Heart of a champion

The Red Sox continue to show why they’ve won two of the last four World Series titles. They flat-out know how to get it done in October, and if you didn’t believe they could win it all this year, all you had to do was watch them last night. On to Friday’s games…

RED SOX 7, ANGELS 5

The guy they got for Manny, Jason Bay, puts them on top right away with an early homer, and then J.D. Drew breaks a tie with a two-run blast off K-Rod in the ninth! In other words, the Red Sox can taste another title, and going up 2-0 on the road against the team with the best record in baseball is pretty impressive in my book. The Angels have to be wondering what’s going on, losing their Major League-record 11th straight October game against the Sox. Fenway and a possible early clincher awaits …

RAYS 6, WHITE SOX 2

The tone-setting homer by Akinori Iwamura, the lockdown bullpen, the late insurance runs. It was a textbook October victory for the hometown Rays at the Trop, leading them to another 2-0 series lead heading back to Chicago. Can you believe how poised this young team seems? It’s like they’ve been playing in the postseason for years.

The weekend will be wild, with all four series possibly ending early in sweeps. Let me know who you think will get it done right away and who you think has the goods to pull off a stunner and take three straight.

You know I’ll be watching.

O.G.

L.A. Story

Thursday’s Division Series games once again blew my mind. You want October amazement? You got it yesterday, big-time. Let’s recap the games.

DODGERS 10, CUBS 3

I don’t remember the last time I heard Wrigley Field so quiet, and for long-suffering Cubs fans, this was a tough one to swallow. The Dodgers offense has come to play, and for the second straight night, they got great pitching, too. In Game 2, it was Chad Billingsley dealing. But enough about the Dodgers. What about the Cubbies? The best record in the National League and they lose two in a row at home? Unreal. But remember, folks. Strange things happen in October. The Yankees went down 2-0 at home in 2001 and came back and beat the A’s in their Division Series. It can happen.

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PHILLIES 5, BREWERS 2

This one was all about Shane Victorino’s grand slam, and maybe about a team finally finding its postseason groove after getting swept in the first round last year. The Phils left for Milwaukee on a serious high point and can you blame them? They did something that hardly anyone could do down the stretch — beat CC Sabathia — and now have huge numbers in their favor. Teams with a 2-0 lead in NL Division Series have won their last 16.

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RAYS 6, WHITE SOX 4

And how about those Rays? Experts claimed they didn’t have enough talent to make it to October, and they shot that down. Critics said they didn’t have the experience to make it all the way through October. Well, maybe they don’t, but they certainly didn’t look intimidated yesterday in improving their league-best home record. And who did a huge portion of the damage? The probable AL Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, who looked about as ready for the postseason as anyone ever has in his first crack at it.

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It’s starting to get crazy in these series, and I’m watching every inning. Now I want to hear from you. What was your favorite Thursday moment? Did any team make a major statement? Will the Cubs rally? How far can the Rays go?

I’m all ears.

O.G.

First things first

Three Division Series Game 1s yesterday and already more than a few surprises. And isn’t that typical of October?

Let’s go game by game.

PHILLIES 3, BREWERS 1

It isn’t surprising that Cole Hamels dealt the way he did, but the Brewers, particularly Yovani Gallardo, showed a lot of poise for a young team that has practically no postseason experience to speak of. If the Brew Crew can clean up a few mistakes, this might become a very competitive series very quickly — especially when CC gets his say. Here’s Chase Utley’s big hit in the third inning.

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DODGERS 7, CUBS 2

Now I didn’t expect this one. Who would have thought the best team in the National League would go down at home in Game 1 in the 100th anniversary year of their last World Series title? But James Loney had the big hit, the grand slam in the fifth inning, Manny and Russell Martin homered later, and that was all she wrote. The Cubs will have to regroup in a hurry tonight, but their big horse, the Big Z, is on the hill, so Cubs Nation has to be feeling good about that.

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RED SOX 4, ANGELS 1

The Angels had the best record in all of baseball this year and were at home with their ace, John Lackey, in Game 1, but the same old same old happened again — the Red Sox beat them in October. This time it was lefty Jon Lester giving the Angels hitters fits and the newest member of the defending world champs’ outfield doing most of the damage.

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Almost too much to blog about, but I want to hear your thoughts. What was the best moment of the first day of October baseball in 2008?

And what’s going to happen tonight as the Rays-White Sox series starts and two other series continue?

Let me know.

O.G.

OCTOBER!

