Monday, April 30, 2007

You Don't See That Every Day! The Colorado Rockies' rookie shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, turned an unassisted triple play. Reportedly, this was the 12th in major league history. Clearly, a play that rare bears mentioning. Tulowitzki wasn't even sure about it. After catching the drive hit at him (for the first out) and stepping on second to double up the runner who had been on second (out #2), Tulowitzki ran through the base, and tagged out Edgar Renteria, who was running from first base (triple play!!!). Tulowitzki didn't realize he'd just registered all three outs himself, so he went back and stepped on second base, then threw on to first base. You can't be too careful, when you're putting together an unassisted triple play. It can get really confusing.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Chief is Back -- I was a little late to RFK last night, for the Nats-Mets game. As I as walking past the Armory, the fireworks rose up above RFK and exploded in the early evening sky, signaling that one of the Nationals had hit a home run. The first time the Nats scored during the first inning this year. Coming in the 23rd game of the season, it hardly approached the historic streak of 28 games without scoring in the first inning, held by a Chicago White Sox team of yore -- but, it was an amazing streak of early futility.

As I settled in my seat during the second inning, the scoreboard registered a 3-0 lead, coming off Austin Kearns' three-run slam. This was a surprise on two levels -- reflecting the Nats' first first-inning score, and also reflecting that young Matt Chico had kept the powerful Mets' lineup off the board in the first inning. He did the same in the second inning, before surrendering runs in the third and fourth innings.

Chico was a surprise, as he earned his second win of the year, pitching far better than he did in his last start, and showing much better control than he has in any of his prior starts. The real story, though, was the Nats' bullpen. In the sixth inning, Saul Rivera replaced Chico, with the bases loaded, and the Nats clinging to a 3-2 lead. Rivera struck out the Mets' pitcher, Oliver Perez. With the crowd roaring for a strikeout, Rivera got Jose Reyes to ground out to Ronnie Belliard.

The Nats extended the lead to 4-2, in the bottom of the sixth. Rivera returned to the mound in the seventh inning, and retired the side in order. In the eighth inning, Jon Rauch gave up back-to-back doubles that brought he Mets back to one-run again. Then, Rauch responded by getting three straight fly ball outs, setting the stage for Chad Cordero in the ninth.

"The Chief" had struggled in each of his outings this year, but on this night, Cordero came out of the gate with his overpowering fastball. It made all the difference. Cordero dominated Reyes, who finally hit a weak foul pop fly that Ryan Zimmerman put away for the first out. The second out was a long fly by Paul LoDuca, that settled into Chris Snelling's glove just shy of the warning track in left center.

That brought up Carlos Beltran, as the Mets final hope. Cordero blew strike one down the heart of the plate. When Cordero began his windup for the next pitch, with the crowd roaring, Beltran signaled for a "time out." The umpire, either didn't notice, or decided not to give it. Beltran had started to step out of the box, but hurried to get back into his hitting stance, as Cordero reared back to fire his next pitch. The ball blew down the middle for strike two. Finally, Beltran popped up to Belliard, and "the Chief" closed out his first 1-2-3 inning, this season. The fireworks exploded over RFK, for a second time.

Summing up -- a lot of good signs for the Nats here: Good defense, including a spectacular grab by Zimmerman in the second inning; Kearns getting back his power stroke; scoring runs in the first inning, for the first time this year; Chico walking only one batter over 5-plus innings, the strong middle relief pitching; and Cordero setting down the Mets' best, in order. There was also good news from the minor leagues, as Jason Simontacchi pitched five good innings in a AAA rehab outing. The Nats' quest to avoid 100 losses is starting to look like mission possible.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Speaking of Politics and the Media -- If you haven't seen the special that ran on PBS this week, by Bill must watch it -- online or as a rebroadcast. Just make sure you watch it. It should be required viewing for any professional journalist, and should be a core component of any civics curriculum. Mostly, though, all consumers of media ought to watch this -- and aren't we all consumers of media? The program is a modern cautionary tale on why we shouldn't believe everything we read...or see, or hear, in the media.

Moyers explores why only a few reporters bothered to question the credibility of the Bush Administration's claims about Iraq, in the run-up to war -- and why most of the so-called "serious" pundits and reporters bought into the propaganda, hook, line and sinker. It's an interesting assessment, really a damning indictment, of a media that has become accustomed to being spoon-fed stories and sound-bites, from both parties. They have mistaken "balance" -- reporting the views of both sides (as if there really are only two sides) -- for the good, fair reporting and actual truth-seeking, which used to be the aspiration of most dedicated journalists.

The program is called "Buying the War." You can find it on PBS' website at Buying the War
The Democratic Presidential Candidates Debated Tonight (sort of) -- There were no clear winners. Some folks thought Obama did the best job, while others thought he seemed hesitant, unfocused and amateurish. Some thought Hillary Clinton was the star, while others found her shrill. Some folks thought that John Edwards gave the best account, while others were struck by his silences and evasive answers. Some folks even preferred Bill Richardson or Joe Biden, while others were almost oblivious to their performance.

Everyone seemed to agree on a few points. First, there wasn't much debating going on, except for Mike Gravel's attacks on the other candidates, who, according to Gravel's interpretation, are contemplating nuclear attacks on Iran. Second, everyone agrees that Mike Gravel is at least a little bit nutty. Third, Dennis Kucinich's young wife is stunningly sexy. Readers might recall that Kucinich was a bachelor when he ran four years ago -- and his supporters arranged some dates for him, or something like that. This happy match, between the leprechaun candidate and the sultry redhead, is the result. Everyone also agreed that the format was not very illuminating, and there was a consensus that Brian Williams and MSNBC did not do a good job moderating/hosting the event. Perhaps, they should have gone with FOX, after all.

Finally, according to the article on the New York Times' website: "Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut also took part in the debate." The Dodd campaign must be delighted by this exciting news, confirming their candidate's attendance. Apparently, Sen. Dodd did not say anything worth mentioning in the Grey Lady's report.

On other topics: Fisch will be in attendance at RFK, Friday night -- to catch the Mets, in action against the Nationals, weather permitting. Regular readers can look forward to my report, though I might not get it up before Saturday.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nats Find a Stopper, Still Seek a Closer -- Shawn Hill had a great outing this afternoon, for the Nationals. In Philadelphia, Hill took a shutout into the 8th. His crisp sinker was causing the Phillies to beat ball after ball into the ground. In the eighth, Hill surrendered a home run to Aaron Rowand, but rebounded to close out the inning, with the Nats holding a 4-1 lead. When Hill opened the 9th inning by walking Shane Victorino, Manny Acta made the call to the bullpen, to bring in the Nats' putative "closer."

Chad Cordero gave up a big blast by Chase Utley, that carried all the way to the wall in straight-away center, where it fell into Ryan Church's glove, a couple of feet shy of a home run. The next batter, Ryan Howard hit a smash down the right-field line, eluding Robert Fick, for a double. Two batters up, and both had hit Cordero very hard...and the tying run was coming to bat. Nervous moments for the Nats. Even the next batter, Pat Burrell, hit the ball hard, sending Austin Kearns back to the warning track, and scoring Victorino on the sacrifice fly.

With two outs, Cordero finally pitched like a closer, which is his pattern. He does dial it up, once he's gotten the second out, but sometimes that's too late. This afternoon, it was just in time. Cordero blew the third strike past Wes Helms, to earn the save.

Every team goes through stretches where they lose two, three, even four in a row. Winning teams have that one pitcher, who stops the skid almost every time -- a "stopper." Shawn Hill has shown he is that pitcher for the Nationals. Five starts for Hill, and there hasn't been a bad one yet. The last four have been masterful. With Chico, Williams and Patterson pitching poorly, Hill may have a lot of opportunities to show off his "stopper" stuff.

So, today's game raised two questions. Shawn Hill answered the first one. Nats fans can say the team finally has its ace -- a true stopper. The other question, still open, is whether Cordero can be counted on to be the team's true closer. Acta thinks the game is "a good sign that 'Chief' is bouncing back for us." Stay tuned.
Nationals: The Minor League Report: With the Nats back in free-fall, maybe it's time to look at what's going on down on the farm. I haven't had a chance to see any of the Nats' minor league teams in action, but we're blessed as the Nats have three affiliates within 2 1/2 hours drive -- so, a road trip may happen later this summer. In the meantime, I've combed the statistics, and I'm summarizing the highlights for you.

The most notable performance in April has been that of Joel Hanrahan, with the Nats' AAA affiliate, the Columbus Clippers. Hanrahan was the final cut among the various pitchers brought in to try out for the Nats' starting rotation. Hanrahan has great numbers, with 22 strikeouts and only 20 baserunners allowed in over 21 innings pitched. I suspect, if current trends continue, that Hanrahan will be up before Memorial Day, replacing either Matt Chico (who needs at least another year in the minors to master his craft) or Jerome Williams, who is on track to be the losing pitcher in each of his start this April. In fact, if Williams doesn't step up his performance this weekend, Hanrahan may jump up very quickly.

Another possibility for promotion could be Mike Bacsik. Bacsik is a veteran reliever, but he has also started once this April for Columbus. Bacsik's numbers are outstanding, most impressively striking out 13 and issuing only one walk in 15 innings. He could be added to the Nationals' bullpen, or given a shot with a start or two for the big club. Chris Booker and Chris Schroder have strong numbers out of Columbus' bullpen. Schroder hasn't allowed an earned run in ten innings, while Booker has struck out 14 in eight and a third innings. Billy Traber and Winston Abreu also have been extremely effective out of the Columbus bullpen.

