Monday, October 30, 2006

More about Soccer -- I wrote about the incredible atmosphere at RFK for Sunday's game between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls. I wasn't alone in making those observations. I'd like to share part of John Eligon's article in the New York Times:

"[Gomez' goal] sent the crowd of 21,455 into a frenzy that rattled the aging R.F.K. Stadium. It was a fitting present for these soccer-savvy fans, especially after they saw their team bow out ungracefully from the playoffs last year with a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Fire in the first round. The crowd was draped in black, and their involvement in the game created an atmosphere reminiscent of matches in the soccer-crazed countries of the world. The fans continuously beat drums, rang bells, chanted, waved flags and bounced up and down.

It was an environment that Altidore, who will turn 17 in a week, appreciated. He recalled watching United midfielder Ben Olsen raising his arms late in the game to urge on the crowd.
“I wish I could play in front of fans like that week in and week out,” said Altidore, adding that he would not trade his New York fans for anything."

I hope that Altidore will play in front of crowds like that. He deserves to -- and when it happens, the kind of love Gomez got will pale compared to the cheers Altidore will get. It would be nice if he gets that kind of reception, while he is still here. He's about to turn 17, so he has at least one year here, before his ticket to Europe can be punched -- but, with MLS' possessiveness, I would guess Altidore will play in New Jersey for a few years. So, come on out, New Yorkers, and New Jerseyans. Check this kid out. To paraphrase a comment once made about another young guy from Jersey, Bruce Springsteen: I have seen the future of soccer, and it's name is Jozmer Altidore. The Red Bulls could be a lot of fun during those years. They outplayed United for two days, but United had Christian Gomez, and that was enough to win 2-1.

In U.S. National team news -- the U.S.S.F. President Sunil Gulati has confirmed that the coaching search has been reduced to five finalists. The leading candidate seems to be Jurgen Klinsmann -- rumors abound as to who are the other four candidates -- Carlos Queiroz is likely one, but it is anybody's guess as to the other three. All five have agreed that the U.S. should accept an invitation to next year's Copa America -- the South American championship to which Mexico was last invited as the reigning champion of the CONCACAF region. That honor will fall upon the U.S. this time around -- a great chance for American players to get a taste of the most intense competition outside of Europe and the World Cup. The U.S. last played in the Copa America in 1995. The MLS will cooperate with the national team for this tournament, which will take place during the 2007 MLS' season.
I Was Push-Polled -- If you've read about this on the internet, Republicans have suddenly started an election campaign push, by going after registered Democrats. The calls have been reported in several states, inculding Missouri, where stem cells are a big part of the call, Montana, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland -- all are reporting similar calls. Push polls are character assassinations masquerading as legitimate polls -- they are designed to identify issues that might flip your vote and then present the most outrageous statements about the opposition possible, to "push" you in the direction of their favored candidate. There is no intention of collecting research information about voter preferences -- the intent is only to identify voters that can can be 'pushed' (or shoved) in the right direction. Sometimes, these calls can be used to motivate the party faithful, but, in this case, they are being directed at members of the opposition party.

So, my phone rang, and I looked at the Caller ID - I only answered the phone because caller ID said it was "P Research 2006." I assumed this was Pew Research Foundation, and was expecting a legitimate poll. However, I was dumbstruck by the actual questions that followed my saying I intended to vote for Cardin. Yes, I got the Maryland call -- the one that asked if I "wanted my taxes raised or, if possible, lowered?" (It's possible that I was asked if I would vote for a candidate who would raise my taxes or one who, if possible, would lower them -- but I think I'm quoting it correctly in the first instance).

Here's where it gets a little interesting. I was literally dumbstruck by the question, and while I struggled for a response, the recording went on to the next question: whether I was in favor of striking the words "under" God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Again, I was made mute by the sheer audacity of the question. Then, the recording announced the poll would end even if I did not answer all the questions. All I could say was "Good!" The call ended with the recording urging me to check out the "common sense" website. I didn't hang around for the complete URL.

Others have reported that if they answer the loaded questions, the recording proceeds with a stern admonishment about the terrible things Ben Cardin will do. I guess I avoided the song and dance about what Ben Cardin would do to my taxes or to the moral fabric of America -- I should be happy about that, because I can sleep soundly tonight, without worrying about the nightmare ahead, since I intend to vote for Cardin.

Here's another source for first-hand accounts on the Steele push-polling: . More accounts are at:
United Coaching Shocker -- According to a column by Mike Wise, in the Washington Post, following D.C. United's narrow, fortunate escape against the Red Bulls, D.C. United's management has "not exactly been knocking down his door to begin extension talks," with Coach Peter Nowak, whose contract expires in November. Nowak has already won one title with D.C., and has been mentioned as a serious candidate to follow in Bruce Arena's footsteps yet again, this time as the U.S. National team coach.

According to Wise, Nowak's players, "all like and respect him." If anything, Wise's comments reflect his own concern that Nowak's coaching may be partly responsible for last season's early playoff exit, and the near-disater at RFK this night. Still, this is the first suggestion in the media that all is not well at the top in United's hierarchy. I might suggest an alternative theory: With United still in negotiations for new ownership, current management may be hesitant to commit either way on Nowak. It may be that there has been a decision to postpone a decision on Nowak's future, until after new ownership is in place.

In any case, the focus right now is on bringing home another MLS championship. With respect to Nowak, Wise writes that, win or lose, "it is time to go another direction next season." I think it's far too soon to be writing Nowak's epitath as United coach.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I have seen the future of Soccer in America, and its name is MLS. True, I lived through the heyday of the Cosmos, who achieved a level of popularity that none of the teams in the MLS can claim. I think there is a stronger foundation here now. Tonight, I return from RFK, where the best thing I saw was the raucous D.C. United faithful at full throat, bouncing in their seats, waving flags, banging drums, setting off their smoke bombs, and enthusiastically cheering on their team. The announced crowd was 21,455, but this crowd filled the lower deck of RFK, with more bodies and infinitely more enthusiasm than I have seen at Nationals games with announced crowds twice that large.

Tonight's result? United was basically outplayed by the Red Bulls. Without question, the best player on the field was the Red Bulls' Jozy Altidore, still a few days shy of his 17th birthday, Altidore put on a show in the second half. He hit the post with one long blast, put the Red Bulls on top with a sharp header that drew the teams even in the aggregate, and nearly scored again after a dazzling display of step-over dribbling brilliance gained him a clear shot in the area. But, United drew even, when Christian Gomez gathered in a cross from the other side of the box, and finished the play with a well-placed sharply angled shot to beat the Bulls' goalie, Conway. Replays show MLS defender of the year, Bobby Boswell comically twisting and rolling to move out of the way and let the ball through to Gomez, who had called Boswell off. Gomez' series-clinching goal sent United through to the Eastern Conference semifinal next week against the New England Revolution, and touched off a D.C. United celebration that continued in the bowels of RFK stadium, and in the parking lots for more than a half-hour after the game.

Dozens of fans came with drums and other percussive instruments, and they would not be silenced quickly. This is the kind of fanaticism that has been missing from American soccer. Based on tonight's turnout, I think it's gained a real foothold here. Obviously, it isn't everywhere, as witnessed by the anemic turnout at last week's match in New Jersey. To some extent, this reflects the special relationship between D.C. United and its fans, but I believe it will spread to other cities.

I see signs that this tremendous bond, between the D.C. United team and its fans, is beginning to be duplicated at other stadiums around the league. I was impressed by the celebration in Houston, as the Dynamo put on a late surge to take tonight's game, and the playoff series, against Chivas USA. Brian Ching, who scored the series winner, was nearly mobbed by the Dynamo fans as he revelled amongst them.

I may have lied a little bit, when I started this post by saying the future of American soccer is the MLS. That's true, over the long run -- I believe the MLS will prove to be a great success. The immediate future of American soccer, though, is Jozy Altidore. I have been singing his praises since he first stepped on to the pitch for the Red Bulls, but this was Altidore's finest moment to date. He showed that, even at his young age, he can be a dominant force. I will enjoy watching him blossom into the first great American star.

Next Sunday, at RFK, United takes on a Revolution squad that came back from a 1-0 loss to Chicago, and an early goal on Saturday that put the Fire up 2-0 on aggregate. The Revolution fired back with an overwhelming offensive charge that put the Chicago goal under constant pressure. The Revs scored twice to gain the tie on aggregate, and then beat the Fire on penalty kicks. If Taylor Twellman had not squandered several excellent chances, the Revs might have won the series without need of the penalty kicks. Based on the way D.C. played tonight, Coach Peter Nowak thinks his United squad should be considered the underdogs.

I'm looking forward to a brilliant game. See you at RFK....

