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Cardinals reliever/moustache aficionado Axford on Red Sox beards: 'They got a lot of crazy facial hair going on over there'

BeardsBy Mike Harrington

BOSTON -- You've heard plenty already about beards and facial hair as the Red Sox have made their run to the World Series. Guys like Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli have been growing hunting season beards that the fans love -- and the players love to tug at as a way of congratulations.

Who better to ask about facial hair than Cardinals reliever John Axford? The former Canisius College pitcher had a moustache that became the talk of Milwaukee when he was the closer for the Brewers from 2009-2001 -- and even won awards for its pizzazz.

"They got a lot of crazy facial hair going on over there," Axford said with a laugh today during the Cardinals' Media Day in Fenway Park. "I tried to dabble in a beard at the beginning of the season and ended up shaving it off. .,.. It looks like they're having fun with it over there, which is my thing too. That's what I do with my facial hair too. They're enjoying it."

Axford had a good laugh when asked by a Milwaukee reporter who covered him during his Brewers days about the huge beard being grown by Sox slugger Mike Napoli, a mane "big enough for a family of five" as the questioner commented.

""It looks good. Some of these guys were thinking ahead for Halloween also," Axford said. "When that day comes, we might all have pretty good costumes to go with that facial hair."

What does Axford think of all the Boston beard tugging?

"You see the best and worst of each other all the time in that locker room. You're intimate, close, family. Facial hair is no big deal when you tug on that," he said. "It's close and personal. I'm sure a lot of people would look at it and say why, but when you're teammates and you're playing together, especially on this big a stage, you get that close intimacy of a family. It's no big deal. It's cool."

(Photo outside Fenway souvenir shops of player beard designs, left to right -- Top row: Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Brandon Workman, Jonny Gomes; Middle row: David Ross, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, John Lackey; Bottom row: Mike Carp, Shane Victorino, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster

Live from Beantown, Welcome to World Series Media Day

Fenway
The Yawkey Way entrance to Fenway Park is quiet Tuesday morning.

By Mike Harrington

BOSTON -- Greetings from Beantown! I'll be on hand this afternoon at Fenway Park to get the lowdown as the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals chat it up on the eve of their World Series opener.

WSlogoIt's MLB's fifth annual World Series Media Day, where the teams get a break from having reporters crowding into their clubhouse for a day and instead meet them en masse, Super Bowl style. We started this in 2009 at the Great Hall of Yankee Stadium, a tremendous visual that went over so well with all parties involved that baseball has opted to continue doing it each year.

This year, we're gathering in the State Street Pavilion at Fenway, an elite club seating area in the upper deck near the press box featuring plenty of old photos of Red Sox of the past. Here's today's schedule:

1:00-1:45 -- Cardinals group media session
2:00-3:00 -- Cardinals workout
3:00-3:30 -- Manager Mike Matheny/Game One starter Adam Wainwright in Series interview room
4:00-4:45 -- Red Sox group media session
4:50-5:00 -- Red Sox Game One starter Jon Lester
5:10-5:30 -- Red Sox manager John Farrell
5:00-6:00 -- Red Sox workout 

It's slated to be a sunny day with temperatures pushing 70. Too bad we're not opening the series this afternoon, or even tonight because the weather forecast for Game One on Wednesday night is, frankly, yukky.

The high Wednesday is only slated to be 51 degrees with a 50 percent chance of rain during the day. The rain probability drops at night but so does the temperature, which could slide into the 30s -- yes, the 30s. Brrr. 

Keep it here for plenty of news, quotes and quips all through the Series. I'll also be chirping on my Twitter feed with instant updates. 

Spirit of '46, '67, and '04 lives: Color World Series red as Boston earns spot next to St. Louis

By Mike Harrington

Another Boston grand slam (video above by Shane Victorino), more bad Detroit relief pitching and more bad Tigers baserunning. Pretty simple combination as the Red Sox posted a 5-2 win in Game Six of the ALCS Saturday night at Fenway Park to win another pennant and head to a World Series matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals that opens Wednesday night in Boston.

It will forever live as a huge what-if ALCS for the Tigers, as Mitch Albom wrote in today's  Detroit Free Press. 

This will be the teams' fourth meeting in the Series. The Cardinals won seven-game affairs in 1946 and 1967 while the Red Sox posted their memorable four-game sweep in 2004 to snap their 86-year championship drought. Amazing to think they might now win their third one in 10 years (to go with 2007) after generations of Boston fans never saw one.