Emiliano Fruto, who failed to make the Nats' bullpen, has been nearly unhittable as a starter, with only five hits allowed in 16 innings. Unfortunately, Fruto has issued a stunning 11 walks. He seems like a real-life Nuke Laloosh. If he ever cures his wildness, Fruto will have a very bright, major-league career. One other pitcher at Columbus bears mentioning. An unheralded Dominican, Felix Diaz, has put up very credible numbers, and he may yet find himself pitching for the Nationals, before the season is over.

Of course, any discussion of the Nats' prospects should begin with Kory Casto. Though he struggled mightily in a short stint with the big club this year, Casto has hit his stride, since he was sent down to Columbus. Casto has 2 HRs in 7 games, and is batting over .300. In contrast, Larry Broadway has not handled his demotion well. The first baseman has the same 2 HRs as Casto, but his total is spread over 19 games, and he is hitting an anemic .167.

Going a little deeper into the Nats' system, there are two or three notable performers with the Nats' AA affiliate in Harrisburg. The Nats' top pitching prospect is Colin Balester, and he has definitely pitched well for the Harrisburg Senators. Very encouraging results, especially his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even though his record is only 1-1, the only negative to say about Balester is that he has given up a few too many hits, with 21 in 22 innings pitched. If he can start to dominate a little more, cutting down on his hits-to-innings pitched ratio, Balester might have a shot at the big squad next year.

The big surprise at Harrisburg has to be Michael Hinckley. At 24, Hinckley is still young enough to be considered a prospect, but his performance at Potomac last year, a losing record and an E.R.A of 5.52, would not have merited much discussion of his potential. At Harrisburg, Hinckley has flourished. If anything, he's outpitched Ballester. He's 3-1, and has only allowed 15 hits in his 22 innings. Last year, Hinckley was hit around, and didn't overpower hitters, with only one strikeout for every two innings pitched. He's improved greatly in both respects. This year, Hinckley's one bugaboo seems to be his control. His walks/strikeout ratio was not good last year. He's probably still walking too many, with nine in 22 innings, but his 20 strikeouts so far have left him with a much improved (BB/K) ratio. He's probably on a slower track to the majors than Balester, but he bears watching.

Harrisburg also has one of the Nats' top position player prospects, the young outfielder Rogearvin Bernardino. As advertised, he has speed, with 10 stolen bases. Though he hasn't hit any home runs. Bernardino has a good batting average, above .290, and a respectable .360 on-base percentage. The Senators are also getting strong play from unheralded Josh Whitesell. He's been a strong hitter, showing both pop, with 4 HRs, and a very impressive .365 batting average (up .100 from his .264 average last year with the Senators).

Way down on the farm, the standouts at Potomac, so far, are the outfielder Marvin Lowrance and the starting pitcher John Lannan. Lowrance has a .302 batting average, and four HRs for the Potomac Nationals, the Nats' franchise that plays its home games closest to Washington. Lannan has a 3-0 won-loss record, and has 17 strikeouts and only 3 walks in 24 innings -- a truly amazing display of control. He may move up the ladder to Harrisburg quickly. I'm thinking I'll need to head out to Prince William County Stadium soon to see young Mr. Lannan pitch, while he's still in our backyard. Alexis Morales has nearly as impressive numbers, out of the Potomac bullpen.

A little farther up the road, up I-270, and then a little west on I-70, to be exact, the Hagerstown Suns have a few players worth mentioning. First, there is the Nats' highly touted outfield prospect, Chris Marrero. The 18-year old Marrero has decent numbers, hitting .275, with one HR. Presumably, his numbers will only get better as he gets accustomed to playing professionally. Looking a little more polished than Marrero, right now, is the outfielder Michael Daniel, with 5 HRs and a .290 batting average.

The Suns also have some of the Nats' most touted pitching prospects. Jhonny Nunez and Yunior Novoa have lived up to their billing in one respect, as they are each averaging about a strikeout per inning. However, both have been susceptible to the long ball, and Nunez has issued too many walks with 9 in 18 innings. Another prospect with some potential is Cory Van Allen, who hasn't issued a walk in over 9 innings, while striking out six. Coby Mavroulis has been fairly effective, out of the Hagerstown bullpen.

Lastly: Colton Willems -- the Nats' pick in the first round of last year's amateur draft is scheduled to pitch in the Gulf Coast League. If any information surfaces about young Mr. Willems, I'll try to report it here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rooney Saves United -- In a thrilling match, with the momentum swinging back and forth, Wayne Rooney struck just beyond the 90:00 mark, to deliver a crucial 3-2 victory to his Manchester United side. It was Rooney's second goal of the half, as United rallied back from a dispiriting 2-1 halftime deficit. Certainly, Manchester did not want to have the pressure of needing to win in Milan, in the return leg of their semifinal Champions League series with AC Milan, next Wednesday. Rooney's strike, off a neatly slotted pass by Ryan Giggs, beat Milan's Brazilian goalkeeper Dida, a few seconds after the game slipped into stoppage time...and touched off an explosion of joy among the Red Devils' faithful.

The game had started well for United, and miserably for Dida. A corner kick found it's way to Cristian Ronaldo's head, but Dida was unable to stop Ronaldo's header. The ball bounced off Dida, high into the air. Dida chased after the ball as it was coming back down, but wasn't able to get enough of his hand on to it, to keep it out of the goal. United followed with some excellent chances, but Dida did much better, making difficult stops on Michael Carrick, Giggs and Ronaldo.

Defensive breakdowns by United opened the door for the Milan squad, and it was Kaka that kept walking through. First, Kaka sprinted past Gabriel Heinze and cut his shot back beyond the reach of of United's 'keeper, Edwin van der Sar, just inside the far post for the tying goal. Then Kaka raced for a long ball and headed it away from the battling Heinze, who was knocked off the play by the charging Patrice Evra. That Left Kaka all alone in front of van der Sar, and the Brazilian buried the shot to put Milan ahead.

In the early parts of the second half, though United missed a golden chance early on, it was Milan that looked the more dangerous side. Kaka missed two excellent opportunities to gain his hat trick. With the United defense looking badly exposed, United responded by throwing themselves forward against a suddenly depleted Milan defense. Team captain Paolo Maldini and Gennaro Gattuso were both replaced because of injuries. The weakened Milan defense gave way, as Paul Scholes' touch over the defense came down to Rooney, who forced the ball under Dida's save attempt -- though Dida did slow the ball down, the shot got past him and found the goal.

While United continued to press the attack and challenge Dida, it seemed, as the clock edged towards 90:00, that Milan would escape with a hard-fought, deserved draw. However, as the game crossed into stoppage time, Giggs drove down the center, forcing Dida to cover the back post. Giggs delivered a nice pass to his right the crossing Rooney. Dida failed to react, holding his back post position, leaving Rooney a huge amount of real estate to aim at on the near side. He didn't miss. United got the much-needed win, making an all-England final a likely prospect. Chelsea meets Liverpool tomorrow, in the first leg of their semifinal series.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jozy Altidore continues to impress -- The announcer for Fox Sports Channel's broadcast of tonight's Red Bulls-Dynamo tilt referred to Altidore's living up to his billing as the "Next Big Thing in U.S. Soccer." I would take issue with that statement in one respect. I think he's the "First Big Thing in U.S. Soccer." O.K. That might be a slight exaggeration. Altidore's new teammate, Claudio Reyna might have been the first true "Big Thing in U.S. Soccer." Reyna, however, has never been a goal scorer -- he's the guy who distributes the ball, and maybe makes his teammates better. Moreover, after he left U.Va., Reyna played his pro ball in Europe. As Americans, we got to root for him, and see him play only in international matches...until tonight's match. Reyna played a good game, but Josmer Altidore was the real star.

Of course, Reyna is now finally playing pro soccer here in the U.S., and he gets to help develop the true "Next Big Thing." Altidore definitely has the tools to become a top-rank striker. Strong, fast, nimble, with some touch, and that undefinable instinct for the goal. I've been writing about Altidore since he first came on as a second-half substitute in a Red Bulls' game last summer. I'm delighted that he is getting national attention.

Altidore was the best player on the field tonight, constantly menacing the Dynamo goal. With a little more precision. Altidore might have scored earlier on one of several chances. Even with the Red Bulls playing a man down for much of the game, Altidore was far more dangerous than anyone on Houston's side. It will be interesting to see how his play changes when Juan Pablo Angel joins the team and, no doubt, takes on Altidore's role as the guy with his back to the goal.

Tonight, Altidore scored the game's only goal, taking a pass at the top of the box, and directing it past the marking defender. He raced around the defender, caught up to the ball and drove a quick shot towards the near post, in the upper corner, beyond the reach of Pat Onstad, the Dynamo goalie. Soon thereafter, coach Bruce Arena sent on a substitute to relieve the exhausted Altidore, who had kept battling despite being taken down repeatedly by the Dynamo defense.

With Altidore, the Red Bulls are a real contender. The Red Bulls are much improved, in many respects, but having Altidore in the starting side is the biggest change from last year. Maybe, with Angel on the way, soccer fans in the New York area will finally turn out to support their side.

This summer, Altidore will be playing for the U.S. in the U-20 World Cup in Canada. After that, I'd like to see him get some chances with the senior team. Even at 17, I think he's the equal of any of the U.S. strikers, with the possible exception of Landon Donovan. Besides Donovan, Altidore is the most exciting American player I have seen.

