Leave the Red Sox,take the cannolis

Still haunted by Len Bias

Series that never sleeps

Page 2's Bill Simmons has lost plenty of sleep over the first five games of the 2001 World Series.

Remember that scene in “The Longest Yard” when assistant coach Nate Scarboro inserts himself into the game against the guards? He joins the huddle, and everyone looks at him like he has six heads, so he shrugs and says, “You didn’t think I was gonna let you guys have all the fun, didya?”

bill simmonsOver the last few days, I felt a little like Nate. I was hunkered down in my bunker at the Sports Guy Mansion, sifting through 350 periodicals and frantically trying to finish my award-winning two-part NBA Preview … and the whole time, everyone was discussing the World Series, and I couldn’t throw in my two cents.

So now I’m here. My helmet’s on, I’m in the huddle, and I’m ready to talk about the World Series. You didn’t think I was gonna let you guys have all the fun, didya?

Time for some extended thoughts as we head to Arizona after five memorable games …

***** ***** *****

In Game 4, the Yanks were down 3-1 heading into the ninth inning, the Stadium crowd had been taken out of the game, the Yankees offense had that stale “Michael Jackson Marathon on VH1” feel to it, Byung-Hyun Kim was throwing BBs, it was roughly 4:30 in the morning … and there wasn’t any way I was heading to bed. And maybe that’s the best thing you can say about this Yankees team, that they pass the Bed Test.

Here’s the Bed Test: When you watch sports day in and day out on the East Coast, eventually you develop an uncanny ability to correctly answer this question: “If I go to
bed now, is there a chance I might miss something memorable?” In other words, “Will I be kicking myself tomorrow morning?”

And it takes years to hone this skill. As a teenager, I stayed up to watch anything and everything until the wee hours, partly because I was young and possessed the superhuman ability to stay up well into the night — with no repercussions the next day — and partly because I didn’t have a life. Nowadays, I still don’t have a life, but since my body can’t handle late nights during the week anymore, I have had to learn how to pick my spots with the Sports Thing.

On Wednesday night, I was sitting in my living room flicking between the Yanks-D-backs game and “Halloween 1” on Cinemax. It was nearing midnight — and of course it was, because of the little-known rule that all important baseball games must finish as close to midnight as possible (more on this in a second) — and I was faced with an important decision: Stay downstairs and watch the ninth inning, which could take at least three hours given that every at-bat takes twenty minutes (more on this in a second), or head to bed and fall asleep to “Halloween” and a drooling, incoherent Sports Gal.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Why not watch the game in bed?” Very good question. I have DirecTV hooked up to the bedroom TV and refuse to spend the
extra $5.95 per month for the local channels; I’m already paying something like $940 a month for my DirecTV package, which includes all the NBA games,
the pivotally important Game Show Network and ESPNEWS, Lifetime’s bonus “Men Suck Channel” and at least 230 different HBOs, including HBO130, which
only shows “Karate Kid 1, 2 and 3” continuously all day for 24 hours.

(Maybe my favorite channel. Wait a second? Daniel LaRusso is gonna fight? Good God, Daniel LaRusso is gonna fight! Anyway, that means we only get Fox
on the downstairs TV. Sorry you asked? I thought so.)

Now it’s 11:40.

On Fox, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck seem totally unaware that a Diamondbacks’ victory in Game 4 will surely end the Series, because there’s no way in hell
that the Yanks are winning Game 6 in Arizona against Randy Johnson and 60,000 rabid Arizona fans who just found out that baseball was a professional sport
three weeks ago.

  I called my buddy Dave yesterday (a Yankee fan) to discuss Game 4; the first question he asked me was, “Did you stay up for the whole thing?” Swear to God. When they make the video of the 2001 Playoffs, that’s what the title should be: “Did You Stay Up For the Whole Thing?: The Official 2001 World Series Video.”  

On Cinemax, the Illinois police seem totally unaware that Michael Myers is heading back to Haddonfield to finish what he started in 1963, despite repeated warnings from Doctor Loomis, who watched Myers for 15 years, not staring at the wall, staring through the wall, inhumanly patient, waiting for some silent alarm to trigger him, with the blackest eyes, the Devil’s eyes, and yes, that’s why Dr. Loomis spent seven years trying to reach him and eight years trying to keep him locked up because he knew what was hiding behind these eyes was purely and simply EVIL.

Me? I was ready for bed. But there’s something about this Yankees team … you can’t give up on them. You just can’t. They have the remarkable ability to
make you say, “Let’s see how they pull this off” and not “I wonder how they can pull this off.”

