Stealing Signals: Oh, Piss Off

Phillies 4, Rays 3 – What? You expect me to be gracious, congratulatory towards a rival team? After 50 hours of waiting, Philadelphia finishes the job thanks to a crucial hit by Pedro Feliz in the 7th inning, driving in Eric Bruntlett, who was pinch-running for Pat Burrell after he’d hit a 400-foot double.  The game was in the hands of hte bullpen: Ryan Madsen, J.C. Romero, and then, Brad Lidge, who excised the demon (who looked very, very similar to Albert Pujols) from his playoff times in Houston and completed a season in which he did not blow a save.

Cole Hamels’ 4-0 performance earns him the Series MVP, and Philadelphia goes nuts in its first championship since 1983 and the Phillies’ first title since 1980 — thanks to a series of great performances and hitting when they most needed it (and some from the same person, like Joe Blanton in Game 4.)

And all I have to say is: fuck all of y’all. Go to hell.

(In all seriousness, congratulations, Phillies. Nice to have an NL team back on top, even if it is you guys. Except for Brett Myers — you, sir, are still a fuckwit.)

For the Rays, it means coming up short, but after a season where they win the toughest division in baseball, take out the White Sox and the Red Sox in a season where they went from worst to first, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and there are things to build on. But now, the day belongs to Philadelphia, and I, for one, would not like to be a police officer in that city for at least another 12 hours (not like I want to be a cop at any point and time.)

Always Sunny In Philadelphia, My Foot

I honestly couldn’t think of a more lousy way for a World Series to end than with the Phillies winning because the weather decided not to cooperate. However, it wasn’t exactly the smartest idea to keep playing and allow it to become a complete game in the fifth in the first place.   The light rain should have promopted a delay to begin with, even though Bud Selig said after hte suspension was declared that he wouldn’t have allowed the series to end on a rain-shortened game.

Now it becomes a bullpen bettale, which doesn’t really favor one team over another at this point, except that the Rays no longer have to deal with Cole Hamels.  No one wants to come back and face an ace all over again, and you’d have every right to excuse Philly fans if they’re a bit paranoid about the concept of what could happen with the Rays’ momentum by getting that 2nd run on a Carlos Pena single with the muck coming down and the base paths looking like mud.

If Selig could get that whole “no playoff series ending in a rainout” deal in the MLB rule book, here’s hoping he does that post-haste.  I understand that rule in the regular season, but playoff games shouldn’t be allowed to end because of the weather.

Stealing Signals: Four Games In, What Do We See?

A better set of 3 and 4 starters than I anticipated in Philly’s Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton, a team that got Game 1 on the strength of its ace, and took the last two games on its home field in completely different ways offensively: what they did in Game 3 was take a bizarre cincumstance of base running determining who would win (Eric Bruntlett getting hit by a pitch, stealing second, taking third on a throw, and then beating a dinky grounder home for the win an inning after B.J. Upton stole the momentum by stealing second and third and heading home on a wild throw) and a team that finally did in the World Series what it has done all year: put wood to ball and hit ’em out of the band box that is Citizens Bank Park, like Ryan Howard’s done three times in the last two days.

Now, with Cole Hamels posied to do it again in Game 5 and make my prediction of the Rays in 6 look utterly foolish, I’d like to remind the Phillies to go fuck themselves.  What’s now happened is that the entire Pihillies staff, not just Hamels and Brett Myers, are good enough to keep Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria from even gettign a hit in the series (currently 0-29 as a tandem), and it’s clear that if you keep the power base from lighting it up on the road, you win. Now, Tampa’s youth does not serve it well, and Joe Maddon doesn’t have enough tricks or twists in the bg to reinvent the wheel right now. (Not that he should — it would probably wreck his team more in an elminiation situation if he were to make drastic lineup shifts.)

This thing isn’t over, but it feels like we’re writing the obits for the Rays’ very good season and envisioning the parade in Philly — or, if you are me, summoning the hate preserved for them over the season to have just enough spite to say, “Eh, congrtualions. Now, fuck off.”

What? Who really wants to see their team’s rival win it all? No one i know.

Ill-Advised World Series Prediction

What, you mean you still listen to me on matters of predicting sport, particularly baseball? I’ve been horrifically wrong since the playoffs got started. I think I picked one series right throughout this whole thing.

Given the advantage American League teams have over the representatives from the National League right now, I was always going to choose whatever AL team happened to make it out of the blocks.  The bottom third of Philadelphia’s order makes this easier — you’re looking at either Pedro Feliz or Greg Dobbs in the third-base platoon, then Carlos Ruiz, and the pitcher’s spot in Philly for games 3-5, and this is a team with some decent, but not great candidates, to DH (thinkiing either Dobbs or Matt Stairs).  Tampa has more flexibility and won’t lose as much when they have to go to the pitcher hitting.  Going through B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and Carl Crawford is no easy task.

As for those pitchers, would you rather take Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, or the combination of Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and James Shields?  While Philly has an advantage if they take a lead into the 8th and 9th innings with Brad Lidge, their third and fourth starters (Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton) are vulnerable. Hamels should be pitching three games in this series, and if he loses one of them, the Phillies are likely sunk.

Philly has the offensive advantage, but I’m going with the Rays in 6 when their starting pitching wins out.