The U.S. national team coach, whomever it turns out to be, should try to get some senior international experience for Altidore, before qualifying begins for the 2010 World Cup. Altidore will still be only 20 years old in 2010. Nevertheless, I believe, if he is given the chance, Altidore will show that he should not only be included on the 2010 team, he will earn a place in the starting eleven.
A Correction: A correction and an apology is in order. After Thursday's disappointing loss to the Phillies, I wrote that the Nationals would be cellar-dwellers from start to finish this year. That was clearly wrong -- and not just as point of poor prognostication. It was wrong, as a statement of fact, at the time I wrote it. Unbeknownst to me, the Phillies had already fallen behind the Nationals. A simple check of the standings would have shown that I was misinformed. This is only my first official correction, but I hope to do better and avoid the need to publish any future corrections.

Tonight, the Nationals play in Florida, with the chance to move past the Marlins, and into third place in the division. Who woulda thunk it?

Though it is really early to make a definitive assessment, it appears that the Nationals were correct in not re-signing Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas, Jr. The Nationals decided instead to try and and find younger pitchers with more potential. The suspect candidates included a number of castoffs, and a few promising young hurlers within the Nats' own system. The choice seemed to defy logic. The pitchers being brought in from the outside could not be expected to match even the mediocre efforts produced by Armas and Ortiz, and the Nats' own prospects had struggled tofind spots in the rotation alongside Armas and Ortiz.

In truth, only one of the outside tryout candidates has made any impact. Most were complete busts. Jerome Williams did make the starting rotation, even though he has shown the least potential of the Nats' five starting pitchers. Still, Williams seems to have a firm grasp on the fifth spot, and hasn't pitched badly. Ramon Ortiz has been excellent for the Minnesota Twins. This, however, could not have been predicted. Ortiz, himself, actually credits the Twins' own Johan Santana for adding a new, highly effective pitch to Ortiz' repertoire. Though Ortiz is flourishing, Tony Armas has struggled mightily with his new team.

However, one cannot judge the Nationals' decision by comparing the results of the Nats' own pitchers with those they let go. The Nationals are building for the future. They need to find out what Patterson, Hill, Bergmann, Chico and Williams have to offer -- to see which of them will be part of that future.

The most surprising and exciting thing is that each of the Nationals' starters shows some promise, with the possible exception of the one somewhat proven quantity -- John Patterson, who still needs to build up his arm strength, following surgery last year. It will be a bonus if this motley crew can lift the Nats to respectability this year. Chico throws tonight, as the Nats hope to ride their momentum into third place -- a position that, only ten days ago, no one dared to think was still possible.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Night Lights: What I said last week about keeping Chad Cordero? Forget it. If the Nats can still get something for him, they should deal him. What is it with this guy? Maybe the Nationals need to scrutinize his warm-ups. Is it possible that he just isn't getting loosened up enough before he comes in? He's the closer, so it isn't like he has to come in on short notice. Maybe he needs to throw more warm-up pitches, or throw harder in the bullpen... (Scroll down to the end of this post for the A-Rod update, or read on for my report on the Nationals' game).

Though they eventually won in 14 innings, the Nationals blew a 5-0 lead tonight. Shawn Hill had shut down the Marlins through five innings. In the sixth, the Nats nearly broke it wide open. The Nats had the bases loaded and nobody out, but their rally came apart due to the quirks of Dolphin Stadium. A passed ball to the backstop had Hill break for home. Unfortunately, the backstop is very close to home plate and very springy. The ball came right back to the catcher and Hill was caught in a rundown. He actually managed to make it back to third, but a hard slide took him past the bag, where he was tagged out.

As it turned out, Hill strained his shoulder on that slide. He came out to pitch in the sixth, but gave up a two-run home run. With two runs in the sixth and two more in the eighth inning, the Marlins were clawing their way back into the game. Still, it looked like the Nats might manage to hold on to their lead, when Ryan Church threw out Aaron Boone, who was trying to go from first to third on a hit to center. The bang-bang play at third base preserved a 5-4 lead in the eight inning. In the ninth inning, Chad happened.

For his second straight appearance, Chad Cordero blew the save. This time, he did it in short order, as he surrendered a home-run to lead-off the ninth inning. Cordero gives up a lot of home runs, especially for a putative closer. I'm serious about the observation regarding his warm-ups. He rarely gives up a lot of runs, but he often gets into early trouble, either putting runners on base, who come around to score, or giving up the long ball. In the future, he should try throwing more warm-up pitches in the bullpen.

Cordero wasn't the only closer to to run into trouble tonight. Yesterday, the Phillies nearly blew a four run lead in the ninth, against the Nats. Tonight, Tom Gordon failed to hold the Phillies 1-0 lead in the ninth inning. In Milwaukee, the Astros got four runs in the ninth inning against the Brewers' bullpen, but the Astros' deeply troubled closer, Brad Lidge, gave back three of those runs in the bottom of the ninth, before Chad Qualls came in to nail down the game. Most notably, in the biggest game of the night, the Red Sox rallied against the incomparable Mariano Rivera, scoring five runs in the 8th inning. This was the first time in two years that Rivera blew two saves in a row.

While Cordero had good company in failure tonight, I think the Nats should try to to find a way to get Cordero ready to get some outs from the start of the inning, rather than after he's already got the team in trouble. If he cannot become more consistent, the Nats really should think about dealing him. Right now, I'd be much more comfortable with Ryan Wagner in the closer role.

It was important for the Nationals to get off to a good start on this road trip. They are starting a truly nightmarish stretch. They will play fifteen of the next eighteen games on the road. The only three home games in that stretch will be the series next weekend at RFK, against the New York Mets. The Mets beat up the Nationals last year, especially at RFK. If the Nats can win enough games during this stretch to preserve their dignity, they might defy expectations and avoid losing over 100 games.

The Nats deserved to lose this game. It should have been lost in the 13th inning. With two outs and runners on first and second base, manager Manny Acta really went against "the book," and ordered Jesus Colome to intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez. While Ramirez is one of the Marlins' best hitters, this moved the winning run, Boone, over to third base -- one wild pitch, or a walk away from scoring the winning run.

The Marlins were denied that game-winning walk when Colome got a called strike on a 3-1 count slider to Matt Treanor, a pitch that looked to be about six inches off the plate. Though Brian Schneider set his glove towards the outside corner, Colome didn't quite hit the target. Schneider had to move the glove a few inches, and pulled it back, getting the called strike. Colome then got the hitter with a fastball down the middle that left Treanor flailing at air.

Ryan Church led off the 14th inning with a single. Church then stole second, but he was still standing on second two outs later, when Chris Snelling hit a one-hop smash at the first baseman that ate up Mike Jacobs and went off his hand toward right field. Church was waved around by the third base coach, as the Marlins' second baseman retrieved the ball. The throw home beat the sliding Church, but the catcher, Miguel Olivo, wasn't able to hold on to the throw, which short-hopped him. Church was in safely with the go-ahead run.

It was up to Saul Rivera to nail down the save that Cordero had squandered five innings earlier. Rivera had better luck than that other Rivera had for the Yankees, earlier in the evening. Rivera got the first hitter to ground out to the second baseman, Rafael Belliard. The next batter, Mike Jacobs, doubled to left-center. Jacobs went to third when Schneider couldn't hold on to a pitch that was way outside. Rivera rebounded, striking out Borchard, and getting the final out on a grounder to shortstop.

So, the Nats' marathon road swing started with a 14 inning marathon game. The Nats can be relieved and delighted that they won. Hopefully, the injury to Hill will not be serious (not least because I added him to my rotisserie team earlier tonight).

Alex Rodriguez update: It looked like A-Rod had single-handedly beaten the Red Sox tonight. He has struggled at Fenway in the past, but not tonight. He homered twice (HRs #11 and #12) and had a double in his third at-bat. As mentioned above, the Yankees' Mariano Rivera blew a 4-run lead in the eighth inning. Trailing by one run in the ninth inning, Rodriguez failed to deliver, seemingly for the first time this year.

Everyone is wondering if the Red Sox will continue to pitch to A-Rod, or give him the "Barry Bonds" treatment. I'm guessing the Red Sox will continue to throw to him, if only in hopes that they can throw him off his stride, and get to him psychologically in the way that A-Rod seemed to struggle with his confidence last season.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

World-Class Talents -- The last 24 hours have provided us with incredible efforts from two of the finest professional sportsmen in the world. One name will be very familiar to Americans: Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod hit a game-winning three-run home run, this afternoon, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. This was his second two-out game-winning home run this month. He is in the midst of what may prove to be the finest April in baseball history.

Rodriguez's phenomenal start is all the more extraordinary, given the meltdown he had last summer, and the constant cascade of boos he had to endure at the big ballpark in the Bronx. Lest we forget, this is still the highest paid athlete in all of team sports. If it's possible to earn his $20 million-a-year salary, A-Rod is doing it right now. His statistics for the month of April will match the season totals for some pretty decent ballplayers.

The other amazing talent is Lionel Messi. If you aren't familiar with the name, you should be. He has been talked about as one of the all-time soccer talents since he was 15 years old. He is still two months shy of his twentieth birthday, and he has now created his singular moment: One of the most memorable goals, most impressive displays in the history of the sport. Messi is a native Argentine, and he has had the burden of being compared to the all-time Argentina great, Diego Maradona. Maradona is infamous for his off-the field behavior, and his "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup, but he is equally remembered for the most dazzling dribbling display ever on another goal during that '86 Cup tournament.

As hard as it is to believe, Messi now may have matched Maradona, dribble for dribble. It didn't come in the Argentina uniform, so the Argentine fans will continue to wait for such brilliance on Messi's part in a major international competition, wearing Argentina's blue kit. Messi plays for FC Barcelona, who currently sit atop the table in La Liga (and are still the incumbent European Champions League winner). Last night, against Getafe, Messi brought the crowd to its feet in collective disbelief and admiration. Everyone who saw it had to know they had witnessed something truly extraordinary.