So, I kept watching through saggy eyelids, and Jeter made the first out in the ninth, then Bernie struck out, and even as Joe Buck was saying the words
“… down to their last out,” suddenly Tino was pouncing on the first fastball from Kim and cranking it to deep center. It happened so quickly that Buck
couldn’t even get enough breath in his lungs to match the excitement of the moment (I’m being kind). And as Tino rounded first base — his right arm
raised, the Yankee fans hopping up and down, the Stadium hitting 11 out of 10 on Nigel Tufnel’s decibel scale — I was sitting there thinking to myself, “Now that is why I didn’t go to bed.”

Great team. You have to hand it to them.

***** ***** *****

My two cents on the Bob Brenly Saga, which will surely catapult him into that hallowed McNamara/Hargrove group of “Managers Who Mangled A Potential Championship” before everything’s said and done:

  • 1. Count me among those who believed from Minute 1 that Miguel Batista should have started Game 4. It wasn’t like Brenly was throwing out a sacrificial lamb — like when John “How many ways can I screw this Series up?” McNamara tabbed Al Nipper for Game 4 of the ’86 World Series. Batista throws in the mid-90s and evolved into a dependable starter for Arizona over the second half of the season. And yes, I believed all of these things before Batista subsequently pitched well in Game 5 — I swear on my autographed Larry Bird jersey.

  • 2. Wouldn’t you rather have Curt Schilling pitch one great game than two good ones, especially when you only need two of the next five games to win the Series? The best argument against Schilling starting Game 4 was that, because he was working on three days rest, he wouldn’t be strong enough to finish the game … which meant Brenly would have to rely on his shoddy bullpen to close the door. And that’s exactly what happened. He yanked Schilling after seven quality innings, and the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. In Game 7, the same process will probably repeat itself. Funny how these things work out.

  • 3. Brenly’s first mammoth mistake: Yanking Schilling after seven innings and 88 pitches. As Mike Francesa would say, “Curt Schilling has got to come out for the eight inning … he has got to come out for the eighth inning.” What’s the difference between 88 pitches and 105, especially when he was pitching so well?

    At the very least, Schilling should have faced the first three batters of the eighth (the 7-8-9 of the Yankees order, no less). If anyone reached base,
    Derek Jeter was next; he should have been the last batter Schilling faced. After Jeter, Brenly could have brought in lefty Greg Swindell to face O’Neill (which he ended up doing in Game 5 against Tino), then brought in Kim after that for the heart of the order. In a best-case scenario, you head into the ninth inning with the two-run lead and Kim coming into the game.

    (It always amazes me when managers bring in their closers to start eighth innings when their name isn’t Mariano Rivera. How many times in World Series history has a closer entered a game too soon and coughed it up? Happens all the time.)

  • 4. Brenly’s second mammoth mistake: Leaving a shellshocked Kim in the game for the 10th inning, when he passed the 50-pitch count and had goat horns
    sprouting from his head. What was Brenly thinking? There wasn’t a single pitcher on his roster who would have been more reliable in that situation? And how could the Fox announcers not second-guess Brenly here? Was I the only person swearing at my TV

    (It’s uncanny how bullpens inevitably decide every close playoff matchup, isn’t it? Even when I’m watching ESPN Classic, I’m always astounded by how many shaky closers have blown big games over the years. Schiraldi. Stan Belinda. Jose Mesa. John Rocker. Armando Benitez. Mark Wohlers. Billy Wagner. Tom Niedenfuer. Mitch Williams. Donnie Moore. It’s like a “Who’s Who” of closers who gave their fans the Heebie-Jeebies over the years. Welcome to the club, Byung-Hyun Kim!)

  • 5. Brenly’s third mammoth mistake: Bringing Kim back for Game 5. Roughly equivalent to the Red Sox pitching Schiraldi in Game 7 of the ’86 World Series, and I think we learned a valuable lesson here: It takes more than 24 hours for a young baseball closer to shed the “deer in the headlights” look after a spectacular collapse. I always thought Schiraldi had perfected that face until Kim came along; we might have to add the Byung-Hyun Kim Face to the Pantheon of Faces (Aikman, Gruden, Lowe, etc.). Excruciating to watch.

    (Of course, Tim McCarver praised Brenly for going right back to Kim in Game 5, saying how it showed Brenly “still had confidence in him.” Very short-sighted. Brenly was risking Kim’s career. Brenly should have realized that another spectacular collapse would permanently damage his closer’s confidence. So why risk it? Why not save him for the last two games in Arizona, where Kim would have had three days to regroup and his home crowd behind him? I will never understand this one.)

