SIDEBAR
»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
The Mariners Have Creative Ad Men [WMQ/ER]
Mar 14th, 2012 by Dan

I love the punch line in the impressions one (I LOVE ICHIRO!).

The other great one is this riff on Rocky:

The 2010 Season in Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Oct 6th, 2010 by Dan

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Chicago Cubs 19 June 2010 Wrigley Field

Time to check out my prediction score

Another season is now behind us and the playoffs begin this afternoon at 1330 EST in Tampa Bay. How did I do in my projections? Who do I predict for the World Series? Let’s check it out!

AL East

My guess:

Yankees
Rays
Red Sox
Orioles
Blue Jays

Actual Results:

Rays
Yankees
Red Sox
Blue Jays
Orioles

Way off on Baltimore, perfect with Boston, and I got the top two mixed up.

After a (glorious) season where the Yankees didn’t make it to the playoffs for once, the Bronx Bombers came back with a vengeance and took it all. The Yanks may have lost Damon and Matsui, but they’re still in a strong position in the AL East and look poised to make the playoffs in the division. Players are getting older on that team and the pitching isn’t as strong as they’d like, but, barring some kind of major injury, I stand by that prediction.

The Red Sox also made a few big moves, getting rid of Jason Bay and adding in Adrián Beltré, and they’re projected to have a solid season with strong defense and slightly weakened bat strength. I think a lot of how well they do this year depends on whether or not they’re able to produce runs at the plate with David Ortiz, who did not perform to standards last year.

My favorite in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays, have had a super strong spring. With the best spring record of the AL, they could upset the Yankees or Red Sox if and only if their rotation and bullpen return to 2008 form. The offense is there, the defense on the field is there, it’s just a matter of making outs. Will Rafael Soriano be enough to solve their closer woes? That alone will tell you what this team will do this year.

I’m excited to see what the Orioles put together this year. Their investment in youth is starting to bear fruit as prospects make their way onto the field, but this young, inexperienced team is up against juggernauts in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. I’m going to call this a building year for the Orioles, even if that’s selling them a bit short. They would have a good chance in any other division, but not the East.

There are few teams in baseball that bore me more than the Blue Jays (:cough: Royals, Pirates, and Padres :cough:). This is a team that acknowledged that they have no chance to make a run of it by trading Roy Halladay to the Phillies.

When I try and underestimate my team for the sake of avoiding bias all I end up doing is getting their position in the standings wrong. As predicted, the ascent of Rafael Soriano was a real blessing to the team, allowing the bullpen to focus on being awesome and the rotation on turning in a fine season. David Price was Cy Young caliber all season, Matt Garza threw a no-hitter, and the rookies Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann made a solid statement in the rotation. Add in Jeremy “Hellboy” Hellickson to the bullpen and Tampa had great numbers off the mound. On the field, defense and small ball continued to be key. Carlos Peña had a rough season at the plate, but the rest of the team was able to pick him up. Jettisoning Pat Burrell was also a fantastic idea. Longoria continued to be amazing.

Seems I was right on the perennial favorite Yankees. Their squad got it done all year long behind a Cy Young caliber season by C.C. Sabathia. Unfortunately for the Yanks, it seems I was also right about their aging lineup. Pettitte started ten fewer games than the rest of the rotation due to injury and his ability to pitch in this postseason remains a question mark. The rest of the rotation has been pretty shaky too with Javier Vasquez putting in a poor performance and AJ Burnett getting progressively worse, but Phil Hughes looks okay while the rookie Ivan Nova was pretty good in the opening innings. Jeter and Posada have started to show their age, but, overall, this is a top tier team that has feasted on its opponents all year long.

I was way off about David Ortiz, who put in a solid season, but there’s no way I could have predicted the injury-fest that was the 2010 season for Boston. They were remarkably able to stay somewhat competitive to the end, but they just couldn’t overcome Tampa or New York.

Maybe Toronto would have put together a third place finish had they kept Halladay, but his loss did not prevent the Jays from looking mighty dangerous in the East. Their 85 wins would be hyper-competitive in plenty of other divisions and the ascent of Jose Bautista as the only 50 HR hitter this season was remarkable.

The funny thing about the Orioles is that they’ve played their best baseball when it mattered least. Replacing their manager with Buck Showalter seems to have done the trick, but it remains to be seen if they can win in situations where they play meaningful games.

AL Central

My Guess:

Twins
White Sox
Tigers
Indians
Royals

Actual Results:

Twins
White Sox
Tigers
Indians
Royals

Whoa, I was scarily on the money with this one.

For a while there, this division was the Twins’ to lose. Then the second best closer in the game, Joe Nathan, went down for the season, muddying up the waters. Add in that the team is moving to a brand new ballpark and things could get interesting. Gone are the super-competitive advantages of the Metrodome, replaced by what will be a SUPER frigid open-air ballpark that will take some getting used to. When it comes to Joe Mauer, I’m reminded of the fictional words of Michael Bluth, “You gotta lock that down.” Lucky for the Twins, they managed to get that done with an eight-year, 184 M$ contract. It should help.

I hear a lot about Chicago’s rotation being so vastly improved, but it’s almost always followed by the caveat that Peavy needs to pitch well. It’s been a long while since his 2007 Cy Young campaign and he hasn’t been able to remain healthy. Despite how much Obama loves this team, I can’t stand A. J. Pierzynski and, by extension, the team.

Detroit has a team that I want to love. Those poor guys live in a third world city that is on the verge of absolute collapse. They keep giving Dontrelle Willis chances to succeed (and he might be in the rotation this year), but I’m not sure that they will be able to keep up with the Twins this year thanks to weak pitching. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys.

The Indians may be on the upswing and ready to bounce back, but I’m not ready to believe that yet. I don’t see much happening for this team.

Kansas City has an awful team aside from Zack Greinke.

Well, Minnesota went and won this division, like I thought. They didn’t have to worry too much about closers and they picked up Matt Capps just to make sure that they’d be fine in the stretch. Target Field seems solid and the team just played well.

Chicago had a chance to make this division closer, but they just couldn’t lock it down. Jake Peavy barely pitched and the team was just middling almost all season long. They’ll be remembered best this year for Mark Buehrle’s amazing play to first in the first game of the season.

Detroit was so close to doing something with the division! Miguel Cabrera was playing MVP-caliber baseball, but the rest of the team just wasn’t on board. Sidenote: Willis was traded to Arizona.

Cleveland still doesn’t have it. I’m skeptical that they’ll have it next year either.

Kansas City has an awful team aside from Zack Greinke (and even he was mediocre).

AL West

My Guess:

Mariners
Angels
Rangers
Athletics

Actual Results:

Rangers
Athletics
Angels
Mariners

So very wrong here. Wow…

Despite their stupid long name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had one of the most consistent teams of the century. They contend every year and make it to the playoffs almost every year. It’s hard to ignore how solid this team is. Unfortunately, they’ve been fighting a war of attrition these past two years with Texas and Seattle getting closer and closer to robbing AL West dominance away from them. They gained Matsui, but lost vital starter Lackey. Will it be enough?

Seattle wants it this year. They went and signed Cliff Lee and even took the risk of signing the volatile Milton Bradley to bolster their bats. Things were looking great for Seattle until Cliff Lee ended up on the DL and Milton Bradley got himself ejected from two straight spring training games. Will they be able to keep it all together and make a real run for the West?

The Rangers are solid, but they have a lot of reliance on players like Josh Hamilton who are very injury prone. They’ve been just short of the playoffs for several years now and they’re real hungry for it.

I have so much apathy for the Athletics. I’m sure their team is pretty good and has a chance this year, but it never seems to pan out for Oakland.

Texas is looking the best they have in a long time. Josh Hamilton is looking like the favorite for MVP and the boys from Arlington have a phenom on their hands with Neftali Feliz. Will they finally make it to the World Series?

Where did Oakland come from this year? Maybe it’s the east coast bias, but I had no idea these guys were doing better than the other two teams in the division. Maybe the dynasty is reemerging.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What did you do this year? At least you made the Rays look brilliant thanks to Scott Kazmir sucking it up all year long.

Seatlle. I drank your kool-aid. All I got in return was the most anemic offense since the introduction of the Designated Hitter. Your season was historically bad. At least Ichiro continues to dominate and I got to see Griffey before he retired.

NL East:

My Guess:

Phillies
Marlins
Braves
Mets
Nationals

Actual Results:

Phillies
Braves
Marlins
Mets
Nationals

If I hadn’t let bias toward the Marlins blind me I would have had another perfect pick.

My favorite division also contains two of my least favorite teams in baseball, both of which are set to have great seasons. Last year’s NL Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, are still just as good with Roy Halladay instead of Cliff Lee. They’ve still got a great lineup with good pitching and, even without their closer, they should still have a solid season. They are The Team To Beat (TM) in the East.

Atlanta, my least favorite team, has got stars in their eyes for Jason Heyward, a top-prospect who made the team this spring. Heyward’s bat, combined with Hanson and Kawakami’s arms, could be very formidable in the East. This is a team that worries me.

The Mets have had such terrible luck recently that it’s almost bound to start swinging back in the other direction…right? With an adjusted outfield to help home runs, their offense might perform a little better, but that injury-riddled team is not looking all that much better this year. If they outperform the Marlins, I’ll be surprised.

Speaking of teams that won’t outperform the Marlins, Washington is almost guaranteed to make marginal improvements this year. Their rotation is still a mess, but veterans like Chien-Ming Wang and Liván Hernández can combine with the brilliance of Stephen Strasburg and the promising performance of Drew Storen and produce what might actually be a major league rotation. The lineup needs some work to score runs, but pitching is infinitely more important for a team that wants to win.

Speaking of a team that emphasizes pitching, we’ve finally arrived at my favorite team, the Florida Marlins. Over the off-season they finalized a strong contract for Josh Johnson and kept Dan Uggla, keeping the rotation and lineups strong. Combined with Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan destroying NL pitching and Ricky Nolasco’s brilliant performance on the mound, this is a solid team with only a few holes that need filling. If Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez live up to their potential, I don’t see much standing in this team’s way. There’s always a question of pitching with the back end of the rotation, but Chris Volstad has been looking good of late and Anibal Sanchez fluctuates, but trends on the better side most times. The real question is in the bullpen where the Fish will be relying on Leo Núñez to close games. I’m not confident in Núñez yet.

The Phils were the best. Blah blah blah. They made it to the postseason as the national favorite to win it all, despite stupidly trading Cliff Lee away. Their starting three, Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels were solid all year long, Halladay should win the Cy Young, and…I hate this team. If the Rays don’t make it in the East, I’d love to see Texas get there and stomp on the Phils thanks to the amazing leadership of Cliff Lee

Atlanta barely scraped by to take the NL Wild Card. They came this close to making me happy and not making it to the playoffs. Despite losing Chipper Jones, they were able to hold on to their spot in the final eight thanks to fantastic performances by Jason Heyward and Tim Hudson. Bobby Cox should be proud of this team in his final year. Sidenote: Kenshin Kawakami was terrible this year.

I really thought that Florida could be a second place team this year. JJ pitched fantastically for most of the season as did Nolasco and Sanchez, but they just couldn’t hold it together long enough for the bullpen to not screw it up. That’s where the most offseason work should be focused, IMHO. Nuñez did his best as the closer, but they might need someone new next season. Losing Cogz to a season-ending knee injury on a shaving cream pie was also super ridiculous.

