to the spotlight. What else would you expect?

Game 2 will have amazing intensity. A.J. said he’s happy to be part of it.

The Phillies are extremely confident and loose, which would make them the first team this postseason to match the Yankees in both categories. (A member of the Twins told me before Game 2, “I just hope we don’t get swept.” That’s not a notion the Phillies could relate to.)

Making the calls:
Let’s hope the umpires are not discussed during the series. Not once.

Chat to come:
I’ll do a chat before Game 3. Details to follow.

Pigskin picks:
“This Week in Football” moves on without me. Picks for this week — Jets over Miami because Sanchez can’t be that bad again. The angry Giants over the Eagles in what will be a crazy day, even by Philly standards. And Vikings over Packers — a game that most of the world will watch.

Bruney is back:
We’ll see Bruney in a big spot before this series ends. That’s an intriguing proposition for a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in more than three weeks.

And the ALCS MVP is …

A-Rod-10-21-250.jpgA few of us in the press box broached this subject as Game 4 slowly drew to a conclusion: Assuming the Yankees find a way to win one more game, who’s the MVP of the ALCS?

It’s Alex or CC. Or CC or Alex.

My gut reaction is Alex, who has singlehandedly changed both the ALDS and ALCS. Just ask Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes. His remarkable numbers represent personal redemption that is almost incomprehensible in its completeness.

Will anyone ever label him “un-clutch” again?

I don’t love numbers but his in postseason are these: .407, 11-for-27, five home runs, 11 RBIs, four walks, four strikeouts. That’s the tangible part. The intangible part is that there isn’t a pitcher with a heartbeat who wants to see him at the plate right now. In any situation.

Meanwhile CC has been almost unhittable. Neither the Twins nor the Angels have had a chance when he’s been on the mound. And his best outing of the bunch arguably was last night’s, on three days rest. (He’s also saved Girardi from some of those shaky bullpen moves.)

His playoff stats, in winning all three of his starts: 22.2 innings, 1.19 ERA, 17 hits, three earned runs, 20 strikeouts, three walks. He’s thrown 327 pitches, meaning he is allowing an opponent to get a hit every 19 or 20 pitches. And he allows a baserunner every 16 or 17 pitches.

When you watch CC, he never, ever appears to lose control, of his stuff or his senses, even when he runs into a bit of trouble. He doesn’t ever seem even slightly out of sorts. It’s amazing.

So, who’s your ALCS MVP?

The (possible) World Series: Those CC vs. Cliff Lee starts could be incredible, no? And in Ryan Howard, the Phils have their version of Alex. Should be fun.

The best closer of all-time: So, on the team bus to Angel Stadium yesterday, Mariano asked me if I’d heard a story about him spitting on the ball. Yes, I said. Then he laughed.

We chatted about it briefly; he said a friend had just told him in a phone conversation about the “controversy.” Clearly, Mariano found the whole thing preposterous. (As did MLB and Mike Scioscia.)

I asked Mariano if I could repeat this story. He said yes. (Ordinarily, I consider happenings on the bus and charter to be off limits.) And I asked if I could report that he laughed.

“You can say whatever you want to,” he said, smiling. And then he laughed some more.

Mariano has the ability to dismiss the absurd, or a poor outing, as well as any athlete I’ve ever seen. His temperament is as important as his cutter in making him the closer, and competitor, he is. Maybe more so.

Seems like a lifetime ago when people were doubting him back in April and early May, doesn’t it?

The three hole: Before you lash out, here is a disclaimer: Mark Teixeira’s defense has absolutely, positively saved the Yankees’ bacon at important times this postseason. No doubt about it.

But it’s amazing how little production the Yankees and the Angels have gotten from the third spot in the order.

Teixeira is hitting .133 in the playoffs, Torii Hunter .222.

Neither Teixeira nor Hunter has an RBI in the ALCS. If Hunter could have managed a big hit in Game 2, this series might be tied.

The Angels won’t lie down; they’ve overcome too much for that. Scioscia says it’s a “one step at a time” deal at this point; of course he’s right. And it’ll start with free-agent-to-be John Lackey in Game 5. But at some point the Angels’ bats have to help out.

The umpires: Where to start? Their incompetence, even on the easiest of calls, is the story of the postseason. It’s been that bad, that obvious, that inexplicable.

