Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Series Blog, Games 4 & 5: Gutty Twitter, Centaurs and Chinless Buzzards

This is the latest part in a volume of frustration. Part One deals with David Wells wearing a Member's Only jacket over his fatness. Part Two celebrates another postseason loss for the overrated/under-ridiculed Tony LaRussa. Part Three is your resource for FISTING and how getting a job because of your dad and grandpa doesn't work so well for people around you. Part Four details how godawful Joe Buck and Tim McCarver continue to be. Part Five focuses on World Series Game One and fan-paranoid jinxes. And Part Six covers World Series Games Two and Three. Let's play ball!

World Series Game Four

Ugh, another national anthem, another gross martial display. Just once I sort of wish that the Air Force or Army (or whichever branch) didn't screen their singers carefully enough and sent someone out there with PTSD. We'd sit as baseball and the Armed Services again solemnized and venerated combat, death, injury and horror, and the well-coiffed representative would belt out the familiar lines, reaching the "laaaaaand of the freeeeeeeee" and hear the fireworks go off and immediately flip the fuck out. I think maybe that might dial back the aggressive patriotism to tolerable pre-9/11 levels, at least for a couple years.

8:23 pm:
McCARVER: More than anything else [Blanton's] a gutty performer, and that's why he's out there tonight.
We're not even at the first pitch yet, and we have a "gutty" sighting. As was the case with Chase Utley in Game One, McCarver has nothing to say and is scrambling for meaningless baseball generalities. In Utley's case, he didn't expect the guy to be the offensive hero of the first game, so he ad-libbed something that at first blush might have seemed meaningful. In this case, he's just trying not to insult Blanton. He can only bring up his good outing against the Rays in the 2008 World Series and the home run he hit off Edwin Jackson for so long — there is airtime to fill — but he can't go negative without alienating a huge FOX market share.

The problem with Blanton is that he's either on or he's not. Sometimes he can pitch solidly, but sometimes you watch him just seem to throw the ball at batters and hope nothing happens. Aside from some flashes in Oakland, he doesn't have "ace" stuff. He might get close to that tonight, or he might just heave the ball with his fingers crossed. But saying this makes McCarver seem like both a dick to the Philly audience and uneducated to everyone else.

Because we've attributed omniscience to the cult of the former ballplayer commentator, he has to have something to say about Blanton. Surely McCarver knows Blanton. He knows the real deal with everyone. Admitting "Blanton could go out there and be well above average or just sort of suck — or he could suck, but the Yankees could be off their games and let him get away with a poor performance" means conceding that Blanton is essentially unknowable and that some things in baseball are a matter of luck triumphing over Received Baseball Wisdom.

Hence, "Gutty." It sounds like something insightful without conveying anything. It sounds like he knows this guy in a way you don't, some baseball way you civilian viewers just don't get. McCarver runs through a brief monologue naming the amorphous things about Blanton that make him gutty, like playing the game and throwing the ball and also wearing an official team uniform. Nothing he says to justify "gutty" would be misapplied if you said them about a ballboy who inexplicably was sent into the game as a pinch hitter. But if you don't stop to think about the absence of meaning in what he said, the smokescreen works. Blanton's gutty. Bet you didn't know that, chuckles. But, heh, then again: you don't know baseball.

Top of the 1st: Blanton plunks A-Rod. Good. Having a man on base is usually bad news, but screw it. Everything about A-Rod — his contract, his play, his personal life, his face — everything about the dude is eminently punchable. But if you can't punch him in the face or at all, hurling a hard object into him at 90+ mph is a good second option. To be honest, I wondered why this didn't happen earlier in the postseason.

Believe it or not, I didn't wonder that because I hate A-Rod, which all people should and probably do. It just seemed like something worth trying. He lit up opposing pitching and rehabilitated his postseason image in just a handful of games, and it reminded me of when that postseason image went in the tank. Remember, at the beginning of 2004's ALCS he owned Red Sox pitching. Through three games, he had something like 172 home runs and his on-base percentage was so good that the box score just read, "HOOKERS AND BLOW." Then someone drilled him with a baseball, and he virtually disappeared offensively. Two years later, against the Detroit Tigers' young high-heat pitching, he went something like 1 for 14. Maybe he was scared the young fireballers would kill him.

