After the Rays pulled Scott Kazmir early and the Red Sox were able to stagger through another inning and change with the plainly ineffective Josh Beckett, I thought that Boston ought to have the advantage going into extra innings last night. But Terry Francona seemed to overdo it with matchups, and you knew as soon as 25th man Mike Timlin came in that it was all over for Boston.
Last night's game was obviously bigger for St. Petersburg than for Boston, and it's not hard to argue that it was the biggest of the postseason for any team thus far. None of the four Championship Series teams was really much challenged in their first-round series, and with the Rays leaving home for three games in Boston after last night, there was no way they could feel comfortable about having to win two on the road. The Dodgers, on the other hand, didn't seem to play with much urgency at all in their two games in Philadelphia. You'd think at least they would have pitched Brett Myers a little more carefully. I think L.A. feels, and perhaps justifiably so, that they can win three out of three at home. Certainly the trend in recent years has been towards the NLCS going the distance.
I think I underestimated Philadelphia going into the playoffs for a couple of reasons. First, the Rockies completely flattened them last season, and they had pretty much the same team then. Second, I didn't watch them this year hardly at all, so I was only vaguely aware of how dominant Cole Hamels has gotten and how much difference Brad Lidge has made in their bullpen. For this series in particular, there's something that helped the Dodgers against the Cubs that's hurting them now -- their preponderance of power righty pitchers. You don't need lefty pitching to beat Chicago, but against the Phillies you almost have to have it. Most of my healthy contempt for Chase Utley I picked up during last year's NLDS, when he swung at many of Brian Fuentes' pitches before they actually had left his hand. It's not like you can suddenly ask guys to start throwing with their other hands at this point, so we'll see what L.A. can do with Joe Beimel, Clayton Kershaw, and Hong-Chih Kuo.
Did you know that the Dodgers' backup catcher is Danny Ardoin? Yes, that Danny Ardoin. I don't know how Ardoin, Juan Pierre, and Angel Berroa all showed up on the same playoff roster together, but Joe Torre has to be hoping that nobody gets hurt. Anywhere. That is one crappy bench.
Tough loss for the Chicago Bears today, in a game they had won before an ill-advised call for a pop-up kickoff gave Atlanta enough time to run one more play and get into field position for a game-winning field goal. I've been a Bears fan too long to be surprised by chicken-hearted conservative play-calling leading to a loss; that stuff has been the rule ever since Ditka was ousted. But what really made me mad, watching that game, was how incredibly awful the Fox announcing team was. There was one replay challenge in the second quarter where Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick talked for five minutes, repeating the same basic explanation of the challenge over and over and over again. The booth review completed, the Falcons took the ball at the 12. Trouble is, the fumble that caused the review happened at the 24. The announcers never explained why the spot had mysteriously moved forward 10 yards. I had to go online to find out that there was a dead-ball penalty on Brian Urlacher. Billick and Brennaman went the entire rest of the game without even acknowledging the oversight. Don't they have a producer in the truck hollering in their headsets so that they don't miss this stuff? Also, Billick called Kyle Orton "Kyle Boller" at least five times. I realize that Boller must torture Billick day and night, having cost him his old job as coach of the Ravens and everything, but -- is he going to prevent him from doing his new job competently as well?
This makes me feel better about baseball on TV. Sure, the analysts are mostly deadball-worshiping clods (TBS's studio crew with Eckersley, the rehabilitated Harold Reynolds, and my buddy Cal Ripken is a welcome exception), but at least the play-by-play guys are pretty competent. I'm starting to get why Dr. Z's annual football announcers review usually tops out with C- grades.