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AZ 23, Cubs 24 - Exit, Pursued by a Bear

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Okay, it was the Bears rather than the Cubs, but old baseball habits die hard! I guess, in the absence of an Arizona Cardinals member of the SportsBlogs Nation, it falls upon me to mention the...remarkable performance by our local whipping boys, in front of a national audience tonight. Don't expect this on a regular basis, since it's kinda like a perfect storm of events: the postponement of the NLCS Game 5, gave me a chance to watch a good chunk of the game. That, in itself, wouldn't have been enough. But when I flicked over to see how badly they were losing, I saw the Cardinals were 14-0 up at the end of the first quarter...

A quick disclaimer. I make absolutely no claims to be an expert in gridiron; the only wide receiver I'm usually interested in is the HD-ready creature inhabiting one end of our front room like the monolith from 2001. Though I do appreciate a good tight end, if you know what I mean and I think you do. :-) But overall, this report is brought to you by Apathy and Ignorance, with additional sponsorship from Snark, Inc. I mean, what is it with all that padding? Must be a bunch of sissies: they wouldn't last five minutes in a game of rugby. [Actually, it could be argued that the padding causes more injuries than it prevents, in the way that boxing gloves cause more damage than they stop. Anyway...]

Things went from surprising to downright shocking, as Arizona continued to score; they built a 23-3 lead, and had possession for the final play of the third quarter. However, Mr. Paris Hilton, Matt Leinart, got hit in the backfield, fumbled, and the Bears recovered the ball to run it back for a touchdown. I think that was the point at which I knew the Cardinals, somehow, some way, were going to find a way to lose this one. And the fourth quarter unfolded with the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Another fumble return reduced the lead to six, and an 83-yard punt return gave the Bears the lead, as they scored 21 unanswered points in barely twelve minutes.

Even then the Cardinals could have won, but kicker Neil Rackers - or, as he should be called, Real Knackers - missed a 40-yard field goal attempt, and the Bears ran out the clock. They committed six turnovers, on four interceptions and two fumbles. They didn't score a single offensive touchdown and were outgained 286-168. But they still managed to beat the Arizona Cardinals, who imploded in a manner not seen on Monday Night Football since the Colts came back against the Bucs in 2003. If the team were the laughing stock of Arizona, they're the laughing stock of the entire nation now. "Well done! You must get up very early..." A mob of enraged season-ticket holders with torches is marching on the Bidwills' offices as we speak...

I enjoyed watching the self-destruction for much the same reasons I like watching really bad movies. The ones which I find particularly appealing are not the Ed Wood, Plan 9 From Outer Space ones, but those where apparently-talented individuals go off the deep end, and spend large boatloads of cash to make total dreck. Battlefield Earth, for example. This game was like that: the first half proved, without a doubt, that the Cardinals could play a highly competent game of football. In the second half, however... Wow. "Awful", doesn't even begin to describe it. It would have been better for all concerned had this been the expected blowout from the start. To have a real, legitimate hope of the season's most stunning upset, only to see it snatched away like this, is just spectacular.

Matt Leinart? Impressive in the first half; blew chunks in the second; his fumble opened the door for the Bears. But using his skills may be the only hope the Cardinals possess - on the evidence tonight (James: 36 rushes for 55 yards?), they have no running game, that much is obvious, even to this gridiron idiot. As is, they find new ways to lose every time: I'm kinda tempted to watch the next contest, just to see what happens... And with that we move on, comforted by the knowledge that, probably even during their 51-111 season, the Diamondbacks did not suck anywhere nearly as badly as the Cardinals have done since their opening week victory.

Alright: you convinced me. :-) Brandon Webb was, indeed, the Diamondbacks MVP for 2006. So spoke a clear majority, 64% of you according to our poll - Eric Byrnes (15%) just pipped Orlando Hudson (11%) for the runners-up spot. Thanks to everyone for their input - even pitching one day out of five, Webb's contribution to the team was incalculable, and hopefully, he can be equally as productive next year...with, perhaps, a little more consistent support from the rest of the rotation. Congratulations to Brandon Webb, and thanks to him for being the engine-room of the team during 2006. We knew that, every fifth day, we had about the closest thing to a cast-iron shot at victory in the NL, taking the mound for Arizona. It's been a long time - several hundred games - since Diamondback fans have had that kind of feeling.

Replacing that poll, is the new one, for 'Rookie of the Year'. This one promises - I think! - to be a little less lopsided, since you could certainly make good, arguable cases for at least two of the candidates. I'm not going to say which ones, for the moment, but if you want to post the reasoning behind your choice as a comment, I'd be interested to read them. Of course, this poll promises to be even more fascinating next year. Young and Montero would appear to have already booked their slots as NL candidates, and though Quentin has technically had too many plate-appearance to qualify, I'll still be thinking of 2007 as his "rookie year".

I've sent off the ten questions to the guests for the SnakePit Round Table. Though there were a number of good suggestions, npineda's Question B - regarding free agency and Eric Byrnes - was deemed the most interesting one of those submitted, and was therefore incorporated as #10 in the list. [Nick, I also sent you an email as requested; hope it arrived!] I'm hoping to begin publishing the responses in a week or so, and it will probably be stretched across several entries, depending on the length of the responses. I'm really looking forward to this, it should be an entertaining exercise, and I encourage everyone to throw their opinions in to the ring in due course.

Game Five of the NLCS was postponed, as noted, and whoever eventually wins, is definitely going to be at a disadvantage against the Tigers as far as rest goes. On the other hand, all the sitting around which Detroit will have done - almost a week without a game - might well take the edge off them. Since they've won seven straight, the Tigers would probably have been happier to roll right on into the World Series, rather than twiddle their thumbs.

Surprised to see the A's have fired their manager, Ken Macha, just after he took them further than any Athletics team has gone since the 1980's; Macha also has the second-highest winning percentage of any manager in franchise history. According to Athletics Nation, "what undid Macha is the fact that he had a poor level of communication with his players." Blez thinks that they will likely go for an internal candidate, such as bench coach Bob Geren and first-base coach Rene Lachemann. Of course, the power behind the throne - Billy Beane - will continue to pull the strings to a large degree: the A's may be the only club where the GM is better known than the manager...

Meanwhile, Lou Piniella is off to manage the Cubs, replacing Mrs. SnakePit's friend, Dusty Baker. He's signed a three-year contract, reportedly worth about $10m. Interesting that they chose to go with Piniella over Joe Girardi. Over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, Al is not impressed. "Piniella, as has been stated here by me and others many times, is almost exactly like Dusty Baker in the way he constructs lineups, uses and abuses pitchers, and treats young players... Unless the Cubs are willing to commit more resources (read: money) than they ever have before to putting better players on the roster, this hire is pointless."

One thing I saw while browsing at BCB: Al noted that the lowest batting average of any qualifying player in the major-leagues last year went to Clint Barmes - yes, the curse of Bambi clearly hit this former Rookie of the Year candidate hard. But what Al points out is, it would have been almost inconceivable before this year that any member of the Rockies would ever win the no-prize for lowest BA. This does, at the very least, provide evidence against conspiratorial use of the humidor. Pleased to report no Diamondbacks were honoured in Al's piece on the worst-performing players of the year - Jeff Bajenaru's 36.00 ERA got pipped by Blaine Boyer of Atlanta's 40.50. But, somehow, after the events of earlier tonight out in Glendale, a link to an article on the lowest of the low seems an appropriate point on which to bring this entry to an end!