Messi took a pass, short of the midfield stripe, near the right sideline (touch line, if you insist on using English terms). After dribbling across midfield, Messi cut the ball back between two defenders. One was completely faked and went down. The other recovered, and tried to keep pace with Messi. The young lion, however was determined. Messi finally outraced that defender, and then he cut back again towards the middle, eluding two more defenders with his deft, sudden shift.

By this point, it looked as if the entire Getafe defense was chasing after the streaking Messi, and losing ground. Messi pressed forward, and raced around the goalkeeper, as he pushed the ball towards the end line. Finally, Messi corralled the ball to the right of the goal and drilled a sharply angled shot, over a sliding defender, and in the net, for the most amazing goal in the last 20 years.

Want to watch Messi's goal for yourself? You should. Here's a YouTube link to click:
Messi's masterpiece - videoclip or Messi, en Francais or Golazo por Messi, en Espanol
O.K. They're not that good, yet. The Nats were the Nots (or the Naughts) again, for eight innings today. John Patterson was in trouble during each inning that he took the mound, with the Phillies hitting him HARD. Patterson gave up an extra-base hit in each inning, including four doubles and a home run. He was also wild, with four walks and a wild pitch. Ultimately, Patterson was charged with three runs in his four-plus innings.

On the other side of the ledger, Jaime Moyer really quieted the Nationals' bats, until the ninth inning. In that respect, you have to give the Nats credit for not just folding their tents. Down 4-0, Ryan Zimmerman led off the ninth with a double, and Dmitri Young doubled him home. The Phillies brought in Tom Gordon to squelch the rally, but the Nats kept battling. Austin Kearns was hit by a pitch. Ryan Church hit a bloop single to load the base with no one out.

The Nats' faithful were on their feet, trying to cheer the next three runs home. Alas, it wasn't enough. Robert Fick flied out, as Young tagged up to score the second run. Brian Schneider grounded out to the second baseman, and Chris Snelling struck out, looking at a nasty curveball, ending the rally and the game.

The lessons of today's game: The Nats aren't nearly as bad as they looked in that first week, but aren't as good as they have looked over the previous week. They're missing on a few cylinders, and that is why they will be a cellar-dweller from start to finish.

The pitching: Patterson was supposed to be the Nats' top pitcher -- their 'ace.' He isn't even a good number 3 pitcher right now, and the Nats need at least that from him. Shawn Hill could prove to be not only the best pitcher on this staff, but a pretty good pitcher by any standard. Jason Bergmann is looking as if he has put it together enough to be a good no. 2 or no. 3 pitcher. If Patterson can step it up, the Nats' could live with the maturing rookie, Matt Chico, and the struggling-to-get-it-back-together veteran, Jerome Williams, in the no. 4 and no. 5 slots. Right now, that seems questionable. Patterson has the talent, but he is coming off a serious injury -- it might take awhile for him to regain his sharpness.

On offense, it's also pretty simple. The Nats need more consistent production from Ryan Zimmerman, but one expects that this will come. Where the Nats can be expected to struggle is with the outfield production. Ryan Church was hot for awhile, now he's cold. He's a streaky hitter. Too streaky. Austin Kearns is a good overall player, but he's not a clean-up hitter (where he started the season), or even a fifth-spot hitter. He's the kind of guy you can have in right field, if you're getting all kinds of offense and power from the other outfield positions, and from the corner infield positions.

Right now, the Nats are at least one, maybe two outfielders short. If Nook Logan can fill centerfield, and hit like he did before he was hurt on opening day, the Nats could get by with that, so long as Church becomes more consistent. Chris Snelling isn't going to be a major contributor, and Michael Restovich isn't likely to be, either. The Nationals also need more production from the catching position. Schneider is showing signs of coming around, but, once again, he made a crucial rally-killing out. He does the right things, hitting behind the runners, etc. It's just that except for his home run, yesterday, and a good game earlier in the week, he hasn't hit the ball squarely. Far too many of his outs have come on weakly hit balls.

The Nats seem to have some of the answers already in place, but probably not enough of them to be consistent winners this year. In baseball, though, there's always next year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Are the Nats Really This Good? Don't look now, but the Nationals are hot. With a 13-inning marathon win tonight, the Nats have won 4 of the last 6 games. They are getting decent outings from the starting pitching, each time out. The streak started with Jason Bergmann's win in Atlanta, last week. It was Bergmann's turn again, tonight. He pitched very well. In the second, he got careless and served a meatball that the Phillies' pitcher drove to deep center for an RBI double, and he ran into a rough patch in the 7th inning, before being relieved. Otherwise, Bergmann was dominating the Phillies' lineup.

The offense looked good, too. Brian Schneider rallied the Nats in the bottom of the 2nd, with his first big hit of the year -- a 3-run home run. Then, the Nats actually worked together to manufacture a run, just the way you plan it when you set the lineup. Felipe Lopez led off the third inning with a single, and then stole second. Rafael Belliard was walked. Ryan Zimmerman hit a long fly down the right field line, allowing Lopez to tag up and advance to third. Finally, Dmitri Young drove a ball to deep center, again allowing Lopez to tag up and, this time, score.

So, everything was clicking, until the seventh inning, when Bergmann got in a little trouble. Saul Rivera wasn't able to deliver, in relief of Bergmann, allowing the two inherited runners to score, but Micah Bowie came on to get an inning ending, lead preserving double play. Jon Rauch was great in the 8th inning. Then Chad happened. A closer cannot continue to live as dangerously as Cordero does. Unsurprisingly, he allowed the first two hitters to single off him. After that, sacrifice bunt and a ground ball out was enough for the Phillies to score the tying run, touching off the mini-marathon that ensued.

The surprise hero was probably Michael Restovich. Called up in the afternoon, as Kory Casto was sent down, Restovich made a big sliding catch, and had two hits, including the big hit in the 13th inning that advanced Chris Snelling to third. A Lopez fly ball was enough to score Snelling with the winning run. Except for Rivera and Cordero's big hiccups out of the bullpen, this is the kind of game every good team tries to put together each night out.

So, are the Nats turning into a good team? Well, last time I saw them in person, on Opening Day, they were a terrible team. They had one good inning in the first week. They are definitely looking a whole lot better. I'm planning on going to tomorrow afternoon's game. Hopefully, I'll get to see a pretty good team. It will be a get-away day lineup, but I'm looking to see John Patterson turn in a good effort, in contrast to his opening day nightmare. Then, I'll answer the question about how good the Nationals are.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Day of Mourning -- There's always things going on in the world -- things I'd like to write about. In sports: The Nationals have won two games in a row -- we might even whisper about a winning streak. while D.C. United ponders 6 goals given in 2 games, a ride up I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike takes one up to East Rutherford, where D.C. United's one-time coach may be putting together the biggest surprise in the MLS, with young Josmer Altidore, veteran signings Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis, and today's announcement of a potential coup, pulling the Colombian national Juan Pablo Angel away from fading Aston Villa. Angel will be an instant hit with the large number of Colombians in the New York metropolitan area, and he may be a great addition on the field, as well.

In the world: John Edwards' campaign seems to be gaining traction, at least among the party activist blogosphere. The Iraq mess only gets deeper. The Darfur genocide goes on, as the world still only talks about doing something.

Today, however is a day of mourning, in so many ways. As a nation, we Americans are in shock over the events yesterday on the Virginia Tech campus. The world has taken notice, and shares our shock. We must also, though, ask the world to remember another great tragedy. Yesterday was Yom Ha'Shoah. The Israeli national holiday translated into English as Holocaust Remembrance Day (technically the date was Sunday, but it is observed here on Monday, when the date falls on Sunday). The connection is even more poignant today, as the news from Blacksburg comes with the almost obscene irony that one of yesterday's victims was a professor who was a Holocaust survivor himself.

The horror at Virginia Tech was a kind of mini-Holocaust -- a few minutes of enormous terror and senseless murders. It's worth remembering the pain here is but an infinitesimal fraction of the agony that the Jewish people suffered, beginning with Kristallnacht some seventy years ago. For Jews, remembering the ones we have lost -- the ones we remember each year at this time, and the survivors we honor is important, but it should not replace our grief and our empathy for the those lost and those who were so traumatized in Blacksburg yesterday. The Holocaust museum calls for a week of remembrance. Today is a day of profound mourning in America. It is also a day of remembrance for all of us, to remember all the victims of senseless violence.

Last night, I read a complaint about narcissistic grief junkies who had no connection to the tragedy. I'm not sure what connection one needs to have to feel pain. That individual thought being a Virginia Tech grad would suffice. I went to law school nearby. While the area has a place in my heart, I'm not sure how that is of any relevance. We should all feel shock and grief, even if it's not the inconsolable grief a loved one feels. As all Jews are called to remember on Yom Ha'Shoah, today -- and this may may seem cliched or hokey to some -- today, we are ALL Virginia Tech, all Hokies.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Is D.C United in Deep Trouble? The MLS season is two games old, and United has started by losing both of its games. A 2-1 loss last week, to Colorado, and a 4-2 pasting by the Wizards and Eddie Johnson in United's home opener. So, I've asked the United in real trouble, or were these flukey losses? I'd say the answer is pretty clear: United has some serious problems, and it's not clear if the team has what it will need to fix those problems.

Everyone has focused on United's incredible offensive potential. It was on display tonight, as United's creative passing led to numerous moments of danger for the Wizards. However, United looked shaky on defense in their Champions' Cup games. Troy Perkins show great potential, but also has been exposed as an unpolished talent in goal. It's the slow-footed defense that really poses problems for United. The Wizards were determined to use their team speed to break down the noticeably slower D.C back three, and they were quite successful with that strategy.