We’re here, and the Postseason is ready to roll. I hope you all watched the White Sox come up big with that 1-0 win over the Twins like I did.

It was cool to see them celebrating. Fortunately for them, they’ve got an extra day to prepare for Thursday’s Game 1 in St. Pete!

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Three Division Series games today to kick it off, and I can’t wait to see what happens and what memories are made. Here are some quick blog thoughts on each one.

Brewers at Phillies

Tough call here, but the Phightin’ Phils came up huge down the stretch to take the division from the Mets, and I don’t know if you have noticed what Ryan Howard’s been doing for the last month, but you’ll probably find out in this series. Philadelphia is a great baseball town and they haven’t tasted World Series champagne since 1980. They’re hungry and I expect them to come out aggressive.

Dodgers at Cubs

Does anyone have higher expectations this season than Cubs Nation? It’s been exactly 100 years since the Cubbies won it all, and their fans have heard enough about curses and billy goats. They’ve also had to watch as the Red Sox won in 2004 for the first time since 1918 and the crosstown rival White Sox took it the next year for the first time since 1917. With the pitching, the defense and the hitting that led them to dominate the NL this year, the Wrigley faithful have to think this is the year.

Red Sox at Angels

The Angels got swept out of the first round by the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, and the Red Sox won the World Series both years. This season might be different, with the Angels winning 100 games for the first time in franchise history and owning the best record in the Majors. Great pitching matchup tonight with the Angels’ John Lackey going up against the Red Sox’s no-hitter man, Jon Lester.

Three games and all kinds of memories to be made. Now I want to hear your thoughts. What will happen tonight in each game? What are your predictions for these three series?

Let me know.

Today there’s a lot of baseball to watch and a lot of important moments to witness as we head into October, full speed ahead.

Grab some snacks, put on that seat belt and have fun. This is what we’ve been waiting for.

O.G.

One more before October

Seven teams are waiting.

October is waiting.

And tonight, everybody will be watching as the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox fight it out for the eighth and final spot in this year’s postseason.

Nothing gets me more excited than a tiebreaker.  We’ve only seen four one-game tiebreakers in American League history, and, at this point, it’s tough to say which team is going to come out on top.

Tonight’s game is not just a battle for the playoffs.  It’s a battle of two of the American League’s best young guns — Chicago lefty John Danks and Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn.

Isn’t it amazing the way two teams can be so close to one another all year, playing each other 18 times during the regular season, but we still need to see one more as the rest of baseball watches?

That’s called excitement.

And these two franchises have proven over the last several years that they’re worthy contenders for the World Series.  The Twins seem like they’re always in it, despite a low payroll.  And the White Sox won it all just three years ago.  

Tonight’s game also features two of the craftiest managers in baseball going head-to-head.  I’m sure Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire and Chicago’s Ozzie Guillen will make their mark on this one in the strategy department.

Seven teams are waiting.

October is waiting.

Play ball.

O.G.

Intensity

The tight pennant races are getting tighter, and I’m feeling the intensity every night as the Twins and White Sox battle it out for the last Postseason spots in the American League. I’m sure you are, too.

Meanwhile, as the Mets and Brewers try to keep the pace in the National League, the Mets are set on prolonging the life of that charming 44-year-old ballpark in Queens called Shea Stadium that’s going to make way for the new Citi Field next year.

What does it all mean? It means we’ve got less than a week to go until October, and the first five teams that have clinched as I write this are waiting along with the rest of us to see how it’s all going to shake out.

And those teams still have so many unanswered questions, too.

Can the Dodgers keep up the excitement and ride the hot bat of their newest star all the way through October?

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Can a healthy Evan Longoria help the Rays continue to prove the doubters wrong?

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Do the Red Sox have another magical run in them?

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Is it THE year on the North Side?

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Or will the team with the best record in baseball live up to its billing?

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Vote in the poll and let me know how you think it will all play out. The good news is we won’t have to wait very long to see what happens.

O.G.

New beginnings

The Cubs and their Nation of fans are partying like it’s 1908, and can you blame them? They officially joined the October dance over the weekend, making it two postseason appearances in a row.

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Now comes the fun part — seeing if the team from the North Side of Chicago can take 100 years of close calls, disappointments and heartbreakers and turn it all into one World Series title. And why not? Their South-Side neighbors did it in 2005 and the Boston Red Sox did it in 2004. It’s the decade to end all “curses.”

Or maybe it’s just the year of the underdog.

