Chalk Talk 9-29-11

I’ve only been around the game of baseball for a quarter-century but last night was the greatest single night of baseball I’ve ever seen, let alone the greatest night in baseball history.

I sat there flipping between three games on two channels in a two-hour span wondering and waiting for any kind of drama to conclude matters to all of the sub-plots and events that unfolded in both league’s wildcard races Wednesday night.

And especially with three games all ending in a matter of minutes of each other, there will never be a night that a team like Tampa, down 7 runs (moreover, 9 games in September) with 2 innings left in their season, rallies back to tie the game on a pinch-hit homer from Dan Johnson, who was hitting .108 and down to his last strike in the bottom of the ninth trailing 7-6.

There will never be a night that the team Tampa needed to lose to steal the wildcard from, Boston, collapses in the very same inning just hundreds of miles north in Baltimore with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound trying to close a 3-2 lead on the O’s, who was ultimately trying to save a 9-game lead they had dwindled away.

There will never be a night where minutes after a team watches their wildcard lead vanish, a team like the Rays steals the playoff berth with a walk-off homer on Evan Longoria’s screaming liner in the bottom of the 12th on his last strike which mirrored the image of Mark McGwire’s 70th home run.

And we’ll never see again a night where a wildcard team in another league like Atlanta blow a similar in-game lead, who just like Boston, had a sizable wildcard lead in the month of September.

We’ll never forget that on the last day of regular season baseball, two storybook, cornerstones teams of Major League Baseball crumbled in a season where it looked all postseason races were dormant. Even a Hollywood script could not have compared the drama that was witnessed last night.

Two teams entered like a thief in the night. Two teams collapsed like a Jenga tower.

Boston and Atlanta entered the day tied for their wildcard leads with St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Both held a combined 17.5 game lead throughout September only to be eliminated, dejected and more than just disappointed Wednesday night.

Boston’s collapse is more significant than Atlanta’s, but you can make the case that the Braves are right there with the Red Sox. On September 1, Atlanta’s lead on St. Louis was 8.5 games and all signs pointed to the Braves playing the likes of Arizona or Milwaukee in the National League Division Series.

The Cards could have just packed it in and focused solely on resigning the league’s best hitter, Albert Pujols. Instead, the Cardinals kept chipping away like an Woodpecker on speed and ultimately ended up with the Braves’ wildcard.

Too bad the Cardinals’ prize ends up being Philadelphia.

But the Braves can’t feel as bad as the not-so-mighty Red Sox. With a 7-20 September, Boston couldn’t win back-to-back games all month and let Atlanta off the hook. The Sox evaporated dark clouds over the 2007 New York Mets, 1969 Chicago Cubs and the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies teams that were well-known till now as big choke artists.

Those teams still are, but Boston’s comes of bigger importance. Instead of Boston chasing another World Series, they may be chasing some of their own away. They have to make a decision to either keep Terry Francona or let him go and whether to resign closer Jonathan Papelbon, among others.

GM Theo Epstein has a similar decision to make on himself. Boy, are the Chicago Cubs hoping both move together to Chicago.

But on a night where two teams not only blew their in-game leads and their wildcard lives, baseball’s postseason begins with an extra amount of drama and it provides may be perfect prelude to what might be an unbelievable MLB postseason, a format not to be tampered with in the upcoming years.

If MLB decides to expand the playoffs, I’ll simply point at expanding the Division Series to 7 games as my alternative because you’ll lose the drama and water down the competitiveness of baseball and its races down the stretch.

Simplicity is always better and to allow more teams who aren’t playoff worthy ruins any nostalgic flare baseball’s postseason still might have. Wasn’t it a reward to make the playoffs in baseball? Less teams makes baseball’s postseason that much more special. We have to keep it that way.

I just wish every season concluded matters as last night did. I will never forget that night of baseball for as long as baseball is played. Or, when the Cubs win the World Series. Whichever it is, last night was sheer greatness.

Ozzie being Ozzie…

Nobody knows who the next manager of the White Sox may be, but we do know Ozzie Guillen’s reign is over. And of all the controversies Guillen provided during his tenure as Sox manager, and there’s many to choose from, Guillen’s exit from the organization Monday night was the perfect way for him to leave the franchise.