Friday, October 27, 2006

My All-Time Favorite Movies List: I responded to a list on the DailyKos with one of my own. The problem with such a list is it depends on (1) your mood, and (2) your ability to recall the right movies -- but here's a few I like to remember:

* Funniest political movie ever: Being There
* Best low-budget movie ever: El Mariachi
* Best campy Sci-Fi: A three way tie -- Planet of the Apes, Star Wars and Matrix (Alien is champ in its own genre of sci-fi/horror/thriller)
* Best Snort-ripping (or, rip-snorting, if you prefer) adolescent sex romp: The film that defined the genre - Animal House
* Best Foreign Language Comedies: A tie between Johnny Stecchino and The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe
Best Holocaust tear-jerker: Tie between Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful (La Vita e Bella) (so different that they each get a mention) The Pianist is no better than a distant third, I think
* Coolest prison-camp movie: Tie, again - The Great Escape and Bridge Over the River Kwai
* Best Baseball movie: Still, the champ -- Field of Dreams, but there are some good second choices. I'm partial to Eight Men Out -- I also liked HBO's Soul of the Game, but it's not quite in the same class - perhaps I'll do a separate post for best baseball movies
* Best Football or Soccer movie: Are you kidding???? One good enough to make a best-of list?
* Sweetest movie: A tie - Driving Miss Daisy and Breaking Away
* Most affecting ever: The Killing Fields
* Best Woody Allen Movie -- By popular acclaim, Annie Hall -- though, in some ways, this is picking among apples and oranges. Stardust Memories and Manhattan have a different kind of charm, and they're the mark of a more mature filmmaker
* Best Law School Movie Ever: The Paper Chase
* Best Mainstream called 'cult' film: The Shawshank Redemption
* Best actual cult film: Each generation should have its own -- I nominate 1) Repo Man 2) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and 3) The Big Lebowski * Best American Movie not even nominated for the AFI's 100 Films list: The Year of Living Dangerously (doesn't make up for Mel's being a hateful, bigoted a--hole, but it's a great film)
* Best Bogart: Casablanca

For your consideration, the American Film Institute's 100 list (only American flicks, but they're all good ones): . Actually, even the AFI's 400 nominees list is missing some truly brilliant movies, but that's the nature of these things, no?

Next: The 100 Albums I'd Like to Have Someone Buy for Me, Before Tower Records Shuts its Doors Forever (sometime in the next couple of months I guess).
So, the Cardinals are one win away -- from becoming the worst team to win a World Series. At least, they will have the worst regular-season record of any World Series winner. The irony is that baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was musing a couple of weeks ago that he might pursue changes to the playoff system, to make it harder for wild-cards to win it all. If it's bad to have a World Series like the wild-card 2004 Red Sox, who had the second best record in baseball that year, what can we say about the 2006 Cardinals? Are they more deserving because they survived their second-half collapse, hanging on to win their division on the final day of the season?

The Cardinals are obviously a good team, with a tremendously underrated (or underachieving, before now) pitching staff. They have baseball's best player, in Albert Pujols, and a pretty good supporting cast. Did they deserve to be in the playoffs? Under the three-division format -- the answer is "yes." They have proven to be the best team in the playoffs, and that's all that should matter. Their performance in the playoffs has been all the answer they will ever need to give.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rooting for Detroit tonight -- Against Suppan. I normally wouldn't want to mix politics with baseball, but I won't ignore Jeff Suppan's decision to mix them up. Suppan is pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, but he's also pitching tonight against the Missouri Constitutional Amendment at issue in the McCaskill-Talent race. An ad featuring Suppan will run on the FOX stations televising the game to Missourians. Suppan's on the right-wing anti-science side on this issue, and the amendment opponents are all too delighted to take advantage of his willingness to speak out.

The anti-science crowd couldn't have a more perfect setting for their ad, unless Suppan pitches a lousy game. That's why I'll be rooting against him, and for Detroit. Even though St. Louis is the home team, part of me would like to believe right-thinking Missourians also will be hoping Suppan falls on his face, tonight.

Since I’m in Maryland, not in Missouri, I can't vote on this. That does not mean I can’t have an opinion or a rooting interest. I think this vote will have national impact -- or, at least, impact well beyond Missouri -- so, I feel it's quite appropriate to weigh in. Besides, Suppan was a big part of the Cardinals beating our beloved Mets. As if I didn't need more reason to root against Suppan, he decides to use his celebrity to endorse an effort to restrict legitimate science. In summary: Let's Go Tigers!
The Fisch Fry had one of the two most trafficked weeks in its brief history -- breaking the century mark for the second time. And it was almost all first-time visitors. Hope I can entice at least a few of you to keep coming back.
Steven Wright: I was wondering how my life would be different if I'd been born a day earlier. Then, I started thinking it would be exactly the same, except I would have asked myself the same question a day earlier.

Me: I was wondering how different my life would be if I'd been born a day earlier. Then, I started thinking it would be exactly the same, except that I would have been a day older, when I posted this joke -- or I would have posted it a day earlier. But, I did post it a day ago -- does that mean I was born a day earlier?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pat Tillman's brother blasts Bush and "Illegal Invasion" of Iraq -- The moment has finally come -- A soldier, with a national platform, has spoken the ugly truth about the Iraq war and really called out the Bush Administration. In case anyone else missed this on the web yesterday (as I did), I thought I'd talk about the brutal indictment of the Bush Administration and it's illegal war, in a 'letter' that was posted on the internet by Kevin Tillman, brother of the deceased Pat Tillman. I'm sure everyone knows the story of Pat Tillman: How he abandoned a brilliant professional football career to join his brother in the Army Rangers after 9/11, and was tragically killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan -- something the military clumsily tried to hide.

Because of his family's uniquely heroic and tragic story, Kevin Tillman is uniquely positioned to criticize the current Administration -- and he delivers what might be a death-blow to whatever credibility and respect the Bushistas had left. His essay, "After Pat's Birthday," attacks the "illegal invasion" of Iraq. Besides noting the illegality of the Iraq war, Tillman also had some really choice words about the "American leadership." He looks forward to real change on Election Day, the day "after Pat's Birthday."

This is the kind of public relations nightmare the Administration has feared. As if all the bodies and mayhem weren't damning enough, now there is a voice that cannot be denied or easily dismissed. Kevin Tillman posted his essay on a progressive internet site called Tillman's wide-ranging criticism is like the little girl finally yelling "the Emperor's naked." Sure, everyone already knew it, but no one wanted to admit it, or dared speak it. And the Emperor was able to maintain his pretense until the girl spoke up. Tillman has the background and the platform to speak honestly and with a voice that no one can ignore.

Tillman begins his criticsms by belittling the various explanations for the Iraq invasion. At the same time, Tillman notes that "our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them." His most savage criticisms are leveled at the Bush gang - -though he does not name names, he makes it quite clear who he is talking about. He is unsparing in his criticism, saying "American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground."

Tillman really encapsulates the moral bankruptcy of the Iraq venture, finding the words that John Kerry mysteriously avoided. He wonders how "those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started." According to Tillman, the United States has really lost its way, and its character -- and lost the respect of the rest of the world. "The most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world."

The American people are not spared a tongue-lashing. Tillman lists a number of our failings, cause of his great disappointment in the country he fought for, and the country his brother died for. Among those failings: "Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated...profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated... subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated... torture is tolerated...reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense...being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance."

Tillman notes that in the current political climate, "a narrative is more important than reality." But, Tillman is not without hope and he issues a call to action, to follow his fallen brother's Nov. 6th birthday: "Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat's birthday."

Pat Tillman brought honor and respect to our nation's military. He walked away from a multi-million dollar salary, an All-Pro career, and a dream job in the faux combat of the National Football League. Instead, he chose to put his life on the line in real combat to go after those that attacked this country. His brother asks the rest of us why we have allowed "incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous" leaders to take us into a completely different conflict -- an illegal war that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, and brings nothing but death and dishonor. He calls upon Americans to respond, beginning on Election Day. It's impossible to ignore Kevin Tillman's voice, or his plea.
Steven Wright: I was wondering how my life would be different if I'd been born a day earlier. Then I started thinking it would be exactly the same, except I would have asked myself the same question a day earlier.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

MLS Goal of the Year Contest. If you think there is a paucity of skill and excitement in the MLS, go take a look at the candidates for Goal of the Year. It'll take you about a half hour to watch all the candidate goals, but it's fun stuff. It's not easy to pick a winner, but you have until October 25th to vote in the first round of voting.

I'm not sure how one decides which is the best goal. Is it the most difficult shot? The most audacious attempt? The most spectacular or flashiest play? The most out of the ordinary? Does timing have anything to do with it, or is it strictly judged divorced from any context?

I've broken it down into a few categories and tried to rank them, more or less (I think 19 of the 33 candidate goals merit serious mention:

I've already written that Brian Ching's bicycle kick, to beat D.C. in week 27, was the "goal of the year." But, there was another bicycle by Andy Herron, in week 14, that was just as impressive. Christian Gomez had a goal, in week 11, that combined a bit of dribbling skill and a lovely long-range shot that was struck with real pace.

Clint Dempsey had a spectacular dribbling run through the defense, followed by a well-placed shot, in week 28. But Jeff Cunningham had a pretty incredible display of dribbling followed by a strong, well-placed blast in week 16. Carlos Ruiz also had a nifty bit of misdirection in week 8.

This season had some of the longest shots you'll ever see, chipping the ball over goalies caught straying too far from the goal. The best of these efforts had to be Dwayne De Rosario's shot from the midfield stripe in week 23.

On a second tier, I would place some some nice strikes from distance, including: 16 year-old Jozmer Altidore's strike in his first MLS game in week 25, 17 year-old Freddy Adu's free kick in week 24, Brian Carroll's blast in week 16, Carey Talley's shot in week 18, Facundo Erpen's long-ranger in week 4, probable Rookie-of-the-Year Jonathan Bornstein's effort in week 18, and Jerrod LaVenture's cheeky volley in week 17.

Steve Ralston had a nice move to get open and score in week 15, but Edson Buddle's run along the back line through the defense, in week 15, was better, and could be ranked along with Dempsey and Cunningham's efforts noted above.

