1st and Ten - The Weekly Tendown September 25-October 2 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dear Internet:

That's the celebration for our last National League West title, in 2003.

Thought I'd think positively as we hit the last day of the season.

We still have some work to do if we want to miss the playoffs.  Here are the possible scenarios.

1. We Win.  Braves Win.
We win the West.  Braves win the WC.  We play the Braves in the NLDS.  I'm for the Braves today.  I want  to play them and am willing to roll the dice on the rest of it.

2. We Win.  Braves Lose.
We win the West. Padres/Braves play Monday in Atlanta for the WC.  This is the preferable scenario; we wouldn't know our first round opponent (Braves or Reds) until game's end, but a Braves win here would mean we'd get them on short rest.  Braves first pitch is at 1:30 eastern today, ours is at 4.

3. We Lose.  Braves Lose.
Padres win the West.  We get the WC.  We get the Phillies in the NLDS.  A lesser outcome.

4. We Lose.  Braves Win.
The three way tie scenario.  We'd go to San Diego Monday for a playoff for the West.  Loser then goes to Atlanta Tuesday for a playoff for the WC.  Let's not do this.

There's never been a playoff tiebreaking scenario like that.  There's also not been a last day of the season, both teams clinch, playoff scenario like number 3.

Our odds of making the playoffs are still 96%.  To miss - we'd have to lose today, Monday, and Tuesday and have the Braves beat the Phils today.  Anything other than that - and we're in the playoffs for the first time in 7 years.

Sanchez today.  None of the Padres hit him.

Torrealba 2-9
Tejada 1-16
Salazar 1-7
Ludwick 1-6
Hundley 2-9
Headley 4-22
SHairston 1-12
JHairston 2-13
Gonzalez 8-37
Eckstein 3-19
Denorfia 1-7
Cabrera 1-11
Blanks 0-8

Not a single Padre on their roster today has had success against Sanchez.  (Venable's 1-1).

He'll pitch well.  We're gonna win.  We're going to the playoffs, just like '03.  In fact, furthering this idea of positivity, I'm going to say the benefit of still playing meaningful games today is it's really minimized the chance that Zito starts in the playoffs.  During one of my daily updates this week, I offered that while Zito would most likely be the 3rd and no worse than the 4th option to start in the postseason, that at best, he should be at the back of the bullpen.  If Sanchez pitches well (and he will) after Zito blew up yesterday, hopefully that will make more likely not only Sanchez as the third starter but Bumgarner as the 4th, should we need one.  The next time I want to see Barry Zito is in our pennant celebration.

Edit: Hey look what happened:

Here's Tendown 46.

First: The Tenth Inning
Ken Burns put a coda on his lauded Baseball documentary this week; if you missed it, here's the essence:

The San Francisco Giants, having never won a World Series and on the verge of moving to Tampa, made a bit of a corrupt bargain in signing Barry Bonds in 1993.  We got a new ballpark, millions of fans flowing through the turnstiles, and to watch the greatest player of his generation, a player who became even better in the 2000's, when, with the use of performance enhancing drugs, he became Babe Ruth.  He didn't need to take them, already a clear Hall of Famer, but was motivated by jealousy due to the public's reaction to the McGwire home run extravaganza in '98.  Bonds's record chases were a "joyless march to the inevitable" and a reminder of "what had happened to the game."  "In lieu of of a championship, we had Barry Bonds."  It was one of the "many bargains" Giants fans made in the era.

In 2002, we lost a five run lead with 8 outs to go in Game 6 of the World Series.  The implication clear.  We cast our lot with the villain Bonds and we got what we deserved.

Meanwhile, in 2004, another doomed franchise - the Boston Red Sox, led by a gaggle of loveable sluggers like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, defied all mathematics, and down 3-0 "reversed the curse" to defeat the Yankees to win the AL pennant and then swept to the first of their two World Series titles in the decade.  Character prevails - writers like Mike Barnicle and Doris Kearns Goodwin explained - heart and guts and courage and character.

It was the story told by sports media at the time.  It was the story, as I've written before, told by ESPN as it recapped the decade back in December.  This week, as part of its 30 for 30 documentary series, ESPN will once again be looking at that 2004 Red Sox team, presumably framing them in the exhaulted light of glory

Of those people I just named - the only person yet to be proven a cheater is Bonds. This escaped the notice of the film.

Consider instead this story.

