You know, Pete Rose and I aren’t exactly on each other’s Christmas card lists. But tonight, the former Cincinnati gambler took the reason the Giants choked on a 3-run, 9th inning lead, and folded, wrapped and very neatly packaged it into a single word: “Stinko.”
“That was a stinko bullpen, man.” said Rose. Then he went on to paint the picture — much to my personal delight — of an on-field disaster that rivaled anything that Hollywood special effects wizards coulda dreamed up. “Five pitchers give up 3 runs before they get an out in the inning? … They didn’t deserve to win. That’s the worse collapse I’ve seen in a long time for a bullpen playin’ for what they were playin’ for.” Pete is no George Will, but those words … those were pure Shakespeare, baby.
“Idiotic” is another word that comes to mind. I came up with that one on my own, though. But at least I’ll combine it with “thank you” and a big wet kiss for Bruce Bochy for takin’ Moore outta the game when he did. Perhaps the stupidest move I’ve seen by a manager since Dusty Baker came to work at Clark and Addison. Moore had 10 K’s and had surrendered just 2 hits. And you take him out?! With the Giants’ bullpen? Wow. Bochy and Pete Carroll gotta be in the same knitting circle.
Full disclosure: I had to employ the “don’t watch cuz you’re jinxin’ the team” strategy during the last half of the game. I haven’t had to use that one all season, which may explain why it worked; it wasn’t expected. Anyway, tonight around the 5th, it became obvious that if I kept watchin’ we were gonna lose for sure, but if I turned the TV off, the Cubs had a chance. Yeah, it was a sacrifice, but that’s part of baseball. The missus headed upstairs and started yellin’ the blow-by-blow down the stairs, and in between askin’ me, “Don’t you wanna turn it on? They’re doin’ good.” (One of the million reasons why she winds my watch.) I resisted.
Deep down inside, where the corndogs and brats are processed, I know my watchin’ probably has nothin’ to do with whether the Cubs win or lose. It’s just a superstition thing. Like black cats and goats and Steve Bartmans. They’re like Justin Beeber fans — they can’t be explained with logic.
Whatever it was — me, or the Cubs finally startin’ to play like the Cubs — our visiting grays are gettin’ a champagne wash cycle tonight. And so is everyone in Wrigleyville. That doesn’t stinko.
Holy meat balls, that was some friggin’ game last night, wasn’t it?! Am I happy we came up short? No, I am not. Was it a friggin’ epic battle royal cage match fought by two teams refusing to yield to the bloody gloves of the other? In spades, my friend. In spades.
It was Godzilla vs King Kong; the Federation vs the Clingons; the Sharks vs the Jets (no, that ain’t hockey vs football); Neo vs Agent Smith; the Crows vs the Wildlings. You know that scene in Gangs of New York where the Natives and the Dead Rabbits have it out in the square? Last night’s game was like that, my friend. EPIC! It reminded me of the Thrilla in Manilla. Howard Cosell’s grating New York cadence was in the back of my head, deliverin’ the blow-by-blow. Only insteada “Frasier goes down! Frasier goes down! Frasier goes down!” it was “Bryant has tied the game! Bryant has tied the game! Bryant has tied the game!” That was electrifying. No matter what happens through the rest of the playoffs, you’re not gonna see a better game than that.
When Arrieta went yard, I went in my pants. No, not really, but holy crap! I usually need an elevator to get that far off the ground. Whatever Maddon has been feedin’ our staff, it’d be nice if he started givin’ it to some of the rest of the guys. Bryant has obviously discovered where he’s hidin’ the magic dust. But Rizzo? Keee-ryste … he looks like me at the plate. The offensive prowess of our Murderer’s Row pitching staff is probably somethin’ we should not totally rely on if we expect to beat theses yayhoos.
