Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yes We Cain

What's up with those San Francisco Giants? Nothing. Zero.

Zero is the number of runs that pitcher Matt Cain has given up in the post-season. In the second game of the World Series he pitched brilliantly--with great stuff, but also the fortitude to get out of jams-- and left the game after 7 and 2/3 innings with the Gianst ahead 2-0.

That was enough to win the game. In fact, the solo home run hit by the Giant's #8 hitter (the magnificent veteran Edgar Renteria) was enough to win this game. A team scoring nothing in the World Series is a rarity, but it's even more astounding because Texas has come up with a gameful of zeros only five times all season.

Then in the Giants' eighth inning, the Rangers' bullpen completely imploded, walking in three runs, and allowing several hits, all with two outs in the eighth. The Giants won 9-0.

So now the Giants have won two games, and the Rangers zero. Nothing.

The Series goes to Texas for three games starting Saturday, and of course nobody knows what will happen. Will the home stadium settle their young bullpen, will their big hitters start getting big hits? The Phillies waited for that to happen, and it didn't happen. But one possibility has been erased: the Rangers won't sweep. They must win 4 of the next 5 games.

The Giants scored 11 runs in the first game, 9 in the second, both after dodging early game problems and doing most of the damage in a single late inning. None of that is actually characteristic of their season. Their winning formula is to get a couple of runs early while their pitchers hold the other team in check, and bend but not break in the late innings. The Rangers must be really confused.

If the Giants win the third game, the series is just about over. Confidence is a big part of baseball. Right now the Rangers look befuddled. If they can't channel the energy of the home crowd into effective confidence in their first game there, they're probably done. They will have left their heart in San Francisco.

On the Steelers...

The Pittsburgh Steelers' premier defensive end is out (for the season) and their other starting d.e. may not play Sunday. It's going to be very hard to stop New Orleans on a mission, primarily through the air. And if the Saints get one of their runners back, and Steelers run defense weakens to contain the pass, there could be more trouble.

On the other hand, Aaron Smith's replacement is Ziggy Hood, their #1 draft choice from last year, and this kind of a game is when stars are made. He'll probably have to be one, and the Steelers will have to do a lot of good things offensively as well as defensively.

They're capable of it, and on paper they should win this game. But it's hard to conceive of the defending champion New Orleans Saints losing at home on Halloween, which is New Orleans' signature day. My heart is with the Steelers as always, but I'm still the Big Uneasy about this game.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Big Uneasy

Talk about not making things easy--the SF Giants won the pennant over the Phillies in an excruciating sixth game. I'm sure it will be thrilling to see on replay but it was too brutal for me to watch entirely. Both teams left so many on base, so many opportunities and failures, along with a few key successes, and some luck. I guess I'm too old for this.

Now the Giants face the Texas Rangers in the World Series, another team with good pitching but better hitting, and again the Giants are the decided underdog. Anything can happen in this series--they could be swept, they could sweep, and everything in between.

Meanwhile, the Steelers won an uncomfortably tight game in Miami, as they move into the meat of the season, facing their toughest opponents and (not coincidentally) playing Sunday and Monday night games on national TV. The signs of this game weren't good. More than signs--they lost one of their key defensive players, defensive end Aaron Smith to what may be a season-ending and even career-ending injury. They simply haven't been able to win consistently without him for the past several seasons. He's a big loss, and the defense diminishes significantly.

Sunday's game wasn't a good one for the offensive line either, and that doesn't bode well. Big Ben still had some rust, and that can't become bad habits.

The Steelers play at New Orleans next Sunday night, and the Saints were embarrassed this Sunday by of all teams the Cleveland Browns. So the Saints are likely to play their best game, maybe above their best game, against the Steelers. This is going to be a tougher game for the Steelers than it might seem. The Saints must know that if they don't win it, their season is pretty much over.

Tracking the response and reaction to the blows to the head "controversy": the consensus among the TV commentators I heard was that players avoided such illegal hits without noticeably changing the game this week, and that avoiding those hits is good for the game. So after a week in which the contrary view got aired--that football can't survive this, that players can't figure out how to play without committing these hits--this seems now to be a firm consensus. And it is a good thing. Let's hope it continues. Bob Costas (I think it was) even made my point--that today's hitting is more violent and causes more injuries than in the past, in the 70s specifically of the Steelers great teams, and nobody can claim that wasn't football.