By West Coast Craig
Genoâ€™s Steaksâ€” There was a full complement yesterday, with all four major sports participating, but at night it was all baseball. Through some strange sense of kindness, or a deal with Fox, the NFL didnâ€™t schedule a Sunday Night gameâ€¦a nice bone tossed to the MLB, when they couldâ€™ve squashed them with that big Ryan Longwell homecoming game. Nevertheless, despite the late nights, rain delays, and elitist northeast intellectuals, the series is getting the best ratings since 2004. Now thereâ€™s been a lot of chatter about why Met fans would want to choose aligning themselves with one group…
…but putting all that aside for now I figure it’s a good time to assess the action, since come next Monday the series will be long over and this is my last chance to write about the baseball season while itâ€™s still going on. Iâ€™m calling this the â€œmid-seriesâ€ report card because I still expect this thing to go seven. I wouldnâ€™t wager against Cliff Lee today, and old man Pettite on three days rest doesnâ€™t inspire a ton of confidence for game six, much less Chad Gaudin anywhere in there (but, with Cole Hamels lined up for game seven, Iâ€™m pretty happy with my Yankees in seven +400 bet). Still, any time Brad Lidge gets the ball, like lightning the Phillies can lose in the blink of an eye. Professor WCC is handing out grades, and may have to send some notes home for parents to sign:
CLIFF LEE: A. Stone cold pimp. Caught that pop fly one handed like he was playing catch with his kid, that one behind his back like a Harlem Globetrotter. So good that first game you got the feeling he couldâ€™ve called the defense off the field whenever he wanted and just taken care of business himself. No A+, however, no extra credit for not coming out on three days rest.
CC SABATHIA: B+. Gets the +, but Chase Utley keeps him from getting the A. A quality outing in game 1, then nuts up again last night with a virtually identical performance: Game 1â€”113 pitches, 7 inn, 4 hits, 2 er, 3 bb, 6 k, 2 Chase Utley HRs; Game 2â€”107 pitches, 6.2 inn. 7 hits, 3 er, 3 bb, 6 k, 1 Chase Utley HR.
CHARLIE MANUEL: C. Didnâ€™t send those runners at the end of game two, and it resulted in a rally killing double playâ€¦but itâ€™s easy to manage from the couch in that situation. Held Cliff Lee back for game five, the move of a man who doesnâ€™t feel desperate, and heâ€™ll be answering questions about it all winter if they donâ€™t pull this out. Still, Charlie donâ€™t mind. Phil Jackson is often credited for being this big Zen Masterâ€¦but heâ€™s the Tao of Pooh compared to Charlieâ€™s Tripitakaâ€¦the dude just â€œis,â€ and his moves sometimes defy logic but then the universe amazingly complies. Unfortunately for him, he used up all of Brad Lidgeâ€™s karma last year, and now the universe is through doing favors for that guy, and it drags Olâ€™ Charlieâ€™s grade down.
JOE GIRARDI: B. Loses some points because, hell, I could probably manage this team here (see the couch comment above). Be desperate but not crazy, start all your guys on three days rest, use Rivera for six out saves, and basically dance with the guys that brung ya. With his three ring binder, heâ€™s definitely been guilty of some over managing during these playoffs, but sitting Swisher in game two for Hairstonâ€”who had a hit that led to an important runâ€”and then bringing Swisher back for a beautiful rebound in game three really paid off. Plus, my wife who doesnâ€™t know anything about him is happy because she thinks he looks like a cancer survivor.
MARIANO RIVERA: A+. Should the Yankees win this thing, heâ€™s the MVP. Even if they donâ€™t win, he should still get it.
BRAD LIDGE: F. He stinks. Proves that red heads shouldn’t grow beards. Even when he gets a save these days, the batters hit the ball hard (just at people). Any talk of him not throwing his slider because Damon was on third is garbage…if you can’t get it over the plate, or you’re afraid your catcher can’t catch it, it’s not your best pitch. Maybe he could share the series MVP if the Yanks win.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ: B+. Coming into the ninth inning last night, he had the big camera-seeking dinger in game 3, but not much else besides three hit-by-pitches, plus heâ€™d been outplayed at third by Pedro Feliz (whose own clutch blast off Joba was looking even more important). The Phillies strategy was clear, throw down and away and make A-Rod chase, or simply throw at A-Rodâ€™s back. Brad Lidge, however, didnâ€™t get the memo.
