Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesdays with Augie

Well, for those of you who watched Sunday's game against the Brewers, you saw a great comeback by the Cardinals, rallying from being down 5-0 to win 9-5 after a four-run fifth and five-run eighth. The Cards took three of four from the Brewers, now stand only six back, and ended the series on one of the highest points all season, hopefully providing that spark I spoke of on Sunday. But what now? Where do we go from here?

Good question. With two months left to play, including six against Milwaukee and seven against Chicago, the Cardinals need to get hot. Now. Luckily, the Cardinals start a three-game stint against the last team they swept, the Pirates, then head to Washington to play the not-so-good Nationals. But Milwaukee, and especially Chicago, are playing good baseball right now. The Brewers and Cubs will both be playing the Mets and Phils this week, so the Cards could get right back in the mix with a good week and a potentially bad one for the Milwaukee and Chicago. But as we've seen many times, the Cardinals can very easily turn out a bad week against mediocre teams. Let's take a look at the team and figure this out.

The bats came alive for the Cardinals this weekend at the right time. They showed a lot of heart and determination fighting back from the early deficits the Brewers put them in, so it's reassuring to see the offense work for St. Louis, as younger players like Ryan Ludwick and Chris Duncan are contributing huge and timely hits, and people like Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen are playing like they should. Juan Encarnacion has been hot, and you never know when Eckstein will throw down a three- or four-hit night. So the Cards can put up runs when they want to.

As for pitching, the bullpen has been holding it down so far this year. Relievers like Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin have come in and provided long-inning support when starters have given up big runs early. Which has happened far too many times. Troy Percival has pitched well one inning at a time, and Jason Isringhausen is having a decent year, even though he hasn't had many chances to make saves.

The main problem for the Cardinals, right now, is their starting pitching. Kip Wells and Anthony Reyes (who saved his job after Saturday's win) both have double-digit losses, Braden Looper has cooled off (and how) after a great start to the year, but pitchers like Adam Wainwright (who seems to get more comfortable with each start) and Brad Thompson has been throwing some great stuff. Mike Maroth has been iffy, and recently acquired Juan Pineiro from Boston could be a positive addition for a hurt rotation (you never know what kind of magic Dave Duncan will work on him).

Without Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder due to injuries (the former out until some time in '08, the latter possibly returning this year), and with the loss of Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis during the off-season, the Cardinals featured a starting rotation full of relievers who may not have been ready for the move. The biggest thing the Cardinals need to do to be a contender in the Central NOW (cuz let's face it, the Wild Card is waaaay out the window) is to keep those one- and two-run innings from turning into five-run innings. Getting that third out has been a challenge, and is the most glaring error for the Cards.

Personally, I'd just like to see them get above .500, and with a sweep of Pittsburgh, that's possible. We shall see. This season still isn't lost. For now.

Wow, are you still reading this? You either love the Cardinals like me, or you don't have anything better to do. Of course, if you've also read "The Mad Shatter" below, it's probably the latter. Thanks for reading, though. Chat soon we shall.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Outrageous Claim of the Day

If the Cardinals win today and put themselves only six games behind the Brewers, expect good things to happen. You may even see them make some moves before Tuesday's trade deadline to give them an extra push down the stretch (I won't say who, but depending on said moves, you could see Rick Ankiel in the outfield this year. Whoa). That's if they win, though.

For those who saw any of the doubleheader yesterday, the Cards won both against the Brew Crew, the first game won in the bottom of the ninth after scoring three runs down 6-4. This could be a spark for the Cardinals, who are still without their No. 1 & 2 pitchers, have been hit by injuries around the field, are sporting a starting rotation of relievers, and who have struggled with run support. Hey, any spark right now is needed, and winning three of four against your division leader would be a great momentum boost. Let's take a closer look at the Cards and their season after this game and go from there.

Fingers crossed, this fan still hasn't given up.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

You Gotta Fight the Powers that Be!

Okay, so Elvis Costello doesn't have quite the stone cold gangsta appeal of a Chuck D, but you gotta love the huevos of him changing songs while live on SNL, which caused him to be banned from NBC for 12 years or so. They had wanted him to play "Less than Zero," but to their surprise, Elvis wanted to play "Radio Radio," as you see below. Enjoy a great TV moment. Heart you, Elvis!

Monday, July 23, 2007

You Want to Sleep With Common Shatners Like Him

Although I can't say I blame you. Seriously, how great is this cover of an already great song? Great squared? Great squared squared? You're getting warmer...

This is hardcore.

Harry Potter and the Wyld Stallyns

Or something like that. Surprise ending: Harry and Ron form the greatest rock band ever and bring peace to the wizarding world after a climactic duel against Voldemort a la "Six String Samurai." Lots of blood, gore, and blaring guitars.

