Note: For the first time in five years, I get to kick back and watch the baseball playoffs. In October 2002, I was switching jobs and moving from Boston to L.A. In October 2003, I was working 14 hours a day for Kimmel’s show. In October 2004, the Red Sox overpowered everything else. In October 2005, I was traveling around the country on two book tours.
This year? I’m home. The Red Sox are out. And I get to immerse myself in playoff baseball for four straight weeks. So to kick off the occasion, I’m posting running diaries of the first four games as they happen: Three on Tuesday, followed by Mets-Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a running diary of the first game (Minnesota at Oakland):
10:00 a.m. (PST) — One of the best things about living on the West Coast in October: Roll out of bed, answer a few e-mails, drink some coffee, and then there’s a playoff game on. And you wonder why I still live out here. This first game looks like a sure thing with Johan Santana pitching at home. You know what’s weird? He hasn’t reached one-name status yet. Somewhere along the line, Pedro became “Pedro,” but Johan still goes by “Johan Santana.” He’s absolutely reached “Johan” status, right?
10:10 — Three up, three down for the A’s. Two K’s for Johan. Let’s see what Barry Zito brings to the table here — I always thought he was overrated. As Keith Law pointed out this week, the spacious Oakland outfield and their D makes his record seems much better than it is. Stick Josh Beckett in Oakland and his ERA drops a run. And yet, somebody will be dumb enough to give him AJ Burnett money this winter.
(Important note: Let’s hope the person who does this is not named “Theo.”)
10:21 — John Cougar Mellencamp officially replaces Bob Seger as the rock-and-roller who seems to be writing all of his songs so they could work for a car commercial.
10:25 — Joe Morgan correctly points out that the Twins totally helped out Zito by sending Castillo (thrown out) in the first when Zito was struggling. I’m pointing this out because I will disagree vehemently with Joe at least 300 times over the next 36 hours. Especially since he’s doing every game.
10:26 — Home run, Frank Thomas. Crushed a changeup. Is Frank Thomas the Mariah Carey of baseball, or is she the Frank Thomas of pop music? Did we ever figure this out?
10:32 — Marco Scutaro rips an RBI double off Johan. 2-0, Oakland. See, I told you Johan was a sure thing. This is why I don’t gamble on baseball. As far as you know.
10:38 — If they handed out an ESPY “Most Shocking Fantasy Baseball Season,” Michael Cuddyer (.284, 24 HR, 109 RBI, 102 runs) would have to be the odds-on favorite, narrowly edging Billy Hall and Adrian Gonzalez. He wins a complimentary year’s supply of B-12 shots.
10:45 — Three innings, six K’s (all swinging) for Johan. Meanwhile, they just promoted a live interview with Ron Gardenhire next inning. Can somebody ask him why he hasn’t made a cameo on “My Name Is Earl” yet?
10:49 — My favorite part of the in-game interviews: When the manager pulls a Clark Kellogg and looks away from the dugout camera, then self-consciously glances into it every once in awhile. Without fail. It’s like the camera will singe their eyes like the sun if they stare at it too long.
10:52 — Nine up, nine down, one walk for Zito. He looks like he wears a ton of cologne.
10:53 — Our first commercial for the “Scarface” video game. I’m giddy. Not nearly as giddy for the DVD re-release. As Ben from Chicago points out, “I’m really excited about the Scarface Platinum Edition DVD. I’ve already got a spot cleared in my collection next to the Scarface Criterion Edition DVD, the Scarface Director’s Cut DVD, the Scarface 20th Anniversary DVD, the Scarface Gold Edition DVD, the Diamond Plated Jewelcase Scarface Collector’s Edition DVD (with limited edition Trashbag of Cocaine DVD Bookend), the regular Scarface DVD, and the Scarface Wood Edition DVD.”
10:54 — Frank Thomas just misses a second HR down the left-field line. Could somebody throw some water on Frank, please? It’s like he’s been hypnotized to think that every changeup is Kenny Williams’ face.
10:56 — I think I could strike out Eric Chavez in a playoff game. No, seriously. This should be one of the one-dollar contests at a carnival.