When you look back at Guillen’s tenure, Ozzie came in with quite the bang in ’03 and never saved outbursts for any particular time. Guillen was always pragmatic, sure of himself and never avoided wearing his emotions on his sleeve. A loose cannon as he was, Guillen was always honest, and never refrained from censorship.

If Ozzie had left without a bit of controversy, the whole universe may have been thrown off course.

That’s why it was so special Guillen made a big stink about getting a contract extension he probably never wanted. Before taking the high road in the press conference after the game on Monday, he ultimately stated the whole time it was about the money, that life was about money and Ozzie was just for Ozzie.

Well there you have it folks. Ozzie, after eight years, confirms what we already knew about the so-called White Sox “leader.”

May be Guillen was just putting a gun up to the White Sox heads, masking a contract demand for his real demands – a way out to Miami. And if Ozzie was always concerned about himself and his way, Guillen’s last controversy was as smarter than George Costanza’s ways of getting fired by the Yankees on Seinfeld.

I guess Ozzie never wanted to take the route of Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday. Nor did he want to take shots at General Manager Ken Williams, who should be thanking Ozzie, or Ozzie’s parents for instilling into him that me-first mentality. It saved Williams job for the time being.

If Guillen wanted to stay, he would have honored his last year of his contract and hoped for a raise in 2012. He had $2 million coming in 2012. A leader will stay in it through thick and thin. May be there’s a reason why Ozzie never appeared in those “All In” commercials.

But now looking at what Ozzie will make in 2012 with the Marlins, it’s clear that the championship in 2005, the division titles and the players that made him a very successful manager wasn’t important as what it did for Ozzie. who did not care for the good of the franchise. It was time for Ozzie to go.

And as we closed the Book of Oz, we learned a lot more about the grizzled Sox leader than what we judged the cover by and the ending of Ozzie’s story was just like his beginning: Controversial. Some of us will miss his flamboyant, sometimes incomprehensible rhetoric. Some of us will not miss him. But for the White Sox organization, it’s a small step of many in the right direction.

Oh the Bears… 

I’m getting tired of my hometown Chicago Bears. This is disgusting to watch.

Again we lose to the Packers, 27-17, now for the third time this calender year and instead of trying to find ways to beat the Packers, we might finally have to admit the Packers are a better franchise and try to copy what they’re doing.

Because obviously what we’re doing isn’t working.

If it’s not the offensive line that isn’t talented or correctly blocking Jay Cutler, it’s Jay Cutler’s reckless abandonment. And if it’s not Cutler’s lack of accuracy or gamer-ability, it comes down to the receivers, who wouldn’t touch the field or be brought back to camp if they were on the Green Bay Packers roster.

And if all those elements aren’t the factors, you point the finger at Mike Martz and Lovie Smith. Martz has a scheme that only does well with legends like Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, with receivers that have the ability of Issac Bruce.

The Bears have the quarterback and running back (Matt Forte), but they do not have the line nor receivers to ever match what Martz did in the Super Bowl year for the St. Louis Rams in 1999-2000.

Martz says he needs to run the ball more. But he’s not. Matt Forte should just lineup on the outside and the Bears shouldn’t snap a running play at all. So much for football 101.

The McCaskey family and organization over at Soldier Field will never admit they have a flawed system. It starts through them, works its way down to Jerry Angelo and ultimately to the soft-spoken Lovie Smith, who needs to go after this season.

Anyone for Bill Cowher? Or anyone else with a high-octane attitude?

And while the Bears keep grinding this “we have the right football mentality” down our throats as if its the best way to win Super Bowls (when obviously it hasn’t won them anything in over 25 years), teams like Green Bay will always restock, reload, out-coach and out-play the Bears.

People are going to cheer, cheer, cheer for the Bears and get this fan-like approach that the Bears are the Bears – the very best – and Brian Urlacher and company will win because they’re soooo good and that booing them isn’t going to solve a thing.

Be a fan of the Bears people, but don’t try to be play the naive card and pretend like what you see is OK. “Oh, it’s good to cheer them, they’ll win, they’ll win. I have hope in my Bears.” It’s NOT, OK?


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