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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taking a Stance on Major Issues

The Fairly Detached Observers

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 At last the Miller Park roof was open for the Milwaukee Brewers' 13th home game of the season. Beaming down on a 4-3 victory over Arizona were the sun and 44,000 fans, including the Observers. After zipping back Downtown on the No. 90 bus, they continued to bask and confab.

 Artie: Wow! The first pitch was at 1:07 and here we sit outside my dinky apartment at 4:26, giving me time for some light housekeeping. That's efficiency.

 Frank: The game took 2 hours 37 minutes, a whirlwind pace by current standards.

 Artie: I haven't been to a game that quick since Spahnie was twirling two-hitters in the early '60s.

 Frank: The Brewers' offense hasn't been consistent so far, but it showed some variety in earning the series split with Arizona. There were consecutive homers by Prince Fielder and Mike Cameron, but also two "small ball" runs that scored on infield plays.

 Artie: Dave Bush cruised through six innings, then gave up three homers that tied the score. I figured, "This has 15 innings written all over it."

 Frank: Thanks, Chris Duffy, for hitting your eighth-inning bouncer ju-u-u-st far enough to the second baseman's left that he couldn't start a double play, allowing the winning run to score.

 Artie: In the person of J.J. Hardy, fresh from two days off to contemplate a miserable batting average.

 Frank: He didn't exactly explode out of his slump, but by poking a single to right he started the winning rally and raised his average to a lofty .160.

 Artie: He also didn't explode out of the batting stance he adopted this season—left foot way in the bucket, hands held way out from his body. It worked in spring training, but not in the first 25 real games.

 Frank: Hardy made a bizarre comment to the Journal Sentinel that he didn't realize his stance was so open until teammate Mike Rivera mentioned it recently. Huh? The Observers spotted it on opening day and commented on it three weeks ago, but Hardy had no idea?

 Artie: And neither did the hitting coach, Dale Sveum? Rivera should get that job. YouTube clips from 2008 show Hardy standing much more straightaway and with his hands back over his shoulder. It's as if I'm writing a note and all of a sudden it's in Chinese, but you have to point it out to me.

 Frank: Robert Burns was no hitting coach, but he had some poetic advice for Hardy about 220 years ago. You know that line about "as others see us."

 Artie: Indeed. With apologies to ol' Robbie, we might update it: "O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as The Observers see us." By the way, J.J.'s defense has been getting shaky, too.

 Frank: Three errors in the five games he played on the home stand.

 Artie: He's gonna get on my thumbs-down list, now occupied by Jeff Suppan.

 Frank: Hey, Suppan has been responding to the Observers' gentle pressure. After we, um, featured him for his walk-athon against the Cubs, he had two good starts out of three. Last week against Arizona he walked no one in six-plus innings.

 Artie: I need more evidence from Suppan, but you're so right, the Observers are gently effective. We are the Velvet Hammers of the punditocracy.

 Frank: Last year we got Bill Hall back on track, for about two weeks, and of course when he went sour again it wasn't our fault. Time after time, we said a guy or a team was going bad and, just like that, they'd start going good.

 Artie: So many times, you betcha. Though I can't recall them right now.

Frank: Just as long as our readers do. We seek no public credit; it's enough to know we're part of the solution, never part of the problem.

 Artie: The Brew Crew was floundering at 4-9 two weeks ago, ain'a?

 Frank: Yup, they lost their first four series and the opener in Philadelphia. But then they reeled off four straight wins, lost the finale in Houston, then won another four straight. The split with Arizona put them at 13-12, one game behind last year's pace.

 Artie: It's no surprise that the turnaround came from pitching.

 Frank: Yovani Gallardo has been excellent and the guys we often think of as the "Three A-mediocres"—Suppan, Bush and Braden Looper—have been pretty solid.

 Artie: Manny Parra finally had a good start Friday, although they didn't win. From what I've seen, it's got to be mental. He's trying to get three strikeouts with every pitch.

 Frank: We'll make him the next recipient of the Observers' redeeming attention.

 Artie: In the Arizona series, there were no walks issued by Suppan, Looper or Bush. That's progress! And besides seeing a quick game and a victory, the Observers got Ryan Braun bobbleheads.

 Frank: One drawback for the day was that Braun was out with a back problem that seems related to his lingering "intercostal" thing.

 Artie: Another drawback for me: As usual, I didn't see a bench-clearing brawl.

 Frank: There was a chance of that against Pittsburgh when Braun took exception to getting hit by a pitch after he hit a homer. There could be similar bad blood when the Brewers face the Cardinals in two series this month.

 Artie: Absolutely, Tony La Russa has been known to have his pitchers go after guys, and a couple of years ago he got into Ned Yost's head with it.

 Frank: I thought Braun overreacted a bit. He has a little swagger to him, the kind of thing that if he's on your team it's confidence, and if he's an opponent it's cockiness.

 Artie: Yup. There's an edge to him.

 Frank: And speaking of swagger, I wonder how it feels for an opposing hitter to see Trevor Hoffman striding to the mound as the AC/DC bell tolls? Hoffman wants max volume for "Hells Bells," his bad-ass entry song, and he certainly gets it.

 Artie: The D-Backs never had a chance.

Frank: "Hells Bells" is fine, because in that situation the music has a purpose, to pump up the crowd for a victory. But all the other stuff that blares out between innings, between batters, between breaths—turn it down, already! Let us upper-deckers hear each other.

 Artie: My music for coming up to hit could cover a wide range. I like a nice show tune, a "Bali Hai" or "Some Enchanted Evening." There's also the Groucho Marx classic, "Hooray for Captain Spaulding." But I like AC/DC too, so for my music as a closer I'd choose "Highway to Hell."

 Frank: Why not? If you ever took the mound, the Brewers would be in hell.

 Artie: And the manager would hit the highway for bringing me in.

 Will It Never End?

 Artie: I declared last month that Brett Favre will be in a Vikings uniform by mid-season this fall. Now I wonder, will it be as soon as opening day?

 Frank: He said he was done with football but then made a point of asking the Jets for his official release, which they granted last week. Whereupon Brett said, "At this time I am retired and have no intention of returning to football."

 Artie: All that matters is those first three words. He's seeing himself in purple and hoping it turns Ted Thompson purple with rage.

 Frank: Vikings coach Brad Childress chimed in when he was asked about Favre, saying, "I'm sure we'll talk about that." Why wouldn't they, with Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels as their quarterbacks?

 Artie: Brett won't go through a full training camp at his age, although he's supposed to tutor the Browns' QBs this summer. But as the season approaches...

 Frank: The Vikings' schedule must look nice to Brett. They play seven of their last eight games in either the Metrodome or warm sites, with only Soldier Field on Dec. 28 to remind him of his cold-weather blues in 2007 and '08.

 Artie: That does it! Now I predict that by the first time the Packers play Minnesota, in Week 4 at the Metrodome, Favre will be under center for Minnesota.