Kudos to Montgomery, last night, too. He gave it up in the end, but I think he did a lot more than anyone expected, including Maddon. And speakin’ of Joe, who is a certified, Grade-A, Wagu genius, I can’t say I thought bringin’ in Chapman when he did was his most Einstein-ish move of the season. What do I know, right? But I read it like a sign of desperation; like we couldn’t play regular and still win. We had to bring the Saturn V rocket arm in early. And that’s what the Giants thought. They smelled blood in the water, started circling and then takin’ chunks outta Chapman’s hide. Hindsight. I know. But I’m just sayin’.
So now Bochy is 10-0 in elimination games. Ten and oh! Unreal. Someone has gotta put an end to that. Personally, I’d like it to be John Lackey and the re-ignited bats of the best offense in baseball. And, if it’s not askin’ too much, it’d be nice if the game is more like we’re playin’ Cincinnati, so when we have a 10 run lead by the 5th, I can relax and enjoy myself a little insteada bitin’ my fingernails down to the second knuckle. Go Cubs!
Hey there, ice chips. How ’bout those friggin’ Cubs, huh?! I gotta tell ya, I luuuuuuvvvvv flyin’ the playoff W. I’d say it makes me feel like I’m on top of the world but that’s kinda stupid. I mean think about it. First — SPOILER ALERT — there’s no Santa Claus up there and second, it’s butt ass cold. It’d be a lot more accurate to say I’m feelin’ like I’m sittin’ on a clothing-optional beach in Bora Bora, the missus has exercised her option, and is feedin’ me pork sliders while I sip on a frosty Old Style. Yeah, that about captures it. Thank you for that, Cubbies.
Anyway, as the Central Division Champs are makin’ their way to the city of whackadoos for Game 3 against the Giants, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the meaning of the oldest phrase in baseball: Keep your eye on the friggin’ ball.
Lemme start by sayin’ that anyone who pays attention to my microscopic corner of the Cubs universe knows that I live and die with them. If that’s you, 1) thank you for payin’ attention and 2) you know that my 55 seasons have seen a whole lot more dyin’ than livin’. That’s given me a certain … let’s say … perspective. I tend to call it like I see it, rather than wearin’ Cubbie blue shaded glasses. Sometimes the Schlombowski forecast is “cloudy with a chance of losing.” Hey, I don’t make the weather, pal, I just report it.
Don’t get me wrong. I not only think the Cubs are in the driver’s seat right now, I think the Giants have been stuffed into the trunk and are about to get dumped on the side of a dark, winding road out in the middle of the redwoods.
IF they keep their eye on the ball, that is.
And I don’t mean pickin’ up the rotation on Bumgarner’s cheese and watchin’ it all the way to the plate. What I mean is that bein’ up 2-0 to the Giants, even in a best-of-5 series, isn’t a Labron James better-get-the-hell-outta-my-way slam dunk, unless we do one thing: stay focused on the ball that matters — winnin’ the World Series. To me, that mean’s not actin’ like we just won the friggin’ lottery cuz the first two games went our way, or cuz our pitchers have turned into Babe Ruth, or cuz Wood just penned his name in the record books. The Cubs gotta go about their business like they’re mailmen or something. You know … that whole “neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night” thing. Only with us it’s “Neither Mad-Bum, nor Posey, nor wicked line drives off our pitchers will keep us from our appointed victory over the Halloween-colored San Francisco Giants.” Do I think that’s gonna happen? You bet your sweet ivy-covered ass I do. Do I think it’s gonna be easy? Read on, my friend:
The Giants have won three World Series since 2010 and they’re 9-0 in elimination games since 2012. Nine and friggin’ oh! Is that something to sneeze at? No, is the answer. It is not.
In 2012, San Francisco was given a stay of execution twice … TWICE! First, when they came back from a 2-0 deficit to the Reds in the NLDS. Then, after fallin’ behind the Cards 3-1 in the Championship Series, they not only Johnny Cochran’d their way outta the noose, they ended up with a friggin’ ring.
Jump forward to 2014 — yeah, yeah, another even numbered year. The Giants win the Wild Card against the Pirates.
