Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NL Regular Season Ends in Double OT as Rockies Stun Padres, 9-8 in 13 Innings to Claim Wild Card Spot

Colorado Rockies' Matt Holliday slides safe into home as San Diego Padres catcher Michael Barrett bobbles the ball during the 13th inning of the wild card tiebreaker in Denver. The Rockies beat the Padres 9-8. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

October 1 Update - In an amazing and continuously entertaining baseball game, the Colorado Rockies stunned the San Diego Padres, 9-8 in 13 innings at Coors Field in Denver in a one-game playoff for the National League wild card position in the upcoming playoffs. The Rockies advance to play the Philadelphia Phillies in a Division Series that starts Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia.

Most impressively, the Rockies put together a 3-run rally in the bottom of the 13th inning against all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. The Padres had taken the lead in the top of the 13th on a 2-run homer by outfielder Scott Hairston. Rockies outfielder and likely MVP Matt Holliday drove in the tying run with a triple and scored the winning run on a sacrifice fly by reserve infielder Jamie Carroll. Holliday narrowly slid under the block of Padres' catcher Michael Barrett, just barely grazing the plate with a finger or two of his left hand, as his headlong slide sent him chin first into the dirt around home plate. Barrett missed rightfielder Brian Giles throw at first, but retrieved the loose ball and moved to tag the immobile Holliday. But in the meantime, home plate umpire Tim McClelland, who did not make a call on Holliday's slide, waved his arms with the "safe" signal just before Barrett could apply the tag. Holliday stayed prone on the ground, apparently woozy from his chin-first impact. He may also have been spiked in the left hand which snuck just under Barrett's left cleat, assuming that McClelland made the proper call.

The game started as somewhat of a slugfest as Padres ace Jake Peavy was shelled for 6 runs and 10 hits in 6.1 innings, including home runs from veteran 1B Todd Helton and young C Torrealba (I'll have to look up his first name.) The Padres answered with a grand slam by 1B Adrian Gonzalez, knocking out Rockies' starter Josh Fogg in the process, and tied the game late when Holliday misjudged a fly ball by Brian Giles.

The second half of the game featured outstanding relief pitching by both teams, particularly the Rockies' Matt Herges, and the Padres' lefty Joe Thatcher, who struck out three of four batters he faced with wicked sidearm pitches. The Rockies employed ten pitchers in all, numbers two through eight of which held the Pads to one run in eight innings after their initial outburst against Fogg. Pitcher nine, Jorge Julio, was wild high and then grooved a fastball that Hairston bounced off the top of the left field wall and out of the park. The Padres steadfastly refused to use Hoffman until they held the seemingly safe two-run lead. But perhaps emboldened by watching Hoffman blow a wild card-clinching save vs. the Brewers, the Rockies struck quickly in the decisive innings. 2B Kaz Matsui fought off some tough pitches before lining a double in to the right center field gap. Rookie SS Troy Tulowitzki followed by plugging the other gap to bring the Rockies within one.

Hoffman had to pitch to Holliday, given that walking him would have put the winning run on base and brought up lefty Todd Helton. Holliday wasted no time driving a low changeup off the right field wall, just out of the reach of top-of-the-inning hero Hairston. The ball caromed away from Hairston, allowing Holliday to go to third with an easy triple. Not surprisingly, the Padres walked Helton to get to light-hitting reserve infielder Jamey Carroll. "Just trying to put the ball in play", Carroll lined another changeup to medium right field. Brian Giles played the ball well and uncorked a strong throw to the plate. Catcher Barrett set up to take the throw and at the last second, stuck his left heel out to block the plate. The TV replay appeared to show that the block was successful, but umpire McClelland saw the play differently, ruling that Holliday had nipped the plate with his fingers. Oddly, McClelland didn't make this call immediately. Rather he waited until Barrett retrieved the loose ball and started toward Holliday to make the tag before he signaled "safe". With the safe sign, the Rockies poured out of the dugout, including their trainer who moved quickly to attend to Holliday. Surprisingly, given the closeness of the play and what was at stake, none of the Padres, including Manager Bud Black, made a strong effort to protest the call. I'd have to see a replay to see how Barrett reacted, though I'm surprised he didn't go crazy, given his emotional history and other events (i.e. the fight with Carlos Zambrano that resulted in him being traded by the Cubs to the Padres).

But there it is. The Rockies, winners of 14 of their last 15 games, move on to face the Phillies on Wednesday. Cole Hamels (15-5) will start for the Phils. The Rockies will probably counter with their ace Jeff Francis, who last pitched on Friday night against the Diamondbacks, and would be pitching with full rest on Wednesday. Given the power of both offenses and the questionable nature of both pitching staffs, this Division Series should be a scoring parade.

I promise a more thorough rundown on the Rockies (I was stalling on this, thinking that they wouldn't make the playoffs and it wouldn't be necessary) before the game on Wednesday.

Coverage notes - I was skeptical about TBS covering the postseason, but they did a fine job. The announcing team, a play-by-play guy I didn't recognize and longtime Braves color man Joe Simpson, was both understated and insightful, and the coverage benefitted greatly by watching the game rather than a parade of celebrities (or in this case, non-celebrities, given TBS's limited package of first-run shows), both in the stands and the booth. We were also spared Tim McCarver. I missed the technical hijinks that ESPN offers, primarily the "K" zone, which shows where close pitches were relative to a computer-drawn strike zone.

Technical notes - My coverage of the midgame is a little shaky (no comments on controversial homer/no-homer by Rockies' 3B Garrett Atkins), but that's the reason you can read this at all, as I had to go to Circuit City at 8:30 to pick up a new cable modem. My old "outdated" modem apparently had more than its fill of ever-faster Internet speeds and checked out this morning. Three phone calls to my ISP and six to various electronic stores later, I headed out to Circuit City to buy not quite the modem I wanted. I cringed at buying it there, because none of my six or more calls to the store were answered. But the ISP technical rep, having worked at CC, assured me that they would have the needed item, and at 8:30, CC was the only game in town (except next-door appliance store Conn's, for whom a cable modem is just a little too techy). I'll admit that my urgency to replace the modem was driven less by the need to post on "dadlak" than by my daughter's need to reach the Internet to find four science stories in the news to summarize for biology class.

While watching the game on my monitor-side TV, I worked until 9:15 hooking everything up, then turned my workstation over to my daughter, and retreated to the bedroom to watch the rest of the game on the TV there. My wife, who was already in bed, paid attention to the game, but eventually lost interest in the 12th after the parade of extra innings with no resolution. The game lasted long enough (four hours and 40 minutes) that I was able to return to my home for most of the last two weeks of blogging (and two hours of baseball), right here with you. It's been a blast. I look forward to another great month of postseason blogging here at dadlak (but in a new post as this one is getting really long). Thanks for reading. Enjoy the playoffs!

September 30 Update - It's All Good! Phils Win Game and NL East; Mets Lose; Pads and Rocks in Monday NL Wild Card Playoff

Brett Myers celebrates after striking out Nationals' outfielder Wily Mo Pena to clinch the NL East title for the Philadelphia Phillies

Tadahito Iguchi and Jimmy Rollins exchange champagne showers during the Phillies clubhouse celebration.

Phillies fans urge on their team during Saturday's loss to the Nationals. I'm not sure how I feel about this whole towel thing, but it seems to work. (Getty Images)

September 30 Preview - The Rockies took care of business in style, trouncing the D-Backs 11-1 last night to stay alive in the wild card race. They need to win again today and get help from the Brewers to force a wild card playoff with the Padres (and perhaps the Phillies or Mets--keep reading). The NL East comes down to the last day of the season. With identical 88-73 records, the Phillies host the Nationals and the Mets host the Marlins. If both teams win or lose, they will play one game in Philadelphia to decide the NL East championship. Of course, if one team wins and the other loses today, the winner is NL East champ and the loser gets a tee time for Monday. If both teams win and the Padres lose today, the loser of the NL East playoff will participate in a wild card playoff game on Tuesday (site to be determined). As mentioned above, the Rockies could also get involved in a wild card playoff if they win and the Padres lose today. A three-team wild card playoff is too complicated for me to describe (or even know about) in this limited space.

Here are the pitching matchups and some comments on today's key games.

