Monday, October 11, 2010

Comedy of Errors

That's how the weekend began and pretty much how the weekend ended. Six errors on Friday night between the Phillies and Reds — two of the best defensive teams in the National League — and three more last night. An infinite amount of errors on Saturday by Penn State. And the ugliest, stupidest 27-24 victory for the Eagles I can remember, unsurprisingly spearheaded by the team's fearless fat leader.

It all began on Friday, with Roy Oswalt in his Phillies postseason debut looking nothing like Roy Halladay's first-ever playoff start. Right out of the shoot, Oswalt was elevating his pitches, and the Reds wasted no time taking advantage. Literally, as Brandon Phillips led the game off with a deep home run to left. That would be a common theme for Oswalt on Friday night, getting his pitches up in the zone and in the danger area.

To compound Oswalt fighting himself to control his pitches, he didn't get any help once he started getting down in the zone in the 2nd inning. On the first batter of the inning, Utley ranged to his left and made a tremendous play to get to a hard grounder by Lance Nix … then threw it away on a truly atrocious throw. After Oswalt got Jay Bruce to fly out, Nix got to second on a wild pitch. It most certainly was scored correctly as a wild pitch and a very difficult ball for Carlos Ruiz to block, but in keeping with the theme of the night, Ruiz sort of made a lazy attempt to block it, not shuffling his feet over and putting his body in front of it — very uncharacteristic for Curbball. Then to top it all off, after Drew Stubbs walked, Ryan Hanigan, a slow-footed catcher, rolled over a tailor-made double play ball to Jimmy Rollins. Rollins tossed to Utley at second …  and Chase inexplicably rushed the throw, burying it in the dirt on a tough hop that Ryan Howard stood little chance of reeling in. It was an especially egregious error this time around, hurrying a throw despite a slow runner heading toward first.

The error resulted in Nix scoring, the same guy who reached based thanks to Utley's first error. Two errors by the second baseman and a wild pitch resulted in a run and a 2-0 hole. And that 2-0 Cincinnati lead would turn into a 3-0 lead in the 4th courtesy of a long, solo home run by Jay Bruce, and extend to 4-0 in the 5th thanks to a leadoff double by Phillips, followed by sac bunt by Paul Janish and a sac fly by Joey Votto.

Things just didn't seem to be going the Phillies' way. Oswalt was off his game, the Phils were committing errors, and Bronson Arroyo was keeping them off-balance at the plate. But as has been the case with this team the past few years, all it took was one crack of daylight to turn things around, and the first crack came in the bottom of the 5th.

Raul Ibanez led off with a single, and after Carlos Ruiz flied out, Charlie decided Oswalt's night was through — an unimpressive line of 5 innings pitched, 4 runs, 3 earned, 5 hits, 1 walk and 2 homers. Taking Oswalt out after only 5 was slightly shocking, but given the way he was pitching not altogether suprising. The real shocker was who Charlie Manuel decided to throw out there to hit for him. He didn't go with either righthander Mike Sweeney or Ben Francisco with the righthanded Arroyo on the mound. And he didn't go with Ross Gload so early in the game, or with Greg Dobbs, a player who has struggled but also a guy with tons of pinch-hitting experience. No, he went with the highly touted rookie, the guy who has seen his average plummet and strikeouts increase so rapidly that playing time was a rare commodity until the NL East was clinched. He went with Domomic Brown against a junk-ball pitcher, exactly the type of match-up you'd expect the veteran Arroyo to win.

Instead, it was Brown showing uncanny maturity, patiently working a good at bat. He did wind up grounding into a fielder's choice, but it was a disciplined at bat. And it did trade him for Ibanez on the base paths, something the Phils will take 100 times out of 100. Still, though, there were two outs and a runner on first, hardly a threatening situation, especially given how Arroyo was cruising.

And Arroyo did his job with leadoff hitter Shane Victorino, getting him to hit a grounder to Gold Glove second-baseman Brandon Phillips. Only this time, Phillips' golden glove betrayed him. Phillips booted the ball, and it was safe all around. Still, it looked as though Arroyo was going to get out of it, following up Shane's at bat by getting Placido Polanco to hit a grounder to Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen. But Rolen, seemingly catching whatever error disease had fallen upon Phillips, booted the grounder hit by the man the who the Phillies traded him for once upon a time, loading the bases. Two errors by two Gold Glove fielders on back-to-back plays. Simply stunning. And it brought to the plate the man who got this error-filled game going.

Chase knew he owed Roy Oswalt and his teammates one thanks to his two-error 2nd. He did one better, singling to right to score Brown and Victorino, and suddenly a 4-0 game became a 4-2 game. Just like that, Citizens Bank Park was rocking once again, and the Phillies had life.

