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Quick hits on Yankees' Game Three loss

JoeG We have a series now in the ALCS after the Angels' 5-4, 11-inning win Monday. Here's this corner's view from the couch on another epic:

1). Paging Joe Girardi: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? David Robertson got the win in Game Two. He got out of a bases-loaded jam against the Twins in the division series. He's hot, the revelation of the Yankees' bullpen in October. And you take him out with two out/no on in the 11th for Alfredo Aceves? As they say on Twitter, epicfail.

Girardi was probably due to lose one like this. He's been overmanaging his pen all postseason and stupid baserunning mistakes (think Nick Punto in Game Two of the DS and Bobby Abreu today) keep bailing the Yankees out. Their luck ran out. This is the third game Girardi has run through everybody except Chad Gaudin.

2). What a huge missed chance for the Yankees. A 3-0 lead in the fifth -- and it was nearly 5-0 as A-Rod was a couple of feet short of his second homer later in the inning. Yes, I know what happened in 2004. But if the Yankees got this series to 3-0, it was over. Now? Wide open.

3). What did Girardi tell Pettitte and Posada at the mound just before Vlad Guerrero's game-tying homer in the 6th? How could two veterans make such a big mistake in a big spot? You hear a lot of scuttle around the Yankees that A.J. Burnett is on to something with Posada and wasn't afraid to speak up because he was new to the team.

4). Mariano Rivera is simply the best relief pitcher in history and the unquestioned MVP of the Yankees' franchise since 1996.

5). Time of game for the last two -- 5:10 and 4:21. Wow.

6). I wonder how much time Joba Chamberlain might see in Scranton next year. He just doesn't look like he has a clue. You worry they've ruined him.

7). CC pitching Game Four on short rest one day after Girardi blows through seven relievers. Hmmm. Wonder how that will play out.

8). Yankees 0 for 8 in RISP situations for the second straight game and 3 for 28 in the series. That has to improve. Mark Teixeira has been great with the glove but 1 for 13 at the plate doesn't cut it.

9). Mike Scioscia walks A-Rod with two out and nobody on. Guess he didn't havve much faith in Brian Fuentes after Game Two. Great move.

10). Does Fox really need the series status at the upper right for every second of the game?

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Live from the Bronx: Yankees-Angels II

NEW YORK -- Better hurry up and get this one in. Lots of green blobs on the radar to the south and southwest of us here. Shoulda been a day game and this would be no issue. OK, enough about that for now. The lineups:

Angels: Figgins, 3b; Abreu, rf; Hunter, cf; Guerrero, dh; Morales, 1b; Rivera, lf; Izturis, 2b; Napoli, c; Aybar, ss....Saunders, p

Yankees: Jeter, ss; Damon, lf; Teixeira, 1b; Mr. Kate Hudson, 3b; Matsui, dh; Swisher, rf; Cano, 2b; Cabrera, cf; Molina, c....Burnett, p

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

End-1st: No score. The Angels stranded a two-out double after Figgins struck out to fall to 0 for 17 in the postseason. The Yankees went down 1-2-3 although Damon's high drive to right fell just short of the wall. Just like Cano's last night, a ball that was surely outta here most nights this year died on the track. It was 47 degrees at the first pitch, two degrees warmer than last night.

End-2nd: Yankees take a 1-0 lead as Swisher works a two-out walk on a full-count pitch (Saunders was not happy with Laz Diaz behind the plate) and Cano pulled an RBI triple to right-center on an 0-2 pitch. Great piece of hitting. More sloppy D by the Angels as Izturis dropped the relay in short right and might have had a shot at Cano at third.

Jeter End-3rd: Jeter takes a 2-0 fastball that was up and away and sends it up and away the other way to right for a 2-0 Yankees lead (gets high-five from ARod, left). His sixth career LCS home run, 19th career postseason home run. That passes Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle who had 18. Of course, they didn't have the division series either and Mantle didn't have the LCS. Jeter cut it through the wind without a lot of loft. Jeter is also third on the all-time postseason list with 19 HRs; Manny Ramirez has 29, Bernie Williams 22.