JOHNNY DAMON: B. His noodle arm in left has been exploited all seriesâ€¦but that at-bat in the ninth, then taking third on that steal was brilliant. Big Tex is getting an â€œincompleteâ€ for his work thus far, but the fact that the Phillies had that shift on for him opened that play up for Damon. But why did Pedro Feliz give up so quickly on trying to chase him downâ€¦he might not be faster than Damon, but run, dive, do something?
RYAN HOWARD: C. Thatâ€™s a bit generous, but his fielding has been pretty good, having made some great stops (that wrongly called short-hop the other night doesnâ€™t count against him), and digging out some lousy throws. At the plate, however, heâ€™s looked like A-Rod circa 2005, pressing and helping the pitchers out way too much, and heâ€™s driven in as many runs as he has stolen bases—not exactly what you want from your cleanup hitter—and though he was credited with a run last night he still hasnâ€™t touched home plate. Heâ€™s on pace (10) to blow past Willie Wilsonâ€™s 1980 WS record for strikeouts (12).
CHASE UTLEY: C. Those three dingers off of CC were impressive, but beyond them he hasnâ€™t done much. Still, Iâ€™d raise him to a B if heâ€™d actually pulled off that glove hand flip to Rollins last night—a play he sometimes makes—but he threw it straight up in the air instead.
JAYSON WERTH: A. Looks like an extra for Sons of Liberty, and swinging the bat like a tire iron at Altamont. Somehow in the entire history of the playoffs heâ€™s the only guy to have multi-homer games in both the LCS and the WS. Werth is the right handed bat thatâ€™s been impossible to pitch aroundâ€¦pretty lame how the blue last night too quickly gave warnings after Blanton plunked A-Rod, cause this is the guy CC shouldâ€™ve drilled the next inning. Hard to believe the Dodgers gave this guy so many chances in what feels like forever ago, only for one freak injury after another to befall him until they finally cut tiesâ€¦and you could make the case that if Manny was a Phillie and Werth still a Dodger, it would be the Dodgers playing now (but then again, â€œFor What Itâ€™s Werthâ€ would be a terrible sit-com parody).
JOE BUCK & TIM MCCARVER: D-. What can I say, Iâ€™d fail them but then theyâ€™d repeat class next year and Iâ€™d rather them be somebody elseâ€™s problem. Thatâ€™s the American education system, isnâ€™t it? Oh wait, Fox is broadcasting the World Series next year too? Tile. I might find Buck slightly more tolerable than most, but his smug leaves an oily smear that blotches my HD screen. When heâ€™s simply calling the game heâ€™s not bad, but when he throws in his commentary heâ€™s the consummate dork whoâ€™s never played sports in his life. His remark that A-Rod shouldâ€™ve knocked down a hot shot that led to that first run in game two was ridiculous. McCarver, on the other hand, is the opposite, the former jock whose idea of the game passed by in the late seventies. Thanks for telling us what a four-seam fastball is, Tim, or how to slide into home, or how brilliant a â€œquick pitchâ€ isâ€¦or how Victorino likes to go cliff diving like Elvis in Fun in Acapulco.
FOX PRODUCTION: B. The guys in the truck seem to be doing a great job, with quick and decisive replays, though I really wish there was a better look at that A-Rod home run coming right at the cameraâ€¦a million to one shot, and it was just an instantaneous blur in the top corner. The best part of the Fox Production so far, thereâ€™ve been no chyrons of Wanda Sykes or Seth McFarlane stumbling across the screen and obscuring ground balls (by the way, I like McFarlane as much as the next guy, but a happy fun time variety show? Is this for real, or is it April Fools day already?). As for the pre- and post-game coverage, can somebody tell Eric Karros that the camera thatâ€™s on has a red light aglow on it?
ESPN COVERAGE: C+. To balance out John Krukâ€™s unabashed favoritism for the Phils, they bring inâ€¦Dave Winfield? Iâ€™m not sure Winfield has the fondest memories of the Bronx, especially around World Series time, but that dude sure is tall. They get the + for having Bobby Valentine sitting in between them.
MLB NETWORK COVERAGE: A: Well, it is their Superbowl, they better get it right.
BUD SELIG: F. Sorry, Bud, Iâ€™m the teacher who just doesnâ€™t like you.
There it isâ€¦these are of course just mid-term grades, and subject to change by the end of the Series, or whenever I feel like it. Now here’s a little Flyin’ Hawaiian for ya.