So of course I spent the ALDS and the ALCS wondering, "Why isn't anyone plunking this dude?" It seemed like a fair proposition: hurt the bastard, scare him, get him out of the way. Naturally, I was wrong. A-Rod went 0 for 12 or 1 for 12 through the first two games, complete with six strikeouts. Then he got plunked twice in Game Three and started hitting. Blanton plunks him here — gutty-as-fuck throw, by the way — and who knows what will happen? Obviously not what I was hoping for during the Twins and then the Angels series. Anything can happen with him now.

The umpire warns both the Phillies' and the Yankees' dugouts that there is to be no further plunking during this game. This decision sends McCarver into a sanctimonious soliloquy about how cosmically unfair this is, possibly because Tim seems to have trouble remembering that he's not paid by the Yankees anymore. CC Sabathia is an inside pitcher, and McCarver keeps saying, "You cannot take away the inside of the plate like that!" meaning that you can't force CC to not pitch inside by giving him a warning and making him afraid of accidentally beaning someone.

Now, I don't know which World Series he's been watching, but CC has been dealing left and right, and it's almost absurd to think that he won't have whatever control he likes. Also, I don't know what sport McCarver watches for a living, but this and the rest of the evidence makes me suspect it isn't baseball. Warnings are unfair pretty often. For instance, one batter owns a pitcher, and the next time up he gets very obviously drilled. This nets a warning for both teams. What's happened, then, is that one team got away with intimidating or hurting a batter while, at the same time, doing it so obviously that the umpires prohibit further beanballs and thus take away the other team's only means of retaliation. This shit happens all the time.

The only real substantial complaint to make at a moment like this is that Blanton's beanball didn't seem intentional. It seemed like one that got away from him and, anyway, it's Joe Blanton. But instead of focusing on this rational and, frankly, team-agnostic argument — that of an umpire's overreaction reading intent into an accident and thus unfairly penalizing both pitching staffs — McCarver runs off at the mouth in a totally Yankees-centric way. It's as if Helen Lovejoy's catchphrase were, "Won't someone PLEASE THINK OF CC SABATHIA???" Yeah, it sucks for CC. It sucks that he can't bust people inside without a little anxiety. You know who it also sucks for? Joe Blanton: a substantially less talented pitcher. Once again, McCarver's calling a baseball game as if there are only three baseball teams in existence: the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Yankees or the Calmeyed Derek Jeters.

8:29: Blanton does something pretty pedestrian.
BUCK: That gutty performer, that guile...
Let's put this in perspective:
Elapsed Time of Game in Minutes: 6
Number of Uses of the Word Gutty: 2
Buck and McCarver are employing an absolutely gutty rate of Gutty, scrappily gritting out one Gutty for every three minutes of gameplay. At this rate, if the game goes the standard three hours or so, Buck and McCarver will pay witness to 60 gutty things. That's an almost Ecksteinean level of guttiness.

Victorino doubles. I would be paying more attention after the double, but I have to relight all the candles in our Halloween pumpkins. The forecast calls for rain, so we brought the jack-o-lanterns inside to keep them from getting moldy too soon. I normally suck at carving pumpkins and, because of this, make almost zero effort besides some triangular eyes and a round nose and a big rectangular mouth with a few teeth. But for some reason this year we really got serious about it. Instead of watching, we just listened to the Community/Parks and Recreation/Office/30 Rock bloc on Thursday while diligently carving out some interesting carving patterns we found. Bottom line: I like this pumpkin. It weirded out a bunch of the neighbor kids. I'm not letting it get coated all over with blue fuzz a day earlier than absolutely necessary. Me and this pumpkin, we went through some shit together. If I start drinking during this game, I guarantee I will wind up talking with this pumpkin. Pumpy game. Pumpykin.

