Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yankees 16, White Sox 3

Some thoughts on a game that went down like a good steak:

1. What cannot be stressed enough is that the Yankee will go as far as Abreu, Matsui and Cano will let them. Matsui (2 homers tonight) seems all the way back to his solid self.

2. A-Rod (0 for 5) headed for his second mini-slump of the season? Sitting on 499 as we speak.

3. A good strategy for Moose's starts: score thirteen runs. Seriously, starts like these for the rest of the year should be sufficient.

4. Not trading a prime pitching prospect to obtain Texiera was the smart move.

5. Professional trading deadlines have lost their allure. When was the last big deadline move in major league baseball? The Astros acquiring the Unit in '98? The days of the Braves aquiring Fred McGriff, or the Tigers acquiring Doyle Alexander, or the Red Sox acquiring Mike Boddicker--in other words, a July trade that will transform a pennant race or postseason, is all but over. No one wants to be the GM who gives up the next Jeff Bagwell for a Larry Andersen, or--for all the help Alexander was in '87, going 9-1 down the stretch as the Tigers beat the Blue Jays by one game--a John Smoltz for a Doyle Alexander. It was telling that the biggest trade this week was not even a baseball trade, it was a basketball one: Garnett to the Celtics (for, as Sill Simmons pointed out, the Al Jefferson poo-poo platter). Nobody in baseball wants to trade even a B-prospect, even for a retiring contract, which is why the Astros started the weekend with four third basemen and, after all the wheeling and dealing, were left with three. Mark Loretta is a .300 hitter who can play all four infield positions; Mike Lamb is a middling-fielding third baseman who can hit .290 with some pop. Both will turn free agent after this season; with Ty Wigginton (probably less talented than either of them) locked in for two more seasons, both will leave after this season, leaving the Astros nothing. The Astros, with nothing left to play for this season, will get nothing for them. And what they were offered for Lamb and Loretta was not enough to move them, even under these circumstances. Telling.

6. The one exception to all of the above may be Gagne, who a) may prove a difference in the playoffs, and b) may come at the price of a few future All-Stars. We'll see

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sons of El Duque

One of the more annoying tropes in contemporary sportswriting and--more often--broadcasting is the habit of portraying Cuban athletes as patriotic, altruistic amateurs in positive contrast to (this part is more or less compulsory) "greedy, spoiled, millionaire" American athletes. Every four years--usually right before the Olympics--we are treated to one TV reporter after another standing in front of Castro's sanitized Havana ballyard, every one of them reading from the same script: "No million-dollar contracts. No hold-outs. No strikes. These ballplayers do it for the love of the game, and for love of country."

What crap.

There has been a lot not to like about American sports lately, or pro sports in general: from Michael Vick's hobbies to Barry Bonds's joyless, soulless pursuit of 756. But don't anyone get Cuba wrong. These players may love the game--how could they not? They may love their country. But they don't play for "love of country." They play because Cuba is a penal colony run by a sadistic madman. They play because living conditions are marginally better for productive athletes than the normal run of Cubans--you know, the beneficiaries of Fidel Castro's marvelous health care system, the system in which aspirin and Pepto-Bismol are sold on the black market. These ballplayers don't strike because if they attempted to form a union they would be thrown into dungeons and probably tortured while the world looked the other way.

The only proof one needs is this: how many Cubans leave when they get the chance?

Answer: a lot. And good for them.

The latest from the Pan Am Games.

Yankees 10, Orioles 6

How are these for statistics:

Damon gets three hits, to raise his average--to .247.

Hope that fifty million spends well.

Vizcaino and Kardiac Kyle: 2 innings, four hits, three earned runs.

Another big red-letter day for the non-Rivera Yankee bullpen.

To mention no one else, Dave Wheeler from Houston was there for the asking.

Gagne--as Sun Devil Joe reports--wants to close.

So? So paging Chamberlain.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Marvin Zindler, RIP

A lovely little sliver of Texas lore passed away over the weekend. Marvin Zindler--cosumer advocate, television star, and amateur baton twirler--was most famous as The Man Who Shut Down The Chicken Ranch, aka the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. This seems a proper place to start.

Learning the legend of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange is more or less compulsory to anyone who moves to Texas, and when I arrived in 1989, I read up. The Chicken Ranch was the brothel that inspired the great ZZ Top song "La Grange," the middling musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and the dreadful Dolly Parton/Burt Reynolds movie of the same name. La Grange is roughly halfway between Austin and College Station, and it was a tradition for many years that the winning players of the annual Texas-Texas A&M football game would be treated to a night at the Chicken Ranch, courtesy of the Alumni Association. (In the movie, there is, as Pauline Kael pointed out, precisely one black football player and precisely one black prostitute, so of course when the victors arrive at the Ranch they hook up. This was probably not the way it worked back in the day.)