The slick conditions at RFK definitely played into the Wizards' approach, but it is dangerously naive to blame United's problems on the weather. The Wizards' tactics really exposed United's weaknesses, and the rest of the league will take notice. While United's emphasis on attacking is fun to watch, they will have to find a way to slow down the opposition, or they will be "surprised" over and over again, throughout the Spring and Summer, and, especially, in the Fall.
Nats Grab the Early Lead - The Nationals took a 2-0 lead over the New York Mets in the 2nd inning at Shea. The visitors got out of first inning trouble, when Austin Kearns gunned down Carlos Beltran at the plate -- the first time starting pitcher Shawn Hill did not surrender any runs in the first inning. The Nats responded to this bit of good news by grabbing their earliest lead of the season. Dmitri Young led off the second with a long home run to center field. With one out Ryan Church doubled, advanced to third on a bloop single by Brian Schneider, and scored on a groundout to the right side, by Chris Snelling.

There's a long way to go in this game (the Mets' rallied with a run in the bottom half of the inning), but this is the third straight game in which the Nationals have taken a lead -- and their opponents have been the predicted cream of the National League, Atlanta and New York. Heck, the Nationals even got their first stolen base of the season, when Felipe Lopez snatched second during the third inning.

It may turn out to be a short tease, but the Nots are starting to resemble a major league baseball team. This offers a lot more hope for Nationals' fans, than did the Nots' play during the first week and a half. This suggests the Nats could be competitive on a daily basis, which is almost more than Nationals' fans could dare hope.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Mentor Schools the Apprentice - In their first managerial duel since Manny Acta left Willie Randolph's staff to manage the Nationals, the mentor got the better of the apprentice. Of course, Randolph isn't the most experienced manager himself -- he's only a second-year manager, but he does have a division pennant on his record, as well as experience on Joe Torre's Yankee coaching staff. Randolph also has the better team. The Mets rallied from a 2-1 deficit, to beat the Nationals at Shea Stadium.

The Nats' manager, Acta relieved starting pitcher John Patterson, with one out in the sixth inning, and Jose Reyes standing on third base. Acta wanted to turn around Carlos Beltran and force him to bat right-handed. He brought in Micah Bowie, and the strategy worked, as Beltran struck out. Unfortunately, Carlos Delgado was up next, and he singled to drive in Reyes and tie up the game. The Mets went ahead to stay in the seventh. Round one to Willie Randolph.

What the heck is up with Brian Schneider -- how much longer can the Nationals keep him in the lineup? Schneider was a darn good catcher a couple of years ago. He was the back-up on the United States' team in the World Baseball Classic. Actually, a lot of people blamed that experience for ruining Schneider's season last year. Schneider said the problem was an injury, which didn't allow to swing easily until well into the second half of the season. He did come on strong at the end. This year, he is off to an even slower start. Schneider had a hit tonight, but he's still batting in the low .100s. He led off the ninth inning tonight. With the Nats down only one run, they needed Schneider to get on base. Schneider grounded out.

Worse, even than Schneider's hitting, has been his defense. He's had some trouble with pitches in the dirt. More significantly, he hasn't thrown out a single runner this year (I believe the other team has stolen 9 bases in 9 attempts). In the sixth inning, with Reyes on first, the Nats decided to give Schneider a chance, and called for a pitchout. They guessed correctly, as Reyes was running. Schneider, however, dropped the ball, and never got off a throw. If Schneider can't hit or slow down the other team's runners, how much longer can the Nats afford to keep him as their starting catcher?
Hail to the Chief! Boy, does Chad Cordero make it interesting. I can see why the Nationals would be willing to deal him, if they got the right offer. From what I've heard, though, the Nats' front office has a seriously inflated idea of the Chief's value. They missed out on a deal for Soriano because they asked too much -- and Soriano was a legitimate star. For Cordero, they have reportedly asked the Diamondbacks for Brandon Webb (a laughable proposal, in itself), AND a prospect. If the D'backs managed offered Webb for Cordero, they should be sued for malpractice. Maybe, the Nats are committed to keeping Cordero, unless they get an offer too good to refuse.

As dicey as Cordero's outings usually are, I would like the Nationals to hang on to him. He belongs in Washington. There's nothing like listening to the game on the radio at the beginning of the ninth inning, when the station introduces Cordero with "Hail to the Chief." That is the kind of marketing tradition you just can't buy. OK. So, he comes into the game with a two-run lead and loads up the bases, with two outs...and then goes to a full-count on the next batter. Thing is, Cordero got the strikeout to save the game. He gives up too many gopher balls, and he rarely blows through the ninth inning. With all that, Cordero is a top closer -- you give him away, and you have no idea when you might get another like him. Hang on to him, Nats -- he'll become a Washington institution. Maybe the team will, as well.

On the game: Bergmann struggled with his control early, throwing a few 55-footers. Still, he had great stuff, ringing up the strikeouts. The Braves couldn't touch him. Again, the starting pitching shows some potential. Also showing potential: Ronnie Belliard. He's hitting the heck out the ball, and he even flashed some nifty glove work, tonight. When Guzman comes back, Acta will not have an easy decision. My guess is Acta will give Guzman a chance to show he can play as well as he did in spring training. I would also guess that Acta won't hesitate to go back to using Belliard at second base, and Felipe Lopez at shortstop, if Guzman doesn't hit well right off the bat.

Hey, the Nats beat John Smoltz and the first-place Atlanta Braves. They deserve to enjoy it. Another sixty or seventy more like it would be nice (eighty is hoping for too much, but if they can avoid 100 losses, the season might be tolerable).

The Nationals Win!! The Nationals Win!!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Nationals Are Leading a Game! Mark this on your calendar. April 12, 2007 -- about 9:30 p.m. Game 10 of the season for the Nats. In the 8th inning of a great pitching duel. Facing John Smoltz, with one out, Ronnie Belliard hits a ball to right to drive in a run. This is the first time this season that the Nationals have led during a game. Belliard had the historic RBI. The run was scored by Chris Snelling, and Ryan Zimmerman became the first National to come to bat with the Nationals in the lead. I might add that Zimmerman followed up by hitting a bloop single that scored Felipe Lopez for the second run. The Nats will try to get the game to Chad Cordero, who will be going for the Nats' first save of the season in their first save opportunity.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Nats Lose! So What Else Is New? Hmmmm....Well, the Nats did try to steal a base. The team's first attempted stolen base of the season. The Nats were the only team in the majors not to attempt a stolen base. In the fifth inning, Felipe Lopez was thrown out, trying to go from second to third base. Besides Lopez' failure to steal the base, one might also wonder whether it was a good idea. The Nots had their best hitter at the plate, with Ryan Zimmerman, and only one out. A single probably would have scored Lopez, even from second. Of course, the Nots had only scored three runs in the previous 42 innings, so I guess one shouldn't quibble with a little aggressive base-running, that would have set up a sacrifice fly opportunity for Zimmerman.

The interesting thing about the Nats' horrible start is that, with all the talk about the horrible early inning pitching during the Nots' first week, the starting pitching is starting to look decent. The real problems have been the field players. Their fielding has been miserable. The team leads the majors with twelve errors, and that doesn't include a large number of unrecorded mental errors, like throwing to the wrong base, or missing the cutoff man. The starting pitchers would look even better with good defense behind them.

The Nots' biggest problem, however, has been an anemic batting order. They did break through in the eight inning for three runs, bur six runs in the last 47 innings is nothing to write home about. Brian Schneider has been the worst of the worst, but no one has hit especially well. Church, Belliard and Lopez have been pretty good, but their good batting averages don't reflect much in the way of run production or extra base hits. When you watch the Nots play, you almost have to think the question isn't if or even when they will be no-hit by the opposing pitcher, but rather how many times they will be no-hit this year. I wouldn't be surprised if the Nots are no-hit a couple of times this year. Livan Hernandez took a no-hitter into the 6th innning, throwing junk. If the Nats run into some top pitchers on good days, when they are throwing really filthy stuff, the Nats may be lucky to get even a few hits.

Tomorrow night, the Nots will start Jason Bergmann. He will have to outduel likely Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz. The losing streak is not likely to end before the Nationals head to New York. It doesn't get any easier for the hapless D.C. baseball team.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Update: Ronaldo Adds 2 More for Manchester. Cristiano Ronaldo finally got a Champions' League goal. In the forty-fourth minute, Ryan Giggs (there's a recurring theme here) led the Manchester United attack out the middle of the field, finding Ronaldo out on the wing. Ronaldo took the pass, and and dribbled at the defense with great menace. When the ball is on Ronaldo's foot, defenders quake in fear, for good reason. The defense had to move cautiously, alert to Ronaldo's ability to sprint through or by them. Instead, Ronaldo just backed up the Roma defense, and shot the ball just inside the near post, as it curved around the defense and the helpless Roma goalie.

Ronaldo's goal capped off the finest first half any team has ever had in one of the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions' League. However, he wasn't done. Three minutes into the second half, Wayne Rooney showed he could play some defense, interrupting a Roma break-out, and sending a pass quickly back in, to Ryan Giggs, on the wing. Giggs' cross slid beyond the reach of the onrushing Alan Smith, and then beyond the Roma keeper, where it found the foot of a sliding Ronaldo, who knocked it in for his second goal of the game, making this a 5-0 laugher.

After 27 games, Ronaldo finally has a goal (now two goals) in Champions' League play. Maybe now, we won't have to endure his overdone histrionics every time he misses a shot. This can't be good news for the teams still left in this tournament. With the monkey now off his back, Ronaldo might be a much more effective team player in the semifinal, and possibly the tournament final.

