To put you in a Christmas mood

Right now, this is my nominee for the best non-Cardinals-win-the-World-Series sports story of the year. Don Carman, he of the 53-54 record and the 4.11 E.R.A. over a ten-year career, is now one of my favorite players.

Close competition is Toby’s excellent eve-of-the-World Series article about Carmi resident and former Tiger and Cardinal Bob Sykes. Toby, is that available online for me to link to anywhere?

And as we enter the holiday season, some baseball things I’m thankful for:
Jimmy Edmonds, and his new contract that makes him likely to retire a Cardinal.
Adam Wainwright’s curveball and its ability to freeze Carlos Beltran, if for no other reason than my mom’s good health. I’m not sure she would have made it had he hit the bases-clearing triple we all were clearly imagining.
Endy Chavez’s catch, and the fact that it ultimately didn’t matter
Manny Ramirez’s swing. And his hair.
Dusty Baker’s firing. Is that too mean for a holiday list?
Jackie Robinson. ‘Cause you can’t ever be too thankful for Jackie Robinson.
Rickey. GMs, he’s ready to play. Just call.
Yadier Molina’s October power surge. And his girlish smile.
Stacey’s jack-o-lanterns. 10-0 in the Fall Classic and counting.
Labor peace.
J.D. Drew’s silly, silly baserunning, and the fact that that play also involved Jeff Kent and his mustache.
The Big Unit, even though he’s a Yankee and, apparently, past his peak. Oh, that slider, and that hair.
Mike Shannon. So long as he’s broadcasting, a part of me will still be a kid.
Opening Day, and living a mile-and-a-half from a ballpark, a childhood dream unexpectedly realized.

And, finally and forever, Albert Pujols. ‘Nuff said.

I know I’m forgetting dozens. Feel free, ye millions of readers, to add your own in comments.

Opening night

Could we possibly ask for a better Opening Night game?

Sunday night, we get the World Champion Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium against the World Champion (Choker Division) New York Yankees.

For the second year in a row, Johnny Damon will be our first sight of the baseball season, stepping into the box in all his glory.

And on the mound, we get pure contrast. David Wells v. Randy Johnson. Junkballer v. Flamethrower. One of the roundest guys in baseball v. the tallest, skinniest. They ought to go on the road as a comedy team. They’re listed at as weighing the same, despite the Unit’s six-inch height advantage. Now that’s comedy.

It’s time. Y’all are invited for chili and corn bread.

Halfway there

Well, we’re more than halfway there. When I was a kid, the pedant in me (which was, like 75% of me) was regularly annoyed by the demarcation of the All-Star break as the halfway point. Now that I know what it’s like to be an adult and once in a while need some days off, I understand better why three days off in the midst of a long season should be viewed as the halfway point, regardless of its mathematical accuracy.

So at the halfway point, it’s time for a quick list of the best things about the first half for me:

1) The Cardinals, and their position in the standings relative to the Cubs, the Astros, and the rest of the Senior Circuit.

2) Johnny Damon’s first at-bat of the season. Even more than the rest of his season, the spit-out-your-beer surprise of seeing him stand in that first night has made me smile for three months.

3) Scott Rolen

4) The Unit’s perfect game.

5) The Tigers‘ win total, one less than at the end of last season. Do you think they’ll just take the rest of the year off?

I’m sure I’ve missed some. For example, there’s no way that the Tigers’ season has been one of the five best things about baseball this year, even for Tigers fans. But I am impressed with their season, and I’m working, and listing Johnny Damon twice would be wrong.

So you should add your own top five in the comments. ‘Cause yours will probably be better than mine.

Original comments…

Steve: 1) The Cubs are being the Cubs
2) The White Sox are making baseball fun (at least for me)
3) Baseball Related Program Activities
4) The NL East Race
5) Ivan Rodriguez (his stats are crazy when you consider he’s a catcher. He hit .500 for the month of June)

Levi: .500?

That’s insane.

Oh, and if I expanded my list, I might include:
6) The AL looking like it might, just might have a different order of finish for the first time since the birth of the Devil Rays. The teams have all finished in the same spots every season since then.

Dan: 1) Mets finally giving me a reason to enjoy the day-to-day pennant races again.
2) Traditionally shitty teams doing really well, in nearly every division: Tigers, Rays, Brewers, Padres, (erm, Mets), Rangers
3) Jason Marquis establishing himself as the best Jewish pitcher since Steve Stone
4) Mets sweeping the Yankees and winning the season series, both for the first time ever
5) The Astros imploding.
**6) Johnny Damon — indeed, that first game was magic, and I was sitting here watching alone

2nd half wish list:
1) Mets sneak into the playoffs, I don’t care if it’s with an 82-80 record like it was in ’73
2) Someone hits Clemens in the head (or hand)
3) Someone hits Jeter in the groin
4) Rickey Henderson returns
5) Andy Baggarly breaks open the BALCO case

Toby: 1. A Hoosier from Levi’s sister’s town leads the All-Star voting
2. Blue Jays’ new logo/uniforms
3. Astros virtually out of the race
4. The Braves NOT in first place at the break
5. D-Rays’ and PIrates’ long winning streaks

Jason: 1. Finally getting to a Visalia Oaks game.
2. Finding a A&W Restaurant before the Oaks game.
3. Visiting PETCO park for a Padres-Cubs game.
4. Taking a pleasant weekday drive through the San Gabriel mountains before a Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game.
5. Watching Cal State Fullerton win the College World Series, giving me incentive to try to attend a game there next season.

Levi: How could I have forgotten the Braves’ struggles? That really is a top-five event. Go, Mets!