Everyone’s favorite Metropolitans continued to be the worst run team in the league. Thankfully for all of us, ownership has fired the GM and manager so hopefully the team can go in a new direction next year, assuming its contracts don’t weigh it down too much to make many changes.

The Nats were looking primed to be reasonably competitive this year from the getgo. Their record was solid, Strasburg was coming up, things were optimistic. Then the bottom fell out. Starting pitching failed completely before June, Strasburg got injured in August (sidelining him until 2012), and everyone’s hopes and dreams died. The simple fact is that the Nats have no starting pitching. You can’t run a team without starting pitching.

NL Central:

My Guess:

Cardinals
Cubs
Reds
Brewers
Astros
Pirates

Actual Results:

Reds
Cardinals
Brewers
Astros
Cubs
Pirates

Wrong, wrong, wrong. All I placed accurately were 4th and 5th

The Central has a chance to be interesting this year with strong squads being fielded by St. Louis, Cincinnati, and “this is our last chance for a while” Chicago. St. Louis has the best chance here thanks to strong pitchers Carpenter and Wainwright and their strong offense in Pujols and Holliday. Cincinnati has been a dark horse so many years in a row now that they’d better start performing. The promise of Aroldis Chapman could push them ahead if the offense follows, but otherwise the team has a strong uphill climb. The Cubbies don’t have much time left before they have to start “rebuilding”. If they don’t put together a playoff season this year, it might be a while before we see one happen again. I still love Fukudome, even if the Cubs don’t. He’s a consistent and solid player.

I don’t know much about Milwaukee’s squad this year, but they’re usually a solid team, but I didn’t hear much in the offseason that would convince me they were ready to push ahead of last year’s performance.

The rest of the Central, the Pirates and the Astros, really don’t make an impact in baseball nowadays. Pittsburgh is really a AAAA team and Houston has failed to make any kind of splash in a long while.

Cincinnati was the surprise here for me as they put together their best performance in something like 15 years or so. Votto might be NL MVP. Their success can be mostly attributed to Votto and the late-season call-up Aroldis Chapman’s stellar stuff in the home stretch. They get to face Philadelphia right off the bat and if they can’t hit Halladay and Oswalt right away, they could have problems.

St. Louis just gave this division away. It was theirs to win at one point in August, but they just squandered their lead proving that Pujols, Carpenter, and Wainwright a complete team does not make. Will they fire La Russa now?

What’s there to say about Milwaukee? Just not enough there at all to win. Maybe next year guys. Braun can’t carry a whole team.

Houston and Pittsburgh. You guys are terrible. The ‘Stros picked it up later in the season, but it was far too late for that to matter.

NL West:

My Guess:

Rockies
Giants
Dodgers
Padres

Actual Results:

Giants
Padres
Rockies
Dodgers
Diamondbacks

Arizona was so forgettable to me that I left them off of the list completely. The Rockies looked like they might make a run, but it fell apart and I was way off on LA and San Diego.

Colorado made the biggest turnaround I’ve seen since the last time they did it in 2007 to win the wild card last year and make the playoffs. After that strong finish and with LA’s messy divorce keeping them from making significant progress on their team, I see Colorado as the frontrunners in this division.

A messy divorce has been draining Dodger ownership of cash and the ability to run their team. At best, the Dodgers remain as good as they were last year. Realistically, they fall behind the Rockies and maybe even the Giants too.

Solid pitching, but not much offense. It’s been the same story for years now. A strong team only because it keeps the run count down on the opposing team.

What about the Padres?

San Francisco is my favorite team in the playoffs right now. Solid starting pitching (Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez) make for a potent postseason combo as well as great anchors for the 5-man rotation. Somehow this team managed to score runs despite Pablo Sandoval’s season-wide slump. I guess that the solid pitching was enough to hold off the West competition.

The Friars (Padres) had a real chance of turning this into the NL West Wild Card, but they squandered it in the last few weeks and couldn’t complete. If this team can be this good next year they’re bound to win the West.

Colorado really fell off from last season. For a while in September Tulowitzki made it look like the Rockies would repeat their ridiculous last minute run for the third year in a row making me look like a genius. Ah well…maybe next year.

The McCourt divorce really sapped this team a lot more than I thought it would. Manny didn’t hit and the pitching wasn’t there. Torre will probably leave this year and I predict this team will not perform much better next year.

Oh god the Diamondbacks are awful. They need a lot of work.

The 2010 MLB All-Star Game [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Jul 13th, 2010 by Dan

It’s All-Star game time again! This year the game is being played in sunny Southern California, down in Anaheim. Thanks to the peculiarities of baseball scheduling and the east coast focus of television, the game is actually being started in daylight hours, 1700 PST.

The liveblogging experience of the year is about to begin yet again! Expect updates throughout the evening and night.

Time: 1944

My cable woes are keeping me from watching the MLB Network this year (I hate you Comcast!), so instead I’m watching ESPN’s coverage, which has been somewhat interrupted with news about George Steinbrenner’s death by massive heart attack. It’s an odd thing to not have him around the Yankees anymore, even if he hasn’t really running things for two or three years. Despite my dislike for the Yankees, he will be missed as a figure in baseball.

2000

It begins! Looks like it’s displacing Hell’s Kitchen tonight. So far we’re starting with a super lame comparison of stars (like in space) to baseball players. “Daddy, what are stars made of?” I think the observatory in this intro comes from Anaheim, but it’s still pretty corny.

Also: the All-Star game is not “in the City of Angels”, it’s in Anaheim. Saw Longoria. I’m already happy. Starting for the teams, Ubaldo Jimenez and David Price.

Way to go broadcaster, you said David Wright instead of David Price for the starting pitcher. I’m only taking it personally because I’m a Rays fan.

I might have to take a break soon, my roommate is cooking dinner and I’ll have to catch up on the game using my newly acquired DVR.

2008

Reserves Lineups!

WHOOPS! My DVR only buffers a half hour. I missed the reserve lineups. You’ll have to see them as the game goes on.

Now it’s time to try to play catch up.

Starting Lineups

National League

Manager: Charlie Manuel

SS – Hanley Ramirez
2B – Martin Prado
1B – Albert Pujols
DH – Ryan Howard
3B – David Wright
LF – Ryan Braun
CF – Andre Ethier
RF – Corey Hart
C – Yadier Molina
P – Ubaldo Jimenez

American League

Manager: Joe Girardi

RF – Ichiro Suzuki
SS – Derek Jeter
1B – Miguel Cabrera
CF – Josh Hamilton
DH – Vladimir Guerrero (big applause for the former hometown hero)
3B – Evan Longoria (I love this kid!)
C – Joe Mauer
2B – Robinson Cano
LF – Carl Crawford (Go Rays!)
P – David Price

Skipped the Star-Spangled Banner…sorry. Skipped the thing to honor real American heroes. Kind of bummed, because I saw Charlize Theron and she’s hot.

Amber Riley from Glee singing “Beautiful”. She’s got a great voice, but she supports the American League. Uncool. In fact, of her backup singers, only two is a National League supporter. What gives! I guess it is an AL city. Gonna skip the rest of this song.

Commercials…fast forwarding…

Honoring Steinbrenner, Amber takes on the National Anthem. Guess I didn’t skip it after all.

I love the Pepsi Refresh baseball commercial.

The commercial for NFL coming back…in bad taste on the All-Star game day.

Opening pitch by Rod Carew. He doesn’t start on the mound, but he sidearms all the way to the plate without bouncing.

2042

One announcer predicting AL victory, but the other guy is guessing NL thanks to the amazing NL pitching. Now a neat little feature about how the NL hasn’t won since 1996. GO NL!

2049
Top 1
We’re live just in time for the first pitch to Hanley! Strike one!

David Price has the advantage of lighting in the ballpark as the sun falls. Offenses will probably start late in this game. Hanley falls behind 1-2…Price is hitting 99 mph. A tiny chopper straight to Cabrera at first and the first out has been recorded.

Martín Prado comes to try and face Price who hammers one in at 98. Wicked curvey thing gets him behind 0-2. I mean, come on, NL! Don’t let them dominate. Prado hits one to Cano who almost boots it, but Prado is thrown out 4-3.

Pujols, greatest ballplayer in the game, steps up to the place and actually gets himself a ball. This marks the first time Price starts an at-bat with a ball. Maybe he’s scared of Pujols? I don’t blame him. Price makes a mistake and Pujols almost rocks one deep into right, but Ichiro robs him of one with a running catch.

2056

Bot 1

I’m missing Frutista Freeze commercials. I’m thinking I won’t see any at all and that’s a bummer, they were pretty good. Instead we get the lamer normal Taco Bell commercials.

Ichiro pops one up on the second pitch. Hanley ropes it in for the first out.

Bob Sheppard’s recorded voice introduces Derek Jeter. Famous voice and we’re all sad to have lost him. Jetes will get that intro for the rest of the season. Both Jimenez and Price are pretty lanky compared to a lot of pitchers. Craziness. Ubaldo falls behind on Derek with three straight balls, the third of which rides WAY in on him. Scary with this glare. Ubaldo manages to walk Jeter. This is frustrating already, haha. Pitching is supposed to be the NL forte.

Miguel Cabrera comes in and Ubaldo goes right after him. I’m loving how FOX is putting everyone’s infographic in team colors. Cabrera puts a little blooper into RF and it’s now first and third.

Things are already looking bad when Josh Hamilton steps up. A mean breaking ball starts the count off right and a 98 mph fastball keeps him up 0-2. Third pitch goes right back up the middle to Jimenez who turns a beautiful 1-6-3 with Hanley and Pujols. Phew…

Score: 0-0

2105

Top 2nd

Ryan Howard comes in for the top of the second. All the batters are saying it’s near impossible to see in the batters box right now. This is bad, since the best offenses will be in early in the game. Howard falls behind early, but he battles back to 2-2. Unfortunately, he whiffs on a high fastball outside. He’s way underneath it.

David Wright comes out in one of the new helmets. It makes him look less ridiculous, but his head is still too small for this. Wright gets on thanks to a hard hit ball to Cano who boots it again. Will they rule it an error?

Ryan Braun now in to try and push David around the bases. broken bat grounder to Longo who makes a beautiful 5-4-3 double play. David Price almost ate a bat there.

Bot 2nd

Vladimir Guerrero takes the plate for the AL against Jimenez. He’s still going 98, but, then again, why save anything for the tank? The next NL pitcher will be in in an inning or two. In typical Vlad-fashion, he chases a pitch down in the dirt and strikes out.

Longo comes up! Almost eats a baseball or two. Longoria cracks a monster double on a mistake pitch by Jimenez. I mean, you don’t pitch Longoria fast and inside.

Mauer pops up to center. Whoops

Cano steps up. He almost spins around on the second pitch. Tiny grounder to Martín Prado, 4-3, inning half over. Black screen? I hope I didn’t lose cable in this thunderstorm.

Top 3rd

TV comes back when I futz with the DVR a bit, thankfully. Andy Pettitte now on the mound. Ethier at bat. He’s playing CF for the first time in his career, but he’s doing pretty well. That is, until he just struck out on a cut fastball low and outside.

Corey Hart’s insane season puts him in this game and he’s ready to hit (I hope). Update on the Cano fielding, no errors recorded. Hart falls behind, 1-2, and he swings and misses at another low cutter.

