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 Game 1s as they happen: Three on Tuesday, followed by Mets-Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. A running diary of the third game (Detroit at New York):
5:01 p.m. (PST) — Fox kicks us off with a two-minute song from Audioslave. Look at Fox trying to stay all current and stuff! That’s so cute. You know some red-faced Fox exec in his 50s stormed out of yesterday’s baseball meeting after his push to kick things off with “Urgent” by Foreigner was overruled.
5:06 — One of the highlights of living in California: The attack ads on Arnold Schwarzenegger leading into the November election. Do you really need to run an attack ad questioning Arnold’s credibility? Couldn’t they just run a clip from “Kindergarten Cop” and be done with it? That never fails to slay me. By the way, I think he’s running for re-election against Democrat nominee Ian Ziering.
5:13 — Fox promo count: “House” 1, “Justice” 1, “Prison Break” 1. I have “Prison Break” covering by 0.5 promos and a combined over of 20.5.
5:15 — “Hello, everyone, I’m Joe Buck. You won’t be able to get away from me this month on Fox. It’s not possible. Trust me, we’ve made all the necessary precautions. I’m going to be in your life for the next four weeks, day in and day out, like it or not.”
5:20 — Stuck without a playoff team for the first time since 2002, I’d like to announce who I’ll be supporting this October: “Anyone Who Happens To Playing The Yankees.” That’s right, Tigers fans, make some room. I’m hopping on for a few games.
5:21 — McCarver gets the ball rolling with the term “heavy sinker” to describe Chien-Ming Wang. You’ll hear that one another 900,000 times this month. But it’s true. With that sinker, throwing 96 to boot, Wang should go 29-2 every year. It’s never been adequately explained why this doesn’t happen.
5:24 — Buck calls Leyland’s turnaround of the Tigers “the most enjoyable story of the season.” I’d have to go with the guy in my AL keeper league who decided to tank and traded six starters for Francisco Liriano — launching a week of angry e-mails and message board posts — followed by Liriano blowing out his elbow a week later. But that’s just me.
5:26 — Detroit’s starter (Nate Robertson) is wearing glasses from the Brian Posehn Collection. It looks like he’s headed out to a Weezer show after the game. I don’t have a good feeling about this.
5:28 — Robertson induces a one-out forceout by Bobby Abreu, followed by Tim McCarver telling us, “Normally a left-handed pitcher has a lot of success against left-handed hitters.” Here we go.
5:37 — Remember the villain in “Road House” who told Swayze, “I used to (bleep) guys like you in prison?” Well, Magglio Ordonez is wearing that guy’s haircut. Good times! He just doubled off the wall in left-center.
5:39 — Every time they show Jim Leyland in the dugout, he’s sitting completely motionless, his eyes darting around, almost like one of those old guys at a poker table who don’t join a hand for about 45 minutes because they’re soaking in everyone else’s tells. He even has the nicotine-worn face.
5:41 — Wang walks Carlos Guillen (two on, no outs) as Buck and McCarver claim he’s the “pride of Taiwan.” That’s a pretty strong statement, isn’t it? It’s one thing for Peter Manfredo to call himself the “Pride of Providence,” but to say someone’s the pride of an entire country? Can we get a ruling on this?
5:43 — After a botched hit-and-run gets Ordonez thrown out at third by 45 feet, McCarver tells us, “The manager, by putting this on, forces the baserunner to make the first out at third base. And that’s not a good thing to do.” Umm, exactly. Pudge strikes out and Monroe grounds out to end the threat, followed by the pilot turning off the “No smoking” sign in the runway behind the Tigers dugout.
5:50 — Check out this sequence: Giambi gets nailed by a pitch count goes to 2-2 on A-Rod, followed by McCarver telling us that there’s a big difference between batting with a 3-1 count and a 2-2 count we see shots of Patrick Ewing and Donald Trump in the stands and then A-Rod gets robbed of a single by Polanco at second. Now THAT was a fun two minutes. Imagine scalping seats to a Yankee game and being stuck behind Patrick Ewing for nine innings?