Howard struck out to end the inning, leaving two runners on base, but the damage, both on the scoreboard and psychologically, had been done. The Phillies were winning this game. I was sure of it. All of us at my house were sure of it, even if the runs came at no fault of Arroyo's. It was only a matter time before this team put up some runs, one way or the other. Though I'd be lying if I said I felt good about having J.C. Romero come in to start the 6th.

Romero has been anything but reliable this year, struggling to throw strikes ever since he got healthy. But J.C. didn't let us down, getting two quick, easy outs against lefties Lance Nix and Jay Bruce, before being relieved by Chad Durbin. Durbin then proceeded to walk Drew Stubbs, only to pick him off to end the inning.

The Phils tacked on another in the bottom of the inning, as Jayson Werth walked, then stole second after Raul struck out. Then Arthur Rhodes hit Carlos Ruiz, and up came Ben Francisco to pinch hit. Rhodes was lifted, and Logan Ondsrusek took over. He decided to follow Rhodes' lead and hit Ben Francisco, nailing the brim of his helmet. Thankfully, Francisco was OK, and the Phils had the bases loaded. Shane wisely took the first pitch for a ball. Then he swung on a 1-0 fastball and fouled it off. With the bases loaded. After the pitcher had just hit a guy to load the bases, and the other two runners reached by a walk and a hit by pitch as well, albeit with different pitchers in the game. I wanted to strangle Shane. But luckily, that swing did no harm to the Phils, and Ondrusek did wind up walking Victorino to make it a 4-3 game.

He did manage to find his command against Polanco though, dropping a perfect curveball in for strike one and getting ahead 0-2 before Placido grounded out to end the inning. You could just feel the momentum swinging the Phils' way. Cincinnati jumped out to the lead, but then the pressure of the situation began to take over. Errors. Walks. Hit batters. On the other side, the Phillies just seemed to be taking advantage of the situation and thriving in the pressure spots, capitalizing on the mistakes the Reds were making. All three runs to that point were scored with with two outs, and now it was a one-run game.

Jose Contreras pitched a perfect 7th, and then things got really interesting. The entire baseball world was waiting to see what rookie fireballer Aroldis Chapman would do on this stage. It was power on power, as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth were due to lead off.

While everyone has been in awe of Chapman and his electric arm, deeming him unhittable, I loved the notion of a fastball pitcher going against this lineup. I don't care how hard a guy throws, MLB hitters will time him. And the Phillies do it as good as anyone. This team, like most teams, loves to hit the fastball, and they thrive off of guys who supposedly are unhittable due to their scorching fastballs. Just ask Jonathan Broxton.

It began with Utley getting his Derek Jeter on. I have to admit that on first look, I thought Utley had been hit, and I was terrified. I was sure Utley had broken his hand on a 100-plus mph pitch. Chase was awarded first base, and even put on a little bit of a show by protecting his hand. But it turns out, Utley never really was hit, and he even sheepishly alluded to that after the game. No matter. The man was awarded first, and the tying run was on.

Now the power matchup ensued: Howard vs. Chapman. Aroldis won this one, striking out Howard with heat. Then he got Jayson Werth to hit a grounder to third. Rolen, who already made a rare error this game that proved costly, tried to get Utley at second. The play was close, but Chase was ruled safe. Replays showed perhaps he was actually out, but it was a risky play by Rolen, a chopper hit to him. He would have definitely gotten out No. 2 if he went to first, but instead took a chance. It would come back to haunt the Reds, because deja vu was about to happen all over again.

Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate just itching to hit a fastball. Well, he got one, and served it to right field, an easy out number 2 in the inning. Only it wasn't, as Jay Bruce lost the ball in the lights and completely whiffed for a two-base error. Chase scored. Werth did too, and suddenly the Phillies had a stunning 5-4 lead.

When the ball bounced by Bruce, I jumped so high I swear I could have dunked a basketball with the leap. Plays like that just don't happen to teams that finish with the best fielding percentage and fewest amount of errors in the league. Or at least all logic says they shouldn't. But these things did happen. The Phils made it hurt even more, tacking on another as Ibanez singled to put Rollins on third, and Chooch got him in on an RBI fielder's choice.

Madson took care of business in 8th, Chase made even more amends for his errors in the 2nd by singling in the 8th, stealing second and scoring on an RBI single by Werth to make it 7-4. Then Brad Lidge worked around a leadoff walk to Bruce by getting two fly outs and ground out to nail down the improbable 7-4 win.

The Reds completely imploded under the spotlight of October baseball and the intimidating atmosphere that has become Citizens Bank Park. There would be no games beyond this weekend. That was not in question. This was the game Cincinnati had to win. The Reds jumped out to a 4-0 lead. They scored four runs off Roy Oswalt in 5 innings. If they couldn't win a game like that, they weren't going to win any. I was certain of it. But I had little time to reflect, as I immediately left with silver fox after the game to head out to State College to take in homecoming against Illinois.