Media Day at Fenway is Tuesday with Games 1 and 2 there Wednesday and Thursday nights. There's a workout day in St. Louis on Friday with Games 3-4-5 at Busch Stadium on Saturday-Sunday-Monday.

If we go past that point -- and only two of the last nine World Series have -- Oct. 29 would be an off day in Boston with Game Six on Oct. 30 and the teams hoping to spook each other in Game Seven on Halloween. (Talk about a potential security nightmare in a college town like Boston!)

This will be my 14th consecutive World Series and my 16th overall. The News has covered the Fall Classic at least since the 1970s and I'll be on hand for full coverage in print and online starting Tuesday. Look for plenty of Buffalo connections, daily podcasts, notes and quotes, lots of tweets (@BNHarrington) and even some Vines!

As Buffalo BB Hall of Famer Lovullo eyes World Series bid, Cubs eye him for manager's office

LovulloBy Mike Harrington

Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo (left), now the bench coach under ex-Bisons pitcher and Cleveland farm director John Farrell in Boston, has the biggest game of his life on tap for tonight as the Red Sox try to wrap up another trip to the World Series in Game Six of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.

But whenever Boston's season is over, Lovullo may have even more on his plate becuase his name is getting plenty of play for open managerial jobs.

There are all kinds of reports today that the Chicago Cubs want to interview Lovullo to replace the deposed Dale Sveum. Aside from being a good candidate, Lovullo goes back with Chicago GM Theo Epstein because he managed the Red Sox Triple-A farm club in Pawtucket in 2010.

The Seattle Mariners also seem interested in Lovullo to replace another former Bisons skipper in Eric Wedge. Lovullo, remember, interviewed for the Red Sox job when Bobby Valentine was hired in 2012 (that sure worked well). He's also interviewed with Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

"Right now, our focus is on what’s happening here,” Lovullo said this week in Detroit. “I would like to manage one day, but I’m not here to fast-forward anything or make it happen before its time.”

Lovullo was one of the key members of the Bisons' championship teams in 1997 and 1998, and was a regular on the 1995 team that came within one win of another title. He then managed the Herd from 2006-2008, the final three years of the Cleveland affiliation. He spent the last two years as the first-base coach in Toronto under Farrell before joining him in Boston. 

(Lovullo photo: Getty Images)

Cleveland Rocks: Postseason memories covering the Tribe

By Mike Harrington

CLEVELAND -- I'm at Progressive Field for tonight's American League Wild Card Game between the Indians and Rays (8:07 first pitch on TBS). First postseason game here since the Tribe failed to close out the Terry Francona-led Red Sox in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS. In the odd circle of life, Francona is now a first-year skipper here -- trying to will his team to a win that would send it to Fenway Park and a series against the Red Sox that opens Friday.

This is the 35th postseason game the Indians have played here since the park opened in 1994. I've been amazingly fortunate to be at every one.  Here's an off-the-top of my head list of the most memorable ones. The links are to my stories 

1995 World Series Game 3 (Indians 7, Braves 6 in 11) -- I was sitting in the right field auxiliary press box and I swear that when the Indians stormed on to the field it was like watching the same scene from the playoff game on "Major League." The movie was only six years earlier and was based on the absurd concept of the Indians winning. This was life imitating reality for the first World Series game in C-Town since 1954. Reality of the job soon set in as the game went extra innings past midnight and a guy who didn't talk to the media (Eddie Murray) got the game-winning hit. Read my story here.

1995 ALDS Game 1 (Indians 6, Red Sox 5 in 13) -- There were two rain delays, Albert Belle flexing his biceps at the Boston dugout after a game-tying home run in the 11th and, finally, a walk-off shot by Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Pena on a 3-0 pitch at 2:08 a.m. Read my story here.


1997 ALDS Game 4-5 (a horse racing-style entry of wins over the Yankees) --
Game Four was the famous Sandy Alomar tying home run off Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning and the pinball single by Omar Vizquel in the ninth to win it. Game Five was a taut thriller that ended on a fly ball to Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Brian Giles in left. You could hear the car horns honking downtown for hours.

Read the Game 4 story here.     Read the Game 5 story here. 