Marlins at Mets - Dontrelle Willis (10-15) vs. Tom Glavine (13-7) - Willis is a 25-year old lefty who's already won 22 games in a season and started an All-Star Game, but not this year, as he sports a losing record and a 5.20 ERA. Home runs (29) have been a problem. Willis did have a good start vs. the Cubs last week. He's 11-3 vs. the Mets in his career with a 2.49 ERA and 5-0 at Shea Stadium. Glavine, of course, is a future 41-year old Hall of Famer with 303 career wins. His contract with the Mets expires after this year, but he's talking about coming back for another season. Willis likes the spotlight and has the talent--Go D-Train! Go Fish!

Woo Hoo! Marlins lead 7-1 in the third; though the Mets have the bases loaded with two outs. New pitcher Kensing in for Willis, who was HBP by Tom Glavine in the first inning, driving in a run in the process. Willis pitched into the 3rd, giving up five walks before coming out. Glad the Fish have a six-run lead. They might need it. GO FISH!!!

They didn't need it. The Marlins cruised to an 8-1 win as six Fish pitchers held the Mets to five hits. In his worst start in years, Tom Glavine gave up five hits and seven earned runs while retiring just one batter in the top of the first.

With the loss and the Philllies' win, the Mets were eliminated from postseason play despite leading the NL East for almost the entire season. Mets brass and players will be scratching their heads; Mets fans will be staying away from sharp objects.

Nationals at Phillies - Jason Bergmann (6-5) vs. Jamie Moyer (13-12) - Bergmann is a 26-year old spot starter for the Nats in his third season. He's a righthander. He's given up 18 homers in 112 innings, which could be a problem against the slugging Phils. Moyer will be 45 before the year is out. He is in his 22nd major league season, having started with the Cubs in 1986. He did his best work with the Mariners from 1996-2006. In his last two starts he pitched well to beat the Cardinals and terribly to lose to the Braves. Once again, the entire (and I mean entire--I could even imagine Hamels pitching) Phillies staff will be available as the team phights for its' first postseason berth since 1993. Go Phils! Go Fish! (Programming Note - Dadlak will not be blogging this game--he will be relaxing with his wife at a bar in Mandeville listening to live music, playing Scrabble and enjoying the breeze off Lake Ponchartrain.) I'll provide a no-doubt heartrending recap this evening. Still,

Go Phils! Go Fish!

Double Woo Hoo! Phils lead 3-0 in the 4th after Ryan Howard's 2-out, 2-run RBI single in the bottom of the third. GO PHILS!!!

Like the Marlins, the Phils had more than enough in four innings as they cruised to a 6-1 win over Washington. Ryan Howard had a big day with 3 hits, incluing his 47th homer, and 3 RBIs, bringing his season total to a league leading 136. Jimmy Rollins got two hits, including his franchise-record 20th triple, stole two bases and scored two runs, bringing his league-leading total to 139. Ageless Jamie Moyer surrendered one unearned run in 5.1 innings. Three relievers, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero and Brett Myers, pitched 3.2 innings of scoreless relief to cap the Phillies' run to their first division title and first postseason berth since 1993.

Padres at Brewers - Brett Tomko (4-11) vs. Jeff Suppan (11-12) - This matchup sets up well for the Brewers. Tomko was rescued by the Padres from possible retirement to be a fifth starter when they dumped David Wells. Suppan was a hero in the Cardinals 2006 World Series run, and signed a big free agent contract with the Brewers. His performance hasn't quite matched the contract, but he could make a strong start and keep the wild card hopes of the Rockies and NL East teams alive. If the Padres win, they crack the champagne as the NL wild card team.

The Padres got three quick runs in the top of the first, but couldn't hold the lead as the Brewers pounded out 11 runs between the 4th and 8th innings. Ryan Braun scored three times and Corey Hart drove in three for the Brewers, who found their stride too late to save themselves, but just in time to endanger the Padres wild card spot that they were within one strike of claiming on Saturday.

Diamondbacks at Rockies - Doug Davis (13-12) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4)
- Davis came to the D-Backs from the Brewers after the 2006 season. His 2007 record is right on pace with his 75-75 career record--a .500 pitcher if there ever was one. Jimenez is a 23-year old rookie from the Dominican. Like Charlie Manuel, Rockies' manager Clint Hurdle will use anyone and everyone to go after this win. The 3 p.m. start is only an hour behind the start of the Brewers-Padres game. There's a note that Davis won't make this start (saving him for playoffs) if the D-Backs have the division clinched (which they do, along with the home field advantage for the entire NL playoff). In that case, I don't know who will start for the Snakes. It could be a September call-up pitcher who's not eligible for the postseason roster.

Jimenez pitched six great innings for the Rockies, allowing only one run while striking out ten. Yusmerio Petit started in place of Doug Davis, and matched Jimenez. The Rockies built a 4-1 lead with a 3-run 8th, and then held on as the Padres scored two in the top of the ninth before Manny Corpas earned a shaky 19th save.

New York Met John Maine struck out 14 while giving up just one hit in a 13-0 win over the Florida Marlins on Saturday at Shea Stadium in New York. The win pulled the Mets back into a tie with the Phillies for first place in National League East with just one game eft in the regular season. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

September 29 Preview - With a 1-game lead in NL East and two games to play, the Phillies control their own destiny, as do the Diamondbacks and Padres, to join the Cubs as National League playoff teams. Here are today's key matchups.

Marlins at Mets - Seddons (0-1) vs John Maine (14-10) - an apparent mismatch if you don't consider the Mets' frame of mind and Maine's mediocre pitching of late. How about 10-8 Fish? This is the early game (1:10 p.m. EDT start), so the other contenders will know what's happened in NY before they start play. A loss knocks Mets out of wild card contention. The Mets gutted the Marlins, 13-0 behind John Maine's 7+ innings with 14 K's and a 19-hit offense in a game that featured a "no punches thrown" bench-clearing brawl. The Marlins had more errors (3) than hits (1). You just knew the Mets would do something positive to save their season. Hope it's too late. I watched LSU beat Tulane, 33-9. on ESPN2 while the Mets administered this beating.

Padres at Brewers - Chris Young (9-8) vs Dave Bush (12-10) - Brewers revert to role of spoiler. Will be interesting to see if Yost gives any of his stars the day off. I'd make 'em play--they'll get plenty of rest starting Monday. Young had a sensational first half; has not been nearly as effective since coming back from injury. Bush has 5+ ERA. A Padres' win shuts both Rockies and Mets out of wild card, but doesn't of itself clinch a playoff spot for the Pads, unless the Phillies lose. Pads and Brewers are tied 1-1 in the 3rd. Runs came on RBI single by Adrian Gonzalez of the Pads in the first, and on a RBI triple by the Brewers' Geoff Jenkins in the 2nd. Cheesehead sighted in Milwaukee. Brewers threatening with two on, but Gabe Gross strikes out. Bruce Froemming behind the plate for the last time in a regular season game. Appropriately he gets hit in the mask with a foul ball. Pads turn a sac bunt attempt into a DP--well done. And good timing as Rickie Weeks follows with a 425 foot home run to center field. 2-1 Brewers. Gonzalez wastes no time evening score. Home run to right. 2-2. Gonzalez gives Pads the lead with a single to center, 3-2. Brewers try to tie in 8th--no luck as Braun fans vs. Heath Bell. Will be "Trevor Time" in the 9th as Pads try to wrap up playoff spot. One out for Trevor. Hart up now. He doubles. Tony Gwynn, Jr. is last hope for Brewers. Look for a changeup, Tony. Swings through. Count is 2-2. Fans watching big screen at Petco Park in SD. Triple into RF corner! Game tied, 3-3. More ice on champagne. One more hit will win game for Brewers. Grounder to third. Extra innings before Padres can celebrate. Good job of fighting back by Milwaukee. This game is now in the 11th. I think I will leave it to them. I'm still here. Brewers win on 2B by Braun, fly to right by Hart and GWRBI single to left by pinchhitter Rottino. Phils have to win tomorrow to qualify for wild card, since three teams at 89-73 is still possible.