At least, that's where I see it going after 400 pages. I picked up the final installment of the Harry Potter series at 3am on Saturday. So far, it's been good, although I have no idea where this is going or leading up to. There have been some very well-written action sequences, but I'm wondering if this can really end in the next 300 or so pages. We shall soon find out, and judging from my pace, it won't be long. Regardless of how it ends, I have absolutely loved the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling has a very rich style of storytelling, and really paints a picture of her characters and the world in which they live, but there are also these great archetypal themes and characters. It's easy to see why they're so popular and will continue to be for years to come.

In other Potter news, I saw "Order of the Phoenix" Saturday, and while I liked it, I thought it felt rushed. Order of the Phoenix was a long book with a lot of subplots, and the movie tried to montage a lot of it together, with not a lot of development time in between. Granted, it looked really cool, from the training of Dumbledore's Army to the final scene in the Ministry, and I love the darker progression of the movies, as with the books, but it sacrifices narrative for action (like the lack of talk about the prophecy at the end). In other words, they made it a movie. Still very enjoyable, though.

Your thoughts? What's your surprise ending for Harry Potter? Don't be shy, I know you have one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Mad Shatter

*Sorry for the length, I had been writing the following as a short story to describe the worst travel experience I've ever been through after Crowdpleaser told us of his JFK fiasco. Enjoy*

ever take a bus out of Vegas. I made this mistake back in 2004 and it forever scarred me on the whole concept of public transportation. Some things aren't worth the greater good, like non-alcoholic beer, but that's another story for another time.

I learned this lesson the hard way on my way to Los Angeles. I was beginning the start of my two-month excursion through Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia with two friends, and we decided to kick things off with a stop in Vegas for a bachelor party of a friend of Michael's, one of my co-travelers.

To save money for the trip (I'm told), we were to take a bus from Albuquerque to Las Vegas, then on to Los Angeles before our flight to Nadi, in Fiji. While it was a convincing argument to take the bus, had we have spent the extra 50 each for cheap airfare, this whole crisis could have been averted. Let it be told I was never for the Greyhound Express, but I digress.

Our bus was to leave at 6 in the morning on Sunday, which meant we needed to meet at the hotel at 4:30 for plenty of time to get to the station and check in.

Eric – my other co-traveler – and I separated from Michael when he wanted to pay 50 bucks to get into a VIP room with his friends. We felt we could drink and gamble that money away much more effectively, so we passed on the high roller club and went out among the masses.

Lady Luck was in my corner that night as I ended up ahead after playing blackjack and the slots. I even won 30 bucks when I hit a full house on a video poker machine while ordering a drink at the bar. Needless to say, drinks were on me.

The two of us were even lucky enough to find ourselves walking behind a herd of blondes in black cocktail dresses who loved showing off the color of their underwear to passing strangers. Shortly after, I met a freestyling drug dealer who offered me weed, coke, or meth, or as he told me, “Tree, rock, or ice.” I passed on all three, already maintaining a good buzz after exploiting Vegas' Open Container law.

After eating a tasty Reuben while watching someone turn two shades of ugly with a bouncer after ordering three Wild Turkey shots, we met up with our third member in the lobby of the Monte Carlo. He didn't share our same pleasant evening.

Mike had dropped over a hundred dollars on roulette and smelled like he had taken a bath in Captain Morgan. He was beyond ordinary logic, so we felt it best to be short with him and get to the bus so he could sleep it off.

Skip ahead to our arrival at the bus station. We tipped our cab driver and entered. Inside, we were greeted by a motley crew of ignorance and filth. “But Greg,” you may say, “that's an unfair assumption to make about the people in the station.”

Yes, that's true, but think about it: who leaves Vegas on a bus? Sure, people beginning a trans-Pacific vacation might, but how many of those were in the station? By my count, three. Taking a bus out of Vegas usually connotes already having taken a bus into Vegas. In which case, if you're pinching pennies that much, you probably shouldn't be going to Vegas in the first place; there are other priorities in your life that need addressing more.

Apart from the many people who desperately needed a shower, my attention was caught by a freckled, overweight redhead who appeared to be crying mascara. While I'm in line checking my backpack's inventory, I hear, in a loud bawling voice, “I don't know where he is! He told he he'd be here and he's not...we got married!”

I had to turn around so the poor girl wouldn't see me failing to stifle my laughter. I wonder where the groom is; I'm sure he finds it as funny as I do, probably more. The fact he was able to tell her to meet her at the bus station after they tied the knot…he's still probably asking himself how he got away with it.

After taking in the various smells and futile arguments with the desk clerk from the patrons in front of us, we were finally able to check in and get on the bus. While the arguments were both sad and entertaining to listen to – people crying about how they didn't have enough money for a ticket but wouldn't take “no” for an answer – the real meat of this story happens on the bus.

