Saturday, October 15, 2005

White Sox 8; Angels 2; Sox prepare for tomorrow's victory laps

It was mentioned in the Times this week, but basically, the offense that threatened to derail the Angels' season so many times over the last few months reared it's ugly head at the wrong time, and for once, the pitchers couldn't bail them out. I've gotta agree with Rob. I am absolutely shocked that this team found a way to win 95 games this season. The Angels had exactly one hitter with more than 20 home runs this season. Guys that would have finished second on the Angels in homers this year include Johnny Gomes (in less than 400 at bats), Craig Monroe, Jay Payton, Chris Shelton, and four or five guys on the White Sox. In addition to lacking any measurable power, they also were great at not getting on base. It's a testament to how awful the AL West was this year that they were able to make the playoffs. The Angels did lead the league in batting average with runners in scoring position. Unfortunately, in order to take advantage of that, you actually need to get runners in scoring position.

I haven't gone through every at bat, but I don't think Chone Figgins has hit one ball on the ground in this series. That's really great. A guy with his speed has either popped up or struck out just about every time up. Vlad is now one for sixteen in this series, and still hasn't had an extra base hit in the post-season. He's hit exactly one ball hard, and it ended in an out.

The White Sox have an excellent pitching staff, but it certainly isn't, as a whole, demonstrably better than it was earlier in the season. I'm sorry if it sounds petty, but I just can't in good conscience credit the White Sox pitching staff to the extent that most of the press will. If they do this to the Cardinals, or maybe even the Astros, that will be impressive. The proof is in the three straight complete games. That just doesn't happen unless you're a major league pitching staff facing a double A offense, which is pretty much what the Angels are right now.

This offense, plainly and simply, sucks. Sucks hard. And quite honestly, it's a couple years away from getting better. D-Mac and Kotchman need a full year at this level to adjust. In 2007, hopefully the right moves are made such that our starting infield is Kotchman, Kendrick, Wood, and McPherson.

This game, for all intents and purposes, was over just three batters into the game. I don't think there's anyone, if asked for an objective opinion, who believed the Angels would (not could) score three or more runs tonight. They remind me a lot of the '95 Angels during that stretch in August where they were losing game practically before they started. They'd go out, give up a bunch of runs in the first, and the offense would pretty much just give up. The Kid didn't have it, and the offense is simply unable of picking their pitcher up.

Unsurprisingly, the umpiring crew missed two more calls tonight against the Angels, failing to recognize a faily obvious catcher's interference, turing a bases loaded, none out situation into a inning ending double play. Later, Ed Rapuano blew a call on a pick-off of Podsednik, who would later steal and score. The one call that went the Angels way was actually the right call. Everyone realizes that middle infielders get the "neighborhood" play, but that's usually when they actually touch the base. So far, the only breaks the Angels have gotten from the umps in the post-season have actually all been by-the-book correct calls. But it's irrelevant. This team simply can't hit. And while they may not be as bad next year, they won't be appreciably better until Finley, Erstad, Molina, and maybe even Kennedy are no longer regulars in the lineup (only because Kennedy is likely to be replaced by a much better hitter). That's not until 2007.

There's one more game left, but it's pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point. I actually expect Byrd to pitch really well for five or six innings, but at some point the Sox will push a run or two across, and that's all they're going to need.

Oh well, we'll always have 2002.

White Sox 3; Angels 0

That's the score through a third of inning.

It was a fun and infuriating season. Time to start thinking about next year.

And I still don't want them to go anywhere near signing Konerko.

*UPDATE* - Another game, another screw job by the home plate ump. Oh well.

*UPDATE 2* - Well, looky there, a screw job by the first base umpire this time.

Friday, October 14, 2005

White Sox - 5; Angels - 2: Sox lead ALCS 2-1: Series essentially over

All of the bluster of game 2 and the off day that followed were quickly forgotten. John Lackey, from his third pitch of the night, simply didn't have it. He couldn't throw his sharp curve ball for strikes, and the White Sox weren't biting at the pitches off the plate or down in the zone. Lackey's first couple of strikeouts came on fastballs, which is fairly rare for him. The at bat that showed he was done, in my opinion, was the Crede at bat in the second. He got ahead 1-2, and simply refused to throw him a curve ball. Actually, I think he finally got him to ground out on a breaking pitch, but only after five or six consecutive fastballs, to a hitter who he should be able to strike out on a two strike curve just about every time. To me, that was a sign that Lackey knew he simply didn't have it.

