- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Can't anyone here play this game?
Baseball spends six months and plays 2,400 games to narrow the field to the eight best teams in the game, and then we reach October ... and suddenly everyone turns into the Detroit Tigers. The Giants made seven errors in four games. The Red Sox made five errors in five games. Bernie Williams spent the entire first round kicking the ball around in center field.
And Oakland? Well, the Athletics made five errors in the field and ran the bases as if they were radioactive. Kindergarten recess is more orderly than the Oakland running game.
Begin with the Eric Byrnes play in Game 3 of the Athletics-Red Sox series, when the Oakland rookie made Fred Merkle look like Derek Jeter. Everyone involved in the play screwed up, but none more so than Byrnes. He failed to touch home plate on a close play. But rather than go back and touch it while catcher Jason Varitek chased the throw to the backstop, he decided to limp after Varitek and deliver a petulant, blindside shove. You rarely see such a blatant display of idiocy and poor sportsmanship at one time, at least not unless Mike Tyson is involved.
And where were his Oakland teammates? Why didn't on-deck hitter Eric Chavez yell at him to touch home plate? Why didn't anyone in the dugout notice? Were they all too busy reading "Moneyball''?
Varitek, meanwhile, was alert enough to tag Byrnes but not alert to actually tag him with the ball. Replays showed that Varitek had the ball in his right hand while he swiped Byrnes with his empty glove. Home-plate umpire Paul Emmel completed the trifecta by calling Byrnes out anyway, which I guess is a good thing, because otherwise Byrnes and Varitek would still be scrapping around home plate.
Most teams wouldn't have even tried to top that, but not Oakland. Oh, no. The next play Miguel Tejada decided to ask for a do-over when he was 15 feet from crossing home plate safely. Sure, third baseman Bill Mueller interfered with him slightly, but c'mon. Everyone in every sport knows you never assume any call by the official and that you keep playing until the whistle blows or the umpire raises his arms. All Tejada had to do was keep moving his feet and he would have given Oakland the lead. Instead, he stood and whined that he had been obstructed, allowing the Red Sox to tag him out.
Oakland added a third blunder in Game 5 when Jose Guillen was thrown out trying to stretch a two-out, run-scoring double into a triple in the fourth inning. He was thrown out easily, ending a rare rally against Pedro Martinez that had briefly lifted the Athletics over Boston.
We're used to seeing such bonehead plays from Oakland, but this month it's a major league-wide problem. Even Florida's Jeff Conine screwed up when he got lazy and jogged to first base on his routine flyball down the right-field line in Game 3 of the Giants-Marlins series. It wouldn't have been that big a deal except right fielder Jose Cruz Jr. dropped a flyball that Timmy Lupus could have caught. Conine wound up safe at first (he should have been on second), and the Marlins rallied to beat the Giants.
The Giants were no better the next day. They made another error and lost the game when J.T. Snow was thrown out at home plate while trying to tie the game with two out in the ninth inning. No postseason game had ever ended on such a play and that one shouldn't have either. Stephen Hawking could have scored on that soft liner. With two out, Snow should have been taking a walking lead and running toward third as soon as the batter hit the ball. By the time the ball dropped into left field, he should have been well around third and on the way to home. Instead, he was out by 10 feet.
And all that's after only one week. Who knows what awaits in the next two rounds.
Every year, people whine about how kids on the East Coast can't stay up late enough to watch the games. This year, that might be a good thing.
I'm just glad Bill Buckner is retired.
Boxscore line of the week
Sure, Jose Cruz Jr.'s dropped flyball didn't help. And certainly Pudge Rodriguez played an equally important part in San Francisco's Game 3 loss last Friday. But the main reason the Giants lost? Look no further than this amazing line:
LOB -- San Francisco (18).
Forget errors. Forget intentional walks to Barry Bonds. Forget disputed sore arms. You're not going to win any games stranding that many runners.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
This week's Monday Night Football Game ended an hour and 40 minutes after Game 5 of the Oakland-Boston finale, finishing up two minutes before 1 a.m. on the East Coast. And it's baseball games that last too long? And it's baseball that programs its premier games when kids should be in bed? Give me a break. ... Despite reaching the past four postseasons on an extremely limited budget, the Athletics have lost their past nine games when they had the chance to win a postseason series. "Anyone who wants to diminish what these guys have done with some historic item is either foolish or ignorant,'' general manager Billy Beane said immediately after the Game 5 loss. Well, maybe but those nine losses in four years are as many as the admittedly much-richer Yankees have had since baseball expanded the playoffs in 1995 -- and New York went on to win all but one of those series (1995 AL Division Series against Seattle was the exception). More importantly, the Yankees have successfully closed out 14 series. ... Will the Mariners miss Pat Gillick? Since 1984, Gillick teams are 1,549-1,157, with just one losing season. On the other hand, Gillick was unable to get permission from ownership for big trades or pull off creative deals the way Beane has, so perhaps someone else will fare better. ... It may be a young man's game in the front office, but it's an old man's game in the dugout. Jack McKeon is older than Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman combined. ... How rich are the Yankees? When they clinched the division series against Minnesota, the payroll for their starting lineup was $70 million, or more than the entire payrolls of 18 teams. The starting payroll for the Twins was $23 million. By the way, the Yankees had lobster tails for their postgame spread after Game 3.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
4hAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com