I should have just stayed home.

We got to State College a little before 1, watched some baseball while ingesting some beer at my cousin's apartment and then went to sleep. We awoke early to go get some beer and tailgate a little before the noon kickoff. Well, we do successfully manage to get a 30 pack, some ice and make a water run … then my car won't start. I turn the key two, three, four, five times. Nothing. I try again. Nothing. FUCK! Here I am, in the middle of State College, and my car won't start. The same car that just had a new battery installed. Unbelievable.

Luckily, after about five minutes, the bastard finally starts, and we get to our parking spot, worrying about whether the car will start or not afterward later. I was just happy to be there on a beautiful afternoon, and we met Arkansas Fred and Lavar's Love Child at the game. That feeling wouldn't last.

My car not starting turned out to be a bad omen for perhaps the ugliest game I've seen since the 6-4 debacle against Iowa my junior year. Penn State got embarrassed at home, getting blown out by an average at best Illinois team 33-13. Sure, injuries played a part, as Jack Crawford, Bani Gbadyu and Mike Mauti didn't play, and Nick Sukay and Erica Lattimore both got hurt during the game, along with Pete Massaro and Andrew Dailey, but it's not like all of those guys were playing that well this year anyway. But the most disconcerting part was that Penn State simply didn't come to play, and the team is getting worse, not better. Lavar Arrington must be rolling over in his grave.

I can't say anything good about this game. At all. The defense was terrible. The offense was terrible. The coaching was terrible. It was just painful to watch. Chris Colasanti continued to be the worst linebacker in America. Robert Bolden completed a staggering 38 percent of his passes, continuing to regress instead of progress after tough road contests at Alabama and Iowa. There is still no run game to speak of, and the lines on both sides of the ball are the worst Penn State lines of my lifetime. The only highlight was Derek Moye's 80-yard touchdown catch. That play actually worked and made it a 14-10 game, yet Penn State never took another shot down the field the entire game.

Graham Zug kept dropping balls. Justin Brown, this team's most talented offensive player, didn't even get a touch. And Robert Bolden was pathetic. It was perhaps the worst overall effort I've ever seen from a Penn State team. I certainly can't recall a more disheartening showing off the top of my head. Even in the 6-4 loss to Iowa, at least the defense showed up and dominated. On Saturday, not a single Nittany Lion played well, and there wasn't one facet of the game that looked prepared.

We knew this team wasn't going to make any noise or compete for a conference title. It's a rebuilding year. But no one expected a pathetic game like this. The coaches did not have this team ready, and they should all be ashamed of themselves. As the year has progressed, this team has gotten worse. Robert Bolden has gotten worse. And that's the opposite of what's supposed to happen for a young team. Penn State looked infinitely better against Alabama on the road in the second game of the year than it did at home against Illinois in October. It's pathetic, and inexcusable. It's one thing to lose. It's another thing to not even show up on homecoming weekend.

That led me to a night of drinking, but I couldn't really go to the bars I wanted to because it was homecoming and the lines were down the block everywhere. I hate homecoming and I hate that game. The only thing that made the ride back on Sunday bearable was the fact the Phils and Eagles were playing at night to wipe the memory of the debacle away.

We made the trek back to my house as my car mercifully started, having to bob and weave traffic because people don't know how to drive. Going out to State College and coming back, I repeatedly encountered people driving slow in the left lane. I hate this so much it makes me want to kill people. And three out of every four of these morons driving slow and blocking my way had Jersey license plates. People really need to learn how to drive. It's not rocket science. If you want to drive slow, get the hell over to the right lane. Assholes.

Anyway, last night made up for that horrific trip. We had a full house of sports fans to witness Cole Hamels pitch a complete game gem, shutting out the Reds 2-0 to complete the sweep and head back to NLCS for the third year in a row.

Hamels was brilliant last night, as good as I've ever seen him. It was vintage 2008 postseason Cole, striking out 9 Reds while walking none and scattering just five hits over his nine innings. There really was never a moment that this game that felt uncomfortable, even with such a close score.

The Reds had their season on the line, and you could feel the tension coming from them after giving away game 2 and facing elimination. After Polanco and Howard singled in the first wrapped around fly outs by Shane and Chase, Cincinnati picked up right where they left on Friday by committing another costly error. With two outs and two on, Werth hit a grounder to yet another Gold Glove winner, Orlando Cabrera, and the crybaby made a horrendous throw, pulling Joey Votto off the bag and allowing Polanco to score, 1-0 Phils. It turned out that's all the Phillies would need, but they added another as Chase hit a solo bomb in the 5th to make it 2-0.

Shockingly, Dusty Baker then removed Johnny Cueto after just five innings despite Cueto surrendering only two runs, only one of which was earned, and being well below 100 pitches. And he did it so he could send a pinch-hitter to the plate with no one on and two outs. Said pinch hitter, former Philie Miguel Cairo, struck out.