1998 ALCS Game 4: The Indians had the 114-win Yankees in trouble with a 2-1 lead before El Duque shut them down. Orlando Hernandez, just a few months removed from escaping Cuba, pitched a 4-0 victory that evened the series and sent the Yankees on their way to a six-game winning streak that included a World Series sweep of the Padres. Read my story here. 

1999 ALCS Game 2: The Indians blasted the Red Sox, 11-1,  in a sun-splashed late-afternoon affair to take a 2-0 lead and looked headed back to the ALCS. I can vividly recall walking down the stairs to the clubhouse with screaming fans and Springsteen's "Glory Days" pounding over the loudspeakers. It was a glory run that seemed like it would never end. But it really did when I found myself in the park four days later to see Pedro Martinez throw six no-hit innings of relief in a 12-8 Boston victory that cemented a stunning three-game comeback. 

Read my Game 2 story here.  Read my Game 5 story here. 

2007 ALDS Game 2: The midges struck from Lake Erie just as Joba Chamberlain came on to preserve a one-run lead for the Yankees in the eighth. He spit the bit on the lead and the Tribe won the game in the 11th. But all anyone remembers is the bugs. And they were everywhere. Read my buggy story here. 

Super Saturday afternoon slate in wild card races

By Mike Harrington

Today is game 161, the second-last day of the season. Here's our playoff update:

AL divisions/homefield: The Red Sox have a magic number of one to wrap up the top seed after Friday's 12-3 win over the Orioles and would thus meet the wild card winner in the division series. The Tigers would play the A's in the other series, with Oakland having home-field advantage.

AL wild card: Everyone is in action early this afternoon, with Texas hosting Los Angeles at noon, Cleveland at Minnesota at 1 and Tampa Bay at Toronto at 1. The Rays' 6-3 loss in Toronto Friday night dropped them into a tie with the Indians at 90-70, while the Rangers' win over the Angels pushed them to 89-71. Cleveland has won eight in a row, Texas has won five straight and Tampa Bay's loss Friday snapped a seven-game winning streak. All finishing very strong.

NL divisions/wild card: The Cardinals clinched the Central with Friday's win over the Cubs and are tied with the Braves at 95-65. The Dodgers (92-68) will be the No. 3 seed. The Pirates have a two-game lead on the Reds with two to play after Friday's 4-1 win in Cinci and need just one more win to clinch homefield against the Reds in the wild-card game. 

Pettitte's farewell: Nothing involving any of the races going on tonight, with the most significant game being the Yankees' 7:05 contest at Houston on YES. It will be the final start in the career of left-hander and suburban Houston resident Andy Pettitte, as John Harper sets the stage in today's New York Daily News and Ken Davidoff offers a similiar-scene setter in the Post. 

Quick thought: Doesn't Joe Girardi have to send Mariano Rivera out to pull Pettitte tonight?

Playoff scenarios for the final weekend of the season

By Mike Harrington

Games 160-161-162 will be played this weekend and there are plenty of things up for grabs. The quick list:

AL East -- The Red Sox have wrapped it up. Their magic number over Oakland to finish with the best record is 2 (Boston is at Baltimore this weekend while Oakland is at Seattle). The A's have the tiebreaker edge.

AL Central/AL West -- The Tigers and A's have already clinched divisions and will meet in the division series for the second straight year if the Red Sox finish with the best record.

AL wild cards -- Tampa Bay (90-69) leads Cleveland (89-70) by a game, with the Rays in Toronto and the Indians in Minnesota. Texas (88-71) is a game back and hosting the Angels. 

If Tampa Bay and Cleveland finish tied, the Rays would host the wild card game by virtue of their regular season record. MLB announced the following scenario today if all three teams finish tied: The Indians would host the Rays on Monday, with the winner getting one berth. The losing club would then play Tuesday in Texas, with the winner of that game getting the other wild card.

A big developing story from the Indians is that bedraggled Cleveland closer Chris Perez has apparently lost his job, with reporters in Minneapolis saying former staff ace Justin Masterson said before tonight's game he may be part of a closer-by-committee solution. Manager Terry Francona was non-commital to Perez after the Twins got four ninth-inning runs off him Thursday night. Perez is 1-1 with a 7.52 ERA and three blown saves since Aug. 1

NL divisions: The Braves (94-65) and Dodgers (91-68) have clinched while the Cardinals (94-65) have a magic number of 1 heading into tonight's home game against the Cubs. They would also clinch if the Pirates lose at home against the Reds. Atlanta owns a tiebreaker edge for homefield and it's a huge difference because the Braves enter tonight an MLB-best 54-24 at Turner Field.