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NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY, thought the Tampa Bay Rays could go from the worst record in the Major Leagues to an October clinch with a week to go in the regular season. But when you’ve got young talent all over the field, veteran role players, a great bullpen and defense and an optimistic manager who gets you to click from Day 1 in Spring Training … well, I’ll say it again. Why not?

But before we all say hello to October, we had to say goodbye to Yankee Stadium on Sunday night. I’m a grown man, but I’ll admit that my eyes watered a bit, especially when the Captain delivered the final speech.

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That’s what baseball is all about. And October’s what baseball’s all about, too.

One more week and we’re there.

O.G

A Wild Finish

There’s almost too much excitement around the big leagues to blog about these days with only two weeks until October, but things are getting Wild in the Wild Card races, and everyone knows all you have to do is get in it to win it.

The Red Sox look good at the top of the American League Wild Card standings for the AL’s fourth berth in the Postseason, but the Twins are still kicking after their dramatic win Thursday over Tampa Bay.

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In the National League, it’s a different story. The Mets have fallen out of the lead in the NL East, but they’re still holding a tight lead on the Milwaukee Brewers for the Wild Card, and a big effort by their big horse, Johan Santana, kept them in charge Thursday.

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Things aren’t looking so good for the Yankees, and the last time Major League Baseball had a postseason without them was 1993. I can’t believe it, and I’m sure a lot of you can’t either, but that’s baseball, right?

Added to that stunning fact is the reality that baseball’s Cathedral is closing down at the end of the season to make way for the shiny, new ballpark across the street.

So I would like to give an official O.G. shout-out to all the majestic moments we’ve witnessed at that big ballyard in the Bronx, with a big nod to my personal favorite, Aaron Boone’s 11th-inning walk-off piece off Tim Wakefield in that epic Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series to beat the Red Sox.

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Then again, there are about 100 others that come to mind, too. I’d be blogging all night if I was going to list them all. I don’t have that much time, but you all can help me out by voting in the poll and commenting.

So bring it: What are your favorite Yankee Stadium moments?

I want to hear all about them.

O.G.

A big week

Are you sweating yet? September is getting tight and the pennant races are heating up even more, but three prime-time players made big-time statements that can carry all the way into the Postseason, and I’ve got to give them some October Gonzo blog love.

First up is Big Z, better known as Carlos Zambrano. He hadn’t pitched in 12 days but he served a whole lot of National League notice that he’s ready now and ready for October by no-hitting the Astros in Milwaukee.

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Then there’s Big Papi, better known as David Ortiz. He’s been injured for the Red Sox, but he lives for this time of year and he showed the Tampa Bay Rays a thing or two about that Monday in St. Petersburg.

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And let’s not forget the Phillies, who are right in the thick of it again. Sunday saw Brett Myers continue his resurgence to the top of his game, throwing a two-hitter against the Brewers and showing he might just be the October ace they always thought he’d be.

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A quick shout-out to the thousands of you who voted in the last poll and kept our conversations going. I want to keep hearing all your thoughts about October and who you think will win it all and make the next Postseason memories. It was also good to see that we’re up to sixth in the rankings of the Latest Leaders at MLBlogs. Who knows? Maybe we’ll make it all the way to the top.

But on the field, you can be sure that more history will be made soon, which is why I don’t plan to miss many games between now and the end of the World Series. Only two weeks until October, and I can’t wait.

O.G.

A long time coming

October’s all about making the most of opportunities, and four teams this year have the opportunity to make some serious history and give their fans a long-awaited party.
 
It’s been 100 years since the Cubs last won it all, but they’re looking good for the Postseason and could make the North Side as happy as the South Side was three years ago when this happened.
 
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The Milwaukee Brewers only got one shot at the Fall Classic, when they were Harvey’s Wallbangers in 1982, but this year’s model has Wild Card written all over it, and we know what Wild Card teams can do with everything on the line.
 
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Then there are the Tampa Bay Rays. They’d never even had a winning season until this year, and they’re still holding on to the American League East lead. The Tropicana Field faithful have to be saying, “Why not us?” And a recent series win in Fenway Park shows the Rays can get it done on the road when it counts.
 
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And don’t forget the Houston Astros. They’ve been counted out before only to shock the world with a sizzling September. They made it to the World Series in 2005 and the NL Championship Series in 2006 and are getting huge pitching performances — led by Roy Oswalt — at the right time.
 
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In other words, don’t be surprised if one of these four prospective drought-busters ends up parading through their city with a trophy. And don’t be surprised if baseball crowns yet another champion that’s been waiting a long, long time to celebrate.
 
O.G.