Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tigers vs. Cardinals game blog June 26


I’m going to start today’s blog with a shout-out to my good friend Bob. Bob’s not really my good friend – maybe if he was younger and we grew up together or something he would be – rather he’s a gate usher at the main entrance of the park whom I met spontaneously last night.

Most of you know about the two-hour and twenty-five minute rain delay that hit right smack-dab in the middle of yesterday – or this morning’s – game, a game that ultimately ended with a Gary Sheffield walk-off single about a half-hour past midnight, giving the Tigers an 8-7 victory.

Around 10:45 yesterday night, my friend Kyle came up with a crazy idea: “Let’s go to the game,” he said on the phone, as I was watching what seemed like an endless series of FSN Spotlight installments. After deliberating on all of the unknowns: start time, tickets, parking, FSN’s Mario Impemba jumped on the air and announced a planned start time of 11:05. We both said “Why not?” and decided to take the 20-minute trip down I-75 to the park.

Walking up to the park just after 11, scalpers were nowhere to be found and the box office windows were closed. Out of luck, we thought. And that’s where Bob enters the story. “Can you guys just … let us in?” I asked an usher.

“It’s up to him,” he replied, pointing to Bob. I was fully expecting a “Sorry guys, we can’t let it happen,” or something of that nature, leaving these two guys to walk around the park, pondering if they really could squeeze through those rails in centerfield like they always thought they could. (You can’t, we tried the reverse-way after the game.)

“Come on in,” he said, as if smuggling a couple of immigrants across the border.

It was at that very moment I realized there is still a semblance of good-natured, old-school people around. The park was barely a quarter-full, midnight was lurking and there were only a few minutes left. He could have just as easily turned us away.

We thanked him and sat down in some pretty nifty seats by the time Joel Zumaya took the hill in the seventh and watched one heck of a finish.

I took a couple of laps around the concourse earlier, trying to find Bob and thank him for his generosity last night. Just as I was about to give up, I see him walk out of the guest services building. I introduced myself and thanked him. “We try to do what we can,” he said.

So thanks again, Bob. We need more people like you around the ballpark and you made this 20-year-old kid’s night.

Now, on to that usher down the first-base line that wouldn’t let us get some seats …

Top first

Brian Barton leads off the game with a dribbler that bounces perfectly in the middle of the trio of Robertson, Polanco and Cabrera, between first and second. Barton, a speedster, loses his helmet halfway down the line and is safe for an infield single.

Robertson induces a 6-4-3 double play on an Aaron Miles bouncer, a big twin killing, considering the almighty Albert Pujols looms on deck for his first at-bat since returning from the disabled list with an injured calf.

Well, what do you know. Pujols first swing produces a picture-perfect line drive over the head of shortstop Michael Hollimon for a single.

Troy Glaus follows with an excuse-me check swing that finds its way through the hole between Polanco and Cabrera. The pitch count display underneath the scoreboard isn’t working and it’s annoying me. Yes, you old-timers, this is what baseball fans growing up in the 90’s are accustomed to.

With two on and two out, Robertson strikes out Ryan Ludwick with a slider down and in to retire the side.

Bottom second

Granderson, he of the 13-game hitting streak, lines a grounder whose short hop eats Brendan Ryan alive at short. The ball ricochets off Ryan’s glove and trickles into centerfield. Granderson books it around first and takes second on a very heads-up play. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 14 in a row for Curtis.

Welp, first the pitch count display, now the entire scoreboard is out of commission for the moment. Polanco grounds out to third. One out.

Guillen strikes out swinging, two outs.

Ordonez up and he slaps a 94 M.P.H. fastball off the right side of the pitcher’s mound right to the second baseman Adam Kennedy. Kennedy flips to Pujols and the Tigers strand a leadoff double by Granderson. No score after one.

Top second

Scoreboard is back up and running as Rick Ankiel pops out foul to Guillen, who reaches over the Tigers dugout. I can’t help but imagine what kind of fantasy monster Ankiel would be if he lived up to his pitching potential. What a freakish athlete.

Journeyman Jason LaRue doubles off the scoreboard in right, followed by Kennedy slapping a single to left. Runners on the corners with one out and the Cards have something brewing early …

Nate walks the rookie shortstop, Ryan, on four straight pitches to load the bases with Barton – who led the game off with an infield single – at the plate.

Barton hacks at Robertson’s first offering and it’s a tailor-made, unassisted double-play ball to Polanco at second. He fields, steps on the bag and throws Barton out at first. Two for the price of one and Robertson dances around the fire and into the dugout.

Bottom second

Cabrera leads off and pops out to Troy Glaus – who’s playing first base today – followed by Clete Thomas and his beautiful inside-to-out swing dropping a single into centerfield.

Last night’s hero Gary Sheffield then hits a high chopper to third, which is corralled by Miles who starts the 5-4-3 double play. Tigers leave one stranded on the double play.

Top third

I’ll be right back I’m going to get a pop with Miles up at the plate … and yeah, I had a feeling I was going to miss something. But my instincts took over and as ice was filtering in my cup I watched the propped-up T.V. in the press lounge out of the corner of my eye.

Miles hits a hard grounder up the middle that Polanco backhands then throws an off-balance strike behind the bag to get the runner at first. Very nice play by a very nice … I was going to say man but I don’t know him, so fielder.

Well, what do you know. What I do know is that’s the second time I’ve started a sentence out like that, and they both involved Pujols. He singles for the second time this game on a 1-1 pitch that just gets past an outstretched guillen.

Robertson gets Glaus swinging and Ludwick grounds out to Guillen at third, who has been looking a whole lot more confident over there at the hot corner, by far the most comfortable-looking of all the positions he’s played this year.

Bottom third

Hollimon and newly-called up catcher Dane Sardinha lead off the third for the Tigers, both searching for that ever so elusive first big-league hit.

Hollimon flies out to center and Sardinha pops out to short. During Sardinha’s at bat, I glance over at a FSN TV next to me. He played baseball at Pepperdine University. Other notable alumnus: Padres pitcher Randy Wolf and Diamondbacks’ stud Dan Haren.

Granderson is robbed to end the inning when Kennedy stabs at a line drive, diving to his right to end the inning. No score after three.

Top fourth

Ankiel reaches base on an infield single, grounding hard to Cabrera’s right. Cabrera smothers the ball but doesn’t connect with Robertson, who is sprinting to the base.