On the other side of the ball, not to take anything away from Garland, but this offense really sucks, and it pretty much has all year. They have one guy who can hit for power, and he hasn't been able to hit the ball out of the infield. Not that it would matter if he could, because they don't have anyone who can get on base in front of him. Suffice to say, when you can't hit, and your pitcher can't get anybody out, it's not exactly a winning combination. Like I said, I don't mean to diminish what Garland did, but he worked against a below average offense whose table setter can't find first base, and whose only slugger doesn't have an extra base in the post-season. I think the guys the Angels sent to the Arizona Fall League could outhit the big club. Honestly, Wood, Kendrick and Morales can't get here soon enough, because these guys are pathetic wastes of at bats, with the exception of maybe Cabrera.

It's only game three, but in my opinion, this was a game the Angels really had to have. They had their best pitcher (Lackey was better than Colon for the last four months), and they were facing a guy they've handled pretty well in the past, and who was coming off about two weeks without pitching. From this point on, until a possible but increasingly unlikely game 7, the White Sox will have the better matchup on the mound for the rest of the series. They haven't had to use their pen, and at this rate, they won't have to. I honestly can't see the Angels having much of a chance to win this series, and quite honestly, I'd be mildly surprised if the series got back to Chicago.

Tomorrow night they throw the kid out there, who was terrific against the Yankees, and had what was likely the most impressive start of his young career against the Sox back in his second start of the season. He'll be going at night, and at home, both advantages for Santana, but you can only do so much when your offense refuses to hit. They face a pitcher who has handled them pretty well in the past. I can't see the Angels getting more than two runs the way they're swinging it. One mistake by Santana and, well, let's just be thankful that the UCLA game will be on at the same time.

Anyway, time to fire up the hot stove. The silver lining might be, as Rob alluded to at the Rev's site, this may force Stoneman to actually do something about the offense. And hopefully, and believe me, I pray about this at night, I don't care if he hits a home run in every single at bat the rest of the series, please, please, please do not go after Paul Konerko.

The other side: South Side Sox

Quick Note

Just a quick thanks to all of the visitors I've had the last couple of days. I know I can get a little short with people in the comments from time to time. Try not to take it personally. But thanks for coming around. I've appreciated the back and forth. Hopefully we'll have a great last 3-5 games, decided 100% by the players on the field with no umpire extra-intervention. Remember, I've gotta live in this town with a lot of you.

Thanks to Vince and the Cheat for the links.

I know where you've been, and I know what you've been doing, Don't lie to me

Via Rob, who got it from David Pinto, Eddings just doesn't know when to quit. According to this article in SI, Eddings claims that earlier in the game, he called a dropped third strike more emphatically. So now we have Eddings NOT calling a dropped third strike as he had done earlier in the game, and we have him making the same arm movement he made on every strikeout. Yet the players are magically supposed to realize that all of the sudden, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, he changed his mind on how he would call this play. Sometime between that point earlier in the game, he decided to stop alerting players to dropped third strikes, and he decided to make his fist pump motion BEFORE the batter was tagged on such plays for the first time all game. Hmm, what do you call someone who does such a thing?

That goes for you guys too, Mike Port and Steve Palermo. You really ought to watch a video of the game before embarrassing yourselves with statements like:
(Palermo) "I hope people realize that if we are able to clarify this, Doug Eddings did everything he was compelled to do and required to do. And he did all of those things consistently. He did his job."
Umm, not quite, Steve.
(Port) "Summarily, Doug Eddings did nothing wrong. He gave the same signal for all swinging strikes. If the question is, 'Did he call Pierzynski out on strikes?' The answer is no. He was indicating the batter swung at the pitch."
Hey Mike, can you tell me why his 'strike' call on every other third strike in the dirt all night wasn't given until AFTER the batter had been tagged? Betcha can't, because you're a hack. And you've always been a hack, which is why the Angels did crap when you were with the ballclub.

Meanwhile, everyone's (including me) favorite whipping boy is the voice of reason:
After arriving in Orange County on Thursday, in preparation for tonight's Game 3 between the White Sox and Angels, McCarver expressed his point of view.

"The most salient thing that comes to my mind is the catcher can feel he has caught the ball without it short-hopping into the mitt," McCarver said. "As a catcher you just automatically roll the ball back to the pitcher. Inning over.

"Josh Paul caught the ball. He knew he caught the ball. You know if there is leather between the dirt and the ball. As a catcher, he just knows that instinctively. I know Josh Paul has been taking some heat, but he shouldn't be.

"If anything, give credit to A.J. Pierzynski for running down to first base. He took a shot, and it worked out for him."

Eddings said after the game that the ball changed directions before it reached Paul's glove, meaning it hit the dirt.

"I'm sorry, I didn't see it that way," McCarver said. "Every replay I saw shows that ball was caught.

"I think the White Sox know they got away with one. But what are they going to do, not take it?"
As much as I dislike listening to McCarver, he's right. And it's not the first time. In 2002, after two pitches, he predicted that if Felix Rodriguez missed to Scott Spiezio inside, Spiezio would hit a three run homer. Six pitches later, you know what happened.

