Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. The Human Factor. And, no, I don't mean the vague good-guy group from The Children of Men that was supposed to pick up that young gal and her baby girl and take them to safety aboard some future skiff. I mean the way that even when the institution of instant-replay raises the hackles of the purists out there in the baseball world there is a perfect reminder that America's pasttime will always be at the mercy of human error and human judgement. After the completion of a lights-out complete game shutout by Brewers ace, and my NL Cy pick, CC Sabathia all anyone could talk about was official scorer Bob Webb's ruling on a play in the fifth inning. The scorer ruled the play, during which Sabathia hustled (which is a relative speed when we're talking about not-missing-meals CC) to his right off the mound and misplayed didn't play cleanly a dribbler off the bat of Andy LaRoche of the Pirates, as a hit rather than error. LaRoche was the lead-off batter of the inning and Sabathia naviagted the rest of the frame with ease. No harm. No foul. Or so it seemed at the time. Until Sabathia mowed down the rest of the Pittsburgh lineup without allowing a hit. The controversial "hit" was the only one standing between the pitcher and his no-hitter. And, just so you know, no-hitters are a big deal. The Mets, for example, don't have a single one in the history of the franchise. So, you don't want to be letting them get away when you think you've got one. Not surprisngly, the Brewers made a lot of noise and have lodged a request to have the call changed. Which is great and I hope it works out. But it's besides the point. The point is that baseball is a game defined by the human factor. At it's heart it is a game of balls and strikes. No matter how many home runs or foul balls or Jeffrey Maier-ed plays are changed due to replay there will never be anything that replaces the fellow (or perhaps eventually the lady) behind the plate calling the game. And, then, on the secondary level you've got the official scorer ruling from up in the press box on every play that occurs. Those rulings, going on generally without a thought given to them by fans, make up the game that lives on in the history books. That game is entirely built upon the reality one individual creates in the area of the strike zone. Moreover, those scorers' rulings springing from the game that emerges from each home plate umpire's defintion of that zone are what create the numbers on the baseball cards or in the fantasy leagues. For better and for worse and for better, baseball is not a game with yard markers judging progress and endless procedural penatlies. It is a game of opinion and idiosyncracy. Just ask CC.

2. Cliff Lee. A year ago yesterday Lee made it back to the Indians' Big League roster along with a handful of September callups. He'd been demoted for all-around unimpeachable awfulness. Yesterday he became the first Major Leaguer to reach 20 wins this season after tossing a complete-game shutout. He's got the AL Cy Young all but on his mantle and has me (and likely many others) firmly esconced in first place in a fantasy baseball league.

3. College Football Overtime. Just when the cloying Sunday-night depression of Monday night was wrapping its burly arms around my sore-from-swimming shoulders there was a brisk, boozy breeze from Saturday that gave me, and us all, a reprieve from thoughts of imminent work and the discomfort of our day jobs. It was the Tennessee/UCLA game on ESPN. Or, it was the fourth quarter of that game and the ensuing overtime period. It was the wild, back-and-forth exchanges between Rick Neuheisal's Bruins and Phil Fulmer's Volunteers, highlighted by the night-and-day turnaround from third-string UCLA signal caller Kevin Craft, who after gifting the Vols four picks in the first half turned in some stellar play late in the game, including a two-minute drive to pull ahead with just 27 seconds remaining. Of course, it would have been great if this game would have gone several overtime sessions rather than ending on a missed field goal almost before it got started. But, complaining about that would be greedy as this game was a wonderful reminder of what is still to come.

4. Mike Westhoff. He's back. Who is he? Don't worry about it. Just be glad he's back. At least if you're a Jets fan. Westy was/is the New York Jetropolitans Special Teams Coach and is returning to the team after a break to battle his bone cancer. He's just finished off his ninth such surgery.

5. Chris Simms. Few players that were left off the pared down NFL rosters were as happy as Christopher Simms out of the University of Texas by way of Franklin Lakes, NJ. After a tumutlous five seasons and a sixth training camp aboard the privateering Gruden, berthed in Tampa - during which he quarterbacked the Bucs to a playoff berth and aloso had his spleen busted - he has walked down the plank. And, according to the Times, he couldn't be happier. Coincidentally, the New York Football Giants, where Chris's dad made his name have an opening at third string QB. I'd have to think, however, that Chris had no interest in being the guy who holds the clipboard guy's clipboard. He wants on the field and must believe he can regain his 2005 form when he was one dropped pass from a come-from-behind playoff win. I'd imagine Baltimore, who just named Joe Flacco the Game 1 starter, might take a look.