LaRue grounds to third, moving Ankiel into scoring position.

Kennedy strikes out swinging on a check-swing, home plate umpire Paul Schrieber giving him the point-then-punch, indicating he went too far.

Robertson induces a groundout from Ryan, his 52nd pitch of the day, to end the inning. 2-3-4 up for the Tigers in the fourth, still trying to scrape a run across on St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer.

Bottom fourth

Polanco rips a double into the left-center gap and reaches third base on a Wellemeyer wild pitch that squirts through LaRue’s five-hole.

Guillen can’t knock him in, popping to short, and the rally is killed when Ordonez bounces one to Ryan at short – with the infield in – Ryan fields the ball to his left, spins and throws Polanco home at the plate without a slide.

Cabrera strikes out swinging on a slider way, way, way out of the zone. He tried to hold up but didn’t, the umpire drawing a round of boos from the crowd. It wasn’t close though. Again, Detroit’s leadoff hitter is immediately in scoring position, but the heart of the order fails to drive them in. No score after four. That rhymed. Nice.

Top fifth

With one out, Miles dribbles one to the left of the mound. Robertson takes a half-serious attempt at fielding the ball, conceding the single with a slide. Guillen charges in, barehanding the ball and making a clean throw, but Miles is safe.

Well, what do you know. Leave it to Albert Pujols to step in the box from a lengthy absence and promptly rattle off three hits, two of them crisp liners. This crisp liner travels over Thomas’ head in left off the fence. Thomas gets it in quick and Miles pulls up at third. A long, wall-banging single for Pujols, his third of the game. He’s pretty good, I guess.

It’s 2:22. Make a wish.

Robertson strikes out Glaus looking on a fastball that has Glaus barking at Schrieber all the way to the dugout. Schrieber just glares. I like that approach versus the I’m-gonna-bark-back-and-get-you-to-say-the-magic-word-then-throw-you-out approach. It was a strike though.

Ludwick pops out to Polanco to end the inning, Robertson again escaping from trouble. Ludwick is 0-3 and has stranded four runners so far.

Bottom fifth

And there it is for Mike Hollimon, his first major league hit. With two out and nobody on, Hollimon drops a high flare in front of Ankiel in centerfield. The ball is escorted off the field, from third base umpire Wally Bell to third base coach Gene Lamont to Tigers trainer Kevin Rand.

Sardinha can’t duplicate the feat, grounding out to short. Still no score after five.

I just have to take a minute to paint a picture of how beautiful the weather is today. 83 degrees with a slight breeze right to left, and the only clouds in sight are those big, puffy ones that look like you can take a nap on.

Note to my super-fantastic Hall-of-Fame web editor Lee Snider: I’m at the game, not on my couch.

Top sixth

Nothing doing in the top of the sixth for St. Louis: a couple of groundouts and Robertson leaving Adam Kennedy staring at strike three.

Bottom sixth

Todd Wellemeyer is lifted for the veteran left-hander Ron Villone after only 77 pitches. Wellemeyer allowed four hits and struck out three in five innings. I’m curious as to why Tony La Russa made the change …

On a 1-0 pitch, Granderson nearly has a triple in the bag, grounding inches foul down the first base line, past Glaus, who was playing close, defending a possible bunt. Two pitches later, Granderson lines a single into right. Look for Leyland to put something on here with Polanco up and Granderson on first.

Polanco is rung up and tossed out on a full-count pitch down and away that just catches the corner. Polanco stopped, turned around, pointed a finger as if lecturing home plate umpire Schrieber, then became more heated and got the heave-ho. Leyland comes out to have a word with Schrieber as Polanco is held back. After further review on replay – and let’s all pray this never, ever, happens (replays for balls and strikes) – the pitch could have went either way. I don’t have a problem with it being called a strike at all.

Villone is keeping a close eye on Granderson at first during Guillen’s at-bat, drawing throw after throw from the southpaw, stirring up the crowd, their boos more voluminous each throw over.

Villone walks Guillen, putting runners on first and second with no outs, Leyland putting his hands together for a couple claps in the Tigers dugout. The big bats need to produce right here.

Receiving a steady diet of breaking balls from Villone – two of which he swung through, one he barely tipped to stay alive – Ordonez floats a fly in front of Ankiel and behind Ryan in centerfield, a ball that hung in the air and found a landing spot on the turf. Bases loaded, one out for Cabrera.

Cabrera strikes out for the second time today. I wish I could analyze this at bat more, but it comes down to this: See ball, hit ball. And he didn’t

Clete Thomas up and I’m predicting he’ll clean up this mess with a single.

Villone loses Thomas with a pitch way out of the zone, plating Granderson for the first run of the game. 1-0 Tigers. La Russa calls to the bullpen for Jason Isringhausen – whom the Tigers got to late in yesterday’s game – to face Sheffield with the bases loaded and two outs.

Sheffield pops out to short on the first pitch to end the inning. Tigers score one in the sixth and lead, 1-0.

Top seventh

Robertson takes the mound in the seventh with no Tigers warming in the pen, marking his fifth straight start of six innings or more and his eighth out of his last ten. He’s 5-2 in that stretch.

He allows a leadoff single to Ryan and Fernando Rodney – gasp! – is getting loose in the bullpen.

Following the single, Barton pushes a beautiful bunt down the first base line that is scooped up by Robertson, who tosses it to Cabrera. Barton hits Cabrera’s glove and the ball is popped loose, but first base umpire Laz Diaz calls the runner out for interference. Barton was running on the grass.

Miles then pokes a fly that lands in the right field corner. Ryan is held up at third as the relay reaches the infield, but Ryan Raburn – substituting for the ejected Polanco – airmails the throw into the Tigers dugout, scoring Ryan from third and allowing Miles to advance to third. Leyland can only shake his head.

And for your fourth, “Well, what do you know …” comment of the game, the Tigers elect to walk Albert Pujols with a man on third and one out. If that’s not a no-brainer, I don’t know what is.

Shortly thereafter, Leyland walks out to the mound, relieving Robertson of his duties, and calls for Rodney who is greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos.

Robertson’s final line: 6 1/3 IP, 11 HA, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. All in all, a solid showing by the left-hander. Unfortunately, he won’t be rewarded with a win and depending how Rodney pitches here, could be in line for the loss.