NL wild card: The Pirates and Reds are meeting in Tuesday's NL one-game showdown. It's just a question if the game is at PNC Park or Great American Ballpark. The teams are meeting this weekend in Cincinnati and whoever takes two out of three games gets to host the playoff, which will be the Pirates' first postseason game since 1992.

Who wants to win the second AL wild-card? Yankees and Rays sure don't seem like they do

YanksPs
Joe Girardi (28) does his thing Saturday -- yanking another pitcher. This time, it's starter David Huff. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

Does anyone want to win the wild-card in the American League? 

Right now the Yankees and Rays sure don't seem to. The Indians and Orioles sure do. It's setting up for a bizarre final three weeks.

Here's a look at the AL wild-card standings. I think the loser of the A's-Rangers showdown for the AL West title takes one wild-card. The battle is for No. 2.

The Rays, who have lost eight of 10, have a one-game lead over both the Orioles and Indians. But Baltimore has won three straight while Cleveland has won four in a row and has an incredibly easy schedule the rest of the way that includes six games against the White Sox, four against the Twins and four against the Astros. 

Remember how the Yankees spent the first four months of the season living off their pitching, especially their bullpen, and couldn't hit a lick? It's completely turned around now. They're scoring plenty of runs and can't get anybody out. Saturday's 13-9 loss to the Red Sox marked the third straight game they've scored at least eight runs and LOST -- something they've never done in their history. Wow.

In today's Daily News, veteran columnist Bill Madden says exactly what most Yankee fans think right now -- this team is an illusion and not worthy of the postseason.  And as we head into the final few games of Mariano Rivera's career, Post columnist Joel Sherman points out that the greatest closer ever is slipping from superhuman to just very good.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are running away in the AL East with an 8 1/2-game lead. They have 54 runs on 64 hits -- including 17 homers -- in the last four games. Jeez. No wonder Jonny Gomes cracked, "We're doing it in bulk right now."

I still like the Tigers to go to the World Series out of the American League. But they need a healthy Miguel Cabrera. The Red Sox have a shaky corps of middle relievers but the Sons of John Farrell and Torey Lovullo are becoming the best story in baseball this side of the Pirates. Good stuff.

Crazy Little League HR in Toronto

Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis circled the bases tonight in Toronto with your basic "Little League home run" -- after a groundball back to Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester.

Check it out. Crazy.

From the archives: Links to today's baseball memories

Roberts
Dave Roberts' famous steal of second in the 2004 ALCS (Getty Images).


By Mike Harrington

I'll be joining Dave Roberts and Ernie Young tonight in the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, and be sure to read my column in today's editions about my top memories on the Bisons/MLB beat the last 20 years. 

I also wrote a story today about Young's memories of Buffalo and Sunday's Inside Baseball column featured a chat with Roberts on his famous stolen base with the Red Sox in 2004. 

Want even more reading material? Jerry Sullivan wrote this column on Young after the 2000 Olympic gold medal game in Australia, four years before he joined the Bisons.

As for my memories list, here's a look back to the stories I produced on the scene at each of the moments in the article: 

1. Yankees-Arizona World Series Game 7 in 2001 -- Luis Gonzalez's game-winner.

2. 2004 ALCS/World Series -- Red Sox beat Yankees and Cardinals
    Game Seven of the ALCS        Game Four of the World Series 

3. Bisons 1997 clincher at Iowa --- Story one: Recap of Sean Casey's home run   Story two: Torey Lovullo presenting Bob Rich the game ball 

4. 2004 IL finals Game Four -- Bisons win title at home

5. 2007 Cleveland Indians -- A feature heading into the postseason

6. 1998 Bisons clincher -- Game Five in Durham

7. 2000 Subway Series -- Story one: The crazy Piazza press conference the day after BatGate. Story two: The Yankees' Game Five clincher. 

8. 2008 All-Star Game -- A web-only version filed at 3 a.m.

9. 2011 World Series Game Six -- Some scorebook pencils bit the dust in the 10th when the Cardinals tied it again.

10. 1995 ALDS Game One -- Ex-Bison Tony Pena sends us home at 2:08 a.m.

What didn't make my cut? Some pretty good ones.