WP Mid-5th (halfway home): The Angels tie it 2-2 in a loooooooooooong half-inning that doesn't help our chances if, in fact, it's going to rain at some point soon. An RBI single by Aybar drove in first run and he scored the second on a wild pitch (right) with the crowd roaring on a 1-2 delivery to Guerrero. The fans were up for lots of two-strike pitches in that inning. I covered a ton of games at the old place the last 10 years and this one is pretty close in terms of noise intensity. Not there yet. But close. Burnett has thrown 90 pitches (60 strikes) in five innings. He threw 33 in that inning alone.

End-5th: The Yankees opened with singles by Cabrera and Molina but did not score. Jeter hit into a double play -- or did he? -- and Damon struck out. The replay (again) showed Jeter clearly safe as the ball was nowhere near the glove of Kendry Morales and Jeter's foot was on the bag. Bill Miller on the blown call at first. The umpires continue to be brutal. Look for more on that topic in Sunday's Inside Baseball column. Gotta have a Donn Denkinger type of faux pas in our future in the World Series the way this month is going.

Mid-7th: It remains 2-2 and Burnett left with one out after Cano bobbled a routine grounder to second for an error. Phil Coke is on and we could all use an oven here to get some heat. Burnett threw 114 pitches, 75 strikes. CC Sabathia threw 113 last night. The Angels eventually loaded the bases but Joba Chamberlain got Vlad Guerrero with a wicked slider and pumped his fast across the white linee on the way back to the dugout. that might have been the Angels' best chance.

Mid-8th: A stunning error by Jeter on a sure DP ball to end the inning didn't cost the Yankees. With runners at first and second, Phil Hughes struck out pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr. Mariano Rivera then retired Aybar on a first-pitch grounder. Angels went for it in that inning by pinch-hitting Matthews and running Reggie Willets and didn't get rewarded.

End-8th: Yanks go down 1-2-3 and it's tied going to the ninth. Guess what? At 11:07 with two out, it started raining. Remember, the latest forecast was heavy heavy stuff around midnight or so? Will we be done in time?

12:15 a.m. update: Obviously, we've had to focus on stuff for the print edition. But that baby is in bed through 10 innings and this baby is still going. The Angels took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th on an RBI single by Figgins, who snapped an 0-for-18 slump by lashing one to left off Alfredo Aceves. But the Yankees just tied it in the bottom of the inning as A-Rod drove an 0-2 pitch from  Brian Fuentes the other way over the wall in right to tie it again at 3-3. Crazy game. We're going to the 12th. And the rain is getting harder and harder. MLB officials must be absolutely croaking.

Going to the 13th: David Robertson got out of a two-on, two-out jam by striking out Matthews. In the bottom of the 12nd, the Yankees loaded the bases for A-Rod but there was no heroics in back-to-back innings as he flied out to center.

An A-Rod note: The good folks at baseball-reference.com point out that A-Rod's home run in the 11th was just the third in history that tied a postseason game. The others were by Houston's Billy Hatcher in the 14th inning of their 16-inning loss to the Mets in Game Six of the 1986 NLCS and by Cleveland's Albert Belle in the 11th inning of their 13-inning win over Boston in Game One of the 1995 ALDS. I was in the house for that one as well; Belle flexed his biceps from the dugout at Sox manager Kevin Kennedy, who wanted his bat checked for cork.

Yankees win: Jerry Hairston scores in the bottom of the 13th on a foolish Izturis throwing error to produce a 4-3 final. Many press box denizens who had wakeup calls scheduled in the next four hours are thrilled.