Athletes take drugs.  Painkillers.  Speed.  Jim Bouton wrote about bowls of amphetamines in every clubhouse in the major leagues.  Epidurals.  Platelet spinning.  Curt Schilling was able to pitch in the aforementioned 2004 postseason by undergoing a surgical procedure so radical its named after him.  We watched the blood seeping through his sock and cheered his bravery.

It's part of the game.  Big time professional sports sometimes means that, as Ronnie Lott did, you get your fingertip cut off so you can keep playing.  Big time professional sports sometimes means that, as with NFL players, your average life expectancy is 52.  It means concussions.  It means trauma.  The corrupt bargain that athletes make, and that we make in supporting and glorifying them through documentaries, is that their bodies are sacrificed.

Barry Bonds made that sacrifice.  Like Lott, like Schilling, like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez and his father Bobby and Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and all those dead football players.  The San Francisco Giants, despite Bonds being the best player of his generation, only made the postseason once in the 1990s - and seeing that - Bonds recognized that he needed to sacrifice his body.  The results - Playoffs in 2000 (the 4th best team in SFG history - 97 pythagorean wins in the regular season) the pennant in 2002 (the second best team in SFG history - 98 pythagorean wins) and a wire to wire division win in 2003 (still tied, as of this writing, for the fifth best season in SFG history, 93 pythagorean wins.)

Three of the greatest seasons in the history of a franchise including our 3rd ever pennant.  That's what we got.

Not as good as what the Red Sox got when Ortiz and Ramirez, who in subsequent years would both be revealed as PED users got - true.  Or as good as what the McGwire/Canseco A's got when they beat us in the '89 Series.  Or the Luis Gonzalez led 2001 Diamondbacks.  Or the Marlins teams that knocked us out of the playoffs in '97 and '03 and who went on to win the World Series - the first group led by Sheffield and Kevin Brown - the last by Pudge Rodriguez.

There's no bloody sock, no fingertip left on the field and no world title - just a man doing what needed to be done, what those who had gone before had done - what those surrounding him were doing - and what those who would follow would do.  Sacrifice for the greater good.  Not everyone's willing to do this - what about the minor leaguer, on the fringes of baseball, who doesn't want to take painkilling injections and therefore can't play and doesn't make it.  Isn't he disadvantaged?  What message do we send to kids when we proclaim the Pittsburgh Steelers of the late 70s the greatest professional football team of all time even as their offensive lineman drop dead?  How much did chemistry fuel that superhuman, otherworldly, unprecedented Red Sox comeback in 2004?

That could have been the story told.

And maybe it could have been told by Barnicle and Goodwin - who might share how they rebounded after plagiarism admissions.  They might talk about how much of their personal fame and fortune might be clouded given their being caught cheating.  What about the young writers who would refuse to take those shortcuts?  Could they not have spoken about Bonds, about the 2004 Red Sox, within the context of their own moral struggles?

And what about the sport itself - saved, not as the film indicates, by Ripken's streak - but by offense.  Giants ownership, Bud Selig, Bob Costas - how much of their personal wealth has increased because of the sacrifices made by other men.  The rising tide of home runs lifted all boats - and while Costas called the Bonds pursuit of Aaron's home run record "joyless" - somehow the stadiums in which that pursuit took place were sold out.  If baseball was on the brink of extinction in 1994 - and then economically healthy beyond all previous measure just a half dozen years later - was steroids - was Bonds - something that "happened to the game" - or was it the game?

Plenty of stories to tell.  A story could be told about race - about our reverence for the achievements set in the pre-Jackie Robinson era - about the disconnection between our thoughts about other sports and baseball - when we recognize the greatest athletes are modern athletes - we see a LeBron James and understand he's better than George Mikan -  we see a Peyton Manning as better than Otto Graham - we see sprinters and tennis players and swimmers and golfers and don't hold onto some view that not only were their comparables 60 years ago better - that we must protect the belief that they were better through intellectually dishonest means.  Why is that?  Why do we allow a 19th century pitcher's 511 wins to be a benchmark, but decide that a 21st century record of 762 home runs to be not real?  What role does corporate media - clearly making editorial choices - play in generating these beliefs among sports fans?  What role do documentaries like this play in the cementing of legacies - 2004 Red Sox - courageous...Barry Bonds - cheater?

Those stories weren't told - and I'm fighting a losing battle.  One of many, but the fight continues nonetheless.  That's why I'm writing Tendown (46 this issue is) and why my computer will be tuned to Giants/Padres at 4 o clock today.

After the jump - some links and then we get the hell out of here.

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