Friday, October 9, 2009

MLB Playoffs '09, Day Two Roundup

I'd intended to keep a liveblog going of the three games today, but I also intended not to have a giant goddamn headache. Instead of watching the Rockies at the Phillies, I wound up lying down and listening to most of it it, then napped through a bit of the Cardinals at the Dodgers, then had the big screen commandeered to watch TiVo'd episodes of Community and The Office during part of the Sox/Angels game. I felt way too funky to put up a fight anyway.

Now of course I feel better and can't sleep, so at the risk of seeming ignorant — after all, I missed quite a bit — here are some stray observations from Day Two of the 2009 MLB playoffs:

For some reason, the human mattress that is David Wells is in the TBS booth this year, and someone's already cleaned him up from Day One. That was incredible. He wore this strange brown shirt that looked like some earthy tunic a civilian guest star would get on Star Trek and, over it, a brown jacket that I swear was a Members Only™. So you had this guy who made millions as a pitcher and is probably getting paid tens of thousands to be a commentator sitting amidst three other guys dressed in suits, only he looked like he'd stolen his outfit off a pensioner passed out at the local VFW. Amazing.

Wells is pretty much like a pitching machine fueled by a bucket of clichés.

Eck: I love Dennis Eckersley because he's also pretty much like a pitching machine fueled by a bucket of clichés, only he's also sporting this feathered quasi-mullet like he reached some point at the beginning of the 1980s and said: "Here. I stop here. No evolution from this point."

There is absolutely no excuse for David Wells to not be completely loaded during every studio segment. He needs to go back to the Members Only jacket and add a foam dome. This would immediately make everything about the TBS broadcast incredible and not merely tolerable.

I really want to like Cal Ripken, but I can't remember a thing he says. Most of it seems well-intentioned and inoffensive, which in a way is basically how I think of his career. Was he great? Yeah, I mean, maybe. I guess. He set a record for attendance, which is blandly inoffensive. But like the kids who win that in schools, it doesn't make him the student council president or even the best dude on a sports team. It just means he was always there, which comes off as a kind of comforting sop to people who want their ballplayers to be good people first and good ballplayers if they have the time. I remember The Sports Guy Bill Simmons once made the observation that he can remember several years of Pedro Martinez's greatness where people would make a determined costly trek to the ballpark because Pedro was pitching. Just the fact that he would be there doing his thing was so special, so almost transcendentally great, that it made an average mid-season game must-see. Conversely, he said he could never remember a time where someone said, "We gotta go to the ballpark: Ripken's in town." That observation has become my default sentiment on Ripken: good guy but not really compellingly so. Which, as I said, gibes with his performance in the booth. He's a good guy, and it seems like his role can be summed up as, "Can't say something nice? Turn it over to Cal. He's got it." And still, he's a decent guy: why isn't there more there?

Game One of the Day: Rockies at Phillies:
I heard/watched a lot of this, and it was a pretty tight and exciting game. Other than being anxious in those last innings and being surprised to learn Cole Hamels left the game because his wife began labor, I didn't and don't have many reactions besides those about the series in general. Regarding the birth, though: his wife was going to be in labor for an hour or two, right? It seems weird he wouldn't have wanted to go another inning, considering how shaky the Phillies' bullpen is. One more inning isn't going to make much difference on the baby-delivery side of things, right? On the other hand, he's rich, so maybe his wife had scheduled a caesarian.

The Phillies have a player named Chase Utley, and his name sounds like an investment bank that runs really sincere black-and-white ads during sports broadcasts. "Are you worried about your money? At Chase Utley, you don't need to be." (Cut to picture of a genial father figure, playing the company's founder, in a cardigan.) "Because the business of Chase Utley isn't worrying about our business: it's worrying about yours."

