Postseason thoughts, Day 2

Yesterday’s games:
Astros 9, Braves 3
Yankees 7, Twins 6, 12 innings
Red Sox 8, Angels 3

Astros lead series 1-0
Early in the season, when Roger Clemens was something like 9-0, I didn’t want to think he was still that dominant. I figured a lot of it had to do with changing leagues and facing lineups who had never seen him and his impressive splitter. As the Astros faded, he didn’t get the same press, and I look up his numbers in September, and he’s 18-4. OK, that’s good. He may have struggled yesterday, but he got out of those jams. He may be a bit of an ass, but he’s from Texas. A lot of people are. At least he’s a little more likable, and more subdued, than Barry Bonds. I can enjoy watching Clemens set milestones. But the Braves are in trouble. They’ve never drawn well, so they gave fans who purchased tickets to yesterday’s game free tickets to today’s game, just to fill seats. Yeah, great fans they have in Atlanta. But Carlos Beltran showed why he’ll be the most coveted free agent this winter. Since the all-star break, when the Astros were just 44-44 and struggling, he hit only .257, with 17 home runs and 41 RBI. But he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio ever so slightly (51 Ks to 45 walks pre-break, 50-47 afterwards) and upped his on-base percentage 5 points to .370. The biggest difference, however, was his aggressiveness on the bases: 27 post-break steals to 15 before the midsummer classic. And all three of his caught stealings came in the first half. But it’s Clemens I keep coming back to, and if Roy Oswalt mimics Rocket’s output, hometown boy Brandon Backe will have a chance for another big — and historic — win in Game 3 in Houston.

Twins-Yankees series tied 1-1
As much as the Yankees and their fans would have talked calmly and acted cooly if they had gone down 0-2 — “We’ve just got to take it one game at a time”; “We’ve been here before”; etc. — this team would have been in trouble going to Minnesota in such a hole. Sure, it was a big win for the Twins too, which is why Ron Gardenhire had his closer out there to finish off the game in his third inning of work. It’s just that I don’t get why he was out there in the 10th to begin with. Gardenhire said he left Nathan in for his third inning after the Twins had taken a 6-5 lead on Torii Hunter’s home run off Tanyon Sturtze because he “didn’t like our options” left in the bullpen. When you’re on the road, you know you’re going to have to protect a lead with the home team getting one last at-bat, so why was Nathan in there in a tie game to begin with? When the Yankees rallied, he had to bring someone in after Nathan, so why couldn’t J.C. Romero have started the 10th? If he got into trouble, then Gardenhire could’ve brought Nathan in to get out of a jam. The Yankees were lucky to come away with this one. Mariano Rivera faltered again, and Sturtze, who was one of the relievers the team was talking up as having finished the season strong, would have been the losing pitcher. Now the question is: How will Kevin Brown pitch? He’s obviously not Joe Torre’s first choice, or the decision would have been announced earlier than yesterday. This may seem like an obvious expectation, but my feeling is Brown will either get shelled and not make it through the third, or he’ll be brilliant and scatter four hits over seven.

Red Sox lead series 2-0
It’s over. Boston isn’t the Oakland A’s, the Red Sox are not going to blow a 2-0 lead. There’s a very slim chance this series will even get back to California. It might not make it to Saturday. Pedro sure sounds like a different pitcher now, far from the “the Yankees are my daddy” comments two weeks ago. “I was the No. 1 today, and that’s all that matters,” said Martinez, 0-4 with a 7.72 ERA to finish the season. “I don’t care what the experts have to say, they were talking trash. Every time they give me the ball, I’m special.” The Red Sox may have celebrated their postseason-clinching victory in Tampa Bay (while the Yankees like to talk about how they don’t make a big deal out of postseason appearances because that’s expected and their goal is to win the World Series), but Boston is playing like a calm, confident, focused team determined to be one of the last two playing this season. Bronson Arroyo might not scare many as the opposing pitcher in an elimination game, but are Angels fans really confident with Kelvim Escobar as their savior? In Boston, which might be the biggest home-field advantage this side of the Metrodome? I’m not so sure about that one.

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