I was watching a documentary about the James Bond movies last night, and they had a bit on the making of the tank chase through St. Petersburg, Russia in GoldenEye. Remember that? The tank smashing through all those walls, crushing police cars, upsetting applecarts, generally wreaking PG-13 havoc? That was Evan Longoria and the St. Petersburg, Florida offense last night in Boston, only if you were lip-reading the guys in the Red Sox dugout closely it would have merited an R rating.
You knew that maybe these weren't the championship Red Sox of 2004 and 2007 because Tim Wakefield was starting. Wakefield was the unsung MVP of the comeback in the ALCS in '04 simply because he saved the rest of the staff by taking a protracted beating out of the bullpen in Game 3; his value to the team once October starts has always been his ability to pitch unlimited innings in lost causes. He's the guy you hand the ball to when things get out of hand. If he's the one coming out of the game and giving way to the mop-up guys, then Boston's playoff rotation isn't at the high level we've seen before.
I still figure Boston will renew Wakefield's unique indefinite contract after this year. He's still better than everybody the Rockies had this year save Aaron Cook, and unlike Colorado, his front office will spend money to make sure he's back in his accustomed fifth starter/playoff innings sponge role next season.
So it might be a little early to crown the Rays, seeing as Boston was able to topple Cleveland after going down 3-1 last year. Josh Beckett's damaged status weighs the scales heavily in St. Pete's favor, though. As for the Dodgers, I expected their pitching to be better than it has been so far in their series against Philadelphia. They face the same challenge as Boston, having to win one game at home to stay alive and then taking two on the road. The Dodgers' young hitters haven't played loose the way the Rays' have, and Philadelphia has another Cole Hamels start up their sleeves to put the hammer down.
You can't turn on a sports radio channel or TV station without hearing some blather about Adam "Pacman" Jones these past two days. I ask you -- do you remember anything "Pacman" has done on the field, ever? Is there a single amazing "Pacman" highlight that stands out to you, making you think, "Okay, well I can see why it's worth having that maniac on your team," as you would for Terrell Owens or Ron Artest or Brett Myers? The only time I can remember thinking about Adam Jones without a connection to some act of off-field malfeasance is tweaking the Titans' depth chart in Madden a couple seasons ago so that he wasn't the default kick returner. Because he wasn't very good at that, either.
Basketball season is nearly here again. I'm looking forward mostly to getting to listen to Charles Barkley talk every Thursday, since it's going to be a brutal year for both the Bulls and the Nuggets. The Bulls have a new coach with no experience, a rookie point guard, and Larry Hughes, whose shot selection makes Antoine Walker look discriminating. Their offense is going to be hideous. Denver has the opposite problem, having traded the only starter they had with the least interest in playing defense. The most distressing thing about the Nuggets is that adding Allen Iverson has almost ruined Carmelo Anthony -- Iverson doesn't pass, rebound, or guard people after one reckless dive for a steal, and now Anthony has figured that it's OK for him to play the same way. At least he's not front-rimming jumpers from the right elbow so much any more but watching the Nuggets alternately run an isolation for AI, an isolation for Melo, another isolation for AI, and so on is stultifying. One of the reasons I pay more than I can afford for the League Pass package every year is because watching nothing but the Nuggets' offense every night would be enough to make me turn away from basketball entirely.
Would a St. Petersburg-Philadelphia World Series be a complete disaster for TV ratings? Probably not all-time low, but it's not going to be pretty. The Phillies have one medium-sized star in Ryan Howard; the Rays have no stars. Neither team has much of a national following in the way the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers do. Baseball has been systematically eroding its own popularity by comically over-emphasizing coverage of the glamour teams for 20 years. ESPN's frothing dedication to broadcasting at least two out of three games of every Red Sox-Yankees series all year has effectively convinced the average sports fan that as soon as both of those teams plus the cursed Cubs are out, the postseason isn't interesting anymore. Maybe the new all-baseball channel that's supposed to launch next year will start to spread interest in the flyover teams. If you're a developing NBA fan, most of the TNT games are going to be Lakers, Celtics, Cavs, Suns but NBA TV (assuming you have it on your cable system) is really good about giving you up-and-coming teams like the Blazers and Raptors. Same goes for MLB's various Internet ventures. The goal is to breed fans of the league rather than fans of teams. Most Cardinals fans, I'm sure, don't give a toss about a midseason Rockies-Padres game. But we all watch whatever NFL they put in front of us.
Speaking of the NFL, I saw that Lovie Smith admitted calling for the squib kick with seconds left in the Bears-Falcons game Sunday was stupid. I could have told you that, Lovie. Tell you what, for a tenth of one percent of your salary I'll give you my cell phone number and any time you have a concern about elementary strategy you can call me and I'll put down what I'm doing and break it down for you.