I wound up tweeting that thing about the national anthem and PTSD, and of course some dude who has a Twitter feed with the term "PTSD" in it has rigged up an alert to automatically notify him of PTSD-related postings and decided that I am exterminable garbage. He tells me that he won't bother threatening my life — hey, you stay classy — because I'm obviously so stupid that just trying to think any thought would kill me. Awesome.

I have family currently in the service, and my family has had service members for three generations, so I feel like I'm on pretty good ground when I say that I'm supportive of our troops in general. I may think the way we use them is sometimes criminal, but the individuals on the bottom of the command structure are usually good people. I don't really give a shit if this dude thinks I hate soldiers, because I'm comfortable knowing he's wrong.

What bugs me, instead, is kind of a recurring Twitter problem. Namely: it's not that hard to do your due diligence about the person you're addressing. I don't begrudge a dude taking PTSD very seriously. It is serious; if he were part of a foundation and not a jackass, I might even give him money. I question, however, the worth of teaching a lesson about PTSD and threatening death on a person who, hours before, tweeted:
I want to cure Terry Gross of being lesbo.


A-Rod makes a quarter of a billion dollars to swing his lumber at balls & he has a picture of himself with a manbody & horsecock.
Even if you don't feel like reading my other tweets, there's are some other indicators that I'm not a person worth taking seriously. Beyond the brutal irony of this guy's coming to the defense of those who are vulnerable and psychologically shattered due to violence by obliquely threatening someone else's safety, there's the much more self-evident issue that he's threatening death for someone who claims to be an African dictator who's been dead since 1997. Obviously that last bit is a terrible lie. I'm alive and kicking. But you'd expect someone like this to trust Wikipedia and just recognize that threatening me is futile because I'm putatively a dead person. Or that I cannot be killed. Or that, maybe, someone who has died already would be suffering more Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than he can possibly imagine.

Whatever the man's issue is — PTSD seems like a good guess — he's distracting me from the game, so I decide to troll him a little more and see if he'll take umbrage with further tweets:

No such luck. I guess he stopped reading or else wasn't alerted to any words that aren't "PTSD." Or maybe I drove him to suicide. It's a coin flip.

CHASE MOTHERFUCKING UTLEY doubles home a run! Chase Utley: Progress Intelligently Planned.

I missed a whole bunch of stuff because my dad called me and we talked about the economy and my little brother. Both are a little banged up. My brother has a concussion, and even though my dad managed to raise a kid to adulthood without too many major errors, he still gets a little new-parent panicky with this new brood. It's certainly not my stepmom's fault, because she worked in medicine and knows well enough that little kids are pretty durable. If anything I blame all the recent articles — Malcolm Gladwell's in the New Yorker, for example — for making him super-paranoid about the little brother's getting his bell rung. It's not like the kid's an offensive lineman or anything.

I should also note that, between dad talking and the pumpkin thing, I have totally lost track of the number of "Guttys" this game. My performance is decidedly non-gutty. My distractions show that I am not a gamer. A gamer would just take some sand and grind it into the speaker on a phone and grit his own family away. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you. I'm too busy grinding out wins. Like a grinder." A gamer might fart into the phone and gut out family all gross-wise. My pumpkins might start smelling gamey, but I'm not gonna be gritty or gutty here, because I just didn't watch the game the right way. The only reason I'm still Ecksteiny is because I can lift a mug of German beer with more force than a child or a bleached midget.

CC Sabathia is bunting. This is a homer-friendly ballpark, and Sabathia is a homer-hitting pitcher. This is stupid. He fouls out. Nice one, Girardi. Then again, I pretty much spend the rest of this half of the inning screaming at the TV, so maybe Girardi can do whatever he likes. The Yankees score 412 times.

Jorge Posada and Yankees pitching have now conducted more meetings on mounds than entire tribes of native Americans. My buddy J-Shap likes this observation, but tweaks it to be about Hershey's candy-bar R&D personnel.