There was Jeff Manto's three-homer game in 1997, the Bisons' 19-inning loss to Scranton in Game Five of the IL semifinals two nights before 9/11, Roger Clemens' one-hitter at Seattle in the 2000 ALCS, the opener at new Yankee Stadium in 2009, Stephen Strasburg's visit to Buffalo in 2011 and my chat with Hall of Famer Bob Feller during Strasburg's outing in Cleveland two weeks later, and last year's Triple-A All-Star Game in Buffalo.

(Bartolo Colon's no-hitter here in 1997 is not on any list because I was off that night, although I was in the ballpark to witness it.) 

Go to the video: In '04, new Buffalo BB Hall inductee Roberts became an October hero forever

By Mike Harrington

Dave Roberts and Ernie Young have been announced as the player inductees for the 2013 class of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame today, and they will be enshrined prior to the July 19 game against Toledo in Coca-Cola Field.

(Full disclosure: Your neighborhood beat writer/columnist/blogger has been named in the Contributor category. Huge thanx to all who have texted, tweeted, called or approached today. Massive honor).

Young was the power-hitting first baseman/DH of the 2004 and 2005 teams while Roberts is the modern-era stolen base leader in a Buffalo career that began late in 1998 and stretched through 2001. Roberts, now the first-base coach of the San Diego Padres, is much more remembered for his stolen base in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS for the Red Sox and for the tying run he scored off Mariano Rivera that got Boston even and kick-started its historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the series.

I was pretty fortunate to be in the house on assignment that night in Fenway, and Roberts and I had a good chat about it the next day prior to Game Five. Little did anyone know at the time, of course, how historically significant the play would become.

Here's a pair of must-see videos on Roberts. The first is ESPN's "30 for 30" segment on the Roberts stolen base from the epochal "Four Days in October" episode on the 2004 ALCS. The second is an interview NESN did with Roberts last week when he was at Fenway Park with the Padres:

Wakefield and his knuckler call it a career

WakeKnuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who burst on the scene in 1992 with the Bisons and then the NL East champion Pittsburgh Pirates, announced his retirement Friday afternoon at the Red Sox spring camp in Fort Myers, Fla. 

Wakefield, 45, won 200 games with the Red Sox -- third in team history behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens. His career,  of course, began with the Pirates and he helped them get within an out of the World Series in 1992. Wakefield was 10-3 in Buffalo under Marc Bombard in 1992 (right) before getting called up but his career then quickly flamed out.

By 1994, Wakefield was back in Buffalo and posted one of the worst seasons in franchise history -- 5-15 in 29 starts that saw the team go 7-22, a 5.84 ERA, 98 walks, 16 wild pitches and only 83 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings. The team went 55-89 as it never posted more than a four-game winning streak, with Wakefield representing a new term for the word stopper.

Wakefield went to Boston the next season and turned his career around by going 16-8 and pitching for the Red Sox in the postseason against the Indians. He won 17 games in 1998 and again in 2007 as the Sox won their second World Series in four years. In the knuckleball world, Wakefield is right there with Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough, Hoyt Wilhelm and his mentors, the Niekros.

But Wakefield's knuckler lost its bite last season (7-8, 5.12) and it was arduous for him to just get to 200. He wanted to return to go for the club victory record but the Red Sox apparently declined to offer him a contract.

Click here for Wakefield's major- and minor-league stats from The Baseball Cube.

Wakefield is a pillar in the community service world in both Boston and his native Florida. His career is a fascinating study of someone making a lot out of nothing, as his career as an infielder was not getting out of Class A ball. He's not going to make the Hall of Fame but he's certainly going to always have his unique place in the history of the game.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Photo: Wakefield with the Bisons in 1992/Buffalo News files

Buffalo Baseball Hall member Lovullo gets his day with Red Sox interview

Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo had his interview with the Boston Red Sox Friday in Fenway Park, officially getting into the ring to replace Terry Francona as manager. Lovullo, who served as first-base coach in Toronto last season and managed the Bisons from 2006-2008, has told me several times in the last few years he thinks he's ready for a big-league gig.

Here's the MLB.com story on Lovullo's day, which spells out the candidates: Lovullo, Sandy Alomar Jr., Pete Mackanin, Dale Sveum and Gene Lamont.

Check out this Boston Globe video to hear some of his comments during his post-interview news conference in the ballpark's press box.