Mark this day on your calendar. I may never agree with Tim McCarver and Joe Sheehan on the same day ever again.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Red Wings 5; Kings 2

Didn't see the first period and some of the second as I was at a Baseball Prospectus event. What I did see was not good. The Kings looked flat. They couldn't keep the puck from bouncing all over place, and they could never get settled in the offensive zone despite numerous opportunities on the power play. They something like seven power plays with about four shots, and two shorthanded goals against.

Despite all this, they still had a chance to escape with at least a point. Jeremy Roenick's goal on a great setup from Dustin Brown drew the Kings even with just under six minutes to play. It wouldn't last long, as Johan Franzen would put the Wings back up under a minute later. It was a bad goal to give up for Garon. Short side, over his shoulder.

Still, the Kings got a power play soon after, couldn't get anything going on the 6-4 after they pulled Garon, and Henrik Zetterberg put it away with an empty netter. After a scuffle in front, during which Avery drew another power play (albeit with only 40 seconds left). Jiri Fischer empty netter closed the scoring.

Unfortunately, Joe Corvo was guilty on the turnover that led the Wings second goal, which meand the LGK swords will be out again, despite his recent solid play. Two steps forward, one step back. I still like the way they're hitting, but they looked like they didn't know what to do with the puck for the whole third period.

I really will try to concentrate a little more on hockey, but it will be tough during the rest of the baseball post-season.

The Day After

It's an off day. We've all had some time to relax and reflect. A lot has been said on both sides, and this might be a good time to lay out where I stand, in case it's not clear.
  • To begin with, I harbor no animosity toward Pierzynski, the White Sox, or anyone else associated with either team on the basis of this play. I've never liked AJ, but that has nothing to do with my analysis of this play. The Sox benefitted, just as the Angels would have if the roles were reversed. AJ made a heads up play and it worked.
  • Eddings showed everyone, this time on a much larger stage, that he simply is not a competent umpire, and should be nowhere near anything over double A, let alone a major league post-season game. He simply doesn't have the nads for the position. As the Chronicler pointed out, back in May he blew an obvious call against the Angels. Darin Erstad swung, and in doing so, knocked the glove off of the hand of catcher John Buck. The glove landed out in front of the plate, yet catcher's interference was not called. There was physical evidence right in front of him, and he still missed it. The guy is like a deer in the headlights out there. He simply doesn't have the stones to make the right call when he realizes he has screwed up.
  • Eddings missed last night's call twice. First, replays clearly show the ball never touched the ground. Did it change direction? Yes. It did so because the natural direction of the ball when it hits the top of the webbing is to move toward the center of the webbing. As Paul had the web of the glove inverted, the natural motion of the ball was to move up, into the deep part of the webbing, after it entered his glove. Think of it like dropping something into trampoline. It bounces toward the center. It's the same concept. This change of direction is the only shred the true believers (read: some Sox fans) have to cling to. Cognitive dissonance can be a scary thing, so I don't blame them. But the fact is, there is no replay which ever shows the ball hitting the ground. In addition, he blew it again when he screwed up the out call (see below)
  • In addition to being incompetent, he's also a bald faced liar. He lied in front of everyone on national television. He claimed that his motion was consistent with his calls all night. This is simply a lie. On every strike three that bounced in the dirt, he distinctly waited until after the batter had been tagged to make the fist pump call of out. When there wasn't any question, he made the motion right after making his "no contact" motion, just as he did on the strikeout of AJ. When asked about it by reporters, he lied in front of everyone.
  • Even today Eddings has shown what a pathetic excuse for an umpire he is. Asked about the call, he said
    "The only thing I'm down on myself is I should have sold it either way,...I should have either said, 'No catch,' or, if I did have a catch, that he was out. Which I never said: 'He's out,'".
    What a putz. 24 hours later and he's still not sure he made the right call. And I don't mean he's not sure he made the right gesture. The guy's still not sure whether he had a catch or not! Good God, man, make a call and stand by it! This is what passes for a post-season umpire?
  • The call was not the sole reason the Angels lost the game. They failed to advance runners, they didn't hit, and they made a mistake in the first inning that cost them a run. Escobar cannot hold runners, which Ozuna took advantage of, and Escobar hung a splitter to Crede, his only bad pitch of the night. But to claim that the play didn't have a major impact on the outcome of the game is to simply deny reality. The inning was over, the Angels were coming up, and the game was going to extra innings, where the Angels had beat the White Sox just a month before. The extra baserunner scored the winning run. So enough with the "that's not why they lost" crap. It's a major factor in why they lost. Let's call a spade a spade.
  • I have complete faith in Mike Scioscia and the men on the field to put this loss behind them and come out ready to play tomorrow. It's not as if they lost a game they were definitely going to win. This team suffered a more crushing defeat over the A's on August 11th when Frankie dropped the throw from the catcher, allowing Jason Kendall to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, pushing Oakland into sole posession of first place. The Angels responded by beating Oakland the next day, and going 30-18 down the stretch to run away with the division. Scioscia keeps his guys focused, and unlike their fans (like me), they don't dwell on this stuff.
I was at the Chicago Pizza Feed for Baseball Prospectus tonight, and both Nate Silver and Christina Kahrl said something that surprised me. Nate said this one of the 10 worst blown calls in major league baseball history. Kahrl (no fan of the Angels by any means) said that in her opinion, it blows away even Don Denkinger's blunder in the 1985 World Series, as that was an error in judgement, and wasn't compounded by complete and total indecision. Do I agree? I don't know. Let's see how the series turns out. It may not matter. The Angels could still win. The Sox could win the next three decisively. I do think, however, that if the Sox win this series, this will be placed right alongside Donnie Moore in Angels lore.

