Posted: Friday September 29, 2006 12:05PM; Updated: Saturday September 30, 2006 1:44AM
Andy Pettitte may have a chance to pitch Houston into the playoffs on Sunday.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Houston at Atlanta, 1:05 p.m. Almost exactly 10 years ago, the 1996 World Series opened with Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees facing John Smoltz of the Braves -- and Pettitte was knocked out in the third inning, allowing seven runs. Wouldn't it be something if this potential rematch put Pettitte's (current) team in the playoffs? It won't be easy, if it comes to that: The 39-year-old Smoltz, who allowed one run in six innings of Game 1 in the '96 Series, has a 1.17 ERA in his past three starts.
Philadelphia at Florida, 1:05 p.m. If the Phillies are still alive at this point, with their fans spending day after day on the edge of their seats, everyone will be practically falling over this matchup between Brett Myers of Philadelphia and Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins. Myers, pilloried after his arrest for assault against his wife earlier this year, could give Philadelphia a morally confusing celebration if he somehow pitches them into the playoffs.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 1:35 p.m. Reds righty Matt Belisle has made one start this season. His second could be a fairy tale. I keep checking to see if someone is foolin' with me, but it's Belisle (4.24 ERA in 28 relief appearances plus the start) who stands to take the mound for Cincinnati, even with the playoffs on the line. His experience as a starting pitcher will be dwarfed by the Pirates' Shane Youman (4.30 ERA), who has two starts. If the Reds make it interesting this weekend, they really will make it interesting.
Milwaukee at St. Louis, 2:15 p.m. Chris Carpenter was doing it. He was pitching the Cardinals out of their tailspin. The defending NL Cy Young award winner and a top candidate again this season, Carpenter entered the seventh inning of Tuesday's game against the Padres with a 5-2 lead. Reluctant to trust anyone else, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa left Carpenter in even as he began faltering, and Carpenter gave up four runs and the ball game -- at the cost of 122 pitches. If desperation time strikes again, what will La Russa do? The Brewers will complicate matters by throwing 22-year-old rookie Carlos Villanueva (3.97 ERA), who shut out the Cardinals over seven innings Sept. 20.
Los Angeles at San Francisco, 1:05 p.m. If the Dodgers have their druthers, scheduled starter Derek Lowe won't pitch this game and instead will be tuning up for a Game 1 postseason start. To be sure, Dodgers druthers don't include facing Jason Schmidt (3.56 ERA, seventh in the NL), a steady nemesis who held Los Angeles to three runs over 15 1/3 innings in two August starts.
San Diego at Arizona, 1:40 p.m. Has San Diego wrapped it up yet? If not, then look out, because here comes a pitcher capable of turning the Padres upside down: Brandon Webb, 2006 NL ERA leader (2.88) and Cy Young favorite. Not to be intimidated, 40-year-old Woody Williams (3.57 ERA) will pitch for San Diego, having allowed five runs over his past 24 innings.
San Francisco at St. Louis? That's right, 18 games over three days, and it still might not be enough. On Sept. 17, the Giants and the Cardinals were rained out in St. Louis. It seemed inconsequential, until the Cardinals lost eight of their next 10 games. If Houston or Cincinnati are within a half-game of St. Louis when the sun sets Sunday, the Giants will grudgingly board a plane to play this makeup contest -- with ex-Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris (4.98 ERA) potentially taking the hill against Anthony Reyes (4.68 ERA).
Cincinnati at Houston? Los Angeles at Philadelphia? San Diego at Los Angeles? San Diego at Philadelphia? If any of these pairings are tied for a single remaining playoff spot, they may extend our Monday pleasure (or exhaustion).
A three-way tie between the Dodgers, Padres and Phillies would force a Monday-Tuesday playoff. After San Diego played at Los Angeles to decide the NL West champion Monday, the loser would travel to Philadelphia to battle for the NL wild card Tuesday.
Meanwhile, if after Monday the Cardinals are tied with the Astros or the Reds, their playoff game will come Tuesday. (St. Louis would host the Reds but travel to Houston.) And if somehow there's a Gordian knot of three teams in the NL Central, two of them will play Tuesday: either St. Louis or Houston at Cincinnati, or St. Louis at Houston. (The Reds have the apparent advantage thanks to having the best record in head-to-head play among the three teams.) And after that, believe it or not, we'd go to ...
... and the team that didn't play Tuesday would play the team that played and won Tuesday.
At which point we'd all collapse -- except that playoff time would just be starting, after a regular season we might not soon forget.