Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 14, 2003
BASEBALL: ALCS Game 4 Notes
"They shouldn't throw at me. I'm the father of five or six kids."
Both drama and the likelihood of a dramatic letdown were in the air at Fenway last night, as the teams and Major League Baseball tried everything from extra security to giving the night off to the non-players involved in Saturday's kicking spree in the bullpen to a tearful apology from Don Zimmer, who promised not to get in any more brawls until he's 80. I'm sure the presence of Tom Ridge in the stands was purely coincidental (or maybe not), although the umpires did helpfully force Jeff Nelson to unbuckle his belt and turn his glove inside out to make Ridge feel at home . . .
This was actually the first of the ALCS games I'd gotten to see on live TV rather than radio + highlights. One verdict: Bret Boone has a lot fewer interesting things to say than Al Leiter does. Couldn't they have found a player who wasn't related to anybody on the Yankees?
Unfair stat: a FOX graphic pointed out that Doug Mirabelli led the majors in passed balls this year. The broadcasters pointed out that Doug Mirabelli caught all but two innings of Tim Wakefield this year. Coincidence?
Boone did have a point, albeit a predictable one, that if the AL wins the World Series, Hank Blalock will be owed a playoff share for the All-Star Game home run that gives the AL team home field advantage in the World Series.
Notes on replays: you can really see, in slow motion, the way the knuckleball doesn't spin when it's thrown correctly. In a sense, the knuckler's gimmick isn't its movement, as is often said, so much as its absence of the movement that batters expect on other pitches. It's also the case that the mega-slow-mo replay - which immediately looks like aged footage (I keep expecting the swings broken down to be Graig Nettles and Fred Lynn) - makes guys who swing and miss look utterly foolish. At least when you watch in normal time, you get a better sense of how hard it is to hit a baseball. And watching Johnny Damon throw reminds me: there are few things in baseball that must be more embarrassing than having a pitifully weak outfield throwing arm that just lofts throws in to the infield. It's emasculating.
Fly ball pitchers have had their moments in postseason play; consider Catfish Hunter, or Jack Morris. But Mike Mussina needs to cut down on the home runs if he's going to get back to winning games in October. As for Todd Walker, the name "Adam Kennedy" starts to come to mind.
Key difference in the game: Jorge Posada lining out to Manny Ramirez in the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded; Jason Varitek, after jogging in from the bullpen in his catching gear to pinch hit, improbably beating out a potential DP grounder to drive in what would turn out to be the key insurance run in the seventh. The call at first was the right one - Varitek was safe - and the attention to the call reminded me that someone more important to security than Tom Ridge was in the house: longtime National League umpire Cowboy Joe West. You may remember the burly, combative West for, among other things, body-slamming Dennis Cook in a brawl some years ago. Don't mess with Cowboy Joe.
The rundown that ended the seventh was just ugly, with Varitek getting caught off first and Nixon ultimately tagged out at third. Not exactly Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez evading all tags in the 1986 World Series.
Man, you could see that Hideki Matsui was pissed at himself when he dove for Timlin's high outside pitch to strike out to end the 8th. He was grimacing by the time he finished his swing.
It didn't turn out so badly, but I was convinced at the time that bringing in Jeff Nelson was a disaster waiting to happen. I know managers hate to let the crowd dictate their decisions, but here it was clear that (1) Nelson was overexcited and (2) the crowd's "Nelson, Nelson" chants were getting to him. I wonder if Grady Little actually helped Nelson settle down after he threw his first pitch way, way inside, by charging out (in what was obviously a pre-determined stunt) to have his belt and glove checked. Nelson looked in plenty of trouble out on the mound before that; better to save the stunt for later in the series against somebody who was pitching well. Nelson settled down considerably after that.
I knew the Yanks would have trouble with Scott Williamson when he got the high strike on his first pitch in the ninth . . .
Next up: David Wells vs. Derek Lowe. Career numbers at Fenway:
With John Burkett reportedly up in Game Six, the Sox need this one.