    ***** ***** *****

    Speaking of closers, in last week’s column on Game 6 in ’86, I mentioned the weird phenomenon about two or three playoff moments serving as microcosms for everything that transpired during a team’s season. For instance, the ’86 Red Sox had been hampered all season by their shaky bullpen; they didn’t deserve to win the championship because their relievers weren’t consistently good enough. Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, Shaq Crawford, Joe Sambito and Sammy Stewart. Does that sound like a championship bullpen to you?

    So when the D-Backs blew those leads in Game 4 and Game 5, it seemed almost fitting. Brenly didn’t have a single reliever that he could trust with a
    two-run lead, on the road, in the eighth inning of Game 4; he also didn’t have a closer reliable enough to slam the door in Game 4 or Game 5. And
    that’s why Arizona lost. Their Achilles’ heel flared up at the worst possible moment.

    On the flip side, the past three weeks illustrated why the Yankees have been so successful over the past six Octobers. First of all, they made three remarkable plays when they needed them most: Jeter’s relay throw in the Oakland series, Tino’s Gibsonesque bomb in Game 4, and Brosius’s surreal homer in Game 5. Without any of those plays, they aren’t alive right now. As Joe Buck said, “Whatever they seem to need, they get in the Bronx.” And it’s true. It was true all season, and it’s true now.

    But the other major “microcosm” was the way Rivera pitched this week. He finished Game 3 by getting the last six outs in an absolute MUST-win, then came back the following night to toss a scoreless 10th inning in Game 4 … then he came back again and pitched two scoreless innings (the ninth and 10th) in Game 5. So if you’re scoring at home, Rivera pitched five scoreless innings over three games in a 48-hour span, during optimum pressure situations, in the biggest setting possible

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Mariano Rivera has been The Difference for the Yankees every season. He never breaks down, he never fails them, and he’s the only closer who consistently gets six outs without breaking a sweat. Switch any other closer in baseball for Rivera over the past six years — including the ’96 season, when he was crucially important as a set-up man — then ask yourself how many titles the Yanks would have captured. Would they have even won three?

    ***** ***** *****

    We’ve reached the section of this column where I would rant about the announcers du’jour for a few paragraphs, a Bill Simmons Tradition in any playoff column. Unfortunately, because of my ESPN allegiances, this can’t happen anymore — it would be hypocritical for me to bash announcers from other TV networks when I’m writing on the official website for another network. At least that’s what the bosses tell me.

    So since I can’t write anything in print, I’m going to make my points telepathically.

  • First of all … (telepathic rant).

  • And if that’s not bad enough … (telepathic rant, part 2).

  • I also think that (telepathic rant, part 3).

  • And that’s not the only thing that drives me crazy. What about when everybody has to be “the best” at something? Nobody makes that barehanded
    grab/throw to first better than Scott Brosius. Nobody hits a 1-2 pitch to the opposite field better than Derek Jeter. Nobody picks their right nostril with
    their left finger in a close game better than Joe Torre. Nobody grabs their crotch after a strikeout better than Mike Stanton.
    I wish that
    (telepathic rant, part 4).

  • And what about … (telepathic rant, part 5)? Doesn’t that drive you insane?

    There. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

    ***** ***** *****

    Time for my annual rant on the length of playoff baseball games, which will surely destroy the sport before everything is said and done. During Subway
    Series 2000, something apparently snapped and the game of baseball just broke. Every managerial decision seemed to assume weighty, Cuban
    Missile Crisis-level proportions, every at-bat dragged for minutes on end, and three games actually ended after midnight (which is almost impossible
    when you think about it). And these problems dragged over to this season.

    Hey, I love baseball as much as anyone, but there are two fundamental problems here that could easily be solved.

  • 1. Why wouldn’t Fox start their pregame show at 7:30 and make it possible for the game to start by 8 at the latest? Do they really need the West Coast
    prime-time ratings that badly? Doesn’t it matter to anyone that everybody under the age of 16 can’t stay up for these games, or that much of their over-35, non-West Coast audience (like my Dad) spends the last few innings of every playoff game either A) asleep in bed, or B) asleep on the sofa?

    For instance, I called my buddy Dave yesterday (a Yankee fan) to discuss Game 4; the first question he asked me was, “Did you stay up for the whole thing?”
    Swear to God. When they make the video of the 2001 Playoffs, that’s what the title should be: “Did You Stay Up For the Whole Thing?: The Official 2001
    World Series Video.”

  • 2. The stalling needs to stop. Hitters hopping out of the box between pitches, pitchers taking 20 seconds to throw their next pitch … isn’t there
    something we could do about this? It reminds me of playing Scrabble with my Dad, how he takes five minutes to make every move, and the whole game takes
    so damned long that, after a while, nobody cares who wins anymore. That’s what the World Series feels like at times.