I knew these constant meetings wouldn't go unobserved.
McCARVER: Posada Calling more audibles than Tom Brady.
Or, you know, Peyton Manning, who is just as famous as Brady and who calls more audibles than any other quarterback playing and possibly more than any quarterback in history. But I'm nitpicking. Why would McCarver know anything about sports, even really famous sports personalities that get mentioned a lot on sports shows and sports channels and by people who care about sports? It's not like this is his job or anything.

Bottom of the 7th:
McCARVER: The Phillies' lefthanded batters have been able to do NOTHING with the breaking ball from Sabathia.... That slider has been eating Phillie lefthanders up all night.
Utley promptly crushes one of those sliders about 370 feet for another home run. Chase Utley: THE POWER OF YES.

Also, two things. One, thank you, Tim McCarver, for using your powers of the reverse-jinx against the Yankees for once. Two, regarding the lead actor in that commercial, I have only one word: HORNBERGER!

Bottom of the 8th: Pedro Feliz ties everything up on a solo homer. Unfortunately, this is the last good thing to happen this evening, as the top of the 9th involves a complete basket case, The Brad Lidge Formerly Known as a Good Closer.

Phillies lose, 3,712-6 or something.

World Series Game Five

Singing the national anthem: Alanis Morisette! Apparently nobody in the Phillies' organization or Citizens Bank Park could find an infant pig with a spike driven through it and decided to pay extra for the same sound. There's absolutely no reason to choose her to do this. Morisette not only cannot sing without sounding like something created from the DNA of David Bowie, Ian Anderson, that chick from the Cranberries and an anthropomorphized adenoid, but she's also from Canada. Despite her becoming a naturalized American citizen, getting her to do a celebrity appearance at a Philly ballgame makes about as much sense as Sylvester Stallone cutting the ribbon at a remodeling of the Toronto Skydome.

FOX Keys to the Game:
Yankees want a parade, not a game six.
On the other hand,
Phillies: Key guys need to hit.
Not mentioned: the team with more runs wins; three outs end a side of an inning; if you're at bat, you better face the outfield, otherwise you might not see the ball coming; and, of course, Alex Rodriguez is contemptible shit.

Speaking of which, this seems as good a time as any to point out that, before Game Four, US Weekly ran a bit of gossip about A-Rod. Apparently he has not one but two pictures of himself as a fucking centaur. One of them hung above his bed. Stop and think about this for a moment. This man has two paintings of himself as a man around the chest and head and as a horse below the waist. Think about how this dude views himself as a mythically powerful beast with a chiseled man's frame and a horse cock. Now think about how he could pay someone to decorate his homes and manage his life and impart to it some semblance of class, but he never bothered.

Instead, it took him years to hit on the idea of getting a life coach, and only then after suffering an ugly public divorce, being seen with strippers, dating Madonna, getting criticized and dismissed in a memoir by one of the nicest coaches in the game, being outed as a career steroid abuser and alienating his fanbases in Seattle, Texas and New York, on top of being loathed pretty much everywhere else. Think about the intense oblivion you have to exist in to believe that any of this is tolerable and only, after intense pressure, should be altered in any way. Then stop and realize that this man earns a quarter of a billion dollars to hit balls with sticks. That's Alex Rodriguez.

CHASE MOTHERFUCKING UTLEY hits a three-run home run. Chase Utley and the Baseball: Together We'll Go Far.

Top of the 3rd: Teixeira slaps an infield hit that the Phillies field for a very close out at second against the fast Johnny Damon. This immediately starts Buck and McCarver in for an exchange about the "Neighborhood Play" that is nearly identical to the verbatim transcript I made of their discussion in ALCS Game Two. (If you click the link, just do a FIND for "neighborhood" to take you to their words.) Here's the thing I didn't go into in that gameblog: they were wrong. At the time I was more concerned with pointing out how McCarver's observations about the actual physical tagging of the bag were wrong, so I focused on that. What I didn't bring up was that he and Buck both emphasized that there's an unwritten umpiring rule that the "neighborhood" of the bag is good enough for an out when it comes to the double-play ball at second. This is wrong.