Nationals at Phillies - Chico (6-9) vs Adam Eaton (10-9) - Eaton has highest ERA of any starting pitcher in NL. Chico's 4.75 is more than 1-1/2 runs lower. Bullpen standing by. Maybe even Kyle Lohse. FOX finally catches up to reality. When I turned on the TV there was the meaningless Cubs/Reds game. Halfway into the Phillies first, they switched over to the Phils and Nats. Adam Eaton labored through the first, giving up a run on a doiuble by Ryan Zimmerman. Chase Utley got on with an infield single, but was stranded. In the Nats second, a walk, hit and error come with two outs to lead the bases. Rafael Belliard is up. Jeff Geary is up in the bullpen. Count is 202. Really need an out here. Curve low and away. Full count. Life with Adam Eaton. Foul pop that Helms handles. Whew! Phils lineup is Rollins, Utley, Burrell, Howard, Rowand, Werth, Helms, Ruiz and Eaton. A rare insightful comment--McCarver calls the last pitch the most important of Eaton's career.

Rowand grounds to third. Zimmerman makes nice over-the-shoulder play and throws to first for the out. Werth next. Grounder into the left field corner for a double! Wes Helms next. Only 5 HRs in limited action at 3B. High fly to deep right. Werth tags and goes to third. Ruiz up now, 3-0 count, as Chico pitches carefully. Ruiz walks. Eaton bats--best hitter among Phillies pitchers. .213 average with a homer and 9 RBIs. Chico is short, broad-shouldered lefty. Looks a little like Mike Hampton. Two swings and misses from Eaton. Curve bounces, 1-2. Rollins on deck. Good slider. Eaton swings and misses. On to the 3rd.

Eaton goes to 3-2 on Zimmerman. I thought the 3-0 pitch was outside. He walks on 3-2. Dmitri Young next. Powerful lefty hitter. Sinking liner to left. Burrell makes a fine catch to save a base hit or worse. Kearns next. Geary back up in the pen. Do you think that Eaton feels the love? Foul fly toward the stands--Werth can't quite track it down, looking back into the sun. Ground single to right field. Runners on first and second. Manuel comes out to get Eaton--too bad for Eaton. I'm sure he's a good person--just not a very good pitcher, especially at $25 million for three seasons. Geary will pitch next. "Charlie Wholestaff" on call today, except Hamels and Moyer. Five hits and two walks in 2.1 inings for Eaton. First pitch from Geary is way high. Next pitch--sharp grounder--4-6-3 DP!

Top of the order for the Phils. Jimmy Rollins set a major league record with 706 ABs. Grounder to short--Lopez can't quite handle it. Base hit. Utley next. Called strike. Fouled off. Utley hitting .374 in home games. Easy fly to center that Church handles. Cubs take their "home on the road" act to Cincy to clinch NL Central. Reds' manager was dismayed about how many Cubs fans were there last night. Too much losing in Cincy to keep the home fans interested. Burrell up for Phils. Takes fastball for a strike, 1-1. Rollins gets picked off clean--without even a dive. Grounds to Zimmerman at third. On to the 4th.

Big Wily Mo Pena leads off for the Nats. Lines a single to left. Jose Mesa up in bullpen. Catcher Brian Schneider bats. Good changeup. Count is 1-2. Fastball ripped into left field. Second and first. Chico will bunt. Crowd very quiet. Chico takes a strike. Not sure what he was looking for. Bunt is popped up. Ruiz takes on bounce. Throws to second for the force, but could have gotten the leading runner at third. Jose Mesa comes in to pitch to Lopez. Mesa has intimidating 7.20 ERA. SF to left. 2-0, Nats. Misplay by Ruiz costs the Phils a run. Pena runs well for a huge guy. Belliard next. Fouls off first pitch. Mesa pitched in Philly in 2001-3. No telling how old he is. Lohse and someone else up in bullpen. Mesa has appeared in more than 1,000 games. Caught corner on 3-1 slider. Full count. Popped to Howard in foul ground. Time to get this game back on even terms. Howard leads off the Phils' 4th. Giving thanks for mute button during repeated Flomax commercials.

Howard lines to short. Not a great game for Phils so far, not even considering Eaton--Utley's error (though scorer didn't give an error), Rollins picked off, Ruiz throwing to wrong base. Rowand up with two strikes. FOX switched to Brewers game and then went to commercial. Hope they come back in Philly. Rowand fans. Count is 2-1 on Werth. He walks. Helms up with two out and one on. FOX returns to Milwaukee. Not sure what their policy is. Concentration of Phillies' fan in south Louisiana probably not in their calculations. 2-2 on Helms. He makes out and we go to the fifth.

Lohse in as Phils' fourth pitcher. Puts Kendrick in the Monday playoff if there is one, but maybe not if Lohse doesn't throw many pitches today. First batter is Zimmerman--Nats' most dangerous hitter. Lohse pitched great in a win over the Braves this week. Seven innings and two runs. Count is 1-2. Zimmerman singles. Young is next. Also dangerous. Young pops out to third. Kearns flied to Rowand. Church struck out.

Ruiz starts 5th for Phils. Pinch-hitter almost certain for Lohse and new pitcher in 6th for Phils. Count is 1-2. Chico pitching beautifully for a guy that spent time in the minors recently. Grounder to short. One out. Surprise--Lohse bats. Bigger surprise--Chico walks him. Rollins next. I was going to say "good spot for our MVP candidate", but Rollins hit into a DP before I could type that.

Lohse vs. Pena to start the Nats' sixth. If Phils get into postseason, he would be fourth starter (if needed) ahead of Eaton. Pena pops to Howard. Schneider next. Phillies pitching OK today--spacing out hits and getting key outs. Schneider fans. Chico bats for himself. Manager Acta likes what he seems from his rookie starter. He has one hit already. Count goes to 2-2. Chico fans.

Utley leads off for Phils. Count is 1-1. Fly ball to center. Now Burrell. Count is 2-2. He flies to right. Howard next. Count is 1-1. Rowand on deck. Howard out. Tough day for offense.

Nats' 7th. Lohse pitching. Lopez doubles to left. Belliard sacrifices him to third. Zimmerman walks. Lefty J.C. Romero on to pitch to lefty Young. Young is 0-3, but hitting .323 overall and a respectable .302 afainst lefties. Count is 2-0. Young safe at first on Howard error. Maxwell pinch runs. Lopez scores, 3-0. Getting tougher by the minute with only nine outs left. Kearns flies to center. Zimmerman advances to third. Church next--why Romero stayed on--to face the lefty. 3-1 to Church. Pena on deck. Romero wild pitches Maxwell to third. Ruiz apparenlty makes a bad throw to the plate to allow Zimmerman to score. Church strikes out. 4-0 Nats. Yikes!

Ugly line score for Phils 0 3 2. Fick and Logan take over for Young and Church iat 1B and CF. Rowand changes that with home run. Cuts deficit to 4-1. Could be last batter for Chico, though he's thrown only 87 pitches. Saul Rivera from Puerto Rico comes in to pitch. Stats are pretty good--3.55 ERA in 83 relief appearances. Werth hits for himself. Count goes to 2-2. Flies out to center. Greg Dobbs hits for Helms. Full count. He walks. Ruiz up. Just four hits and four walks for the Phils today. Base hit to left for Ruiz! Victorino bats for Romero. We'll see who pitches. Shane is a switch-hitter but gets many more ABs left-handed. Looks like Rivera stays. Wrong again. Double switch. Rauch pitching and batting sixth. Langerhans goes to center and bats ninth. Rauch is also a righty. Similar stats to Rivera--3.57 ERA in 87 relief appearances. Count is 1-2. Rollins on deck. Shane pops up to third. Rollins next. Really needs a hit here. Doesn't get it. On to the 8th.

Tom Gordon called on to keep Nats at 4. Pena is first hitter. Dobbs stays in at third for Phils. Two quick out. Pena grounds out and Schneider fans. Langerhans gets an infield single to short. Lopez next. Had a good hitting year in Cincy in 2005, but couldn't field well enough. Hasn't hit as well for the Nats. Not sure about his fielding. He flies out to Burrell.