---MIke Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Red Sox to interview Buffalo Baseball Hall member Lovullo Friday for manager's slot

Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo apparently has his hat in a big ring as the former Bisons player and manager will interview Friday for the vacant manager's slot with the Boston Red Sox. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe tweeted the news about Lovullo late Tuesday afternoon.

Lovullo spent last year as the first-base coach under John Farrell in Toronto and the word is that Farrell, the former pitching coach under Terry Francona, has pushed Boston brass to give Lovullo serious consideration to replace Terry Francona. From this view, Lovullo has a chance to mesh well with young GM like Ben Cherington and the Red Sox know him from his stint as the manager in Pawtucket in 2010.

As a manager, Lovullo had a terrific run in Class A and Double-A with the Indians from 2002-2005, winning two league championships and producing four playoff teams. He posted back-to-back 73-68 seasons with the Bisons in 2006 and 2007 and then had a 66-77 record in 2008 when the Indians had one foot out the door on the way to Columbus. His next two years (57-85 in Columbus and 66-78 in Pawtucket) weren't much better but those teams had few prospects.

Still, Lovullo is highly regarded and has interviewed in the past for the top job with the Indians and Dodgers. He's a great communicator with players, the front office and media and he played for seven big-league teams in addition to having terrific years in the minors (notably with the Bisons in 1995, 1997 and 1998, and Scranton in 1999).

Lovullo was the most valuable player of the 1997 American Association playoffs and batted .326 on Buffalo's 1998 team that won the Governors' Cup and produced the franchise's only back-to-back championships.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Forgettable anniversary for Teufel; Manto may get the call from White Sox as hitting coach

ST. LOUIS -- MLB just announced a change in the Media Day schedule, shifting the Rangers' time from 1:45 Central to 4 p.m. Central. Later dinner for all of us tonight. So now things don't start until C.J. Wilson and Ron Washington hit the podium at 2:15 CT.

So while we wait to mine some nuggets at Media Day, here's some reading material for you to peruse:

---Today is the 25th anniversary of Game One of the 1986 World Series,  a 1-0 win for the Red Sox over the Mets in Shea Stadium. The only run scored in the seventh inning on an error by Mets second baseman Tim Teufel, who let a routine groundball go through his legs. ESPN has a look back at that game and also provides a fascinating link to a career retrospective on Teufel, who managed the Bisons last season and will be Terry Collins' third-base coach in New York in 2012.

Interesting to note the child that Teufel was celebrating the berth of when he and teammates were arrested in a celebrated 1986 bar fight in Houston was Shawn, the Toledo Mud Hens pitcher who threw against Teufel's Bisons this season in Coca-Cola Field.

---Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Jeff Manto and ex-Bisons catcher Tim Laker appear to be the candidates for the White Sox vacant hitting coach job. Manto was the team's roving instructor last year while Laker was at Triple-A Charlotte under manager Joe McEwing, who has been hired as Robin Ventura's third-base coach. But remember this: McEwing is regarded as one of Manto's best friends in the game and another is Sox minor-league director and former big-league manager Buddy Bell. Interesting.

Then there's this: Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is apparently gauging Jim Thome's interest.

---The Fallout at Fenway continues. The Boston Globe got a hold of fried-chicken-eating and beer-drinking pitcher Jon Lester and he admitted to doing just that in the clubhouse during games as the paper reported last week. Columnist Dan Shaugnessy says it's time for Josh Beckett and John Lackey to issue similar mea culpas. Wrote Shaughnessy: "Time for the rest of the beer-swillin’, biscuit-eatin’, fried-chicken munchin’ Red Sox starting pitchers to fess up. The 1919 Chicago White Sox had Eight Men Out. The 2011 Red Sox have Three Men and a Bucket of Popeye’s."

---Speaking of the Red Sox, if they don't make a deal today with the Cubs for compensation for GM Theo Epstein, it's got to be put off until after the World Series. Alex Rodriguez circa 2007 aside, you're not supposed to make any announcements during the Fall Classic.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

The postseason begins: Make your picks

While the Red Sox are going through the process of not renewing Terry Francona's contract today (e.g. he's getting fired), the real focus of the baseball world is the start of the postseason. The American League division series opens on two fronts with the Rays and Rangers meeting in Texas and the Yankees and Tigers meeting in the Bronx. That's Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia and that's must-see TV.

Right from the top, I'll put this out there: I got the Tigers and the Phillies in the World Series and I'm taking the Phillies in six. Sorry, Yankees fans. If Sabathia doesn't win tonight, I think it's possible the Tigers sweep the Bombers in three. And wouldn't that make for an interesting offseason. Remember, all division series games are on TBS.

