Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The What Now?

This weekend The Ninth was kicking around ESPN.com, looking up some numbers. After doing a bit of research on the Cards and Sox, I decided to click on "Scores" and see how the other series were going. No other series. I looked around a bit. I actually did this. It took five minutes for my mind to accept that the Red Sox were in the World Series. And I was in Boston for the games. Demented, but I'm still not sure it's sunk in entirely. No other teams are playing. We're all that's left. But when you watch Games 1 and 2, they're just games. There's no special World Series fireworks or cavalcade. Whoever pitches better and hits in the clutch is going to win. It's just like the last 172 games. There are no tigers. Somehow I thought there'd be tigers. It's weird when you wait for something your whole life, and then finally get it. Nothing is as good as expectation.

Which is not to say The Ninth is complaining. No, this is quite wonderful. And if Boston can win 2 of the next 5, it will get a lot more wonderful. The first two games have left me with one very strong reaction: man, the Yankees are good. St. Louis is a fine team. Great hitting, and I'm certain we'll see more of it at home; nice defense, as Rolen looks like the last guy I would to hit a ball to in the late innings; and a solid bullpen. But these are not the Yankees. I'm sorry, they're just not as good. If you can beat New York in a playoff series, you can do anything. Boston is playing so effortlessly and confidently in the first games you can tell they feel it too. "We just beat the Yankees, and you bring this to us?". I for one could go for a little less confidence, as a bit more Manny Ramirez concentration and a little less Orlando Cabrera hot dogging could help, but how can you argue with the results? Be honest, have you been scared of the Cardinals once? Was there a single moment where you thought, "uh oh, they're gonna get us", the way you do every moment of every Yankee game? Nope. They're a good club. They could knock Pedro around tonight. They could win the Series. But they're not the Yankees.

The main problem with the Cardinals is their starting pitching. Not as much the quality of the arms, but the way they pitch. They're not swing and miss guys, they're not over-powering. They throw strikes, try to keep ball down, and hope for balls hit weakly. That's not a good approach against Boston. If you want to nibble, they'll wait. Go deep in the count and sooner or later you have to have a pitch to put a guy away. They don't have that. Not yet anyway. The best example was Jason Varitek's at-bat against Morris early in Game 2. Matt jumped ahead early with two nice strikes. Got Tek in the hole, and should have blown him away high and outside. That's the textbook approach. But Morris doesn't have that pitch. So he tried a low changeup, and Jason hit it into the triangle for a triple. Mediocre stuff will kill you against Boston, at some point. Unless you pull a Jon Leiber, and pitch the game of your life, they'll get you. If St. Louis can get a couple of those, they can jump back into this. Suppan can be electric, and has been recently. But if he's anything less, the Sox will rock him. No matter where they're playing. Same thing goes for Marquis. They're just not the kind of guys that give Boston fits. I gotta say, I don't love their chances.

Things to watch for tonight:

- Pedro making his first World Series start. You know he's going to want to leave his mark, and he probably deserves something special. Will all the extra rest hurt his control or help his fastball more?

- David Ortiz at 1st base. Deer on ice skates.

- Does Embree still have his electric Game 2 stuff? That was the best he's thrown in a full year.

- Do Rolen and Edmonds finally step up?

- Terry Francona continuing to out manage Tony LaRussa. Read that again.

- 3-0 will make this over. I don't care what just happened. The only thing less likely than the way Boston came back against New York is two teams doing it in consecutive series.
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