Utley, Burrell and Howard in the 8th. Hopefully a few more. It's rare for the Phils to lose due to lack of offense. Pitching today has been spotty but overall adequate. Defense has been a weak spot--probably responsible for two of the Nats' four runs. 2-2 to Utley. Another fly ball to center for Utley. Burrell next. Rauch throwing strikes. 0-2 to Burrell. Burrell fans--crowd probably not happy. Howard right where Nats want him--up with no one on. Ryan homers! #46 on season. 4-2. Rauch pitching to Rowand. Count is 2-0. No dice. Three outs left.

Myers in. Belliard grounds out. Z-man wlks, his third of game. He's been on all five times. Fick batting in Young's spot. Fielder's choice gets Z-man, leaves Fick at first. 2-1 to Kearns. He singles. Two on and two out. Jimenez pinch hits for Rauch. 1-1. He fans. One more chance.

Nats' closer Chad Cordero on. Werth is first batter. Dobbs and Ruiz behind him. 1-2 to Werth. Cordero has 36 saves in 45 chances. Werth strikes out. One strike on Dobbs. Relief pitching a strength of Nats. Now 2-2. Dobbs flies to center. Busy place today. Ruiz is last hope. Carlos is 1-2 with a walk. He pops up. Game over, Nats win 4-2. Get 'em tomorrow!

Diamondbacks vs. Rockies - E. Gonzalez (8-3) vs. Mark Redman (1-4) - OK, Redman's ERA at 8.67 is higher than Eaton's but he hasn't thrown enough innings to qualify. A loss knocks the Rockies out of the playoffs, no matter what the Padres do.

Did I mention this already?

Go Phils!! Go Fish!!

September 28 - Oh Baby! Phils Brush Off Nats; Marlins Pull Mets Under; Cubs Win NL Central; Snakes Cause Rockslide--Take West

Philadelphia Phillies' starting pitcher Cole Hamels throws against the Washington Nationals in the first inning Friday in Philadelphia. He finished with 13 strikeouts in 8 innings of shutout ball, leading the Phillies to a 6-0 win and sole possession of first place in National League East with two games to play. (AP Photo/H. Rumph, Jr.)

September 28 Preview - The Rockies beat the Dodgers, 10-4 in a late game to keep pace with the Phillies, Mets and Padres.

Kudos to D-Backs starter Micah Owings for more sensational hitting--headline stuff--just not on a night when the Phillies tied for first after a season-long struggle.

Here are Friday's pitching matchups and comments with real-time reports in italics.

Nats at Phillies - Redding (3-5) vs Cole Hamels (14-5) - a mismatch on paper, but pesky (G)nats have been mashing. Hamels will have to be sharp. Phils should get their usual 5+ vs. journeyman Tim Redding (though Redding did well vs. Phils in a previous start this year and has a 3.53 ERA for the season).


Hamels retires the Nats on one hit and three outfield outs in the top of the first. Phils start same lineup that won last night's game - Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Rowand, Burrell, Dobbs, and Ruiz. Rollins pops to left. Victorino reaches on an infield single. Not unexpectedly, TV coverage of tonite's critical games is non-existent outside the home markets. Utley pops to short. Redding's ERA is low considering the number of walks (39) and homers (10) he's given up in 80 innings. He came up as a hot prospect with the Astros, but has bounced around since leaving Houston. He pitched briefly with the Padres and threw 1 bad inning with the Yankees in 2005. He missed all of 2006. His career ERA is 4.91. His best season was 2003 with the Astros when he went 10-14 with a 3.68 ERA in 32 starts. He gets Howard to end the Phils' first.

Wily Mo Pena (one of the best names since Willie Mays Aikens) leads off the second with a hit. He moved from Cincy to Boston in the Bronson Arroyo deal and was a big disappointment in Beantown. He has huge power, but problems with the strike zone. Veteran Tony Batista is next. He has over 200 career homers and relatively low .251 batting average. Batista flies out, but catcher Flores reaches. Second and first with one out. Batter is centerfielder Justin Maxwell, a rookie callup. He singles to center, but Pena holds at third. Pitcher Redding is next. Four hits in 1.1 innings off Cole. Not his best stuff so far. Whew! Redding grounds into 6-4-3 DP. Go Phils!

Rowand flies out to start Phils' second. Burrell working the count--3 and 1. He draws his 113th walk of the season, extending a career high. This is Pat's third straight good year for the Phils--about 900 OPS every year. His fielding and running aren't great, but he hits long balls and draws walks--a good combination. He's no threat to steal--just five total in almost 4000 ABs. Good judgment, though. He's only been caught once. Dobbs fans behind Burrell. Ruiz next. Ruiz was supposed to be the Phils' backup catcher to acquisition Rod Barajas, but claimed the job early in the season. But he's out and we go to the third.

SS Jimenez leads off for Nats. He fans for Cole's first K. Belliard bounces back to the mound. Ryan Zimmerman next--the Nats most dangerous hitter. Today is his 23rd birthday--already two good seasons behind him--likely a special career in the making. 27 strikes and only 10 balls so far for Hamels--an excellent ratio. Zimmerman fans. Hamels then the top of the order due up for Phils in 3rd. Cole is no Micah Owings--.148 average with 1 RBI in a whole season of work. He grounds to first. Phils need more baserunners vs. Redding--only two the first time through the order. No luck for Rollins--he flies to center. Shane next. Has the only hit so far for the Phils. He reaches on error by Belliard.

May have to check out soon. Wife wants to go to dinner. I'll lobby for a place with a TV--we should be able to follow the action from ESPN's broadcast.

Good spot for Shane and Utley. Would like to see Shane take off for second. He did and got thrown out--only the fourth time in 41 attempts this year.

Kearns leads off for Nats in 4th. He fans. Cole's third. Seems to be rounding into form after shaky second inning. Pena fans. Off to dinner down the street.

Back from dinner--all good stuff in between it seems--Phils lead 4-0 batting in the 7th and Cole has struck out everyone in sight--total of 11. RBIs by Rollins (2 on single), Utley (1 on 2B) and Hamels (FC). Utley on (HBP) with one out. Howard batting. Defensive subs (Bourn and Nunez) in game for Phils. Thank you Ryan! Home run #45. Lead grows to 6-0. Fourth pitcher of game for Nats--Schroder. Don't you know that someone named Lucy is cheering for him. I wonder if the Nats play Beethoven when he comes in the game. Bases loaded now. Hamels up with 2 outs. Phils expect him to pitch the 8th--no pinch hitter. Dream game so far.

PH Logan fans to start 8th. K number 12 for Cole. 101 pitches at start of inning. Will probably be last inning no matter what. Jimenez next. He doubles to left. Belliard grounds out--Jimenez to third. Zimmerman next. 80 strikes and 34 balls for Cole--awesome--virtual standing O from my chair in Louisiana. Z-man fans. Need to pick up daughter at mall. See you later.

Condrey finishes up the shutout -- Phils win, 6-0! Go Fish! Hamels' pitching line 8 6 0 0 1 13. Between the 3rd and 8th innings he gave up 2 hits, 1 walk and struck out 13 Nats. We can scream it here too for tomorrow - Go Phils! Go Fish!

Cubs at Reds - Carlos Zambrano (17-13) vs. Bronson Arroyo (9-14) - Zambrano has to come up big in this game--his most important start as a Cub. Arroyo, a disappointment to the Reds since coming over from Boston, has pitched better lately. Soriano leads this one off with his 32nd homer. Baton Rouge's Ryan Theriot drives in the Cubs' second run with a SF. My boss coached him in Little League. Now up 4-0 after 2-run HR from Derrek Lee. Zambrano has 6-hitter thru seven. Now 6-love Cubs in 9th. Cubs win 6-0. It's do or die for Brewers.

Marlins at Mets - B.Y. Kim (9-8) vs. Oliver Perez (15-9) - If the Mets bats wake up, this should be an easy win. Kim has a 6.11 ERA. GO FISH! Rain delays start of this one in New York. Game is underway. Fish post two on walk to Uggla and homer by Hermedia. Go Fish! Mets get one back on hit by pitcher Perez and error on Marlins' outfielder. Now 7-4 Fish in 6th with bases loaded and El Duce on for the Mets. Kim not great, but better than Perez. Mets escape further damage. Kim back to hill for Fish--yikes. Not so--Tankersley takes over and zeroes Mets in 6th.