There aren't unwritten rules in baseball. Baseball rules are written. There are common close plays, such as first basemen taking their feet off first base when receiving a throw, but it's pretty easy to examine game tape and realize that they do this almost by rote just as they catch the ball and without any cheating. When we see the first baseman taking his foot off the bag early, usually it's because we want to. Similarly, in ALCS Game Two, McCarver saw Aybar clearly miss second base and decided that he'd missed it all game. It turned out he was wrong, every single time, except for the one obvious play that inspired his decision that Aybar had never touched the bag all game.

Maybe this seems like semantic nitpicking, but in both that game and in this one, you have a guy who played baseball and another guy who's paid to know about baseball — even if this is Joe Buck, and the word know is stretched laughably beyond all common understanding of the term — explicitly saying that there are absolute unwritten rules in a game that absolutely does not have unwritten rules. Instead of being chastened by their previous error, in addition to the cry of protest from Major League Baseball and umpires, they just reiterate their previous absolute confidence that there was a missed play at second that should be perceived through the lens of some ironclad understanding that exists somehow despite not being written or mandated anywhere. McCarver might as well talk about how any close play at first base should be examined in light of the rule that "the tie goes to the runner." In Major League Baseball, that rule doesn't exist either.

Yankee's pitcher AJ Burnett is chased from the game in the bottom of the 3rd inning, after giving up a Jayson Werth liner up the middle that scored Chase Utley and a right-field shot from Raul Ibañez that scored Ryan Howard. Current score: Phils 5, Yankees 1. Reminder that Burnett's contract is 82.5 million dollars. Granted, that's over five years, but to put this in perspective, the team payroll of the Tampa Bay Rays for 2008 was 43.8 million dollars. I don't feel like doing math right now, but I suspect the annual cost of the Yankees pitcher leaving the mound, the third baseman and the first baseman, just for this year, is probably close to that Rays team total. And, sure, the Rays went to the Series last year, so blah blah blah, money doesn't win championships, right? But let's also stop to remember that the Rays could only do that by getting #1 draft picks year in and year out because they consistently had the worst team in baseball. Anyone who doesn't think the Yankees have an unreasonable competitive advantage on Day One of any season is fucking delusional.

Top of the 4th: in the bottom of the first, Shane Victorino got plunked on the hand by a pitch. When asked how his x-ray went and how he's feeling, he says, "It's not broken. I'm fine." That man has some cool brevity.

• Top of the 4th: because Burnett has left the game, Girardi pinch-hits Yankees catcher Jorge Posada for Burnett's preferred catcher, backup Jose Molina. Posada's apparently a humorless dickhead. During an early season blowout at Tampa Bay this year, Girardi let right fielder Nick Swisher pitch an inning against the Rays. He even struck out a batter! It was a dull game, because the Yankees were so far behind, but watching Swisher was fun. It doesn't hurt that Swisher is sort of a silly and endearing guy. It's neat to see position players pitching. Everybody — Rays fans, Yankees fans, Swisher, Rays and Yankees players — liked it. Everyone except Posada, who after the game reportedly stomped around the clubhouse churlishly and delivered a lecture about how the Yankees were not going to win anything if they didn't take everything DEADLY SERIOUSLY.

Posada's whole personal attitude really contradicts the goofy impression you get from his face, neck and the segueing "faceneck" part of his head where human beings usually have chins. Basically, you look at the guy and think of "Beaky Buzzard," from the old Warner Brothers cartoons, that bird who would say, "Hyuck! Gulllp! Ahhh, nope nope nope nope. Ahhhmmm bringin' home mah baybee bummble bee, hyuck-yuck, ayuck yuck GORSSSHHH." But nope, that's not him. That's not Jorge Posada at all. He only looks like that. He's actually just a totally stupid asslord.