(There was also, in the movie, the Marvin Zindler character, played by a prissy Dom DeLuise as, I think, a repressed homosexual looking to stamp out anyone else's fun. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, movie division, served as one of a long, long line of movies urging people to give into their inner gay--the most prominent example would be American Beauty--the way films like Interiors and Ordinary People urged people to give in to their inner Jew.)

As is often the case with movies based on real-life events, The Best Little missed out on the far more interesting story: the crusading Marving Zindler, who did not have to drive for hours to La Grange to find a brothel to demonize (as he recounted, in those days there were plenty such places in Houston within minutes of his house), saw the Chicken Ranch as a centerpoint of East Texas political corruption, with tentacles reaching into state government and organized crime. For his troubles he received two broken ribs from the local sheriff, who also, in the confrontation the sheriff had initiated, yanked Zindler's hairpiece off his head and waved it about like a scalp.

It was sometimes difficult to square the Zindler of legend with the Zindler we saw on Channel 13 a few times a week. From 1988 until his death he served two roles for the local station. His first was to act as an advocate for The Little Guy, ie, anyone who felt wronged by the system or Big Business or whatever. 100,000 Little Guys were compelled to write to Zindler every year, seeking redress; and Zindler, no fool, was careful to cull the juiciest, most egregious offenses for broadcast. Watching an insurance adjustor or department store manager in his presence was comedy not unlike the slumlord cowing before DeNiro in Godfather, Part II--and Zindler could receive an audience with whomever he summoned.

Zindler's other role--the one for which he'll be remembered, at least in Houston, on par with his efforts in La Grange--was his Friday night reading of health inspector violations by local restaurants. So-and-So (accompanied by a photo and address on the screen) had rat droppings. So-and-so (photo, address) had roach infestation. So-and-so had food stored at the wrong temperature, always pronounced "temp-a-TOOR" by Zindler. Finally, in the worst infraction, or at least the most locally famous, certain restaurants had "SLIME IN THE ICE MACHINE!", an offense that Channel 13 eventually turned into a 10-second song it would play every week. No kidding.

The best tribute to Zindler was that, when Houston hosted the 1992 GOP Convention, Channel 13--realizing that the convention would run from Monday through Thursday, with everyone leaving Friday morning--moved Zindler's restaurant report from the previous Friday to that Monday, so interested out-of-town viewers could watch the act hard upon Ronald Reagan's valedictory speech. And thousands did.

Make no mistake: nobody more than Zindler knew his act was a hoot, from his white toupee to his blue-shade sunglasses to his mutiple facelifts, right down to his trademark sign-off: "MARRRR-vin Zindler, EYYYYYYYE-witness News!" But unlike the scores of bozos I've seen in various local markets (Phoenix' Dewey Hopper comes to mind: a weatherman (who knew nothing about the weather) turned movie critic (who knew nothing about movies)), Zindler actually accomplished something. Powers sweated his questions no less than other powers did Mike Wallace's. And he steered me away from several awful restaurants, with good reason. Probably, as we speak, he's hectoring Saint Peter, telling him how important it is to serve the holy mannah at the correct temp-a-TOOR. RIP.

More here.

Birds 7, Yankees 5

So someone tell me again about the Yankees' revamped bullpen (remember April?).

The word is, Kardiac Kyle and Proctor are on the way out, while the three stooges (Bruney, Myers, Viz) couldn't be given away. Can ANYONE here pitch the seventh and eighth?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Royals 7, Yankees 0

Iga . . . I-gaw . . .

Hughes. Package for Mr. Philip Hughes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Yankees 7, Royals 1

But of course the Tribe has to rise up and beat the Sawx, 1-0.

A-rod, Matsui, Moose, Cano--good show you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yankees 9, Royals 4

Ah, to root for a team on a streak. Yanks-Royals, inexplicably blocked from my cable offerings tonight. So I'm left turning to ESPN, to see 5-0, then 6-0, then 7-0 Yanks.

Wang on the mound.

Good afternoon, and good night.

4 1/2 out.

Yankees 9, Royals 2

5 1/2 behind Cleveland.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yankees 21, D-Rays 4

But make no mistake: 9-3 these past two weeks, coming out of the break, was probably the minimum in the Don't Have to Panic sweepstakes.

Heorics from A-Rod, of course. A nice showing by the kid Duncan.

