1. Boston's offense looked anemic in Anaheim, but the truth is that the Red Sox have had a mediocre offense on the road all year. They hit only .257 away from home this season -- 27 points worse than they hit at Fenway Park -- and their slugging percentage was 80 points lower. They scored three runs or fewer on the road 33 times and were 4-29 in those games. They had a losing record (39-42) overall on the road.
As one scout says: "Away from Fenway, the key is challenging the Red Sox's hitters. If you don't walk them, if you don't give in, they're not all that scary away from Fenway Park."
Sure enough, the Angels allowed only four walks in the first two games of the Division Series, and the Red Sox managed only one measly run.
But it's a very different offense at Fenway Park. The Red Sox averaged about six runs a game in Boston and punched up a 56-25 home record. Everyone in Boston clings to the hope that things will change dramatically on Sunday in Game 3.
"Today was a rough day," one Red Sox official said on Saturday. "We all woke up this morning feeling down -- the Angels really handed it to us up there. They're a great team. But we think we have a great team, too. Now we're coming home. We'll see."
2. I like to talk a lot about the magic of the Metrodome, but perhaps that's my illogical nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s coming out. I also like to talk about my love of Pearl Jam and R.E.M., and I haven't liked much that either of them has done in 10 years.
Yes, the Twins famously won the World Series in 1987 and 1991 because they won all eight of their games at the Dome (while losing all six road games). But it has been a long time since the Dome has been good to them in the playoffs. Truth is, the Twins have lost SEVEN STRAIGHT playoff games at the Metrodome. I had no idea.
In those seven games, they have been blown out and they have lost a couple of one-run games (one in extra innings). They have averaged fewer than three runs a game. There really has not been much Dome magic in recent years.
But... this is the last hurrah for the Metrodome. Everybody understands -- this could be the last big league baseball game ever played at the place where home runs plop into giant baggies and fly balls can disappear into the beige of the roof. The Backstreet Boys are trying a comeback. You have to wonder if the Metrodome has a last hurrah.
3. People never seem to tire of talking about Alex Rodriguez and clutch hitting. It's amazing -- more amateur psychologists have taken aim at what makes A-Rod tick than just about any athlete in any sport ever. He tightens up in the big moments. He wants too much to please. He lacks confidence. And so on.
Now that A-Rod has had a couple of big hits, the temptation is to say that he has outgrown his nerves, he has grown comfortable with himself and New York, he has learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Maybe so.
Then again: A-Rod has never had any trouble hitting against the Twins in the playoffs. In 2004, the last time the Yankees faced the Twins in the postseason, A-Rod hit .421 with four extra-base hits in four games. And this time against Minnesota he's hitting .500 with a homer and 5 RBIs in two games. It's actually nice to see A-Rod catch a break from people. I think the anti-clutch talk with A-Rod has always been overblown -- he had some high-profile failures, no doubt, but it's a very small sample size and, anyway, his career postseason numbers (.290/.379/.503) look awfully similar to Derek Jeter's.
Still, the "A-Rod is a changed man" talk might be premature, too. I suspect that he will be judged not by how he does against the Twins in the ALDS but by how he does in the ALCS and in his first World Series, if the Yankees get there.
4.Albert Pujols hit two home runs in a game in Milwaukee in early September, and afterward he rather testily said that he's not a home run hitter. I suspect he was not trying to prove a point, but he did not hit a home run in his final 107 plate appearances, including 13 plate appearance in the playoffs. It is the longest homerless streak of his career.
There are those around St. Louis who are saying that Pujols was not quite the same player after he hit in the Home Run Derby in St. Louis. People are always saying stuff like that about players in the Derby, but it is true that Pujols hit 32 homers before the break and 15 after. He slugged .582 after the break, which is excellent but well below his .723 slugging percentage before the break. Whatever the reason, he did seem to tire a bit as the season closed. He's the best player in baseball, and even in the midst of this homer slump the Dodgers during their three-game sweep of the Cards did not even think about pitching to him in key situations. But, Pujols' nickname or not, no man is a machine.
5. Well, the snow-out cost us the opportunity to see what could have been one of the great moments of this year's playoffs -- a chance to see the 37-year-old Pedro Martinez pitching in the frigid and light Denver air. After the game was postponed, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decided to go back to rookie J.A.Happ, saying that he likes throwing a lefty starter against the Colorado lineup. It is true that the Rockies did not hit lefties quite as well as righties this year. It probably doesn't hurt that Happ is 26 and grew up in Illinois.
The Phillies do not seem entirely sure what to do with Pedro. Here is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, he seems to have found a formula for pitching effectively, and the Phillies -- with question marks in the bullpen and the back end of the rotation -- have only pitched him once since Sept. 20. Now that Happ is going in Game 3, you wonder how Pedro will be used the rest of the way.
Bonus cut: What do we make of Cole Hamels' mediocre season?
2008: 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 4-0 in the playoffs2009: 10-11, 4.32 ERA, 0-1 in the playoffs.
Hamels struck out the same number of hitters per nine innings that he did in 2008, walked fewer per nine innings and gave up home runs at about the same rate.
But the league hit about 50 points better against him. The difference is in his BABIP -- batting average on balls hit in play. Many people around the game believe that a pitcher has little control on whether balls hit in play are turned into outs. A lot of it is defense, of course. And a lot of it is luck.
In 2008 Hamels' BABIP was a low .262 -- meaning he was probably a bit lucky. And in 2009 his BABIP was a high .321, meaning he was probably a bit unlucky. Whatever the case, the Phillies need Hamels to find a bit of his 2008 luck, because right now that pitching staff after Cliff Lee isn't looking all that intimidating.