(Photos: Associated Press)

In the House: No rain

NEW YORK -- Things are looking better for Game Two of the ALCS tonight in the Bronx. I arrived at the stadium about 3 p.m. and there's no rain and no tarp on the field. It's cloudy and breezier than last night but a little warmer too with temperatures pushing 50. Both of these teams want to get this one in but the contingency plan is set for a 4:30 start on Sunday if they don't.

What is not yet decided is if they would then play Game Three Monday in Anaheim as planned or use Monday as a travel day and shelve the Wednesday off day currently scheduled. The forecasts for tonight are improving, with that 70 and 80 percent chance of rain not hitting until after 10 p.m. Frankly, things look much worse tomorrow with the chance of rain listed as 90-100 percent in some spots. Keep that in mind for the Bills-Jets game across the Hudson in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

No weather trouble yet

NEW YORK -- It's cloudy but clear right now as we're a few hours away from the scheduled 7:57 start of Game Two of the ALCS. The forecast is not good with a 90 percent chance of rain and up to an inch expected in some spots. We'll see if we're in for a long night at the ballpark like we spent last year in Philadelphia for Game Three of the World Series.

We dodged the first bullet getting the Yankees' Game One victory in without delay. We'll see how this one goes.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Live from the Bronx: Yankees-Angels I

NEW YORK -- Well, we've survived weather wise to this point but at 7:40, the rain has started at Yankee Stadium. At this point, it looks like we're going to at least begin Game One of the ALCS. Keep it here all night as I provide updates and unclutter whatever thoughts are in my mind on this one.  First off, the lineups:

Los Angeles: Chone Figgins, 3b; Bobby Abreu, rf; Torii Hunter, cf; Vladimir Guerrero, dh; Juan Rivera, lf; Kendry Morales, 1b; Howie Kendrick, 2b; Jeff Mathis, c; Erick Aybar, ss....P: John Lackey

New York: Derek Jeter, ss; Johnny Damon, lf; Mark Teixeira, 1b; Alex Rodriguez, 3b; Hideki Matsui, dh; Jorge Posada, c; Robinson Cano, 2b; Nick Swisher, rf; Melky Cabrera, cf...P: CC Sabathia.

I spent 23 minutes stuck in a stadium elevator today after Joe Girardi's press conference. For $1.5 billion, guess they don't have quality materials. I posted some of those shenanigans earlier today on my Twitter page. Pretty small press elevator too. Only 12 of us on it and maybe room for two or three more is all. At least the box lunches for the media had good chocolate chip cookies.

Onward.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Cano 1st inning: Cano (left) and Teixeira are wearing ski masks. I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm from Buffalo but it's not THAT cold. That said, the wind is picking up and that's not a good thing. The Legends seats are disgracefully empty as the high rollers are staying mostly inside. But what a weird scene to be at an ALCS and see tons of empty seats right by the field. No different than it's been all year here. One of the great spectacles in baseball is the roll call greeting at Yankee Stadium by the folks in the right field bleachers, who scream each player's name in unison until they respond with a wave. RF Nick Swisher went a step further with a full turn and military style salute.

The first pitch to Chone Figgins, a called strike, was at 7:58 and it's 45 degrees. Sabathia gives up a Hunter single and no more. The Yankees take a 2-0 lead on a sac fly by A-Rod and an RBI single by Matsui. But the latter has a huge asterisk. Matsui lofted a routine pop up for the third out and Aybar just stood and watch it land in front of him as Figgins did the same. Lackey was openly furious on the mound too. As well he should be. Earlier in the inning, Rivera threw a Damon single to left into no-man's land and gave up an extra base. Hey Angels: Fundamentals?

Abreu End-3rd: We're flying along with the Yankees still holding their 2-0 lead. Sabathia has retired nine of 11, giving up two harmless singles. Lackey had a 1-2-3 seconds but gave up singles to Teixeira and A-Rod in the third but got Matsui on a grounder. Sabathia has four strikeouts, including Abreu twice (in the third, left) Figgins has also gone down and is 0 for 14 with seven Ks in the postseason. No way to be for a leadoff man.

