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. After posting three on Tuesday, here’s the final Game 1 diary: Los Angeles at New York.
1:00 p.m. (PST) — Game 2 of the Twins series runs long enough that Mets-Dodgers gets bumped to ESPN2. Get ready for a disclaimer that starts “We apologize for everyone hoping to see the quarterfinals of the Massengill Women’s Nine-Ball Open … ”
1:04 — Remember when I questioned the ad people working for Holiday Inn? Well, they just ran an ad featuring Joe Buck. In your lifetime, will anyone ever say to his family while pulling off a highway exit: “Apparently Joe Buck likes Holiday Inn … let’s just stay there?” I say no.
1:04 — Today’s announcers: Gary Thorne, Steve Phillips and Joe Morgan, who will leave after the game with a police escort so he can announce Game 2 of tonight’s Yankee series. If you ask me, that’s a lot of Joe Morgan. I mean, a LOT of Joe Morgan. But you didn’t ask me.
1:08 — On the downside, the Mets’ pitching rotation (and postseason chances) have been decimated by injuries. On the upside, that led to today’s pitching matchup being Lowe-Maine. Get it? Lowe-Maine. Nearly 200 people e-mailed me this joke today. Don’t blame me.
1:10 — Every time I hear Gary Thorne do a game, I think of him jumping the gun when the Rangers beat the Devils in ’94 and making it seem like their curse was over when, in fact, they still had to play the Canucks. And every Rangers fan hated him for the next two weeks until they won the Cup. Then they forgave him. I can’t help it.
1:13 — With two outs, Nomar lifts a foul ball toward the 1B stands and some dopey Mets fan pulls a Bartman on Carlos Delgado. How could that ever happen again after what happened with Bartman? I’m continually amazed. Fortunately, Nomar grounds out to end the top of the first. And yes, there are six ex-Red Sox involved in this game — Cliff Floyd, D-Lowe, Nomar, Chad Bradford, Grady Little and Pedro (in spirit) — under MLB’s controversial new “at least six people with Boston connections must be involved in every 2006 playoff game” rule.
1:15 — After the A’s beat the Twins, Gary Thorne moves the audience to ESPN by telling us, “For those of you on ESPN2, we’re gonna take you to poker … ” Wait, they’re showing poker on TV now? When did this happen?
1:18 — Derek Lowe (sporting a hideous beard) gives up a walk to Beltran and a single to Carlos Delgado. I can’t say enough about that beard — it’s right out of the George Lucas Collection. We’re going to remember the 2006 Playoffs for the bad facial hair over everything else.
1:22 — Lowe gets a Wright grounder to end the threat. Hey, if you were a Dodgers fan, would you rather have starting this game, Derek Lowe … or Matt Clement? Yeah, I thought so.
1:26 — First shot of a depressed El Duque in the dugout self-consciously feeling his injured calf. In his defense, he’s 54 years-old. Old people get hurt. If the Mets lose this month, it will be because they didn’t move Lastings Milledge for Barry Zito. As any smart owner in a fantasy keeper league knows, you always, always ALWAYS sell high with your prospects … hell, even if Zito left after the season, they would have gotten two No. 1 picks for him. That was just dumb. Sure, it wasn’t as dumb as 10-12 dumb moves Boston made over the past 24 months, but still, it was dumb.
1:31 — Now this was incredible: First and second, no outs, Russ Martin slams a potential double off the wall, Jeff Kent (is he wearing gravity boots?) takes so long to chug around third that the Mets gun him down … only JD Drew is coming right behind him, and HE GETS THROWN OUT, TOO! Who tagged those guys out, Tom Berenger? Unbelievable. All that play was missing was some Benny Hill music.
1:37 — Wilson Betemit pushes a double down the line (1-0, Dodgers), followed by Maine striking out Lowe to get out of the inning. I still can’t get over that last play. All bets are off when Grady Little’s involved. Remember the scene in “The Naked Gun” when the cougar ran onto the field and mauled the second baseman? Even that’s possible. I’m not ruling any scenario out.