Yadier Molina grounds one right up the middle right after the announcer says he’s having a tough time at the plate.

Man on first for Hanley, but he grounds to his counterpart, Jeter, who puts Molina out at second.

Bot 3rd

Josh Johnson is now on the mound for the NL against Carl Crawford. Unlucky for JJ, since Crawford and Longo are probably the people on the AL squad who have seen him the most.

His strong pitching and a lucky reflex by Wright get Crawford on a liner to third.

The lineup rolls around to Ichiro. JJ is continuing the fast pitching with 97 fastballs all over. Ichiro is looking good, but he falls behind in the count 1-2 before he whiffs on an outside fastball at 98 mph.

JJ now faces Jeter and the trend of backing him off with high fastballs continues. Yadier is like a gymnast behind the plate with the way he sits and bends. Jeter breaks his bat fouling off a JJ pitch. Full count to the Yankee slugger who’s probably also seen JJ once. A beautiful breaking ball takes Jeter out for strike three. He just looks at it and knows he should have swung. The NL gets out of the 3rd safe.

Score: 0-0

Top 4th

Torii Hunter comes into CF and Ichiro comes out. Prado grounds to Jeter, 6-3. Cliff Lee is on the mound too, btw. One inning for Pettitte? Really?

Pujols at the plate. He uncharacteristically takes three strikes from Lee, but at least he goes down swinging. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pujols do ridiculous stuff in any All-Star games.

Howard broken bat grounder to Cano. Inning over.

Bot 4th

I’m really not liking any of these freecreditscore.com commercials. They’re not great songs.

JJ stays on the mound against Cabrera. Adrian Gonzalez takes over at first. Weak hit to Wright and Cabrera is out.

Josh Hamilton comes back up to face the Marlins fireballer. There’s ridiculous echo on the pitches. Like a booming echo every time it hits the catcher’s mitt. What’s up with that? Ryan Braun makes a fantastic catch to ob Hamilton of a hit, but his wrist bends like crazy. I can’t believe he came out of that ok. JJ is grateful.

Vlad, naturally, swings at a fastball way high and inside, but somehow lays off a more reasonable outside pitch. Vlad lines out to Gonzalez at first and we’re in the 5th.

Top 5th

Justin Verlander on the mound for the AL. David Wright nabs a single on the first pitch. First lead-off batter to get on in the game.

Braun steps up to face the Tigers hurler. Ryan needs to not hit into a double play tonight. David Wright goes to steal, Mauer throws it FAR away, but David doesn’t notice and he stays on 2nd. Missed opportunity. There was a funny moment before where they showed Howard joking that Braun’s catch was just for tv and he could have made it. Verlander hits 99 and Braun fouls. The AL has another pitcher loose in the bullpen. I like the way Manuel is managing instead. Gotta save some! The at-bat continues…Ryan Braun misses the opportunity to get stuff moving swinging over an inside fastball.

Andre Ethier comes up to try and make up for his strikeout last at-bat. It’s been 30 years since the last Dodgers player was voted in to play. Insane. He ropes one into right for a single and we’re first and third. Wright intelligently is held up, which is safe.

Now we’ve got Corey Hart, who I think is lucky to be in this game. Sorry Corey. If he can make an RBI happen…Unfortunately it seems that Verlander’s got his number as he falls behind 0-2. He gets struck out on an appeal, but it was close. Just a little too far.

Yadier is out for Brian McCann, a more offensive catcher. Let’s hope he doesn’t squander the NL’s best chance for the night. It’s funny to see the camera men perched on the rocks in the Angels batters eye/waterfall. His first strike almost kills Hanley Ramirez as his bat flies out of his hands. McCann is battling, but Verlander seems to have the upper hands as the count shifts to 3-2. The ball goes way far out back in RF, but it stops at the track, one out too late for the sac fly.

0-0!

Bot 5th

Scott Rolen takes over at third while Matt Holliday and Marlon Byrd move in. Hong-Chih Kuo steps in to pitch for the NL. The lefty specialist gets to face many after Longo. Kuo hasn’t allowed a hit to a leftie all season and he’ll get three after Longo. The Dodgers hurler fills up the count pitching around the hot Longoria, but he walks him on a breaker that goes way inside.

Time for Kuo’s lefty powers to take form as Joe Mauer steps in. Just learned that Kuo is the first Taiwanese all-star. Mauer takes two strikes, but the commentators are saying Kuo’s specialties, hard and outside, are actually Mauer’s specialties too. I’m a little worried. A slow chopper to Kuo which should be a routine out at first, but Kuo throws it far over Adrian Gonzalez’s head, earning him an error and runners on 2nd and 3rd.

Cano, a dangerous hitter, steps up to challenge Kuo. Goddammit…this situation is awful. Long fly ball into LF, which means sac fly. Longoria scores and the AL pulls ahead. One out.

Crawford steps up to bat. Another lefty for Kuo to handle. A hard hit goes to Hanley who makes a heads-up play and throws Mauer out at third. It was really aggressive baserunning by Mauer and an intelligent move for Hanley. Kuo’s done for the night, Heath Bell moves in.

Torii Hunter is at bat for the AL. First Angels player at the plate. McCann drops a pitch getting up too early to get Crawford before he stole 2nd and he’s now at 2B. Hunter smacks one to the RF corner, ending the inning with Andre Ethier’s catch.

Top 6th

Hanley Ramirez is still in the game, facing Jon Lester and Jon Buck. Ian Kinsler is at 2B and Vernon Wells is in LF. Small chopper doesn’t get Hanley a base, Lester fields it with difficulty and manages to underhand to first.

Martín Prado shows bunt, but doesn’t connect and the at-bat moves to 3-1. He nearly makes a dramatic hit for a homer, but he’s way, way early. Count goes full, but Prado stays alive. It’s a pop up to Jeter for the second out.

The NL’s next batter, Adrian Gonzalez, steps up against Lester. I’m hoping for good things. The count goes full. Can he do something big? Small grounder to second and Ian Kinsler throws him out.

Inception sneak peak coming up. I kind of don’t want to see it, I mean, I want to see this movie and not have it be spoiled.

Bot 6th

Looks like Longo is all the offense so far. Halladay is the pitcher for the NL, but Jeter barely gets a hit past Marlon Byrd. He’s pinch run for with Elvis Andrus.

Brandon Phillips at second, Rafael Furcal at short. Paul Konerko at bat. A foul ball pushes Andrus back to first on an attempted steal. Halladay is going pretty strong against Konerko, but he’s having problems punching him out. Andrus runs, Konerko misses and strikes out, McCann almost loses the ball and Brandon Phillips tags Andrus out after he passes the bag.

Now it’s time for Josh Hamilton, thankfully with two outs. Roy likes to stay ahead of his hitters as he gets both to 1-2 relatively quickly before trying to get them on the outside stuff. He can’t get Hamilton to take the bait when he offers and the count fills up. He belts one past Gonzalez and lands on first.

David Ortiz, Big Papi, makes his way to the plate. Halladay is out. Hamilton gets pinch run for too, but I miss who it is. Jose Bautista is the runner and Matt Capps of the Nats steps up to take on Ortiz. His fastball down the pipe gets Ortiz looking to end the inning.

Top 7th

Joey Votto at DH with Phil Hughes pitching. Grounds out to second.

This interview with Jeter is making it hard for me to WATCH THE GAME! Scott Rolen is now at 2-1 when we decide to watch him hit. He manages a base hit to center.

Matt Holliday takes over batting duties next. Another ball down the middle and Scott Rolen takes advantage of the opportunity to run to third. He’s very lucky the throw was off-line. First and third, nice.

Matt Thornton is called in to pitch to pinch hitter Chris Young. He’s got a big chance here, but Thornton is a strikeout pitcher. He hits a pop up right to first. Dammit.

Marlon Byrd’s got a chance to make something happen now. The NL really needs this. Thankfully, Thornton loads the count up for Byrd. It’s been a beautiful at-bat, considering it started out 0-2. Another ball loads up the bases.

This puts Brian McCann at the plate with the chance to pull ahead with a strong hit. He thankfully fouls it just out of play on the first pitch. Patience, grasshopper. Make sure it’s a good pitch! Ripped into the RF corner and THREE RUNS SCORE! The announcers are calling it the “biggest NL hit in 13 years”.

Thornton is out of the game with the score 3-1. Now pitching for the AL, Andrew Bailey. Rafael Furcal up to bat for the NL. Wiggington is in the game now? When did that happen. Walk.

First and second and we’ve got Brandon Phillips up to bat, but he swings at a dirty, dirty breaking ball that lands in the dirt.

Score: 3-1

Bot 7th

Who’s Colbie Callat? She’s singing “God Bless America” and she’s a country singer. Stereotypical Southern California blonde beauty. Damn, I love a girl in a jersey and I’m digging this simple acoustic version. Nice cowboy boots too.

Nick Swisher at bat. Adam Wainwright pitching. He totally burns Swisher with a beautiful curve. Brutal.

John Buck steps up to bat now. He hits a bullet to LF, but Holliday lets the pitch bounce right out of his glove. Is it just me or does Matt Holliday make a lot of errors in important places? Buck is on second with one out.

Now Wainwright’s got to face Kinsler as the tying run. Vernon Wells is on deck. This is a bad situation. I wonder how many of these players McCann has strategies for facing. He walks Kinsler, setting it up for a strong power hitter.

Seems that Price hit 100 mph while Verlander and JJ both hit 99. Vernon Wells has been bouncing back this year with strong numbers, but he grounds to SS who makes an awful toss to Phillips at 2B. No double play.

Now it’s Torii Hunter who had a good hit to right last time up. Can Wainwright stay safe in this game? I love a good curveball. I got to see Torii Hunter’s knees buckle on a great Wainwright curve. What does Adam do? Pitch a brilliant ball to the outside to strike out Hunter. End of 7th.

Top 8th

How many new Firestone tire commercials are there? I hate these “Legendary Drivers” commercials. The song is stupid.

Now would be a fantastic time for the NL to add on some insurance runs. Rafael Soriano comes in for the AL and he induces a fly out to LF.

Joey Votto back up to bat. Hits it deep to center, but not deep enough. Two out.

Rolen is up now! Flies out to LF.

Bot 8th

Michael Bourn takes LF. Brian Wilson is up to keep the NL in contention. Elvis Andrus is trying to catch up for the AL, but he grounds out softly to second.

The AL puts Paul Konerko up to bat. He grounds to the third basemen who GUNS it for no reason.

And now it’s Bautista! Pops up to first.

Top 9th!

NL is still up. Can they win this thing? Hopefully they put an insurance run on the board just in case.

Jose Valverde is the AL pitcher for the 9th. Michael Bourn up to bat, but he strikes out.

The NL has Chris Young to pin their hopes on now. Can they get an extra run in? Chris Young chases too and it’s two outs for Valverde.

Marlon Byrd! Valverde’s stuff is pretty dirty. Byrd makes it to 3-2, but he strikes out.

Bot 9thPRESSURE!

Jonathan Broxton in to close the game for the NL. Can he do it? Big Papi gets a single.

Now Adrian Beltre comes up to bat. Whoa, strong 99 mph fastball up and in, but Beltre chases for strike three. Ugly pitch to swing, but at that speed, you’re almost just guessing.