5:55 — No score after two. Back to Ewing: If he’s rooting for the Yankees, do you think they’ll rally to win in the late innings as soon as Ewing leaves the stadium to beat traffic? Will the guy who takes his seat immediately win a contest between innings? Let’s keep an eye on this.
5:56 — I’ll be honest: Everything about William Shatner’s face scares the living hell out of me at this point.
5:59 — Cheap double by Marcus Thames to start the third. Is there a more secretly confusing at-bat than Thames (pronounced “Tims”) battling Wang (pronounced “Wong”). Too bad Dick Enberg couldn’t announce this game.
6:05 — Classic Yanks: first and third, one out and Polanco hits into a freaking DP. This has all the makings of one of those games where someone has 15 hits through seven innings at Yankee Stadium, but they’re only winning 2-1, and then the Yanks get four in the bottom of the eighth and Rivera comes out for the cheap save in the ninth. God, I hate the Yankees.
6:07 — Just saw a trailer of “The Marine,” starring John Cena. They’re saying this could be the best WWE movie since “No Holds Barred.”
6:08 — Matt from South Carolina answers a question from the previous diary: The patch of hair under Chris Carpenter’s lower lip (and Robertson’s lower lip as well) is called a “soul patch.” Apparently it rose to prominence in the ’50s and ’60s with jazz artists and beatniks. Interesting. By the way, we just found out that Jeter the Cheater got in trouble between innings for standing too close to home plate and measuring Robertson’s warmup pitches. “Thirty years ago, you didn’t do that,” McCarver tells us. “The pitcher would have handled that.” He’s clearly challenging Robertson’s manhood. Like a guy with a soul patch would ever bean someone.
6:17 — As predicted by McCarver, the Yanks call a hit-and-run with Damon on first, and Cheater delivers with a double. That’s immediately followed by a two-RBI double by Abreu. 2-0, Yankees. I’m so bitter. I hate everything right now.
6:18 — Double by Sheffield (3-0, Yankees), followed by a two-run homer from the Giambino (5-0, Yankees). Wow. A rattled Robertson looks like he’s starring in the next “wanna get away?” commercial. And if you don’t think A-Rod’s getting a hit right now, you’re obviously not familiar with his work.
6:19 — A-Rod singles. Classic. In his own inimitable way, he’s the most reliable athlete in sports. That prompts a phone call from my gleeful buddy JackO, who says “Yankee baseball!” again and again. I quickly hang up on him.
6:22 — Phenomenal catch of a Posada line drive by Ordonez to keep the Tigers in the game, with the added bonus that his pseudo-mullet was flapping in the breeze like Betsy Russell’s knockers during the watershed horseback riding scene in “Private School.” Robertson gets out of the inning. Somehow.
6:29 — To cheer me up, Doug from Calgary sends along the YouTube clip of A-Rod slapping the ball out of Brandon Arroyo’s hand in the 2004 ALCS. Ah, the good old days. Seems like 25 years ago.
6:32 — Wait a second, that’s Pudge Rodriguez? I didn’t even recognize him! He looks skinnier than J-Lo’s husband. Somebody needs to tell Pudge that it’s not a good idea to randomly lose 25 pounds after a season in which you were swamped by steroid rumors. Get this guy some ice cream and fried dough.
6:33 — As they keep showing celebs in the stands (Regis, Denzel, Spike), I find myself longing for the days when Fox would plant stars from a new crappy show into the stands. Couldn’t we have stuck a couple of the “Happy Hour” stars behind the third-base dugout, for old time’s sake? Anyway, Wang gets out of the fourth unscathed.
6:37 — Speaking of Fox, here’s the promo update: “Bones” 3, “House” 2, “Justice” 2, “Prison Break” 2. I know you’re riveted by this.
