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NL Roundup

The Reversal

Just a few days ago, the 2004 playoffs ranked the worst in recent memory. After several consecutive years of unbelievable postseason baseball, this year’s version has all the excitement of Spring Training. Of the four first-round series, only one reached a deciding fifth game, and even that ended up as a 9-run blowout.

At that point, optimists could still point to the two League Championship Series as an opportunity for redemption. It promised to be dramatic baseball, as the four remaining teams were arguably the four best teams in baseball.

Of course, all that optimism dissipated quickly. The Yankees swept the first three games of the series in such a dominating fashion, that even the most loyal New Englanders had to accept this year as another chapter in the anathema of the Bambino. Over in the National League, the Cardinals’ lineup battered the Astros' pitching so thoroughly over the first two games that the only thing Houston fans could hope to do was avoid the sweep.

Then something strange happened. The Astros went home and took all three games, and the Red Sox bounced back to tie the series at three – a comeback that included two extra-inning games as dramatic as one will ever see. Now, fans will be treated to a fabulous day of baseball: Game 6 of Houston/St. Louis and Game 7 of Boston/New York.

Game 6: Houston vs. St. Louis
Garner’s game management
One could say I’m less than averse to criticizing Astros’ manager Phil Garner’s nonsensical game management, but he made a great move by pinch hitting Morgan Ensberg for Brad Ausmus in the ninth inning of a one-run game. Ensberg ended up at first base courtesy of a Jason Isringhausen fastball to the ribcage, so it could be argued Ausmus’ body would have worked just as well as Ensberg’s. On the other hand, Ensberg scored the tying run. However, fair analysis is based on a move’s merits, not its results, and it was clearly the right move.

All innings are not created equal
Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire was roundly criticized by the media for leaving closer Joe Nathan in for a third inning of duty in the third game of the Twins vs. Yankees divisional series. In game six of the NLCS, Garner appeared to have a similar decision in deciding whether to run closer Brad Lidge out for a third inning. However, as is often said, looks can be deceiving. Lidge had only thrown 19 pitches in recording six quick outs, while Nathan ended up with 53 pitches.

No doubt
Albert Pujols would not be deserving of MVP of the Cardinals – let alone the league. The distinction as top Red Bird belongs to Jim Edmonds. Edmonds was every bit as good a hitter as Pujols in 2004, and shoulders far more defensive responsibility as a center fielder than Pujols does as a first baseman.

When Edmonds hit his walk-off homerun in the 12th inning, the Astros players didn’t even turn to watch the flight of the ball. No amount of hoping or body motioning could keep the ball in the yard. For baseball fans, it gives us another game seven, and there’s nothing in sports better than that.

Game 7: Boston vs. New York
“The most anticipated game in baseball history.”
These are the words Peter Gammons used to describe the seventh game between the Red Sox and Yankees. And while I agree with Peter Gammons about as often as John Kerry agrees with George Bush, Gammons is absolutely correct with this description. For one day in the world’s history, the following sentence can be said without subsequent bouts of uncontrolled laughter: There is no better place to be right now than Boston.

I mean the second best game of the day…
The score is now 8-1 in favor of the Red Sox and if the lead holds up, I suspect this feeling of astonishment will not vacate my body for several days (until the Red Sox lose the World Series).

Why Terry?
Perhaps, there is a baseball pundit somewhere that can explain why Pedro Martinez is standing on the mound. Delving into the vacuum that resides underneath the blue and red hat of Terry Francona is probably a futile exercise, but the most likely explanation is that Martinez needs the mental reassurance that comes with getting the “daddy” off his back. 1 inning pitched, two runs; there goes that plan.

It’s official
The Red Sox will represent the American League in the World Series. Up to the final out, some part of every Boston fan had to expect a miraculous comeback by the Yankees. After all, it would be very much in line with the spirit of the curse.

In general, the degree to which people believe in the power of superstition boggles any logical thinker. However, an exception to this rule exists, and that exception is that the Red Sox will never win a World Series as long as there are gentlemen in the Bronx donning pinstripes. The greatest comeback in the history of sports does nothing to change this indelible truth.

Special commendation this week goes to Cardinals’ relief pitcher Julian Tavarez. There’s an old saying that goes “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Shame on you Julian Tavarez. It was but a short month ago that Kevin Brown clearly demonstrated that when human hand competes with dugout wall, human hand loses. For those who were still uncertain, Tavarez reiterated the lesson. After giving up the lead in game five, he broke two bones in his left hand while stomping around like an 8-year-old boy whose bike had been stolen by a bully.

And athletes wonder why they’re stereotyped as dumb jocks.