Catcher John Buck can’t be pinch hit for, so he’s up. Can Broxton induce a double play? Don’t walk Buck, A-Rod will come up! 3-0 at this point…3-1, swinging strike. Lucky, lucky. Second swinging strike almost right down the pipe. Full count, full drama. Pop fly to RF that Byrd has to run to. Ortiz can’t run just in case it drops, giving Byrd the chance to throw him out at second. Beautiful.

Just one more out. Ian Kinsler comes up to bat instead of Rodriguez. Fly to CF, Chris Young nabs it and the NL does what it hasn’t been able to do since 1996! FINALLY! Go NL! WOO!

ICHIRO!: Yesterday’s Scores That Matter [WMQ]
May 14th, 2010 by Dan

Ichiro ad in Tokyo

Went to the Orioles game last night to see King Felix and Ichiro play the Orioles. It was a great game (I’ll get into that later), but we were super amused by the fact that Ichiro’s name was listed on the All-Star ballot for the Home Run Derby. Ichiro? The Great Singles Hitter (TM)? At one at bat I motivated him by screaming “Ganbare!” and “Kettobase!”. He promptly responded by hitting a home run. You’re welcome, Ichiro.

13 May

NPB
Rakuten Eagles (6) at Hiroshima Carp (4). I hate seeing my two most beloved teams play each other, but not as much as I hate seeing the Eagles beat the Carp. It’s nice revenge by Marty Brown on the Carp for firing him, but I hate the loss. Hiroshima falls to 15-23-0 and the Eagles rise to 17-23-0. Both teams are in fifth place.

MLB
Seattle Mariners (5) at Baltimore Orioles (6). This game was won by a Luke Scott grand slam in the 8th and ended with a fantastic play at the plate as the tying run was thrown out on an Ichiro single. Great game. The Birds jump to 11-24 in last.

New York Mets (1) at Florida Marlins (2). I’ll take a win any way I can get one, even the classic walk-off wild pitch. A great pitching duel between Josh Johnson and Johan Santana that ended in a no decision for both. Florida is 17-18 and in fourth.

Washington Nationals (14) at Colorado Rockies (6). Whoa, what happened here. A wild game in the mile-high city. I didn’t think Coors gave up this many runs anymore. Washington rises to 20-15 and is at a shocking 5 games above 0.500 in second place, only one behind Philadelphia.

ROBOT ICHIRO! FIRES A LASER! [WMQ]
Feb 5th, 2010 by Dan

This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, yet I can’t stop watching. Wow…

Mother 3 Review [Big N]
Jan 12th, 2010 by Dan

Great Mother 3 art

Wallpaper courtesy Pet-Shop on DeviantArt

Ruminations on video games as an art form – this could very well become a Mother 3 review. There will be spoilers here. Seriously, don’t read it if you want to play Mother 3 and not have the plot spoiled.

There’s a trite comparison that floats around the internet almost every month that always gets my eyes rolling. Inevitably, someone will call such-and-such the Citizen Kane of video games or ask what the Citizen Kane is or claim that the medium is immature because we’ve yet to hit our Citizen Kane. It’s exhausting and, quite frankly, futile and stupid. To begin with, Citizen Kane opened with good reviews and was generally well-received, but it didn’t start to gain notoriety for ten years. It didn’t even make #1 on a top movies list until twenty years had passed. When the Citizen Kane of gaming hits (god I hate that phrase), we probably won’t know it for quite some time. The more important point is that movies and games are apples and oranges.

The day that we stop worrying about whether books or movies are better than games at expressing a particular artist’s point of view is probably the day that we’ll realize that we’ve already got fine examples of games that are reflections of authorial control already. Brütal Legend was not a great game, but Tim Schafer’s hands are clearly evident all over it. Anyone who’s ever played one of Fumito Ueda’s games knows precisely how a game can effectively be used to bring out your emotions through simple mechanics. Goichi Suda (AKA Suda 51) has been making games that show clear, artistic direction through his use of bizarre symbols and incomprehensible plots for years. My point is, we’ve been here for a while.

You may have heard of Shigesato Itoi, but chances are, you have no clue that he’s one of the most famous and respected men in Japan to such a degree that his dog was probably the most recognizable animal in the entire country for a few years. In America, we know him as a video game designer, specifically the man behind Earthbound, but not much else. Interestingly enough, Itoi is actually more famous for being an essayist, interviewer, and slogan generator than his work for Nintendo. His association with Hayao Miyazaki is well known enough that he’s famous for the Kiki’s Delivery Service slogan (“Ochikondari mo shita kedo, watashi wa genki desu” — “I was a little depressed for a bit; I’m okay now”) and he even voiced Mei’s father in My Neighbor Totoro (a role that went to Phil Hartman (rest in peace) when the movie was dubbed in English).

In his younger days, Itoi found himself sick and unable to do much but play Nintendo as he recovered. It was in this state that he discovered Dragon Quest, which set the wheels turning in his head. This experience was the impetus behind the Mother series and led to Itoi’s long, fruitful relationship with Nintendo. In case you were wondering (protip: you probably weren’t), Shigesato Itoi is the guy who came up with the name for the Game Boy. True fact.

It’s not surprising to me that most of the names I’ve mentioned were not always video game designers. The most bizarre of the bunch, Suda, was an undertaker before he tried his luck in the video game industry while Ueda was an artist and the aforementioned Itoi was a…well there’s no easy word to describe someone like Itoi. He was (and is) a cultural personality.

“If you immerse yourself too single-mindedly in your chosen art form, whether it’s video games, movies, comics or whatever,” he continues, “your work can easily become just a reflection of what others are doing in that field, rather than breaking new ground.”

-Jordan Mechner

Now, Schafer is, himself, a product of the industry, having held no other jobs, but he’s the exception, a true creative mind that is not crippled by his feedback loop of doom. Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Psychonauts, and Brütal Legend could not be more different from each other, but just think of how rare this is. For every Schafer or Ken Levine out there trying to bring new influences into the industry, there are tons of Star Wars- and Lord of the Rings-inspired games produced each year retreading on the same, tired stories game in and game out. How many World War II games do we really need?

BOING!

In 1989 Shigesato Itoi looked at the video game industry and said “How many sword and sorcery RPGs do we really need?” 2009 just passed us by and I’d say we’re still mostly mired in these medieval locales in 95% of all RPGs. Mother, Itoi’s freshman attempt at a video game, was set in “modern day” America. Earthbound (Mother 2) wasn’t exactly breaking with Itoi’s norm by being set in America yet again (in 1994), but it’s still a light among the sameness that pervaded the industry. Mother 3 is ambiguous about its timeline, but it feels like a scaled back modern day. In any case, like in the other games of the series, the weapons aren’t swords and bows, but sticks, yo-yos, and baseball bats. It’s really only a cosmetic and tonal shift, but it makes all the difference.

That’s exactly what makes Shigesato Itoi so great as a game designer. Perhaps it’s his outside status or maybe it’s just his brilliance, but Itoi understands video games to a scary degree for a man who only undertook them on a whim. I applaud him most for understanding that a game is an interactive piece of art and reflecting that with his systems. To wit, every Mother game revolves around music. The first game had the character searching for the Eight Melodies while the second repeated that idea with Eight Sanctuaries (each with a musical theme associated with it). Earthbound’s instruction manual (in Japanese) contained a little song that Itoi wrote for the player to sing as the main melody played on the overworld. Every line of text in the Mother series is written in kana (katakana or hiragana), so that the person has to vocalize Itoi’s often lyrical writing style. Mother 3’s focus on musical themes and leifmotifs (from the Masked Man to the Magypsies) is also emphasized through every character’s attacks in the battle system.

From Lucas to Salsa the Monkey, every character has a musical instrument associated with his attacks. So does every enemy. Each enemy also has a musical theme that plays in the background. Once you attack, you can continue to press the ‘A’ button to extend your combo to 16 hits if you can keep time with the (sometimes fiendishly difficult) beat. Just like that, something Itoi has always wanted the player to do (become musically involved with his world) becomes integrated into the activity the player does most in the game, battling.

Itoi also loves to toy with player perception to a hilarious degree. In an early sequence in the first chapter of the game, Flint becomes covered with soot after saving a friend’s kid from a fire. Why? Because that’s what would happen if you were running around in a fire. As he makes his way back out of the woods, you can bet that every person you talk to will question why you are covered from head to toe in black soot. Even better, if you hop into a hot spring to recover, the soot will wash off of your character from the neck down, since the Mother 3 hot spring animation always leaves the head exposed. It’s not until much later when it starts to rain that the soot washes off Flint’s face, this time to emphasize that we’re not joking around anymore, Flint’s family was still missing after the fire and they were almost certainly in danger.

An even more brilliant sequence comes much later in the game when the player is washed upon a tropical island with 1 HP and no equipment. The only way to progress through the jungle without dying is to eat one of the psychotropic mushrooms growing on the island. A bizarre sequence of events follows as you make your way to the next Magypsy with your perceptions completely torn asunder. Replicas of your family and friends attack you, which isn’t that unique for an RPG, but the way the narrative is presented and the visuals are warped, it becomes seriously unsettling. The one moment of calm comes when you arrive at another hot spring and recover, only to continue back into the horrors of the jungle.

Once you get to the Magypsy’s house, you’re constantly bombarded with insults about how bad you smell. It makes no sense though, because the player has done nothing different that would cause such a foul smell. Still, when your perception is returned to normal, there is a visible stench rising from Lucas and his compatriots. A quick dip in the bath follows and you’re no longer “smelly”, but, as a curious player, I wondered what had happened in the first place. Instead of continuing forward, I dove right back into the jungle to get to the bottom of it. halfway through, I was feeling a bit fatigued, so I popped on over to the hot springs and it all made sense. In my hallucinogenic state, I was unable to recognize that the pond I dove into for recovery was a festering, toxic-looking garbage dump of a pond. Off to the side, where no conceivable player would ever go, was a door into the real hot spring.

I couldn’t believe that some players would never find out the mystery behind why they were so smelly. Returning to that hot spring is hardly mandatory. Maybe that’s why it felt so amazing to see these little narrative games played with my perception of what was going on in the Mother 3 world at the time. It’s also interesting to look at from a player trust perspective, because when I saw that disgusting pond, rendered in all its GBA, low-fi glory, I felt nauseous and I know it was partly due to a feeling of betrayal. I have a feeling that this was exactly how Itoi wanted me to feel at that point.

Shigesato Itoi admits that the original draft for Mother 3 was way darker than it already is. It was written shortly after his divorce was finalized, which I think has a lot to do with the emotional betrayals of even the finalized version of this game. However this game was very nearly vaporware that was never released. Its development started for the SNES in 1994, but was quickly shifted to the N64 and the ill-fated 64DD not long after. Anyone familiar with the 64DD peripheral knows that this was going to prove troublesome for Itoi and his team. The game was even canceled at one point, but it was eventually decided to put it on the Gameboy Advance and announced around the re-release of Mother 1 + 2, no doubt to help drum up sales.

