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BLOG ARCHIVE:  10/07/04 - 10/20/04
The game lasted only 9 innings, so this time it took some unruly fans, an overturned call, and some slowfooted cops in riot gear to bring the ALCS to a halt once again.  These games have all been exciting with regard to the outcome, but getting there has been a mighty struggle.  It's like watching your favorite movie on broadcast television: every time the suspense builds to a climax, a commercial interrupts the flow.

The turning point that wasn't to be occurred when ARod intentionally knocked the ball away from Bronson Arroyo as he tried to tag Rodriguez on his way to first.  The original call was overturned (correctly), and ARod was out.  Instead of trailing by one run with one out and one on, the Yankees were down two with two outs.  Normally, these events happen to teams like the Red Sox and the Cubs.  Instead, the karma tide has turned, and that's why you will see the Red Sox celebrating on New York's field tonight.

In St. Louis, Garner has chosen to give Clemens his full rest since the Astros only need one win in the next 2 days.  If Munro comes through tonight, it would give Houston a huge advantage heading into the playoffs with a rested Clemens and Oswalt ready to start the first 2 games.

The Astros hopped on the shoulders of Jeff Kent and the "Backe" of their starting pitcher to take a 3-2 series lead heading into St. Louis.  Carlos Beltran, while uncharacteristically failing to hit a home run in a game, is still proving to the world while he and his agent will be very rich this offseason.  Last night, Beltran wowed the crowd with a brilliant catch in center field and later stole a base, demonstrating just a couple of his five tools.

It still won't be easy to win in St. Louis, but at least Houston has momentum on its side.

In Boston, the Red Sox willed their way back into the series last night.  Between naps, you might have caught David Ortiz in typical "hero" mode, knocking in the winning run yet again, this time in the 14th inning.  It was a well pitched game by both bullpens, and Esteban Loaiza was the loser despite looking pretty sharp.  He wasn't hit hard, but the hits fell and now the series will be on the line in New York tonight.

In the NL, events are unfolding as expected: 4 wins by the home team, with the Astros climbing back in it after starts by Clemens and Oswalt.  Houston's hopes rest on the arm of Backe tonight.  Winning the last 2 in St. Louis won't happen, but heading into Game 6 with a lead in the series gives Houston a chance at its first World Series appearance in franchise history.

In the AL, last night's extra inning affair was about the LEAST exciting as it can get for a 12th inning walk off home run for the home team.  The 5+ hour drag-a-thon was almost unwatchable.  Even when the score was 4-3 in the ninth, the game clocked in at over 3 1/2 hours.  There was more standing around than a junior high dance.  Hopefully this afternoon's game will have a better pace.

With the bullpen failing Houston once again last night, the critics came out of the woodwork to chastise Phil Garner for not bringing in Lidge when the game was tied entering the 8th inning.  Personally, I'm growing tired of all the "after the fact" second guessing.

Garner is one of my least favorite people in baseball, but it's way too easy for the media to ignore their hypocrisies while criticizing managers.  The same people who ridiculed the Red Sox last year for abandoning the new tradition of a consistent 9th inning closer are questioning Garner for NOT bringing in his closer in the 8th inning of a tie game.  Yes, the Red Sox were forced into that situation because of a lack a dominant pitcher, but the logic wasn't faulty; the execution was to blame.

Furthermore, the same writers and commentators that questioned Garner's move of putting in Lidge in the 7th inning during the NLDS are saying that he should have put Lidge in earlier last night.  It's true that Garner has been inconsistent that way, but he's managing each game on a day to day basis, and each situation is different. 

While I often disagree with Garner's moves, I am not going to second guess EVERY decision because I'm quite sure that in a battle of baseball knowledge, Garner would beat me quite handily.  Closer to the point, I'm fairly certain that the manager of the Houston Astros has a better handle on the bullpen of the Houston Astros than any newspaper writer might have.

I understand that sports media exists not only to report the facts but also to instill opinionated views.  However, constant second guessing to the point of hypocrisy leans more toward being strictly argumentative than opinionated.

Things seem dire in New England, but the Red Sox do have 3 home games on the way, and the Boston lineup is capable of hitting its way back into the series, provided Johnny Damon starts swinging the bat like a major leaguer again.

The scare Boston put into New York in Game 1 after Mussina's 6 innings of perfection appeared to be a huge mental edge, even though the Red Sox still lost the game.  It didn't translate to Game 2, however, as Boston bats were flat against Jon Lieber.  The Yankees have the edge, but this series is far from over.

In St. Louis, the expected occurred: mediocre pitching eventually gave way to the bats on both sides, and a deeper Cardinals team outhit Houston to a Game 1 victory.  If Pete Munro has any magic in his arm, now would be the time to use it.  Evening up the series heading into Houston with Clemens and Oswalt on tap would be uplifting for the Astros and give them more control over their destiny.  Losing to Matt Morris tonight will put undue pressure on the Houston aces, however, and Phil Garner will not be able to avoid the criticism of being forced to pitch Backe and Munro early in the series.  In other words, it's a must win for Houston.  If P.M. doesn't come through, it could be "good night" for the Astros.

The NLCS Preview is now available!  Will the streaking Astros take the NL crown, or will the consistent Cardinals slug their way to the Series?  Read Hot Corner to find out!

Anyone who watched the Fox broadcast of last night's Game 5 NLDS now knows 3 things and not much else: Ken Caminiti died, Roy Oswalt was pitching on 3 days' rest, and the Astros have never won a playoff series.  Josh Lewin and Steve Lyons were about as flat as the Braves, but the real story should be the success of the Astros.