6:40 — Enjoyable in-game interview with Joe Torre. He was positively gregarious. And why not? He’s leading by five runs. By the way, Buck just said that Randy Johnson received an epidural last week to relieve pain in his back, which is what they give pregnant women right when they’re delivering. I don’t even have a joke here.
6:46 — And the Tigers are on the board! Monroe just homered to dead center; 5-1, Yanks. Since Leyland can’t smoke in the dugout, he’s eating cigarettes three at a time right now.
6:48 — Brandon Inge singles to right with one out, followed by a Fox closeup revealing a skinny patch of hair stretching from his lower lip to his chin. Honestly, it looks like someone gave his face a bikini wax. We need to hire a Facial Hair Czar, pronto. I’m telling you.
6:51 — Placido Polanco (not a stage name) knocks Inge home by slicing a double down the right-field line, causing McCarver to say, “That is PURE Polanco.” I was just thinking that. That prompts a visit from the Yankees pitching coach, Charles Bronson.
6:52 — We just learned that Sean Casey enjoys Dave Matthews, pro wrestling and the Bible. As I’m digesting this info, he scorches a doubles to left. And it’s a five-to-THREE ballgame! Come on, Tigers!
6:56 — Let’s make this clear once and for all: the question isn’t “what if a comedian ran for president?” It’s “what if somebody was dumb enough to make a movie where Robin Williams played a comedian who ran for president?”
6:59 — All right, I’ll ask: Is there a reason why the Giambino always looks like he just finished having raucous sex with a stripper in a 110-degree room at the Motel 6 in Vegas at 4:30 in the morning? I mean, he is COVERED in sweat. It’s unbelievable. He looks like Ray Liotta in the last 30 minutes of “Goodfellas.” He just got hit by another pitch.
7:01 — Playing the role of Jim Leyland in tonight’s in-game interview for the Tigers: Harry Dean Stanton. That was fun. Meanwhile, A-Rod can’t decide whether he wants to strike out or hit into a double play. It’s a coin flip, really.
7:04 — And the coin reads tails! A-Rod strikes out looking. After a Matsui tapper, we’re headed to the sixth.
7:10 — True or false: Carlos Guillen borrowed Carlos Boozer’s chest hair for tonight’s game.
(Answer: False. It’s his own chest hair.)
7:11 — Wang throws a tailing fastball over the plate to Guillen on a 3-0 count, followed by McCarver warning that Guillen would crank that pitch if he threw it again, followed by Wang throwing the exact same pitch for strike two. “Some analysis, huh?” McCarver jokes. Glad he’s here.
7:13 — With two outs, Monroe (whose mom’s name is Marilyn) cuts short McCarver’s completely random, borderline-inexplicable-because-of-the-timing Marilyn Monroe/Joe DiMaggio story by ending the inning with a groundout. Don’t worry, it was much worse than it reads.
7:15 — Three days away from “The Departed!” I’m ultra-giddy. I’m uber-giddy. I’m over-giddy. They could have a 6 a.m. matinee on Friday morning and I would be there. OK, that’s a lie. But I’m pumped. I am some kind of pumped. I am mega-pumped.
7:22 — With two outs and Damon on first, Jeter rips another double. He’s 4-for-4. Then, Abreu grounds a single into right for two more runs. 7-3, Yankees. And no, nobody’s happier than Abreu standing on first base right now. He looks like he just got called down as a contestant for the “Price is Right.”
7:30 — Is it considered a step up or a step down when you replace Scooter the Talking Baseball with Tommy Lasorda? You got me.
7:33 — Strange move: Torre decides to yank Wang in the seventh with two outs and nobody on. I’m not sure why Torre would yank Wang there when he was cruising at 93 pitches. Weird time to yank Wang.
7:37 — Curtis Granderson homers off Mike Myers, the 48th ex-Red Sox player we’ve seen today. 7-4, Yankees. See, I told you Torre shouldn’t have yanked Wang.