Update to this Update: Man Utd. wins, by a 7-1 score. The prettiest goal might have been scored by Roma, but there's no room for style points in football.
Manchester United Scores Early and Often -- Tonight's Champions' League return match between Manchester United and A.S. Roma has turned into an early rout. Barely 18 minutes into the game Manchester United has scored three times. Their 3-0 lead gives Man Utd. a two-goal lead in the aggregate, really putting the pressure on Roma. The Roma defense has been almost nonexistent, though much of the blame for the first goal should fall on the Roma goalie, who drifted too far off his line, making it easy for Michael Carrick to chip it in over him. The second goal came for Alan Smith in the 17th minute, when the poorly marked Ryan Giggs found the poorly marked Smith running on goal. The third goal came only a minute later, as Wayne Rooney took a crossing pass from Giggs, at the top center of the six-yard box, and touched a shot just inside the far corner post.

Manchester United fell behind in Rome, after Paul Scholes was ejected in the first half. Roma scored just before halftime. While Rooney evened the score in the second half, Roma got the win and took a 2-1 aggregate lead. Now, trailing by 2 goals in the aggregate, Roma is really on the ropes, even with more than an hour still to play at Old Trafford. In the E.P.L., Chelsea is breathing down Manchester Utd.'s neck, but tonight's Champion's League performance is serving notice that the Red Devils may be the world's best team this year.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What An Inning at Shea! Why Baseball is the Greatest Game! Opening Day at Shea. The new stadium is going up in the parking lot, but for now, the old rat trap is still home for the Mets. I'm listening on the radio, as the game is sold out. The Phillies take a 1-0 lead off of sophomore John Maine, in the third inning. The Mets are having all kinds of trouble with the Phillies' own young hurler, Cole Hamels.

This brings us to the incredible fourth inning. There may be games that are more exciting to watch on television, but there is no better sport to listen to the radio. It's perfect. The fourth inning was as exciting an inning as I've ever had the pleasure of listening to on the radio.

In the top of the fourth, the Phillies loaded the bases with a lead-off single and two walks. Maine faced his opposite number, Hamels, with the bases loaded and nobody out. Hamels grounded towards first base. The charging Carlos Delgado fielded the ball and threw home for the first out of the inning. Then Maine got the play he desperately needed when Jose Valentin fielded Jimmy Rollins hot smash, threw to Jose Reyes for one out, and Reyes gunned his throw to first to beat the speedy Rollins and complete the improbable double play.

In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Beltran led off with a single, and advanced to third on Delgado's single. Facing men on the corners and nobody out, Hamels also buckled down. He struck out David Wright swinging, and Moises Alou looking. After a walk to Shawn Green loaded the bases, Hamels faced Jose Valentin. Valentin laced one to left field, scoring Beltran, and also Delgado who slid under the tag, to the inside of home plate. The tension in the fourth inning was as good as it gets. If you're a Mets' fan, the results were pretty fantastic, too.

In the fifth, Maine got in trouble, A home run by Chase Utley tied the score. Then, Maine loaded up the bases. With two outs, Ambiorix Burgos cam in from the pen to try and keep the Phillies from taking the lead. He got a grounder to Delgado to end the threat. Two innings in a row, the Phillies had loaded the bases, but could not score any of the runners. So, the teams go into the bottom of the fifth, tied 2-2.

In the bottom of the fifth, Jose Reyes led off with a pop-up. The Phillies' defense struggled with it, and the ball fell to the ground when Ryan Howard ran over Abraham Nunez. Reyes, running all out, had already reached second base, and entertained ideas of getting to third. Paul Lo Duca did advance Reyes with a grounder on the right side. A walk to Beltran put runners on the corners, but set up a possible double-play with the slow-footed Carlos Delgado coming to bat. Delgado wins the battle with a long sacrifice fly ball to score Reyes. Beltran was picked off of first during the next at-bat, but the Mets were back in the lead.

It was a lead that didn't last very long. In the sixth inning, Burgos faced Ryan Howard, last years's league MVP, with two-out and two on. Surprisingly, with first base open, the Mets chose to pitch to Howard. He made them pay for such arrogance. Howard drove one to deep right for a three-run home run, putting the Phillies on top, 5-3. As the game moved into the later innings, the question for the home crowd was whether the Mets had another rally in them, on this day.

As it happened, it took two rallies, because the first fell a little short. In the seventh inning, Delgado singled home one run to cut the Phillies' lead to 5-4. David Wright came to bat trying to extend an 18-game hitting streak, but Wright was robbed by a shoestring catch made by Shane Victorino to end the Mets' rally in the seventh inning. The Mets, however, weren't done. The first two hitters reached base, but Jose Valentin's attempted sacrifice bunt wasn't good enough, and Alou was thrown out at third. With one out, and runners on first and second, the pinch-hitter, Julio Franco walked on four pitches.

This brought up Jose Reyes, with the bases loaded. The Phillies needed the kind of improbable double play that Rollins hit into during that thrilling fourth inning. They almost got it. Reyes hit a grounder sharply towards Rollins, who knew he had to hurry if he was going to double-up the fastest man in baseball. Rollins tried to hard to hurry the play and ended up dropping the ball, as the tying run crossed the plate. The go-ahead run scored on a wild pitch. The Mets added another run on a sacrifice fly by Beltran, and broke the game open when David Wright crushed a double off the wall, missing a home run by a few inches. Alou closed out the scoring with a two-run single that was his second hit of the inning.

Billy Wagner, who had started warming up when the Mets were just starting their eighth inning rally, came on to close out an 11-5 opening day victory that thrilled the Mets' faithful -- actually an opening-day record crowd at Shea that was happy to forget the two tough weekend losses in Atlanta. The huge crows witnessed an incredibly exciting fourth inning, and a thrilling come-from-behind victory for the home team.
Beasley and Bocanegra both notch goals at Craven Cottage -- Facing immminent relegation, Manchester City is suddenly playing really well. City has won three straight games on the road. They got an early lead as Joey Barton made some space for himself at the top of the box and delivered a crisp shot for the game's first goal. A little later, Barton got the ball just ahead of the center circle. American international DaMarcus Beasley raced past Barton, pointing to a spot up ahead for Barton to deliver the ball. Barton slotted the pass nicely, as Beasley took the ball, ahead of the defense, at the top left of the box. With one step Beasley set up the Fulham goalie, and then he neatly struck the ball to the far corner, for Man City's second goal. Late in the second half, with Fulham trailing 3-0, another American, Carlos Bocanegra, stepped up on a corner kick and delivered a perfectly snapped header towards the near post for Fulham's only goal.

These goals were great to see, for American soccer fans. Beasley is showing signs of coming out of a very long slump. His speed and touch make him a very dangerous threat. Though he and Landon Donovan are both quite small, they can offer the U.S. an element that other coutries lack. As for Bocanegra, his defense continues to be underwhelming, but he is still quite a threat when he gets to come forward. Sometimes, I wonder if he is badly out of position, as a fullback. Still, a winning team will need to get the occasional goal out of its defenders.

As for the other Yanks there: Brian McBride was a constant threat. Though he has retired from international play, it's always great to see McBride get into the game. Clint Dempsey was a late substitution, but had some good touches, with no obvious misplays. One hopes that Fulham finds a way to start getting Dempsey into the game much earlier. He needs to get the work. Not much point in being over there, for Dempsey, if he spends most of his time on the bench. Though Beasley came off within ten minutes of Dempsey's coming on, it was nice to see four Americans on the same pitch.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Song Remains the Same - The Nationals lost another one, as they fell behind 2-0 in the first innning. The Nats' former ace, Livan Hernandez took the hill and and kept the Nots' off-balance, as he carried a no-hitter into the 6th inning. The Nots finally broke through with Austin Kearns RBI single in the 8th inning, making the score 3-1. That broke a string of futility -- the Nots had more than 30 at-bats with runners in scoring position without a hit.

The Nats had a chance to make it a little closer, but Robert Fick hit a gentle fly out with men on first and second, failing to advance the runners. Dmitri Young followed with a pinch-hit smash that the D-backs' leftfielder flagged down on the warning track. This would have been a run-scoring out, had the runners advanced during Fick's at-bat. The Nots can't afford to give away outs, but they can't expect to get hits either. They way they are going, the Nationals need to manufacture runs. The game ended with Kory Casto flailing at strike three, representing the tying run.

One could take solace in that this game was close. Shawn Hill pitched a great game, but for a rocky first innning. That might be some small solace, but truly it means little at the end of a four-game sweep by the visiting team. "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life," and 1-6 is no way to start a season. The Nots have not held a lead for even one at-bat this year, having pulled out their only win in the bottom of the ninth on Thursday.

"Historically awful" may not fully capture what is taking shape at RFK so far this season. I knew they were going to be bad, but this is getting ridiculous. This is a team that doesn't do any of the little things a team supposedly needs to do to win games -- and they aren't doing the big things, either. Maybe, the upcoming road trip will be kinder to the team than this opening homestand proved to be.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Mets gave up a 2-1 lead in the eigth innning. I'll say this again and again, but I don't feel confident when Aaron Heilman comes out of the bullpen for a second inning of work. The Braves won 3-2, and took away first place from the Mets for the first time in over a year. It looks like the Mets will have a real race on their hands this year.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

This is a tale of two teams. The Mets lost for the first time this year. The Nationals kept up their losing ways. The Mets are truly the shining city on the hill, in this scenario. The Mets fell behind the Braves, because of John Smoltz' superior pitching, and because of one big error by Shawn Green -- an error that opened the door for the Braves' big inning. Still, the Mets nearly pulled it out.