11:01 — After a Castillo walk, Nick Punto bunts him over and would have beaten the throw if he didn’t slide into first base. Can we stage a group-wide intervention with baseball players so they will stop doing this? How much evidence do you need? Do 100-meter sprinters dive headfirst through the finish line? Of course not. This drives me nuts. Can’t we hire a scientist to prove this definitively one way or the other?
11:07 — All right, I’ll say it: “The Nine” looks really good. But why schedule it after “Lost” on Wednesdays? I’m winded after “Lost.” I’m spent. I just want to turn my brain off and watch the idiots on “Laguna Beach” and “Two A Days.” Seriously, who can handle two straight gripping shows where you have to remember 12-15 characters? Isn’t this why “Invasion” failed? I don’t get it.
11:10 — You have to love Johan and Zito — we’re halfway through the game (2-0, A’s, heading to the bottom of the fifth) in a little more than an hour. Now this is playoff baseball, baby! Remember this moment when we’re sitting at the 4:10 mark of tonight’s Yankee game as Joe Buck promotes “Prison Break” for the 720th time.
11:11 — Bad sign for the NHL: I think people are more excited for the “NHL ’07” video game commercial than the actual NHL season. And then — wait, wow, it’s a Ken Macha interview! And he’s looking into the camera! I stand corrected. He seems like a good guy — like a functional Grady Little.
11:13 — Mark Kotsay runs down a potential Morneau double into the left-center to start the fifth. Great game. I’m really enjoying it. Even if they’re playing it in a ridiculous joke of a stadium that needs to be blown up.
11:15 — Rondell White smashes a changeup for a two-out double, saving you guys from about 20 “date with destiny” jokes about Zito over the next hour. That’s quickly followed by Phil Nevin popping out the end the inning. Can you take a team’s World Series chances seriously when Phil Nevin is involved? I say no.
11:21 — Morgan on Johan: “All of his pitches are out pitches.” I’m confused. Isn’t the purpose of every pitch to get someone out? Well, unless you’re Rudy Seanez?
11:23 — Milton Bradley interrupts an overdue Erin Andrews appearance by hitting into a double play and ending the inning. That was just cruel. How dare you, Milton Bradley.
11:25 — Just made a quick run-through of my most recent e-mails. At 11:07, Steve from Buffalo wrote, “Can we finally put to rest the debate of sliding into first or running through the bag? Morgan and Miller, every time on cue, ‘he should have just ran through the bag.’ There are millions of scientists, can someone run some experiments already?” Hey, that’s what I said! I don’t feel special anymore.
11:26 — Really good ESPN at-bat/replay sequence that proved Zito keeps throwing junk out of the strike zone and the Minny guys keep swinging at it. Can’t the Twins afford to hire some scouts? How do you not know to wait out Zito and make him throw strikes? That’s why his ERA against the Yankees from 2003-2005 was 7.01 and his ERA against the Yanks in 2006 was 8.16. Yes, I just looked this up.
11:32 — Second and first, two outs, Cuddyer up and he grounds out. Did we ever figure out why Torii Hunter (an absolute house of fire down the stretch) doesn’t bat cleanup for this team? That’s like the Red Sox batting Manny sixth this season or something. You know, if Manny played.
11:38 — Is there a more secretly exciting baseball play than a right fielder trying to gun down a slow batter at first after a hard single? Cuddyer nearly just gunned down Thomas. Meanwhile, Jason Bartlett just botched a routine DP ball from Chavez. Uh-oh. Two outs, two on, A’s threatening to bust this game wide open in the seventh.
11:48 — But no! Johan wiggles out of it! Pop-up, walk, flyball, flyball. And he even threw in a “don’t worry, I’ll handle this” backslap to Bartlett in the middle of this. Nicely done. I love watching Johan. Having him on your AL-only roto team is like being the only college freshman on your hall with a car — such a sizable advantage, it can’t even really be quantified.
11:51 — Just as Scott Boras was changing some of the numbers on the “here’s what it will take to sign Barry Zito” document that every baseball GM will be receiving next month, Rondell White cranks a two-out homer to left. 2-1, A’s. You can feel the Huston Street meltdown coming in the ninth. By the way, ESPN should cut to commercial before every two-out Phil Nevin at-bat. We could shave some time off the game.