Finally, there was just a beautiful, sharp shot -- classic striker's goal -- by Ante Razov in week 11, hit with such force that the goalie had no chance to save it, even though it passed right over his head. Alecko Eskandarian, in week 7, also had a very impressive one touch volley from an angle that beat the goalie as it ricocheted off the left poat into the goal.

There were some nice headers among the nominees, but nothing spectacular enough to merit consideration for Goal of the Year.

If you think bicycle shots are unbeatable, you could pick either Ching's or Herron's goal. If you love power, Razov's goal might be your pick, but Altidore's effort was pretty good, too. If flashy dribbling is your thing, you could pick either Dempsey's or Cunningham's goals, with Buddle's play a close third. If you go for the unusual and audacious, it would be hard to beat De Rosario's midfield chip (De Rosario has won the award the last two years) -- but LaVenture's impressive volley is all the more impressive because it had to be perfectly placed to beat a goalie who was in prety good position. If free kicks are your thing, Freddy Adu's shot, in week 24, was probably the best, though there was a good effort by Chris Klein in week 3 (technically not a free kick since the ball was pushed towards him). The most powerful shot of the year was Razov's smash.

My vote goes to Christian Gomez' flashy bit of skill and derring-do from week 11, to go along with his likely M.V.P. award.

If soccer's your thing, go check out the goals and vote. Maybe you'll agree with my choice, or you'll want to vote for another candidate goal -- perhaps even one othe other goals that I didn't mention (I think I did a pretty good job of separating the wheat from the chaff, but this stuff is subjective). I'd be interested in everybody's opinion, so I hope you leave comments here.
D.C. United Off to a Strong Start -- The MLS' second season (the playoffs) got under way this afternoon. D.C. United went into Giants' Stadium looking to recapture their dominant form that had escaped them over the last six weeks of the season. DC United looked very strong for the first 30-35 minutes, controlling much of the possession. United's best chance of the first half came very early, about one minute into the game, as Freddy Adu put a free kick onto Facundo Erpen, who knocked a dangerous header on net. The Red Bulls' keeper, Conway, really had to stretch for Erpen's header, and was just able to deflect it over the goal. The Red Bulls did have one excellent chance in the first half themselves. Off a quick restart, and a well-placed cross by Amado Guevara, Austrian international Markus Schopp seemed to have a fairly simple opportunity for a header to finish it off, but Schopp sent his header over the goal.

United finally broke through, in the 77th minute, as Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno worked their wonders, playing the ball back and forth between them, as they rushed down the field. The give-and-go combination concluded with Gomez lifting the ball over the Red Bulls' keeper, who could only watch the ball drop inside the corner of the Red Bulls' goal. The Red Bulls nearly drew even in stoppage time, but Jeff Parke's shot hit the crossbar. Though the Red Bulls were probably the more dangerous side for most of the second half, it was United that emerged with a 1-0 victory.

The stars for United were Gomez, the likely league MVP, along with Alecko Eskandarian and Josh Gros, who really kept the pressure on the Red Bulls' defense. The league's goalkeeper of the year, Troy Perkins, also played a confident game in goal, seemingly in the right place all afternoon. Of course, Jaime Moreno played a strong game, and D.C. would not have won without his wonderful understanding and combination with Gomez. Steven Goff's Washington Post story about the game focuses on the Moreno-Gomez bond.

Now it's back to RFK for next Sunday's game. Playing on the football field at Giants' Stadium is a bit of a joke. I may have been a regular at the old Cosmos' games, but the artificial turf is not the best for soccer. Worse, the field was already freshly painted for tomorrow's Jets' football game. Having barely visible lines for the soccer field, among the brightly painted football markings, is distracting and disappointing.

Moreover, as any Giants or Jets fan can tell you, the winds in Giants Stadium really start to pick up at this time of the year. In football, it can be difficult to sustain a passing attack. The wind appeared to impact the play this afternoon, as well. Perhaps it was the chilly, blustery weather, or maybe it's just lack of interest, but Red Bulls' fans were not really much in evidence at the sparsely attended game today. The Red Bulls desperately need to do something to build a fan base there. Thankfully, the Red Bulls have broken ground on their new stadium, in Harrison, just across the Passaic River, from downtown Newark. Unfortunately, the early plans call for another artificial surface.

Of course, the situation at RFK is also far from ideal, due to having to share the stadium with the Washington Nationals. With the baseball season over for a month, perhaps the infield half at RFK will be in better soccer condition than it was during the baseball season. D.C. United is till hopeful than they can finalize a deal for their own stadium, across the Anacostia River, but those plans may stay in limbo while negotiations continue to attract a new ownership group for the team.

I suppose there are good reasons for seeking a new stadium, but RFK would not be the worst place to play, once the Nationals have their new stadium for the 2008 season. Certainly, Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles, United's semi-official fan clubs love the bouncing stadium sections on their side of the field. Professional soccer fans are becoming increasingly devoted here, but there just aren't enough of them yet. RFK is a big stadium, which would be a plus if the MLS were more popular. Right now, a more intimate facility might attract bigger crowds. Clearly, United feels the franchise will be more profitable in a modern, smaller facility. Hopefully, a new stadium won't mean significantly higher ticket prices, but that's a concern for another year...

Right now, the focus is on the playoffs. Having won today, United will need only a tie, next Sunday, to advance to the next round. Although the annual playoff attendance fall-off was evident today, as only 8,630 fans bought tickets, D.C. United's loyal following should be in evidence next week. Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles were out in force in New Jersey, so a raucous crowd can be expected next Sunday night. While the Red Bulls are a much weaker side, and by far the weakest team United will face in the playoffs, this was a good start for D.C. United. Maybe a trip to Dallas for the MLS Cup final is still part of United's future.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Inspired by Endy Chavez -- ESPN's Baseball Tonight presented their all-time five best playoff web-gems. They didn't include Chavez' play.

Number 5 was Derek Jeter's ridiculously great backhanded toss to home plate from foul territory, which I mentioned in my earlier post.

Number 4 was confusing. They chose a play from the 1969 World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Amazin' New York Mets. There were several memorably great plays in that series, by Mets' outfielders, and by Orioles' third baseman Brooks Robinson. ESPN chose a great running basket catch by centerfielder Tommie Agee, but they kept saying the catch was by Ron Swoboda. The question is did they show the wrong highlight (Swoboda made a spectacular diving catch in that series) or did they show the right highlight, and simply misidentify the player responsible?

Third best was a catch by Dwight Evans in front of the Red Sox' bullpen, during the '75 World Series. Second best was Willie Mays '54 Series stunner, often called the greatest catch of all-time. ESPN's pick for the all-time playoff web-gem was the home-run saving grab by the late Kirby Puckett in Game 6 of the 1991 Series.

The timing on Puckett's catch was a little more memorable than Chavez' catch, especially since the Mets eventually lost the game tonight -- but Chavez' play was far more impressive. My top three would be -- in no particular order -- the Jeter play, Mays' catch and throw, and Chavez' sparkler from tonight's game.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Waiting to Exhale -- Whewwwww. The $120 million dollar man comes up empty. I guess you can't complain, but you hate to see it end with the bat still sitting on Beltran's shoulder. Hard to accept {Update: ESPN's Baseball Tonight's Karl Ravetch made the same comment about the game ending with the bat on Beltran's shoulder -- made 5 minutes after I first posted this -- coincidence? Of course.}. It was a great ride, and it's hard for a Mets' fan to complain, but you'd like to have seen Carlos at least take a swing. Wainwright had a huge strike zone to work with in that ninth inning, and it was a little surprising that Beltran thought he had the luxury to look. Obviously, Wainwright's curveball was killing the Mets' lefties, freezing both Floyd and Beltran for strikeouts.

I hated to see Heilman give up the winning home run, because he'd pitched well. But, that was a concern. He has a penchant for giving it up. Still, I can't really quibble with anything Randolph did in this game. I was surprised to see Floyd come up in such a pivotal situation, pinch-hitting in the ninth, instead of Franco. Floyd isn't healthy enough to play, so one had to wonder if he was the best choice to hit. On the other hand, it worked for Tommy Lasorda and Kirk Gibson, once.

It was a great game. It was a great series. It was a great ride. Randolph is a great manager. There will surely be a few changes in the off-season, and the hot-stove league talk has already begun. Cliff Floyd has probably played his last game as a New York Met, the major question being whether Lastings Milledge will be his replacement. At second base, the Mets will probably try to re-sign Jose Valentin, but their first priority will be to try and sign free-agent Brooklyn native Julio Lugo.

The Mets' starting rotation is all question marks right now, although Tom Glavine is a sure bet to return. Will they go after Barry Zito, and will they be able to compete with the Yankees in the bidding? Other possible acquisition targets are Jason Schmidt and the highly touted Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka. Again, they will probably be bidding against the wealthiest teams in baseball, including the Yankees. There is also a great deal of speculation that the Mets will try to deal for Dontrelle Willis. In addition, there are a number of candidates from the Mets' organization, including tonight's loser, Aaron Heilman, last night's winner, John Maine, and budding young star, Mike Pelfrey, as well as Oliver Perez, who pitched very impressively tonight.