Ditto 2016 against the Mets.
And let’s not forget the Giants figured a way to win Game 7 of the ’14 World Series in Kansas City after losin’ 10-nothin’ in Game 6.
Tomorrow’s starter, Madison Bumgarner is a whopping 12-3 as a starter in the playoffs.
Yeah, sounds like a real piece of cake, for sure.
If I’m Joe Maddon insteada Joe Schlombowski (and boy, wouldn’t that give the missus a reason to do cartwheels) I’m not countin’ any chickens just yet. I’m not even mentioning the word “chicken.” In fact I’m Google mappin’ things so the team bus avoids any route where there’s even a remote possibility of a KFC sighting between the hotel and the ball park. And I sure as hell am not havin’ one of those lighten-the-mood onesie parties. It’s time to keep the eye on the friggin’ ball.
However … there IS a silver lining. Yes, occasionally there happens to be one of those around the Schlombowski black cloud. And here why:
In their 3 post-season games so far, San Francisco has sent 102 batters to the plate and only 3 of ’em have produced runs. There are a lot of ways to describe that. Personally, though? I like “pathetic.” That kinda graveyard performance may be good enough to beat a team like the Mets, but we’re not the Mets.
Two words: Jake Arrieta. Our Cy Young winnin’, no-hit, cannon-armed flame thrower will be takin’ the mound tomorrow night. You wanna talk black clouds? I give you Hurricane Arrieta. Things don’t get much darker than that for the Giants.
Just for grins, let’s say the Giants escape one more time, by some fluke of whatever — like Arrieta is hit by lightning, or Rob Manfred institutes another one of his “speed the game up” rules, stipulating the Cubs get only 1 batter per inning. I’m still gonna bring my Alfred E. Neuman face out, cuz Hendricks is still fresh, Lackey and Hammel have yet to throw, and even Lester could come back for game 5 if needed (it won’t be).
Have I mentioned the stacked Chicago Cubs lineup? The Cubs are like Dolly-Parton-with-a-boob-job stacked. Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist. Boom, boom and boom. I’ll put our bats up against anyone’s. So I don’t really give a crap if Madison friggin’ Bumgarner is on the bump. Gettin’ through the Cubs order without needin’ oxygen is highly unlikely.
Pinch hitters Wood and Hendricks.
Aroldis “you can’t hit what you can’t see” Chapman.
Rondon and Strop to set him up.
Joe Maddon’s King Kong-sized brain.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. That is: The Giants are a tough ball club, especially when the chips are down. But if the Cubs keep their eyes on the friggin’ ball, that’s just not gonna matter.
There were 2,430 games played this season, and it took the very last one for the Giants to manufacture a chance at the Post Season. How you interpret that can either give you hives or a grin the size of Prince Fielder’s butt.
It’s hard to figure a team like San Francisco. They’ve got a good staff, a line up of veterans, a damn good manager in Bruce Bochy, and a ton of experience with the post season in the last decade. A little too much. Like there should be a special episode of Hoarders about the Giants. And yet they still sucked like Linda Lovelace with a Dyson since the All Star break.
This is also an even year, which holds sway over the superstitious. Not that Cubs fans are immune to that condition. Two words: Billy Goat. Me, personally? I never, ever change my underwear in the middle of a winning streak. Needless to say, I got a little crispy now and then this season. Totally worth it, though. Anyway, Giants fans believe that even numbered years belong to their team — that they own ’em. And I gotta tell you … it would give me a world of satisfaction for the Cubs to prove what a Mount Everest-sized pile of crap that is.
The fact that the Giants made it to the Wild Card game at all, in spite of playin’ the second half of the season like the fog had rolled all the way into their clubhouse, says a whole lot about them, none of which I like very much. But I think an even numbered year has about as much to do with the Giants makin’ the playoffs as the color red does.