11:54 — You know, for years and years, I’ve been hoping someone would figure out a way to combine my two favorite things: NASCAR and deodorant. And that’s why I’m happy to announce some good news: Old Spice is releasing a Limited Edition Tony Stewart line of deodorants. I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.
11:57 — Miller and Morgan have the obligatory “it’s great that two small-market teams are battling in the playoffs” conversation, as mandated by MLB’s contract with ESPN.
11:59 — Nice catch by Punto to steal a popup from the stands, followed by one of his cleats getting caught in the netting that protects the ballboys along the third-base line. That was almost the most memorable blown-out ACL since somebody’s knee came off during a Slamball game a few years ago.
12:01 p.m. (PST) — Hey, does anyone else watch Milton Bradley at-bats secretly hoping for a bad strike call that results in an epic meltdown and four teammates dragging him off the field? Umm, me neither. He just struck out to end the eighth.
(Johan’s final line: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K’s, 107 pitches, at least 20 ridiculous changeups, topped 96 on the gun. This would be the definition of a tough loss.)
12:05 — One of the piranhas (Bartlett) singes a double down the LF line to start the bottom of the eighth. That reminds me, you know what helps Minny’s cause? This whole “piranhas” gimmick. If pushed correctly and beaten into the ground by enough media members, it could be this year’s version of “The Idiots” and the “Rally Monkey.”
12:08 — After Bartlett nearly gets picked off at second, Castillo doesn’t bunt him over and grounds out, followed by a Punto groundout and Mauer flying out on the first pitch to end the eighth. Poor Ron Gardenhire looks like he might start smoking five Winston Lights at once right now.
12:13 — Wait a second, what’s that? (Listening.) Good God! That’s Frank Thomas’ music! He just homered to left field off Jesse Crain. This is the most unbelievable hitting resurgence that hasn’t been marred by steroids/HGH rumors of the past 15 years. And just for the record, I would NOT take Zito out here for a closer who’s blown 10 saves this season. He’s only at 92 pitches. We’ll see who’s right. And if I’m wrong, I just hope I remember to delete this paragraph from the diary.
12:17 — ESPN cuts to footage of Pujols warming up in St. Louis as Karl Ravech tells us, “Chris Berman will be there to bring you all the action.” Oh, boy. That’s going to be a test for three hours. I hope I don’t end up crossing the line and getting canned. Root for me.
12:18 — Swisher doubles off the baggie in right field. Can we all admit this is the dumbest baseball park on the planet? Repeat: Instead of a wall, there’s a BAGGIE in right field. Why not just put a jungle gym out there?
12:21 — Submariner Pat Neshek K’s Scutaro to end the top of the ninth. How does anyone hit a submarine pitcher? Why aren’t there more of them? ESPN needs to launch a reality show where we send 16 failed minor league pitchers to Submarine Pitching Camp and have retired submariners teach these guys how to throw it, with one guy getting voted off each week and the winner getting a major league contract with the Royals. Oh, wait, we don’t run reality shows. They would get ratings. It wouldn’t make sense.
12:25 — One more question: Why aren’t the commercials for afternoon playoff games geared around the audience: college kids, bartenders, waiters, unemployed guys who live at home, and me? It should just be video games, beer, takeout food and porn, right?
12:26 — Just classic: Starting the bottom of the ninth, Cuddyer lifts a flyball to right field that Bradley loses in the goofy Metrodome roof for a ridiculous triple. BLOW THIS PLACE UP. Of course, Morneau follows up by swinging at the first pitch and lining out to right. Dumb hitting by the Twins today. If they lose, that’s why.
12:28 — A relatively confident-looking Street yields an RBI groundout to Hunter, then gets White to fly out for the save. Our final score: A’s 3, Twins 2. Our Chevrolet MVP: Frank Thomas. Time of the game: 2:25. And if two homers wasn’t enough for Frank, he gets to be interviewed by Erin Andrews after the game. Now that’s a good day.
PS: Back in a few hours after the end of the Cards-Padres game.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.