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Saturday, November 16

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Sox in Five
Bby Steve Gozdecki

First off, thanks to Jeff Webber for pinch-hitting for me here last time 'round. I had to tend to emergency business involving a loved one's death and my sudden engagement — not in that order but intertwined nonetheless. Short version: never assume that you have all the time in the world to ask a man for his daughter's hand. Long version: well, that will take a book, or at least a really long blog post that I have yet to finish writing. And on that note, let's go to Sox in Five.

One: Game 1 in a Nutshell
Roger Clemens: fat, old and annoying. And now, hobbled by a bad hamstring. Na na hey hey, good bye. Jermaine Dye, oh my. Mike Lamb, he went bam. Sox strike back for a pair, but then Lance Berkman ties it, to our despair. Joe Crede clobbers one, 4-3 Sox lead in the fourth. Cold, scoreless October baseball settles in; Crede flashes enough leather to enrage PETA or excite Madonna, take your pick. Au Contreras, Jose will get you out, or bean you, or bean you, then get the next guy out before leaving in the eighth after a leadoff double by Willy Taveras. Rusty Sox relievers enter; Neal Cotts allows a single but keeps Taveras from scoring, then strikes out two guys before Spud Jenks comes in to fan Jeff Bagwell. For the Sox, AJ Pierzynski steals second base, then scores the insurance run on a Scott Podsednik double. Bobby Jenks shuts things down with a 1-2-3 ninth, and we all continue believin'.

Two: Game 2 in 222 Words or Less
Cold, rainy Sunday night. Scoreless first, then Houston goes up 1-0 on a Morgan Ensberg homer. Sox respond with a pair to take the lead. Game ties at two in the third when Taveras triples and Berkman knocks him in with a sacrifice fly. Things get quiet as Mark Buerhle and Andy Pettitte both do the crafty lefty thing for a brief spell before the Astros plate another two in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead. Sox then run themselves out of the bottom half of the inning, Juan Uribe getting caught in a rundown after Tadahito Iguchi hits one back to the mound, and then Iguchi gets picked off first. Seventh inning, Pettitte out of the game, reliever Dan Wheeler loads the bases with two outs. Call down to the pen, and Chad Qualls enters to serve up a meatball on his first pitch to Paul Konerko, who connects for a grand slam to left as the Cell explodes with joy and a 6-4 Sox lead. Ninth inning, Jenks hits a rough patch, putting two men on before giving up a two-out hit to ex-Cub Jose Vizcaino that ties the game. Bottom of the ninth, one out, and Podsednik homers to right off Brad Lidge, the man who blew Game 5 of the NLCS. Sox win, Sox win!

Three: Pods Redeems Himself
We groaned when the rag arm of Sox leftfielder Scott Podsednik proved unable to throw out Chris Burke at the plate in the ninth inning of Game 2, a play that most major league outfielders would've made to keep the Astros from tying the game. But we forgave the man in a hurry in the bottom of the inning when he sent us all home happy with his second homer of the post-season, reminding us that we should all expect it when we least expect it. Or from the guy we least expect it from, anyway. And for his troubles, Podsednik — or at least the bat he used — will be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

Four: The DH Becomes a PH
While Ozzie Guillen may be toying with the idea of putting Carl Everett in the outfield (if only for the comedy value), reason should win out and keep the erstwhile White Sox designated hitter on the bench as the Series resumes in Houston tonight. While some may claim that the Astros will have the advantage playing DH-less, National League-style baseball in their home park, it's not as if the Sox are a stereotypical AL team built around an overpowering offense. No, the only real advantage Houston has in this part of the series lies with tonight's pitching matchup, where Roy Oswalt represents the only genuine ace the Sox have faced in the entire post-season, all disrespect intended to dubious talents like Ervin Santana, David Wells and tomorrow's starter, bitchy little Brandon Backe. Everything else favors our Sox: the remaining pitching matchups, the bullpen situations, the defense and the consistent hitting lineup, in which Everett has arguably been the weakest link of late. In the World Series as in the ALCS, sometimes Sox in Five is more than just the name of your favorite Gapers Block column.

Five: Don't Stop Believin'
Oh for the days of musical semi-coolness on the South Side. I mean, we knew that disco sucked, and decided to do a little something stupid about it. Two Sox pitchers of fairly recent vintage, Jack McDowell and Scott Radinsky, managed to be in bands that weren't entirely awful, though McDowell deserves some grief for covering Love & Rockets. But that was then, and this is now. Realizing that the road is no place to start a family, The Three Stooges (catcher AJ Pierzynski, center fielder Aaron Rowand and third baseman Joe Crede) instead used their time in a hotel bar to get a lounge singer to sing them some Journey, and a craptastic new theme song for the 2005 White Sox emerges. Sadly, despite my best efforts at bars and the Cell alike, no one joins me in yelling "Shoulda been gone!" every time the Sox hit one to the warning track. Oh Sherrie, My Cherie Amore!