Five game series now, and the Angels have home field, and their ace starting it off (let's face it, Lackey was much better than Colon in the second half). They had an opportunity to win (not their only opportunity) stolen from them, but they still have the upper hand in this series. But I'll repeat, they need Vlad or Figgins, preferably both, to produce. They're both streaky, and maybe they'll break out, but the hour is getting late. The time to rise is now.

*UPDATE* - Rob posts this Sports By Brooks blog entry, which discussing Eddings and his incompetence. It was written by Brooks Melchior, a sports radio guy. I don't really know who he is. Sounds about right, though. Via L.A. Observed. While you're there, check out the blog entry on Smacksaw. Apparently he's not to happy with Romey. REACTION!!

Just a thought

Lackey's a strike out pitcher who should ring up a fair amount on Friday. I'll tell ya what, if I'm Bengie in the next game, I tag out every batter on a strike out. I do it on balls that don't come close to the ground. I do it when the batter swings at a pitch over his head. I do it on called strikes. And I make sure I stare right down at Eddings when I'm doing it.

But I'm a dick, so maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

White Sox plus Eddings 2; Angels 1

**UPDATE 4**
I'm moving this one to the top, because you need to read this entry with this post in mind, so click the link, read the post over at BTF, then read the rest. Or don't, it's up to you. The Chronicler with a great post detailing other similar situations throughout the game. In a nutshell, on every single at bat that ended in a bounced third strike, Eddings waited until the batter had been tagged out to pump his fist. Also, it details how Eddings is a liar. Now, back to the original post.

Well, it's a shame it had to end that way. The White Sox were given this game by Doug Eddings. It's a shame that incompetence has to decide such an important game, but such is baseball. What makes this tough to take is that 1) You hate to use your bullpen up, have them pitch lights out, and have the game stolen from them, and 2) Eddings blew the call not once, but TWICE! He not only missed the fact that the ball didn't bounce, but he made the out call! He pumped his freaking fist!

A well pitched game on both sides, with it's share of close calls, this was one exciting baseball game. Buehrle was as good as most people expected him to be, and Washburn really gutted out a great performance under the circumstances. His error in the first inning proved costly, as it allowed the Sox to get on the board first. Poor coaching by Joey Cora cost the Sox a run in the second when he sent Rowand, who had doubled and advanced to third on a misplay by Vlad. Quinlan retrieved the ball and fired it to the plate where Jose Molina tagged out Rowand, just barely, preserving the one run deficit. Eddings had a large strike zone all night long, and both pitchers benefitted, perhaps Wash a little more than Buehrle. Admittedly, he called Konerko out on a bad called when he said Konerko swung at strike three. He didn't, and Eddings didn't even ask for help, a running theme for him tonight. Quinlan repeated his heroics of September 9th, when he homered off of Buehrle to tie a game the Angels eventually won, repeating the feat tonight. The Angels had an opportunity with Davanon on second, but Figgins continues to fail in crucial situations, and Cabrera's deep fly ball wasn't quite deep enough. The White Sox threated as well, getting Crede to second with one out before Uribe lined to left. Crede was caught off second and doubled off on a great throw by GA. The play wasn't without controversy, but the replays appeared to show he was out.

Escobar was terrific, pitching three innings and striking out five, inlcuding the play that will be talked about all series. Granted, the third strike to Pierszynski was close, but replays pretty clearly showed the ball didn't hit the dirt. Eddings called strike three, then, and I can't stress this enough, pumped his fist indicating "out". We all watch a lot of baseball, and we all know that umpires DO NOT MAKE THE OUT CALL until the runner has been tagged on a dropped or bounced third strike. Inexplicably, Eddings must have forgotten that. He allowed Pierszynski to reach first, Ozuna ran and took second on the slow working Escobar, and Crede, coming up big again, lined in the winning run.