No one but the team knows just how dark the original narrative was, but Itoi claims that the story that eventually made it to print was the result of him finally becoming a good person. It boggles the mind to realize that it could have been any more dramatic, especially for a game that looks as friendly and cute as this one. In fact, this is the reason why Nintendo of America claims it will not localize the game. They claim the narrative is too mature and depressing for the way it looks and, really, the tone and the subject matter are alternatively irrelevant and deathly serious, so I kind of get what they mean. At one point you have a guy telling Flint that he’s got good news and bad news. The good news is something irrelevant and stupid while the bad news is that Flint’s wife, Hinawa, is dead. What follows is a scene that is so emotionally gripping that my little brother was affected even without hearing the music and sound associated with the scene. Flint completely flips out and starts beating on the guy who gave him bad news and even starts lashing out at the townspeople who are trying to calm him down. He is knocked out by a friend and put in a jail cell that has never before been used in the town’s existence.

It’s this weird juxtaposition of the inane and the deathly serious that creates the dissonant feelings I mentioned before with the hot tub scene and makes the player feel uneasy about what’s going on. When Hinawa’s father, Alec, is trying to tell stupid jokes to help Flint not be so tense about the certain danger his son is in. I wanted to tell him to shut up and let him focus, but I could also see that Flint was obsessing to a dangerous degree and that Alec was right in trying to calm him down. You also have the lighthearted love story of Salsa and Samba being ruined by the brutal and sadistic torturer Yokuba (Fassad in the fan-translation). It’s like Itoi is trying to say that the world is a screwed up place, but you can’t let it get you down.

I’ll tell you right here, I’m a huge sucker for any story about brothers. Later on in the game, it becomes fairly obvious that Mother 3 starts to center around the struggle of twin brothers Lucas and Claus as they attempt to collect more plot coupons than the other. The game series is called Mother for a reason and this one in particular focuses on the differences between each of Hinawa’s boys and how they came to deal with her untimely death. While Lucas comes out of his shell and becomes a healthier, more assertive and confident boy despite his absentee father, Claus foolishly rushes out for vengeance and finds himself enslaved by the Pig Army in its quest to end the world. The climactic final battle reunites the family once again, but the reunion is bittersweet. Claus has almost killed Flint and Lucas must face him alone to the death, even though he’s yet to realize that the Masked Man is his brother. Once the mask is knocked off and Lucas is staring into his own face (they are twins after all), the battle becomes a masterpiece. Selecting attack will cause Lucas to intentionally pull his punches or miss his attacks completely. Sometimes he’ll even refuse to comply. Claus, having lost most of his humanity, will continue to attack until Hinawa begins pleading for him to stop. Eventually, Claus comes to his senses and realizes that Lucas is his brother and that he is no longer anything close to himself. At that point, Claus commits suicide in a peculiar way. It becomes apparent that the Courage Badge that Flint gave to Lucas (via a Mr. Saturn in another example of absentee parenting) is actually a Franklin Badge, an item that repels lightning in the Mother world.

The heartbreaking thing about this whole sequence is that there’s nothing the player can do once Claus decides that he must kill himself to save the world. Lucas may not be physically (or psychically) killing his brother, but there’s nothing he can do but watch his brother kill himself using an item that he is holding. When it’s all over and Claus is dying in Lucas’ arms with Flint nearby and Hinawa’s ghost above them, the reunion is finally completed and the family is happy for a brief second before both Claus and Hinawa depart the world leaving Lucas to pull the last plot coupon. The world literally ends and it all fades to black. Everyone (who was alive before) is still alive in the finale, but the world is darkness and it’s not made clear what the true outcome of the whole battle was. We do know that the world is safe and everyone makes it, but not much else beyond that, it’s left to the player to decide, I guess.

If you want to really see a strangely tragic, chilling ending for a character, consider the fate of Porky, the antagonist in the game. The conflict in this game is motivated by his desire to see the world end. Porky’s mind was so warped by Giygas in Earthbound that he has remained in a permanent immature, childlike state even though he is now hundreds of years old. His influence corrupts and nearly destroys everything about the idyllic and peaceful Tazmily village and he is the one responsible for sapping Claus of all of his humanity. In his final encounter with Lucas, when it becomes apparent that he will not win the battle, he encases himself in the Absolutely Safe Machine, a capsule that renders him absolutely safe from all attacks both interior and exterior. Because it was just a prototype, there was no way to escape it, meaning that the ageless Porky can never die, but he can never leave the capsule nor can he communicate with anyone on the outside. For someone like Porky, an agent of entropy like the Joker in The Dark Knight, this is truly an ending worse than death. When all is dead and gone, when the universe dies of heat death, when existence is nothingness, Porky will still exist, alone in that capsule. It gives me chills just to think about it.

There’s so much about this game that just doesn’t quite add up and leaves the player feeling strange about the relationships they are seeing. Duster, the limping thief, is very clearly verbally and probably physically abused by his father, Wess, yet they seem to be a team and there does seem to be some love there. It’s unsettling on all levels because Itoi wants to take the player from comfortable and happy to uneasy and sad throughout the whole game.

Games like this, they make me appreciate things, like my family and my life, and think about things, like the nature of society and happiness. I’m being simplistic here, but my point is this, what is art? Wikipedia calls it, “…the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.”

So I say yet again, why are we questioning whether or not video games are art? Wake up and smell the sunflowers.

One of the most interesting and artistic chapters of the game.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XIV: The One Where We Miss Darvish [II]
Oct 20th, 2009 by Dan

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

Three days in Sapporo. One to fly in, one to catch a game, and one to fly out. We really only needed two, but the remote location and the unpredictability of flights and baseball game lengths warrant three. It’s a real shame too, because if we had rolled our arrival date into our baseball watching day, we would have seen Yu Darvish pitch.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that not getting to see Darvish pitch was the biggest disappointment I suffered the whole trip. Who wouldn’t want to see one of the best pitchers in the world toss a sweet victory after coming off the disabled list?

Disappointment aside, we had a whole day ahead of us before the game was set to start, so I decided to explore downtown Sapporo.

My usual procedure when I explore a downtown is to first head into any electronics store I can find to start off with something familiar. After seeing the many copies of Japanese MLB Power Pros littering the store shelves around me, I was getting antsy and seriously considering buying a Japanese Wii just to play the games. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed, since spending $250 just to play a $50 game is a little on the extreme side (the Wii also dropped in price by $50 after I left, I would have been super mad for overpaying).

Instead, I decided to go with the easy option and just pick up a copy of Professional Baseball Spirits 6 (or Pro Yakyū Spirits 6, depending on your source) a PS3 NPB baseball game since the PS3 is not region locked like the Wii. I also picked up some Sambomaster music, but that was the extent of my electronics store purchasing.

Maybe its just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I cant read.

Maybe it's just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I can't read.

Since I was in Sapporo Station already, I thought I would check out the Sapporo Pokemon Center to see what it was like.

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Whos that Pokemon?!

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Who's that Pokemon?!

It was what you might expect, just wall-to-wall Pokemon paraphernalia meant to lighten your wallets with cute plush Pikachu toys. The cool thing about the store was that, just like how the Nintendo Store in NYC is always stocked with Wiis, the Pokemon Center always has copies of Pokemon games, including the recently released Heart Gold and Soul Silver that were sold out everywhere else in Japan (believe me, I checked). They also had some pretty neat limited edition Nintendo DS consoles for sale that I didn’t buy.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

My Pokemon curiosity was sated, but it was time to grab a bite to eat. I went upstairs in the shopping center (the interesting thing about all Japanese department stores/shopping centers/malls is that they almost always have restaurants on the top floor) and sat down in a place that advertised English menus. The tonkatsu set I ordered came with rice covered with a sweet, but unpleasant (due to temperature differences) yam layer on top of it and miso soup and it was a pretty good meal.

On a scale of 1-10 Id rate it pretty good.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it pretty good.

At the table with me was a man who spoke some English, so he took the opportunity to talk to me a bit. When I told him that I was in Japan to watch baseball, he brought up that Ichiro had just successfully hit his 200th hit in a season for nine straight seasons. I agreed with him that it was huge news, but I didn’t agree so much with his assurance that it wasn’t a big deal in the states. Sure, it was a MUCH bigger deal for the Japanese to have a player from their country break a longstanding American MLB record, but we didn’t exactly trivialize it, did we? (I guess we kind of did…? Did any of you even know about this before now?)

With hunger no longer an issue, my next task was to shop around and find some more souvenirs. I knew that one of my friends wanted a bento box and another a sake set, so I wandered down into the basement of the building I had just had lunch in and came upon a Seibu Loft store. Bob suggested to me that the best place to find a bento would be a department store, since a specialty store would just overcharge, so I wandered up to the cookware floor and eventually spotted the large bento area.

There were tons to choose from, from small, cute ones with pandas on them to more serious, spartan affairs with dark, muted colors. Many of them even had chopsticks to match their color schemes. I found a simple pastel colored box with matching chopsticks and continued my hunt for the sake set.

Before I found the sake glasses, I came across some sweet chopsticks.

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

That’s right, NPB-themed chopsticks, a set for every team. My mind rushed as I thought about the gift possibilities. I wanted a set, of course, but would Eric appreciate them? He’s certainly got a ton of chopsticks already and no love for NPB teams…hey, waitaminute! That’s right, each set of chopsticks cost ¥1365 (¥1300 + 5% consumption tax for those of you astute readers who noticed the smaller number on the price tag below the actual price). It was far too much to pay for chopsticks, no matter how cool it would be to have the Carp represented on them. I really have no idea why they’re so expensive, but perhaps the label on the back of the sticks, representing the life cycle of these chopsticks might be an illustration of the reason they’re so expensive.

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

If this cute little cycle on the back of the packaging is meant to be accurate, then these chopsticks come from broken bats used in NPB games. That’s a big if! Beyond that, it’s still a huge ripoff to pay so much for one pair of sticks.

I found a nice sake set, paid for my goods, and wandered around Sapporo for a bit before heading home. On the way home, I noticed a nice park on the right. It seemed to be populated by a bunch of employees on breaks, which looked like an awesome idea. If I had the ability to eat a nice lunch or take a quick break outside my building in a park, I think I’d totally be on top of that.

Theyve got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

They've got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

Another neat thing I noticed on the way back was that Sapporo seemed to have more bicycle traffic than any other city I’d seen in Japan. Almost every sidewalk in the city that allowed it was filled with the bicycles of the many employees who rode to work that day. It seemed like most of them were unlocked too, which seemed mighty trusting, but that’s Japan for you, I guess.

After a quick stopover at the hotel, it was time to head out to the Sapporo Dome for the evening’s game. The route was fairly simple: take the subway, switch lines, get off, and follow the crowds to the dome. It was a cakewalk and it would have been a nice walk, if it weren’t for the rain.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but its still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but it's still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

After getting thoroughly soaked (man am I glad I brought my jacket with me), we eventually saw the Sapporo Dome in the distance. Let’s just say it’s got a rather bizarre façade and leave it at that.

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

I popped into the gift shop to get myself a Yu Darvish Fighters jersey (I got the gray Away jerseys because they say “Nippon-Ham” on them instead of “Fighters”) and look around. The store also had a great shirt that had some baseball terms written in both English and Japanese in red text on a black shirt. I decided I must have one, so I got one.

The best shot of the field Ive got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that its difficult to get a good picture that isnt ruined by the super strong lights.

The best shot of the field I've got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that it's difficult to get a good picture that isn't ruined by the super strong lights.

Entering the Dome was much more pleasant than the Tokyo Dome. My ears didn’t pop and the temperature inside was well below the 80s. In fact, it was borderline chilly inside the stadium, but that might have been due to the water evaporating off of my clothing.