Rodney makes quick work of Glaus – popping out on the first pitch – and Ludwick – ground out to second – to get out of the jam, winning back probably 17% of the 41,022 fans in here today.

Personally, I love Rodney, and it has nothing to do with getting the ball over the plate or not. I love athletes for different reasons. Rodney because he looks so hood and portrays such a carefree attitude, Guillen because he’s so goofy, and former Tiger Jason Grilli because every time he entered the game you could expect a meltdown.

Bottom seventh

As Isringhausen opens the bottom of the seventh with a strikeout of Hollimon and a Sardinha pop out, the smells of the ballpark are taking over. With Granderson up, I’m debating whether or not I can jet downstairs and get back up in time for the next inning.

I’m going to do it. Might as well. Not like it’s a close game or anything.

Granderson singles up the middle to prolong the inning for Raburn, most assuredly looking to make up for his throwing gaffe earlier in the inning.

Granderson is thrown out trying to steal on a 2-1 pitch and I’m out of here to get a pretzel.

Top eighth

You had to have figured that would happen. “Sorry baby, you’re out of luck. We don’t have any more pretzels,” a concession lady informed me. Just my luck. I wasn’t going to give up though, finally finding one a couple of sections down, eyes peeled at the T.V. to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I didn’t. Rodney strikes out Ankiel swinging and LaRue and Kennedy follow with fly-outs to the outfield to end the inning. It was somewhat of an adrenaline rush, having to stop every few seconds to watch the pitch then walk in-between.

One of these days I’m going to attempt to blog from a different seat in the stadium each inning. That should be interesting. Anyways, back to the game. Raburn, Guillen, Ordonez due up for Detroit in the bottom of the eighth.

Bottom eighth

Raburn leads off, joining the healthy crowd of 41,000-plus as a spectator, watching Isringhausen drop a bender in for strike three.

Guillen flies out and Ordonez punches an opposite-field single into right field, bringing Cabrera up to the plate. He swings at the first pitch and lines one to second, where Kennedy makes the stop on a short hop, ending the inning.

It’s a tie ballgame as we head to the ninth, Todd Jones with his glove in his right hand, trotting to the mound.

Top ninth

Jones gets Ryan swinging to open the ninth. Skip Schumaker then pinch hits for Brian Barton with one out and he slaps a fastball into right field in a full count for a single.

Miles is up, but my mind can’t help but to drift to the man that is crouching in the on-deck circle, waving his bat back and forth. (It’s Pujols for those of you that haven’t been paying attention).

Miles bloops one into right field with Schumaker toiling with indecision between the bases, trying to decide if it will drop or be caught, only for that decision to be thrown out the window by a Clete Thomas misplay.

Runners on first and second with one out and there’s that man at the plate.

Jones buckles Pujols knees with a first-pitch curveball, but you know the story after that. Pujols grounds a fastball through the hole and Schumaker beats Thomas’ throw easily at the plate. St. Louis takes the lead, 2-1.

Pujols is 4-4 – all singles – with a walk in his first game back off the disabled list. That’s sick, but what’s even more sick is that this isn’t surprising in the least bit.

The next batter, Glaus, grounds into a 6-4-3 double play. Cue up “Eye of the Tiger” for the bottom of the ninth. Tigers down one with Thomas, Sheffield and Hollimon up in the inning for Detroit.

Bottom ninth

Right-hander Ryan Franklin takes the hill for St. Louis in the ninth and promptly punches out Thomas looking. Thomas didn’t like the call, evident by the conversation after the pitch. That was simply a pitch you can’t take in that situation. Players from both teams have been at odds with Schrieber’s strike zone today.

Sheffield is up with one out and a couple pitches into his at-bat laces one far … and deep … and foul. Then a couple pitches later he laces one far … and deep … and over the left-field fence for a tie game!!!!!

The 362-foot blast is Sheffield’s fifth of the season – second since his return from the DL – and 485th of his career, his swing looking more powerful each game, hinting that the 15 bombs he needs for 500 could be well within reach.

Comerica absolutely erupts, undoubtedly a little bit giddy from the foul ball that looked good to go.

Wow, what a ninth inning …

Before you can even catch your breath, Hollimon lines a pitch down the right-field line, the ball rolling into the corner, with the crowd smelling a triple. Almost simultaneously with the right fielder Ludwick picking up the ball, Gene Lamont waves him to third. Hollimon’s slide towards the outside of the bag comes short due to a perfect relay-and-tag from Ludwick to Kennedy to Miles. Miles makes a very, very nice tag, in a fluid motion, needing every split second to get Hollimon.

Sardinha gets called out on strikes to end the inning and we’re playing extras in Downtown Detroit …

Top tenth

Jones is relieved by Bobby Seay in the tenth and starts off by freezing Ludwick with a slider.

Ankiel follows with a fly out to Ordonez in right.

Seay walks LaRue with nobody on but gets Kennedy to ground out 6-3 to end the inning. Top of the order for the Tigers in the 10th.

On a personal note, this scene is set perfectly. A 2-2 game, played well on both sides the entire game, with a touch of drama in the ninth, now is in the bottom of the tenth on a sun-drenched, beautiful day that was seemingly made for a baseball game like this.

Bottom tenth

Granderson leads off, rolling a single beyond the outstretched glove of Kennedy into right field.

Raburn sacrifices him to second and the Tigers have the winning run in scoring position with one out and the heart of their order up.

These guys haven’t delivered so far this game and now would be, well, an ideal time to do that, don’t you think?

La Russa elects to intentionally walk Guillen, setting up a potential force play. The highly-acclaimed Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan takes a stroll to the mound as the infielders convene amongst a staggering chant from the crowd.

Ordonez up, two on, one out. He flies to Ankiel down the right field line, Granderson advancing to third.

Alright, I’m going to call it right now. Cabrera ends it if they pitch to him – which they very well may not – deciding to pitch to Cle … Nope, they’re not pitching to him. They’ll take their chances with Clete Thomas on deck.

Clete up, bags full, two outs, a single wins the game and the series …

Mike Parisi starts Thomas off with four straight breaking balls, two of which drop in for strikes. Here we go …

A mighty rip by Thomas on a 2-2 pitch, sending one back to the netting. I need to get into play-by-play, this is amazing.