Either because I'm bitter about what happened to the Rays in the World Series or because I just don't like to see teams I'm not a fan of winning back-to-back championships, I kind of want to see the Phils lose. And perhaps that's colored my perceptions, but I really wasn't surprised to see them drop this game. First of all, I think that their dominance last year owed as much to good luck and to the Rays' batters being too overager and impatient than it did to anything uniquely Phillies-ish. Second, and this point extends from my first, any short series can be determined by flukiness. It's just a silly sample to take, and shaky teams as just as liable to come together as good teams are to fail to click on all cylinders. Remember that these guys got improbably clobbered by the Rockies in 2007, just as they whooped holy hell on a Rays team last year on which everyone but BJ Upton seemed to decide to start fucking up at the exact same time. After their first two starters, my confidence in the Phils' starting pitching goes down; their bullpen is not so much shaky as it is palsied, and this is the time of year when you get killed by details like your big slugger, Ryan Howard, having a Pedro Cerrano-like fear of curveballs and the fielding habits of someone wearing oven mitts smeared with waffle batter.

I wish they'd cut to the dugout and show Shane Victorino holding up a tiny bit of food in both his hands while he nibbles across it with a typewriter-like motion.

Game Two of the Day: Cardinals at Dodgers:
I grew up a Giants fan, so technically I should hate the Dodgers, but I loathe Tony LaRussa with undiluted vigor, and so I'm lustily mocking him for most of the game. Which sucks, of course, because the game is tied or the Cards are ahead for most of it. I really can't explain in one bullet point just how much I fucking hate Tony LaRussa, but suffice to say that I have no qualms about liking the rival Dodgers in this. Besides, the Dodgers are like the Boston Red Sox West at this point, and I like seeing Joe Torre succeed enough to drive Yankees fans crazy.

Watching any Dodgers game and not being able to hear Vin Scully for the whole broadcast is fucking criminal.

I was asking myself about it during this game, but I don't think I can name any national commentators that any baseball fans like or respect anymore. Stop and think about this for a minute: of all the broadcast pairs calling games on the national level, probably the majority of baseball fans despise them — not for partisan team-loyalty reasons but just on the basis of competency. How did we get here? How can it be that a sport's national voices are ones a majority of serious fans consider so toxically mediocre, ignorant, narcissistic or apathetic that you can't even find two people working together who everyone thinks is "ok"? Most people don't hate Jon Miller, but Joe Morgan is so fucking bad that he outweighs Miller's contributions. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are like the Scylla and Charybdis of broadcasting, only somehow both of them generate inescapable whirlpools of sucking. There are still some good guys on the local level — Boston's Don Orsillo comes to mind, as do Tampa Bay's radio guys, who are both smart and prone to witheringly dry humor — but aside from Vin Scully, there aren't any greats left. To put this in the most depressing frame possible: when Harry Kalas died at the beginning of the year, the number of great baseball commentators still working was reduced by 50%, and Vin Scully is 81 years old.

I may have misheard this bit of trivia, but I swear the announcers were going on about how Tony LaRussa has now coached in more postseason games than the Giants' legendary skipper John McGraw. It's a really telling statistic about how awesome LaRussa is until you remember that he's coached for 30 years, all of which have featured a League Championship Series with either a best-of-five or a best-of-seven game contest, some of which have featured a best-of-five Divisional Series, and some of which have featured a best-of-five Wildcard. John McGraw never coached when any of those existed. Tony LaRussa has probably also written a shitload more emails than John McGraw, too, but nobody fucking cares about that because at least in that case nobody's that stupid.

I don't think I've ever heard as much noise in Dodger Stadium as I did tonight. The place thundered through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and the reaction to the tie and win was absolute pandemonium. Pretty incredible for a crowd that has to have thousands of idly wealthy and fairweather folks in it.

Matt Holliday seems like an okay dude, so I felt terrible for him as soon as he booted the last out in the bottom of the ninth, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going nuts. Also, obviously he had nothing to do with the subsequent walks and base hits that tied and then won the game for the Dodgers. Let the record show that, at the most critical moment in the game, the coach who's the master of "matchups" and tinkering needlessly with pitching substitutions left a reliever in the game who was so badly overmatched that he couldn't have looked more doomed if he'd been wearing a noose around his neck while someone hammered together a gibbet out by the bullpens.

Tony handles the press conference following another post-season loss with characteristic aplomb because he's had so much practice at it. Not making an appearance: a skin-tight t-shirt for some delectably and subversively non-baseball pastime; the ubiquitous LaRussaean wry upturn of the mouth that comes from another win crafted by doing a lot of extraneous managing for no reason; victory.