Top of the 6th:
McCARVER: [Swisher] homered from 7 different lineup positions. Which shows you his versatility.
Or, you know, it shows you how fucking fatuous it is to think that lineup position has any impact on individual ability, a fact that has been statstically proven and confirmed and reconfirmed and reconfirmed for a decade. This is one of those bits of baseball conventional wisdom that amazes you when you realize how long it's been believed, principally because it doesn't make any fucking sense to begin with. This thinking prevailed for a century but shouldn't have gotten out of the development phase. How can someone's position in a line affect how good they are at doing something that bears no relation to their position in a line? You can get a room of hip-hop fans together and organize them any way you like, but if only two of them rule at freestyling, it won't matter when you get to them. They'll still be the only people dropping mad science.

Nick Swisher hit a bunch of home runs because he's good at two things:
1. Being patient at the plate, which forces a pitcher to throw him balls he can hit or otherwise put him on base via a walk.
2. Hitting home runs.
That's why he has those kinds of stats. It's not because he's "versatile." Unlike in the field, versatility means absolutely dick at the plate, where everyone has the same set of basic tasks. He did the thing he always does, only in a different order, because the thing he always does is something he can always do so long as he has a bat in his hand, while standing at home plate, waiting for someone to chuck a ball his way.

McCarver's praising Swisher for being versatile suggests that he's unique in behaving the exact same way despite being told to bat at different points in a sequence. This begs the question that others' performance should be altered by where they bat in an order, that you can magnify or mute traits by putting someone in one part of an order that they shouldn't be in. Again, this has been repeatedly statistically disproved, but what's sort of funny about it is that those who trade in this kind of wisdom have never asked themselves why, if it's true, it doesn't get applied more.

By their reasoning, you can modify batter behavior via some kind of batting chronology. You could take someone who hits a shitload of home runs in the #4 spot and somehow fuck him up completely by batting him first. His power would disappear. Presumably he'd get smaller and much faster. Similarly, you could say, "Hey, we're going to bat this guy eighth," and someone else who believes in traditional baseball would fly off the handle screaming, "NO! DON'T DO THAT! HE'LL TURN INTO A CATCHER! BAT HIM FOURTH BECAUSE WE NEED A FIRST BASEMAN!!!!"

Top of the 7th: Cliff Lee is in his windup already and about to serve up a pitch. Posada puts up his hand and puts down his bat and starts to come out of the batter's box. The homeplate umpire just ignores him, because, like, TOO FUCKING LATE, PAL, and then Posada panics, squares up at the last second and takes a called strike. Then he takes a called third strike. Out. This is funny for two reasons:
1. In the last two games, Posada has basically called time out between every goddamn pitch from the 6th inning onward, wandered to the mound and had some interminable colloquy with whomever was pitching for the Yankees at the time. It's engendered showers of boos, likely been pretty unnecessary and made the games unbearably protracted and dull. Seeing Posada told, "Nope, you've had enough time," probably made every non-Yankee fan in America happy.
2. Jorge Posada is a complete fucking asslord.
You know what? Fuck it: here's another Beaky Buzzard cartoon.

Bottom of the 7th: Chase Utley HAMMERS another home run. His second of the game. This ties Reggie Jackson's record for most home runs in a single World Series. Remember that we are only in Game Five, which means Utley could set the record if we go to another game. Chase Utley: The Next Stage in Hitting.

Raul Ibañez TATERS a ball off Phil Coke and sends it about 420+ feet and into a billboard. Millions of potsmokers light up because, hey, free excuse. Millions of Philly fans rejoice. Millions more Yankee haters rejoice. Phils lead 8-2. Also, Raul Ibañez just keeps Ibañezing it up. Thanks, J-Shap.

There are about a billion reasons why the rest of the game turned into a sustained fucking heart attack, but it doesn't matter. Phillies win. The Series goes back to New York. For at least another game, I Am Not Angry.