Ball, high and outside. Full count …

And it’s outside!!!!! Clete Thomas wins it for the Tigers in the tenth on a bases-loaded walk! Tigers win, 3-2, in a great ballgame that lasted just about three and a half hours.


What a way to wrap up their fifth consecutive series victory, with back-to-back games filled with late-inning heroics. Clearly, the squad is getting some of its mojo back, first in the form of a Joel Zumaya 100 M.P.H. fastball, then in the form of a Gary Sheffield liner over the fence.

Clete Thomas’ plate discipline won the game today, driving in two runs without swinging the bat. He drew bases-loaded walks both in the sixth and tenth.

Nate Robertson cashed in another strong performance, continuing the recent trend that is Tigers pitching going deeper and deeper into games.

I don’t think it’s a question anymore: This team has turned the corner. Saying they haven’t would be unfair to them, because honestly, what more can you do over the past 2 ½ weeks that saw two of their losses come because of late-inning bullpen blowups?

Judging by his first three games – which is not a legit sample size by any means – Gary Sheffield back in the lineup is starting to look like he can equal the loss of Jeremy Bonderman in the rotation, especially with the way Armando Galarraga has been pitching.

The Tigers now face off against the defending National League – but now struggling – Champion Colorado Rockies. It’s a very favorable matchup, especially with the way the Tigers are kocking the ball around and playing complete baseball. And don’t you fans forget: Our favorite whipping boy, Jason Grilli, is back in town. Can’t wait for that reception.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tigers vs. Giants game blog June 18


The hot Tigers, winning 11 of their past 14 games – and I’d love to say red-hot-and-on-an-eight-game-winning-streak Tigers but Fernando Rodney likes his changeup a little too much (See: Monday night) – are looking to win their third straight series since looking up an 11-game ladder at the Chicago White Sox on June 9.

Since that day – an 8-2 loss to the Indians more infamously known as the Dontrelle Debacle – the Tigers have shaved off 4 ½ games in the standings, are playing their best baseball of the year and Marcus Thames apparently hasn’t yet got the memo that contrary to popular belief, yes, you can reach base in ways other than mashing 400-plus foot moonshots out of the yard.

Thames past eight base knocks have been, well, long knocks, going yard off of a pair of Giants in Timmy and Vinny and a Dodger trio of Brad, D-Lowe and Chan Ho. Look Mom, I can rhyme!

The boy that is some kind of country strong, according to Rod Allen, is tied for second all-time with eight consecutive hits for home runs, trailing Mark McGwire’s 11. McGwire was some kind of strong, although to be fair, we don’t know what kind.

Thames will try to keep the streak alive today against the comfortably-salaried Giants left-hander Barry Zito (2-10), whose career has taken a nose-dive since hopping across the bay and signing a then pitcher-record $126 million deal before the 2007 season with San Francisco.

In Oakland, Zito and his bending, how-in-the-world-did-he-get-that-over-the-plate curveball won a Cy Young Award in 2002, winning 23 games as a 23-year-old, made three All-Star appearances and averaged just over 13 wins a season.

Last season, at 29, Zito failed to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career and produced his lowest strikeout total. This April, he opened the season 0-6 with a 7.53 ERA, prompting a demotion to the bullpen late in the month, where he never made a relief appearance and returned to the rotation in early May.

Ladies and gentlemen, right there is Exhibit 1-A on how long-term lucrative contracts can go terribly wrong. To put the money into perspective, you could have built three Golden Gate Bridges, the White Sox (Payroll: 121 million), or even roughly half of my favorite stadium in baseball, AT&T Park. I don’t know what good a half-built stadium is, but it serves the purpose here. As long as that big Coca-Cola bottle in left-center is built first.

Zito is 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA in his career against the Tigers, his most recent start being Game One of the 2006 American League Championship Series, where he allowed five runs and took the loss.

Opposing Zito is Armando Galarraga (6-2), the reliable rookie who has been the Tigers best pitcher thus far this season.


The Tigers are wasting no time getting started on Zito. After Renteria pops out to start the game – a beautiful, sunny, 76 degree day in northern California – Polanco slaps a single into left, followed by a Guillen walk, to put runners on first and second early for Ordonez.

Much like Guillen’s at-bat, Zito falls behind early. He is nibbling at the outside corner early on, looking very fearful of putting anything over the plate or inside.

On a full count with the runners moving, Ordonez singles hard on the ground up the middle, scoring Polanco from second for his 43rd RBI on the year. Cabrera ties him for the team lead on the very next at-bat, sending a Zito offering into center, scoring Guillen for the second Tigers run of the inning, which looks to be a big one.

This is going to be a short outing for Zito. He can’t find the plate, walking the sizzling Thames on five pitches. Bases loaded, one out for Pudge.

Pudge strikes out, swinging at a high and inside Zito slider, screaming at himself in frustration as he walks back to the bench.

Granderson ends the inning with a fly out to center, Zito dodging what appeared to be a huge inning for the Tigers. He allowed two runs, but the Tigers let him off the hook, stranding the bases loaded with one out.

Bottom first

Galarraga retires the first two batters with groundouts, then falls into a slight bit of trouble, walking the speedy Randy Winn and allowing a line-drive single into left off the bat of Bengie Molina – the Giants cleanup hitter – a sign of the times in San Fran.

With two on and two out, the hulking presence that is Aaron Rowand – bulging muscles and all – flies out a few feet in front of the warning track in left, halting the mini-rally being staged by the Giants. 2-0 Tigers after an inning of play.

Top second

The boo birds are out at AT&T Park as Zito walks Galarraga, the pitcher, in the No. 9 spot. Zito’s control isn’t there and frankly, he looks scared facing these hitters, including the pitcher. On a 2-2 count to Galarraga, he threw a changeup that missed versus challenging him with a fastball.

Zito then walks Renteria – his fourth walk in the game. There is already action in the Giants bullpen.

After Zito drops two patented curveballs in on Polanco to jump ahead 0-2, he leaves one hanging that Polanco laces into the left field corner for a double. Galarraga scores and runners are on the corners with no outs.

This isn’t even cool to watch. Zito again jumps ahead of Guillen on curveballs – he has abandoned his fastball – and Guillen, sitting on the bender, doubles down the left-field line, scoring two runs. 5-0 Tigers.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy takes a trip to counsel with Zito but doesn’t pull him, drawing more boos from the crowd. Zito is absolutely getting shelled, but I like the move to keep him in. A manager’s worst fear is having to go to the bullpen in the second inning.