So here's some quick analysis off the cuff. Hey, I gotta do Sunday's Inside Baseball column on the collapse of the Sox and Braves and I'm still working hockey previews too. Some multi-tasking. I give you some polls at the bottom too. Be sure and vote!

Tigers vs. Yankees -- I know all about the Bombers' offense but you have to like the Tigers' combination of Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. You have to love closer Jose Valverde. Miguel Cabrera should get plenty of MVP looks. As for the Yankees, can you really count on Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in this spot? Seriously? And does A-Rod show up in this series or bat eighth like he did in when he was humiliated in Game Four in Detroit in 2006. Tigers in four. 

Rays vs. Rangers -- I'm tempted, very/very tempted, to pick the Rays to go to the World Series. Maybe I should. Now that they're actually in the postseason, they have the best starting pitching in the AL. I think they get through this series and avenge last year's division series loss but you wonder how much energy they have left after that crazy September. Rays in five.

Cardinals vs. Phillies -- I don't think a lot of analysis is needed. The Phillies' losing streak near the end of the season was rooted in injuries and boredom after clinching the division title. They're ready. Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt with Worley in the bullpen. Do they need a bullpen? This is one of Tony LaRussa's better managing jobs but this is a case of thanks for playing and please drive home safely. Phillies in three.

Diamondbacks vs. Brewers -- Who had this matchup in March? Thought so.  In Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke, you have your two main candidates for NL manager of the year. Think the Yankees wish 20-game winner Ian Kennedy had found his game when he was with them until waiting to getting to Arizona?  The Dbacks are a great story but the Brewers have the motivation of Prince Fielder's last season. They have an MVP in Ryan Braun, a great rotation, a supreme closer in former Canisius College pitcher John Axford. I think Brewers-Phillies could be a fabulous NLCS. Can't wait. Brewers in four.

Now you vote.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Linking to a wacky Wednesday we'll never forget

EvanI saw every minute of it, well past midnight, and I still can't believe it. No one has ever seen a baseball season finish like that. The Rays were once down seven runs and still a run short and a strike away from losing, the Red Sox were a strike away from winning, the Braves two outs away from winning. And every result changed.

See you, chokers from Boston and Atlanta. Welcome to the playoffs, Rays and Cardinals. Take your places in home run history, Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria (showering fans at the Trop above).

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe might have the start on new fodder for more of his Curse of the Bambino books. Wrote Shaughnessy on Page A-1 of today's Globe: "Truly unbelievable. This feels like revenge for 2004 and 2007. It is as if the baseball gods are punishing Red Sox Nation for hubris and arrogance and good times that seemed so good, so good, so good."

I like this Shaughnessy crack too: "They are the first team in baseball history to hold a nine-game lead in September, then fail to make the postseason. This makes them worse than the ’64 Phillies or the ’78 Red Sox. They are the poster boys of the Heimlich maneuver."

SaltyWrote great friend of the blog Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant: "Now we know why 2004 happened. Now we know why 2004 was followed by 2007. Somehow the baseball gods knew Red Sox fans would never have been able to handle September 2011 if two exhilarating world championships hadn't interrupted all those decades of suffering. No, a few verses of Sweet Caroline and a pink hat under the Christmas tree aren't going to cure this hurt."

Another great friend, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, was in Baltimore and recaps the chronology of events by calling it "the single most-exciting, most intense, most exhilarating night in baseball history."

In the St. Petersburg Times, John Romano calls it "Miracles 2, logic 0" while recounting the Rays' bizarre finish through the eyes of several team personnel who weren't on the field. 

No one, of course, paid much attention to the Braves' collapse given the Red Sox situation. But as Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, "But even a choking dog can have his day, or night, and the 2011 Braves tried to give themselves one Wednesday. They failed. They failed in the way this entire month had been a failure."

The Cardinals took until the last night of the season to finally get it together and win their 90th game. And it was shades of the 1964 team that came back on the Phillies.

So there we have it. Yankees-Tigers and Rays-Rangers in the AL. Phillies-Cardinals and Diamondbacks-Brewers in the NL. No Red Sox, no Braves. No way you thought that could happen when September started.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Photos of Evan Longoria (left) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (right)/Associated Press

Welcome to Wildcard Wednesday

It all comes down to this on the final day of the regular season: The Rays and choking Red Sox are both 90-71 in the AL, the Cardinals and choking Braves are both 89-72 in the NL. Will we decide the wildcards tonight or get one-game playoffs Thursday in Tampa Bay and St. Louis?

