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Up all night

West Coast baseball races, Ichiro pursuit worth staying awake for

Posted: Thursday September 30, 2004 1:14PM; Updated: Thursday September 30, 2004 2:54PM
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Pete McEntegart: The 10 Spot -- Thur., Sept. 30
Truth & Rumors: Cashman dismisses D.C. talk
Michael Bradley: Fans part of the problem
Josh Elliott: Worth staying up to watch
Arash Markazi: Hurlbert's fame is done
More Blogs: Bechtel | Rolfe | Chen | Scheft
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MY COUCH -- So, it's 1:09 a.m. EST and I've passed the evening (and early morning) wearing a groove in my remote's "Last Channel" button. Giants-Padres on the Worldwide Leader, Rockies-Dodgers on the Leader Squared, cut-ins to Mariners-A's and Angels-Rangers throughout. I've had a full helping of desperate late-September baseball. This is the American way to watch America's (former) pastime: with gluttonous, over-stimulated, ADD-addled glee.

Too bad my boys in Dodger Blue are done. After two more of their major-league-leading 51 comebacks victories the two prior nights against the Rockies -- including Tuesday night's 5-4 win after trailing 4-0 in the ninth -- they finally ran out of gas Wednesday, letting a 1-1 eighth-inning tie turn into a 4-1 loss. The loss, official just moments ago, cut L.A.'s lead in the West over San Fran to a measly 2 1/2 games with four to play (including three against each other). Like I said: It's over. You enjoyed it here first, fellow Blogster Chris Ballard: Your 2004 National League West champion San Francisco Giants. Brutal. Hard fought, but brutal.

(And let the record show that I'm merely trumpeting the obvious. Monday, Ballard accused me of attempting a reverse jinx on the Dodgers, when I astutely dissected their imminent collapse. What a petty accusation, Ballard, in light of the Dodgers' loss one minute ago. You should be ashamed of yourself.)

So let me flip back to the Giants-Padres. Extra innings. Might as well rant while I watch. For instance, the man on my update screen, Seattle's incomparable Ichiro, was just beaned by the A's Justin Duchscherer in the ninth inning of a game the Mariners have in the bag. Duchscherer will no doubt rely on the "pitch-got-away" excuse, coming as it did against a team Oakland had to beat to keep pace with the Angels in the AL West. But I'm not buying. No, it was far too high in the back -- and close to the head -- to be anything more than sour grapes, one pitcher's (team's?) way of saying, You're not adding to your hit total against me (us?).

So I've got to ask: What's with all the Ichiro backlash? [To sum up: Ichiro, with 255 base knocks, is about to break George Sisler's single-season hits record of 257 set in 1920; after a 1-3 night last night, Ichiro needs three hits in three games.] And I'm not just talking cute statistical analyses such as my man Mark Bechtel put together for us. Last weekend, Rick Sutcliffe insisted during the Yanks-Sox series that Boston's leadoff caveman, Johnny Damon, was having a much better year than Ichiro. After listening tonight to Joe Morgan, resident genius and former Giants second baseman, during the SF-SD game -- which is not unlike listening to Tommy Heinsohn do color on any 1980s Celtics game, only more insufferable -- I could swear Sisler is the man's long-lost ancestor. Morgan verged on wetting himself in stating (over and over again) that wherever Ichiro finishes, Sisler's total should remain the 154-game record, "because I'm concerned about the history of the game, and showing what George accomplished in a 154-game season," he said.

(This from Morgan, as blatant a Barry Bonds apologist as exists. Hey, Joe, I'm concerned about the integrity and history of the game, too. So I think there should be a no-body-armor career home run record. So Hank's 755 stays, too.)

It boggles the mind that people could think Ichiro's year is not really that cool because he's just hitting a bunch of singles for a dead ballclub, or that it's selfish that as the Mariners leadoff hitter, he's just trying to go 2-for-4, 3-for-5 every night, or that the accomplishments of a man making the "toughest thing in sports" -- hitting a round baseball with a round bat -- look absurdly easy is, in any way, not supremely great.

Let's just enjoy Ich -- wait, gotta get back to the Padres' at-bat, bottom 10, bases loaded, one out, Mark Loretta up. He hits a high pop-up down the right-field line, but it's not deep. There will be a play at the plate. Giants right fielder Dustin Mohr's got it, here comes the thr -- he fell down! Ha! Mohr tripped over the bullpen mound! Padres win! At 1:20 am EST, L.A.'s back up by three games.

You're right, Ballard. It's not going to work.

THE NFL'S TOP FIVE (or six) TEAMS, BECAUSE I SAY SO

1. New England: Playing a rested Buffalo this week could be trouble. Of course, the Pats are coming off a bye of their own, and no coach is more dangerous with two weeks to scheme than Bill Belichick.

2. Seattle: Because Matt Hasselbeck is playing efficient, mistake-free football. Because Shaun "Contract Year" Alexander already has six scores. Because their defense has given up a grand total of 13 points. Because a team that was 2-6 on the road last year opened at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay, and won both. And because I said so.