Wagner pitches to the Fish in the 9th, down 7-4. Marlins' closer is Kevin Gregg. He got the save last night vs. the Cubs. We'll see if they bring him back on consecutive nights. Some more Fish runs wouldn't hurt. Gardner pitched the 8th. Gregg on for Marlins. Top of order for Mets--Reyes, Castillo, Wright. Reyes is 0-4. Had another fine season, but didn't progress beyond 2006 performance. Both Rollins and Hanley Ramirez passed him among NL shortstops this year. Reyes singles. This will be nervewracking, even with three-run lead. Reyes out on fielder's choice, Castillo on first. David Wright up now--may be watching his MVP hopes evaporate along with the Mets' playoff berth.

Another great college football upset is in the making as South Florida leads West Virginia 21-7. USF beat Auburn earlier this year. USF wins, 21-13!

Oops, back to baseball. Wright grounds out. Castillo advances to second. Beltran next--throw strikes, Gregg. A homer is better than a walk. Count goes to 1-1. Now 1-2. Time for a curve ball. Beltran fouls out. Fish win! Fish win! Final score, 7-4. Phillies now on top by themselves by 1 game with 2 to play. Getting a head start on tomorrow.

Go Phils!! Go Fish!!

Padres at Brewers - Greg Maddux (13-11) vs Chris Capuano (5-12) - another paper mismatch, though Maddux got hit around by the Rockies in his last start.

ESPN has this game, their last of the 2007 season. It's surprising that they have no rights to playoff games, which will be televised by FOX and TBS. Go Brewers! Now 3-2 Dads--Brewers first run was unlikely small ball--HBP, SB, bunt hit and SF. Hart ties game with more Breweresque home run. Pads lead 6-3 in 8th after Khalil Greene homer. Brewers season may be only two more innings.

Two on for Brewers in 8th. Kevin "What A" Mench up. Fly ball to deep right. Caught. Runner moves up from 2nd to 3rd. Small price for the out. Joe Dillon next. He fans. Fans grumble.

Trevor Hoffman on for the 9th. 523 career saves. Trying to save Greg Maddux's 347th career win. I wrote this once, but Google didn't take it. It was monotonous--strike out, strike out, strike out--the last one by Rickie Weeks--taking two fastballs before swinging and missing at a changeup. Padres win 6-3; Cubs are champs of NL Central. Padres clinch at least a spot in wild card playoff.

D-Backs at Rockies - Brandon Webb (17-10) vs. Jeff Francis (17-8) - the game that Bob Melvin saved his ace for, and the game of the year in NL West. Francis has quietly put together a fine year for the Rocks. D-Backs lead 3-1 in the 4th. Now 4-1 in 6th. Now 4-2 Snakes in the 9th. Two on and one out for Rocks. Valverde pitching and Koshansky batting. Valverde is Snakes' closer. Koshansky has 10 ABs this year and 1 hit. He's a lefty. He fans. Matsui is last hope for Rockies. Loss would eliminate them in AL west and push them two games back of Pads for wild card with two to play. He fans. That's it. D-Backs win, 4-2. Snap Rockies 11-game win streak. 90th win clinches at least wild card for D-Backs. Mets top out at 89. At best, Padres can tie D-Backs with 90 wins.

September 27 - No Debate: Tie Atop NL East Thrills Phils

Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand celebrate Burrell's homer that extended the Phillies lead over the Braves to 6-0. The Phils held on to win by 6-4 and tie the Mets for first place in NL East.

September 27 Preview - The AL playoff teams are working out playoff pitching rotations. NL teams are still fighting for playoff spots. With a magic number of 3 vs. the Brewers, the Cubs are closest, despite losing two straight to the Marlins. With just four to play, the Mets, Phillies, D-Backs, Padres and Rockies are bunched within two games, fighting for two division titles and the wild card spot.

A fascinating possible outcome of all this is one or more ties for divisional titles or wild card positions. Five team contending for the NL East, NL West and the wild card are bunched between 88-70 and 86-72. The possibility even exists of four (or five?) teams tied with the same record (89-73 would work, I think--Rockies would have to win at least two of three vs. D-Backs). MLB policy has been to play one-game playoffs to separate playoff teams from non-playoff teams, but to use tiebreakers to distinguish between a division champ and wild card if both are playoff qualifiers. I could see two divisional one-game playoffs, with the losers matched the next day in a one-game wild card playoff. I'm sure there's someone at the MLB office working on this.

Here's a link to a Fox story on this very subject: http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/7272038

Four days would be needed to resolve a 5-way tie--two for the NL West (while NL East is decided in one game) and two more to decide wild card among three non-division winners. Yikes!

Here are tonight's NL pitching matchups. As noted, seven (eight counting Braves) teams fight for four playoff spots with just four games left.

D-Backs at Pirates - Brandon Webb (17-10) vs Van Benschoten (that's just his last name--0-6) - Snakes should be able to break 3-game losing streak. Manager Bob Melvin subs Micah Owings for Webb (saving Webb for Rockies, it seems). Good idea. Owings pitches 6.1 shutout innings and gets four hits (3 x 2B's), driving in three runs in an 8-0 D-Backs win. Owings is a shoo-in for the Silver Slugger for NL pitchers--his OPS is 1050 on a .339 batting average. Owings has 7 2B's and 4 homers among his 19 hits. He's driven in 15 runs. Wonder if he gets to pinch hit. The D-Backs are the anti-Phillies--leading NL West despite scoring the fourth fewest runs in the majors, behind such powerhouse clubs as the Astros, Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers. Their team ERA is seventh best in the majors.

Cubs at Marlins - Trachsel (7-10) vs. Olsen (9-15) - Cubs castoff Steve Trachsel returns to help his new/old team into the playoffs. Grip tightens around necks of Cubs. Marlins lead 5-4 in the 8th. Cubs are just three outs from being swept by a last place team. WGN has this game. Doesn't look like Braves and Phillies will be televised. Turner Broadcasting lets us down again. I guess they can't preempt "Everybody Loves Raymond." Looks like Internet baseball and "The War" on TV tonite. Or maybe not--LPB preempts "The War" for a debate among Louisiana gubernatorial candidates. Can I blog this? U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R), wunderkind of Louisiana politics at age 36, New Orleans businessman John Georges (I), Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell (D), and businessman and State Sen. Walter Boasso (D) are the candidates. Jindal ran for governor in 2003 and lost to current governor Kathleen Blanco, but he's leading the polls by a wide margin this time. Georges is a self-described business turnaround specialist. Campbell is focusing his campaign on enacting an excise tax on oil companies to replace existing personal and corporate income taxes. Boasso started his political life as a Democrat, switched to Republican and then back when the state Republican party unilaterally endorsed Jindal. He's running as a "can-do" business executive with experience in government who wants to turn government as we know it upside down.

Marlins add a run with a long double off the scoreboard--now up 6-4. Cubs coming up in the 9th. Lee out on circus catch in center. Ramirez grounds first pitch to third. Two outs. DeRosa flies to right. Game over. 6-4 Marlins. Another opportunity for the Brewers. Cubs will need better effort vs. Reds over weekend.

Cards at Mets - Piniero (6-5) vs. Pedro Martinez (3-0) - Shea Stadium will be jumping tonight, though fans may be testy after they watched Nats sweep Mets. Pedro needs to get through at least six innings. Cards pick up a first inning run on a hit, an error and another hit. 1-0, Cards. Cards add two in the third on RBIs by Pujols and Ludwick. So far for Pedro 3 5 3 2 0 4.

Mets batting in 7th, still down 3-0. Fine game for Pedro--7 innings and 2 earned runs. He's bested so far by Piniero.

Isringhausen on for Cards in 9th to protect 3-0 lead. Only three hits so far for Mets. Reyes, Castillo, and Wright due up. Beltran and Alou loom. Reyes and Castillo ground out. Wright is last hope for Mets. Game over! Cards win, 3-0. Three outs between Phils and tie for first in NL East.