Game Three of the Day: Red Sox at Angels:
Commenting on this game specifically is almost totally unnecessary. I expected its outcome and won't be surprised if the Sox get swept. This isn't an attempt at a reverse-jinx — far from it. When a team gets picked to win a series because they've won all of them in recent memory, and when this is the most generally invoked predictor, you know you're in for a bad ride. It's a lazy criterion for liking any team, one that tends to get used to back up a waffling prognostication. People employ it the way they employ intangibles or momentum, e.g.: "I have these more objectively measured reasons that don't decisively support a conclusion either way, so I'll drag in history or momentum or something else equally as amorphous to make my waffling seem less weakly non-committal."

All the experts were picking Boston because of pitching, but even then that's a really weak reason. Jon Lester's got a shaky knee due to a line drive ricocheting off it; Josh Beckett is also slightly gimpy in the back; Clay Bucholtz is a basket case who had terrible outings recently, and assuming Boston lasts long enough to get to Daisuke Matsuzaka, he's liable to throw either seven innings of shutout ball or 110 pitches through five innings after walking the bases loaded and giving up a run or two in each of them. Citing the Sox' starting pitching as reasons for victory is like guaranteeing success on a coin flip. On any given day, you could get four starting aces or four people who'd shit the bed by the fourth inning. Worse, at really no point this year has the starting rotation all been "on" at the same time; one or two guys will start clicking and carrying the weight deep into games, while the others have chowdered early and put the onus on the bullpen.

Ditto most of the Red Sox hitting, which has mirrored the starting pitching by being either fearsomely patient or hackingly easy, and never the same for all hitters. It's a rarity that no one on a roster will be slumping when the rest of it are locked in, but the Sox have had almost manic-depressive swoons of inefficacy. That seemed to happen again tonight, when the ostensibly lugubrious JD Drew started to seem like a threat just as everyone else offered precisely phut.

Bottom line, I expect the Angels to take this series, and I hope to God they crush the Yankees because, seriously, fuck the Yankees.

TBS' Presentation:
Just like last year, TBS seems to have about 9 commercials that they alternate during every break. There are the three in heavy rotation during short breaks, the four that make the longer breaks, and the five that make the longest breaks. Watching the channel for about 11 hours today, I can recite all of the commercials verbatim. At one point during an umpire review, they went to commercial, came back and went to commercial again and aired the exact same bloc of ads twice in a row. Plenty of fans already hate TBS for their studio crew and their terrible commentators; this last detail only hammers home the antipathy.

Speaking of which, last year it was Frank Caliendo's Frank TV, a totally unnecessary and terminal sketch comedy show that dominated the "TBS: Very Funny" ad blocs. This year it's George Lopez's equally unnecessary and terminal talk show. Now, Lopez is a stand-up comic who had a sitcom that ran on ABC for five years. And apparently he is also a stand-up comic that has audiences watch him. I trust that Wikipedia hasn't been vandalized to say this, despite the existence of either parts of his career never manifesting themselves in any environment relevant to anything. Regardless, he's doomed. He's doomed because it's TBS, and he's doomed because TBS' ad policy apparently involves promoting something comedic in the least funny way possible and so relentlessly as to inculcate avoidance behavior in anyone exposed to the campaign. I remember laughing at Bill Simmons' refusal to watch House, M.D. because of FOX's promotion for it during the 2004 postseason. It's been one of the best series of the last five years, and his stubborn refusal to give it a shot is more reflective of his pigheadedness and its advertising than anything else. But even the 2004 blitz for House pales compared to this year's blitz for George Lopez or last years's for Frank TV. Add the fact that both shows were/are horrendous, and I can almost see my way to agreeing with The Sports Guy's stubbornness.

There are few TV realities more profoundly depressing than the fact that the outstanding Andre Braugher is about to be stuck on a cable series with Everybody Loves Raymond Romano whining in falsetto and Quantum Leap Star Trek: Enterprise Scott Bakula's concerned squinting. Braugher was the heart and soul of the excellent Homicide: Life on the Street, was excellent in the miniseries Thief and the only credible foil to House on House, M.D., and now he's relegated to this. Watching Braugher on anything other than a series that lets him stretch and own the show is like watching Barry Bonds sign mid-season with the Washington Nationals to pinch-hit.