But, barring a trade, the Yankee offense will go as the tortured trio of Abreu, Cano, and Matsui perform down the stretch (12-for-16 today, 21-for-29 the past two games, but against Tampa, folks). If Duncan can play, at least in the short run, if Melky moves to center field permanently and can produce at a .280-.290 clip with speed and the occasional pop, if Damon gives them anything at all in limited work (is .250 too much to ask?), 900 runs (I almost wrote "wins") are within reach. And we can forget the short-sighted "Texiera for Hughes" trade talks, and other such moves clear out of 1982.

They got their substitute catcher. He's a Molina. Fine by me.

Now . . . we await Hughes to return and replace Igawa, or maybe (ha ha) Moose.

Padraig Harrington wins British--oh, sorry, "The Open"

Luck O' the Irish indeed.

Where else but at Carnoustie does a golfer go water, penalty, water, penalty, up, and then down for a double bogie on the 72nd hole . . . and find himself in a playoff?

I would have loved it, incidentally, if Harrington had bounced his tee shot on 18 over the bridge in regulation. I've skipped so many shots over so many bridges at the local courses my friends have come to calling the shot my "Irish wedge."

So? So Sergio, given a seven-footer for the victory on 18, lips it out. Then Harrington wins in a playoff.

Up the Irish, as my Nanny used to say, especially when listening to Harrington's post-match interview: "I love me Claret Jug almost as much as me Lucky Charms."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Yankees 7, D-Back 3; Yankees 17, D-Backs 5

We all have those moments. If if if . . . if the light turns green, I would be sick all winter.

First game, fourth inning. I called up the score: 2-0 D-Backs.

"If they lose this game," I said aloud, "The season is over."

The first game was why naps exist.

Well, put it this way: I am continually in search of Christmas morning in my life. GSB will remember my habit at a restaurant: Order my food, wait five minutes, go to the restroom. In a perfect world, upon my return, Ah! My Mexican Flag Chicken. Or my Chicken Parm. My dinner, in short steamy and waiting for me at my place.

Christmas morning.

So, to recapitulate:

2-0 D-Backs. The Yankees' worst starting pitcher, Igawa, was on the mound, and wriggling out of one jam after another. (If this were Office Space, Brian Cashman would be perusing Igawa's performance file, and saying, "Iga . . . wa, I . . . ga . . . wa . . . Igawanting another job soon, anyway, ha ha ha," right before promoting That Guy from Swingers to Assistant to the Travelling Secretary.)

Clouds rolling in. Houston. 51 days of rain out of the last 53.

In other words, time for a nap.

I slept. I awoke. And it was a new day.

Down 2-0 in the fourth of Game 1, the Yankees outscored the D-Backs 24-6 over the next 14 innings to sweep, and put themselves back in.

What is happening here is no fluke. More than anything, the quiet bats of May and June have heated up, specifically Cano, Abreu and Matsui (combined 9-for-13 in the nightcap). A-Rod came out of his mini-slump ten games ago, Jeter and Posada have stayed steady all season, and Melky is, well, growing in office. (What's the over-under on the Yankees' attempt to eat Damon's contract? Does he really have three years to go after this one? Who do they think they are, the Knicks?)

Make no mistake: there are huge holes here. SunDevil Joe reported some a few nights ago. They need a second catcher, some power at first base, some more power from the right side, and one more arm in the bullpen, with Kardiac Kyle's days apparently numbered. (Kyle might be the one commodity the Yanks could part with without too much pain--especially in the National League, where he could feast on pinch-hitters in the late innings.)

But take a look at the Astros these days and see how things might have easily gone coming out of the break.

Now, some hope.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Devil Rays 14, Yankees 4

Well, my illness seems to have vanished.

Now Mussina is killing me.

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2

Five-game winning streak, Two-oh lead for the staff ace, make it six . . .

. . . Ah, never mind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 2

Second late-inning comeback in as many nights.

For the division and Wild Card, we are around the 6-8 game margin.

Just enough to merit frustration, just enough to blow in 5 days.

Anybody know when Hughes is back? Wang, Rocket, Pettitte, Hughes, Moose. Go to war there.

What is the over/under on Kardiac Kyle? End of the month?

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2 (10)

Just the sort of win to give you hope.

Unlike my other favorite team, the Astros, who broke from the break by losing four straight and essentially end their season (there are precisely two reasons to continue watching the Astros: the competent work of Carlos Lee and the sparkling play of rookie Hunter Pence, both of whom homered last night), the Yanks have given us reason to suspect the season will have some meaning after all.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yankees 6, Bloue Jays 4

Winning when Igawa starts feels like sweeping a double header.