The schedule remains the same as the last two days -- Tampa hosting the Yankees and Boston at Baltimore, while the Braves host the Phillies and the Cardinals are in Houston. All night games. Have your remotes ready to be clicking between YES, ESPN and the MLB Network.

The Red Sox are 7-19 in September with a team ERA of 5.90. Once-impenetrable reliever Daniel Bard is 0-4, 11.90 and not trustworthy. Look at the starters' ERAs: Bedard and Wakefield, 5.25; Beckett 5.48, Lester 5.96, Lackey 9.13. The Rays have pulled even by going 16-10 despite a .237 team batting average in September. But that 3.50 team ERA sure helps.

The Braves, meanwhile, have gone 9-17 and hit just .235. Their team ERA of 4.25 isn't ghastly, especially when you consider Derek Lowe fell to 0-5, 8.75 in September when he was booed off the mound last night. The Cardinals are 17-8, batting .293 and have a 3.25 ERA.

See SABRhounds, I don't need a lot of made-up acronym stats to tell me why these races have changed this month. 

How is this going to end up? Take the polls.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Wacky AL race: Yankees clinch East, Red Sox lose again but gain ground as Rays lose two

YanksThat was one wacky Wednesday in the AL East.

The division race is over as the Yankees got the combination they needed to clinch -- a sweep of the Rays in a day-night doubleheader coupled with yet another Red Sox loss to the Orioles. The Yankees took care of business in the Bronx with a pair of 4-2 wins, using seven relievers to piece together the first game and getting a two-run pinch single in the eighth from beleaguered veteran Jorge Posada to win the nightcap.

Good friend of the blog Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post surveyed the champagney scene in the postgame clubhouse. This has been quite a ride for the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez says Joe Girardi should be manager of the year.  Pretty good point, although I would imagine Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon are going to get a ton of votes too.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, fell to a stunning 5-16 in September with yet another loss to the Orioles, a 6-4 defeat in their home finale at Fenway. But they somehow went from a two-game lead in the wild card race to 2 1/2 games. The Rays dropped a half with their double loss while the Angels pulled into position at 2 1/2 back with their second straight win in Toronto. Not even a Josh Beckett start or a 4-1 lead could save the Sox, who are in desperation mode to save their season from going down the drain.

“I’ve been here nine years. We’ve never collapsed that bad," said David Ortiz. “Trust me, we’ve been through some tough times. But this is bad. No matter what we do, things are going to be bad. Right now it’s depressing."

The Yankees' magic number to clinch homefield throughout the playoffs is two. The Rays and Yankees meet again tonight, and so do the Angels and Blue Jays. That will leave the wild-card contenders with six games left starting Friday, all played in a pair of three-game series. The remaining sets look like this:

Red Sox: At Yankees, at Orioles
Rays: vs. Blue Jays, vs. Yankees
Angels: vs. Athletics, vs. Rangers

 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

AP Photo: Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera celebrate another division title.

A-Rod likely out until Yankees hit Toronto

Things are getting quite a bit more interesting in the American League East. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said tonight prior to his team's game in Seattle that Alex Rodriguez likely won't play until Friday night's series opener in Toronto because his lingering thumb issues.

A major subplot for the Yankees this week will be the work of closer Mariano Rivera, who has 599 career saves. He's going to become the second man to 600 and is on the edge of breaking Trevor Hoffman's all-time record of 601. That would be something for Yankees fans to see this weekend in the Rogers Centre.

The Red Sox, meanwhile are taking the night off after a 1-6 road trip included getting swept at Tampa Bay. The Sox are suddenly just 3 1/2 games up on the Rays in the wild card race (pending Tampa's game Monday at Baltimore) -- and have four more this week with Tampa, starting Thursday in Fenway Park. No less an authority than David Ortiz said it is, in fact, time to panic. Given the way Tampa's pitching looks and the way Boston's looks, he's right.

First up for the Sox, however, are two games against Toronto. Tuesday's contest will mark beleaguered knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's eighth chance at his 200th win. We all properly crabbed at the start of September about having no races to watch and we were right at the time. Looks like we might get a doozy after all.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

 

 

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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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