Monday, September 29

I want your socks

Not often enough do I get to work Weird Al references into my article titles, but the Tribe finishing their season against the two teams lamely named after the hosiery gave me just that opportunity. The Tribe headed into their final 7 games against Boston (4) and Chicago (3) with a chance to spoil both teams' October plans and get themselves to .500, which seemed unthinkable two months ago. Despite a pedestrian 3-4 record, they may have accomplished both goals.

Boston had already all but wrapped up a playoff spot, but harbored aspirations of wresting the AL East title from Tampa Bay heading into the Cleveland series. The Tribe essentially ended that with a narrow 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the series. The Tribe exploited Boston start Josh Beckett's wildness and used some timely hitting to take a 4-1 lead in the 5th, and Zach Jackson, the Raffies, and Jensen Lewis pitched out of enough jams and had to face Kevil Youkilis few enough times to pull out the W. This, coupled with TB's win that night, was basically enough to assure the Rays of the division, though they wouldn't clinch for a few more games.

The Indians lost each of the next two games 5-4, again showing how narrow the difference between a playoff team and non-playoff team can be. Each night they just couldn't scratch together quite enough hits to pull out the game. Cliff Lee suffered a rare loss in the first of the two (he's tired, no doubt), while Fausto Carmona allowed four runs while getting out three batters in his start, extending concern over how he'll perform in 2009.

In the 4th game of the series, the Indians did an excellent job of figuring out what they had planned when they landed in Chicago.

The Tribe rolled into Swirling Garbage Field facing a reeling White Sox team, a club coming fresh off of a three-game sweep of the Twins that vaulted Minnesota into the division lead by 1/2 game after Chicago having led the division for most of the year. After 2005, you have to believe the Tribe and their fans wanted to ruin the White Socks' chances of advancing to the postseason - I sure as hell did. With the Twinkies finishing their season at home against the Royals, you had to think a couple of Tribe wins would do the trick.

Game 1 pitted Tribe rookie Scott Lewis against Chicago ace John Danks. After a couple of early runs on a Ben Francisco solo shot and a Josh Barfield RBI single, Chicago roared back with four in the second off of Lewis via a buffet of home runs and Asdrubal Cabrera errors (at SS - Peralta started this one at 3B). I switched to the Presidential Debate. A Garko home run in the 4th cut it to 4-3.

Cleveland blew the game wide open in the 5th with six runs (I flipped back from the debate), with the big blows being Shin-Soo Choo (of course)'s two-run single and Ryan Garko's grand slam to deep centerfield. How do you like that Ozzie? That made the score 9-4; both teams would add runs as the game played out, but the Indians won comfortably, 11-8. Minnesota lost, keeping them 1/2 game above Chicago.

Thus it again fell to the Tribe to spoil Chicago's hopes, which they once again did with relish. The teams traded solo HR's in the first (Choo and Dye, obviously). As with the previous game, the Tribe put up six in the 5th inning via a bases-clearing double by AsCab, a two-run double from Jamey Carroll, and an RBI single by the completely ridiculous Choo. What a year for that guy! The White Socks managed to cut it to 8-6 via a couple of home runs by Paul Konerko, but the Indians put it away with three RBI singles (Peralta, Martinez, Gutierrez (2 RBI, one of whom was, of course, Choo)) in the 9th for the final 12-6 margin of victory. Once again, Minnesota lost and thus their lead remained at a half game.

Cleveland decided there was no point in starting a tired, sore Cliff Lee in an ultimately meaningless game, going with Bryan Bullington, as the White Socks went to Mark Buehrle to halt their 5-game losing streak. The Indians, as usual, opened up a 1-0 lead on an early home run (Peralta), as they did in all three games of this series. This time, however, Chicago got a strong outing from Buehrle, another home run from Konerko, and scratched together a few runs to win the game 5-1. Minny finally beat Kansas City, again leaving the White Socks 1/2 game back. Chicago hosts the Tigers today at 2 pm in a makeup game; win, and they host a one-game playoff for the Central title against Minnesota tomorrow; lose, and see you in Spring Training. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers bother to show up. I don't have a real high opinion of the character and professionalism of Detroit's club.

The playoff matchups are now set, with the exception of the AL Central, whose eventual winner will head to the Trop to take on the American League Eastern Division Champion Tampa Bay Rays (wanted to see what that looked like in print). The Red Socks will travel out west to take on the California Angels in the other series, marking the club's third postseason clash in five years. I can't stand either of these teams. Go Rays!

In the NL, CC Sabathia willed the Brewers into the playoffs with yet another complet-game victory. Milwaukee will make its first postseason appearance since 1982 in Philadelphia to take on the NL East-winning Phillies. The Cubbies will yet again pursue that elusive World Series title, hosting the LA Dodgers (record: 84-78) in the other NL matchup.

I hope to preview the playoffs and make some predictions before they start. Suffice it to say I'm rooting heavily for a Milwaukee-Tampa Bay World Series, if nothing else than to see if any Fox executives have to be institutionalized.

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