Another coupla things about this play that seemed strange, and for which I'm sure we'll hear no explanation. First, do you ever see catchers not tag batters on dropped or bounced third strikes if there's any chance it hit the ground. Usually it's automatic. I think that's a clear sign that Paul knew he caught it. Second, EVERY SINGLE BALL that comes into contact with the dirt is removed from play these days. Seriously, watch a game and look for this and you'll notice it if you haven't already. Eddings could very easily simply gone and checked the ball. This isn't unprecedented. Umpires occasionally do this looking for shoe polish if a batter claim he was hit in the foot. All he had to do was walk out and look for the scuff mark. He froze. He screwed up not once, but twice, and when he could have taken corrective action, he failed to act. It's inexcusable, and he shouldn't work another post-season game. Fortunately, he'll be on the foul lines for the next couple of games, but that job requires a close eye on balls in the dirt, and I'm not sure he's up to the task. I know one thing, he ought to be thanking his lucky stars the next game is Anaheim. New York, Boston, or God forbid Philly, and he'd be ducking D-cells all night long. Hell, even in Anaheim, I might beg off for fear of my own safety if I were him.

I'm not sure what the rule is in this situation. Judgment calls are not protestable (a perfectly cromulent word), but in this instance, I'm not sure if the Angels can protest the game on the basis of their reliance on Eddings call of out. He can't even really claim that he changed his mind at that point. It's one thing to start making a call of out, then change it to safe when you see a ball drop, or a foot come off the bag, or something similar. It's still within the flow of the play. But imagine a bases loaded situation, a batter grounds out, the first baseman catches the ball, the ump calls out, the players leave the field, and the runners keep running for some reason. An ump couldn't very well change his mind a minute or two after the fact. I don't know, maybe he was just pumping his fist because he liked the organ music or something. If I'm Scioscia, I lodge my protest, and I let Major League Baseball tell the world that they're fine with incompetence. Again, I'm not talking about an error or difference in judgment. I'm talking about a team's reliance on the call made by an umpire.

Coincidentally, the Arkansas Travellers, the Angels AA affiliate, lost their championship this season. The game ended when the final batter struck out, AFTER four balls had been thrown. The ump lost track of the count, called the batter back to the box, and called him out on the next pitch. Shoddy officiating and out and out incompetence is one thing in AA. But this the ALCS. Eddings joins a select group including Don Denkinger, and probably some other people I can't remember right now. The sad thing is that Josh Paul, who did nothing wrong, get's charged with the error that leads to the Sox second unearned run. And I don't care John Kruk says. He can take that ball and shove right up his chute. Josh Paul caught the ball, on the fly, and the umpire signaled out. It's really that simple. When he called strikes, he stuck his right arm out.

But that's baseball. That's why we watch. You never know what's going to happen. Certainly the Angels didn't deserve to win, but they didn't deserve to lose either, and they DEFINITELY didn't deserve to lose like that. It's unfortunate, and it puts the Angels really in a must win situation in game three. They have arguable their best pitcher going. He'll be on full rest. And they're facing a guy they've hammered this season and over his career. But Chone Figgins needs to show up. Vlad needs to show up. Somebody with a bat needs to show up.

We'll see ya Friday night.

**Update** after replays, Doug Eddings is a flat out liar. The man is a bald faced liar. If he is claiming he didn't call AJ out, he's a liar. You can watch every strike out. His strike call is to flex his right arm out, almost like a one handed safe call with his right hand. To make the out call, ALL NIGHT LONG, he pumped his fist. He called AJ out. And great job by Harold Reynolds and the baseball tonight crew to point this out. The fact is, the Angels were robbed. Like I said, they didn't deserve to win, but they didn't derserve to lose like that. FWIW, the one Sox fan I've talked to tonight (my law school roommate) agrees with me. If I were him, I'd take it. Lord knows the Angels have benefitted from bad calls this season. But this is really an embarrassment. Doug Eddings should be removed from the crew. First, he's not a very good ump. Second, he's a liar. I have a lot more respect for umps that suck, but stick by their calls. Anyway, I'm clearly bitter right now, and I didn't write a lot of things that I wanted to. The guys at South Side Sox have been nice enough to link over here, and hey, I like the traffic, so I'm trying to seem fair, although one of the reasons they've linked here (I can only imagine) is to show the Angels fan side of things. So Sox fans, if I'm way off base, feel free to say so in the comments.

**UPDATE 2** Apparently there's some discussion about reliance on the call. Paul may have tossed the ball back before Eddings made the call. Two things. First, replays are incoclusive, but there may be some merit to that. I see the fist pump, then I see the ball come into the screen. Regardless, if there was any doubt, Escobar could have been there to pick it up and throw AJ out. It's not just Paul's reliance that I'm speaking about. It all of the Angels infielders. And they all saw it. Second, none of us know what he said, if he said anything, or if he ever says anything. There's no way to tell on this point.