Friday, July 13, 2007

D-Rays 6, Yanks 4

Better today, enough to eat solid food.

And to awake to a country going insane--sixty years from now, the voices preaching retreat from Iraq, today, will sound as insane and narrow-minded as those of Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and the rest of Appeasement-minded England of the 1930s sound today.

And to a McCain campaign closer to the end than most people realize.

And to a world in which Roger Clemens gets thumped by Tampa.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Yankees 7, D-Rays 3

Well, that was interesting.

Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I was laid up with coughing that felt like lightening bolts inside my chest (and reminded me of my younger bout with asthma, the affliction that prompted me to take up jogging), along with dry-throat choking that was the breathing equivalent of bone-on-bone, plus a fever that crept ever upward.

In college and grad school, I used to bargain with my illnesses, managing them off so that they fell between semesters, or if necessary after large exams. One memorable Christmas Day, 1985, my mother drove me to John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, where my throat and fever were attended to by Jewish doctors who had traded their chits so they might have off Passover and Rosh Hashannah.

I think, in middle age, I'm approaching something much like the reverse of bargaining: that is, illnesses that specifically avoid weekends and vacation time and falls smack in the middle of work.

Case in point: I'd accumulated enough vacation time to take Monday and Tuesday off every week, plus a full week in August. This one week, the start of the second half of summer school, would be the lone exception.

This week happens to be, famously, the most boring sports week of the year (outside of the three weeks between the Super Bowl and pitchers-and-catchers-report, the regular season of the NBA having long since lost their allure for me). I'll watch the All-Star Game next year, in (Old?, do we call it that yet?) Yankee Stadium, but, really, after three months of the Yankees and Astros, I needed a break from baseball as much as they did. The only glimpses of baseball I watched all week were when Home Run Derby went an hour-plus over and I had to keep re-configuring the DVR to make sure I caught all of the first episode of "The Bronx is Burning." Then it was back to Friends with Money, or whatever Astro-Girl and I watched that night. Of the All-Star game, I saw the last out, and accidentally.

So: no sports to excite me, and no vacation to entice me.

Bingo: this was the week to get sick.

A lot of illness and fever has gone around in Houston--which, starting the night of my bachelor party (May 31st) straight through my wedding day (June 2), then through all of June, then through half of July, gave us 45 days of rain out of a possible 47. Essentially, the wind kept blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico and kept the same cloud bank in place for a month-and-a-half. When I was first laid low, I thought: Hmm: damp, rainy, bad chest cold, nothing. As the rain beat outside, I settled in for a comfy two days off and all twelve hours of Brideshead Revisited on DVD.

When, Thursday morning, I lept out of bed in a coughing and choking spasm, I recovered my wits and then thought: Hmm, off to the doctor.

And to the verdict.


No, really: pneumonia. And I suddenly felt like a heroine in a Bronte novel, whose first delicate cough was a prelude to a deathbed scene fifty pages hence.

I guess I had "walking" pneumonia, because I was able to have the perscription filled under my own power.

And here's the good part.

A day with the inhaler, a day-and-a-half eith anti-biotics, and the illness retreated at least over the nearest bluff and let me concentrate on . . .

Tonight's game. Pettitte solid, A-Rod, Jeter. Only one game, but nice.

This is the patch of season to make their move and win games in bunches.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"The Bronx Is Burning" premieres tonight

Oh, please, please, please, Dear God, don't let this thing suck.

In the pantheon of my sports-viewing life, four teams have stood out for me as the epitome of success, class, effort and teamwork: Larry Bird's Celtics, the Brady/Belichek Patriots, Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart's Trojans, and Joe Torre's Yankees, circa 1996-2001.

(Jake Plummer's ASU Sun Devils, by missing out on the prize by 19 seconds, are barely nosed off my personal Mount Rushmore. And the 1972 Boston Bruins, my first encounter with a champion always seemed a minor disappointment; this team, not Montreal, should have been to the seventies what the Islanders, and later the Oilers, were to the 1980s.)

The 1976-78 were, by any definition, a successful team: three pennants in a row, two World Series in a row--by all accounts, quite an impressive run against a field top-heavy with 90-plus-win teams: Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and--most fatefully--the Boston Red Sox, the only team in Divisional Play history to win 198 games in consecutive seasons ('77 and '78) and have nothing to show for it.

