Sunday, September 04, 2005

The first rule of the clubhouse . . .

. . . THERE IS NO MUSIC IN THE CLUBHOUSE!!!



Man alive, I take a few days off, and all I read about is this clubhouse music business! Esteban Loaiza pitches an eleven-strikeout gem today, leading the Nats to victory, and what is the theme of Rocket Bill's gamer? This ban on music, that's what:

A few minutes after the Nationals wrapped up their 6-1 win over the Phillies at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on Sunday afternoon, some of the Nats asked manager Frank Robinson if they could play some music in the clubhouse. The answer was no. Robinson, who banned music, card games, video games and cell phones in the clubhouse after Thursday's loss to the Braves, said they could start playing the music on Oct. 3, which is the day after the last game of the regular season.

Rocket Bill's story is supplemented by
another one this evening, involving the mystery of who keyed up the boom-box following last night's harrowing yet thrilling 12-inning victory.

So, who is behind this music? No one knows, but Frank's hunting down the leads:


Robinson asked outfielder Jose Guillen and reliever Joey Eischen if they turned the music on, but both said they didn't. Shortly thereafter, the music was turned off. In fact, Guillen said before the music was turned on, he went out of the clubhouse to make sure that he wasn't blamed. [. . .] As of Sunday morning, Robinson still didn't know who turned the music on.

This musical moratorium is so pervasive a story that it's even inspired inter-publication intrigue. This morning,
Ken Wright of the Washington Times seemed to imply that Guillen begged out of Friday's lineup as an act of defiance against Robinson's anti-music edict. I'm not sure if that even makes sense, but Guillen started neither Friday nor Saturday night, Robinson was alternatively evasive or instransigent in (not) explaining why, and Guillen was quoted by Wright sounding very much like Jose Guillen---which is to say, the gentle reader had no idea what the hell the guy was talking about, anyway.

Wright's angle didn't survive Guillen's scrutiny, who sounded off in Rocket Bill's notes column linked above. And Rocket Bill was naming names:


Guillen was very upset after Sunday's game because the Washington Times reported that he asked out of Friday's game because of Robinson's strict rules in the clubhouse. Guillen said the report in the newspaper was false. In fact, Robinson told the media Friday that Guillen was hurt and wanted to give him the day off.

Well, that makes sense; of course, in Wright's article, Robinson is not nearly so candid. Whatever. At any rate, Guillen's not speaking to the media until the Times publishes a retraction. But I guess he spoke to Rocket Bill, anyway. I wonder if this means St. Barry is punished as an innocent bystander.

As for Saturday night's sounds of celebration, Robinson will continue to search for the perpetrator's identity---and, once ascertained, presumably kill him. To Carlos Baerga, though, that seems a bit harsh:


Infielder Carlos Baerga, the team leader who keeps everybody loose in the clubhouse, said that until late last week, he had never seen strict rules enforced on a team during his 14 years in the big leagues. "Myself, I don't believe we are losing games because of the TV or the radio," Baerga said. "Everybody that puts on the uniform knows what they have to do to be ready for the game."

Nah, that sounds too reasonable.


___________________

Like Brian, I've gotta give Boz a little credit in this space; it comes fairly infrequently, you know.

Just a couple days ago, Thomas Boswell participated in a rather heavy-handed,
foam-fingered Washington Post chat. Included in the discussion were a laughable defense of Jim Bowden and a rather ridiculous assertion that Preston Wilson would either be traded or resigned---when, as one chatter pointed out, neither consequence is a possibility at all. But my favorite bit of fanboyism was in Boz's introduction/greeting:


In any case, barely noticed it seems to me, is that the Nats stabalized themselves about three weeks ago and have gone 10-10 after their series in Houston.

Ooookay. Keep in mind he was just
idiotically accusing the other NL East wild card competitors of stagnating. These teams had, at the time of the column, won 12-out-of-20 and 15-out-of-25---that kind of thing. The Nats split 20 games (7-10 against teams other than the Colorado Rockies), and Boz is flinging whoo like it's going out of style.

But, thanks to a column exhibit the unending faith he possesses, Boz deserves praise. He doggedly refers to the entire months of July and August as "dry spells" and "stagnant, ugly periods." He's infuriating, but he's consistent.

Here's what the NL East looked like on July 3:

TEAM  W  L  PCT  GB
Wash 50 31 .617 --
Atl 45 37 .545 5.5
Fla 42 37 .532 7.0
Phil 41 41 .500 9.5
NY 40 41 .494 10.0


And here's what the teams have done since then:

TEAM  W  L  GB
Atl 33 22 --
Phil 32 23 1.0
NY 30 25 3.0
Fla 30 27 4.0
Wash 21 35 12.5


In two months, the Nats lost 11.5 games to the Phillies, 9.5 to the Mets, and 8.5 to the Marlins. (Who even cares about the Braves at this point?) That's neither dry nor stagnant; that's despicable.