There will be a long off-season to speculate about the make-up of the '07 Mets. For tonight, Mets' fans should speak fondly of the 2006 Mets. The Mets have a pretty terrific team, especially when healthy. The Mets know that the injuries to two of their top three starting pitchers kept them out of the World Series, but they still came as close as can be. Congrats to the Cardinals. As they used to say in Brooklyn: Wait 'till next year.
The Greatest Defensive Play in Baseball History? Certainly, the best in New York Mets' history -- and, certainly, the most important. After Oliver Perez walks Jim Edmonds with one out in the 6th inning, manager Willie Randolph consults with him, but decides to leave him in the game. Then, the Cards' Scott Rolen hits what should have been a tie-breaking two-run home run. This wasn't just robbery -- this was Grand Larceny. The ball was hit hard and long, fast enough that left-fielder Endy Chavez couldn't get back to the fence in time to set and leap for it. Instead, Chavez took off, leaping at a full sprint, from the middle of the warning track. His glove went up and over, and beyond the fence, to snag the ball and pull Rolen's smash back into play. Then, Chavez came down and threw the ball into the infield to double off the stunned Edmonds.

Win or lose (I am making this post with the score tied 1-1 after six innings), Chavez' play will be remembered as one of the most extraordinary plays in baseball history, because it was a great play and because it may have been the most decisive play in the National League Championship Series. The only way the play could have been more memorable is if it had come in the ninth inning, especially if the Mets were clinging to a one-run lead. Then, it might have supplanted Willie Mays' catch and throw in the '54 World Series as the most memorable defensive play in baseball history - more memorable even than any walk-off home run.

This year, ESPN looked at the all-time best defensive plays for each team, before coming up with the best plays of all-time. Chavez' play will move to number one in Mets' history, the next time ESPN does their all-time web-gem review. Given the circumstances, it will be one of the most memorable plays ever -- up there with Derek Jeter's flip to home in the A.L. playoffs years ago, and the Willie Mays' play mentioned above.
Play Ball!! It's time for Game 7. I've had a lot of visitors the last two days, I think many have been from the Daily Kos -- I'd like to think they came to check out my blog comments and not the photo of me and my apron that I posted when I opened this blog. It's a short, but tedious story, but I mentioned the photo on the DK site. In either case, I guess I should be flattered. Besides, whatever it takes to get some hits should be OK (shameless self-promotion is a redundancy -- all self-promotion is shameless), as long as people stick around to read what I have to say. Even better, I hope they come back.

If the Mets win tonight, you can expect some posts that reflect being a nervous Mets' fan during the World Series. I'll also have some comments on the MLS playoffs. Most of my posts in the near future, however, will be about politics and the issues. There are less than three weeks to the election, an election that could mark the political revival of the Democratic Party. So, I urge my fellow progressives to come back -- check in every week, at least. I'll try to keep it thought-provoking, and interesting.

In the meantime, before I move on to interesting and weighty matters, I want to report a local minor celebrity sighting. Working out at the gym yesterday, I recognized this guy who came into the weights area, but couldn't place his face. Later, he asked me to spot him. We ended up working out and spotting each other, and I was sure I recognized his voice -- which wasn't so much a voice as it was a calling card. Then, he said it: "Shhweeeettt!" Yes, it was the Greaseman! Former morning drive champ here in D.C.!

Greaseman came on to the D.C. scene, in 1982, replacing Howard Stern at a D.C station, after Stern was let go. The Greaseman followed in Stern's tradition of letting his mouth get him in trouble. Greaseman twice lost his show for making some incredibly un-P.C. comments. Anyway, enough history. Water over the dam, right? Just noting that I am not ignorant of past incidents. The Greaseman looked good. Grease introduced me to his friend, colleague and sometime workout partner, Chad. Chad's an African-American. I guess that, notwithstanding his unfortunate, racially charged remarks on the radio, Greaseman is a little more broad-minded in his private life. There's a lot I could add, but I'll just say report that, these days, he is doing some independent movies and he has a morning drive show on a local AM station.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

NLCS Game 7 Update: It's Oliver, alright -- but it's Oliver Perez, not Darren Oliver. Perez, who pitched decently in game 4, will be pitching on three days rest. Maybe that will help him, but his history doesn't inspire confidence. Perez has 111 career starts, and only one on short rest. In that game, in September 2005, Perez allowed five runs and five walks in two and two-thirds innings.

So, why is Perez starting? Mets' manager Willie Randolph says he 'likes him.' Randolph would like to keep Oliver in his regular role as a reliever. But you can expect Randolph to have a quick hook, as he cannot afford to allow the Cards to grab any kind of a lead off Perez. The Cards' starter, Jeff Suppan held the Mets to three hits over eight innings and shut out the Mets in Game 3. The Mets can't expect to score a bunch of runs in their return match, so Randolph will have to manage as if it's the last game of the season, becaue it very well could be.

The Getting Ahead of Ourselves Department: I hate to jinx these things, but I want to report one little tidbit for any of my faithful readers that haven't heard this bit of news. If the Mets do make the World Series, their likely starter will be Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Not that the Mets really have any other options. They no longer have any confidence in Steve Trachsel, and the other starters in the NLCS would not be ready to turn around and start on Saturday. That means it would be either rookie Dave Williams or El Duque, neither of whom are on the active roster for the NLCS. The Mets may be leery of starting another pitcher with calf problems, after the troubles that Pedro Martinez suffered through when he tried to pitch through calf injuries. But, they will probably choose to roll the dice on El Duque, rather than the untested, late-season call-up, Williams.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's a Game 7 to enjoy.
Billy Wagner sure can make it exciting, can't he? So, the Mets hold on to win 4-2, but I'm beginning to dislike So Taguchi (he hit a two-out double in the ninth inning to knock in the Cardinals first runs). Wagner got the last out, but he's making life too interesting for Mets' fans. On to Game 7 tomottow night. We'll find out soon enough who will pitch Game 7 for the Mets against Jeff Suppan. I don't see how it could be anyone other than Darren Oliver, but it will definitely be a team effort.

The Mets played their game tonight. Reyes reminded everyone that he has some power when he led off with a home run. They got clutch hits from Wright and Green to produce the second runLater, Michael Tucker let everyone know that Reyes isn't the only one with speed. And Paul LoDuca reminded everyone that he has been a clutch hitter and leader throughout this career, driving in two more runs, to make the score 4-0.

The Mets won because they finally got some offense beyond Delgado and Beltran (Jose Valentin has had a few big hits that have been overlooked by the commentators focusing on those two guys named Carlos). And the Mets won because they finally got some really effective starting pitching beyong Tom Glavine. Rookie John Maine showed the stuff he had during the regular season -- the stuff that earned him a spot in the rotation. He pitched out of a jam in the first and the third, and earned the win, pitching over 5 shutout innings.

As Tony LaRussa said: Game 7 -- "It's magical." At Shea, the Magic is Back...again.
Soccer stuff: UEFA Champions League: Chelsea vs. Barcelona. The two most expensive rosters in the world hooked up today at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge Park. Chelsea really outshined Barca, and emerged with a well-deserved 1-0 win. The Blues got excellent goalkeeping from emergency starter Henrique Hilario, called upon because the team's top two goalies, Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini, suffered bad injuries this weekend, against Reading, in E.P.L. play. Cech, considered to be the world's top goalie, will miss the rest of the season, and possibly the next. He suffered a depressed skull fracture, when he took a knee to the head in the first minute of the game against Reading. Cudicini went down in the final minute of the same game, suffering a concussion when the back of his head hit the turf. So, the third-choice, Portuguese keeper was called upon to make the start against the great Ronaldinho and his mates from Barcelona. Hilario stopped several good attempts, including a well-driven free kick in the second half.

The real stories, though, were the strong play of Didier Drogba and the continuing struggles of Andriy Shevchenko. Drogba scored the game's only goal in the first minute of the second half, on a great piece of skill. He took a pass at the top of the box, and beat a double-team with a back-heel dribble and then turned and blasted the ball into the corner of the net, while teammate Michael Ballack twisted to stay out of Drogba's way. Shevchenko, the highest-paid player in the world, has tallied only once for Chelsea, and he couldn't buy a goal today. He missed a chance early, when Drogba's centering ball passed behind him and the ball was cleared by Raffy Marquez before Shevchcenko could recover and shoot. In the second half, Shevy missed a good chance, when he put the ball over the charging keeper and the goal. Finally, Shevy sat unmarked waiting for a pass from Michael Essien during a three-on-two break, but the pass never came as Essien held the ball and squandered the golden opportunity. Still, Chelsea got the win and now holds the advantage in the home-away match.

US Soccer stuff: There's a brief profile in the New York Times on Chivas USA's Jonathan Bornstein, the unlikely, but almost certain winner of M.L.S.'s Rookie-of-the-Year award. The Fisch Fry has already reported on this rising young talent, and he is a great choice for the award. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Alecko Eskandarian is a likely starter in this weekend's playoff game for D.C. United. United has missed his hustle and attacking style. Perhaps his return to the lineup can shake United out of its doldrums. .

Finally, the Yanks Abroad website has a story on Washington, D.C.-area native Oguchi Onyewu. Gooch was expected to transfer to an English side after the World Cup, but he is back with his Belgian squad, Standard Liege. Yanks Abroad speculates that the January break in Europe may result in a number of Americans moving to or around Europe, including Gooch. One player, expected to make the move to Europe is U.S. Soccer Player of the Year, Clint Dempsey. The piece on Onyewu notes that the U.S. could benefit from a European coach with a European base for ex-pat Yanks to get time playing together. That's not a bad point, but the U.S. is really losing time right now, because there is no national team coach. With no coach, there are no international games scheduled for the national side, while other countries are already playing friendlies and tournament matches. The U.S.S.F. must do something soon to remedy the situation, even if it's just naming an interim coach.