Braves at Phillies - Kendrick (9-4) vs. Smoltz (14-7) - AA-callup Kyle Kendrick has been a pleasant surprise in an otherwise dismal pitching year for the Phils. Tough matchup with future Hall of Famer Smoltz in what may be the Braves last meaningful game of the season. Woo-hoo! Phils get four in bottom of first on two Braves errors and a 2-run homer by Ryan Howard. Woo-hoo x 1.5 - Rowand doubles and Burrell slugs his 30th homer in the third--Phils lead 6-0! Smoltz line through 3 - 3 6 6 5 0 5--feast or famine--mostly feast for Phils hitters.

Chipper and Teixeira homer off Kendrick in the 6th to cut the deficit in half. Phils lead 6-3 with Braves batting in 7th. Gordon on for Kendrick. A. Jones singles. Next a DP grounder. Then a double and a walk. Two on and two out for Renteria, a notoriously tough hitter with men on. He flies out to Rowand. Whew! Six outs to go.

Phils 7th--Rollins on via Johnson error--third fielding error of night for Braves. Bad fielding hurt them last night too. Victorino up--nice to see him in the lineup, though Burrell and Werth have been doing great. Shane hits into DP. Utley next. Third out (as Phil Rizzuto would say, "ww-wasn't watching").

Braves up in 8th-- JC Romero on for Phils. Unscored upon in last 17 appearances. Probably jinxed him just writing that. Chipper safe on throwing error by Utley. Hope JC can keep Teixiera in the ballpark. Key AB of game. DP! Utley to Rollins to Howard. McCann next. If Romero gets him then righthander Brett Myers can pitch to Francouer in 9th rather than 8th. McCann grounds out to short.

One on and one out for Phils in bottom of 8th. Rowand singled. Bourn bats in Burrell's spot (he took over for defense in 7th). Infield single. Nunez next (in for Dobbs at 3B). No dice.

Myers takes over on hill. To face Francouer, Jones and Diaz--all free-swinging righties. Needs to get one of first two out so Diaz isn't the tying run. No luck with Francouer, who hits his 18th HR on the second pitch. A. Jones grounds out. Diaz singles to left. Escobar hits in the pitcher's spot. Another free swinger. Biggest two outs of Myers' career. 3 and 2 to Escobar. Escobar lines to third. Diaz takes second on defensive indifference. Kelly Johnson now. Two quick strikes. Crowd on its feet no doubt, probably for whole inning. That's it! Johnson retired. Phils win, 6-4! Now tied for first at 87-72. Kyle Kendrick gets 10th win; Myers gets save number 21. Braves will miss playoffs for second straight year.

Padres at Brewers - Cassell (1-1) vs. Gallardo (9-4) - tough finishing series for both teams, as they both battle for playoff lives. Pads lead Brewers 4-1 in 4th. NL Central looking more and more like 2006--83 wins might be enough. Then Cardlike, the Cubs sweep to the World Championship, despite having the weakest team in the tournament on paper. Waking up now. Pads pad lead to 5-1 in 4th. Pads win 9-5 to keep pace with D-Backs and Phils.

Rockies at Dodgers - Morales (2-2) vs. Loaiza (1-3) - Rockies should score off Loaiza; can Dodgers keep pace? Probably not. Rockies lead punchless Dodgers, 3-0 in 4th. Dodgers close to 3-2 as they bat in the 5th. Loiaza out for Dodgers.

September 26 - Phils Win! Mets Lose! Margin Down To One Game in NL East

Philadelphia Phillies' MVP-candidate shortstop Jimmy Rollins triples against the Atlanta Braves in the 1st inning of Wednesday's game in Philly. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)

September 26 - Here are tonite's key pitching matchups (with game reports in italics). With just five games left for most teams, not a single NL team has clinched even a playoff spot. All three division leaders (Mets, Cubs, D-Backs) hold two game leads going into play tonight.

Braves at Phillies - Tim Hudson (16-9) vs Kyle Lohse (8-12) - an uphill climb for Phils in more ways than one after last nite's action (Phils lose; Pads win in last AB on HR by Brian Giles). This is ESPN's Wednesday night game. ESPN has one of their best broadcast teams on Wednesday, as it includes Orel Hershiser, the top broadcast analyst in my view. Former Mets' GM Steve Phillips provides a good management perspective. With this game televised, "The War" will have to wait, though I think I convinced my daughter to tape the first hour (or maybe not).

Strike out of Chipper Jones and caught stealing of Renteria ends Braves first. Renteria called time after he was tagged for the third out by about 5 feet--positive thinking.

Triple and a turn for Jimmy Rollins as Andruw Jones dives and misses his drive to right center. Ryan Howard drives him in for a 1-0 lead. Good pickup hit after an Utley short fly and Burrell K.

Throwing error by Chipper Jones in the 3rd leads to three Phillie runs. Chase Utley did a great job avoiding a tag between 2nd and 3rd. Greg Dobbs delivers big 2-run single after the error. Phils lead 4-0.

430' homer by Mark Teixiera with Chipper Jones aboard cuts lead in half, 4-2 Phils. 54 RBI in 51 games as a Brave for Teixeira.

Lohse gets swinging bunt hit in 4th. Rollins follows with a single, but Utley hits into a DP.

Tough night for Burrell--grounder to mound and two bad-looking K's. Phils still lead 4-2 after five.

Good point by Phillips--sinkerballer Hudson needs to be a good fielder to support his pitching style. Greg Maddux is the model of this approach.

Great job by Lohse--7 innings of two-run ball with no walks. An "A" start for a Phils' starter. Victorino pinch-hitting now. Which Phillies bullpen will pitch tonite? At least there's only two innings to cover. "The Flyin' Hawaiian" homers into the upper deck, 5-2 Phils! Great recovery after looking bad on a 2-1 changeup. Now third hit of game for Rollins. Fans getting into "MVP" chant. 700 ABs for Rollins--starter in every game this year.

Hudson leaves after Rollins' hit. Lefty Royce Ring on to face Utley. Utley flies out. Now Peter Moylan (1.83 ERA) in for Braves to face Burrell. Moylan throws "pitch in" as catcher goes out for a pitchout and pitch sails high over home to the backstop. Rollins advances to second. Burrell grounds to first; Rollins advances to third. Moylan executes intentional walk to Howard flawlessly. Rowand next. He fans, but Phils take 3-run lead into the 8th.

Tom Gordon on for Phils in 8th. Victorino goes to right; Werth moves to left. Burrell out. Gordon in his spot in order. Escobar pinchhitting for Braves. He walks. Yuk. Johnson skies to Werth in left. Renteria up. Gordon ahead on count--Renteria fouling off two strike pitches. Fans Renteria on 95 mph fastball! Two outs. Romero on to pitch to Jones and Teixiera. Probably a good idea--Teixiera vs. right-handed fastballer could be a problem. Jones has more power as lefty. Not sure about Teixiera's power split. Phils fans waving white towels to help Romero. Count 2-2 to Jones. Jones fans on changeup! Three outs to go.

Octavio Dotel pitching to Abraham Nunez, on for Dobbs at 3B. Nunez fans. Werth up next. He fans too. Now Carlos Ruiz. Pop up to center. Strap in for a Phillies ninth.

Banner in OF professes fans' (or is it phans) Phaith in Phils.

Closer Brett Myers throwing to Teixiera. Strike three called on curve! Great pitch after two fastballs. McCann skies to Werth in left. Fans all on their feet. Now Francouer. Rowand settles under fly ball. Phils win, 5-2! Lohse improves to 9-12; Myers records 20th save. Hudson falls to 16-10. Well-played win all around for Phillies--no errors; only one walk.

D-Backs at Pirates - Livan Hernandez (11-10) vs Matt Morris (9-11) - Livan works for yet another playoff team.

Pirates lead D-Backs 3-0 with game in rain delay. Back in action. Bucs stretch lead over Snakes 4-0. Arizona gets one to trail 4-1 in 6th. Now 5-1 in the 8th. Surprising spunk by Bucs, who'd lost 9 of last 10 before this series. 5-1 in the final score. Could D-Backs fulfill my prophecy and finish out of playoffs behind both Pads and Rockies or Phils?

Cubs at Marlins - Jason Marquis (12-8) vs. D. Barone (1-3) - Dontrelle Willis pitched his best game in weeks last nite. Marquis has been fairly dependable for Cubs after hideous 2006 campaign with Cards.