Stealing Signals: From The Cellar To A Pennant

(Highlights video from Awful Announcing. Thanks, boss!)

Rays 3, Red Sox 1 – One home run. That’s all Matt Garza allowed to cross the plate. Watching Dustin Pedroia jack it out in the 1st inning made for a nervous moment for myself and anyone else who’d decided to root for this team who had been down so low for the beginning of its existence against the dominant force in the American League for the past couple of seasons.  But then Garza engaged in the one of the more wonderful sights in a make-or-break playoff game with Boston starter Jon Lester: a full-blooded pitchers’ duel.  Evan Longoria doubled in Carlos Pena in the fourth, then Rocco Baldelli singled in Willy Aybar in the sixth.

Garza then kept it up, changing speeds, striking out nine in 7+ innings of work, and he probably would have been allowed to go eight if Jason Bartlett hadn’t gotten a bad hop on an Alex Cora grounder. Then, it became a mix-and-match for Joe Maddon: bringing in Dan Wheeler to pitch to Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia (Pedroia flew out); J.P. Howell to get David Ortiz to ground out; Chad Bradford walked Kevin Youkilis. Then, Maddon brought in David Price, who not only got out of the bases loaded threat by striking out J.D. Drew, he then finished the ninth after giving up a walk to Jason Bay.

Now, there are two days before the Phillies come to town, and while there are questions as to whether the Rays could beat the National League champions, from a city desperate for a title, there are no questions as to whether they belong in the top tier any more, and everyone who watched Price deal is waiting for more.

Stealing Signals: Beantown On The Brink

Rays 13, Red Sox 4 – It started with back-to-back home runs from Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, continued with a two-run jack from Willy Aybar in the 4th, and only got worse from there. To borrow once again from Mike Patrick’s description of the Alabama-Georgia game several weeks back, there was an old-fashioned butt-whipping in Boston last night, and the Red Sox supplied the butt.  If there is any team you would not have counted out in the past down 3 games to 1, it would be the Red Sox, but this is not the year for them to pull something like that out again, unless I’ve completely misjudged the team at this point through four games (which is entirely possible, given my status as severely amateur analyst.)

Josh Beckett isn’t himself; Jon Lester, their next best bet, got battered in Game 3.  Losing Mike Lowell’s reliable bat was tougher than expected; Kevin Youkilis hasn’t hit at the clip in the playoffs that we’ve been getting used to. David Ortiz’s wrist is a problem despite the triple he hit, and let’s be honest, Youk as the clean-up hitter behind Ortiz isn’t a patch on the intimidation that having Manny Ramirez was behind Big Papi.  (This is not to knock Jason Bay — he’s been reliable and done his part.) It’s just that too many pieces are missing from this Red Sox team right now to make that improbable comeback, whether via nagging injury (also include J.D. Drew) or by the slump (Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek — and how much has Varitek slumped when Kevin Cash, who handles Wakefield, looks like a better option both at the plate and behind it?)

Tampa’s youth movement, led by Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Aybar, and that pitching staff of theirs (repped admirably by Andy Sonnanstine last night) is playing like they know they’ve got house money, free-wheeling, fancy-free, and with so much skill it looks effortless. It’s not hard to pull for this team when all other options stink (I hate both the Dodgers and the Phillies; and I’ve grown kind of tired of Red Sox Nation as a whole, even though I know plenty of very nice and enthsiastic Sox fans), because there are stars there in the making; there are team players there; there’s everything in the Tampa Bay Rays that makes baseball fun to watch.

If any team deserves to succeed and turn around the concept of baseball in Florida, it’s this one.

Stealing Signals: This Weekend In Baseball

Phillies up 2-1, but we have a series now: The Dodgers knocked Jamie Moyer around for five runs in the first inning on a series of base hits (Blake DeWitt’s bases-loaded triple being the big one) and hit batters — it got even chippier after that. Russell Martin was hit by pitches twice, and the benches cleared after Hiroki Kuroda buzzed one over Shane Victorino’s head.  Kuroda pitched steadily for the better part of seven innings; a needed tonic after Chad Billingsley stretched the bullpen in Philly on Friday, and the staff gave up eight runs in the Citizens Bank Band Box.  Now, Derek Lowe will line up against Joe Blanton tomorrow, and even on three days rest, he has a bit more advantage in a park more friendly to pitchers than the aforementioned band box.

Red Sox and Rays tied at one a piece: After Daisuke Matsuzaka essentially took it to Tampa in Game One to snatch homefield advantage on Friday, the Rays knocked Josh Beckett for eight runs on Saturday. Scott Kazmir wasn’t having a great day either, and so the score was kept clos, with the game eventually being sent into extra innings on a wild pitch by Tampa reliever Dan Wheeler, who otherwise threw 3.1 great innings of relief for the Rays.  Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon did the same great work for the Red Sox, but every Boston fan felt a bit of dread when Mike Timlin walked out for the bottom of the 11th, and you could have written an Easterbrook-like “game over” in your mind after he walked both Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist. Replacing Navarro with pinch runner Fernando Perez was the right move, as Jason Bartlett grounded to third as Perez was stealing, keeping them out of the double play and forcing Timlin to walk Akinori IwamuraB.J. Upton hit a ball to shallow right that no one else but Perez would have tagged up adn scroed on — he has home in about nine long, quick strides.