One of the stadiums employees.

One of the stadium's employees.

Since the Sapporo Dome houses more than one sport and team, its concessions and facilities don’t completely reflect the Fighters. There are plenty of signs, but nothing is themed. The place feels a lot like a gigantic airplane hangar that someone decided to play baseball inside. The corridors are unnecessarily huge and sparse, making the place feel cavernous, empty, and dark, but the field itself is very well lit and rather nice despite all the aesthetic issues with its corridors.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

If there was one major area that I’d say the Fighters suffer, it’s that the team is too remote. Like the Hawks, they’re the only team on their island, but unlike the Hawks, you can’t get to Sapporo via train. It’s plane or nothing, so when the team travels, it’s much harder for a dedicated cheer section to follow. Conversely, it’s a lot harder for a team to represent its own colors in Sapporo. One would have to wonder how high attendance would be if the Fighters were a Central League team and they played the Tigers. It seems like Tigers fans flood any ballpark that their team is at, but would they go all the way to Sapporo to prove their dedication?

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever youre supposed to call them.

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever you're supposed to call them.

This game marked the first time I got my hands on thunder sticks (or spirit sticks or whatever you’re supposed to call them), which was a lot of fun. Clapping isn’t difficult, but it does wear on your hands if you’ve got to do it all game. The sticks do a great job of projecting noise and protecting hands, which is probably why they became so popular. I would love for them to catch on in the states, if for no other reason than that I hate seeing people swing towels around like idiots to be like the Steelers fans.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

In the end, the Fighters won 5-2 and great fun was had by all. We had a flight to catch in the morning, so I wasn’t really interested in going out and getting crazy, so we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

The 2009 MLB All-Star Game [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Jul 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

It’s that time of year again, the MLB All-Star game is upon us! Last night was the Home Run Derby and, despite being in his team’s stadium, Albert Pujols did not quite manage to make it to the third round. Instead the final competition was between Prince Fielder, of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Nelson Cruz, of the Texas Rangers. In the end, Fielder took it and even bashed in a homer over 500 feet.

So begins the liveblogging event of the year! I’ll be making updates through the evening and night.

Time: 1929

I’m really loving the MLB Network coverage of the All-Star game. The network is in its first year and it shows in their broadcast. There are some boom microphone errors and sound issues at times, even a video error or two, but they are enthusiastic about their presentation and having so much fun that it’s just too fun to watch. I hope that the channel sticks around for the long run.

1938

There have already been some great commercials. Pepsi has one of those “Forever Young” commercials with baseball that I’m a fan of and State Farm has a great commercial featuring MLB gear. My favorite part there is when the Cubs baby is being friendly with the Cardinals baby and the parent of the Cardinals baby turns their kid away.

Get the Braves dog! Chase him away!

2001

A lot is being made of St. Louis being the greatest baseball city because the fans are so knowledgeable. I think this is great, but St. Louis felt so abandoned the last time I was there. They have such a rich NL history, between their World Series wins, the legacy of Branch Rickey, Bob Gibson, and, more recently, Albert Pujols.

I hope the game starts soon so I don’t have to keep waxing poetic. Obama’s gonna throw the opening pitch!

They’re showing footage of Obama in the locker room. So cool. He’s just shooting the breeze with these players and some are pretty awestruck. The expression on Ichiro’s face as he has Obama autograph a baseball for him is great.

2008

Introducing the teams now (minus the starting 9 for both teams).

The AL

Trey Hillman
Don Wakamatsu

Adam Jones
Josh Beckett
Kevin Youkilis
Tim Wakefield
Jonathan Papelbon
Mark Buerhle
Victor Martinez
Brandon Inge
Curtis Granderson
Justin Verlander
Edwin Jackson
Zack Greinke
Chone Figgins
Brian Fuentes
Justin Morneau
Joe Nathan
Mariano Rivera
Andrew Bailey
Felix Hernandez
Evan Longoria
Jason Bartlett
Carl Crawford
Ben Zobrist
Carlos Peña
Nelson Cruz

NL

Joe Torre
Tony La Russa

Justin Upton
Dan Haren
Ted Lily (boos? I thought these guys were nice)
Francisco Cordero
Brad Hawpe
Jason Marquis
Josh Johnson
Hunter Pence
Miguel Tejada
Orlando Hudson
Jonathan Broxton
Chad Billingsley
Prince Fielder
Trevor Hoffman
Johan Santana
Francisco Rodriguez
Ryan Howard
Jayson Werth
Freddy Sanchez
Zack Duke
Ryan Franklin
Heath Bell
Adrian Gonzalez
Matt Cain
Ryan Zimmerman

AL Manager and starting lineup:

Joe Maddon (Manager, Rays)

1. Ichiro Suzuki (RF, Mariners)
2. Derek Jeter (SS, Yankees)
3. Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
4. Mark Teixiera (1B, Yankees)
5. Jason Bay (LF, Red Sox)
6. Josh Hamilton (CF, Rangers)
7. Michael Young (3B, Rangers) – should have been Longoria =*[
8. Aaron Hill (2B, Blue Jays)
9. Roy Halladay (P, Blue Jays)

NL Manager and starting lineup:

Charlie Manuel (Manager, Phillies)

1. Hanley Ramirez (SS, Marlins) – GO HANLEY!
2. Chase Utley (2B, Phillies)
3. Albert Pujols (1B, Cardinals) – huge cheers, gigantic Pujols smiles, hat comes off like a curtain call
4. Ryan Braun (RF, Brewers)
5. Raul Ibañez (LF, Phillies)
6. David Wright (3B, Mets)
7. Shane Victorino (CF, Phillies)
8. Yadier Molina (C, Cardinals) – big applause
9.Tim Lincecum (P, Giants) – I love this guy!

They went and mowed the arch and a famous St. Louis building into the lawn. It looks very nice.

2021

5 presidents giving a speech.

Obama, Bush, Bush, Carter, and Clinton.

These speeches are pretty standard political and feel good stuff. Not too bad, nothing too special.

2031

Sheryl Crow sings the anthem. She’s from Missouri. She does a good job! There’s a flyover, as you’d expect.

Stan Musial and Obama are due out next. Pujols is due to catch the first pitch.

Thanks for spoiling the end of the House season FOX. Why are you advertising for September in July?

2037

Stan the Man comes in from RF on a cart carrying the baseball for the first pitch.

88-years-old. Man, we’re lucky this guy is still alive.

It looks like the players are all wearing their team’s actual uniforms. I like that. It shows where they’re from compared to just a league shirt.

Obama comes onto the field in a White Sox jacket to mixed reaction. There are definitely boos mixed in there.

Doesn’t matter, he throws a great strike to the plate, maybe a little low. After the pitch the cheers FAR outweigh the boos.

2044

Some of you readers don’t ever watch commercials anymore, but I, strangely, kind of like them. I inexplicably love the rollover minute AT&T commercials.

Top of the 1st – 2047

The NL takes the field! Lincecum’s last outing in Busch Stadium was a shutout. Wow, Lincecum only weighs like 167 lbs.

Busch Stadium has some cool little Cardinal friezes on the trim. Obama likes Maddon’s glasses. He asked Wakefield how to throw a knuckleball and, when asked if he had a good curveball, he said “If I did, I wouldn’t have run for president.”

Ichiro almost hit a homer his first time up. Wow. Went foul. Lincecum has such a great rhythmic windup and delivery. It’s so cool to watch.

Broken bat single. What else would you expect from the great Ichiro?

Ouch. Lincecum just nailed Jeter on the bottom of his fist. That was a loud collision. He wasn’t very happy. Worse off, two on, no outs for the AL.

Joe Mauer grounds to third and they almost get a double play, but Pujols’ foot comes off the bag.

Teixiera hits to Pujols and he botches the catch. AL up 1-0

Bay hits one out to CF and Victorino holds Mauer at third.

Hamilton gets one to Pujols who throws Bay out at second, but they can’t make the DP. AL 2-0.

Young hits it to Wright who gets the third out.

2102 Bot 1st

Hanley’s leading off against Halladay, lucky for the NL. Ramirez and the Marlins have done quite well against the Blue Jays this year. He hits it hard to 2B, but Hill is right there. One out.

Utley up to bat. Grounds to first. A quick one-two, but Pujols approaches. Can he turn this around?

The park is on its feet with a standing ‘O’. He’s got a lot of ground to make up by making that error. Pujols is such a patient hitter. I love that about him. Ball goes right to third and Michael Young finishes off retiring the side.

AL: 2 NL: 0

Top 2nd

Aaron Hill grounds to Hanley and he makes a great catch and out.

Halladay up to bat no. Should be an easy out, so work him hard Tim. Seems that Halladay didn’t even pack a helmet for the at bat. They put a sticker in front of Longoria’s Rays helmet so that he could have a helmet. What a moron. Of course you’re gonna hit Roy. It’s a game in an NL park. Timmy strikes Hallady out looking, but it was a solid at bat.

Ichiro is back up to bat. His at-bat motion is so iconic as e holds the bat out in front of him while the pitcher sets. Ichiro lines right out to Braun. Apparently Obama told Ichiro, after handing back the ball, “Here you go hall of famer.” That will be true, I’m sure of it.

2117 Bot 2nd

Braun steps up to the plate. Obama is now in the broadcast booth. Holy cow. “This is as much fun as I’ve had in quite some time.” Obama’s in a White Sox jacket. He says his wife thinks he looks cute in it. Braun takes it up to CF and Hamilton snags it.

Ibañez now up to bat. Shane hits one to Hill and it’s yet another out for the NL.

David Wright comes out to hit. Obama is reluctant to predict who will win the Series without more information. Wow, he just commented on how terrible the Nationals are. Wright gets a broken bat single to short right. NL finally gets a man on.

Wow, Victorino smacks one into right. Two on, two out. Victorino apparently gave Obama Macademia nuts at the white house.

Molina’s up to bat. Obama is agreeing that the AL has been better of late. Molina takes a base hit up to center. Wright runs it in, the throw to third is wild and Victorino is able to run into home from third on the botched throw. Way to go Molina. They’ve tied it up 2-2 and Molina gets some RBIs. Turns out the ball bounced off of Victorino’s shoulder. Halladay was covering home instead of third.

The NL pinch hits for Lincecum with Prince Fielder. Fielder bashes one into the LF corner and it bounces into the stands. Molina scores on the ground rule double and Fielder stays on second.
3-1 NL. Buerhle is warming up.

The Marlins send Hanley up to plate again. They’re joking that once Buerhle is done, Obama will leave. Hanley hits it back to Hill and gets tossed out at first.

Obama’s headed home. Good times. That was so great to see him just talking baseball like a regular guy.

Top 3rd

Ryan Franklin goes out to pitch for the NL squad against Jeter. Hits a comebacker to Utley and gets tossed out at first.

The catcher, Mauer, steps back up to the plate. I’ve gotta say, I kind of wish Lincecum could have stayed in the game longer. Joe lines out to Pujols who makes a great catch.

Interview with Halladay about what it was like, but the microphone went out. Sad. Teixiera comes right back up to the plate. Franklin almost strikes Teix out, but he barely gets a piece and stays up to bat. Strong grounder to Pujols and he gets the out.

The Taco Bell “If You Like Piña Coladas” commercial is hilarious. I guess I just like Taco Bell Frutista Freeze commercials playing during all-star games. I love the boss with the exploding fist bump.