Marlins get a two-run hit to lead Cubs by last nite's final margin, 4-2, but it's still early. Now Cubs have tied 4-4. Marlins retake lead on RBI double.

Cabrera's 34th homer stretches their lead to 7-4. Game ends with this score.

Nats at Mets - Bascik (5-8) vs Humber (0-3) - Humber??? Bascik, of course, surrendered #756. Humber is former College World Series star with Rice Owls. Mets draw first blood on Beltran homer. They lead 2-0. Now 3-0. Now 5-0 in the 3rd on second Beltran homer. Moises Alou also homers--30 game hitting streak.

Nats close to 6-3 on home run. Wily Mo Pena doubles in two to put Nats ahead, 7-6. But game is only in the 5th. Nats have scored 30 so far in the three game series.

Still 7-6 Nats in 7th. Orlando Hernandez (El Duce) pitching in relief for Mets.

Still 7-6 Nats in 9th. I'd love to see Phils and Mets both get in, but first things first, "Go Nats!"

Nats get two more off Billy Wagner in the 9th. Now 9-6. Could be enough--their closer Cordero is pretty tough. Except it's Ayala pitching for the Nats. 3.32 ERA in 42 appearances. No saves. Castillo, Wright and Beltran are first three for Mets. Need to keep Castillo off base. He fans. Now Wright, my NL MVP, though Rollins, Holliday and Fielder are all charging hard to the finish.

1-2-3 inning for Ayala. His first save. Nats win, 9-6. Phils close to within 1 game in NL East. Very galling loss for Mets after 5-0 start.

Cards at Brewers - Thompson (7-6) vs. Villanueva (8-4) - Carlos Villenueva has been a good spot starter for the Brews. Prince Fielder reached 50 homers last night--youngest in history to accomplish this.

Pujols homers to right to give Cards 1-0 lead. Starts career with seven straight 100 RBI seasons.

Brewers tie 1-1 after an embarrassing error by Cards' 3B Miguel Cairo--he fell on his face while winding up to throw to first--never did make the throw. Now lead 2-1. Cubs' fans getting nervous, including me.

Cards back ahead 3-2. Putting up a better fight tonight. Still up 3-2 in 8th. Very well pitched game by Cards--trying to get to Isringhausen in 9th.

Touchy spot for Brewers in the 8th. Cards have bases loaded with two outs. Turnbow pitching to Stinnett. Walk on four pitches. Now 4-2, Cards. Taguchi up next. Shouse is new pitcher. Double drives in two. Now 6-2, Cards. Tough job for Brewers--score at least four in two innings off Cards bullpen, and that's if they get out of this mess.

The Crew needs 5 and then some to gain a game on the Cubs.

Cards are serious about winning this one. They send Isringhausen to the mound in the 9th with a five run lead. Now one on (Weeks) and one out with Hardy up--Braun and Fielder to follow. Even if they all score it's only 7-6, but Brewers can score a lot in a hurry--Hart and Jenkins follow Fielder. They both can reach the seats as well.

Hardy flies out. Braun is Milwaukee's last hope tonight. He singles in Weeks. 7-3. Fielder up. What a season for a 23-year old. 50 HRs, 119 RBIs, 1018 OPS--near the top of the league. But not tonight. Cards win, 7-3. Great news for Cubs and their fans.

Rockies at Dodgers - Fogg (9-9) vs. Lowe (12-13) - Dodgers were probably expecting a little more about of high-priced Lowe. Rockies kept pace with Pads and moved up on D-Backs with 9-7 win over Dodgers late on Tuesday. Matt Holliday was back in the lineup for the Rocks.

I'll have to report on this one tomorrow. Go Dodgers! (That's hard to say.) Matsui and Holliday have RBIs for Rocks, who lead 2-0 in 3rd. Lineup starts with Mets' flop Matsui at 2B; rookie Tulowitzki at SS; Holliday in LF; veteran Todd Helton at 1B; Garrett Atkins at 3B; hot-hitting ex-LSU Tiger Brad Hawpe in RF; CF Spillbroughs, and C Torrealba, both of whom I'm not too familiar wtih. Like the Phillies, the Rocks feature hitting over pitching.

Rockies hold 2-0 lead in 6th as I declare bedtime. They win by the same score. Josh Fogg and three relievers combine on the 8-hit shutout. Rockies have won 10 straight at just the right time. Can they keep it up for four more?

Padres at Giants - Peavy (18-6) vs. Misch (0-3) - on paper, the mismatch of the nite--likely Cy Young winner vs. rookie. But sometimes rookies can surprise against a team that's never seen them. Bonds will play for Giants tonite. Last start for him in SF as a Giant.

MLB suspended umpire Mike Winters for the rest of the season for his role in the Milton Bradley incident. No one would repeat directly what Winters said to deserve the suspension. Padres' manager Bud Black said only that "you couldn't print it." Maybe a racial epithet?

Likewise for this game--too late to follow to the end. Go Giants! I hope Barry slugs a couple into McCovey Cove. Giants get one in first on a Randy Winn homer. Four up and down so for Padres off Misch.

Padres leapfrog Giants in 2nd on single and two doubles. 2-1 Pads.

Now 7-1 Pads in the 5th. Likely the end of tonite's story from SF.

Indeed. Padres won 11-3. Peavy posted 19th win to cement NL Cy Young Award. With league-high wins and strikeouts, great winning percentage, and league-low ERA he really has no challengers.

AL insert - Looks like the Yankees will claim the final AL playoff spot. They lead the Rays 8-1, while the Tigers trail the Twins. Only one result has to hold up for the Yanks to get the wild card.

It's 12-4 Yankees in the 9th. I doubt they'll pop any bubbly in the Yankee clubhouse for a wild card spot, though Torre and his players probably deserve to after their terrible start. (As late as July 1 the Yanks were behind the Blue Jays in third place, and 10-1/2 game behind the Red Sox. I think they were actually in last place for a day or two at the depth of their season in May--this from Wikipedia--the Yankees were tied with Tampa Bay for last in AL East on May 31 at 22-29. Say what you will about Roger Clemens' price tag and individual pitching, but the team played a whole lot better after he joined the roster in early June. ) That's the final, 12-4. Yankees fill out AL playoff roster. Most likely matchups are Angels at Red Sox and Yankees at Indians. Re Sox and Yankees won't be allowed to meet in a first round series.

Blogging the NL Pennant Race While Watching "The War"

September 25 Update - Both the night and the Phillies get off to dismal starts. With the NL pennant race in full bloom, the only game on TV in Louisiana is the Astros at Cincinnati. This follows a Sunday on which ESPN televised the long-awaited second division matchup between the Astros and Cards (my boss's boss--a big Cards fan--tells me it was a terrific game). I'll have to follow the action on http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/scores. Ken Burns' "The War" about World War II will win out on TV after 7 p.m, as it did on Sunday. Second division baseball (and an 0-3 start by the Saints for that matter) can't compete with stories of sacrifice and courage on the battlefield and at home.

In Philadelphia, Braves 1B Mark Teixera hit a 3-run homer off Jamie Moyer in the top of the first. Jimmy Rollins answered with a leadoff homer for the Phils off Chuck James. This is the Phils' best pitching matchup of the series as Tim Hudson and John Smoltz await in Games Two and Three. The homer is Rollins' 30th of the season. He joins the 30-30 club with 37 steals. The Nationals picked up their pace from last night, hitting the Mets and Tom Glavine with a four-run first. Austin Kearns and Tony Batista both homered for the Nats.

Jose Reyes matched Rollins with a leadoff homer for the Mets, but they still trail 4-1. At Florida, the Marlins hit the Cubs with a 4-spot in the first.

Yo! The Phils have tied the Braves at 4 in the 4th on homers by Ryan Howard (#43) and Jayson Werth. Washington has extended its lead over the Mets to 6-2. The Brewers lead the Cards 3-0 while the Cubs continue to trail the Marlins, 4-0. In an "off-year", 2006 MVP Howard has 127 RBIs, 103 walks and a 950+ OPS. He'll end up in the top ten for MVP again.

Now it's 6-5 Braves in the top of the 6th. The Phils led briefly after a sac fly by Pat Burrell, but Andruw Jones' RBI single retied the game, and Matt Diaz's single gave the Braves the lead. Elsewhere, the Nats, Marlins and Brewers continue to lead, though the Cubs closed to within 4-2 on a 2-run homer by Craig Monroe.