And that’s the thing. If they didn’t get in because of some voodoo, witchcraft, hocus pocus BS, then what’s the reason? As much as the legacy of Barry Bonds still sandpapers my backside, I gotta hand it to the Giants; they’re a grizzled lineup that plays team ball, doesn’t give up, and somehow finds a way to survive when they’re nose-to-nose with the grim reaper. Those are admirable qualities in a ball club, no question, and even though the words are gonna taste like the south end of a sick rhino, I gotta say that the Giants are probably for real and, unlike the geeked-out, cucumber mist bottled water-drinkin’ fans they got, they’re probably not big believers in the make-me-laugh, even-numbered-year thing.
Full disclosure: I was pullin’ for the Mets last night. And I gotta tell ya, after what happened last year, that felt a whole lot like havin’ a heart transplant without anesthesia. I just figured the Cubs would have an easier time with them than San Francisco, and that they’d do the same thing that the Giants did — chip away at the Mets’ pen.
Of course if Mad-Bum and his band of Halloween-colored honyocks think it’s gonna be more of the same against the Cubs, they’re sorely mistaken. No way Chicago is first pitch flailing at anything in the northern hemisphere like New York. LlNot a chance. Just 21 pitches got Bumgarner through the first 3 frames. That was epically-stupid on the part of the Mets, who wasted a brilliant outing by Thor and now will be swingin’ golf clubs this weekend instead of bats. And by the way, I don’t take Syndergaard out. He’d given up a grand total of 1 hit and had somethin’ like 10 K’s over 6 innings. Yeah, yeah … Granderson saved his narrow hiney on that deep drive to center, but that had more to do with where he was positioned than Thor runnin’ outta gas. It was a long out, nothin’ more. Look, all I’m sayin’ is if my horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown … do I replace the jockey at Belmont? No. I do not. What idiots.
It’s that kinda moronic hitting and coaching that played right into the Giants’ hands, and was a big factor in last night’s outcome.
And what about Yoenis Cespedes? He looked like a friggin’ crayon with that hair. I’m sorry, but if you’re doin’ that sorta crap as you head into the playoffs, you’re not focused. You’re tempting the gods to make an example of you. And did they ever? He went 0-4 with 2 strike outs, and got nothin’ on the ball when he did make contact. But, hey … LOVE your hair, Yoenis.
The gods weren’t done by any stretch, either. Enter Conor Gillaspie. Seriously? Conor … Gillaspie? A Conor Gillaspie could be a bank manager. A Conor Gillaspie might sir on the Supreme Court. But steppin’ into size 16 hero shoes in a win-or-go-home game? No. That’s the gods at work, my friend. Plain and simple.
If you look at the last week of the season, and last night’s game on top of that, you might conclude that the Giants have reacquired their mojo, and will now be an even-numbered foregone conclusion to be reckoned with. And that’s fine. The Force has a powerful effect on the weak mind.
But as the Wizard so emphatically put it to Dorothy, “Not so fast. NOT so fast!”
Anyone — and I’m mostly talkin’ to you Giants fans, now — anyone thinkin’ the Cubs are gonna pull a Golden State Warriors against the G-men oughta get a CAT scan right now. The best record in baseball means nothin’ to a team that hasn’t won a ring since William Howard Taft was diddlin’ interns in the Oval Office. There’s a whole lot more they’re playin’ for. On the very tip-top of that list would be writin’ the biggest sports story on the planet in the last 7 decades. The entire city of Chicago and, hell, half the country wants to see the Cubs doin’ the champagne boogie. I’ll bet the Giants won’t even be all that broken hearted when Rob Manfred is handin’ the hardware to Ricketts. Point is, the Cubs have a distinct purpose, and it’s one helluva lot bigger than just winnin’ the Series. It’s about healing. It’s about burying the damn curse. It’s about givin’ something to back to Cubs fans for 108 of stickin’ with a team that coulda been mistaken for a possum. And I believe the Giants are about to find out just how important that is to Chicago.