2135 Bot 3rd

Buehrle is on the mound now and Utley flies out to Hamilton.

Big Al comes back up to bat. He’s got two guaranteed at bats. Maybe third. Teixiera has good positioning to catch the Pujols grounder so Pujols grounds out.

Milwaukee’s basher Braun comes up to bat. Little grounder to Jeter and the NL is back out on the field. The score remains

NL 3 – AL 2

2141 Top 4th

The NL has swapped pitchers to Dan Haren. Apparently he was in the Cards system before he was traded and they regret that. Jason Bay hits one out to Ryan Braun for the first out.

I don’t really think that Josh Hamilton deserves to be in the game today, but he’s on thanks to the way he hit in last year’s Home Run Derby. Hard hit pop fly that’s shy of the warning track. Victorino catches for the second out.

Young angers me because he’s in for Longoria, even though Longoria can’t play. He hits a single and it upsets me.

Haren has such a strange delivery when he doesn’t have anyone on the bag with that hesitation pause. Aaron Hill at bat and Molina contains a wild pitch to hold Hamilton at first. Grounder to Ramirez and it’s half-inning over.

Bob Dylan and will.i.am are not on the same level, sorry Pepsi.

Bot 4th

Ibañez pops out to third and Greinke’s on the mound.

That brings NY Met David Wright up to the plate with one out. Greinke has been fantastic this season and he proves it with a slider that just barely got called a strike on Wright who goes down looking.

Greinke’s a monster on the mound tonight. He gets Victorino to strike out swinging.

I’m pretty excited to see Funny People. Judd Apatow’s a comedic genius, but I wonder how his more serious offering here will do.

2155 Top 5th

Ryan Zimmerman takes over at third for the NL. Brad Hawpe takes RF for Braun. Crawford is up to bat for Greinke, I believe. He’s a speedy fellow. Takes a good pitch into CF and finds himself on first against Billingsley. Will Crawford try to steal?

The left-handed Ichiro will make a throw harder for Molina, but Mo is top notch. All Billingsley has to do is get it to the plate quickly to hold Crawford. Ichiro is also pretty fast, this is a bad situation. Crawford goes, hit-and-run, and Ichiro fouls it back, phew. Crawford’s got such great acceleration. Billingsley tries to catch Crawford sleeping at first, but fails. Utley makes a daring toss to 2nd to get Crawford out and his high toss is well handled by Hanley to get Carl out. The announcers don’t seem to be giving Hanley Ramirez his due. He really stretched to grab that.

Ichiro Suzuki on first. He’s also fast. Jeter at the bat. Quickly works an 0-2 count on Jeter. Billingsley is trying to keep the runners honest with plenty of tosses to first. The ball goes ripping at Pujols and he’s able to keep Ichiro off second, but Jeter’s too fast for the DP.

The hitless Joe Mauer comes up to bat. It’s been a good game so far. I’m loving the close score. Chad Billingsley falls behind Joe 2-0. Saw Jason Bay on the sidelines and, let me tell you, it sure is nice to not have Pedroia in the game with that stupid batting glove nonsense that he subjects everyone to each pitch. Braun kind of jobs to retrieve Mauer’s ball to LF and that allows Jeter to get into home from first base. I suppose it’s not really Ryan’s fault, Mauer’s a left-handed hitter and Ryan was positioned with that in mind.

Baltimore-native Mark Teixiera on base with Joe Mauer on second. Pujols makes yet another fantastic dive to throw out Teixiera for the third out.

NL 3 – AL 3

2209 Bot 5th

Carl Crawford remains in the game and Adam Jones pops in while Edwin Jackson comes up to pitch. Yadier Molina grounds out to Jeter.

Jackson’s success in Detroit is bittersweet for me. He’s doing so well out there that I can’t help but be happy for him, but I wish he were still pitching for the Rays. Ryan Zimmerman makes good contact, but he flies out to Hamilton in center.

Hanley is, thankfully, still in the game, but he grounds out to Michael Young, ending the inning.

I love that line in the Punch-Out Wii commercials, “I’m gonna make him cry like a little girl and then I’m gonna mop the floor with his tears.”

Top 6th

Remember when Gatorade wasn’t called G? Those were better days. Adam Jones is up against Trevor Hoffman and he sends one all the way out to Brad Hawpe in RF. It worried me for a second.

Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton gets himself a single to RF.

Lincecum could use a haircut, but his glorious mane probably gives him strength. Young could have used more strength as he hits into a 4-6-3 double play (that’s 2B Utley, to SS Ramirez, to 1B Pujols).

The Taco bell Roosevelts commercial is dumb, but I’m strangely drawn to it.

2219 Bot 6th

Jason Bartlett is mislabeled as Ben Zobrist at SS and Curtis Granderson is in CF while Victor Martinez is catching and King Felix Hernandez is pitching. The O-Dog, Orlando Hudson, flies out to Adam Jones in right.

The last Pujols at bat of the night. I’m hoping for some power from Albert, but grounds to Bartlett and the NL has two outs. I hope he doesn’t feel to badly, he’s had some great defensive plays.

An NL substitution in place with Justin Upton coming in for Ryan Braun. Upton is Rays player B.J. Upton’s younger brother. Another ball straight to Bartlett and Upton is the third out.

Top 7th

It’s been a great game so far. This tie has got my heart rate at a nice, high level. Go NL! You guys can do it! Pujols comes out for Adrian Gonzalez after a curtain call from his hometown. Francisco Cordero is up to pitch and Aaron Hill flies one to Justin Upton. It hasn’t been mentioned, but Jayston Werth seems to be in CF for Shane Victorino.

Crawford is back up again? Scary. Hits it straight to Miguel Tejada (when did he come in?) and gets thrown out.

Last year’s Derby winner Justin Morneau of the twins comes up to bat and he whiffs for two straight strikes. Line drive to Zimmerman ends the inning and we go into the 7th inning stretch while my keyboard gives me problems every time I try to push the ‘h’ key.

I guess it’s a good thing that they support the country with “God Bless America” now, but I miss “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The lady who’s singing GBA is way over fake tanned. She’s almost orange. Looks like Kevin Nealon in the most recent episode of Weeds. That’s not a good thing, they were making fun of him for it for a lot of the episode. Her name was Sarah Evans. Sarah, you did a great job, I’m not harping on that at all, just, you know, cut back on the fake tanning stuff.

2233 Bot 7th

Looks like Jonathan Papelbon won’t get to close again today. Brad Hawpe comes within inches of a home run, but Carl Crawford robs all chances with his amazing catch. So close.

The Houston Astros send in Miguel Tejada for the second NL batter of the inning. He hits one out to the warning track and the bubblegum chewing Adam Jones gets the ball.

Two exciting hits precede Jayson Werth’s at bat. He doesn’t take the first pitch, unlike the previous two batters. Werth’s goatee makes him look like an evil villain to me. Ugh, now I’m watching Jonatan Papelbon make his stupid lip-pursing ‘O’ that he does before each pitch. I hate that stupid look so much, but it’s just based on Red Sox resentment. Werth works up to a full count. Come on NL, score a run on Papelbon again. Make me happy. Jayson is really keeping this at-bat alive with plenty of foul balls and a full count on top of that. Swing and a miss and the NL goes down with no extra points thanks to Carl Crawford.

2242 Top 8th

Heath Bell of the Padres is now pitching for the NL. First pitch almost hits Bartlett in the head. Wow, that was wild. Bartlett taps one to Tejada who sets and throws Jason out at first.

Curtis Granderson gets up to bat now in the 8th. Bell has a really short, quick windup and throw. It’s awkard and hard to follow. Granderson makes it to third on a triple…great. Now he’s in position for a sac fly. It’s up to you Bell.

For some reason the NL decides to intentionally walk Victor Martinez. I guess it makes sense, setting up for the DP, but everyone on this club is a pretty darn good hitter.

This puts the speedy Adam Jones up to bat and the infield returns to double play depth. I’m feeling pretty tense about all of this, especially as the announcers claim that Heath Bell has never pitched in any all-star situations. He works the count to 0-2 on Jones. If the NL don’t get the DP, they’v egot Youkilis up next. Damned if you do…

Jones gets himself a sac fly and the score becomes 4-3 AL. Ugh.

Now we’ve got the Youkilis up to bat and things could turn ugly. Base hit to center. AL has men on first and second.

Ben Zobrist, the Zorilla, steps up to bat. He has homered from five different positions this season, according to the announcers. Pence strikes him out swinging. Hurts to see, but I’m happy for it.

AL 4 – NL 3

Bot 8th

Brandon Inge is now in the game along with Joe Nathan. Brian McCann is at bat with his glasses. Poor guy had a Lasik procedure go terribly wrong and had to return to glasses. He pops up for an easy out to Victor Martinez.

That brings everyone’s favorite Ryan Zimmerman to the plate. Flies out to cross-town rival Adam Jones.

We’ve got power hitter Adrian Gonzalez at the plate now, hopefully to save the NL. It’s crazy how well this guy hits considering that the Padres play in a hitter hostile park. Nathan walks Gonzalez. Let’s make something happen now.

O-Dog time. Orlando Hudson up to bat. Grounder up the middle deflects off of Bartlett’s glove despite a terrific dive allowing Adrian Gonzalez to get to third.

This allows the NL to put Ryan Howard up to bat. A great pinch hitter for the Phillies, let’s see if he can make something great happen. The shift is put on for Howard. Will the St. Louis native be the key to the NL victory in this game? The stadium is going wild for Ryan. Howard quickly gets to 0-2. Orlando Hudson takes advantage of the up and away pitch to steal second. Two in scoring position now and the count gets up to 2-2. It is tense in my living room right now. Ryan Howard makes a stupid check swing at a ball in the dirt and the NL ruins a great chance. So close! We’ve still got one more inning, don’t worry!

2309 Top 9th

Man, I’m getting tired. Last year I made it much longer, but I wasn’t working then. K-Rod comes up to pitch against Inge who hits a broken bat grounder to Tejada for the 6-3 out.

Crawford remains in the game. I can’t be too mad at the guy for catching that out since he’s a Rays player, but I want the NL to win so badly. K-Rod strikes out Crawford. It was a fantastic pitch.

The AL squad sends Justin Morneau to the plate for their third man of the inning and he knocks one back that Jayson Werth barely catches. What a great play.

2315 Bot 9

It’s crunch time for the NL. We’re down to the final three outs and the scary-good Mariano Rivera is on the mound. Justin Upton grounds out to Bartlett. One down.

The second batter to step up is Brad Hawpe who was robbed a home run his last at bat. The AL dugout seems so cheery. It also seems overfull. Hawpe goes down looking on a pitch to the outside. Brad Hawpe looked lost. Two outs.

Our final hopes rest on Miguel Tejada’s bat. Tejada hits a shallow fly to Zobrist and the AL wins it 4-3.

The streak of losses continues.

It didn’t quite go as long as other years, but that dramatic robbery by Carl Crawford really changed this game.

Maybe next year NL. See you guys for another live blog next year!

Wimbledon and All-Star Starting Rosters [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Jul 8th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

I don’t tend to report on tennis news, but I happened to watch various parts of the Federer/Roddick match on Sunday, so I thought I’d say a few words on it.