The Big Unit

Last night was one of those rare occasions when I was glad The Superstation exists, because when the Cubs’ announcers mentioned that the Unit had a perfect game through 8, we were able to switch over and watch the 9th.

The Unit was throwing as well as I’ve ever seen. He looked a little sweaty, but not tired.

With one out to go, he stepped off the mound and kind of composed himself, and Skip Carey said, “Johnson holds a little team meeting with himself.”

With two outs to go, the Braves home crowd stood, cheering for Johnson to get the last out. But Stacey noticed at least one guy wearing a rally cap. Her thought: only a Braves fan would attempt to root for both a perfect game against his team and a rally for his team at the same time.

Then Johnson struck out the last hitter, and his catcher, Robby Hammock, leaped into the air, high, several times while the Unit smiled. That was the best part, I think, seeing the Unit smile. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that.

And seeing his teammates touch his hair. I know I’ve never seen that.

So congratulations to the Big Unit, one of my very favorite players. Couldn’t have done it to a better team.

Original comments…

Jon Solomon: Thankfully they made similar mention during the NBA playoffs (or was it the Mets game on MSG?) that Johnson was perfect through seven, so my Dad and I were able to switch over and watch it together.

sandor: My friend Jason was at the Yankee/Red Sox game a few years ago when Mike Mussina pitched 8 2/3 innings of perfect ball, only to have it ruined with a hit by ugly ducking Carl Everett. He said the entire Fenway crowd was on its feet, as Atlanta’s was here, but not to cheer on the pitcher about to make history; he said they were still rooting for their Sox to break it up. Even with Everett, who pretty much everyone in Boston hated, at the plate. Which I guess makes sense, if you’re the Red Sox and you’re about to be put in the history books for the wrong reason, thanks to those bastard Yankees.

I tried to console him (Jason, not Mussina) by explaining he probably witnessed a rarer feat: “Sure, a perfect game is rare, but isn’t a pitcher going perfect for only 8 2/3 innings only to have it broken up on the last out is even rarer!” (I don’t actually know if this is true, but I imagine so.) Anyway, he wasn’t consoled.

Levi: I will go to my grave believing that the reason Jim and I didn’t see Frank Castillo throw a no-hitter against the Cardinals on September 25, 1995 is that, with two outs in the 9th, I cheered for Castillo to retire Bernard Gilkey.

The god repaid my breaking faith with the Cardinals by allowing Gilkey to hit a triple into the right-field corner.

Never again will I root against the Cardinals for any reason in any situation. Sorry about that, Jim.

thatbob: The Unit isn’t as fat as I’d like, but he sure is ugly! And I’m a big fan of anything that strikes out Braves. Go Big Unit!

Levi: Re: my post above. That should read “The gods.” I’m nothing if not a polytheist. Well, except for an athiest, that is.

Jim: Well, “the god” is probably appropriate if you’re a polytheist, because there is probably one specific god of Punishing Levi for Rooting Against the Cardinals. Obviously, he doesn’t have as many responsibilities as, say, Zeus, so when he gets a chance to do his thing, he’s going to take it.

Jason: PLRAC? (pronounced pul-rak)

Levi: My coworker, Jim, says, “Maybe touching the Unit’s hair is like touching a snake’s skin. You know, you expect it to be all slimy, but it’s really cool and dry.”

Secho: I was in the pressbox at Shea Stadium scoring the Mets-Cards game during the perfect game hubbub. I happen to sit right in the middle of several members of the Japanese media, who were unfazed by reports of the Unit’s perfection through 8, but outraged when Colin Porter was sent to pinch hit for So Taguchi in the top of the 9th. Taguchi had entered the game in a double-switch in the bottom of the 8th, an inning after 74-year-old Ray Lankford butchered a can of corn in left.

Anyway, the point: Longtime Met and Yankee official scorer Bill Shannon was sitting nearby, recounting every no-hitter he remembered in New York, and recalling who the official scorer was for each off the top of his head. It was unbelievable, hearing him talk about Larsen’s game in ’56. He noted there were 3 official scorers that day, as there are in World Series games, and tossed their names off as if he’d seen them yesterday, and then talked about a couple of pitches Larsen got away with in that game: “He threw a 2-2 hanging slider, but it was fouled back.” How does he remember this stuff? I don’t even remember most of Game 7 of the NLCS last year.

Levi: My memories of last year’s NLCS game 7 are clouded with despair.

I think that’s how you know the Cubs are only my backup team. If they were my real team, the despair would only bring the events into ever-clearer focus. Leading to more despair.

toby: Do I detect a bit of Braves-hating in that entry, Leviticus? I hope so.
A loyal Pirate fan

Francisco Cabrerra is the devil.

Anonymous: It could be worse, you could be a red sox fan

We’re not watching our own network

Several times during tonight’s hockey game on ESPN2, play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne promoted tomorrow night’s baseball coverage by saying, “Barry Bonds and the Giants travel to Wrigley Field to take on Sosa and the Cubs.”

Problem is, the ESPN2 “Bottom Line” ticker was repeating “Cubs OF Sammy Sosa (back) to be put on DL Wednesday.”

And then there was some actual breaking news on the Bottom Line: congratulations to Randy Johnson on the perfect game. Couldn’t have happened to a scarier-looking guy! I’m still going to refer to him as The Big Eunuch, but not when he’s within earshot.

Original comments…

Jason: I thought I was the only one in the Western United States watching this game.

Actually, I only watched the replay at midnight, but I still tuned in. Let’s hear it for a Tampa Bay-Calgary Stanley Cup Final!