Thus, in spite of San Francisco’s do or die last night, and their willing themselves past LA to even get that far, there happens to be another possible scenario besides them findin’ their mojo. In fact, there may be no mo jo in their mojo. That is possible, my friend. What they’ve had to do just to get there may be all they could muster.
Whether they’re runnin’ on fumes or emotionally topped off with full-octane Willy Mays karma, I don’t think it’s gonna matter one iota. (What the hell is an iota, anyway?) I think the Cubs are bound and determined to finish what they started in April, and unless they come down with a team-wide case of the Black Plague, nobody — not Mad-Bum, not Posey, and certainly not Conor Gillaspie — is gonna be able to do a damn thing about it.
Was it just me, or did anyone else (besides Phillies and Rays fans) feel that even if you used the $27 million microscope at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory you wouldn’t have found one fly speck of drama in this year’s Series?
I kid you not, this was one anti-climactic Fall Classic, was it not? I mean, tip of the Joe Schlombowski lid to the Phils (though, personally, I thought Dick Cheney would appear in drag on Dancing with the Stars before Phily would win it all). And that Cole Hammels guy. He was Mr. Nastypants, I’ll give him that, pallie. But if a rain delay is the defining moment of a not-exactly-down-to-the-wire showdown, well, ’nuff said. Wake me when it’s over.
Which brings me to the point of this diatribe. What the hell do we do to get us through to mid-Feb when pitchers and catchers report to spring training?
Alright. I admit football will help. But as I’ve pointed out before, as fun as football can occasionally be, it is vastly inferior to the one, the only, the true America’s pastime — baseball. One need not look any further than ice fishing — the single most uneventful activity on the planet — to see my point. Ice fishing, in which a group of men sit around telling jokes, smelling each other’s farts, and risking 1) severe frostbite; 2) maiming oneself with a gas-powered ice auger; and 3) losing one or more fingers to an angry pike or walleye, was invented right smack in the middle of football season. It’s like somebody made a bet that since football is so damn boring (Army went a whole game this season without throwing a single pass), nobody could possibly come up with something even more boring. And since soccer already existed, voila, the guy lost the bet and ice fishing was born. (In fairness, ice fishing does have its moments. Like when there’s a warm spell and somebody’s Dodge Durango is converted into a U-boat.)
So Joe, you ask, what else can get me through to spring without me turning into a raving lunatic? Lord Stanley’s Cup? I think not. (Why they ever named a championship after a crotch protector is beyond me.) But here’s my answer, pal. I’ll give you two things, three if you’re a fly fisherman. If you fly fish, just keep tying flies until the icicles melt and you’re good. For the rest of you, here goes: 1) The SI Swimsuit Issue (whoever thought of this should get a MacArthur Genius Grant); and 2) a little game I call Names-In-A-Blender.
Here are the Official Joe Schlombowski Names-In-A-Blender rules: You take the name of anyone you love or despise, say Alfonso Soriano, and you combine his name with someone else you either love or despise. Say Scott Boras. You put those two together and you get ALFONSO SOR-ASS.
Here’s one you’ll like. You put Kerry Wood together with Alonzo Mourning and you get KERRY MOURNING-WOOD.
Staying with that theme for a minute, mix Chien-Ming Wang with Long John Silver and you get CHIEN-MING LONG WANG.
Put Derek Lee together with someone else who screwed the pooch in October and you get DEREK LEHMAN BROTHERS.
Felix Pie plus Mike Holtz of the Dodgers gives you FELIX PIE-HOLTZ.
And my personal favorite: Kosuke Fukudome with Alex Rodriguez gives you KOSUKE FUK-U-A-ROD.
Once you run out of Cubbies just keep going through all the other sports. Mix it up with the names of a week’s worth of Howard Stern guests, and throw in the NY Times Op-Ed columnists for good measure. If all else fails, go to the Yellow Pages.
With any luck, Names-In-A-Blender, a deck of cards, the Home Shopping Network and a couple dozen cases of Old Style should get you to at least Groundhog Day no problem.