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Baseball Notebook: Hail Mary, Cubs full of grace?

Sunday, October 05, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Just because the regular season has been over for a week doesn't mean the game suddenly gets world serious. There was still plenty of unmeasured comments, unrequited curses and George Steinbrenner to go around.

Mind bender

To an inquiring baseball world, the long-suffering, long-vigilant, long-self-flagellating Cubs/Red Sox fan makes this postseason as intriguing as Kerry and Pedro. So it was with no little urgency that writers descending upon Chicago and Boston this week went with this order from their editors: Go forth and find out what makes these fans poke themselves in the eye with a stick?

For the record, you might as well attempt to explain Pittsburghers' manic desire for "The Lion King" tickets in 100 words or less. Still, many tried.

None better than Tom Wilkinson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who happened upon a Cubs fan named Cathy Ward. In the hunt for insight, this woman, who had just bought a Cubs cap with a blinking red 'C', just might have been the Holy Bobblehead.

There was a statue of the Virgin Mary outside a woman's house near Wrigley Field, she told Wilkinson. The statue had a red-white-and-blue Cubs rosary around its neck. But it needed more.

"[The woman] needs to put a ball cap on the Virgin Mary," she said. "I'll probably go to hell for that. But the Virgin Mary is probably a Cubs fan. She roots for the underdog. But with all due respect to the Virgin Mary, she's not getting my blinky cap. Unless she personally asks for it."

Say Amen! In 53 words. There you have it. Faith. Belief. Fatalism. And just enough street cred to get her through the next nuclear winter once the Cubs lose (they must, right?) and she discovers Jesus' mother is actually a football fan. After all, football named a pass in her honor. What's baseball ever done for her? It couldn't even fork over a blinky cap.

Hamm-fisted

It wasn't a big deal with the knee-twitchy Boston media, so we can be certain it wasn't a big deal. Still, when Nomar Garciaparra skipped the Red Sox's regular-season finale Sunday to watch U.S. soccer star/fiancee Mia Hamm play a World Cup game against North Korea in Columbus, Ohio, people did take note.

People? Well, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in USA Today. "[Derek] Jeter would not have left his team," said Steinbrenner. "But that's not a criticism of Garciaparra. If I had a fiancee who looked and played like Mia Hamm, I would've done the same thing."

We understand ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" has an opening for a man with such powers of analysis.

Rip it good

Fans of the other 29 teams should enjoy this one. For all the Yankees' world championships and all their Hall of Famers and all the pinstripes they insist can be found in the Shroud of Turin, there is one thing they apparently can't do. Cut along the dotted line.

Better than 1,000 fans missed the start of Tuesday's Game 1 at Yankee Stadium because they removed the tickets from their postseason ticket books incorrectly, taking the ducat and leaving the stubs that are removed at the gate.

To their credit, the Yankees replaced the tickets. But with so many people in the same predicament, the wait ran as long as 1 1/2 hours, many didn't get in until the fourth inning. What's more, the team charged them $5 to get their own tickets back.

Said Yankees spokesman Rick Cerrone: "They should have torn the tickets right. It doesn't get any simpler than that."

Said one glass-is-half-full fan: "It could be worse. We could be waiting to see the Jets."

Finding Schmidt

Where was Jason Schmidt yesterday? After Friday's 4-3 loss to the Marlins, all indications were that Schmidt would come back on three-days' rest for the Giants in Game 4. Instead, rookie Jerome Williams started for the Giants and didn't make it out of the third. Word was that Schmidt told manager Felipe Alou he couldn't go.

Schmidt said that wasn't so. "That's very wrong," Schmidt told Steve Gorten of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

However, reading between Schmidt's lines, you get an idea why Alou got that impression.

"Physically, I could have pitched," said Schmidt, but added that he would prefer not to on three days' rest. "I said, 'If the case presents itself, I have to pitch [Saturday], you know, I will do that. It would probably be in everybody's best interest if I didn't. But if you want me to pitch, I will do that.' "

Tougher than Powerball

The Marlins drew better than 60,000 fans for each of their two home games this weekend against the Giants. Impressive. But South Florida is still not Boston. The Red Sox held an online lottery for the 300 seats atop the Green Monster. They received better than 310,000 entries.

If it's Tuesday ...

So you thought the Red Sox and A's had a tough schedule, playing until 2:45 a.m. Thursday and then having to be back on the field 13 hours later for Game 2 of their AL division series. At least they knew what city they were in. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, ESPN's No. 1 announcing team, were in New York Tuesday for Game 1 of the Twins-Yankees series, in Atlanta Wednesday for Game 2 of Cubs-Braves, in Oakland Thursday for Game 2 of the Red Sox-A's, in Chicago Friday when the Braves-Cubs resumed at Wrigley Field and in Boston last night. "I have no idea how many miles that will be," Miller said. But it sure sounds as if they had the same travel agent that booked the Expos' road trips this season.

Dear David ...

Until Jason Giambi delivered a two-run single in the seventh inning Thursday to give the Yankees some breathing room at 4-1, he had been 1 for 7 with three strikeouts and the focal point of the frustrations felt by the team's fans (and the New York media). Enter David Wells, the old Zen master. Giambi, the designated hitter in the first two games, said Wells did more to keep him calm than anything or anyone. "He came in [to the clubhouse] and gave me a few magazines to read to, you know, relax me," Giambi told Peter May of the Boston Globe. "What kind of magazines he brought in, well, David will tell you that." Nah. The story probably plays better if we just guess.

Home of the ...

How crazed is Chicago for this Cubs run? The cover story in this week's "StreetWise," a publication by and for the city's homeless: "Can The Cubs Bring It Home This Year?"

This 'n' that

Lost in all the postseason excitement in Chicago: There's chatter the Cubs will follow the Yankees' lead and form their own in-house network by this time next year. Ka-ching! ... Interesting. The Red Sox kept former Pirates washouts Bronson Arroyo and Adrian Brown on their AL division series roster, but left off key trade deadline pickup Jeff Suppan (3-4, 5.57 ERA since the trade). ... St. Louis' Albert Pujols (.35871) edged Colorado's Todd Helton (.35849) by .00022 of a point for the NL batting title. The last time more than three digits were required was 1970, when the Angels' Alex Johnson edged Boston's Carl Yastrzemski by .0003. ... Jason Schmidt's three-hit, 2-0 shutout Tuesday of the Marlins is that much more impressive considering his 111-pitch gem was made up of little more than fastballs and changeups. He hasn't thrown many breaking balls since his elbow began acting up. ... The Giants are 53-16 in games Schmidt has started since they acquired him from the Pirates in 2001. Any wonder they would have liked to have seen him take the ball yesterday? ... Anyone notice the sign in the stands at Wrigley Friday thanking the Pirates?

Shot and a jeer

Shot: The Chicago Tribune rated (new Pirate) Bobby Hill's spring training flop at second as the third-biggest defining event in the Cubs' NL Central-winning season. Had he not failed (.151, 8 for 53), Mark Grudzielanek might never have hit .315 and been a steadying influence up the middle. Note to Pirates fans: Some trades just keep on giving.

Jeer: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was offended that, for the first time since 1997, Fox chose a team other than the Yankees to put in prime time on opening night of the playoffs. After leaving 10 runners on base while looking like a cross between the Detroit Tigers and Timmy Lupus defensively in a 3-1 loss to the Twins, perhaps he should have redirected his anger at ESPN -- the network that did show the game -- for not airing a repeat of last summer's Rapid City Tractor Pull 'n' Has-Been Bandfest instead.


Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474.

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