And people are finally starting to pay attention.

Yankees fans aren’t obsessed with this, and understandably so, because their team has benefited from most of the calls.

But maybe the sheer volume of blatantly bad calls has exposed the umpires’ collective arrogance and will lead to changes. For example, most of them simply refuse to move physically – even a step or two – to get into better position to see a call properly. And it’s mind-boggling that they so rarely confer with each other when there is doubt. What in the world would be the harm in talking it out, to try to be sure?

At least in the NFL they attempt to get the calls right and, in a sport where the number of simultaneously moving parts is unparalleled, almost always succeed.

As you know, Tim McClelland – the crew chief in this series – blew two calls last night, one immediately after second base ump Dale Scott inexplicably went Phil Cuzzi on us by signaling Nick Swisher safe.

McClelland explained his makeup call by saying, “In my heart I thought (Swisher) left too soon” from third base.

In the next inning, McClelland had a “Three Stooges” moment. Afterward he had no choice but to admit the replay “showed that Cano was off the bag when he was tagged. I did not see that for whatever reason.”

(How the famously even-keeled Scioscia didn’t get thrown out there, I’ll never know. And Scioscia simply refuses to make the umpires part of the story in this series, which says a lot about him.)

Anyway, here’s the most troubling part to me. When an umpire, no less a crew chief, admits to making a bad, bad call because it was in his heart, that sounds like dangerous territory. Imagine arbitrators at any level relying on heartstrings over rule of law to make decisions. Yikes.

Thank you: Speaking of the inexplicable – given the lack of blog posts by me over the past month – this blog remains popular. Really popular. I’m shocked and deeply grateful. Here are the rankings. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And we’ll do another chat soon. I promise.

This Week in Football: After a 2-1 week, guess who’s out of the cellar? Me! Take that, Ross, Howard, Gary and Gordon! It helped that the Favres, my pick, beat the Ravens, Tucker’s pick, head-to-head. Here are my picks for this week, only slightly later than TWIF producer Jared Boshnack would like them: Giants will rebound against Cards, but the pass defense has to improve. Lots. Jets over Oakland, which isn’t an easy choice. They have to simplify for Sanchez, no? And Saints over Dolphins because Sean Payton is a creative genius.

Getting the champagne out

One out of every three people asks if I have washed the champagne out of my hair. The answer, mercifully, is yes. There are a lot of things to like about champagne; its smell after drying isn’t one of them.

“This Week in Football” picks for this week: Saints over Giants, Jets over Bills, Vikings over Ravens. I’m no longer in sole possession of last place, I think, which is a good thing.

This is a (very) short post. It’s turned into a busy week. See you Friday for ALCS Game 1!

Playoff baseball back in the Bronx

CC-10-7-250.jpgDefinitely, a playoff atmosphere at the Stadium. As you would expect. There’s lots of winds and big expectations of a Yankees sweep. Do you know anyone – anyone – picking the Twins?

I’m sitting in a booth – not the YES booth, a smaller one beside the Yankee radio booth – by myself. Cone is in his suite. Kay is hanging with some ESPN colleagues. It gives me an excuse to blog.

It’s the second inning, CC has four strikeouts and is getting a lot of swing-and-misses.

If Mauer comes up in a key spot in, say, the sixth inning, it might be Marte or Robertson who gets the call from the bullpen. That’s how much confidence Girardi has in Robertson.

The final decisions on the postseason roster were three guys for two spots. The three were Gaudin, Marte and Guzman. Once the Twins won, the pitchers were in. Gaudin is the long man, should a starter get knocked out early. As Girardi puts it, Gaudin is the insurance that allows him to use the rest of the bullpen however he chooses.

Mauer said his job tonight is to calm down Duensing and get him to keep the ball down. He also said the Twins are running on adrenaline and that it’s “probably good” that they have to play right away. There’s no time to be tired.

The Yankees were reportedly loose in the clubhouse before the games. Unlike the regular season, the media aren’t allowed in there before playoff games.

It would seem there’s even more pressure on A.J. in Game 2 now that Molina is in and Posada’s out.

As for “This Week in Football,” I am in last place in the picks. Last place. This week, I’ll take the Giants over the Raiders, the Jets over the Dolphins and am looking for a layup for my third pick. Eagles over Bucs.