Following the mound visit, both Ordonez and Cabrera hit liners to Rowand in center. Both were hard hit line drives that in all reality were hit too hard, as weird as that sounds.

Detroit is squaring up on every ball, including two Thames foul balls that were rockets down the third-base line, before he strikes out swinging to end the inning.

Bottom second

Looking dead in the water early on, the Giants continue to apply offensive pressure on Galarraga. Travis Denker doubles with one out followed by a Cabrera error at third. Omar Vizquel’s grounder rolled up his left arm – a play he absolutely should have made – and both runners are safe.

Zito is done for the day, with pinch-hitter Brian Horwitz taking his place in the lineup for now. Horwitz flails at a nasty Galarraga slider, but the pitch ricochets off Pudge near the Giants dugout, scoring Denker from third.

Fred Lewis grounds out to end the inning, but the Giants are on the board. 5-1 Tigers after two innings.

Top third

Billy Sadler enters the game for Zito, trying to tame the offense that feasted on the southpaw for five runs on five hits in two innings. Zito walked four and struck out two.

Pudge leads off the third with an opposite-field single down the first-base line, followed by Granderson flying out to center on a ball that kept going and going and going, until Rowand finally caught up with it feet from the wall, slamming into a Visa advertisement. Off the bat it looked like a routine fly but the wind carried it.

Galarraga then bunts Pudge to second on an example of exactly how not to bunt the ball. Instead of meeting ball with bat, Galarraga takes a bunting hack but makes contact and gets the job done, but Pudge is stranded after Renteria strikes out swinging on a breaking ball.

Bottom third

In the bottom half of the inning, Winn singles to center with one out, only to be stranded after Molina – the slowest man in baseball – grounds into a double play. Nobody else in the majors would have been doubled off on this play, as Guillen bobbled the ball at third, threw high to Polanco, who turned in a strong throw to Cabrera at first for the 5-4-3 double play. 5-1 Tigers after three innings.

Top fourth

Same story, different pitcher. The Tigers brought their hitting shoes to the ballpark today – Jim Leyland elected to have them take batting practice before the game, Bochy did not – as Polanco leads off with a bloop single that nails the first-base line in right field for his third hit of the game, followed by a Guillen single through the right side of the infield.

Ordonez flies out to right with runners on first and second, and Cabrera follows by ripping a liner at the third baseman Jose Castillo. At first glance, Castillo appeared to have caught it but did not. He throws to second to force Guillen out, but Denker’s throw to double off Cabrera – who wasn’t running – is high and off the first baseman’s glove, rolling a handful of feet away in foul territory. Polanco hustles around third and beats the throw at home as Cabrera shakes his head in disgust at first base after not running on the play, figuring the ball was caught.

Could Leyland pull the same card Phillies manager Charlie Manuel did earlier this season in benching his star player, Jimmy Rollins, for not hustling? I doubt it, but we’ll see …

Thames grounds out to short – I’m still waiting for the daily installment of “Marcus Thames Goes Yard” – and the Tigers take a five-run lead into the bottom of the fourth.

Bottom fourth

John Bowker – he of the three-run bomb that nearly landed in McCovey’s Cove Monday night, welcoming Fernando Rodney back to the big leagues – doubles with one out.

Denker then hits a squibber to the right of Galarraga, who makes a very nice bare-handed play, throwing him out at first for the second out of the inning.

Galarraga ends the inning, striking out Omar Vizquel – who is playing his 2,600th game at shortstop – by inducing a swing at his bread-and-butter slider that bit the dirt.

Almost halfway through the game, Galarraga is showing the same cool, confident control that he has displayed throughout the season. He’s at 58 pitches through four innings and the Tigers lead, 6-1.

Top fifth

After Pudge flies to left to open the fifth, Granderson sneaks one just inside the bag at first and down the line for a double. Galarraga – now dubbed the “Venezuelan God of Walks” – draws his second base-on-balls of the game, and yet again, the Tigers are threatening.

Renteria flies out to Rowand in left center for the second out, but Polanco, in what else, an 0-2 count, delivers with his fourth hit of the game. Granderson scores the Tigers seventh run from second and Polanco has his fourth four-hit game of the season.

Bottom fifth

The first two Giants – Emmanuel Burriss and Fred Lewis – reach base on a walk and single, respectively. Burriss is in the game for the human Gold Glove, Vizquel.

With two on and no out and Galarraga nearing 70 pitches in the fifth, Castillo is punched out swinging at – you guessed it, a slider.

Winn follows by slapping a grounder to the left side of the infield, Guillen ranging far to his left, fielding the ball near the shortstop position and flips to Polanco for the second out.

Galarraga hits Molina – potentially San Francisco’s only All-Star – in the buttocks and the bases are now loaded, one swing away from a one-run game, drawing Leyland to the mound to have a chat with the rookie.

Rowand is ahead in a 2-1 count and Galarraga better be very weary of straightening out a fastball down the pipe. Instead, he sticks with the slider and gets Rowand swinging after he nearly doubled down the third base line. Both Pudge and Galarraga exchange fist pumps, the rookie slapping his glove as he exits the field.

Galarraga hasn’t got through today scot-free, but the Giants haven’t been able to capitalize on their opportunites, as they are 0-9 with runners in scoring position today.

Top sixth

Nothing really doing in the top of the sixth for Detroit, stranding Cabrera, who walked, on first with a Thames fly out and Pudge strikeout. During his six-pitch at-bat, Cabrera lined two shots down the third base line. He is finally starting to punish the ball the way we expected but needs to cut down on the strikeouts.

Bottom sixth

Freddy Dolsi was warming up in the Tigers bullpen but Galarraga is back out on the hill to start the bottom of the sixth. It might not be a bad idea for Rodney to get some work in today, getting that confidence back up heading to San Diego for three, where flamethrower Joel Zumaya will return.

After Galarraga induces a couple of groundouts, pinch-hitter Steve Holm doubles to right just as I was preparing to write about a boring inning. The next batter, Burriss, grounds sharply to third, where Guillen makes a diving snag. He pops up and makes a strong throw to Cabrera, who just kind of misses the ball. The play is scored a base hit and error – a tough error – on Guillen, as Holm scores and Burriss advances to second.