Mid-4th: The Angels pull within 2-1 but it looks like it's going to be impossible to hit one out tonight to left center. Guerrero just torched one and was in his trot but it didn't make it into the bullpen and he settled for a double. He moved to third on a Rivera grounder and scored when Morales looped a 94-mph fastball on the first pitch from Sabathia into center.

Halfway home (mid-5th): Yankees holding their 2-1 lead as Sabathia throws a 1-2-3 fifth. Angels have four hits, Yankees have six.

Arod crash End-5th: Yankees take a 3-1 lead on Matsui's RBI single to left-center but A-Rod runs through the stop sign and is a dead duck at home (Mathis held on through a tough collision, left). What was A-Rod doing there? Hmmm. It's taken Lackey 96 pitches through five innings. Does he get another?

Mid-6th: I'm anti instant replay for base calls and here's why: Torii Hunter bunts, Sabathia gets his big butt to the ball and whirls to first. Teixeira stretches to the toes. Is he on the bag or not? Ump Laz Diaz (a noted dope btw) calls him out. The Angels, esp. Hunter and Mike Sciosica, go wild. Replay is tough-tough to tell. Sabathia at 80 pitches. Lackey back out there.

End-6th: Yankees take a 4-1 lead on a gift run. Cabrera walks to with two out, takes second when Lackey's pickoff throw gets away and scores on the next pitch when Jeter singles and the ball goes under Hunter's glove. That's three errors for the Halos. I missed when the Chico's Bail Bonds logo got put on their uniforms for this series. Lackey relived by Bulger. 5 2/3 9-4-2-3-3 (114/65)

End-8th: Our annual reminder as we head through the postseason that you might get more sparse updates in the last couple innings as we get the print product rolling. It's Enter Sandman time as Mariano Rivera is coming in with the Yankees still up, 4-1.

It's over: Sinatra playing as Yanks wrap up a 4-1 win to take a 1-0 lead in the series. On to the clubhouse.

(Photos: Associated Press)

No rain at Yankee Stadium -- yet

NEW YORK -- Inside Pitch is in the house at the new Yankee Stadium for Game One of the ALCS between the Yankees and Angels and it features those two words all baseball writers dread: Weather permitting.

Right now at least, the weather will permit the show to go on. A little more than four hours before the first pitch, there is no rain and a light breeze with cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s. The tarp is not on the field and screens and cages are set up for batting practice so we'll see how things go for our scheduled 7:57 p.m. start (on FOX).

The forecast has improved a little for tonight with a 50 percent chance of scattered showers but it's getting much worse for Game Two tomorrow night, with the latest Weather.com advisory calling for a 90 percent chance of rain and at least a half-inch or more. Ugly.

6:20 update: All systems go for Game One. The breeze has calmed down and still no rain. The only surprise in the starting lineup is Nick Swisher batting eight for the Yankees. It's a surprise because he's just 5 for 43 in his career against Angels starter John Lackey. One of those hits was a home run and manager Joe Girardi said video of the last two years showed several hard-hit balls by Swisher off Lackey so they went with him. No other major news pregame. Lots of chatter about the cold, about tomorrow's weather. We're just in a holding pattern on that one.

I'll start an in-game thread in the 7:30 range, when Fox comes on the air. First pitch, remember, is set for 7:57.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

The LCS picks: Mine and yours

Pretty hard to believe it's been five years since the Yankees have gone to the ALCS but that's the fact: They haven't been there since that historic choke to the Red Sox in 2004. They open Friday night in the House that Jeter Built against the Angels in what should be a fascinating series. The Yanks have power at the plate and power on the mound, the Halos have speed on the bases and heavy hearts as they play for the memory of late pitcher Nick Adenhart. Manager Mike Scioscia won a World Series in 2002 and has been a playoff regular; Joe Girardi is in his first run as a postseason skipper.