    So, here’s my question: Why not institute a time limit between pitches? Batter isn’t in the box within five seconds… automatic strike. Pitcher
    isn’t ready to throw his next pitch within 12 seconds … automatic ball. I mean, why not? During NBA games, players have 10 seconds to attempt a
    free throw. Can you imagine if they took between 20-25 seconds between every attempt? Fans would start lobbing soft drinks onto the floor. Yet in
    baseball, somehow it’s OK to procrastinate and waste everyone’s time.

    If there are 300 pitches thrown in every baseball games, and the Powers That Be somehow shaved five seconds off every pitch — not an overwhelming amount
    — that works out to roughly 1,500 saved seconds per game. That’s 25 minutes right there. And I’m sure a number of other measures can be taken to chop
    another 15-20 minutes ago — cutting a commercial here and there, bringing back the bullpen car (Woo-hoo! The bullpen car!) and other goodies. As long
    as they concoct a way to push the average length of every game below the three-hour mark, everbody wins.

    That leads to my next question …

    How can you justify spending four hours watching anything, much less a baseball game? You can’t. Four hours is a really, really long time.

    I always believed in the “150-Minute Rule” — nothing should last longer than 150 minutes unless there’s a really good reason, and I’m extending that to
    games in the NBA, NFL, NHL and baseball, tennis matches, car races, wrestling pay-per-views, TV programs, movies, workouts, drinking contests, radio shows,
    runs on a table in Bar Pool, long car rides, dinners at an expensive restaurant and even sexual encounters. Once you pass the 150-minute mark,
    you’re asking for trouble. Trust me.

    Just from my perspective, I can always rope my girlfriend into watching the last 2-3 innings of an important baseball game, but she would never sit
    through a four-hour marathon if the Red Sox weren’t involved, and even then she would probably have to be hog-tied to the sofa, drinking a Rohypnol
    Daiquiri. Coincidentally, that’s my master plan for Game 7 on Sunday night.

    Anyway, the real shame here is that the World Series has been fantastic for two years running — superb drama, absorbing subplots, well-played games,
    interesting strategies, raw emotion and the through-the-roof comedy potential of Andrew Giuliani on live TV, capped off by the most memorable, jaw-dropping
    back-to-back playoff games of my lifetime — but the length of these games ruined it for many potential fans and tainted it for many diehards. So fix
    it, please. We’re begging you.

    ***** ***** *****

    Finally, I found myself rooting for Arizona this week, as much as it kills me to root for one of these fast-food franchises. My favorite Arizona-related story was that the local newspaper actually printed a “Baseball 101” column last weekend to make it easier for everyone to jump on the bandwagon. For the love of God, why isn’t there a rule where expansion teams have to wait 10 years before they’re allowed to make an appearance in the playoffs? I’m not just suggesting it, I’m demanding it.

    Back to my point: I insinuated in some past columns that the events of Sept. 11 would lead me — a die-hard Red Sox fan — to support the evil
    Yankee monolith. After all, anything good that happens for the Yankees could help the healing process in New York, and that’s more important than anything
    (absolutely). If that wasn’t enough, the ’01 Yanks reminded me just enough of the ’87 Celtics (especially this week) that I couldn’t help but appreciate
    them. And there was that annoying Diamondback Factor as well; the mere possibility of Arizona and Florida winning the World Series within a
    four-year span just made me throw up in my mouth.

    With that said, I learned that it’s physically impossible for me to root for the Yankees; my body keeps rejecting them like a bad liver transplant. I just
    can’t do it. It’s like telling myself that the next time I watch “Victory,” I have to root against Pele, Hatch and the Allies and root for the Germans …
    there’s no possible way I could pull it off.

    Fortunately, I had a little kickstart: All fuzzy feelings toward the Yankees were erased this week when I received an incendiary e-mail forward that’s
    been going around: The mock “Sign-up form” directed at Red Sox fans who are “interested” in turning their backs on the Sox and jumping on the Yankee

    I’m not certain who wrote this thing or where it came from, but one thing’s for sure: It’s clever enough that there’s no way in hell a Mets fan could have been responsible. And since the person who created this had the ability to read and write, we can obviously rule out every Yankee fan as well. You can decide for yourself. Here’s a link to the e-mail if you haven’t seen it yet:

    Application for Red Sox fans

    If you want one of the Yankee fans working in your office to see it, make sure you print it out and read it to them. Slowly.

    (Come on D-Backs!)

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.

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    Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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