1:42 — Interesting e-mail from Jackie in New York: “Did you happen to catch the shot of El Duque in the dugout? It was one of the rare times when I hate having HD. Hernandez’s nails were freakishly long. The image was both absurd and intriguing. There’s no way he clips those things between starts. Unless he’s trying out some costume ideas for Halloween?”
(See, female readers can bring something to the table! Now I’m dying for another El Duque closeup.)
1:44 — I’m out of sarcastic things to say about these never-ending Manning commercials. I’m tapped. But here’s something good: My old college buddy Kurt Sanger points out that Vito Spatafore probably attended last night’s Yankee game because he thought his old chef boyfriend in New Hampshire was now the Tigers closer. Seriously, look at Todd Jones’ baseball card. That’s the guy, right?
1:50 — Kenny Lofton strikes out on three pitches and looks overmatched. Morgan credits Maine’s “live fastball.” Yeah, that was it. See, this is why I should never be allowed near a broadcast booth, I would have made a joke like, “Lofton hasn’t looked this overwhelmed since Satchel Paige struck him out six times in a row in 1932.”
1:54 — Paul LoDuca’s at-bat music: “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band. Let’s hope this is a veiled “Boogie Nights” homage.
1:57 — The Mets go out meekly in the third. Jose Reyes is 0-for-2. Which reminds me, one of the most interesting, under-the-radar baseball developments was Reyes quietly seizing the reins from David Wright as “The Cool Young Met That Every Mets Fan Is Wildly Excited About.” Vaguely reminiscent of Gooden blowing Straw out of the water in ’85 — nobody saw it coming, and then BOOM!
2:00 — Mets fans are dreading every Maine closeup. It’s one thing to talk yourself into the whole “so what if he’s a rookie, he’s got ice water in his veins” mind-set, but when they keep showing these HD closeups of him, and he looks like a scared 10th grader who just got dropped off at boarding school by his parents … well, it’s a little disarming.
2:01 — Now here’s a guy who just doesn’t give a crap: JD Drew. He carries himself with the intensity of a grocery bagger. It’s amazing. He couldn’t care less. Or, he could care less. Whatever’s grammatically correct.
2:03 — All right, where is ESPN finding these random sideline reporters for the playoffs? Who’s David Amber? Did they launch another season of “Dream Job” this week and not tell us? Instead of using police escorts to make sure Joe Morgan can do two games in one day, shouldn’t they be using their resources for Erin Andrews? She couldn’t have rode in the car with him? I’m outraged right now.
2:04 — Actual quote from Joe Morgan: “I always thought Grady Little did a great job, even with Boston, with the exception of the Pedro incident.” That’s like saying, “I always thought Britney Spears had pretty good taste in men, with the exception of K-Fed.”
2:08 — Time for an in-game interview with Willie Randolph! He had to hold the record for “oldest guy who still gets carded in a bar.” He’s looked like he was 13 since 1976.
2:09 — The real-life Pedro Cerrano (Carlos Delgado) homers to dead-center in the fourth. We’re tied at one! In your shoe, Joe Boo! By the way, reason No. 2,498 why it’s more fun to be a sports fan in the year 2006: Super Slow-Mo.
2:13 — Home run for former Red Sox player Cliff Floyd. And … and … and … and … THERE IT IS! It’s the Derek Lowe Face! Good times! It’s like seeing an old roommate from college or something. Forgot how much I missed the Derek Lowe Face. And yes, I’d still take him over Matt Clement every day and twice on Sunday. 2-1, Mets.
2:16 — Screw it, let’s recycle a joke from yesterday: ESPN should cut to commercial before every two-out Shawn Green at-bat. We could shave some time off the game.
2:19 — Morgan: “The most important inning in a game is the inning after you take the lead.” You know what? I’m still going with the ninth inning is the most important inning of the game. Thanks, though.