I think the series comes down to two things: The Yankees' offense and Mariano Rivera. Both teams have quality starting pitching that bears some question marks. But the Yankees have too many big bats. And Los Angeles closer Brian Fuentes tends to put a lot of men on base, a dangerous way to work against the Yankees lineup. Rivera, on the other hand, is an ageless wonder still in shutdown mode. Look at all the closer blowups in the division series. He had nary a trouble spot. I think there's going to be at least one cream-pie rally off Fuentes. My pick is Yankees in six.

In the NLCS, the Dodgers were challenged only in Game Two by the slumping Cardinals so their rotation is set for their rematch with the Phillies. Joe Torre & Co. has revenge on its mind from last year's five-game defeat but I'm not expecting this one to go much better. Manny Ramirez has been relatively quiet with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier the big bats to watch. The Phillies, meanwhile, have that amazing middle of the order and terrific starting pitching. The bullpen is certainly iffy but if Brad Lidge pitches as he did against the Rockies, it will feel like 2008 for him again and not the nightmare that's been most of '09. The rematch is a repeat. I'm going with the Phillies in five.

So I'm going with the Yankees and Phillies in an Amtrak series. Maybe you'll take the Angels and Dodgers in a Freeway Series. Make your selections below and feel free to chat up the LCS. I'll be in New York for all games at Yankee Stadium in this round so follow our coverage in the blog, online and in the print editions.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)


No late nights on LCS schedule

Bud Selig promised some better times in this year's postseason schedule and at least MLB has delivered for the League Championship Series even though all these off days should be cut way back. According to the schedule announced late Tuesday afternoon, no LCS game starts later than 8:07 Eastern time except for a potential Game Seven of the ALCS. That would go Oct. 25 at 8:20.

It should be more of the same for the World Series. As announced last winter, at least five of the seven games are expected to start at 7:57.

The Phillies-Dodgers series is on TBS and will actually be two games old before the Yankees-Angels set gets under way Friday on Fox.

For all you Yankee fans out there, here's the ALCS rundown:
Game 1, Friday, Oct 16 in New York, 7:57
Game 2, Saturday, Oct. 17 in New York, 7:57
Game 3, Monday, Oct. 19 in Anaheim, 4:13
Game 4, Tuesday, Oct. 20 in Anaheim, 7:57
Game 5, Thursday, Oct. 22 in Anaheim, 7:57
Game 6, Saturday, Oct. 24 in New York, 4:13 or 8:07 (if NLCS is over)
Game 7, Sunday, Oct. 25 in New York, 8:20

Here's the NLCS schedule:
Game 1, Thursday, Oct. 15 in Los Angeles, 8:07
Game 2, Friday, Oct. 16, in Los Angeles, 4:07
Game 3, Sunday, Oct. 18 in Philadelphia, 8:07
Game 4, Monday Oct. 19 in Philadelphia, 8:07
Game 5, Wenesday, Oct. 21 in Philadelphia, 8:07
Game 6, Friday, Oct. 23 in Los Angeles, 8:07
Game 7, Saturday, Oct. 24 in Los Angeles, 8:07

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Yankees' ALCS rotation: Three or four?

The Yankees still have time to make up their minds but Joe Girardi apparently told the New York media today on a conference call that he may in fact stick with a three-man rotation for the ALCS that begins Friday night in the Bronx against the Angels.

That would mean CC Sabathia could pitch in Games 1, 4 and 7, A.J. Burnett could go in 2 and 5 and Andy Pettitte could go in 3 and 6. It seems to be a question of using Chad Gaudin in Game 4 because Joba Chamberlain is likely to stay in the bullpen. Play Girardi's role below. What would you do?

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Drama in Denver caps division series

Phils Pretty amazing game Monday night in Denver to draw the Division Series round to a close. The Phillies showed why they're the defending champions by rallying for three runs in the top of the ninth -- after giving up three runs in the bottom of the eighth -- and held on for a 5-4 win over the Rockies to close the series in four games.