Galarraga eclipses the 100-pitch mark just before he rings up Lewis looking on a back door slider. His day is probably over, in line for the win with the Tigers leading 7-2 going into the top of the seventh.

Top seventh

Michael Hollimon, a rookie shortstop and recent call-up, takes Galarraga’s spot in the lineup, signaling a call to the bullpen in the bottom half of the inning.

Hollimon reaches on an error by the third baseman Castillo with one out, but that’s all that really happened in the inning, besides Polanco reaching base for the fifth time this game via the walk. Cabrera and Pudge pose for a picture in the Tigers dugout, with Cabrera’s arm around Pudge with Pudge’s head rested on his shoulder. Cute.

Bottom seventh

Dolsi enters the game in the bottom of the seventh. Galarraga’s final line: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HB. Another steady performance by the rookie, who keeps emerging as a player in this year’s Rookie of the Year race.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Brent Clevlen entering the game last inning for Thames in left field, signaling an end to Thames’ five-game power surge with a home run in each. Ryan Raburn, not-so-affectionately called a “scrub” by a San Francisco Chronicle writer today, takes Ordonez’ place in right field. Ordonez is the only Tiger to have played in every game this season.

Dolsi’s only blemish on the inning is a Molina single to right, hitting the upper-90’s on the gun and giving Comcast some bonus advertisement with the high and low pitch speed icon. Tigers well in control, 7-2, heading into the eighth.

Top eighth

And the ball dude takes a tumble! Known as the “Ball Dudes” in San Francisco, they have older guys alongside both baselines collecting the balls, and this particular 68-year-old retired elementary school teacher took a fall over the Giants bullpen mounds trying to make a diving stop on a foul ball. The fans cheer as he gets up and hustles to the ball.

Oh, and about the game: Detroit goes 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Bottom eighth

Dolsi dances around a pair of walks, Denker with one out and Burriss with two outs, eventually getting Lewis to ground out to Polanco to end the inning. This after a visit from pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and Pudge on separate occasions.

Casey Fossum and Zach Miner are warming up in the Tigers bullpen going into the top of the ninth in San Fran, the Tigers leading by five.

Top ninth

Detroit goes down in order again, with Dolsi getting his first career at-bat, looking at three straight pitches down the middle for a strikeout. Leyland didn’t want to waste another position player that at-bat.

Earlier in the inning, another tough break for Ball Dude, as he misplays a Granderson foul ball, attempting to sandwich it between his bare hand and glove hand, and it falls out. A dejected Ball Dude tosses his glove on the ground in disgust.

Last call for the Giants in the ninth, down five, against Zach Miner.

Bottom ninth

Miner retires the Giants with three ground-ball outs in the ninth, and Ball Dude gets some ice from Giants mascot, “Lou Seal.” Tigers win, 7-2.


The Tigers exploded early, scoring five of their seven runs in the first two innings and off of starter Barry Zito, who only lasted those two innings. Zito looks like a shadow of his old self, without any semblance of control and his velocity plummeting from his heyday in Oakland.

Pitch after outside pitch, nibble after nibble, the Tigers took what Zito gave them and gave it right back to him. Up the middle, down the line, into the corner, the Tigers tagged Zito for five runs on six hits and after their at-bats in the second, the game looked to be over. Zito recorded his 11th loss of the season.

Armando Galarraga pitched yet another solid game, going six innings for the win, his seventh of the year. He was relatively out of trouble most of the game, but held the Giants to an 0-fer with runners in scoring position.

“Who’s the leader in the clubhouse for the Chevy?” Rod asks late in the game, referring to the Chevrolet Player of the Game. That one is easy for me: Placido Polanco. Polanco had four hits, was on base five times, scored three times and drove in two runs.

The Tigers now travel south to San Diego, where they square off with the N.L. West bottom-feeding Padres for three games. Joel Zumaya will rejoin the team on Friday, completing the return of two of the bullpen’s top horses.

It’s another series win for the Tigers, their third in a row, as they attempt to claw even further back into the race. Winning the games they should win needs to be priority number one, and the series in San Diego definitely fits that description.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tigers vs. White Sox game blog June 12


You know, I’ve never liked the White Sox. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about them that can instantly post a look of disgust on my 20-year-old face.

I don’t know if it’s the annoying “You can put it on the board!” and “He gone!” lines that Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has coined as his trademark, or the fact that half of the team sports more punky-looking facial hair and arrogance than can seemingly fit into a lineup.

Whatever it is, it probably stems from walking down a long flight of stairs in the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Park a few years back while a Joe Crede walk-off home run traveled high and far over the left field fence, pouring salt into the wounds after taking a verbal beating from South Side fans all game long.

So needless to say, a Tigers sweep today at Comerica Park would be more than gratifying, halting Chicago’s former seven-game win streak with three losses – all of them desperately needed as the Tigers attempt to claw back into the race.

Today’s pitching matchup is a duel of lefty soft-tossers, Kenny Rogers for the Tigers and Mark Buehrle for the Sox. Rogers has been pitching well as of late, compiling a 1.29 ERA in his past three starts despite not factoring into a decision. Both pitchers in the top 10 of winning percentage for active lefthanded pitchers in the majors.

Watch out for Magglio Ordonez today. He enters with a .600 batting average against Buehrle, tops among all active players with a minimum of 25 plate appearances, and Mags simply mashes against his old team. He’s hitting .322 with six home runs and 31 RBI.

Top first

First pitch is at 1:07, a breaking ball that nabs the outside corner at 81 MPH. It’s 76 degrees at Comerica Park, an absolutely gorgeous day for baseball. There’s a slight breeze moving left to right as Placido Polanco makes an over-the-shoulder basket catch look easy on an Orlando Cabrera bloop into shallow right field for the first out of the ballgame.

Rogers sits the Sox down in order in the top half of the first in economical fashion, exiting the mound at ten pitches.

Bottom first

Mark Buehrle matches Rogers economical effort, allowing a single to Polanco but follwing up with a tailor-made 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Carlos Guillen to end the inning. Buehrle escapes the inning only throwing nine pitches.

Top second

Paul Konerko leads off with a double into the right center field gap, settling just under the far right of the out-of-town scoreboard. Right fielder Ryan Raburn misplays the ball not once, but twice, allowing Konerko – who was pulling up into second base – to advance to third on the error.