Next up: Baseball - A glorious celebration or a post-mortem for the Mets? Game on!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The NLCS goes back to New York, at least geographically speaking. With their 4-2 win tonight, the Cards have taken command of this hotly-contested series. Credit for the win has to go to the Cardinals' bullpen. Cards' relievers flirted with danger in the 8th inning, but held the Mets scoreless for the final three innings. Some credit has to go to whoever has been pitching in Jeff Weaver's uniform during the playoffs this year. Is it possible that it was really Jeff's younger brother, Jared, who was 'lights out' as a rookie starter for the Angels this year?

The real drama of the game came in the eighth inning. David Wright had a tough at-bat against Brad Kinney, but finally stroked a double to the left-field corner, to put runners at second and third with one out. Reliever Randy Flores got Shawn Green to hit a weak fly that centerfielder Jim Edmonds barely reached running in towards the infield. Then came a classic at-bat as Adam Wainwright threw curveball after curveball to Jose Valentin before finally striking him out. In the home half of the inning, the Mets' Guillermo Mota was able to strand Adam Miles at third after a one-out triple. Earlier in the game, Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano had combined to get all three outs, after the Cards' had loaded the bases in the fifth inning. Unfortunately for the Mets, they already were trailing 3-2.

So, it's on to Queens for Game 6, as the Mets battle for survival. What can they take from this game? The best sign for the Mets is that the Cardinals' bullpen may be a little arm-weary. Tonight Kinney and Wainwright both pitched more than an inning. With a little luck and stronger hitting, the Mets might get to Chris Carpenter, and then put up some more runs against a depleted bullpen. Otherwise, Cards' fans will be looking forward to a World Series that ought to be a little tighter than the sweep by the Red Sox in '04.
Tiki Barber to Retire? Say it ain't so!! Today, President Bush signed into law the greatest challenge to American civil liberties since WWII, when Japanese-Americans were forcibly interned in 'relocation' camps. There is so much I could say about this stain on America, the dimming of the shining light that has been the American legal system, this abdication of Congressional and Executive responsibilty to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Frankly, sports is more fun. I'll get to Tiki Barber, but first a little baseball chatter:

NLCS: Game 4 (in progress - come back for an update later). Early impressions: The Cardinals are playing some great defense that is making it very difficult for the Mets to break through. But the Mets' bullpen kept them in the game in the 5th, and the Mets will get their chance against the Cardinals' bullpen, beginning in the seventh inning. The Mets did some damage in Game 4 against the Cards' pen. So, I'm hopeful -- of course, as I write this, Chris Duncan makes Tony LaRussa look like a flippin' genius for using Duncan as a pinch-hitter against the Mets' lefty Pedro Feliciano (Duncan hit a home run to increase the Cards' lead to 4-2).

No one associated with the New York Giants could be happy to see Wednesday's piece in the New York Times on Tiki Barber.

Though he is only 31, Barber is now talking definitively about retirement after the season. He wants to go into broadcasting. I can only hope that Barber reconsiders his timing, once the season is over. He is not only at the top of his game, he is probably the best back in the NFL right now. Only Barry Sanders, arguably the greatest running back ever, retired at a similar level. Sanders didn't really want to retire, so much as he wanted to get out of the mess in Detroit. If the Lions had agreed to trade him, Sanders would have kept playing.

Tiki has already had a nice career. He is in 17th place in all-time receiving yards, and that's not even his strength -- which is running the ball. When he breaks the 10,000 career rushing yards mark, before the end of this season, he will probably assure his place in the Hall of Fame.

I never saw Frank Gifford or Kyle Rote play, but I feel pretty comfortable in stating that Barber is the all-time greatest offensive player the Giants franchise has ever had. He can be mentioned in the same breath as Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, as the best players to ever wear a Giants uniform.

Yes, Barber's had a pretty good career. As a fan, though, I'd be really disappointed to see him walk away, when he is still the best back in the league. I know Tiki would like to earn a Super Bowl title before retiring. As a Giants fan, I would love to see them win it this year. There's nothing in fandom that can compare to the thrill of seeing your team win the title. But, I think I might rather see Tiki suit up in a Giants' uniform for at least another year. He's that exciting...and that important to the team.

NLCS Update - OK, the Mets went down meekly in the seventh inning, but they have two more innings to get two runs back.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets. Step right up and Greet the Mets. First order of business: Oliver Perez, this is everybody. Everyone, this is Oliver Perez. He did it! And Mets fans will forever have nice things to say about young Mr. Perez. He may have had a rotten year and he may never get back to the form he had in 2004, but he will always have tonight.

OK, he started to come apart in the sixth inning, and giving up five runs in less than six innings isn't all that impressive, but the Mets had the game pretty much in hand by then. Perez turned the game over to the bullpen with a six-run lead. Even though the offense deserves most of the credit, it's Perez who gets the official credit for the win. He kept them in the game, and kept the pressure off until the Mets' bats broke the game open. And now, the Mets have to like their chances again.

Carlos Delgado hasn't been a Met that much longer than Oliver Perez -- he joined the team in the offseason, while Perez came as an afterthought in the trade for Roberto Hernandez at the end of July. Yet, Delgado has earned a huge place in Mets' history. He continues to pound the ball in the postseason, with a three-run home run, and a two RBI ground-rule double.

I have to give props to Carlos Beltran, who homered twice. He's been with the Mets for all of two years, and has become a fan favorite this year, even though he was the worst hitter at home in the National League. As Tim McCarver noted, before Beltran's miserable performance in September, he was probably the leading candidate for Most Valuable Player in the National League.

When you look at the Mets, the only position players really left over from the team that lost 93 games two years ago are Jose Reyes (David Wright did come up that year, but did only played in 69 games) and the injured Cliff Floyd. There are only two pitchers, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel, that were a big part of the '04 Mets (Aaron Heilman did come up with the Mets first in '03, but only played in five games in '04). Much of the roster came on board this year.

Mets fans, even the real New Yorkers (ones who haven't left like me), haven't had much time to get attached to these players. So, when someone like Beltran, Delgado, or even Perez comes through in the clutch, it's the uniform, more than the player that evokes admiration from the fans. Yet, they are still our beloved Mets. In the end, that's all that matters.

Tom Glavine gets the ball tomorrow night, with the chance to put the Mets on top in this series. He's pitching on short rest -- which he has not done well much in his career. After tonight though, as Tug McGraw famously said: "Ya Gotta Believe!" Game 6 in Shea Stadium wil be John Maine again, presumably. If it comes to a Game 7, I have to think that Willie Randolph will turn to Darren Oliver, if he's available. A Mets-Tigers World Series? The Mets still need to win two games, and they won't be easy. Still, it is looking a heckuva lot better than it did this time last night.
Roll 'em up -- they're done. No, not the Mets, though I am not very confident they will be able to turn it around. I mean D.C. United. They may have won the "Supporters' Shield" for the best record in their regular season, but they are not going into the playoffs as the best team. In fact, right now, they stink. I have tickets coming to me -- won in a lottery -- for the MLS Cup. I entered the drawing when it appeared that United was the heavy favorite to get to and win the Cup final. At this writing, I would be very surprised if United made it to the final.

The Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution both appear to be better teams than United -- at least, right now. The Fire, who beat United today by a 3-2 score, really have D.C.'s number. United's marking was simply atrocious. In the first 25 minutes, they surrendered a penalty kick that goalie Nick Rimando stopped, and then allowed two goals in quick succession. On the other end of the field, United's attack was only slightly more convincing. United did get a goal in the 34th minute. Freddy Adu had a strong run, pushing through the Fire defense and then passed to Christian Gomez who made a spectacular shot to chip it over two defenders and beat the Fire goalie. In the second half, after the Fire had increased the lead to 3-1, Adu and Gomez connected again. Even though the sideline referee was probably the only person who didn't notice that Gomez was offside, Adu delivered a perfect pass and Gomez finished with another nice bit of skill, to notch his 14th goal of the year. Gomez and Adu turned in good efforts, but the rest of the team failed to show up.

In truth, United had a chance to tie this game. Ben Olsen took a pass right in front of the net and made a great effort to strike it above the keeper's reach. Olsen's shot seemed destined for the back netting, but the ball ricocheted back off the crossbar. United did show some signs of life with three or four strong individual efforts, but their attack lacked consistency. And their defense was simply awful. Coach Peter Nowak really has his work cut out for him to try and turn around United with the playoffs starting next weekend. The way United is playing now, they will have a tough time in the first round against the New York Red Bulls. Even Steven Goff, the Post's United beat reporter questions whether United should be favored to beat the lowly Red Bulls.