So we had three sweeps and one four-gamer in the first round but each series had at least one fantastic finish and the Phils-Rox had a double dose of drama once they hit frigid Denver. A big story in the opening round was the failure of closers. Jonathan Papelbon, Huston Street, Joe Nathan and Ryan Franklin all flamed out when their teams needed them most. Makes you appreciate Mariano Rivera come October even more.

We'll have plenty more later in the week on the LCS (Phils-Dodgers opens Thursday in LA and I'll be on hand for Yankees-Angels I and II Friday and Saturday in the Bronx). But for now, give a quick look back to the ALDS and NLDS with a vote in our poll below.

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

(Photo: Associated Press)

It's postseason time: Who wins it all?

The playoffs begin at today at 2:30 with Game One of the Rockies-Phillies series. Be sure to check our complete preview in today's paper and vote in our polls for the ALDS and NLDS. But as we head toward the first pitch of the postseason, give us a preliminary thought on who is going to win it all.

The Yankees getting No. 27? The Red Sox cementing team of the decade with their third title in six years? The Cardinals, Angels or Phillies tying Boston with their second of the decade? The upstart Rockies? The Dodgers' first crown since 1988, further adding to the legend of Joe Torre?

Make your pick. Even leave a comment or two on where you think Inside Pitch is going to be for the Fall Classic

---Mike Harrington

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

The Rays do it

Rays_cel_2The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Series. Think how bizarre that sounds. But there's no arguing how good the Rays have been all season. And it took a whole lot to survive the gut-punch of blowing a 7-0 lead in Game Five and pull out Game Seven over the Red Sox, 3-1, Sunday night.

You've got to give it up to the Red Sox but in the end, too many power arms and just enough offense pushed things Tampa Bay's way.

I want to pat myself on the back for my choice as Joe Maddon as AL manager of the year in our preseason preview section but even I thought the best the Rays could hope for was about 85 wins. And that would never be enough for the wild card with the Yankees and Red Sox above them in the AL East. So I was right on one count and wrong on another.

I'm off to Tampa/St. Pete today and we'll have full coverage of the World Series in the paper beginning on Tuesday and here on the blog. We're also planning a live chat heading into the series, tentatively Wednesday morning in the 11 a.m. range. So be sure to join me for that.

And feel free to post your reflections on the ALCS in the comments. If you're a Red Sox fan, what do you do about the likes of Jason Varitek? Tim Wakefield? Mike Timlin? Some decisions to be made for sure.

---Mike Harrington

No stopping Sox momentum

The Red Sox have won nine straight elimination games in the ALCS. Think about how absurd that is. Four in a row against the Yankees in '04. Three straight against the Indians last year. And now, two in a row against the suddenly bedeviled Rays.

You wonder if Game Seven tonight is heading for an inevitable finish. Once that momentum starts going Boston's way, it never seems to stop anymore. Who knew that Dave Roberts' stolen base four years ago would forever change history, forever change the way a franchise is viewed.

The Sox were the team that could never get the job done when it counted. Now they're the team you can't beat when it counts. Amazing turnaround. Folks in Tampa seem resigned to their fate. This Tampa Tribune column calls Thursday night's blown seven-run lead the Rays' "Bartman". Ouch.

And if they win tonight, the Sox are going to be huge favorites in the World Series. Remember, their last two trips have been sweeps and the Phillies are sitting home getting stale -- just like the Tigers and Rockies have the last two years.

--Mike Harrington

TBS outage is joke

Technical difficulties on TBS are preventing the telecast of Game Six of the ALCS. You've got to be kidding me. Bad enough I'm teetering with plane tickets to Tampa for the World Series. Now I can't even see the game?

What is this? Time Warner showing a grainy picture with wrong-score graphics of a UB or high school football game? I don't care what the reason is (the latest is a power outage at the broadcast facility in Atlanta). It's unconscionable. MLB should be dropping TBS' horrible coverage like a bad habit and these games should all be on FOX or ESPN. Think the NFL would tolerate this? What a joke.