In the ninth inning, David Wright singled, and Carlos Delgado ran over to third base. Wright represented the tying run. Green came to bat with two outs, after Moises Alou flew out to short center. The Braves' first baseman, Craig Wilson, was holding Wright close to the bag, while also guarding the line to prevent a double down the first-base line. The Braves' closer, Bob Wickman, was not so attentive, and allowed Wright to get a great jump and steal second unchallenged. That oversight may have saved the game for the Braves. On the next pitch, Green smashed a line drive that Wilson was able to jump up for and catch -- a great game-saving play that Wilson could not have made, if he were still holding Wright close to the bag. Not quite the ending the Mets' were hoping for, but at least they went down with a fight.

The Nationals seem like a beaten team every time they take the field. The Nots seem destined for an historically bad season -- challenging the '62 Mets and the '04 Tigers for the worst records in history. When they take the field they are outclassed at nearly every position, most especially the starting pitching. Tonight, John Patterson marked the start of the second time through the Nots' rotation. Patterson had one bad inning -- the first. Put the Nots in a deep 3-0 hole. Jesus Colome had a tough inning in relief, in the sixth, that saw the D-backs stretch their lead.

The final score will show that the Nationals lost 7-1. In reality, they were shut out. Austin Kearns was credited with a home run, but replays showed it was a foul ball. The Nots did have some base runners, but failed to get the key, run-scoring hits, each and every time. They do very little right. They don't field especially well; they don't hit for power; with a few exceptions, they don't hit for a very high average; they don't have the speed to run the bases effectively, and they don't pitch very well -- at least not in the aggregate.

A tale of two teams. One at the top of the game, always in the game, with a chance of winning. The other, at the bottom, and usually out of the game by the end of the first inning. One playing with increasing confidence, and the belief that they can win every game. The other starting to play like they expect to lose every game...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Nationals Win! The Nationals Win! Amazingly enough, the Washington Nationals just won a ballgame. I was preparing a very different blog entry, while the Nationals were losing 5-0, and then 6-1. Matt Chico was knocked around by the Marlins' hitters -- going up against the Nationals' pitchers and defense,those Marlins' hitters have all looked like Hall-of-Famers.

I was already planning a t-shirt campaign to rechristen D.C.'s baseball team. I thought we should call them the "Naughts," as it was beginning to seem possible that the Nationals might not be good enough of a team to beat any of the 'real' major league teams. 0-162. Ridiculous? Of course, but the fact that the possibility even occurred to me says something about the downside potential of this team, with its pitching staff of castoff, nobodies and wanna-bees.

Then, the rally started. Ryan Church brought the game back into reach, stroking the Nationals' first home-run of the season -- a three-run job that made it 6-4. The bullpen did a great job, especially Jon Rauch who faced a runner at third with only one out in the top of the ninth. Rauch retired Ramirez and Uggla, something the Nationals' pitchers had found to be a nearly impossible task, up to that point.

The bottom of the ninth was one of the most memorable innings in the Nationals' short history. Just to make it sporting, the Marlins brought in Jorge Julio, to try and close the game. Julio was once an outstanding closer for the Baltimore Orioles for a very brief time. His career has been in a rapid tailspin over the last three or four years. It's beyond imagining why the Marlins think he can be an effective closer. With a strong closer, I think the Marlins could contend. With Jorge Julio, they may have a lot of games like this one.

Here's how it went. Ronnie Belliard doubled to open the innning. Robert Fick singled, and Belliard scored to bring the Nationals within one run of tying the game. Lopez bunted Fick over to second. Then, playing in his second major league game, Kory Casto came to the plate -- with the tying run at second base, in the bottom of the ninth. Casto proved he may possess the same unflappability that has marked Ryan Zimmerman's meteoric rise, since Zimmerman made his own impressive debut at the end of the 2005 season. Casto hit a line drive single to score Fick, and tie the score.

Zimmerman followed with a bloop hit that dropped in front of the Marlins' rightfielder. Casto sped over to third base, representing the winning run. With Casto ready to sprint home, the Marlins' catcher, Miguel Olivo, twice saved the Marlins from Julio's wildness. With Kearns at bat, Olivo made a great play to block a ball that was headed to the backstop. Julio ended up walking Kearns on four pitches, to load the bases. Facing Dmitri Young, Julio again bounced a ball that Olivo ranged wide to get his glove on the ball. Olivo's great catching just made the end more dramatic.

Young hit a ball down the line. Josh Willingham knew that if he caught the ball he would have no chance to throw out Casto at the plate. Willingham let the ball fall, hoping it would land in foul territory, It didn't. The Nationals wildly celebrated their dramatic win.

So, we can't call them the "Naughts." I'm still reserving judgment on the "Nots". Today, was a good day for the Nats, though. They have not had a decent outing from a starting pitcher yet, but they do have a win. As a result, I wrote a very different blog entry than the one I was planning during the fifth inning. Credit the Nationals' players for that. That ninth inning showed the team's upside potential. With Zimmerman and Casto, there are some players to get excited about. If they can get decent starting pitching, the Nationals would be a decent team.

The ledger regarding Nationals' management is still open. They planned to field the worst team in baseball, so they could get the first pick in the draft. I find that to be a betrayal of the fans, and the city that has paid so much to bring the Nationals' here. I also think it's just really foolish planning -- irresponsible management. The Nationals should be building bridges to the community, not deliberately burning the bridges aready there. I might add that it's also foolish to expect that a draft pick is a better bet than a proven free agent veteran. That's a discussion for another day, I guess. Today, the Nats won!
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- The good? Well, I'm enjoying the Mets' fine start to the '07 season, taking the first two games in St. Louis -- but I want to focus on D.C. sports. So, here goes:

The Good? D.C. United actually turned in a pretty good performance against Chivas. Though they went down in defeat 2-1, the score could easily have been reversed. Jaime Moreno's cheeky bicycle kick for a goal was real artistry and showed tremendous awareness of what was happening around -- realizing the keeper was out of position, and that the bicycle was the quickest way to get the ball over the defense and on goal. Also, Troy Perkins made some nice stops in goal, for United.

The bad? For starters -- Troy Perkins' mistake in failing to hold on to what turned about to be the winning goal. Once he got his hands on the ball, there was no excuse for letting it into the net. As disappointing as the result was, one can't say United was bad -- they were outplayed, to be sure. Yet, if Perkins holds on to that shot, and if Gomez is able to put away the one excellent chance he had in the second half, United could be playing in the Champions' Cup final.

The "bad" certainly applies to the Washington Nationals -- so does "the Ugly." The Ugly really describes Dmitri Young's play atfirst base. After the opener, I wrote that some of the Nationals players really belong in Triple-A ball. Dmitri Young has a major league quality swing, but he should not be allowed to play the field. This guy has "Designated Hitter" written all over him. The Nationals have to get Casto over to first base, as soon as possible. Or, bring up Broadway, if he hits the ball at Columbus.

The day Nick Johnson comes back should also be the day the Nats' deal Young to an American League team -- if not sooner. If Young has a good couple of weeks at the plate, I'd consider shopping him around, as soon as Logan comes off the DL. The Nats need a power hitter, to be sure. With his defense, though, Young may end up costing the Nats more runs than he produces. I mean him no offense -- he's a very good hitter, but he belongs in the A.L., where he can be a DH. Trading Young might also bring the Nats help at another position, or bring in a good prospect for the future -- somewhere they need help more than at first base.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Longggggg Season Ahead for the Nationals -- I'm back from the first and last opening day game at RFK, and I can report that the Nats are not quite yet even a work in progress. They do have two excellent young players in Ryan Zimmerman (one of the best at his position already) and Austin Kearns. Zimmerman had a good day at the plate, and in the field. Dmitri Young made his Nationals debut as a fill-in for the injured Nick Johnson. With two doubles on well-driven smashes, it's clear that Young still swings a mighty bat. I can't say much else good about the Nationals -- at least not today.

With respect to the rest of the lineup: when they made contact, they did not hit the ball well or hard. Weak flies and weak grounders all around. Ryan Church seemed determined to walk his way on to the bases, swinging only when he had to do so. He did manage a pair of walks, but he did not look like a confident major league hitter. Church wasn't the only National who looked overmatched by the Marlins' pitching.

I had some hopes for Cristian Guzman (even wore a jersey with his name on the back). Guzman was called an "all-star" by the Nats' hitting coach, who praised the way Guzman hit during the spring. He said it was "no fluke." Well, it's not spring training anymore. "Fluke" or not, Guzman looked overmatched at the plate. He came out after a timid, almost accidental swing and groundout in the fifth inning. I'm not sure if Guzman hurt himself on the swing, or running, or whether he was mercifully benched by Manager Manny Acta. The Post reports Guzman had a hamstring strain -- but the boo-birds were raining down on Guzman again. Right from the start of the season. Could be a long, unpleasant year for him, if he hits as he did in 2005, instead of the way he hit this Spring, in Florida.

In the field, Zimmerman continues to amaze. Two highlight reel plays -- After he slipped down fielding a ball by the mound, he threw the runner out at first, while lying on his back. The second play was a great catch over the railing in foul territory. Nook Logan also made a great play tracking down a long drive at the wall, but he hurt his foot crashing into the fence. Not clear when we might see Logan again -- early reports are that x-rays were negative, but it looked like he might need a week or two at least, to recover. This might mean a quick recall from the minors for Kory Casto.

As bad as the hitting was, the pitching was worse. John Patterson (didn't even make it out of the fourth innning) and Micah Bowie were both hit hard. Levale Speigner walked three batters in one inning, including one with the bases loaded. Only Jesus Colome impressed for the Nationals, as he closed out a miserable 9-2 drubbing.