Speaking of coaches, there is sad news to report: Glenn "Mooch" Myernick, former coach of the Colorado Rapids and the top assistant coach for the U.S. national team during the recent World Cup, died from an apparent attack while jogging. Certainly this is tragic news for his family, but it is a blow to U.S. soccer fans, as well. Myernick was in line to take over the national team, at least on an interim basis. It seems that the USSF head, Sunil Gulati is leaning towards hiring an international star, none of whom would be immedieately available. Top of the list is Jurgen Klinsmann, but Klinsmann dosn't want to return to caoching until 2008. If Gulati is determined to wait him out, Myernick would have been the obvious choice to steer the program in the meantime. By all accounts, Myernick was immensely popular, and surely he will be missed by the whole soccer family.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

1968 - Thirty-eight years ago and, maybe only two nights away. The Cards whipped up on Steve Trachsel, as expected. They now lead the series 2-1, and may be looking forward to a rematch of the 1968 Cards-Tigers World Series -- one of the all-time best series. To survive and get their series back to New York, the Mets must hope that Oliver Perez lives up to his potential, instead of the poor imitation of a major leaguer he has been this year. Or, they have to hope that Tom Glavine can match his Game 1 performance in Game 5, Monday night, on only 3 days rest. Glavine, historically, has not been good in the playoffs on 3 days rest -- with a losing record and an E.R.A over 6 runs a game. This is where Thursday's rain-out really hurts the Mets.

Personally, I would have liked to see the Mets start Darren Oliver. It would have shown a little guts and imagination on manager Willie Randolph's part. I know Willie likes having Oliver as the long man out of the bullpen...and that makes sense during the long regular season. In the playoffs, you need to give your team the best chance to win every night. With Trachsel pitching, the Mets only chance was to outslug the Cardinals. But, they were completely shut down by Jeff Suppan. If the Mets are fortunate enough to get this game to seven games, I hope Randolph has enough sense to start Oliver. No one will criticize him for sitting down Trachsel. I know Randolph wanted to show loyalty to the veteran, but I wish he had taken a chance on Brian Bannister at the end of the season -- to see if he could get him ready to start.

Meanwhile, how cool was it to see the Tigers win? It's been a rough patch for Tigers fans. They lost one of the great stadiums in baseball and had to suffer through one of the worst teams in Major League baseball history a couple of years ago. How times have changed! It looks like another wild-card team is poised to win the North American professional baseball championship we call the "World Series." If the TIgers do win, it will make four out of last five Wrold Series for wild-card teams. Lately, it almost seems that the wild-card teams may have an advantage over the division winners. Of course, that's rubbish, but the Series wins by wild-cards does diminish the achievement and the importance of winning a division pennant.

According to an article in the New York Times, the MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig is expressing concern with the recent playoff success of wild-cards, and he is considering proposing changes to the current system. I'm not sure I like what Selig is proposing -- to give more of a home-field advantage to division winners playing wild-card teams. It sounded good to me, at first -- until I started to write this essay. When I had to make the case for Selig's proposal, I realized it isn't a very strong case, at all.

Under Selig's proposal, in the opening round, the wild card would only play one home game out of a possible five. This seems to unfairly penalize the fans of that team. They cheer for their team and look forward all year to the chance to watch playoff games. To limit that to one game seems to be a bad choice. It wouldn't really make a huge difference, either. The Tigers would have been playing Game 4 in Yankee Stadium, instead of Comerica Park, but the team would probably still have whipped the Yanks. In the National League, the Mets eliminated the wild-card Dodgers in 3 games -- so that the Dodgers only got the one home game.

The lesson in this year's playoffs is that the reason the Yankees lost had little to do with how many games were played in Detroit. They didn't take care of business in New York or Detroit, and they were thoroughly beaten by the Tigers. In contrast, the Mets swept the Dodgers in New York, and were able to finish them off in Los Angeles.

So long as baseball has a wild-card system, they risk having wild-card champions. The fact that it happens more often in baseball than in football or basketball has everything to do with the nature of the sport. A couple of hot players or pitchers can dominate a series in baseball against a team that might otherwise be the "better" team. In the other major team sports: the better football team is much more likely to win any playoff game, and the better basketball team is likely to win a series.

Baseball is much more like soccer in that a few key plays can determine the outcome of a game. That is why, in most countries, the soccer (football) champion is determined by having the best record over the long season. Tournaments are special events, and very enjoyable, but it is understood that the best team may be eliminated if it has an off day, or suffers a bad bounce or two.

Major League baseball did a pretty good thing with the wild-card. It generally makes the last month a lot more interesting for the fans of a number of teams. The flip-side is that wild-card teams might actually win the World Series, but that's the whole point! Otherwise, the wild-card chase wouldn't be so exciting. Besides, the wild-card system gave us the Yankees-Red Sox series in 2003 and 2004 -- two of the greatest playoff series ever. So, I say "Live with it, Bud."

**** Addendum **** I've posted a 'diary' entry about the wild-card proposal on the DailyKos site. Too much stuffy politics there, so I thought the site could use a lighter touch. My post has provoked a very interesting discussion -- and has led me to flesh out the argument still further. I think the thread on the DK site is a good read -- especially if my blog post has peaked your interest. Here's the link:

Friday, October 13, 2006

All the lights up ahead are Cardinal red -- Cards take Game 2. As good as the Mets pitching and the defense were for Game 1 of the National League Championship series, Game 2 was notable for the Mets' lack of clutch pitching and defense. The Mets starting pitcher, John Maine squandered an early 3-0 lead that came on Carlos' Delgado's first inning home run. Later, the Mets bullpen gave back a two-run lead in the seventh inning, a lead which was built on Carlos Delgado's second home run of the game. In both instances, Mets' fielders failed to make plays that would have kept the Cardinals from scoring the key runs. In the seventh inning, Shawn Green nearly made a spectacular catch to rob Scott Spezio of a three-run home run. Instead, Green closed his glove too early and succeeded only in keeping the ball in the field of play, though two runs came in to tie the game.

As I noted after last night's game, the Cardinals have a very good team, and can be expecteed to fight the Mets right down to the wire, each and every night. Though their ace, Chris Carpenter, came up short, the Cardinals' players kept fighting with clutch hitting and strong fielding, including a memorable play by Ronnie Belliard, who covered more ground than I've ever seen a second baseman cover to the shortstop side. This game was a marathon in every respect, including time. Of course, when it comes to long games, if you haven't seen Steve Trachsel pitch, you are in for a real show, of sorts, for Game 3.

For his second straight playoff start, Maine left the game early, as Willie Randolph had a quick hook, relieving Maine after four shaky innings. In the end, though, it was the Mets' greatest strength -- their incomparable bullpen -- that failed them. Guillermo Mota's weak show in the seventh allowed the Cardinals to knot the game at 6-6. It was at that moment that you could feel the game slip away. The Mets had a shot in the 8th inning, but Carlos Beltran grounded into a double play. Finally, the Cardinals broke ahead when So Taguchi fought back from two quick strikes to drive a leadoff home run off Billy Wagner in the ninth. Wagner also yielded two insurance runs on doubles by Pujols and Spezio, and an RBI single by Encarnacion.

Last night, the Mets had every reason to be optimistic. After tonight's game, the Cardinals have the advantage. Tony LaRussa showed why he is still the thinking man's favorite manager -- But, even he had to be surprised by how successful his moves proved to be. Starting in place of Scott Rolen, Spezio drove in 3 big runs. Even a defensive substitution like Taguchi paid off handsomely at the bat. With a 3-run lead in the ninth, LaRussa kept pulling the right strings, having Tyler Johnson in to strike out Delgado and then bringing in rookie Adam Wainwright to close out the game. And Scott Rolen made a great diving play after coming in as a defensive sub for Spezio in the ninth, Right now, everything seems to be breaking the Cardinals' way. With the Mets starting Trachsel in Game 3 and Oliver Perez in game 4, this series may get away from the New Yorkers very quickly.
New Look for the Fisch Fry -- Let me know if you like it, or if you prefer the old look....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Game 1 goes to the Metropolitans! With great pitching and even better defense, the N.Y. Mets held the St. Louis Cardinals scoreless in the NLCS opener. A two-out, two-run home run by Carlos Beltran proved to be the difference on the scoreboard, but the real difference was the stellar defense played by the New Yorkers. This is not a team noted especially for its defense, but, every Met fielder made excellent plays, holding the Cardinals to four hits and no runs.

The Mets know they need to win when Tom Glavine starts, and the defense played like they knew they needed to turn it up a notch or two. David Wright turned a nice double play, catching a line drive and tossing to second to get the Cardinal runner, who had broken for third expecting the ball to get by Wright. Later, Carlos Beltran doubled Albert Pujols off first, when the Cadinals slugger couldn't get back in time after Beltran's nice catch in center. In the ninth inning. Jose Valentin made a great pick and throw from behind second base to get the runner. But the best play was turned in by Endy Chavez, who played left field in place of the injured Cliff Floyd. Chavez made a highlight reel diving catch. The Mets played both flawlessly and spectacularly in the field tonight, turning in probably their finest defensive effort of the year.

Despite the base running blunders, the Cardinals played relatively well. The Mets bats were quieted by strong Cardinal pitching, especially from starter Jeff Weaver. In the end, New York got the key big hit from the team's superstar, Beltran. While this has the makings of a very entertaining series, for Mets fans, all signs were good, tonight. Tomorrow night, the Mets throw rookie John Maine against a Cy Young winner, Chris Carpenter. If Maine can keep his cool, without being intimidated by Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen, the Mets can hope to hold serve again. They know the importance of this game, since the Mets' starting pitchers in Games 3 and 4 are very shaky.

So far, so good, for the Metropolitans.
Six Degrees of Cory Lidle -- In 1995, I was working at the New York State Assembly. My boss asked me to come up with a draft of a bill that would prevent the two New York Major League Baseball franchises from using the huge, publicly-owned stadiums to stage games using teams made up of replacement players, substituting for the striking major league baseball players (or, was it a lockout? The details grow fuzzy over time, don't they?). Fortunately, the labor dispute was resolved before any games were played using replacement players.