It’s worth nothing that this is probably one of the most lopsided rivalries in tennis. In fact, the 2 wins by Roddick (of 21 matches) is so embarrassing I’m sure that he wishes people would stop calling it a rivalry so he wouldn’t have to hear that stat.

Federer was chasing a tennis record hoping to win his 15th Grand Slam title, which would put him just ahead of Pete Sampras’ 14.

Their match was the longest in Wimbledon history with 30 total games played in the fifth set (a record) and 77 sets played total. The match itself lasted a grueling four hours and sixteen minutes, with the final set lasting 95 minutes on its own.

Some are saying it’s the best Wimbledon performance in the history of the sport. I don’t watch enough tennis to have an opinion, but I will admit it was epic.

All-Star Starting Rosters

For the American League we have:

C Joe Mauer (Twins)
1B Mark Teixeira (Yankees)
2B Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox)
3B Evan Longoria (Rays)
SS Derek Jeter (Yankees)
OF Jason Bay (Red Sox)
OF Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners)
OF Josh Hamilton (Rangers)

A strong lineup which leaves almost nothing to complain about. Since coming back from the DL in May, Joe Mauer has been a hitting machine, Teixeira is playing well in NYC and Youkilis would have fit just as well into that spot. Pedroia is always a good choice for 2B and Bay/Suzuki are fantastic outfielders.

Despite the fact that I love this outcome, it’s definitely shocking to see Longoria at third in lieu of Alex Rodriguez. His long injury combined with the steroid allegations seem to have forced him out, which is just fine by me. Jeter is the most popular player in the game, but I don’t think that he’s the best shortstop in the game by any means. He should still hit well, regardless, and I can’t really argue that the younger Hanley Ramirez on the NL squad is that much better defensively. Finally, Josh Hamilton has played only a few games this year thanks to injuries and not all that well. If people would choose based on performance this year instead of last year’s Home Run Derby, we wouldn’t see him on this roster.

and the National League voted in

C Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
1B Albert Pujols (Cardinals)
2B Chase Utley (Phillies)
3B David Wright (Mets)
SS Hanley Ramírez (Marlins)
OF Carlos Beltrán (Mets)
OF Ryan Braun (Brewers)
OF Raúl Ibáñez (Phillies)

The NL manages to make better choices all-around, with the only bad choice being Beltrán and then only because he’s currently injured. Despite the mishaps in the AL lineup, they might actually have a slightly stronger one, considering that David Wright hasn’t been hitting all that well and who Charlie Manuel replaces Beltrán with.

Let’s hope they get it together, because the NL hasn’t won an all-star game outright since 1996. It’s kind of embarrassing.

As I’ve stated a few times already, I’ll be doing a much more live blog than usual, so be prepared for that. The game will be next Tuesday, 14 July, weather permitting, probably around 2000, but the pre-game and broadcast itself is scheduled for 1900. I can’t wait!

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: End of the MLB Regular Season
Oct 1st, 2008 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ‘em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

It took 163 games, but as of today we officially have our eight teams set for the 2008 postseason. How did I do in predicting the outcome of the 2008 MLB season? Well let’s take a look, division by division, at my guesses and predictions and see:

AL East

It finally happened: the Tampa Bay Rays came and took a division win for the first time ever in the organization’s ten-year existence. They’re not the first to go from last to first in one season, but it’s still a good story to see them come so far in their brief history. It’s also great to see Florida teams do so well in the season and hopefully we’ll see more attendance in Tampa (technically St. Petersburg). It was always a bit of a pipe dream on my part, despite my knowledge that this team was the real deal, mainly because their youth would have been their greatest enemy. You can’t claim that a team inexperienced with the playoff push in one of the harder divisions in baseball can confidently take first place. Good for me that they did, though, makes me look nice and smart.

Boston performed as I predicted it would too, winning the AL wild card and taking second place in the AL East. It’s a bit of a tough break for them to not win the AL East, since now they have to play the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the playoffs. I’ll get more into this when I make my postseason predictions, but this can be either a blessing or a curse for my favorite team in the postseason.

The Yankees did about as well as I thought they would, but how strange that they did not have their typical second half push. Instead they actually fell below the Blue Jays for a few days of the season.

Only thing I got wrong about this division, the standings of the Orioles and Blue Jays being WAY off. The O’s managed to fall 18 games behind the Jays at the end of the season. I should have been able to see that the solid pitching on the Blue Jays squad would carry them further than the Orioles mediocre lineup.

Final standings (bad predictions in bold):

Rays
Red Sox
Yankees
Blue Jays
Orioles

Postseason Guess Record: 2-0 (I’m going to count the Red Sox guess in 2nd as a correct one for me for the wild card)
Regular Season Guess Record: 3-2

AL Central

Hoo boy, here’s one that I totally mixed up, even though I got the postseason right. Why in the world did I think that the Tigers would have a chance at second place in AL Central? They were absolutely the worst disappointment in baseball this year, which is a real shame for me to say, since they’re so chock full of former Marlins. Sheffield and Willis were major disappointments for the team and the huge contracts in place may still prevent major shakeups in the off-season. Let’s hope that this doesn’t stay such a pathetic team in the foreseeable future.

The actual winners, the White Sox, managed to stay alive in the 163rd game tie-breaker against the Twins this year to clinch first place in the AL Central and a playoff spot. We’ll see what happens in the postseason, but I should have seen that these two teams were the actual best ones in the central and not clung to a pipe dream that the Tigers would put together a decent showing in the second half.

The rest of the division, the Indians and Royals, managed to put together solid seasons with the Indians keeping closer than the Yankees and the Royals actually managing to place higher than the Tigers. How pathetic for Detroit…

Final Standings:

White Sox
Twins
Indians
Royals
Tigers

Postseason Guess Record: 3-0
Regular Season Guess Record: 5-5

AL West

I’ll say it again: pathetic. The first place team, the Angels, clinched this division like a month ago. At the end of the season, we see them a ridiculous 21 games ahead of their nearest competitors, the Texas Rangers.

Texas managed to play better than I suspected, getting ahead of the Athletics (which I predicted as possible), but not anywhere near the wild card (16 games back).

Seattle finished an abysmal 39 games back. That’s beyond ridiculous. Like I predicted, they didn’t even break a .400 win percentage. They’re gonna have to mix some stuff up next year or more heads will fly. We’ll see if Ichiro will get dealt away during the off-season.

Final Standings:

Angels
Rangers
Athletics
Mariners

Postseason Guess Record: 4-0
Regular Season Guess Record: 7-7

NL East

Another really wrong division, but basically because I love the Marlins and wanted them to win. I’m going to be fair with my prediction standings and not try and make myself look better.

The Phillies won the division, despite strong competition from the Mets, who lost it near the end and lost the wild card in the 162nd (read: last!) game of the season against the Marlins.

As I predicted, the Marlins pitching really helped them out, but I also predicted that a failing of the bats would mess them up. Guess what? The bats stopped working, so they fell behind, but not without setting franchise records for home runs and MLB records for having an entire infield (1B, 2B, SS, and 3B) with over 25 home runs. Nice work Fish, maybe next year.

Final Standings:

Phillies
Mets
Marlins
Braves
Nationals

Postseason Guess Record: 4-1
Regular Season Guess Record: 9-10

NL Central

Another division gone wrong. I got the first two right with the spectacular Cubs and Brewers standing atop the division, but the rest being totally mixed up.

Sabathia totally helped the Cubs out and may find himself with an NL Cy Young as a reward for his stellar pitching. I’m also gonna take credit for being right about the Brewers in the postseason since I have them in the second place spot in this division.

I really thought Pujols would keep the Cardinals above the Astros, but they had a ridiculous wild card attempt that propelled them ahead. The Pirates also hurt a lot more than I thought they would have after losing key players to the trade deadline.

Final Standings

Cubs
Brewers
Astros
Cardinals
Reds
Pirates

Postseason Guess Record: 6-1
Regular Season Guess Record: 11-14

NL West

So I was wrong about the NL West, but I will claim it’s because Manny Ramirez had yet to be traded at that point. No one in their right mind could have predicted that he would get dealt away mid-season, but he went out to L.A. and brought them a division win.

Final Standings:

Dodgers
Diamondbacks
Rockies
Giants
Padres

Postseason Guess Record: 6-2
Regular Season Guess Record: 14-16

So how did I do?

I was 75% accurate in my postseasons predictions if you count my correct “wild card” predictions
I was 66% accurate when you look only at the division champs and neglect the wild card. Still respectable.

I was 46% accurate on my mid-season regular season projections (just one short of 50%)

Postseason

Eight teams. Two league winners. One champion.

AL Matchups:

Red Sox vs. Angels

White Sox vs. Rays

The Red Sox/Angels series is actually the crux of the AL playoff. Personally, I think of the Angels as an overrated team that looks great against the weak AL West. The records look a little different though, with the Angels at 8-1 against Boston, 5-5 against the White Sox, and 3-6 against the Rays. Boston will have a tough series against a team that seems to have their number, but a win will really affect the Rays, putting them up against a pumped up squad that just beat a team most consider to be the best in baseball. With Beckett not pitching until Game 3, the series could take a quick turn for the worse, but I still predict a Red Sox win, as much as it freaks me out. I want the Angels to win so they can lose to the Rays.

After barely squeaking by the Twins to make the playoffs, the White Sox are now coming up against the wall known as the Tampa Bay Rays. I fully expect (and hope) for them to lose, because the Rays are great and another all Chicago World Series (or a Chicago World Series in general) would suck.

Red Sox – Angels
Red Sox – Rays
White Sox – Rays

I predict the ALCS to be the Rays and the Red Sox and an absolute doozy at that. The Rays get home field advantage against a team well-versed in postseason appearances, so that will help them out. Lose one in the Trop and they’re in serious trouble as they could potentially lose it all in Fenway; a park the Rays barely have a winning record in. I’m going to let my emotions continue to cloud my judgment and predict that the Rays go to the World Series.

NL Matchups:

Brewers vs. Phillies

Dodgers vs. Cubs

The Phillies might have had some issues peppered throughout the second half, but I’m pretty confident that they can stand pretty strongly against a weak Brewers squad. The Brew Crew haven’t hit a postseason in so long they can’t be relied upon to perform any better than the Rays might. They’re also 1-5 against the Phillies. Sorry Wisconsin folk, but the Phillies win this one.

This here is an interesting playoff series. The Dodgers have been hotter than hot ever since they acquired Manny. The Cubs have been solid and consistent all season long. Chicago is looking to end a hundred-year-long curse. Los Angeles has a coach in Joe Torre and a player in Manny Ramirez who are both accustomed to winning World Series games by now. It will be close, but I think I’m going to give the Cubs the edge, even though I want the curse to continue to see the Cubs stay out of the World Series since 1945 (and no wins since 1908).

Dodgers – Cubs
Phillies – Cubs
Brewers – Phillies

Again, even though I want the Cubs to keep losing, I predict they will still beat the Phillies. The desire to end the curse at this point will trump the worries that they might botch the series.

World Series:

Cubs vs. Rays

The Rays will win to make me twice as happy for continuing the World Series losing streak for the Cubs and for winning their first World Series (and third for a Florida team). It will be a six game series with the Rays (obviously) winning at the 4-2 mark.

Let’s see how it goes, I’ll be sure to simulate this postseason in MLB PP (with rosters as updated as I can) and keep the blog posted. This will be a baseball-themed blog for a few weeks as a result, but who can complain about that?

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa