Echoes from the Bronx

PettitteEven before it was learned that Andy Pettitte had pitched Wednesday night’s playoff game after taking a line drive off his right knee during batting practice, his performance had signaled just another dent in the Yankees mystique.

I grew up in the Bronx in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and have been a Yankees fan since I was a little kid. My first memory of baseball was Mickey Mantle catching the final out of the 1958 World Series, a Yankees victory over the then Milwaukee Braves. I will be 54 on Oct. 26 and the Yankees have won the World Series 13 times in my lifetime. They’ve won 22 American League pennants. I still wear a dark blue T-shirt with the famous No. 7 on the back and on the front covering the heart. The No. 7 on the front is surrounded by two invincible words: "The Mick."

Pettitte and Roger Clemens may be pitching for the Astros now, but they are still Yankees in my mind’s eye. And wouldn’t Joe Torre loved to have had them still out there pitching against the Angels in their first-round series?

But it wasn’t to be. The Yankees aren’t the Yankees anymore, not in this era. And Pettitte isn’t really Pettitte. Clemens has always been a hired hand. So be it.

If the Yankees can’t bring the World Series back to the Bronx, at least those two pitchers could bring it to Houston. Somehow, though, I doubt it. Not against the Cardinals. — Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

Wearing their hearts on their backs

Cardsfans_1We knew they’d show up in red. Or white with red. Or maybe even the old road blue of the Cardinals. With red.

The Red Sea of Cardinals fans didn’t get that name for nothing. A whole lotta red going on here, but we knew that.

Now, what’s on the backs of those jerseys, T-shirts and various Cardinals items folks wore to Game 1 of the NLCS? Glad you asked.

Here’s a completely unscientific survey from one tour around the outside of Busch Stadium to get an idea, counting only the ones with numbers and names on the back:

No. 5 Albert Pujols: 32
No. 27 Scott Rolen: 13
No. 15 Jim Edmonds: 11

That’s all pretty predictable, of course. Then it goes all over the place, including a lot of former players:

No. 25 Mark McGwire: 5
No. 22 Jack Clark: 4
No. 6 Stan Musial: 3 (OK, that includes one without his name, but makes sense for Stan the Man.)
No. 30 Mark Mulder: 3
No. 3 Edgar Renteria: 2

And a bunch of 1’s, actives first, then formers:

Actives: No. 22 David Eckstein, No. 29 Chris Carpenter, No. 33 Larry Walker, No. 35 Matt Morris, No. 44 Roy Oswalt (oops, one Astros fan out there), No. 47 John Mabry.
Formers: No. 1 Ozzie Smith, No. 7 J.D. Drew, No. 20 Lou Brock, No. 45 Bob Gibson, No. 51 Willie McGee.

OK, so we’re not talking about taking over the Gallup Poll here. But it’s not a bad sample of how Cardinals fans have their hearts if not on their sleeves then on their backs. — John Schlegel / MLB.com

Paying up

Professional athletes can find inspiration in a number of ways, and perhaps none is more certain to get a player’s competitive juices going than a challenge.

There were a couple of reminders of this fact Wednesday afternoon during Houston’s batting practice session at Busch Stadium.

The first came from lefty reliever Mike Gallo, noticeably agitated upon his arrival at the ballpark.

"Can you believe it?" Gallo asked. "I’m waiting for my car and I see a newspaper and I start reading it a little bit and I see where it says the Astros are a little weak on the left side of the bullpen and they don’t have a left-handed specialist. Well, I know I’m not a left-handed specialist — I get righties out, too — but at the same time it fired me up. So I’m a little more juiced tonight."

Gallo said he was insulted by the piece.

"A little bit, yeah," he said. "I faced two lefties in that (National League Division) series and I got both of them out."

So why not exercise his right as a reader and write the author an e-mail?

"I’d rather prove it on the field," Gallo said.

Roger_clemens_1That’s what Roger Clemens did. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner won his bet with teammate Andy Pettitte over who would finish with the higher batting average this season. Clemens won dinner off Pettitte by hitting .207 compared to the lefty’s .081.

"It was a given how much trash he was talking in Spring Training about how he was going to outhit us," Clemens said. "I was on my way to a .300 year and Andy decided to go national TV with it on my hitting. I went downhill from there and I hung on to the end and it cost my man a little bit on a dinner bet."

We’re not talking fast food here. Clemens brought several cronies to a fancy eatery in Atlanta and stuck Pettitte with a tab he won’t soon forget.

"Roy (Oswalt) was there," Clemens said. "I had to bring a couple of wine connoisseurs. Mr. (Craig) Biggio knows how to order a nice bottle of wine, let’s put it that way. They brought one out; it wasn’t dusty enough, so we sent that one back and had them blow the dust off the label. We didn’t care what it tasted like as long as it was old."

Clemens said Pettitte took the loss well.

"I just won a wager that I didn’t start, which is usually the case whether it happens on the baseball field or the golf course," Clemens said. "You know what, the big left-hander doesn’t like losing five dollars on the golf course. He doesn’t like losing a bet. He’ll pay, he just doesn’t like losing." — Jim Molony / MLB.com

Ode to Busch

Well, it’s my 22nd year of covering games at venerable old Busch Stadium, and I wish I were more misty-eyed about its imminent passing. But I’m not. I see the new yard rising to its south all spanking clean and I can’t wait to watch games there next year.Newbusch275

I covered games at Busch on long-gone Sunday afternoons when the artificial turf was so hot, the sun relected off the green carpet and left my face burned. How about the night in the 1985 playoffs against the Dodgers when Vince Coleman almost got eaten up by the electric tarp? Knocked him out for the rest of the series. That’s a moment to remember a ballpark by.

And now, many of the Padres told me last week that the real outfield grass is so bad and bumpy that it was hard for them to play the field. Nice excuse. But spraying the grass green is a fine touch. Doesn’t that usually happen in a multi-purpose stadium that’s shared with a football team? Were the old NFL St. Louis Cardinals really a football team?

Anyway, I digress. Everything has its time, and Busch II has had almost 40 years. So its time to move again. May the lords of baseball give their blessings and sign the decaying white pillars like almost everyone else.
— Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

McLaren staying involved in Houston

Former Astros president of business operations Bob McLaren is attending the NLCS as guest of Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. (left, with Roger Clemens)

Dray275

McLaren remains a huge Astros fan and has kept tabs on them while he runs McLaren Sports of Houston. McLaren represents two NBA players taken in the June draft, including point guard Deron Williams of Illinois, the third overall pick of the draft by the Utah Jazz, and Bracey Wright of Indiana.

Wright, who led the Big 10 in scoring last season, was taken in the second round by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"It’s been interesting. The NBA’s a lot different from baseball," McLaren said.

When asked if there was any chance of representing baseball players somewhere in the future, McLaren smiled.

"I don’t know about that," he said. "That’s a different ballgame altogether." — Jim Molony / MLB.com