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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

Whose Pen Is Mightier?

The Fairly Detached Observers

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The Observers' two-time-zone strategy worked so well last week that they stayed with it. Frank continued to observe the baseball and foot ball scene in New York and then phoned Artie, monitoring the pulse of a Brett-less Wisconsin.

Frank: My friend, I'm hearing a lot about a National League team that can be a powerhouse but whose Achilles' heel is its bullpen. If the relievers have to get six or nine outs, danger lurks. They lost their big-name closer, which scrambled the bullpen "roles," and the manager has drawn heat over whom he uses and when. Sound familiar?

Artie: Like our very own Brew Crew, at least the one that was in operation a few weeks ago.

Frank: But in this case it's New York's own Metropolitans, who could be the Brewers' chief rivals for the wild-card playoff spot, or maybe a first-round opponent in October. Their closer, Billy Wagner, has been injured, but no one has picked up for him the way Salomon Torres did when Eric Gagne imploded in Milwaukee. Wagner is a "brink of disaster" closer anyway, and recently his pals have blown several leads-including last week at home when Pittsburgh came back from 5-1 down in the eighth to win. The Mets got well against woeful Washington, but they've lost nine games this year when they were ahead in the eighth or ninth.

Artie: Hey, maybe the Brewers could send Guillermo Mota back to New York. He went into this week with his ERA at 4.74, but that's still a run less than he had with the Mets last season.

Frank: The Mets opted for 5.77, the ERA Washington's Luis Ayala was lug ging when he was acquired Sunday. The bullpen helped get Willie Randolph fired as manager, and successor Jerry Manuel has been musing about turning a starter into a closer. The No. 1 victim of the late flops has been the No. 1 starter, Johan Santana. Six times this year he's left the game with a lead and the bullpen has lost it.

Artie: And I'll bet every Mets reliever enters the game with loudspeakers a blaring the old Santana tune, "You've got to change your evil ways, baby."

Frank: Like the Brewers, the Mets have their Big Two in the rotation. But Santana and Mr. Brittle, Pedro Martinez, often leave the bullpen with lots more work than Messrs. Sabathia and Sheets do. The radio gasbags criticize Santana as a "seven-inning pitcher"-as though that weren't a mark of quality by current standards. Martinez, who works a three month season for his big bucks, made it to the seventh for the first time Saturday night in Pittsburgh, but the bullpen almost wrecked things in the ninth.

Artie: Whereas our guys finish what they start, or damn near. Most of the time, lately. OK, some of the time.

Frank: The Mets are in Milwaukee for three games starting on Labor Day, Sept. 1. The deciding factor could well be whose bullpen needs to get fewer outs.

Artie: After the way the Mets tanked down the stretch last year, I'm sure the ever-loving New York fans believe they can do it again.

Frank: You betcha. But they're not as pessimistic as the Yankees' new blowhard, Hank Steinbrenner, son of the ailing George. He waved the white flag last week, whining about injuries and declaring, "We're going to win it next year." Not showing the old man's fighting spirit.

Artie: But lifting the schadenfreude spirit in Yankee haters everywhere-and they are everywhere.

Frank: Speaking of worldwide phenomena, let's glance at our Olympic scorecard. Some of the opening fire works were phonied up for TV; the voice that sang the Chinese anthem didn't belong to the cute kid on camera; and there's major evidence the Chinese won the "women's" gymnastics gold medal by cheating with underage girls.

Is there anything real about what's going on in Beijing?

Artie: You got to wonder about how the International Olympic Committee turns a blind eye toward the Middle Kingdom. I wonder, if the Chinese had the Winter Games would they find a way for their hockey players to play with two sticks?

Frank: Of course Michael Phelps kept it real, scissor-kicking the world's butt in the swimming pool. A great achievement, and he seems like a good guy, but some how I just wasn't into it.

Artie: All I know is that the pool boy's making a strong bid to be the movies' next Tarzan.

Frank: To me, it was kind of like the basketball Dream Team in '92. Jordan, Magic and Bird were supposed to stroll to the gold, and they did, and ho-hum.

Phelps didn't have any real drama until his next-to-last gold when he out-reached the Serbian.

Artie: That and the relay where the Frenchman talked trash-or was it splash-before the race and the American anchor guy caught him at the finish. By the way, is it true the French swimmers were slowed down because they kept looking for a lily pad to sit on?

Frank: I'll just let that sit. On to another Frenchman, Monsieur Favre, now that he's had one exhibition game with the Jets. After a week of raves about his throwing in practice, Favre raised worries by saying his arm was "dragging."

But in two series against the Redskins, he looked sharp and had a TD pass-appar ently the most fantastic 4-yard toss in football history, to read the New York papers. Meanwhile, how's Packer Land now that Aaron Rodgers has played two exhibition games?

Artie: Packer Land is a tad more tem perate.

After a solidly competent effort versus the Bengals, much comfort was taken that the new QB left the game with out the assistance of Flight for Life. But after last Saturday's 49ers game, the hope is that the Jaws of Life can snatch Errin' from the field before he takes a snap.

Frank: While we're talking about passers, remember how you wondered whether Mo Williams was the kind of point guard the Bucks needed for getting the ball to Michael Redd and their new star, Richard Jefferson? I guess we have our answer; Williams is a Cavalier and Luke Ridnour is the point guard-designate.

Artie: And I'm sure Mo's devastated, traded to a team that features some scrub named LeBron James.

Frank: Also as part of the redesign after a 28-win season, Damon Jones is a Buck for the second time and Desmond Mason is a former Buck for the second-time.

Artie: Oh boy, a lot of new faces- again. But what better way to qualify for the lottery year after year, ain'a?

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. Art Kumbalek wonders if the "doggy paddle" were a medal event, would Michael Phelps have collared a ninth Gold