September 21, 2004

The Usual Stuff (Baseball, Poker and TV)

I'm working on the entry I promised yesterday about which potential first-round opponent the Twins would be better off playing. I'm hoping I'll have it done by tomorrow, so everyone can begin rooting accordingly. Until then, here are some random thoughts on the usual stuff ...

White Sox Defeat Triple-A Rochester

Well, not quite, but it was close enough for me to use that snappy headline.

A day after Minnesota ended Chicago's playoff chances and secured their third straight American League Central championship, the White Sox got a come-from-behind 8-6 win over a group of Twins that didn't include many regulars.

Of the 15 players who appeared in last night's game for the Twins, seven of them played for Triple-A Rochester at some point this year, including Jason Kubel, Augie Ojeda, Michael Restovich, Jason Bartlett and Jesse Crain, who all played the majority of the season there. Last night's starting catcher, Pat Borders, didn't play at Rochester, but he did play much of the year for Seattle's Triple-A club in Tacoma.

While it's never fun to see your favorite team lose, especially to the White Sox, I do think it's smart to let the regulars get plenty of days off down the stretch, and it was good to see a couple of those Rochester players, Kubel and Restovich, have good games.

In the minors, Restovich has basically been an all-or-nothing slugger, hitting plenty of homers without much in the way of batting average or plate discipline. Strangely though, in his first couple stints in the majors he looked like a patient slap hitter, batting .288/.397/.439 with just one homer in 78 plate appearances. Now Restovich is finally hitting for some power, smacking his first homer of the season against the Orioles on Sunday and then hitting his second bomb last night.

Meanwhile Kubel, who started at designated hitter and batted fifth, went 3-for-4 with a homer of his own, his first in the majors. I'd really love to see Restovich and Kubel form a right-field platoon for the Twins next season, both because they'll be a lot cheaper than Jacque Jones and because they'd likely be at least as effective.

Plus, they are a perfect platoon, as Kubel is a young left-handed hitter who will probably struggle against southpaws for a while and Restovich is a young right-handed hitter who has beat up on lefties throughout his minor league career. We shall see, I suppose. You have to think that, even considering this is the Twins, Restovich has put in enough time in the minors with three straight years at Triple-A to finally get his shot.

Seth on Santana

As much as he's been written about lately -- and some have made sure to tell me it's too much -- you'd think there was nothing left to say about Johan Santana, but Seth Stohs had a really interesting piece about him the other day.

Seth carefully tracked Santana's 14-strikeout start against the Orioles over the weekend and showed, among other things, how often Santana threw his fastball, slider and changeup, when he threw them, and how fast he threw them. It's really a nice look at how a pitcher dominated, as opposed to how much a pitcher dominated.

Speaking of Santana, his Cy Young case got a nice little boost last night, as Keith Foulke blew a win for Curt Schilling by giving up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. During the highlights of Foulke blowing the save, Harold Reynolds made a comment on Baseball Tonight that summed up exactly why it's silly to think that a pitcher's wins are the #1 thing to base a Cy Young vote on, saying, "Well, there goes my argument for Schilling winning the Cy Young."

Peter Gammons, always the voice of reason on that show, chimed in with, "But Harold, it shouldn't. If he pitched well, he pitched well." The point being, of course, that whether or not Foulke can hold a ninth-inning lead has absolutely nothing to do with how good Schilling is. If Foulke pitches a perfect ninth inning, does that somehow make Schilling's eight innings more valuable or impressive? Of course not.

HBO Does It Again

HBO's ability to come up with great shows is pretty damn incredible. While the networks pump out boring, cliched, cookie-cutter sitcoms and create Law & Orders and CSIs by the dozen, HBO creates quality television in all forms time and time again.

The Sopranos is the best show on TV, even if we have to wait years for each new season, Curb Your Enthusiasm is like Seinfeld without commercials and with swearing, and Oz was great for a couple seasons and then still pretty watchable after that.