Jermaine Dye follows with a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Konerko from third and the game’s first run.

And for today’s first Joe-Crede-is-going-to-appear-in-my-sleep moment: a single to left field.

With Crede on first, Nick Swisher grounds one back to Rogers, who knocks the ball down, picks it up and shuffles it to second, starting a potential double play. Swisher beats the relay – which looks like a missed call by first base umpire Chris Tiller to the naked eye – and drops a few expletives at first base. The replay confirms Swisher beat the ball to the bag.

Bottom second

Buehrle turns in another quick, stress-free inning, with help from Dye in right field, who makes a diving catch on an Ordonez blooper. Two strikeouts later – Miguel Cabrera looking and Marcus Thames swinging, both on breaking balls – and the well-compensated lefty ends the second with Chicago up a run.

Top third

With one out, Rogers walks Cabrera and keeps a close eye on him at first. Kenny is the all-time pickoff leader, with 92. His second attempt nearly nails Cabrera going into first base standing up. Oh, and for the record, I’m convinced crowd reaction can translate into calls being made on the field in terms of pickoffs.

Rogers strands Cabrera with two consecutive fly outs to end the inning, the second one being an awkward-looking catch by Marcus Thames in left field, who appeared to misjudge the ball, needing to jump to grab the ball.

Cabrera’s walk notwithstanding, Rogers has been jumping ahead of Chicago hitters, playing off of their aggressiveness early in the count, much like Justin Verlander did last night in his complete game performance.

Bottom third

Pudge connects on a hanging curveball, sending it into left field for a single. One pitch earlier, he took a glance back at home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi after a strike call. Tigers hitters seem to be at odds with Cuzzi and his strike zone early. Last inning, Cabrera had words with Cuzzi after his strikeout looking – which clearly hit the inside corner and had him fooled.

Brent Clevlen strikes out, “The only thing keeping him from being a big league regular,” as Rod Allen seems to mention every broadcast, followed by a beautiful base hit bunt for Ryan Raburn. The bunt trickles down the third base line and Crede can’t get a throw off.

With runners on first and second, Edgar Renteria takes an ill-advised swing at Buehrle’s first offering and bounces one to Crede. Crede takes the safe play at first instead of forcing the double play and runners are on second and third with two outs.

Buehrle yet again stakes claim to the inside corner, freezing Polanco on a slider, much to the ire of Polanco and the Comerica faithful, who let out a groan. Polanco doesn’t like it, but sometimes you don’t like the truth: Cuzzi was right. Again. 1-0 Sox after three innings.

Top fourth

Nothing doing for the Sox in the top of the fourth, retired on three straight balls in the air: Konerko flies out to right, Dye pops out to third base – where Guillen does that goofy thing where he swirls his mitt after he catches the ball – and Crede flies out to right.

It was a boring half of the inning, the most entertainment value coming from a couple of Chicago writers above me, who have been cracking me up since the first pitch. They’re talking about everything from Josh Reed’s crazy pictures online to fantasy football and Ronnie Brown to the Real World and Facebook. I just keep laughing, hoping they’ll see me laugh and think I’m cool. Probably not going to happen though. Tigers bat in the fourth …

Bottom fourth

Guillen leads off the inning with a single, but that goes for naught quickly as Ordonez grounds into his 4,972nd double play of the year. I made that number up, but it doesn’t really seem too far from actuality. Buehrle retires Cabrera with a ground out to third, and what do you know, the Tigers offense is looking stagnant again. “Quit being so pessimistic,” the voice inside of my head tells me as we head to the halfway point of the contest.

Top fifth

Swisher and Alexei Ramirez start the Sox fifth with a pair of groundouts to Guillen at third. Ramirez nearly beats the second one because Guillen sailed his throw, causing Cabrera to leave his feet. Upon further review on FSN’s X-Mo replay, he probably should have been called safe. It looked like a dead tie with any kind of edge looking to go to Ramirez and we all know the tie goes to the runner – although technically you have to beat the throw to be safe, but whatever.

Toby Hall and Cabrera string together a pair of singles, putting two on, only to trot back to the dugout a batter later when Brian Anderson grounds out to Renteria, who flips to Polanco for a force out at second. The play at second was too close for comfort, somewhat resembling last night’s ninth inning blown call that drew a dumbfounded Ozzie Guillen out of the dugout to say, “How did you miss that one?” But that was a real bad call last night.

Bottom fifth

With one out, Pudge rips a one-hopper into the hole between short and third, only to be robbed by the cool-looking, shade-sporting Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera sprawls to his left and nabs the ball, but the most impressive part of the play was the laser he shot in Swisher’s glove at first. Always known for his good defense, this one made me raise the eyebrows and say “Wow.” It was that good of a throw.

Clevlen strikes out for the second time this game, and I have somehow adapted the supernatural ability to hear through walls. Two rooms down, Rod is saying “That Clevlen, all he needs to do is cut down on his strikeouts and he’ll be a big league regular in no time.” But he’s not the only one repeating himself, is he?

Top sixth

Rogers plunks Quentin on the left shoulder in a 2-2 count, and one batter later, Rogers gets his, as Konerko smashes a liner right back at his glove. Like earlier, Kenny knocks the ball down and starts a potential double play, this time executed with the aid of Konerko’s slow foot speed. Jim Leyland and trainer Kevin Rand head out to the mound to check on the veteran, but he’s fine.

On his 76th pitch of the day, Rogers retires Dye and the Sox with a pop out to short.

Bottom sixth

Renteria and Polanco slap nearly identical singles into left field with one out to start a nice little Tigers rally in the sixth. Ahead in the count, 3-1, and with Buehrle facing Ordonez with the bases loaded if he walks him, Guillen fishes at an off-speed offering and whiffs. Two pitches later, after the runners were put in motion during the first full-count pitch, the runners go again, and this time Guillen lines one up the middle, just out of the reach of an outstretched Ramirez. Renteria scores from second and ties the game.

Ordonez – the owner of Chicago White Sox pitching and Mark Buehrle, well-documented earlier in the blog with diligent investigative journalism to the extent of today’s readily-available game notes in the press box – steps in with runners at the corners, needing only a fly ball to give his team the lead.