Cory Lidle was one of the players that the New York Mets chose out of their farm system to play for the replacement team. Lidle had always been regarded as an overachiever since his high school days in Covina, CA. But, his timing stunk -- as a young player not yet on the Mets' 40-man roster, he was offered a chance to play in the majors with the replacement team -- and Lidle took the offer.

Because of the labor settlement, Lidle never played any regular season games as a replacement player, He did, however, impress the Mets' coaches. Two years later, Lidle earned a place on the major league roster. Like all the replacement players, Lidle was given the cold shoulder by the union members -- the major league ballplayers at the time. To this day, Lidle has been excluded from enjoying some of the benefits of union membership. Yet, because he was a likable guy, and because he proved he deserved his place at the top level, Lidle was eventually accepted by his colleagues. Indeed, he was admired for his comments about Barry Bonds' dubious records.

Yesterday, Lidle lost his life in a spectacular plane crash in New York City. At the first reports, when the identity of the plane's occupants was not known, I wondered if I had some loose connection to the tragedy. Given the location of the accident, I feared it might involve a building known as River Terrace -- the construction of which my brother had supervised over twenty years ago. As it turned out, the building was farther east and across the street from River Terrace. The story took its strange twist with the news that the plane belonged to the Yankees' pitcher, Cory Lidle.

Had the bill I wrote in 1995 become law, and the labor dispute continued deep into April, Mr. Lidle and his team of fellow replacement Mets would have would up in the courts over their right to play major league games in Shea and Yankee Stadium. Of course, I was delighted that the 'real' major leaguers returned in time to play their season, instead. Cory Lidle was one of a small number of replacement players that became successful major leaguers. They each earned their place there. Cory Lidle was probably the best of them all. His passing is a tragedy that wounds all of baseball and its fans. We are all connected, after all.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Fisch Fry is going to be on vacation for a week. Going to California. No doubt, there will be much to blog about, but the internet will have to do without my assinine opinions for a week. See ya when I get back.
Let's Go Mets! Mets Win!!! This was great to see. The Mets should have been starting Pedro Martinez today, or Orlando Hernandez, but they lost both to injuries within the same week. The loss of Hernandez is especially painful. He was pitching extremely well, of late, the best of all the Mets' starters. More to the point, the Mets acquired Hernandez to use him for the playoffs. They had the division effectively locked up when they made the trade for El Duque. They didn't get him for the pennant drive. Rather, they traded for Hernandez solely to give them more pitching depth and experience during the playoffs. Now, they have to do without both Pedro and El Duque, for as long as they are alive in the playoffs.

Today, John Maine pitched a good game, and he was helped out by one of the stranger plays in playoff history -- as Paul LoDuca tagged out two runners at home plate, one right after the other. LoDuca actually had his back to the plate showing the umpire he still had the ball after applying the first tag to the lead runner, Jeff Kent. Then Maine screamed that J.D. Drew was trying to score, and LoDuca turned and applied the tag just in time. A hugely important play, especially since the Mets won by one run, 6-5. The Mets' games should be fun to watch -- not likely to see any 1-0 or 2-1 games. Let's Go Mets!
GREEN is the new RED, WHITE & BLUE – the 2006 Tom Friedman/Dennis Ross report.

For the last two years, I've enjoyed a new Yom Kippur tradition in the Washington, D.C. area: New York Times columnist/author Tom Friedman, and former Mideast negotiator Amb. Dennis Ross [Bush 41 and Clinton], talk about and answer questions on the Mideast and the world. These two men make their living thinking about the most serious challenges facing America, because they have keen insight into current events. Because they are two of the most serious thinkers on foreign policy in this country today, I thought I’d provide a unique report on their informal seminar.

For Dennis Ross, the situation foremost on his mind seemed to be the Iran crisis. Friedman isn’t too far from that perspective, though he looks more broadly at how our reliance on fossil fuels, in combination with the price of oil is threatening Western civilization, and not only because of global warming. For Friedman, an issue has to be named to be effectively owned. He proposes that concerned progressives need to do a better job of selling an eco-friendly agenda. Friedman says we should be trumpeting the notion that “Green is the new Red, White & Blue.”

Both men understand that energy is the source of all evil. They see no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on foreign oil, which grotesquely distorts our policies, and subjects us to the whims of petty dictators. Friedman is focused on global warming, which he says will be far worse than Al Gore is predicting, when third world nations start requiring the supplies of energy that the Westerners seem to believe is their birthright. Ross is deeply troubled by the Iranian’s conduct in flouting the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Association and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He has no doubt that Iranian hard-liners are pursuing a nuclear bomb.

The Iranian nuclear program presents two problems. It scares the shit out of Israel, and it scares the shit out of the more moderate, Sunni Arab states. The Arab states have lived with Israel’s nuclear arsenal, and they have not made a big stink, because, as Ross said (maybe it was Friedman) they know that the Jews in Israel aren’t going to use the nukes. They are not nearly so confident in the good behavior of the fundamentalist Shiite crackpots in charge in Iran (Ross didn’t call them crackpots – that’s my term).

Friedman and Ross agree that if Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia will follow – indeed, they may already have an arrangement in place with Pakistan. After the Saudis go nuclear, Egypt would follow. Anyone who thinks this would be a stable situation has more than a few screws loose. Similarly, Ross believes that if North Korea really goes nuclear, then Japan may counter with its own program. Taiwan may also go after nuclear power status. Even the South Koreans may feel they need to counter the North’s capability. This isn’t a scenario that the Chinese powers-that-be would like – the question is can they be persuaded that it is in their own interests to be much more forceful towards North Korea.

Likewise, it would be in everyone’s interest to pressure Iran to abandon its grandiose nuclear ambitions. The Iranians have been offered civilian light-water reactors. They have refused them. Either Iran wants a bomb, or the hard-liners are following Saddam’s strategy in letting everyone believe they are pursuing nuclear weapons. Ross has no doubt they are pursuing a real nuclear weapons capability. It would be in everyone’s interest to prevent realization of that goal, except for one thing: the world-wide thirst for oil.

Iran’s Supreme Leader has said the West would not be willing to suffer through $140 price level for a barrel of oil, so he believes that the West is not serious about sanctions. So long as Iran pays no price for its nuclear program, it has no reason to stop. He knows China is not interested in such a development, and neither are the Europeans. Although Ross did not make this point, it may be that the Russians might actually relish another energy price spike, so they have an entirely different incentive to resist U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran. To stop Iran, the country’s leaders must be clear there will be a price for thumbing their nose at the international system, but they know that an oil embargo would not only hurt Iran – and they believe the price is not one the West is prepared to bear.

Ross, though, sees an opportunity with the end of the war in Lebanon and the new unease and insecurity in Israel over Iran. Israelis don’t really fear Hezbollah’s currently, so much as they fear a Hezbollah re-armed with much more lethal payloads supplied by Iran. If the Bush Administration were capable of effective statecraft, they could use the new Israeli insecurity to convince the Chinese that the consequences of sanctions on Iran would be a lot more palatable than the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Friedman looks at the situation differently. He sees Iran as a really bad actor with oil at $50-$70 a barrel, but that Iran would not be this potent malefactor with oil at $30 a barrel. The Iranian economy survives on subsidies that are maintainable only with the high price of oil. The goal of American foreign policy, according to Friedman, should be a $30 price for a barrel of oil. Similarly, we would find Venezuela and Russia to be much more cooperative internationally – and probably much more democratic at home. There is an inescapable correlation between the global price of oil and the authoritarian behavior of regimes in oil-rich countries like Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Iran.

As precarious as the global climate situation is right now, we are about to go over a cliff, when the third world modernizes. The U.S. cannot deny these countries the benefits of technology, nor the energy they will need to fuel their technological revolutions. China and India will “go green.” Says Friedman, because they have no choice. They are choking to death. The green economy is the future, and the only question, for Friedman, is to what extent they U.S. will participate in that green energy future.

Good domestic economic policy would foster the technological innovations that will be needed to power the future. Right now, the American auto industry is going right over the cliff because they continue to sell S.U.V.s that will be too expensive for Americans to drive, in the long run. Innovation needs to be forced upon this industry through serious mileage and emissions standards. Similarly, other industries need to be encouraged, by carrot or stick, to drive innovation in the green economy of the future. Otherwise, the U.S. will be left behind, as other countries develop those technologies and market them globally.

Republicans have controlled the ‘green’ narrative – they have sold Americans on the idea that environmentalism is too costly – that it will wipe out jobs – lots of jobs. In right-wing propaganda, environmentalism is the practice of fringe extremists, who are surely unmanly, unpatriotic, anti-American, and “vaguely French.” To combat this narrative, the progressives need a new narrative. They need to convince Americans that “green” policies are the height of patriotism. We need to convey the message that this can be the start of a new industrial revolution in this country (my words) and that “green” policy is a national security imperative.

If we can free ourselves of this addiction to oil, then we could start to improve the situation in the Middle East. No longer would we treat the Middle East potentates as gas station owners – not caring what they do out back so long as they kept the pumps flowing, the price relatively low, and didn’t hassle Israel too much. Right now, we are suffering the consequences of allowing these regimes to do whatever they’d like “out back.” By weeding the world from oil, we will strip the economic engine that drives the corrupt, authoritarian regimes in almost all oil-rich states – and these countries will have to deal with their rapidly-exploding populations with greater fairness.

