Notes on the Baseball Playoffs

Evan Longoria did something yesterday that had only been done once before in the history of postseason baseball. He hit a home run in his first two postseason at-bats. His first two ever at-bats in postseason play. And Longoria, the rookie who energized the Tampa Bay Rays when he joined the team back in May, sent the Rays soaring to the early 1-0 series lead over the Chicago White Sox.

Longoria gave the Rays the early lead when, on the very first pitch he faced in the postseason in the bottom of the second inning, he sent the ball into the left / centerfield seats of Tropicana to put the Rays up 1-0. Then in the bottom of the third inning, with the game tied 3-3, he sent another Javier Vazquez pitch into left to put the Rays back into the lead for good.

The Rays were much like Longoria. This was the team’s first ever postseason game, and many of the players on the team were also playing in their first postseason game. But watching the game, one wouldn’t know that the Rays were the beginners. Except for the third inning, when the White Sox got their first three runs of the game, the Rays controlled the game. So much so that, even when Chicago’s Paul Konerko homered in the top of the ninth to make the score 6-4 Tampa, objective observers knew Chicago wasn’t going to come back and win the game.

The same cannot be said for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers, who as a team haven't been to the playoffs since 1982, played the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday as if it was them, and not the Tampa Bay Rays, who were the former expansion franchise just this season winning 70-plus games for the very first time in their existence.

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That’s where CC Sabathia was supposed be the savior. Pitching on three days for the fourth straight time, Sabathia, who was lights for the Brewers at the end of the season, found himself, instead, being lit up, as he surrendered five runs on six hits – all for extra bases – in 3.2 innings of work. The Brewers managed to get two runs off of the Phillies’ Brett Myers, but that was all they could get, and with the 5-2 Philadelphia Phillies victory, the Brewers find themselves one loss away from elimination.

Speaking of elimination, how about those Chicago Cubs? The Cubs finished with the National League’s best record, and spent most of the last week of the season coasting toward the finish and lining up their rotation. But after Ryan Dempster’s lack of control from the mound put the Cubs in the hole on Wednesday, Thursday’s starter Carlos Zambrano had to be just as on the money against the Los Angeles Dodgers as he was when he threw that no-hitter against the Houston Astros.

But guess what? That didn’t happen. The Dodger bats and the Cubs field allowed the Dodgers to score five runs in the second inning and while he managed to last 6.1 innings, he left the game with the Dodgers up 6-0 in a game that they would ultimately win 10-3 to take the commanding 2-0 lead as the series heads back to Los Angeles.

NOTES FROM BASEBALL AND THE PLAYOFFS:

For those of you who don’t know much about the Tampa Bay Rays, then here’s a nice fact. The Rays had the second lowest Opening Day payroll in baseball this season. They finished tied with the Cubs for the second-best record in baseball at 97-65, and their 57-24 record was the best home record in baseball this season.

The 3.82 ERA for the Rays pitching staff was the third-best in the majors, and their 29 one-run game victories were the best in the American League this season. And after yesterday’s win, the Rays are 22-2 this season when playing before crowds of 30,000-plus in Tampa.

The White Sox came into this game having won three straight games over three different teams – Cleveland on Sunday, Detroit in the rain-out makeup on Monday, and Minnesota on Tuesday. And better, because it looks as if neither will be lasting long, this is the first time that both Chicago teams have been in the same postseason together since 1906.

****************** CC Sabathia was pitching yesterday on three-day’s rest for the fourth straight time. In the first three of those outings, Sabathia was 2-1 with a 0.83 ERA. So I guess we can say the record’s not going to look so great now.

With the win, the Phillies are now 6-0 in Citizen’s Bank Park against the Brewers this season. But that record doesn’t matter now as the next two games are set for Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

***************** It should be noted that the Cubs haven’t won a postseason game since game four of the 2003 NLCS against the Florida Marlins. As we all remember, the Marlins went on to win that series, then defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.

And here’s some more depressing news for you Cubs fans. The game one winner in 24 of the 28 all-time NLDS matchups has won the series. And with the Cubs down 2-0 to the Dodgers, I wouldn’t count on that number changing.

***************** The Cubs/Dodgers and Brewers/Phillies are taking today off. Mark Buerhle takes the mound for the White Sox today at 5:00, and he matches up against Scott Kazmir. In the late game from the West Coast, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitches for the Red Sox while Ervin Santana tries to save the Angels season. – John Royal

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