Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Last Call For Alcohol

How to start a thing like this? Someone should be giving Bud Selig a dorky high-five right now. The trick worked. Another division added, a wild card introduced, and several years later we have the tightest last week, maybe, ever? I could look that up, but my Internet is down, and yours isn’t, so go for it. There’s a bit of intrigue left in the NL, but it’s looking mostly set at Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego, and Houston. The American League though, oh American League. Anaheim’s in, but then we have four teams for two spots, and it’s easy imagine any combination making it. As disappointed as Sox fans have to be with giving up 1st, you have to enjoy the amazing baseball this has created. Let’s talk this out.

  • The White Sox are there for the taking. Playing the worst of Cleveland, Boston, and New York, but the most likely to make it because of their lead, Chicago were the only real winners of Tuesday’s loss fest. Another day comes off the schedule without losing ground. Because of their terrible play, the White Sox create an interesting incentive for the Yankees or Red Sox to take the Wild Card. Should the Card come out of the East, Its first round playoff match-up would surely be with Chicago, and that’s picking easy. An outright division winner would have to face Anaheim or Cleveland. Most important to Boston and New York though is the WSox failing to clinch before the weekend. If Chicago knows they are in before their series with the Indians, they will bench their starters and rest their pitchers, giving Cleveland three very easy games. The RSox and Yanks need Chicago fighting for their life, keeping wins difficult for the Tribe and holding the Wild Card tight. While the most just outcome might be the White Sox losing all of their remaining games and letting Boston, NY, and Cleveland have the playoffs, the Baseball Gods seem unmoved. Selfish.

  • The Ninth finds Cleveland an extremely tough figure. Are they the young team that’s going to bow under the pressure, or the plucky kids who don’t know better than to win win win? Until last night, I would’ve said the former. But they’ve now lost two in a row, to the Devil Rays and Royals of all people, and their starting pitching looks a little Don Knotts. They do have a top-notch bullpen (recognize any of those names, Theo?), but it would be pretty amazing for them to out-tough a pair of playoff vets like Boston and New York. The Indians are helped tremendously by the Sox and Yanks playing each other this weekend; somebody has to lose. A few more games against Baltimore and Toronto and the Tribe would be left in the dust. If we had to pick a loser, these kids would be it, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to play ‘em over the next six games. And yeah, that was a Shakiest Gun in the West reference back there.

  • As we said, bummer that Boston lost the lead. Would’ve been a hell of a lot easier another way. But the Yankees, as loathe as we are to congratulate, have earned it. They’ve won 13 of their last 16 with a starting rotation that still stinks, and only one relief pitcher. But how about that relief pitcher? The Ninth has refrained from commenting on the Ortiz v. Arod MVP battle, because really, who cares, but any balanced discussion has to include Mariano Rivera. Looking at this weekend series, who is the single most important character involved? Mariano. What is the one thing New York has that Boston can’t match? Mariano. Whose endurance and durability will likely decide the outcome of the most important games of the year? Mariano. Do you realize that from May 7th to July 7th Mariano Rivera did not let up a SINGLE EARNED RUN? That’s two months, 24 innings, zero earned runs. Holy stromboli. Where would New York be without him? Absolutely finished. Joe Torre builds his game plan, every game plan, around bringing Rivera in. He barters with other relievers, trying to buy time and build bridges ‘til there’s only three outs left. Three outs that he’s virtually assured of getting. How can that not make him the most valuable? If Rivera were gone I’m not sure Joe could get his uniform on much less win a game. And honestly, we all know how these weekend games are going to go. The Red Sox have an advantage because of their home field, and will light it up offensively at least once. But New York can hit too, and the games will all be close. Torre will do his best to get up by one run, and if there is any scent, any sniff, any thought of trouble after the 8th Inning, Rivera comes in. And Boston will have to beat him. That’s the way it is kids. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it always will be: the Boston Red Sox vs. Mariano Rivera. Now you tell me how someone else is the most valuable player. Well you can’t, because I don’t read your blog. And the Sox could do it. Because Mo is so great, because Torre needs him so much, he’s been overused. Tanyon Sturtze and Tom Gordon have been solid pieces for Joe this year, but because of the lousy rotation, he’s pitched them too much. Trust me when I tell you, they’re gassed, and they’ll give it up this weekend. If there’s one chink in the Torre armor, it’s his inability to accept mediocre relievers. It’s hurt New York for a few years now, and if they lose this weekend that’ll be why. Rivera has had to appear in 41 of New York’s last 80 games (51%!), going back to July 1st, and has thrown 46.2 innings. Chart that over the course of a full season and you’ve got a closer throwing 100 innings. That’s, well, insane. Will it be too much? He’s sure to pitch in the next two games, or New York will lose, so what will he have left for the Red Sox? Torre will call him, we know that, and he will call him often. But will his workload, the unbelievable weight Rivera has carried for his team this year, catch up with him at the worst possible moment? Your guess is as good as mine. So when you think about the home runs Ortiz could hit, or the pesky plays Arod could make, keep in mind that none of it really matters. What this series comes down to, really, what this entire season hangs on, is how many cutters are left in that quiet gentleman’s right arm. None of us have any idea, but something tells me, sometime around 4pm on Sunday afternoon, we’re all gonna find out. And come on babies, don’t tell me it isn’t going to be a hell of a good time.

  • Stay close Boston, stay tied by Friday night, and the division will be yours. Your home field will be the reason.