However: what made the Yankees so compelling was not just their superb play on the field, but the ongoing off-the-field drama that existed, so openly and so luridly, day after day. What was clear, just by reading the Phoenix Gazette and Sports Illustrated, was a four-part melodrama featuring Thurman Munson, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner. What became clear, as the years passed, was that, in Roger Angell's account in the New Yorker, never a more joyless clubhouse existed. Whole factions of the teams despised other factions; Munson, Graig Nettles, Sparky Lyle and Lou Piniella barely bothered to hide their hostility toward Jackson; Jackson talked to third-string catcher Fran Healy and almost no one else; young Willie Randolph withdrew so much he earned the nickname "Corporal Moody" from Nettles; Mickey Rivers was forever piling up gambling debts and begging for advances on his salary; and Catfish Hunter, Chris Chambliss, Roy White, Ron Guidry did their best to stand clear of the whole mess.

Heading the team was bombastic George Steinbrenner--ranting to reporters during games, phoning the dugout to demands pitching changes--and manager Billy Martin, whose brilliance as a game tactician and judgment of talent was done in by his vast insecurity and his drinking.

The only really joyful part of the Yankees was between the lines--when, as has been repeated a thousand times, "they took their fight out of the clubhouse and onto the field."

In a proper world, the mini-series that starts tonight would capture at least some of that.

Maybe. But maybe not.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yankees 12, Angels 0

A terrible half-season ends on an up note.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Angels 2, Yankees 1

This game was emblematic of the whole miserable season:

1. Strong starting pitching goes for nothing. Right now, Clemens (eight innings, one run) must be reconsidering his return.

2. Dreadful relief, sans Rivera and--sometimes--Kyle. Rivera came in on the tie and shut the Angels down for two; Kardiac Kyle worked out of a Kyle-like jam. But when Luis Rivera came in to work the twelfth, all I thought was, Well, maybe they'll hit it at someone. Which they did, for one inning. When Chone Figgins hit his double in the thirteenth, I turned the TV off. I knew what was coming. Findig out, after the game, that Figgins had scored on a throwing error, just made all that fall into place.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth of July . . . .

. . . and a special one of my own to Robbie-Boy, a fireman in the Phoenix, Arizona FD, and a member of a profession whose protection of us all should never be overlooked.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

HUNTER PENCE! And the joys of Minute Maid Park

It is time to take note of Astros' rookie centerfielder Hunter Pence.

Tonight: three for six with a walk.

Meaning: seven plate appearances. Meaning: as of tonight, Pence qualifies to appear tomorrow in second place in the NL batting race, with a .345 average.

With ten home runs in two months, and five triples, and a stride around the bases that recalls a young Dave Winfield.

I have seen phenoms blaze and fade, and--thanks to interleague play--Pence hasn't even made his way around the National League a single time. I saw a whole group of break-out rookies from the mid- to late-eighties disappoint to a certain degree: Wally Joyner, Canseco, Inkie, Matt Nokes, Roberto Kelly, Greg Jefferies, Dave Magadan.

So I'm not stupid. What I'm doing is simply relishing in this kid as the sole bright spot in a dreary Astro season.

Well, Pence and Biggio's chase for 3,000. And how well Carlos Lee has settled in, providing just as much offense we had hoped for, better defense than advertised, and a rapport with the local clientele that is so touching that a group of Hispanic men, dressed in Carlos Lee Astro jerseys and sombreros, waving stick ponies, and advertising themselves as "El Caballitos," nightly station themselves on a balcony above the outfield fence in left-center.

"A balcony above the outfield fence in left-center" is but one of the interesting aspects of Minute Maid Park, as we shall see.

But--especially now that Biggio has surpassed 3,000 (a great moment, that) and left us with nothing more but the obligatory He just passed Clemente, he just passed Kaline talk, the equivalent of an author at the end of the line publishing his notes--this season is about Hunter Pence.


Eighth inning, Phillies lead the Astros, 4-3. Phillies' Ryan Howard, who previously pounded a two-run double to right, now hits a fly ball to deep center--the deepest center in the majors, a centerfield complete with the tricked-up Tal's Hill that non-Houstonians hate so much. (What will be the end of Tal's Hill? Carlos Beltran or Willie Taveras will tear a knee running up Tal's Hill, the union will raise holy Hell, and that will be the end of the Tal's Hill.) Pence, who (despite his speed and soft hands) has had some difficulties with Tal's Hill this year, now tracks Howard's ball, loses it for a second in the Minute Maid ceiling, spots it again, sprints up the hill, turns around, then catches it.

Top of the hill.

Top of the hill, while leaning against the flagpole, in front of the "436" sign, looking like a kid during the early part of my old Little League season, when they didn't install the outfield fence until school let out for the summer. (For those early games, anything hit to the basketball courts on the fly was a homer, and whenever one particular opposing hitter came up, our centerfielder was positioned back by the nearest basket support and told to "guard the asphalt.")