UPDATE: TBS figured things out in the bottom of the first and got back on the air. Guess they found enough aluminum foil for their rabbit ears. Embarrassing.

---Mike Harrington

How are the Red Sox still alive?

Soxcel_2A few hours and a little sleep later, I still can't believe what I saw. The Rays are in the World Series, right? It was 7-0 in the seventh, right? How in the world is there Game Six of the ALCS coming Saturday night from the Trop?

Now, understand that Boston's ridiculous 8-7 victory will be a memorable footnote to history if the Rays still win this thing (but Sox fans will probably make it live forever the way Aaron Boone's home run lingers for the Yankees even though they lost the '03 World Series to the Marlins). But what if the Sox really do come all the way back? What if they actually go on and even win the World Series again after this? Will Dustin Pedroia's two-out RBI single in the seventh inning of a 7-0 game go down in history like Dave Roberts' stolen base in 2004?

The Rays had outscored the Sox, 29-5, in the three games at Fenway when Boston came to bat in the seventh. The unraveling was complete and wholly unexpected. Manager Joe Maddon froze (why was righty Grant Balfour pitching to David Ortiz with two on in the seventh?), the bullpen melted down and Evan Longoria made a key throwing error in the ninth to set up the winning run. It came on a J.D. Drew single that was one of two key plays in the final three innings misplayed by Rays right fielder Gabe Gross.

Rayslose This Tampa Tribune column says it was like watching the 2007 Rays and the '07 Sox. Ouch. And it reminds us that history isn't kind the rest of the series after a big choke. Think '86 Angels, '86 Buckner Sox, '02 Giants, '04 Yankees. The '03 Cubs were five outs from the World Series -- and still haven't gotten there. Will "Seven Outs Away" be the nickname for the Rays' franchise in perpetuity? The only team who survived this kind of shock was the '05 Astros, who overcame Albert Pujols' last-strike Game Five homer to win Game Six of NLCS in St. Louis.

I can only imagine the scene in the Fenway press box last night as reporters first starting making travel reservations for next week, then scrambled to get to Florida today (you can't wait on this stuff, people. You're writing your story and playing travel agent at the same time when you cover these things). I bet there are a ton of writers this morning who are a little nervous to tell their bosses they've already gone and purchased plane tickets to Tampa for the World Series.

Um, good folks at One News Plaza, I'm one of them.

---Mike Harrington

(AP Photos: Top -- J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia celebrate the game-winning hit. Bottom -- J.P. Howell and Dioner Navarro trudge off the field after the Sox comeback is complete)

Philadelphia fever

Phils_champWonder how all you Mets fans feel now that the Phillies are going to the World Series? Bet that one hurts. We haven't seen the Phighting Phils in the Fall Classic since Joe Carter's home run off Mitch Williams cleared the wall in 1993 but they're headed to either Tampa Bay or Boston -- probably Tampa, right? -- after Wednesday's decisive 5-1 win over the Dodgers.

As championship-starved cities go, there's Cleveland and Buffalo ahead of the crowd. But the most prominent one might be Philadelphia, which hasn't had a championship parade down Broad Street since the 76ers won the NBA crown in 1983. The Phillies lost the Series in '83 and '93, the Flyers lost the Stanley Cup finals to Detroit in 1997 and the Sixers were dropped in the NBA finals by the Lakers in 2001.

You have to be impressed with the Phils. Cole Hamels looks like 2008's answer to Josh Beckett, circa 2007. Jimmy Rollins hit another leadoff home run in a clinching game. Chase Utley and Shane Victorino are terrific players who are finally getting some national pub (Victorino, by the way, is one of just two visiting players to homer from both sides of the plate in a game at Dunn Tire Park -- doing it with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2005). Brad Lidge has been perfect and gets a chance to make up for his dreadful '05 performance with the Astros. Ryan Howard is, well, Ryan Howard but it would be nice if he started hitting again. And Charlie Manuel is a prince of a guy.