Worst of all, in the current situation, we are funding both sides in the war on terror. We pay for the American defense budget with our taxes (the bill for Iraq alone has already reached the yearly funding levels we would have without the war), and we fund the other side with our oil consumption. Our national security requires that we stop this mad cycle.

Friedman makes an interesting argument that won’t go over well with Democrats – that oilman Bush is uniquely positioned to do something about our oil addiction. As only Nixon could go to China, Friedman believes that Bush can push policy in a direction that Democrats want, but cannot not accomplish on thier own. Unfortunately, after decrying our oil addiction, Bush has done nothing to affect it. This is like Nixon going to New Mexico instead of China. It might be in the right direction, but it isn’t accomplishing anything, because he hasn’t gone nearly far enough.

I’m not sure I fully buy into that argument, though I believe that most Democrats would find too much political resistance if they tried to force the needed changes. There is one Democrat I think that has the gravitas, and who would have the mandate to do so – Obviously, I mean Al Gore. So, here it is Al – Green is the new Red White & Blue – not just because we need to take drastic action before the world burns itself up – but because the national security and foreign policy situations require a huge change in energy policy.

Besides touching off a global climate crisis, our oil-based economy has sparked a national security emergency. We need to rapidly develop alternatives to fossil fuels and we need a policy that can help drive the needed change. When we stop demanding oil, the price will drop. Suddenly, a lot of our foreign policy problems will seem a lot more manageable. Without our billions funding the terror groups, the war on terror will start to look more like the one-sided affair the Bush Administration promised. And we jsut might save the world, while we're at it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Impressions on Day 1 of the Major League Baseball playoffs: Today brought more bad news for the Mets, even though they didn't play. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, had wroked his way up to being the Mets' No. 1 pitcher with Martinez on the disabled list and Glavine still rounding into form after his blood clot scare. Today came the news that Hernandez hurt his calf while working out, and is doubtful to pitch tomorrow. Things are looking better for the Dodgers every day -- which means the Mets have them right where they want them.

There were games played today. As I expected, I was taken completely by surprise by the early play of the Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, I know that's a contradiction -- but I did write earlier that this the way it works. Oakland is a well-balanced team. The Cardinals, when they're healthy and on their game, have a great hitting, experienced lineup. Each of these teams are capable of pulling off upsets.

Speaking of great-hitting lineups -- it's the middle of the 3rd inning and I am reminded that the New York Yankees do have the best-hitting lineup in baseball history. That's a sweeping statement, but probably true. It's not exactly Murderer's Row (the '27 Yankees) with Gehrig, Ruth and a bunch of strong hitters. But, in fact, the '06 Yankees have a deeper batting order. No Ruth or Gehrig, but all 9 batters have been all-stars.

While one might say the Yankees do not have the big home-run hitter that other teams have, they have a bunch of power hitters -- and some of them have had huge seasons in the past. Giambi and Rodriguez are big bats, and, along with Sheffield and Matsui, may for a pretty powerful core. Then, there's Abreu who still has power but has become a terrific doubles hitter since coming over from the Phillies. And Jeter, Damon and Posada hit their share of dingers. Leaving us to mention the best hitter of them all -- Robinson Cano. It's rare that you can identify a future Hall-of-Famer in only his second season, especially one as young as Cano.

I have to think that this year's team will erase the 'disappointments' of recent years. Yankees fans really don't experience great disappointment. For them, a disappointment is any year the Yankees don't win the World Series. This year there will be no such disappointment. The Yankees are back on top. With their hitters and Chien-Mien Wang, the Yankees could probably throw out a couple of other stiffs and still waltz into another title. But Mike Mussina is no stiff. If Randy Johnson can step it up, neither is he. The Yankees should have enough pitching to stay in games, and their hitters will win them. So you have it: The Fisch Fry picks the hated Yankees to win it all.
More baseball: The Fisch Fry's 2006 Season Awards -- American League MVP -- Because of the Red Sox collapse, the man who deserves it most, David Ortiz, won't get the award. The Twins have several decent candidates, with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and pitcher Johan Santana. This will probably work against all three. Frank Thomas will get some votes in Oakland, but this would appear to be Derek Jeter's year. Obviously, on numbers alone, there is no way that you can argue that Jeter is the best or most valuable, but Jeter's genius has always transcended his numbers. He'll finally get the recognition with this year's MVP award, virtually punching his ticket to Cooperstown.

American League Cy Young: Johan Santana should get every vote.

In the National League: As a Mets' fan, I'd like to put forward a case for Carlos Beltran. He's certainly been incredibly valuable. Unfortunately, injuries may have cost him some home runs and RBIs, and definitely negatively impacted his batting average down the stretch. There are two players probably more deserving of the award -- Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols.

Howard had an incredible season, falling just short of the 60-home run season that only Ruth and Maris touched before McGwire, Sosa, Bonds and designer-steroids arrived on the scene. And, though the Howard's Phillies did just miss out on a playoff spot, they actually had a better record than Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols had a phenomenal year, just missing out on a 50-home run season, even though he missed a bunch of games with an injury just before the All-Star break. Even with that missed time, Pujols finished in the top three for all three Triple Crown categories.

Though the Phillies had a better record, the Cardinals, and not the Philies, are in the playoffs, and that will make all the difference in the MVP voting. Pujols will win the award, though Howard would probably win it, if the two teams' fortunes were reversed. If the Houston Astros had won one more game -- and the N.L. Central division, I think Howard would win this award (especially if the Phillies hadn't faded in the final week). I find it amazing that two players so young are so good. As it is, Albert Pujols should win the MVP this year.

The National League Cy Young -- with no pitcher winning more than 16 games, there is no pitcher in the N.L. that clearly deserves the award -- maybe none that deserve the award, at all. Still, someone has to win the award every year. So, I would go with Brandon Webb, He was the best pitcher in the league from start to finish, tied for the lead in wins and No. 1 in E.R.A.

Notice that I didn't pick winners for Rookie of the Year? It's a very strange award in baseball. Because of the minor league system, baseball has had to develop arbitrary rules for who qualifies as a rookie. Many rookies, probably most rookies, have played in the majors beforethis season, but not enough to lose their eligibilty for the Rookie of the Year award.

Still, there was a bumper crop in the National League, at least. In the N.L., I'm partial to the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, who had already convinced me he was going to be a star when he was up with the Nationals last September. The Marlins have four excellent candidates -- Marlins' pitchers Josh Johnson (one of the league's best pitchers this year) and Anibel Sanchez (pitched a no-hitter), and infielders Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. The best rookie pitcher might have been Matt Cain, who was the best pitcher in the National League over the last 6 or 8 weeks. The Dodgers have a fine rookie in Andre Ethier, but I don't see him as a serious candidate for the award, with so many other top contenders. Luke Scott of the Houston Astros and Conor Jackson of the Diamondbacks are also noteworthy rookies (I think Jackson counts as a rookie).

The American League had some good young pitching, though most seemed to end up badly, or on the disabled list. Jered Weaver was unbelievably poised and effective for a real rookie, ringing up a stunning 11-2 record. Detroit's Justin Verlander was also great, and looked like a serious Cy Young candidate, until he struggled down the stretch, in August and September. Another Tiger, Joel Zumaya, was a revelation in Detroit's bullpen, with his 100 mile-an-hour fastballs. All of these fine young hurlers were surpassed by the Twins' rookie thrower, Francisco Liriano, who was a dominating a rookie pitcher as there has ever been. He looks like he might be the second coming of Mariano Rivera with a truly unhittable pitch. Though he pitched 23 innings last year, I believe that Francisco Liriano is eligible for the A.L. Rookie of the Year award, and he will almost certainly win it.

Now, we can put the regular season behind us and enjoy what promises to be a very intriguing postseason. The Yankees may be the early favorites, but the Twins are a very close second in the A.L. If Liriano were healthy, the Twins would probably be the favorite in the American League. Their late-season fade notwithstanding, the Tigers have a really good team, too. The A's seem like the one team that doesn't look like a serious World Series contender in the A.L. -- so, they will probably end up surprising everybody. I'm expecting a great championship series between the Yankees and Twins.

In the National League -- I'm very nervous about the Mets' pitching. They have the best line-up, but their starting pitching just doesn't seem World Series material. That said, if El Duque and Glavine are on their games, the Mets should have enough to get through. Still, the Dodgers have an awfully good team, and will give the Mets all they can handle. The Padres' pitching should be enough to overcome the Cardinals' bats, especially since St. Louis' pitching seems so weak right now. A Mets - Padres series would be an interesting match-up. As a Mets' fan, I'm feeling a little better about the team than I did a couple of days ago, when I gave the Mets little chance of beating both the Dodgers and Padres. Now, I'd give them at least even odds...but, I admit I'm biased.

So, where does that leave us? Another Subway Series? Baseball could do worse. I'd like to think that baseball fans across the country would be more interested this time around, when compared to the 2000 series -- a great, hard-fought series, even though the Yankees won in 5 games. I have to believe that MLB and FOX are hoping for a Yankees - Dodgers match-up -- which would be a ratings bonanza. I think that's a decent possibility -- about as likely as a Mets - Yankees match. And I'm not counting out the Twins, or even the Tigers or Padres. I plan to enjoy it all, regardless. Hope you will, too.

And one last note -- the Federales are saying the L.A. Times got the story 'significantly' wrong -- they aren't saying which of the players named in the article were not fingered in Grimsley's affidavit, but it appears that at least one player has been unfairly maligned.