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So there I was, sitting at Victory Field, ready for the last three-hour baseball talk-fest of the season, ready with facts, opinions, and data at my fingertips. I expected calls and debates and excitement for one of the best “pennant chases” of recent memory. And Larry Bird had to go and screw the whole thing up. You see, I live in a state where basketball is king and one legend pink-slipping another is big, big, big news. Baseball was pushed aside and for about 40 minutes, and I had to talk hoops. It was an ugly scene. Tonight, let’s stick to baseball.

Oh, and how cool is it that Julio Franco finally admitted his age?

  • The first indications of trouble might have been that he didn’t pitch in two epic games. John Smoltz was nowhere to be seen as Barry Bonds crushed two game winning homers against the Braves last week, and the answers as to why rang a bit hollow. Still, while I love a good rumor, there were no facts. My Braves sources said nothing, and despite a game log that has some interesting gaps and non-appearances, Smoltz going to the DL was as much a shocker to me as everyone else. Early reports have his DL stint as the result of a comfortable lead that gives the Braves the ability to be cautious. Smoltz had a cortisone injection into his inflamed flexor tendon and should be back in the minimum, putting him back in time to have three low stress weeks to make sure that everything is in working order for a playoff run.
  • I’m still doubtful about the ability of Roy Oswalt to come back and pitch effectively, but he keeps making steps towards proving me wrong. Oswalt’s latest outing was extended beyond plan, but he felt so confident and comfortable that he extended to 60 pitches. The next step for Oswalt and the Astros is a simulated game later this week. He would likely go on a rehab assignment, but with minor league seasons wrapping up, that’s not an option. The Houston Chronicle reports that the Astros are setting September 6th as the return date for tiny right-hander, but Astros sources say that the date is fluid at this time and that it won’t seriously be discussed until Roy makes it through a couple more milestones. If the September 6th date is correct–and it’s certainly reasonable–Oswalt would be on track to make five starts before the end of the season.
  • The Reds should consider changing their name. Once known as the Red Stockings and Redlegs, the Red Cross is more apt these days. The latest lost Red is Brandon Larson, who will have surgery to repair a problematic torn labrum. An attempt at rehabbing was abandoned pretty quickly after no results. Larson’s surgery will be on Friday and he should be ready for spring training 2004.
  • While I admittedly don’t get what people see in most “gritty, gutty” players, David Eckstein is one that I can at least appreciate. He works hard, he does the right things, and from all reports is a class guy. He’s hoping to be back in the Angels lineup sometime in September, contradicting earlier reports that his season was over. Eckstein realizes that despite the World Series ring he has, it’s not a guarantee that he can’t lose his job. Eckstein is still dealing with back and leg problems and shouldn’t be counted on for significant production if he’s able to return.
  • Mark Grudzielanek is back with the Cubs, at least on the bench. He’s beginning to perform ‘baseball activities,’ which in this case means swinging a fungo. He’ll progress to a real bat and BP later this week and, according to most reports, will be back with the club in 10-14 days. Grudz was sitting close to Dusty Baker tonight in the Cubs dugout, perhaps making sure that Dusty doesn’t forget about him and give his at-bats to Tony Womack.
  • The Pirates didn’t trade Jason Kendall to the Padres, and one source from the Pittsburgh camp gives me an indication why, and it’s right in my medhead wheelhouse. According to this source–and other sources have said this one isn’t so–the Pirates aren’t willing to part with Kendall yet, but only because they don’t have another option for the final month of the season. Humberto Cota, the one player who could do something of a credible job, has been experiencing problems with the wrist he had surgically repaired (hamate hook removal) over the winter. File this one away and see if Cota comes back after a second opinion later this week.
  • The Rangers have had their share of woes, but there’s something in me that keeps rooting for Jeff Zimmerman. Sure, he’s another underdog story that got sidetracked by injury. He keeps working to come back and pitch, but something always seems to come up and keep him from writing the next–or final–chapter in his baseball story. With visits scheduled to Drs. Yocum and Andrews, 2003 is done for Zimmerman and 2004 is just a question mark.
  • Jose Lima heads back to the DL with a recurrence of the groin problem that cut short his comeback. He returned in the minimum last time, but recurrences mean that it didn’t completely heal last time. He could still come back and contribute, but once again, the Royals will be looking in the “retread” and “scrap” bins for some extra pitching.

Yesterday, I made a comment that I’d like to publicly apologize for. In what was intended as a humorous paragraph regarding Alex Belth and his occasional tendency to be a drama queen, I made a comment regarding manic depression (or, bipolar disorder) that was neither accurate or in good taste. This condition and all mental conditions are not joking matters, but it is my hope that no one took my statement as more than a poorly worded attempt at humor. I mean no disrespect towards anyone who has dealt with this condition and for anyone affected or offended at my comment, I sincerely apologize. Each year during the holidays, I advocate that people buy smaller gifts for people and use the money they would have spent as charitable donations. (For instance, if you would have spent $100 on your spouse, buy them something for $50 and contribute $50 in their name to the charity of your choice.) This year, I will donate my differences to the National Mental Health Foundation.

With that, I’ll see you tomorrow.