**UPDATE 3** If you have the chance, watch the strikeout of Bengie Molina in the 6th. One argument being made is that the fist pump is his strike call, not his out call. Couple of problems for this. If this is the case, he didn't signal out on a strikeout all night. 12 guys walked back to the dugout without being signaled out. Second, watch that Molina play, it's the smoking gun. Bengie swings and misses, and the bat goes flying. AJ catches it. Eddings makes the no contact sign. Then he waits. He had a rhythm to the two arm motions all night long. Not this time. He waited until AJ tagged Molina before making the fist pump. If he's claiming that he never made an out call, he's a liar.

The other side: Exile in Wrigleyville; South Side Sox.

A response to Rob

I get the impression that the Chisox faithful really aren't that faithful; the team has a perennially hard time selling itself. They're in a bad part of town, so bad that they had to change the park because the sightlines outside it led to views of some real urban nightmares.

I may be misinterpreting, but let me chime in here. Bear in mind, I got to roughly 10-12 Sox games per year, give or take.

First, the area where Commiskey is really isn't that bad, especially with the Robert Taylor homes coming down. The Bridgeport neighborhood, especially just north and west of the park has some really nice homes. Now, these are adjacent to some rough neighborhoods, but the park itself is in a pretty decent neighborhood. As my Sox friends will point out, the last person killed outside a stadium in Chicago was at Wrigley.

Second, I don't know what you mean by "Change the park". The view since the projects came down is fine. You pretty much look out over IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) and the Dan Ryan. What they didn't do, but should have done, is rotate the park about 100 degrees to the north to show the skyline. I assume they didn't do this because of the sun or something, but walking out of the upper deck on the third base side on a clear day or night, you'll see one of the best views of the skyline in town. Why they didn't take advantage of this, I don't know. Personally, I still prefer Commiskey to Wrigley. To me, it's a major league stadium. I grew up going to monolithic ballparks surrounded by parking lots, so it feels more like home to me, and really is a lot like Dodger Stadium, which I still love despite despising the Dodgers.

Third, Sox fans are exactly the opposite of what you describe. They are fiercely faithful. There just aren't that many. In many ways, they're like the Angels pre 2002. They don't draw wonderfully, but they're never under 15,000 or 20,000 per game, much like the Angels in the old days. I've often said, any asshole in Chicago can claim to be a Cubs fan. But if you say you're a White Sox fan, chances are you're REALLY a White Sox fan. No one claims to be a Sox fan just to be cool. You can replace "Chicago", "Cubs", and "White Sox" in that last sentence with "Los Angeles", "Dodgers", and "Angels" respectively, and apply it to pre-2002, and I think it fits both towns.

In my experience, on a per capita basis, Sox fans tend to me more pure baseball fans than Cubs fans. This isn't a surprise to anyone, I'm sure, but if there's one thing I would not accuse Sox fans of, it's a lack of devotion. As to why they seemed deflated last night, I'm not sure. There's a certain sense of defeatism among Sox fans, one that regular readers of this blog are familiar with from yours truly. Plus, I never got the sense that they were totally out of the game. They got pretty load when they got guys on. But remember, they had a hard time getting anything resembling a real rally going in the latter innings because of bad baserunning and poor execution. I suspect that tonight will be different.

*update*: In the comments, anonymous writes: "Major League Rulebook, 1.04 "... It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitchers plate to second base shall run East Northeast...."

A fine point. However, the current orientation of the Cell is southeast. Old Commiskey ran Northeast. In this satellite photo, you can see the orientation of the Cell. If you look in the parking lot directly north of current home plate, you'll see a small white circle with a line extending directly north toward the small park. That's the old home plate and third base line. Also, check this page from the baseball almanac. There's really no rhyme or reason to ballpark orientations. Rule 1.04 doesn't appear to be well followed.

Kings 3; Oilers 1

The Angels quite rudely took a little long to wrap up game one against the White Sox, so I only saw bits and pieces of the first period. Corvo got the scoring on started on the power play, firing home a one-timer on a nice feed from Luc. The Oilers tied is before the period ended.

The Kings took the lead back in the second on a power play goal by Dustin Brown, who walked right in from the left wing boards and whipped a shot between the skates of Oilers goalie Ty Conklin (Alaska native). It wasn't the only impressive play by Brown, who threw his body all over the rink, at one point knocking down Chris Pronger who had left himself vulnerable by reaching for a puck in mid-air. The Kings have been very physical in the last couple of games. I don't know if it's a new philosophy, or if it's the impact of some new blood on the roster, but it's fun to watch.