For more than a month, the Phillies have been the most consistent team in the NL. The Dodgers might have hit the NLCS as the hottest team but their starting pitching didn't hold up and their offense was too Manny-centric. Come next week, I'm looking forward to that cheesesteak.

---Mike Harrington

(AP Photo: Brad Lidge, front, and Scott Eyre pop their corks over the Phillies' title)

Sox keep getting burned

I'm ready to call a Rays-Phillies World Series right now (OK, that's hardly going out on a limb) but the Red Sox are unequivocally 100 percent toast. Yeah, yeah, I know what they did in '04 against the Yankees and '07 against the Tribe -- I was there for every game. But their lineup is a shell of what it once was, key guys are slumping and the starting pitching is a mess.

And here's maybe the worst part: The famed CITGO sign behind the left-field wall at Fenway got a little scorched this morning by a small fire. Talk about things going against you.

The Rays, meanwhile, are opening up all the obstructed views at Tropicana Field for any more potential ALCS games and the World Series. That's about 5,800 more seats but most have limited views because of the catwalks hanging from the ceiling.

As for the Dodgers? They might win Game Five tonight. But sweeping two more in Philly? Nope.

---Mike Harrington

Question to Red Sox fans

Does David Ortiz suddenly look old-old-old or what? Manny or no Manny, Big Papi is 0 for 10 in the ALCS,  doesn't have a home run since Sept. 22 and isn't talking about it either. I think his wrist is about as healthy as Josh Beckett's oblique.

---Mike Harrington

Rays keep surprising everyone

We know FOX wants Red Sox-Dodgers. But we're now halfway to Rays-Phillies for the World Series, which would still be full of compelling stories. Just wondering: How much could you have gotten for that matchup in Las Vegas in March? Not that I ever bet but wow.

Even though they lost Game Two, you expected the Red Sox to go home to Fenway and take care of business, especially with Jon Lester on the mound. It certainly didn't happen Monday as the Rays rolled to a 9-1 win that has to have New England in a state of near-hysteria. Lester gets shelled, Josh Beckett is a huge question mark and the Sox have to rely on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to get them through Game Four.

I know they were down, 3-1, to the Indians last year but the Sox would have to close things out in Games Six and Seven in Tampa if it gets to that point and not at cozy Fenway. They're in trouble.

HUGE game tonight for the Phillies and Dodgers. Two quick runs for the Phils in the first tonight off Derek Lowe. Let's see how Manny & Co. respond.

---Mike Harrington

Sox go deep into the night again

RaysWhat is it about the Red Sox and Saturday nights in the ALCS? It seems like a guarantee for the game to go well past the time "Saturday Night Live" signs off! In 2004, their 19-8 Game Three loss to the Yankees ended at 12:34 a.m. Little did we know that was basically the last positive game in the Yankees' postseason history, or so it seems now.

Last year, I was at Fenway Park for the Indians' 13-6, 11-inning miniseries in Game Two that ended at 1:37 a.m. -- latest finish ever for an ALCS game.

Last night, while most of you probably slept, the Sox and Rays went to the 11th inning and 1:35 a.m. before Tampa pulled out a series-evening 9-8 win on B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly to right.

The biggest thing from this one is that there is serious concern about Josh Beckett. He gave up eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. He looked like Bob Gibson last year but how is he going to pitch in Game Six or Seven if they get that far. Beckett got a painkilling shot for an oblique strain.

So the series is 1-1 heading back to Fenway for Game Three Monday. No real conclusions to draw yet. The Phillies go for the jugular today in LA, holding a 2-0 lead against the Dodgers heading to Game Three.

---Mike Harrington

(Photo: The party is on the for the Rays -- at 1:35 a.m./Associated Press)

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | [email protected]


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]

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