Howard--two strides from second base at the time of Pence's catch--touches the bag and heads for the dugout.

(In seven-plus years of Minute Maid, only one catch is comparable: the Dodgers' Dave Roberts, in 2003, climbing Tal's Hill two-thirds of the way up, then leaping into the Mexican Restaurant beyond the center field fence, in order to bring Lance Berkman's two-run homer back into the park and thus preserve Eric Gagne's consecutive-saves streak.)

(Anyway, we move ahead to further action.)

Ninth inning, the Astros tie the game on a brutal call. Charlie Manuel complains, is tossed.

Bottom, thirteenth inning. Still tied, 4-4. By now, we are in the realm of those National League games in which one side or the other (tonight, the Phillies) runs out of position players and has to use starting pitchers to hit for pitchers. Out of the bullpen (to pitch, not to hit) comes Jose Mesa, who was sent in to mop up Monday night, and served up a pitch that Carlos Lee sent clattering up on the railroad tracks above the high facade that sits behind and above the left field Crawford Boxes. (For comparison, think Pujols-Lidge, '05 NLCS. Also, note: when an Astro hits a home run, the train, which hauls a load of enormous pretend oranges--Minute Maid, get it?--runs along the track for about fifty feet.)

First up to face Mesa, Hunter Pence.

First pitch.

Fastball, waist high.

Gone. Left field. Ballgame.

Hunter Pence.

Yankees 8, A's 0

Oh, and in the midst of all the Scooter noise, there was actually a baseball game.

7 1/2 back of the Wild Card.

Wang strong.

The rest of the week will tell.

Well, I am shocked

The House to hold hearings on The Scooter Libby commutation.

Spanning the Web

Mark Steyn used to talk about how the definition of a nano-second had changed. Previously, he wrote, it was the time that elapsed, on a New York City street, between the light changing green and the sound of the horn in the car behind you. (Indeed: on some streets in Brooklyn the time to accelerate is, absent cross-traffic, when the other guy's light turns orange. Hence the term "Brooklyn Beep.")

Now, he wrote, the difference was the time that elapsed between an Islamofascist terrorist attack and a press release by CAIR fearing "retaliations" against Muslims.

I have a new entry: the time elapsed between a foiled Islamist sleeper cell and the rlease of a story preporting, um, absolutely no discernable connection between the alleged terrorists.

Leading in the clubhouse tonight is this, by the AP. Empahsis/italics added.

LONDON - They had diverse backgrounds, coming from countries around the globe, but all shared youth and worked in medicine. They also had a common goal, authorities suspect: to bring havoc and death to the heart of Britain.

The eight people held Tuesday in the failed car bombing plot include one doctor from Iraq and two from India. There is a physician from Lebanon and a Jordanian doctor and his medical assistant wife. Another doctor and a medical student are thought to be from the Middle East.

All employees of the United Kingdom's National Health Service, some worked together as colleagues at hospitals in England and Scotland, and experts and officials say the evidence points to the plot being hatched after they met in Britain, rather than overseas.

Okay. Anything else they might have in common? Anything at all? Hands? Okay, back to the article.

"To think that these guys were a sleeper cell and somehow were able to plan this operation from the different places they were, and then orchestrate being hired by the NHS so they could get to the UK, then get jobs in the same area — I think that's a planning impossibility," said Bob Ayres, a former U.S. intelligence officer now at London's Chatham House think tank.

"A much more likely scenario is they were here together, they discovered that they shared some common ideology, and then they decided to act on this while here in the UK," he said.

Heavens, what ideology might that be? Five paragraphs in, we have no clue. Perhaps reading on will provide as answer:

No one has been charged in the plot in which two car bombs failed to explode in central London early Friday and two men rammed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas cylinders into the entrance of Glasgow International Airport and set it on fire the following day.

Investigators believe the main plotters have been rounded up, including one in custody in Australia, though others involved on the periphery, including at least one British-born suspect, were still being hunted, a British government security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the details.

For "details," see below.

British-born Muslims behind the bloody 2005 London transit bombings and others in thwarted plots here have been linked to terror training camps and foreign radicals in Pakistan, and the official said Pakistan, India and several other nations were asked to check possible links with the suspects in the latest attacks.

The educational achievements of the suspects in the car bomb attempts is in sharp contrast to the men that carried out the deadly July 7 transit bombings two years ago. The ringleader of that attack, Mohammed Siddique Khan, had a degree in business studies, but with low marks, and his three fellow suicide bombers had little or no higher education.