Eric and I had to take the two seats in the last row, with our backs to the bathroom wall. That meant we couldn't recline our seats, which sucked, but at least I could lean my head against the window. I tried to sleep, but I've found I can't sleep on any form of transportation, be it planes, trains, or automobiles, unless I drink myself into a stupor like we did on the way back from Melbourne to LA off free beer on intercontinental flights. But again, I digress.

We left the station around 6 that morning. For a time, Eric and I kept ourselves busy by playing a movie game where we went back and forth naming every movie a certain actor/actress starred in (He got me on Julia Roberts...goddamn Mystic Pizza!). Time was hard to pass, especially since I had planned to buy batteries in LA for a dead CD player. Bad idea. We also got to smell everyone's shit as they left the bathroom, but in retrospect, I guess it wasn't as bad as what was to come.

It was around 11 and heating up quickly inside the bus when the trip took an irreversible turn for the worst. We were sitting back, watching the day unfold, when we heard some kind of skirmish happen around the middle of the bus. I heard someone start to yell and curse, but I wasn't sure what was going on. All of a sudden, chaos broke out. I wish I could tell what was going on, but I wasn't the only person looking up trying to figure out what happened. All of I sudden, I hear, “He shit his pants,” and more people began to yell and try to talk above each other. I looked to Eric, but he had no more clue than I did. We both hoped we didn't hear what we did. This all happened pretty quickly, mind you.

Voices and tempers continued to rise, and we stopped at the first exit we could. As we were pulling in to the gas station, a stench hit me harder than any kind of cheesy metaphor I can think of: it was the unmistakable scent of human feces. That would explain the commotion; I can't say how I would react if someone shit his pants next to me on a bus, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be good.

The smell was unbearable as we got off the bus. People outside still had no idea what exactly happened. Talking back and forth, we gathered that someone, although no one knew who, had released his bowels in his seat, and the guy across from him got violent because of it, which caused people restraining him, trying to move the shatter around...it was mass hysteria. I looked around, but couldn't figure out who the culprit was.

I walked inside just to get my mind off the whole situation and bought some chips to snack on while we waited. The attendant asked what was going on, I told him I didn't know, but I think someone had shit their pants. He laughed, and who can blame him? It was the kind of situation you love to hear about, but not experience. I was later told that the driver had taken the shatter to a bathroom almost immediately, never to be seen again, and that both people had been ejected from the bus.

I walked back outside and saw through the dark window that the bus driver was spraying down the bus with air freshener. “Great, it'll be potpourri shit,” I'm thinking.

And I would be right. After 30 minutes of waiting, we were allowed back on the bus, but the delay did nothing for the smell. The air freshener and feces smell joined together in some sort of unholy matrimony. I held my breath as best I could as I got to my seat, before burying my face in the pillow.

After I sat, the driver came up to me and told me he needed to open the window earlier for ventilation, and mine was the only one that opened. He was going to leave it open so the bus could air out as we drove. “Fabulous idea,” I told him. Little did I know that the window had no latch on it, so instead of remaining open and providing a healthy flow of air, it slammed open and shut the entire way back. I could hold it open, but I got tired of doing that quickly, so I had to live with this large window flying open and hitting the bus with a loud “CLANG!” when it closed. Over. And over. And over. For the rest of the trip (about four hours). I couldn't sleep because of the noise, I couldn't put my head against the window (refer to above), it was uncomfortable to lean forward and sleep that way, holding it open got old fast, so I was pretty much screwed any way I went. Add that to the fact that the shit smell was still very much present, and you have the most fun four hours I think any human can have.

We finally got into the Los Angeles bus station, and not a moment too soon. We could have been mugged right as we stepped off and I wouldn't have been sad. At least I was off that cursed vehicle...

“…and that’s why I’ve sworn off bus travel,” I finished, taking a long drink of beer. “Which is why we’re flying into Sin City today.”

“Wow, that’s quite the story,” said my friend Josh, “but we still would have flown into Vegas; I never would have let you book two tickets on the Greyhound just on sheer principle.”

“And that’s why you’re a good friend.” I finished my bottle and looked at the clock. “Plus, bus stations don’t offer booze when your bus is delayed.”

“I’ll drink to that,” replied Josh, and we clinked glasses.

We had been stuck in the Albuquerque airport for three hours due to a freak thunderstorm, but had been told we would be boarding in an hour. I wasn’t in any rush; I was pretty sure Vegas would still be awake when we arrived, and if we got there with a slight buzz, all the better. I watched the start of my third replay of Sportscenter and ordered one more round of Bud Lights, happy to be sitting in the climate-controlled airport bar. Around me, people were getting restless due to the mass of delayed flights, but they had no idea how much worse it could get: they’d never dealt with the Mad Shatter.