8.20.02: ... Is it just a naive fantasy that the players might care as much about winning and losing as the fans?  Pete Rose has been banned for betting on baseball, but maybe it's time to think about compelling players to bet their game check on their own team in the hopes of seeing something other than the indifferent and desultory play we've become all-too accustomed to during this Lost Summer.

... I'm sure it hasn't escaped the attention of The Nation that the strike date has been set to coincide almost precisely with when the Red Sox schedule gets easier.  Though I crack on 'em pretty good, I'll once again be rooting for the Millionaires against the Billionaires in the upcoming showdown.  After Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski and Bernie Ebbers, who would ever give the benefit of the doubt to the CEOs?  The difference, of course, between Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, et al. and Major League Baseball is that the former group is wildly exaggerating its revenue, the latter its losses. 

... The Ghost of Offy:  Watching the A's play the Blue Jays last week, I noticed that the current A's highlight package that they run to promote upcoming games ends with Jose Offerman getting thrown out at the plate.  Then came the real horror.  In the rubber game against Offy's M's, Rey Sanchez channels Offerman at the worst possible moment, dropping a double play ball, an error that led to all four Seattle runs.  It was as bad as any error Offy ever made.  It deeply depresses me that the Sox are 6-8 since releasing Offerman, a move I regarded as the ultimate panacea.

... What does Rey Sanchez have against Casey Fossum?  For the second time in six days a defensive lapse by the normally rock-solid second baseman cost Casey a win.  On Aug. 9, Sanchez failed to call a staggering Dauby off a pop-up that the 2B had a much better angle on, leading to two runs in a 5-4 loss.  Then came Thursday's disaster.

... It wasn't as majestic as his 500-foot home run at Skydome last year, but Manny Ramirez nonetheless accomplished something incredible Thursday night:  He was thrown out at second base by Ruben Sierra.  Sierra had not thrown a runner out in the Major Leagues in four years, dating back to a stint with the White Sox in 1998.  Naturally it took Manny jogging all the way to first base before kicking in those afterburners to pull off this remarkable feat.  Manny knows these games count, right?  Isn't it great to watch a guy making $20 million galumphing his way through a pennant race?

... Oh, and how was it Manny wasn't charged with an error in that same game when he dropped Ichiro's routine one-hop single and allowed Carlos Guillen to go from first to third?  Since the play was relatively close even with the boot, isn't it safe to assume that Guillen would have either not gone or been thrown out had Manny fielded the ball cleanly?  Isn't that the definition of an error?  Manny, of course, seemed crestfallen about the whole thing.

While lunges are a great exercise for the quads, lunging is not a great strategy at the plate.  And yet it's a lock-solid guarantee that one or both of our incurable free swingers will lunge ridiculously at a pitch a foot out of the strike zone in every game.  Somewhere in between popping to short, dribbling to third and popping to second Friday night, Nomar fouled off a pitch from Joe Mays that looked like it was going to hit the plate.  As for Shea, he lunged at a ball low and away and grounded weakly into a double play in his first at-bat against Mays, then lunged at ball four and struck out on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt in his second at-bat. 

Anyone else wonder why Pedro came out to pitch the eighth Friday night in Minnesota? Hasn't the whole program been to protect him, preserve him, pamper him?  With the swings we were getting against Joe Mays and trailing 4-0, the eighth had Chris Haney written all over it.

The Jason Varitek Deep Funk Watch:  In a slump that recalls 1978, Varitek is 6-for-50 (.120) in August with a whopping slugging percentage of .140.   In this stretch, he has struck out 20 times and grounded into three double plays.  The good news is that he's hitting his groundballs harder.  For about three weeks it looked like he was hitting infield practice to a Little League team, delivering gentle choppers that most 10-year-olds could field.

I've laid a lot of blame for the 4-18 stretch in one-run games at Grady's feet, but as has been pointed out, Grady has yet to ground into a double play or strike out with runners in scoring position in a one-run loss.  Nomar Garciaparra, however, has played in all 22 of those one-run games.  In those games, Nomar is hitting .236 with two home runs and eight RBIs.  In the 18 one-run losses, he is hitting .208.

... As the debate rages on about Nomar's hyper-aggressiveness at the plate, keep this in mind:  No one has ever drawn a walk after hitting the first pitch fair.  Sure, Nomar is hitting .315 when he puts the first pitch in play, and while that is a terrific batting average, it's a horrible on-base percentage.  It must be noted, too, that hitting .315 on the first pitch means that 68.5 percent of the time you are giving the pitcher a one-pitch out.  There's a selfishness to swinging at the first pitch too often because it leaves it up to your teammates to go deep into counts in an effort to wear down the starter.  Both Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon saw six pitches from Joe Mays before being retired in Friday's first inning, but Nomar popped up the first pitch he saw.  Still, from 1999-2001, he hit .426 on first pitches, so you can see why he might have developed an affinity for it.  But when the whole league knows you're ready to jump out of your shoes on the first pitch, guess how many first-pitch fastballs for strikes you're going to get.  As for me, I could go the rest of my life without seeing another rally end with a first-pitch pop-up to the right side.