Belanger finished the scoring on a rebound of Sean Avery shot, putting the Kings up 3-1, which turned out to be the final score. LaBarbera was phenomenal, making a lot of big saves. Since the first game melt-down, both goalies have really been as good as could be expected. I'm not sure why a team needs a number goalie during the regular season. I could see the Kings going with a more balanced version of the old Hrudey-Berthiaume tandem this season, and being very successful with. Both teams struggled on the two man advantage, with the Oilers failing to score on a two minute 5 on 3, while the Kings also had extended time with two extra men, to no avail.

They'll face the Red Wings on Thursday. The games at the beginning of the season count just as much as the games at the end of the season, so all of these are important. The Wings are off to a great start, although two of their wins have come against St. Louis, who looked down this season until hammering the Blackhawks last night.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Angels 3; White Sox 2 - Angels lead ALCS 1-0

Quite honestly, I'm not surprised the Angels won this game when you look at all of the ingredients:
  • The Angels have played well at the Cell this year
  • Byrd has come up with some stellar performances when needed
  • Many have said that with all of that travel, you hit the wall on day 2 (be wary of tomorrow night)
  • As good as Contreras has been, he hasn't been great against the Angels
  • The White Sox offense is good, but facing the Yankees offense is like swinging a weighted bat
Byrd was terrific. Let's not forget that he was pitching on short rest. His last start was Friday, and he threw a fair amount of pitches, though he wasn't extended. He got tagged by Crede, who has been very hot to end the season, on a hanger, and he was hit hard at times, but not hard enough. Contreras was also fantastic, really only making one mistake. For the second time in as many nights, the opposing starter was let down by his defense. After a single by Finley, a pefectly executed hit and run single by Kennedy, and a sac bunt by Figgins, Cabrera bounced one to third. With Finley breaking on the play, Crede's moment of indecision allowed the run to score, and he failed to retire Cabrera at first, leaving runners on first and third. Vlad then bounced back to the pitcher. Instead of getting the easy out at home (with Kennedy running), Cabrera attempted to start an inning ending double play, but the ball was hit too softly, and a great take out slide by Cabrera allowed the run to score. 3-0 Angels, and that was all they would need.

On the flip side, the Angels weren't forced to pay for their mistakes. Kennedy tried to make an impossible play on a bad bounce of a ball that shattered Uribe's bat. He threw it away, allowing Uribe to reach. Just an aside, anyone else notice how few balls go into dugouts now that Mo Vaughan fences have been erected in front of dugouts everywhere? Anyway, after Podsednik struck out (he failed to get the bunt down), and Iguchi popped up, Jermaine Dye singled. It wouldn't matter after Konerko flew out. In the ninth, Figgins misread and botched a wacky bounce on a ball off the end of Everett's bat. He redeemed himself by making a great play on a sacrifice attempt by Rowand, throwing out pinch runner Ozuna at second. A fly out and a strike out later, and the Angels had their first series opening win since 198.....I won't say it. Since you know when.

Scioscia continues to push the right buttons in the post-season. Two runners were erased on the basepaths, including Scott Podsednik on a first pitch pitch-out, which Byrd, Molina, and Cabrera executed perfectly. It was a good example of how the Angels covered for the errors, and made the White Sox pay for theirs. That was the difference. Six of the last seven Angels runs have come either on outs or plays that should have been outs. It's tough to score enough runs that way, but hopefully the productive outs and lucky miscues are just giving the bats some time to heat up.

Wash will give it a go tomorrow night if he can think straight. He'll face Mark Buerhle. Those two met up back in September (a game which I attended). Neither figured in the decision. The Angels won in 12 innings, Vlad scoring from second on a bunt by Molina. Speaking of Vlad, he finally hit the ball hard, driving Rowand to the track on a ball I could have sworn was gone off the bat. I still maintain, he and Figgins have to produce for the Angels to win this series. They've got the first one out of the way. They needed a split, and by winning game one, they've given themselves a chance to head home 2-0.

Check out what they're saying on the other side: South Side Sox; Exile in Wrigleyville. Vince, the Cheat, and I think Keith as well, are all BTF guys, so it's all good. Vince and I may not speak at the next meet-up, though.

Quick prediction before the series starts

Starters: them
Relievers: us
Catcher: draw
Infield: us on defense, them on offense, slight edge to them
Outfield: us if Vlad shows up, them if he doesn't
bench: us
Coaching: us

Pretty darn close. I have to a) pick the Angels, and b) root for a seventh game because I have tickets for that one. So here goes a tough one.

Angels in seven.