Never before has a stadium filled with 54,000 fans sounded so much like a library.  Sure, some of that can be blamed on the apathy of Atlanta fans, but Houston never gave the Tomahawk Choppers a reason to start chanting.  The only time the game got close, Carlos Beltran answered with his second home run of the night, slightly deflating Atlanta's hopes.  The whole balloon popped when Chris Reitsma and the rest of the bullpen fell apart, leaving Atlanta in a 9-2 hole which only kept growing.

While Atlanta didn't come through at home (yet again) and is now 4-12 in its last 16 postseason games at home, this is the one year the Braves have actually overachieved.  Losing as much as they did in the offseason and being forced to use a rotation consisting of names like Wright, Thomson, and Byrd (not to mention the lower end), the Braves had no business being one game away from the NLCS, but there they were, fighting for their playoff lives for the 13th straight time.  The difference this time, however, is that looking back, Braves fans can consider this season a success rather than a letdown.

On the winning side, Houston has demonstrated what can happen if an owner has patience with a ballclub.  Waiting and finally deciding to hang on to Beltran rather than trade him when the wild card was a flight of fancy was the best decision the organization made.  Patience paid off, and the players are showing their thanks by the things they are doing on the field.  No mere fluke, the Astros are built for the playoffs, and if the middle relief can get some rest and be used sparingly, Houston fans just might be treated to an Fall Classic of their own.

The ALCS Preview is now available!  Will Boston finally return to the Series, or will the Yankees steal it away again?  Read Hot Corner to find out.

Like a cat with nine lives, Atlanta tries to avoid elimination again tonight.  The Braves have come from behind several times in the series, but if they don't get out of the gates fast tonight, it will be tough to come back on Roy Oswalt.  The Houston hurler will be pitching on 3 days rest, but only threw 89 pitches in his last outing, so there should be little effect.  Atlanta will look to Game 1 starter Jaret Wright to right the ship in the land of the Brave. 
Struggling mightily in the opener, the pressure is all on Wright to keep Atlanta in the game until the late innings because the relief corps has been used heavily and has already been more effective than expected.  Expecting another long stretch of solid work from the 'pen might be asking a bit too much.

The Twins seemed to outplay the Yankees for more innings over the course of their series, but they sure took it on the chin in the few innings they failed to come through.  Naturally, these were late in the game and mattered most.  In a series that ended 21-17 in runs scored in favor of New York, Minnesota did just enough things wrong to turn what should have been a 4 game series win into a series of "what ifs" and "what could have beens."

In Anaheim, Vladimir Guerrero gave Angels fans a taste of playoff dramatics with a game tying grand slam, but it wasn't enough as the Red Sox swept what was anticipated to be the most competitive series.

As predicted, Jose Lima came through in a big way in Game 3, but that was the only bright spot in L.A. as the Dodgers succumbed to highly talented Cardinals in 4 games.

The extra inning affair between Houston and Atlanta was one of the more exciting games in recent postseasons, and certainly ranks up there as one of the strangest.  Among the oddities:

- The Braves outhit the Astros 14-4 but never led until Furcal's walk off home run.

- After an 8-pitch 5th inning by Oswalt, the Braves started the 6th with Drew and Chipper Jones impatiently making first pitch outs.  Atlanta fans everywhere were assuming a long day against Oswalt.

- Inexplicably, Phil Garner yanked Oswalt after just 88 pitches and 6 1/3 innings after giving up 2 hits in the inning.

- During the pitching change, Garner claimed the bullpen phone wasn't working, creating a long delay so that Lidge could get warm.  The Braves protested, claiming "phone antics," not that a protest has ever held up.  I would give most managers the benefit of the doubt, but knowing Garner and the dirty baseball his teams played when managing Milwaukee and Detroit, I wouldn't put the "antics" past him.

- Closer Brad Lidge entered in the 7th inning, knowing he would need 8 outs for the save (something he'd never done before).

- After already pitching 2 innings, Atlanta closer John Smoltz hit for himself to lead off the 9th...and singled!  Of course, the Braves stranded him.

- The 2 closers combined for 5 2/3 innings and 84 pitches.

If you haven't read the TCO Division Series Preview, catch up now!

As has been the case in recent years, the Braves have demonstrated enough talent and guile to get to the playoffs, but then are done in by their weaknesses.  Last night was no exception, as Clemens got out of trouble numerous times because Atlanta lacked that one extra bat needed to take them to the next level.  In the past, the pitching could carry them, but now it will take a total team effort, as well as some overachieving on the mound and at the plate, to win 3 of the remaining 4 games against Houston.

Elsewhere, the Dodgers should have a chance to win 1 of the next 2 games, although St. Louis has hit Weaver pretty hard this year, so L.A.'s first win might come in St. Louis when "Lima Time" faces Morris in Game 3.  Unfortunately for Dodgers' fans, that might be too late.

Minnesota took all the pressure off of New York when a flat-flooted Jacque Jones was ill-prepared to make a decent throw home, allowing Derek Jeter to score the winning run easily in the 12th.  The Twins are far from dead, but the Yankees will feel like they have a new lease on life and one less nail in their coffin.

Anaheim has not been able to match the offensive firepower of the Red Sox early in the series.  Even the Angels' highly touted bullpen fell apart last night, turning a tie game into a rout.  Their season will be in the hands of Kelvim Escobar tomorrow night as he faces Bronson Arroyo.  Escobar, one of Anaheim's several high profile offseason acquisitions, can prove his value with a solid outing to extend the series another day.

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