We're through paragraph nine--and here, no mention of the common religion of the alleged terrorists, just the religion of those who have been linked to other, previous attacks. Okay, once again: any common thread between this bunch? Any at all?

We can only infer:

In the current case, Muhammad Haneef, a 27-year-old doctor from India arrested late Monday in Brisbane, Australia, worked in 2005 at Halton Hospital near Liverpool in northern England, hospital spokesman Mark Shone said.

Ah. And the others?

Another Indian doctor, 26, arrested late Saturday in Liverpool, worked at the same hospital, Shone confirmed, but refused to divulge his name.

A third suspect, Mohammed Jamil Asha, a 26-year-old doctor from Jordan of Palestinian heritage, was arrested Saturday with his wife, Marwa Asha, 27, who was identified in British media reports as a medical assistant. He worked at North Staffordshire Hospital, near the Midlands town of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

A doctor at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Glasgow, who refused to give his name, said he recognized Asha as a doctor who kept an office there — the same hospital where another suspect, Bilal Talal Abdul Samad Abdulla, worked.

According to friends of Abdulla's family in Iraq, the 27-year-old doctor came to Britain after graduating from medical school in Baghdad. He was a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that rammed into the Glasgow airport.

The Jeep's driver — identified by staff at Royal Alexandra Hospital as a Lebanese doctor named Khalid Ahmed — was in critical condition at that hospital from burns suffered in the attack. Police would not confirm his identity.

Investigators believe the same men who parked the explosives-laden cars in London may have also driven the blazing SUV in Glasgow, the British security official said.

The final two suspects, ages 25 and 28, were arrested by police Sunday at Royal Alexandra Hospital. Staff said one was a medical student and the other a junior doctor, without giving their names. British media said they were from Saudi Arabia, but police refused to comment.

Dr. Shiv Panbe, former chairman of the British International Doctors Association, said the two Indian nationals in custody were Muslims.

There: in paragraph 17, a direct quote attributing Islam to so many as two of the alleged plotters.

It is very upsetting news," Panbe said of their alleged involvement. "It is an abuse of trust and respect — everyone should be able to love their doctor."

Yeah, go figure.


Scooter is Rich

A bit of, "Hey, wait a minute!" by the left, who came across the insight that Hugh Hewitt, for all his presumed jet lag, was first to point out: that commutation, down the line, may be better than a pardon. Libby may yet win on appeal, which would be the equivalent of a Not Guilty verdict. If not, W could always leave a pardon in his out box on, say, Christmas Day, 2008.

Over at the New Republic, Christopher Orr fires first:

There is even a case to be made that, far from being the pardon-minus it's been billed as, commutation serves as a pardon-plus for Libby. He can (and will) continue with his appeals, which if they succeed, will restore him to innocence more persuasively than any presidential pardon. And, of course, if they fail, Bush can always pardon him down the road. There's even some speculation that the commutation increases Libby's legal leverage: While the appeals proceed, Libby can invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination should, say, Congress wish to have a discussion with him; had he been pardoned, he would have considerably less latitude.

All in all, a good day for Scooter Libby, and a bad day for believers in equal justice before the law.

Of course, I disagree with the last statement. But it is moves like these that make me long for the days, all the way back to the 1994 Governors' race, when W pulled a rabbit out of his hat after being underestimated by his enemies.

Oh: a love the part where Orr reports that, with $5 million in his defense fund, Libby (in Orr's estimation) may actually end up turning a profit "for his crime." Orr returns soon after with an "Update," (after, he grudgingly reveals, being verbally slapped around by publisher Martin Peretz), to basically admit to total ignorance regarding the fees of high-priced Washington criminal lawyers.

Originally via Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner.

Scooter Redux

Hugh Hewiit, explaining commutation, with this (I think) prescient point:

And the president did the right thing with the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. Those on the right condemning him for refusing a pardon should realize that Libby's appeal is still alive and it would be much better for Libby to receive a judgment from the D.C. Circuit that the proceeding was a sham after the Armitage leak was discovered than having the matter end now with a pardon.

So this keeps alive the best of all possible worlds: no jail time, plus an overturning of the original verdict.

Well, all right, then.

"Do you know how much your airline sucks?"

Terrible airline stories have become as much a part of the web as Hitler Cats and lesbian porn.

This one, from Dean Barnett, aka the sainted Soxblog, tops them all.

Picked up a fabulous tip:

When travelling with a companion, a compelled to remain overnight on promise of free accomodations, always demand two rooms, as is your right. Then, at the hotel, see if you can exchange the two vouchers for an upgrade.