 

Bears In Five
by Craig Achele Ramsin Canon and friends

Zzzzz...zzzzzzzz...zzzz...tut, tut...zzzz...huh!? What? Oh my God, our column is due? You'll have to excuse the football savants of the Noble Street League HQ, that Bears-Ravens game knocked us the eff out. Man, that game was NyQuil in gridiron form, and this comes from a group of guys who prefer watching great defenses to good offenses. Also, it tasted like black licorice. This Bears team will either surprise everybody with a strong finish and a truly earned playoff berth, or go the way the Bears have gone the last few seasons — that is, very badly. Right now, the game plan is clearly to let a dominating defense force the other team to hand them good field position, where Thomas Jones can get first downs and Kyle Orton can use play action to make occasional stabs downfield. Man, now I really want some licorice. Without further ado, five talking points that will impress your friends and co-workers and make your girlfriend bored/boyfriend aroused.

One: You Do Remember Mike Brown, Don't You, Marcus Pollard?
There was a terrible Gallagher reference/joke scheduled to be made right where your eyes are currently focused. You remember Gallagher, don't you? Of course, the shitty prop comic with the sledgehammer who hit watermelons to make them explode. It was going to be about the comeback he made in Week 2 of the season when the Bears and Lions first met. How he traded his hammer for Mike Brown and his watermelons for Marcus Pollard's face. Wow, aren't you glad that was never written, so you wouldn't have to read it? The Bears destroyed the Lions the first time they met this year and there should be no reason why they won't again. True, the Lions finally gave the hook to Joey Harrington in favor of former Pro-Bowler Jeff Garcia, but that doesn't change the fact that the Bears defense is getting better by the week. This coupled with the problems the Lions have been having at wide receiver (injuries, suspensions, being bad at their jobs) doesn't give them very good odds this Sunday. The difference in the Bears-Ravens game was penalties — the Ravens were penalized 12 times for 100 yards, including two drive-sustaining penalties that lead to a Bears touchdown. The Bears have be super-disciplined, and the Lions are one of the most penalized teams in football, so look for the Bears to repeat their success exploiting first-down creating penalties. Also, Thomas Jones!!

Two: Sometimes Bad Kyle Orton Is, In Fact, Good Kyle Orton!
Throwing the ball away and overthrowing his receivers is Orton making sure he doesn't force the ball into coverage and make things harder on his defense. There is a good reason that Orton's completion percentage is hovering around 50 percent (good would be around 57 percent): the coaches have made it clear that the Bears' margin for error is nil, so unless Orton has a guy safely open, he isn't going to try to use touch to finesse the ball anywhere. So all those ridiculous overthrows you see are, in a weird way, part of the Bears' game plan. As Orton matures into the position, he'll be able to make better reads on the defense and see passing lanes and windows more clearly, and he'll have more confidence in his throws — I mean, give the kid a break, this was his sixth professional football game, ever.

Three: The Bears Need an Inspirational Theme Song
The White Sox have a theme song for the postseason, so why can't the Bears have a new song for, well, just being the Bears? I propose that this team adopts the exact same song for themselves that the White Sox have used. "Don't Stop Believing" is such a generic phrase that it works for anything. It's also a sweet song. It's also a Journey song. Let's face it; anyone with a functioning brain likes Journey. Much like anyone with a functioning brain is a Bears fan. It makes too much sense to not be done. Failing that, why not "Mr. Roboto" by Styx? Think about it: robots are strong, and smart, and if the Bears player are to succeed...um... OK, I don't have any reason except that I like "Mr. Roboto." And I want to see Tank Johnson do the robot.

Four: Speaking of Robots, Thomas Jones Is a Machine
Thomas Jones is a force that cannot be stopped. By anyone or anything. That includes you, Ray Lewis. This is going to come up every week, so you should probably get used to it. Mr. Jones is going to get the job done, as he did once again on Sunday. This time against a very good Baltimore defense. With Ray Lewis on the field. Do you think you can remember his name now, Ray-Ray? While he didn't score, the man did gain 139 yards rushing to help the Bears control a very low scoring game. He seemingly iced the game all by himself with amazing fourth quarter production. We have to admit, there were questions about him at the beginning of the year. The only question right now is whether he'll ever tire out. We hope not, because at this rate he'll run for 1,700 yards and score 20 touchdowns.

Five: Our Not So Fat Fat Guys
Lovie Smith built a perfect front four, choosing not to just go after the fattest guys, which was all the rage the last few years, but big men with real athleticism and endurance. This week the Bears front four were able to rush the quarterback and put real pressure on him without blitz help. This left the linbackers free to cut off the short passing lanes and swarm the middle of the field. All of the Bears four sacks came from the front four. By going with slightly smaller but more athletic guys like Tank Johnson, Tommie Harris, Ian Scot, Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown, the Bears defense is able to generate a pass rush without sacrificing run and pass support from their 'backers.