Time is running out on the Phils tonight. They trail 8-6 going into the 8th despite a homer from Chase Utley. The Nats lead the Mets, 8-3. The Marlins beat the Cubs 4-2 behind Dontrelle Willis. The Brewers lead the Cards 5-1 in the 5th. It looks like the NL Central will close ranks a little tonight. Surpisingly, the Pirates lead the D-Backs 5-2 in the 8th.

Inability to get anyone out doomed the Phillies tonight as they fell to the Braves 10-6. The Braves racked up 13 hits, including six for extra bases, off six Phillie pitchers. Four homers by Rollins, Howard, Werth, and Utley couldn't keep pace. Washington seems to have the Mets in its power, 10-3 in the 9th. Likewise, the Brewers are blasting the Cards, 9-1. The Pirates nosed out Arizona, 6-5.

On "The War" front, I never knew how tough things were at Anzio in Italy, or in Tunisia in the first ground action by Americans. These stories from World War II are not often told. The story about recovery of bacon grease back home was fascinating too. It was touching how "Babe" from Waterbury kept any details of his battle life from his family, telling them in his letters about his life "swimming in the sea" and "waiting in the chow line", when he was probably in a foxhole between shellings. Burns describes a level of involvement and commitment on the home front during World War II that I never experienced growing up during the Vietnam War era, or during my adulthood with any of the various wars of the '90s and 2000s. Still, my dad, who grew up during World War II mentioned that for the most part it was a peripheral part of his life as a teenager, even though his much older brother fought for General Patton in Europe.

I did know about Admiral Nimitz's island hopping campaign in the Pacific, mostly from the Austin Lounge Lizards song "Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden", in which two lovers meet for breakfast in the title garden named for the Admiral who led the famous "island-ha-ha-ha-ha-hopping campaign." (The song is sung as an a capella round in harmony.)

September 25 Preview - Both the Mets and Padres were trounced last night while the Phillies and other contenders had the night off. The Mets lost 13-4 to the Nats in New York. The Giants beat the Padres 9-4 in SF. The Phillies trail the Mets by 2 games in NL East and move into a dead tie with the Padres for the wild card. I'll update the NL pennant race daily during this exciting week, and into the postseason.

Tonite, the Padres continue their series in SF; the Rockies go to LA to challenge Brad Penny; the D-Backs should feast against the listless Pirates; The Cubs travel to Florida; the Brewers host the Cardinals; the Mets continue vs. Washington; and the Phils and Braves start a series in Philly.

On the season's last weekend, the Padres are at Milwaukee; Arizona travels to Denver to face the Rockies; the Cubs go to Cincinnati; the Nationals come to Philly; and the Mets host the Marlins.

Rockies OF Matt Holliday demonstrates the home run swing that's carried his team into playoff contention.

September 24 Update - This update comes a day later than usual Sunday night. I was on the road all weekend, then my computer swallowed the first version I wrote last night (really teacher, it did!) Hopefully I can recover all the incisive analysis, witty lines and salient facts that I recorded yesterday. If so, enjoy. If not, it's Dell's fault (or maybe Blogger's--their vaunted Autosave function didn't save the day).

All four American League playoff teams are essentially set. The Angels and Indians clinched division titles this week. The Red Sox clinched a playoff spot. The Yankees will either catch the Sox for the AL East title or qualify as the wild card. Discussion now shifts to Division Series matchups and pitching rotations. The Yankees hope for a series with the Indians, having been dominated by the Angels for the last couple of seasons. The Red Sox Nation monitors Manny's oblique.

In the National League, the closest division for most of the second half will probably produce the first division winner as the Chicago Cubs opened a 3-1/2 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. Five teams in the NL East and NL West, the Mets, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Padres and late-charging Rockies, are fighting for the other three playoff spots--the division titles and the wild card. After Sunday's action, the Mets and Diamondbacks held the best hands with 2-1/2 game leads over the Phillies and Padres, respectively. Wild card looks like the best hope of the other contenders--with the Phils and Rocks trailing the Pads by just 1/2 game and 1-1/2 games. The Rockies are riding an 8-game winning streak, capped by a sweep of the Padres in San Diego.

NL East - That long face you saw midweek was of Mets' manager Willie Randolph, after his season-long division-leading team lost their fifth straight game--another sweep by the Phillies and two ugly losses to the lowly Nats. Three straight wins over the Marlins leave the Mets with the largest chip stack in NL East with just a week of play left. Still troubling for the New Yorkers are the loss of 1B Carlos Delgado to injury; CF Carlos Beltran's knee bruise, and closer Billy Wagner's continuing arm woes. SP Oliver Perez has quietly had a fine season (15-9, 3.32 ERA). The late-season return of future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez remains of the game's best stories--Pedro got another win on Friday night, breaking the Mets long losing streak with five strong innings against the Marlins. A home start by Pedro in the playoffs will be a special moment for baseball.

(Breaking News - Mets suffer yet another ugly loss to the Nats by 13-4 in Shea Stadium)

The slugging Phillies lost a little ground to the Mets, but moved up on the Padres in the wild card race. Part-time RF Jayson Werth has become a big contributor with several timely homers and extra base hits. His emergence lessened the damage from injuries to OFs Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn, and crowds the Phillies outfield picture for 2008. The Phils first five hitters, Rollins, Utley, Burrell, Howard and Rowand, all carry .500-plus slugging percentages. I don't think even the Yankees can match that claim. Relief pitching keeps life interesting in Philly--11 innings with one run one game from a crew that's blown several large leads during the year. Staff ace Cole Hamels looked stronger in his second start since coming back from the DL.

NL Central - The homer-deprived Cubs pulled ahead of the homer-happy Brewers this week with what else, a surge of home runs. OF Alfonso Soriano continued his power surge with four more homers, bringing his season total to 31. He looks like a guy who could stay hot in the post-season. 3B Aramis Ramirez and 1B Derrek Lee added other key blasts. The Brewers hit their share of homers (MVP-candidate Prince Fielder has 47; likely Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun has 31) but missed top starter Ben Sheets. Could the Cubs be the Cardinals of 2007--dominating the playoffs despite a lackluster regular season? They've been playing well for several months. Moreso than hitting, their success probably hinges on how ace Carlos Zambrano pitches. At his best, he can win games by himself; his lesser performances are just bad enough to keep the Cubs from winning. He's capable of putting together four or five dominating starts--enough to move the Cubs into their first World Series since 1945. If the Phils don't get in, I'll be rooting for the Cubs all the way.

NL West - The young and nondescript D-Backs continue to slither toward a very unexpected NL West crown. I think the dismal Giants, having signed Barry Zito in the offseason, got more preseason consideration. The offensively-challenged Padres, already having a tough weekend, had a terrible Sunday, losing 7-3 to the charging Rockies and injuring two starting OFs in the process. Volatile Milton Bradley torn an ACL while arguing with an umpire (well, actually while his manager was hauling him away from a probable physical assault on an umpire). Bradley and other Padres claim that the umpire Mike Winters "baited" him by accusing him of throwing his bat at the home plate umpire Brian Runge after a close third strike call. Earlier in the game, Bradley stepped on fellow OF Mike Cameron's hand as they both chased a deep drive that became an inside-the-park home run for Rockies 3B Garrett Atkins. Along with sweeping the Padres, the Rockies also swept the Dodgers out of playoff contention.

Update - Giants lead Padres 3-2 in the 3rd. Go Giants! Update Two - now it's 9-4 Giants in the 8th, woo hoo! Phils move into wild card tie with Padres' loss.

Three weeks ago I posted my NL MVP candidates. Near the bottom of the list of ten was Rockies' OF Matt Holliday. Today, I'd put him in the top group along with Rollins, Fielder and Wright. Holliday has hit 11 homers during the Rockies September charge to bring his season totals to 36 HRs, 131 RBIs, a .337 batting average, 48 2Bs, 1009 OPS and 113 runs scored. His home/road OPS split has improved to 1159/854. Holliday's surge has put him squarely in the middle of the MVP race, with a chance to win if the Rockies complete their surge to the wild card or NL West crown.


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