Worth knowing.

Scooter Libby: Free!

This case should never have come to trial. Its origin was an act that wasn't a crime (the revelation of Valerie Plame's status) that was in any case committed by somebody else (Richard Armitage). What's more, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald knew both of those facts for two years before dragging Scooter Libby over conversations he had with journalists over matters whose relationship to the Plame kerfuffle don't even rise to the definition of "peripheral."

This is, on balance, one of the least-worst decisions President Bush has made in awhile, the closest to a clear-cut positive since John Roberts. Social Security Reform was a distraction, and a futile one at that, at a time when Bush's momentum was at its greatest, right after the 2004 re-election. Harriet Miers was a miserable choice for the Supreme Court, and if we grant that Bush's most lasting (and, from conservatives' perspective, most positive) legacy will be the twin pillars of Roberts and Alito, one must acknowledge that it took him a mulligan to get the second half of the equation correct. Dubai was benign on the merits, but Bush exasperated his friends by allowing the Democrats demagogue him to death by characterizing a straight-up management deal as "selling our ports to the Arabs." And, worst of all, his mis-management of Iraq cost the GOP both Houses of Congress, and may deliver us unto Hillary, leaving aside its long-term global implications.

Lastly, immigration has been a perfect example of his recent penchant: enraging his base while simultaneously firing up his opposition.

One imagines Bush's Chief of Staff played by Tim Matheson, shouting at every meeting: "What this situation absolutely requires is a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part." The only difference is, when the Delta House went on a rampage, it was the other guys who ended up in a heap. Too often, this Administration's stupidity and futility turn only inward.

So I guess, today, we can be grateful. But man, what could have been . . .

A clear-cut pardon was something Bill Clinton would have done, in front of a cheering crowd in the Rose Garden, after surrounding his own Scooter Libby and himself at the lectern with an assortment of sycophantic women and blacks. Bush, to his credit, doesn't have Clinton's lack of shame. Nor, in this narrow vein, does he have Clinton's guts.

Byron York, whose coverage of this case should have merited a Pulitzer, has the inside scoop.

Monday, July 02, 2007

How to enjoy a miserable baseball season (National League division), Part II

Tonight was the concluding game of the bloc Astro-Girl and I purchased (or were given) some time ago, in the hopes of seeing Biggio's 3000th. That plan, of course, crapped out--I was off by one game, and heard about it--and so we were left to enjoy the game as best we could.

A 3-1 record in our own mini-homestand came in handy. Tonight, watching Carlos "El Caballo" Lee hit a majestic home run onto the train tracks at the top of the facade behind the Crawford Boxes, followed by a celebration of his rooting section (a collection of a half-a-dozen Hispanic men in Carlos Lee jerseys, sombreros and stick ponies, a group which perches itself on the walkway above the left field fence for every home game), was nice.

The sight of Craig Biggio to get two more hits (ten in the last five days) to pull to 3,007, and a tie with Al Kaline for twenty-sixth on the all-time hit list--this was special.

But more than anything, 2007 has been about the arrival of Hunter Pence, who tonight singled, scored, then clobbered a two-run homer off the Chik Fil-a left field foul pole, thus ensuring all ticket-holders free chicken sandwiches tomorrow.

This followed a four-for-five afternoon yesterday. Which followed hard upon a .350 start to the season, eventually rounding out to around .340.

He's young--I saw him up close a few weeks ago, when he came over to the right field railing and signed a ball of mine, and I'd say he's too young to shave. He hasn't quite figured out the contures of Minute Maid Park: tonight, with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, went back on a long fly ball caught the ball on a backhanded dead run, but in the act of running up Tal's Hill he dropped the ball. He'll get better. And nobody knows his future, long-term. (Joe Charbannou, anyone?)

But for now, simply watching the start of what even might be something big is a reason to return to the ballpark, day after day.

Exhibit #1 of why the All-Star game sucks is that Hunter Pence--batting .340 with power, playing splendid centerfield, racing across the greenward or around the bases with a gait that reminds one of Dave Winfield, circa 1984, (in other words, a legitimate MVP candidate--is staying home.

Yankees 5, Twins 1

Two traditional Yankee games in three days.

The Rocket's strongest outing.

Eight-and-a-half games back of the Wild Card.

Eleven back of Boston.

The season is still salvagable. All the elements are there.

But they have to get moving.

A's 11, Yankees 5

Was at Minute Maid, along the first-base line, when the yellow numbers started going up for inning three: first a yellow four, then a six, then a seven--yellow, meaning the inning wasn't over.

Then a white seven. The inning was over. And so was the game.