Angels 5; Yankees 3

I had a sneaking suspicion that Bart would not be able to go tonight. I mean, how many guys say "I won't be ready Sunday, but I should be fine on Monday"? And for whatever reason, be it back, shoulder, whatever, he gave all he could, but couldn't get out of the second inning. In stepped the kid. As I said over at the Rev's site, this is what legends are made of. And while his performance wasn't quite legendary, it was damn close. Five and a third, three runs on five hits. He escaped big trouble in the fifth, getting two pop ups, followed by a strike out and a friendly call from Joe West. Mea Culpa, I expected every close call to go against the Angels tonight, and I was partially wrong (the strike zone for the kid in the early innings was ridiculously small).

The bullpen, much maligned in August and last night, got the job done tonight. Kelvim was excellent, and Frankie got the big ground balls when he needed them. The pitching, the most important ingredient all year, gave this team no fewer than four more games.

One of the strenghts of the Mike Scioscia Angels has been their baserunning. It didn't show up in the stolen base numbers in this series, but it showed up tonight. Cabrera made a great read on a Vlad single, and later scored from third on a sac fly. Vlad got a great read, and won a huge gamble, going from first to third on a Bengie single, and later scored after getting a tremendous jump on a weak grounder by Erstad.

There's not much else I can say. It was a great game. I was nervous as hell all day, but this is why we all plug in. It's why we all watch. Why we all pick teams to root for instead of being detached observes (except for maybe Repoz). Keep coming back, because for the next week or so, you'll be reading one of the most unpopular people in Chicago. I can't wait to go to work tomorrow.

*update*: Welcome Sploid readers. Thanks for the link, fat.

*update 2*: Welcome South Side Sox readers. I count many friends among your ranks.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

On the bright side

The Kings won. I didn't see more than bits and pieces of this one because of the Angels game, but I did see Pavol Demitra rifle home the game winner in overtime on some nifty foot work that you used to see out of Mark Messier and Craig Johnson. And yes, that's the only time you'll see Mark Messier and Craig Johnson in the same sentence.

Three one goal games, and the Kings are 2-1.

Yankees 3; Angels 2

Not really a surprising result. While not really a surprise, the effectiveness of the Angels bullpen in the first three games of the series was somewhat unexpected. The relievers live on the margins, and they are successful when they get hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone. The Yankees don't chase pitches out of the strike zone. What results are walks, weak hits, and occasionally a hard hit ball on get me over pitch. That's what happened tonight. The Angels took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning and were victimized by a cheap hit, a walk, another cheap hit, and a ground ball that should have been a perfect ball on which to cut-off the eventual winning run at the plate. But add a poorly thrown ball by Figgins to the previous cuts, and before long, you've opened a big enough wound to bleed away a lead. One run was enough for Mariano Rivera, who operates with the largest strike zone of anyone in the post-season.

Lackey was terrific. I'm not sure I would have removed him, as he'd only thrown 78 pitches, but Matsui has had good success against him. But we've seen the bullpen go through stretches this season where they couldn't get the big out at the proper time. They couldn't throw a strike when they desperately needed to. That, and the offense's inability to hit an average pitcher, cost them the game tonight.

We're also seeing something that wasn't all that unpredictable, and that's a brutal lack of production by Vlad. I mentioned earlier about how I was worried that he might try to do too much and swing himself into a slump. It happened in last year's playoffs, where his only real contribution was a grand slam that sent the game into extra innings when they already trailed two games to one. In his seven post-season games, the engine of the Angels offense is hitting .230 with one home run. I'm not placing blame, but the fact is, the Angels cannot win a post-season series without some help from Vlad. So far, they haven't gotten it.

It will come as no surprise that I'm not optimistic about game five. Bart is ailing, and while I think he'll give everything he has tomorrow night, the fact is we taxed the bullpen again tonight. 25 pitches out of Shields, 35 out of Escobar, and unlike the Yankees, the Angels don't have Randy Johnson available in the bullpen. Bart is going to have to have go at least six, if not seven. Too add to that, there's the Fox factor. Bart, like many of our reliever, lives on the margins. He needs to get the pitches on the corners, and sometimes just off the corners, for strikes. If the ump has a narrow strike zone, this Yankee offense will pound him. What we need right now is John Hirschbeck.

Injury and Illness

Bartolo Colon told Scioscia that he would not be ready to pitch game four today. He was sent back to SoCal and said he'd be ready for game five. They might need him, because ESPN just reported that J-Dub has a throat infection, and John Lackey, on three days rest, will start game four tonight.

The offense needs to get to Chacon early, but honestly, if anyone can thrive in this situation, it's Lackey. He's been there, done that. He's pitched in the most pressure packed game anyone could imagine, and pitched well. In addition, the day off yesterday gave extra rest to Shields and Escobar, plus, Santana should be ready as well. Lackey needs to give only five strong innings, and the pen should get them the rest of the way.

Let's hope for the best.