2:26 — Two guys on, one out in the fifth … and Willie pulls Maine so Pedro Feliciano can pitch to Cool Papa Lofton. That’s followed by the obligatory post-commercial shot of Maine being consoled in the dugout with one of those, ” … but Dad said I could pitch at least five innings!” pouts on his face, then Feliciano easily striking out Lofton. Enjoyable sequence. Well-played by Willie. He’s my favorite manager of the playoffs so far. Plus, I’m almost positive that he played Dudley on “Different Strokes.”
2:29 — Chad Bradford gets a Nomar grounder to end the fifth. This ex-Red Sox thing isn’t even funny anymore. Meanwhile, Joe Morgan says goodbye to Thorne and Phillips — he’s headed to Yankee Stadium for tonight’s game. I wait for Joe to point out, “If you have a police escort, that means you get to Yankee Stadium faster” or “the big difference between Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium is that the Yankees play in Yankee Stadium.” Doesn’t happen.
2:33 — Either Grady Little didn’t want to be interviewed, or ESPN decided against interviewing him because he sounds too much like Forrest Gump. Whatever the reason, they’re using pitching coach Rick Honeycutt for their in-game interview right now. Probably a good move.
2:36 — Time for the obligatory “Greg Maddux’s experience and savvy has really helped this team on and off the field,” as mandated by MLB’s contract with ESPN.
2:37 — Buck Showalter … out with the Rangers! Why even play the 2007 season now? I’m already excited for Vicente Padilla sulking his way through the champagne celebration next October. Meanwhile, Lowe gets the Mets 1-2-3 to end the fifth.
2:40 — Nice job by ESPN running the famous 1985 play when Carlton Fisk tagged out two Yankees (Bobby Meacham and Dale Berra) on the same play. Although that play wasn’t nearly as impressive as today’s play because Berra was probably coked out of his mind at the time.
2:44 — Thorne and Phillips gush about Paul LoDuca’s various positive effects on the Mets. Paul DePodesta rises from his sofa to make a mixed drink.
2:45 — Guillermo Mota throws a 1-2-3 sixth inning. Put it this way: If you’re a failed AL pitcher, and your agent doesn’t tell you, “Don’t give up, I’m gonna find you a NL team,” you need to fire that guy, pronto.
2:52 — Sixth inning, two on, one out for the Mets, Lowe at 86 pitches, Penny and Hendrickson warming up for the Dodgers, Wright at the plate, and Phillips just called Lowe the “most significant groundball pitcher in the game today” as Brandon Webb whipped a remote at his TV. Just a lot going on right now.
2:54 — A two-run double for Wright, followed by his signature right-hand punch and another glimpse of the Derek Lowe Face. Mets lead, 4-1. You could feel that one coming. Hey, did I mention Ron Howard, John McEnroe and Ray Romano are in the stands?
2:57 — Lowe gives way to a former Tampa pitcher with a 6-15 record (Mark Hendrickson) … and of course, the guy promptly strikes out Shawn Green. Classic. Green should just put on a Rudi Stein wig and be done with it. Somehow, Hendrickson gets out of the inning.
Corrections/updates from Tuesday’s diaries:
1. Orel Hershiser isn’t from Utah. Neither is Danny Ainge. Although it feels like they should be.
2. Apparently the guy who plays Vito Spatafore attends both Yankees and Mets games. He’s a sports bigamist.
3. FYI: I intentionally wrote “Brandon” Arroyo. Remember? McCarver kept calling him this in the 2004 playoffs?
4. Mike Piazza doesn’t have a fu manchu, he has a van dyke.
5. According to multiple readers with Taiwanese roots, Chien-Ming Wang really IS the pride of Taiwan.
6. Remember McCarver’s comment about Nate Robertson retaliating for Jeter for timing his warmup pitches last night? Robertson was teammates with Ben Christensen at Witchita State — the guy who famously beaned a batter for doing just that. No wonder he didn’t do anything.
3:05 — Tim Robbins makes a cameo in the booth. He’s a Mets fan. Does this mean that Andy Dufresne was a Mets fan then? I want to throw up.
3:09 — Jose Valentin (an awful second baseman) botches Anderson’s bunt single (tough play, but still), then throws away Betemit’s potential force at second when he could have just gotten the out at first. You knew he’d rear his ugly head in this series. By the way, instead of Tim Robbins making a cameo, they should have just thrown some chicken blood on the field.