 

Bulls in Five
by Jason Maslanka

I watched my first Bulls game in June of 1991 on a small black-and-white television in the corner of my bedroom. It was Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Bulls and Lakers, and I fell in love with NBA Basketball and the Bulls, despite tuning in to their only loss during those Finals. I, like everyone else, found it easy to be a Bulls fan for the next eight years. The years since then challenged my fandom, but it never lapsed. Watching Toni Kukoc lead the team in scoring in 98-99, the youngest roster in NBA history in 00-01, the Elton Brand trade, and the Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford "eras" hurt, but not as badly as those things hurt the Bulls' win totals. Last year was fun, but it's time for another step forward. With the NBA preseason about half-complete, it's time to start taking a serious look at the Bulls' strengths, weaknesses and questions in five simple points.

One: Eddy Curry's Heart (x2)
The biggest story of the off-season, and the only one to make national news, was that of Eddy Curry's Heart Arrhythmia — and yes, I had to use a dictionary to spell that. After Curry decided he would not take the DNA test the Bulls required, he was traded to the New York Knicks for Michael Sweetney and Tim Thomas. I had always said about Curry that I would never want to seem him leave the Bulls purely for fear that he would become Shaquille O'Neal somewhere else. This whole saga changed my mind. I truly felt that John Paxson was doing what was best for Curry and for the team. With the recent death of the Atlanta Hawks' Jason Collier, it makes it even scarier to think about a 6'10" player with a heart condition running up and down the court. Curry, understandably, didn't want to put himself in a position to have his career ended by the DNA test confirmation of what could be a major problem. Beyond his actual heart condition, I often questioned Curry's heart — as in desire. Everyone who watched him and Tyson Chandler patrol the middle yearned for a player with Curry's skill and body and Chandler's desire. I don't think Curry's going to become that player, so his moving on, for all reasons, was probably for the best.

Two: Sweetney's Preseason Sweetness
When the Curry deal to New York was announced, I was disappointed that we got Tim Thomas and barely remembered Jermaine Jackson from his Horizon League days, but I was very excited about Michael Sweetney. In the loss of Sweetney alone, I think the Knicks overpaid for a free agent center with a heart condition. Sweetney hasn't proven me wrong yet. Second on the team this preseason with 12.6 points per game, Sweetney has quickly emerged as not only a big body on the defensive end but a legitimate scoring option. If Sweetney can continue to score points at this level, it'll take a ton of pressure of a Chandler, who was set to be the low-post scoring option this year. I love Tyson as much as anyone, but that prospect scared me a lot.

Threeeeee: Big Shot Ben, Big Stop Ben?
I don't know anyone who was disappointed with Ben Gordon's offensive game as a rookie last year. He lead the entire NBA in 10-point fourth quarters and hit more exciting shots and circus tricks than anyone I've seen in a few years. He played an average of 24.4 minutes per game last year, however, and for the Bulls to win this year, he'll need to be out there for 35. This comes down to one thing: defense. The entire coaching staff has praised Gordon for his work in the off-season. I imagine he's figured out that defense equals playing time for him, and playing time is what he needs to be a star. Gordon doesn't need to play Bruce Bowen-esque defense to help this team win. He just needs to avoid defensive mistakes and stay in front of his defender. With his agility, there's no reason he shouldn't be able to stay in front of other guards, get in the passing lanes and create turnovers. He'll have to make up for his small frame as a two-guard, but the Bull's help-defense schemes should account for that.

Four: The Other Guys
I've already discussed the huge impact I think Michael Sweetney can make for the Bulls this year. The other newcomers could each be welcome additions, too. Darius Songaila was a monster at Wake Forest but found himself playing only a few minutes a game on a talented Sacramento Kings team. Eddie Basden led Conference USA in steals while at Charlotte and has a lot of talent, but the undrafted rookie will first have to make the Bulls' roster. Tim Thomas is one of those players everyone assumes should be better with the body and skills he has. Maybe this is that year. Out of the group, I look for Songaila to make the biggest impact. His 10.5 points per game this preseason and strong interior defense should lead to increased playing time.

Five: The Owner's True Love
Jerry Reinsdorf has said on record that he would trade all six Bulls championships for a World Series win with the White Sox. It's looking more and more like he won't have to make that trade-off to get the World Series this year. Since no Chicago Sports column is complete right now without a reference to the White Sox, my first couldn't break the trend. With the Sox up 2-0 already, fans are cautiously optimistic in true Chicago fashion. Good luck, and go go White Sox.

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About the Author(s)

Steve Gozdecki has been a White Sox fan his entire life, with the exception of an ill-advised flirtation with the 1984 Cubs. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistic analysis trumps things like subjective evaluations and team chemistry, he finds himself baffled by the success his team is having in this 2005 season. Each week through the end of the Sox's playoff run — which will hopefully end around Halloween — Steve will bring you five crucial talking points you can use the next time someone says, "Hey, how 'bout them Sox?" Send comments to sox@gapersblock.com.

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions, and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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