Indeed, as of Saturday morning, the Nats had surrendered 13.5 games to the Phillies since early July. They trailed the Phillies by four full in the "real" wild card standings. Yet good ol' Boz is as constant as he is faithful, and he was only going to worry when he deemed it time to do so.

By Saturday morning, it was time to do so. But he was calm in his worries:

Eventually, the time for patience expires and only deeds, not excuses, will suffice. For the Nats, that time is now. Their numerals are backed against their mis-marked walls. [. . .] But don't start the funeral too quickly. The weak-hitting Nats may get a large break at exactly when they need it. [. . .] In the next two games, which are as close to "must wins" as baseball provides with 27 games left in a season, Washington will send two of its best pitchers, John Patterson and Esteban Loaiza, against a pair of emergency starters for the Phils -- Eude Brito and Gavin Floyd (14.14 ERA), who aren't even part of Philadelphia's normal rotation.

You know what? Boz was right! As he noted, the Nats forfeited Friday night, with their own fill-in starter (John Halama). Then the Nats turned about and did enough against Brito and Floyd; not a lot, mind you, but enough (five runs in ten innings). They also sufficiently battered the Phils' bullpen and stayed afoot following a ninth inning roundhouse to Chief Cordero on Saturday night.

In the end, sure enough, Boz came out smellin' like a rose: the Natty Nats claimed the last two, won the series, and currently sit two games back. This was the first leg of Boz's grand success scenario, and perhaps we should trust him on it:

By a fluke of the way pitching rotations fall, the Nats will escape meeting five fine starting pitchers during this RFK stand -- Brett Myers and Jon Lieber of the Phils in the next two games, A.J. Burnett of the Marlins and both John Smoltz and Tim Hudson of the Braves. Instead, they'll see those teams' No. 4 and 5 starters, names such as Jason Vargas, Ismael Valdez and Jorge Sosa.

And so we hit Labor Day, and the thought occurs to me that maybe Boz's foam-finger is wise. The question can't be "Are the Nats out of it?" because it's ridiculous to rule out a team that's two (or four) games back with nearly a month to play. The better question is not "Can they win it?" (Of course they can; anything's possible.) Instead, the better question is "Is it likely the Nats will win it?"

In a five team race, I'm not sure any team is likely to win it. But the Nats' chances just got better over the weekend, by which I mean they demonstrated they still have a chance. And some chance is better than none at all, which I think we could all conclude would have been the estimate had the two games gone in the opposite direction.

Two games back instead of six; yeah, I can live with that.


______________

Of course, it's still not best to get too carried away here. The two wins certainly saved the season---if temporarily, perhaps---but they could not save "Operation: 89!" I knew that was too optimistic, but I went for it, anyway. Nevertheless, an 18-7 finish is not going to happen. It might still have to, given Houston's schedule, but hopefully 86 or 87 wins will suffice. We'll see.

To that end, I've dumped "Operation: 89!" and am taking a more conventional approach in the new "Wild Card Tracker."

You'll see that I'm "rooting for" Philly to defeat Houston tomorrow. My rooting interest will have to depend to a great degree on what the Nats do on a given day (for instance, we cannot root for Philly to win too much and grab a five-game advantage by Wednesday if the Nats start losing), but at least for tomorrow we have to hope Houston loses. The Astros are the one team whose schedule is not regulated by the wild card race. Boswell calls them "the elephant in the room" and the point is taken; the NL East competitors have to beat each other up, and they have to help beat up the Astros when they can.

Here is Houston's remaining schedule; I'll eyeball some reasonable results while I'm at it:

---> 3 at Philly (1-2);
---> 3 at Milwaukee (2-1);
---> 4 vs. Florida (2-2);
---> 3 vs. Milwaukee (2-1);
---> 4 at Pittsburgh (3-1);
---> 3 at Chicago (2-1);
---> 2 at St. Louis (1-1); and,
---> 4 vs. Chicago (3-1).

I suppose the predictions are reasonable. Maybe Houston gets hot and sweeps all these jokers aside, or maybe the offense continues to sputter and Pittsburgh destroys Houston's season. But these seem reasonable, if a bit conservative.

The Astros are currently 72-64; this estimate adds ten losses, for a final tally of 88-74. That would represent a mightly speedy pace car for our Nats, who would need a 17-8 finish to force a one-game playoff (or, rather, -in) game. So we have to hope Philly holds serve (but not too well) and Florida holds its own at Minute Maid Park. It would really help if the Brewers prove the able spoiler many believe they will be, Lloyd McClendon inspires the Pirates' players to save his job, or the Cubs grow a spine. The Cardinals could also use those two games to their maximum effect, too. That would be nice.

Well, it will be tough, but it still can be done---I think. But at least we're not at the point where it can't be.

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