Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cat Trick

The Tigers' taming of the Yankees makes perfect sense in a postseason that has defied logic

With a cold beverage and a warm smile, champagne-soaked Jeremy Bonderman is celebrating with a few dozen of the Tigers' closest friends and family members when he is tapped on the shoulder from behind. Randy Johnson, weaving through the pack of partiers as indiscreetly as someone who stands 6-10 can, has stopped to offer congratulations on his way to the offseason.

A brief handshake and a clear message: This is your time.

There should be little doubt about that after the Tigers stunned virtually everyone outside of Detroit by eliminating the Yankees and advancing to their first American League Championship Series in 19 years.

How's this for domination? in a 20-inning stretch from Game 2 to Game 4, the Tigers held the Yankees without a run; in the first 19 of those innings, they did not allow two baserunners in the same inning. The Tigers, meanwhile, manhandled Yankees pitchers for 17 runs in the same span.

The Tigers roared with Kenny Rogers, a 41-year-old soft-tossing lefthander who never had won a postseason game, and rocked with Bonderman, a 23-year-old heat-bringing righthander who, in his previous start, helped cost his team a division championship by blowing a 6-run lead.

Surprising. Shocking. Pick your adjective. Just be sure to save one or two in case the League Championship Series play out anything like the Division Series. All four first-round matchups went pretty much as they were not expected to.

* The Twins entered the postseason with baseball's best record since June 1 but never led in three games against a team known for first-round failures. The Athletics used a pitching-and-defense formula much like the Tigers'--though the A's ace, Barry Zito, has his own theory about his club's success. "It's a living, breathing organism," Zito says. "It's 25 guys and the coaching staff. You can't look at one guy and say, 'He's the ingredient. He's this. He's that.' You add a little salt. You add a little olive oil, some butter. You don't know how much. You just know it tastes good in the end."

* The Dodgers blazed into the postseason with a recipe for success: They won their last seven games and were facing a Mets club without big-game starting pitchers Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, both of whom were injured. But the Dodgers quickly ran out of good fortune. After Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew were retired at home on the same play early in Game 1, L.A. never recovered.

The Mets were the lone team to advance more because of offense than starting pitching, and they'll need to do the same in the NLCS. Their 9-5 series clincher in Game 3 was especially satisfying to three players who had been discarded by the Dodgers two years ago. Paul Lo Duca and Shawn Green had five hits and four RBIs combined, and reliever Guillermo Mota pitched two scoreless innings.

* In less than a week, the Cardinals went from a near-historic collapse to their fifth trip to the NLCS in the past seven seasons. They used two superb outings by ace Chris Carpenter to once again oust the Padres. The underdog Cards figure to make things more interesting for New York than they did in August when they were swept at Shea Stadium.

But when talking about reversals of fortune, start with the Tigers. They stumbled into the postseason on a five-game losing streak, the final three at home against the last-place Royals. They led the A.L. Central by 10 games in early August but gave up first place to the Twins on the season's last day.

Their series started predictably, with the Yankees piling up 12 hits in an 8-4 victory. Derek Jeter--naturally--led the way with a 5-for-5 performance that included a homer and two doubles. Game 2 looked as though it would bring more of the same when Johnny Damon's 3-run homer off rookie Justin Verlander gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead after four innings.

"When Damon hit that 3-run home run, it could have been bad," Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez says. "But we kept our composure and stayed focused and came back. That's what we've been doing all year."

Those were the Yankees' last runs until the seventh inning of Game 4; by then, the Tigers had an 8-0 lead and were seven outs from wrapping up the series.

The turning point came in the seventh inning of Game 2. The Tigers had just taken their first lead, 4-3, when rookie reliever Joel Zumaya was called upon with one out. He quickly disposed of the next five Yankees. With his fastball regularly clocking over 100 mph, Zumaya struck out Jeter, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, with the latter two looking particularly overmatched.

Rogers, who was 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in the postseason before last Friday, fooled the Yankees for 7 2/3 innings in the Tigers' 6-0 Game 3 victory. His teammates say they never have seen him throw his curveball better.

Rogers' teammates also say they have never seen him so emotional, and he admits, "I wanted this game as much as I ever wanted any in my life."

Bonderman, who lost 19 games as a rookie during the Tigers' 43-119 debacle in 2003, nearly one-upped Rogers the next day. Hitting his spots with a 96-mph fastball and a late-breaking slider that made cleanup hitter Gary Sheffield look foolish on two strikeouts, Bonderman retired the first 15 Yankees. He gave up a single to Robinson Cano to lead off the sixth inning, then began to tire. Still, Bonderman made it into the ninth before leaving to a standing ovation and enthusiastically waving his hat on the way to the dugout.

This was his moment, much like this is his team's time.

Source: Sporting News, 10/20/2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Puppies With Purpose

Imagine bringing a puppy into your home, playing with her, training her, and loving her. Then after about a year, you have to part. Sound sad? Not in the case of Padgett, a black Labrador retriever entrusted to Toni Viola, 12, of New Milford, Conn., who is training her as a guide dog for people who are blind. Padgett is Toni's second puppy from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. "The person who has Metro, my first puppy, really needed him," says Toni. "It was very tough to say good-bye … but I knew I was doing it for a good cause." Toni has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was in prekindergarten, so raising puppies for their own careers as guide dogs has been a good experience for her.

At the end of her time with Toni, Padgett will take a test to determine whether she has what it takes for guide dog work. Dogs that fail the test still have a bright future. They may go into other programs, such as law enforcement, or be adopted.

Padgett was 8 weeks old when she began living and working with Toni. Twice a month, they go to a group training class. "We work on improving technique and problem solving. I also learn from the other puppies in the class," says Toni.

On the day CW spoke with Toni, she had taken Padgett on a shopping trip.

"I'm so proud of Padgett," Toni told CW. "She stood at my side like she's supposed to. She wore the blue vest that says Puppy in Pre-Training, which allows us to enter places that don't usually allow dogs. The more exposure, the better. That's how they become guide dogs." Spoken like a true dog expert--and a future veterinarian.

For more information about raising puppies to be guide dogs, please visit or


Fresh Funny Pictures

Law Of The Jungle

Two guys were hiking through the jungle when they spotted a tiger who looked both hungry and fast. One of the guys reached into his pack and pulled out a pair of Nikes.

His friend looked at him "Do you really think those shoes are going to make you run faster than that tiger?"

I don't have to run faster than that tiger, his friend replied. "I just have to run faster than you".