The Wire is easily the most underrated show around, Six Feet Under had an extremely high peak and is still worth watching, and Sex and the City, though not my cup of tea, is liked by just about every female between the ages of 18 and 80.

Da Ali G Show is 30 minutes of non-stop laughter each week, Entourage, while nothing extraordinary, is strangely addictive, and even "clunkers" like Deadwood and Carnivale are better than 95% of the other stuff on TV.

And then there's the sports stuff, like great boxing, Inside the NFL, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and all the great documentaries. Even Arliss ... well, okay, Arliss stunk, but they should be allowed one mulligan every once in a while, right?

Anyway, the point is that HBO makes great television, which is partly because they are smart, partly because they choose great concepts and people to work on them, and partly because they don't have to pretend that life doesn't involve nudity, bad words or violence.

If the first episode of their newest show is any indication, HBO has another great show on their hands. Family Bonds, is, as Tony Pierce wrote yesterday, "part Cops, part Sopranos," which is I'm sure how the show's creators pitched the idea to HBO.

It's the story of a family in the bail bonds business, which, while not quite the Mafia, is close enough to give you the same feel. Like The Sopranos, Family Bonds focuses as much on the daily business of tough-guy activities as it does on the family life of the people involved.

The first episode featured a father trying to teach his son how to ride a bike by hurling insults at him and telling him that he'd let everyone know that he quit so they could make fun of him. It also included a group of guys gearing up to go track down some bad guys, which is the part that gives it the Cops feel.

Tournament of Champions

For all the ESPN-bashing I do, I was glued to the channel for nearly three hours last night watching the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, a winner-take-all $2-million game between 10 of the best players in the world. More than the actual poker, I loved the back-and-forth banter that went on between all the great players at the table. It was like an old married couple, except it was a table full of people.

And, of course, the poker was awesome too. In one of the first hands of the night, Chip Reese and Daniel Negreanu were heads up in a pot and Reese got a jack on the river to make an inside straight. Negreanu bet out, Reese raised him, and as Negreanu folded his cards he said, "Damn, I was hoping you didn't have ace-queen." Sure enough, that's exactly what Reese had. Maybe it's because I'm just not that good at poker, but stuff like that always impresses me.

During the 170-minute broadcast, it was explained that Reese makes so much money playing cash/side games that for years he didn't even bother with tournaments. Lately though, because his kids want to see him on TV, he's been playing in a few. How would you like to be so good at poker that you could say, "Okay, fine, I guess I'll play in tournaments on TV." Incidentally, I don't want to say how Reese did because I'd hate to ruin it for anyone planning to watch it on replay, but hopefully his kids tuned in early.

I like Phil Hellmuth a whole lot more than most people, primarily because, as a sometimes-jerk myself, I happen to be amused by jerks. That said, even I have to admit that he is a total a-hole. I always get the feeling, however, that a lot of his act is pure shtick, although I've heard other people, who obviously know him infinitely better than I ever will, say that he is 100% for real and just happens to be like that.

The basic mood at the table toward Hellmuth is that everyone treats him like an idiot. When he makes a comment, people race to fire back a one-liner, and then everyone who can't get their words out fast enough just settle for laughing at him. Or sometimes they just say, "Okay Phil," as eyes roll all over the table. I almost felt bad watching it, but certainly if anyone has brought this sort of thing onto themselves, it is Phil Hellmuth.

One of the most interesting parts of the tournament was that siblings Howard Lederer and Annie Duke were at the table with my favorite player, Negreanu. I've been catching up on all the poker gossip around the internet and have found plenty of stuff about Negreanu trashing Duke or Duke saying things about Negreanu, or Lederer commenting on both of them. If I didn't know the backstory, I definitely wouldn't have sensed any sort of animosity, which while disappointing, is a credit to all three of them.

And finally, regarding the sudden surge of poker popularity that has certainly overtaken Yours Truly, I think Doyle Brunson summed it up best last night: "People are finding out what I've known for about 50 years ... that poker is the best game in the world."

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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