There will be some better days than this, but the Nats showed the gap between them and teams like the Marlins. I might add that I think the Marlins are a terrific team. They have been overlooked, undeservedly, in all the preseason discussion about the Mets and Braves. Even the Phillies have gotten more respect and attention than the Marlins -- also undeservedly. The Marlins pitching may prove to be a little shaky, but they have a lineup that can flat out hit the ball. They may have discovered a gem in rookie center fielder Alejandro De Aza, who can fly and drive the ball a long way. Second-year player Dan Uggla may have dispelled fears of a sophomore slump when he crushed a ball to the upper deck in left-center field. Probably the longest shot I've seen in RFK. And Miguel Cabrera showed why he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Albert Pujols when discussing the most feared hitters in baseball.

There were two teams on the field today. One is a real major league club -- probably even a pennant contender. The other is a real pretender -- with a few exceptions, the Nationals are a Triple-A club playing in the big leagues. And it really showed today. Today's loss in the opener means the Nats are likely to be cellar-dwellers from start to finish. A long season, indeed.
This Year's Model - 2007 Mets off to a good start: If you missed the now traditional Sunday night opening game, the Mets outplayed the Cardinals and came away with a 6-1 win. If this one game is any indication, you can throw away the spring training stats, because they are meaningless.

In the 1990s, the Mets were famous for their spring training sensations that never seemed to make it on the big stage. This year's spring training seems to have proved the axiom that it really doesn't matter what the veterans do in the spring. The young guys are trying to prove something. The vets are just trying to make sure they're healthy, and tuned up when the season starts. It sounds silly to say they can just turn it one when the season starts, but it proves to be true, year after year.

In spring training, the old guys on the Mets, especially Moises Alou and Shawn Green, looked almost feeble. Carlos Delgado struggled early, as well, and Paul LoDuca joined the others in hitting below .200. The season started, against the Cy Young award winner, Chris Carpenter, and the old guys seemed pretty sharp. Green, Alou, LoDuca and Delgado all had clutch hits, along with Carlos Beltran. Alou even made a sizzling running, diving catch.

In fact, the Mets played flawless, spectacular defense. You'll hardly see a better game played by any team. The Mets added good pitching to the mix, and showed why they are the favorites to win the National League -- not the defending champion Cardinals. With Alou in left field, I'd say this year's model promises to be better than last year.

The Mets do have some young stars with Reyes and Wright, and two young pitchers, in Maine and Pelfrey. Their marquee player, Carlos Beltran, is in his prime. Basically, though, this team is built to win this year. In forty-five years, the Mets have appeared in only four World Series. A fifth World Series appearance for the Mets this year seems to be in the cards, so to speak...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Rotisserie Baseball 2007 -- My first stab at a true Roto-ball league. I grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., where the creators of the original Rotisserie baseball league called home. We Scarsdalians have given the world a number of things -- the roster of famous SHS alumni is long and venerable. The most lasting and notable creations coming out of Scarsdale, though, would have to be Rotisserie baseball (and all of the fantasy sports progeny that have swept the sports world -- after baseball, other Scarsdalians developed the G'National Football League, which carried the fantasy idea beyond baseball) and Platform Tennis (usually called Paddle Tennis in its birthplace).

I was an early participant in the fantasy football thing, with the DAPL (my apologies to my friend Doron, but the league was named in his honor: the Doron's A Pest League, because he really wanted to be in a league, but my other buds didn't want him in). It was more than a decade later that I finally jumped into a baseball league: the legendary Suburban Maryland Anthropomorphic Baseball League, which adapted the Earl Weaver computer baseball game to create the finest fantasy baseball league there ever was. Alas, our league went on a long hiatus about five years ago. I still hope to bring the league back, but it will require new software. Any computer programmers wish to help out -- maybe make lots of money? Please let me know.

It would be impossible to replace our old SMABL -- that league wasn't really a rotisserie league, though. Each day, your team went head-to-head against another team. We had four divisions -- with standings that were updated after each day's game. We even mimicked the major league schedule, by playing series after series, in the designated stadiums -- each team picked one of the existing major league parks as their home field. The computer worked with its algorithms and the most recent stats to create the most faithful projection possible of the fantasy game, based on those real-world stats.

Rotisserie is a different animal. You compete each day against all the other teams, for a league-wide ranking. In a lot of ways, it's more for math nuts than baseball nuts, but there it is.

Finally, I've hooked up with my first Roto-ball league. It's a National League-based rotisserie league. You're certainly welcome to follow along. The Banditos (whose logo and colors are "borrowed" from the Quad City River Bandits) are back, even if in a slightly different context. The draft was this morning. I was sure it was supposed to start at 9:30, but I logged on at 9:32, and found the first four rounds had already gone through.

The Yahoo autopick program did a decent job picking for me. The first pick, however, was a huge reach: Carlos Lee, of the Houston Astros -- but Lee should put up some good numbers there. The program did a much better with the next picks: Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter; followed by a former Cy Young winner, John Smoltz. The program's best effort was selecting Ryan Zimmerman with my fourth pick. Z-man is probably my favorite baseball player. As a Nats' fan, I wanted him more than any other player. Though I might have waited another round to pick Zimmerman in the belief that he isn't generally that highly rated yet, I probably would not have gotten him.

As I was trying to catch up and figure out who was available, I soon discovered that Yahoo makes it pretty easy for you, with automated lists at each position. Of course, some players are listed in last year's position, which isn't always where they are going to play this year -- but it's a helluva lot easier than the handwritten lists I used to work off (I never had a laptop at the drafts -- the last of the low-tech guys).

There is one thing I miss, though. For our now long-gone fantasy league, we did a live draft, where everyone gathered together in one room. We made an event out of it, taking it on the road, To Cleveland, one year, where we saw a great game at Jacobs Field, and then to spring training, in Arizona, for several years. The final year, we met in St. Louis, and many of us took in a game at the beginning of the final season of the old Busch Stadium. The draft was always an exhausting marathon, lasting 10-12 hours, but it was the best part of the whole year. Literally. The day I looked forward to, above all others.

So, I clicked in, saw where my first 4 picks had been, and settled in to take over -- 2 minutes to pick, and my team had 2 picks in a row, each time -- at the end of one round, and the start of the next. I may get these out of order, but my team came together more or less like this: Michael Barrett at catcher - I haven't figured out the relative importance of positions in Roto-ball. In fantasy games, the catcher is vital -- in fact, you need two catchers, because the starter doesn't get enough innings. Every so often, to preserve the realism of the simulation, you had to rest your starting catcher - about five to seven weeks out of the year.

Next, I grabbed Orlando Hudson, for 2nd base. When it came around again, I snatched up John Patterson and Takashi Saito. I think that the next time through the draft order, I picked Barry Bonds (Oy, I know! But, he puts up such gaudy numbers) and Adam LaRoche, at first base. When my 2 turns came around again, I grabbed Adam Wainwright and Rafael Soriano.

Here's where I get a little fuzzy about the selection order, but bear with me. I still needed an outfielder, a shortstop, a position player to be designated utility player, some pitchers and bench strength. I filled out my starting outfield with Jacque Jones. I supplemented my pitching staff with two Mets starters, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey. I snagged Christian Guzman (it was either him or Khalil Greene, and Guzman was really looking good in preseason), for shortstop. I picked up Jose Valentin to back-up the middle infield -- though, as I look at it now, I don't know whether he or Hudson will qualify at shortstop. My depth there may be a problem. Guzman needs to stay healthy and produce, if my team is going to succeed. For bench strength: I added two relievers, Jon Rauch (the tallest player in baseball history), and Henry Owens (whom I know nothing about); and position players Luis Gonzalez, Brian Schneider, Craig Wilson and, the final pick in our league's draft, Scott Spezio.

It was an interesting exercise for me -- it goes too quickly, and I wish we had more rounds. However, it's a lot easier to prepare for, than what I've experienced in the past. In fact, you could do this with little or no preparation, and possibly get similar results. Our old league had over forty rounds -- equivalent to the major league 40-man roster, with some minor league gems, in reserve. It was the rare pick after the 30th round that ever helped your squad, but it required knowing something about each team's farm system. I'm not sure how many minutes we allowed per pick, but it was a 24-team league, with lots of rounds, and the draft had to include catered meals (snack, lunch and dinner). This year, I barely finished my morning coffee, and it was over.

As I said, I would've liked a little more time for each pick -- two minutes was too short a time to really make a selection. With only 11 teams, each round went by too quickly to consider and prepare a likely pick or two. Also, I would've liked to have more picks, but I guess this makes it easier to draft. The thing is, this system puts a premium on the waiver wire -- knowing who is available, and getting in there to snatch up the good numbers-producers that went overlooked in the draft. There's not much involved in setting your line-up, but one does need to pay attention to the free agents, to see if you can improve your lineup that way.

If you want to follow (and I can't imagine you would), it's kossack ball NL. That's Yahoo Custom League ID# 253215. Here's the link: kossack ball NL. As for the draft, here's my final product:

Michael Barrett, Brian Schneider, Adam LaRoche, Orlando Hudson, Ryan Zimmerman, Christian Guzman, Carlos Lee, Barry Bonds, Jacque Jones, Luis Gonzalez, Jose Valentin, Craig Wilson, Scott Spezio, Chris Carpenter, John Smoltz, John Patterson, John Maine, Takashi Saito, Adam Wainwright, Rafael Soriano, Jon Rauch, Mike Pelfrey, Henry Owens.

The real thing gets under way tonight. Mets and Cardinals, baby! Rematch. A measure of revenge, perhaps -- but, it's a long season. Opening Night for them. Opening Day tomorrow, for everybody else. Aaahh, Baseball.