3:12 — Late-season fantasy murderer Julio Lugo strikes out looking. Of course, he did. Meanwhile, Sam from L.A. writes, “two of my favorite things growing up: the Mets and Pearl Jam. Please don’t let Tim Robbins ruin both in the same year.”
3:14 — Furcal strokes an RBI-single to center. 4-2, Dodgers. No big surprise: He has been their best player for about two months. That’s followed by a Lofton flyout, Nomar coming to the plate with two outs and Gary Thorne asking Robbins questions about his new movie as every Mets fan freaks out. Um, it’s the seventh inning, Gary! It’s the playoffs! I’m not even a Mets fan, and I’m violated by this.
3:18 — Nomar rips a 1-2 pitch down the line for a double and two RBI. No-mahhhhhhh! How was Wright not playing the line on that one? More importantly, what chain of events needs to happen for Robbins to gracefully exit the ESPN booth for the sake of the Mets? “You know what I’m thinking?” Robbins says. “It’s all my fault.” No, that’s what everyone’s thinking, Tim. I guarantee there won’t be a single Mets fan heading to the theater for “Catch a Fire” on Oct. 27. Thankfully, Kent whiffs to end the seventh.
3:20 — Lyndon from New York writes, “It’s only Game One of the AAAA-DS and Nomar already has more big hits in the playoffs with the Dodgers than he ever had with the Red Sox.” Knew that was coming. By the way, is there an overload of fertility ads and hair loss ads during these games, or is it just me? Are they trying to tell us something?
3:34 — Tough inning for Brad Penny, who’s inexplicably pitching right now even though he started the All-Star Game three months ago: Walk to Reyes, out, walk to Beltran, RBI single for Cerrano, RBI double for Wright. 6-4, Mets. Shea is rocking. Grady Little is involved and doing inexplicable things. I’m getting flashbacks. This isn’t good. I feel sick.
3:37 — Shawn Green ends another inning. I think he worked harder on Yom Kippur.
3:41 — JD Drew kicks off the eighth with a lazy flyball out off Aaron Heilman. We might need to get him a venti soy latte or something. Meanwhile, Karl Ravech breaks into the broadcast to tell us that Joe Morgan has, indeed, arrived at Yankee Stadium. Dammit!
(Um … I mean … what a relief!)
3:47 — Easy eighth inning for Aaron Heilman. He’s good. Hold on, Ruby Tuesday is about to change our perception of what a burger should be. (Waiting.) Nope. Didn’t happen.
3:51 — Grady brings in the guy who SHOULD have pitched the previous inning: Flamethrower Jonathan Broxton, who struck out 39 guys in 29.1 innings in August/September and had a 1.55 ERA. I’m beginning to think Grady might be a bad playoff manager.
4:00 — Wow, this hurts. I’m a few minutes behind the game on my TiVo right now, but the TiVo was manually set to record NESN for Red Sox games even though the season ended two days ago … that’s right, I’m suddenly watching bass fishing with Charlie Moore and special guest Ed Marinaro. What a disaster. Hold on.
(Fast-forwarding … )
(Fast-forwarding … )
4:04 — Still 6-4, bottom of the ninth, Billy Wagner pitching, and he yields a leadoff double to Betemit. Shea just got superduperquiet. They don’t trust Wagner. At all. You can tell. I’m reeling from my TiVo screwup. I’m supposed to be a professional. Seriously, they pay me and everything. Bad job by me.
4:10 — Two outs, guy on third, Nomar on deck, Ramon Martinez pinch-hitting … and he doubles into the right-center gap. 6-5, Mets. What a game! Quadruple-A, everybody! Who knew?
4:14 — Nomar chases a fastball in the dirt for strike three. Ballgame. Can’t decide how to react to that one — I feel strangely indifferent. Anyway, Andy Dufresne is off the hook. Grady Little is not. Our final score: Mets 6, Dodgers 5.
(And yes, that was the same score of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I need to have a drink.)
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.