The move didn't hurt Dusty, as the Phillies were shut out the rest of the way, but they did have chances. Rollins got a single in the 6th and the inning was extended on yet another Scott Rolen error before Hamels flew out to end the inning. And in the 7th, Shane led off with a single. It was the perfect time for small ball. I assumed Polanco would let Shane steal, then try to move him over by hitting it to the right side. With the count 1-0, Shane picked the perfect pitch to go on, a curveball, had a great jump and would have stolen the bag easily … only Polanco stupidly swung at the pitch, fouling it off and forcing Shane to go back. Polanco is usually the most fundamentally sound player on this team, yet for some unknown reason he decided to take a boneheaded swing. I was pissed, and then furious when he grounded into a double play to put out any hopes of another run.

It was not Polanco's finest moment, but it hardly mattered. Hamels breezed through the 7th. Then the 8th. Sitting at slightly over 100 pitches, damn straight he was going out there for the 9th. Even when he gave up a leadoff single to Phillips to bring up Votto, I didn't feel concerned or panicked. Every ounce of logic said I should, seeing as Votto was the best hitter in the league this year, but I didn't. Cole was on his game that much last night, and sure enough, he got Votto to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, then struck out Rolen to complete the sweep. It was vintage Cole.

He got a helping hand by Shane Victorino's tremendous catch on a Brandon Phillips rocket, not to mention some fine defense by Jimmy Rollins and company. But Cole did the heavy lifting to get this one done, and the Phils showed the poise of a team that's been there before. The Reds just imploded.

The best defensive team in the NL committed seven errors in the three games, just about all of them costly. The best hitting team in the NL managed to score just four runs and get 11 hits in three games. Likely NL MVP Joey Votto, who hit .324 this season, went 1-10. Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter, Cole Hamels a complete-game shutout. Roy Oswalt was the terrible one, and he surrendered just three earned runs.

A Phillies fan out in Cincy held up the most appropriate sign ever: The New Red Machine. It's really beginning to look that way.

Of course, we were simultaneously watching the Eagles last night thanks to our two-TV setup.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that the 49ers are just a terrible, terrible football team. Alex Smith looked completely incompetent for three quarters, and the Eagles were able to run the exact type of offense they hoped.

With the Kevin Kolb era back on in Philadelphia, at least for the time being, the young QB looked very good. He completed 21 of 31 for 253 yards and a score, not turning the ball over and actually throwing downfield. LeSean McCoy had a terrific game as well, running for 92 yards on 18 carries and scoring, not to mention catching five balls for 46 yards. Jeremy Maclin had 95 yards receiving, and the Birds put up 27 points.

Oh, and Owen Schmitt did this:

Of course, it's the Eagles, so there had to be some errors in judgment. And there most certainly were. Like trying to run Eldra Buckley out of the wildcat on third and one straight up the middle, the exact same 4th-down play that didn't work with Michael Vick in week 1. The same Eldra Buckley who came in with exactly 0 carries on the year.

Or even more ridiculous, deciding to throw the ball on 3rd and 2 with a three-point lead and less than two minuets left instead of, you know, running the ball to force San Fran to use its final timeout … and, you know, maybe get the first down and ice the game. It's not like LeSean was averaging five yards a pop or anything. I fucking hate Andy Reid. He is completely retarded at clock management.

It didn't matter, however, because the Niners suck, and Alex Smith threw a horrendous pick as he was getting hit to Trevard Lindley. The Eagles escaped with a 27-24 win despite trying to give San Francisco the game late, most notably by continuing to put Stewart Bradley on Vernon Davis in coverage. That did not work. At all.

In fact, Stewart Bradley has been completely awful this year. He seems to have lost all instincts for playing the position, he can't cover, and he's taking horrible angles and getting caught of position damn near every play. He's bad. But not as bad as King Dunlap. Holy hell does that guy suck. The only upside to having him in the game is that he commits less penalties than Jason Peters. That's it. He cannot play professional football. Oh, and Quintin Mikell sucks too.

I will say this though: Nate Allen is a stud, Trevor Laws is now this team's best defensive tackle and Trent Cole is still a beast. Plus, Brandon Graham finally made a play, so that was nice. A lot nicer than those two horrendous third-down calls.

Thank god the Phillies distracted me most of the game. And that the Niners are so bad.

8 more wins.



  1. The Rangers can learn a thing or two from the Phillies on how to close out a fuckin' series. Now, we gotta rely on The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived to save the day tomorrow.

  2. Yeah, the Rangers gave the Rays life once again. And now even if the Rangers can pull it out, Cliff Lee won't be available until game 3 most likely against the Yanks, game 2 if they're lucky. That's not good either.

    As for the Phils, they got off until Saturday, and we all saw what Halladay did last time with all that rest.