3. Philadelphia: How are the Eagles -- who've gone to three straight conference championships games -- behind less-accomplished Seattle? Because I think this will come down to home-field throughout January, and based on the 'Hawks' spot atop the anemic NFC West, the Eagles will have to go to Seattle for their fourth straight attempt. But Donovan McNabb is the NFL (MVP x .20). And T.O. is still happy. For now.

4. Indianapolis: If second receiver Reggie Wayne keeps this up, this offense could be all-time great. But the D needs to cover someone, or at least tackle them at some point.

5. Jacksonville: I've seen this team for two straight weeks, and I'm thisclose to believing. A 3-0 team that could easily be 0-3 -- all three wins have come down to the final minute -- they roll with a jailbreak D and timely O (not to mention their MVP, punter Chris Hanson). And their fiery-but-fair head coach, Jack Del Rio is the NFL (Coach of the Year x .20).

THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS

1. It was a long day of celebration Wednesday -- and a longer day of hearing about it -- in Washington, D.C., with baseball's announcement that the Montreal Expos will move to the D.C. metropolitan area in 2005. (Oh, to know what contrarian Orioles owner Peter Angelos squeezed out of his ol' pal, commissioner Bud Selig.) Amidst all the hoopla -- and let's hope the third time's the charm for baseball in the nation's capital -- D.C. mayor Anthony Williams and ESPN's Dan Patrick backed the name Washington Grays, in honor of the city's Negro League team.

Hearty kudos. That is the sanest, most dignified and most sensible idea I've heard. This is baseball's chance to permanently honor the generations of players who toiled in a league that never should've been. And the notion gets extra points for the shame it would bring on the town's pro football franchise, who in 2004 A.D. are still the indefensibly offensive Redskins.

2. NFL's Week 4 (which means the games are starting to count.) Plus, Dodgers-Giants, Angels-A's, Rockies-Astros, Braves-Cubs. Get that cable bill paid, people.

3. Guilty or not, we know one thing: Kobe Bryant's throwing of Shaq under the bus in Bryant's initial interrogation -- whether truthful or not -- was unconscionable. Hey, Jerry Buss: just watch the free agents pour into LA now ...

THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS (Non-Sporting Edition)

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1. Joe McGhee, a State Farm agent living in Jacksonville, Fla., implores me not to sleep on two teams: his beloved Miami Hurricanes, and the team of his youth, the New Orleans Saints. Joe, I like the 'Canes until they go to Virginia, and then it's over. But your Saints? I like the improved D. I like the big road win last week in St. Louis. And I really, really like QB Aaron Brooks. As for the Thought: The Blog's best to the scores of snakebitten Floridians that you and your employer are currently assisting through the hurricane madness. Let's hope the worst has come and gone.

2. First presidential debate tonight. I'll do my best to keep The Blog apolitical, but let's just say a verbal set-to between the world's least charismatic human and a walking malaprop will make for great fender-bender TV: no one gets hurt, you can't take your eyes off it, and the clearer you see, the harder you laugh.

3. Based on the responses, most of you were slightly intrigued by ABC's crash-survivors-on-an-island-with-something-scary drama, LOST. "It was entertaining for the first 20 minutes [in a] Jurassic Park way. The writing was subpar and the characters are total cliches ... still worth watching," wrote Michael from Louisville, Ky. While former airplane mechanic Rick in Warner Robins, Ga., had problems with the unrealistic crash sequence, Mike Stutz of L.A. said: "LOST is a really good new show and the best way to describe the Dodgers' season." (Amen, brother.) I caught the second episode last night, and while I agree with all of the above, I'll be back next week.

Reality Roundup

Shame on all of you for not demanding that I watch the thoroughly engrossing A&E series, Growing Up Gotti. The Dapper Don's three punk grandkids speaking English with an accent so L.I.-ese that they require subtitles. Mom Victoria employing a driver just slow enough to find her (and her brood's) frequent outbursts uproariously funny, making him the most brilliant meta-character in reality-TV history. She trying to convince us that her career as a STAR gossip columnist/novelist is legit (even as her boss holds her in utter, eye-rolling contempt). I finally saw this two nights ago, and needless to say: I'm in. I'm all in. ... I miss my Amish. ... Did you see Jacinda Barrett -- the daffy Australian model from Real World: London -- is starring opposite Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta (no laughter, please) in the firefighter drama, Ladder 49? I say this makes her the most successful former reality star going. What do you think? And if you have any updates on other reality folk's current 411 -- where they're tending bar, parking cars, getting arrested -- let me know, for next week's Their 16th Minute segment ...

AND FINALLY ...

SI is losing one of its finest reporters -- and even finer human beings -- with the departure of John O'Keefe to the College Sports Network. Johnny O is as professional and diligent and hard-working as they come, and if you've read any of his stuff, you know he could turn a phrase or three. (All that, and a devastating mid-range J.) But he gets massive props for being able to live with -- and not kill -- Golf Digest editor Matt Ginella and myself, back when 69th and First was the place to be. He kept us in line, the bills paid, and the place spotless. A saint is what he is.

So godspeed, O-Dog. You'll be missed....

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