(Note: I’m not quitting until you give me one Beavis laugh. Come on, humor me.)
7:44 — Now we’re seeing the true Yankee weakness rearing its ugly head: Middle relief. Scott Proctor just gave up consecutive singles to Polanco and Casey and has to deal with Ordonez. It’s a grim Yankee Stadium right now. By the way, they showed Ordonez without his helmet a couple of innings before — his hairdo actually looks more like Cyrus from “The Warriors.” Whoops, I just jinxed him, he flied out. Time for Ronan Tynan to ice the other team’s pitcher with a 10-minute version of “God Bless America.” This team cheats, I’m telling you.
7:47 — Toronto reader E.H. Zwick chimes in: “McCarver should be congratulated for raising our cultural awareness for noting in amazement that Wang and Kuo come from the same ‘village’ known as Tainan City in Taiwan. This ‘village’ has a population of about 800,000, larger than San Francisco. It really is amazing that two people from a country that loves baseball has a city that produces two big league players. Thanks, Tim.” Well-done, E.H. And you didn’t even make a “made in Taiwan” joke.
7:51 — All right, I don’t know what happened, but Ordonez’s hair just got fluffier on both sides. Forget about the Road House villain and Cyrus it’s almost indescribable. I’m calling JackO for his thoughts.
7:52 — His take: “It’s like an afro, but bushier I-I no, I can’t describe it.” There you go. It’s officially indescribable. We spend the next 10 minutes talking about Torre’s decision to pull Wang. “I’m going to commit a murder if we blow this game,” JackO says ominously. He’s serious. I wouldn’t want to be a drifter in the Hartford area right now.
8:01 — The Fox promo race is heating up: “Bones” 4, “House” 3, “Justice” 2, “Prison Break” 3. Just a shocking showing for “Prison Break.” I’m stunned, frankly.
8:08 — After walking off the leadoff batter to start the eighth, Kyle Farnsworth throws three more balls before finally throwing a strike and the Yankee fans respond with a Bronx cheer. Literally. That was a Bronx cheer.
8:11 — Highlight of the game so far: As Farnsworth labors his way through the eighth, Fox shows a concerned fan wearing a Yankee jersey in the stands and it’s the guy who played Vito Spadafore on the “Sopranos.” How many Johnny Cakes jokes do you think have been thrown his way in three-plus hours? 400? 500? 2,000?
8:15 — After Farnsworth escapes the eighth, JackO calls back with some good news: “I figured out Ordonez’s hair. It looks like Rocky Dennis’ haircut in ‘Mask.’ With a little Carrot Top thrown in.” I knew he’d come through.
8:19 — By the time this night is over, Fox will have shown us the face of every Yankee fan in the stands. Or they’re going to die trying. And speaking of dying, thanks to Mike Philbrick (one of my Page 2 editors, as well as one of Holy Cross’ finest) for staying up late on the East Coast to post this last diary even though I’m cutting into his Oprah time on TiVo time right now. Thanks, Philbrick.
8:21 — Jeter mashes a homer to dead center (5-for-5!), followed by a prolonged curtain call, a prolonged “De-rek Jee-ter!”chant and McCarver and Buck joyously high-fiving in the dugout. All right, only three of those four things happened. But you have to hand it to Jeter — the guy always seems to come through when it matters. 8-4, Yankees.
8:29 — Enter the Sandman.
8:31 — They just showed that “lowest career post-season ERA” stat — Rivera is first at 0.81, followed by Koufax, Mathewson, Plank and Lolich. So if you’re scoring at home, the 2004 Red Sox didn’t just come back in Game 4 of the ALCS to launch the greatest comeback in sports history, they came back against the guy with the greatest postseason ERA ever. There you go.
8:33 — Rivera gets a double play to end the game: 8-4, Yankees. I’m going to go punch a wall. Back Wednesday for Game 1 of the Mets-Dodgers series.
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.