Ordonez pops out to short, and following a promising, beautiful looking and sounding line drive off Cabrera’s bat that drifted a few rows deep foul down the first base line, Cabrera grounds out softly to shortstop to end the rally. Detroit gets one, but probably should have pushed two across that inning.

Top seventh

Crede pops one up the elevator shaft, followed by Swisher grounding out for the third time, followed by another Ramirez shattered bat. Last at bat, he swung one into four splinters on the field and this time the top of the bat just kind of … came off? The cheap wood they use on bats these days. Two pitches later, Kenny has him flailing at a curveball to sit down the side in order in the seventh. Through seven innings, Rogers is sporting a very efficient 88 pitches. Look to see him the next inning, with nobody warming in the Tigers bullpen as Buehrle takes the mound in the seventh.

Bottom seventh

After a rousing rendition of Take Me Out to The Ballgame – aren’t they all – the Tigers can’t get any offense going in the seventh. Pudge walks – no, really – but he’s stranded after the young guys Clevlen and Raburn fly to center. Heading into the eighth, we are knotted at one at Comerica.

Top eighth

Kenny Rogers leaves the field to a standing ovation, sitting the South Siders down in order in the eighth on a groundout and two harmless fly outs. Rogers day is done, with double-barreled action in the Tigers bullpen, and has pitched a whale of a game, retiring the last eight batters he faced. His final line: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HB.

Here’s to hoping a Tiger can make a trip around the bases so Kenny’s fourth consecutive good start is recognized in the box score …

Bottom eighth

Renteria is rung up by Cuzzi on a full-count slider that – you guessed it – nailed the inside corner, much to the dismay of the crowd. Buehrle has been camping inside there all game long and Tigers hitters have failed to turn loose on one.

Quentin makes a sliding catch in right center on a Polanco fly that died in the wind, preceding a near-disaster in left center, when Anderson nearly collided with Dye en route to Guillen’s fly ball. Anderson makes the catch and trips afterwards, drawing laughs from inside the press box.

Tigers don’t score in the eighth and Kenny Rogers 96 pitches on this beautiful, mid-June day will be forever remembered – or not remembered – as a no-decision.

Top ninth

Todd Jones enters the game for Rogers in the ninth, and promptly gives up a leadoff single to Quentin down the left field line. Quentin is busting it around first, rounding the base very generously, nearly drawing a throw from Polanco when the ball is collected back into the infield.

Jones induces a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Konerko – grounding into the second double play of the day – and retires the side when Dye flies out to right. Eye of the Tiger is keyed up at the ballpark, the fans revving up for a walk-off win and sweep. The heart of the order is up for Detroit: Ordonez, Cabrera and Granderson, who subbed in the eighth inning.

Bottom ninth

Sox reliever Octavio Dotel enters the game for Buehrle, who pitched a gem of a game himself. Both southpaw starters did more than their part to win the series finale for their clubs. Buehrle allowed one run on seven hits and struck out seven.

While filling in Buehrle’s line on my scorecard, I hear a voluminous roar from the crowd and look up, nearly missing a Mags walk-off home run, that died at the warning track.

Well, that was cool and I wasn’t fidgeting with my scorecard this time!!!!! Cabrera shows off his power, walking-off opposite field and the Tigers sweep! He took a belt-high Dotel fastball and disposed of it a handful of rows deep beyond the right-field fence! You can put that on the board! After connecting, Cabrera takes a few steps out of the box to admire his work and start the celebratory home-run trot.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Red Wings Win the Stanley Cup! | Free Press pregame, in-game, and postgame analysis |

Free Press special writer Anthony Fenech analyzes the Wings-Penguins Game Six:


Roughly 48 hours ago, Red Wings fans were buzzing with anticipation over what was fully expected to be a night that celebrated the Wings 11th Stanley Cup championship. Fans around the state ordered a pizza or two and tuned into their televisions, while others of the Hockeytown faithful packed bars, hoping to spill into the streets hours later for a unique party that happens only once in a while – the outpouring of joy based on the uncertainty of its return.

The victory was a foregone conclusion. “The Wings just can’t lose at home, right?” an imaginary person – representing Hockeytown’s collective mindset – would mutter before Game Five. Six periods later, the never-say-die Pittsburgh Penguins gave a definitive answer to that question: Wrong.

The youngsters from the Steel City yet again defied this series’ odds yet again, with another riveting display of perseverance, seemingly playing through the lyrics of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”:

“I get knocked down, but I’ll get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down!”

After a tentative and shaky start – having got caught up in the moment – led to a two-goal deficit, the Wings laid the wood to the Penguins the rest of the way, outshooting, outhitting, and outchancing the visitors to the tune of a mere 35 seconds separating the Winged-Wheelers and destiny.

But the scrappy Penguins pushed one past Chris Osgood to tie the game and after two overtimes of being outplayed, caught a break – Jiri Hudler’s blood-drawing high-sticking penalty – and cashed in, when Peter Sykora lit the lamp just minutes into the period and seconds into the man advantage. Suddenly, with one flip of the wrist, the series became very interesting.

The young, fresh legs of the Penguins were heading back to their comfort zone – Mellon Arena, where they are 9-1 this postseason – while the Wings sent a sell-out crowd filing through the concourse disappointed, their heads hung with a cloud of disbelief lingering above.

But ironically, heading to Pittsburgh could be the best thing that happened to this team after such a heartbreaking game. Wings coach Mike Babcock called the group a bunch of “Nervous Nellies” in the first half of last game, trying to do too much in front of a home crowd that expected – not hoped – to win the championship on its home ice.

Gone is that pressure now, the team focusing on playing within themselves and the fact that they have closed out each of their past three series on the road.

Young legs or not, each of these teams is physically drained. The eventual victor of this game is going to be the team that wins the mental battle.

Although the pressure of winning at home has escaped the Wings, pressure as a whole is still squarely on their shoulders and the deciding factor will be if they play like it is or not. Pittsburgh was supposed to lose in four games, then five. Before last game, who knows if they thought they had a realistic shot to win this thing, but now I guarantee you they do.

In each of the first two games I blogged for you, I picked Wings victories and wound up empty-handed. So although I might not really mean it – wink, wink – I’ll give Pittsburgh a 3-2 victory on home ice tonight, creating a deciding Game Seven on Saturday.

Look for Evgeni Malkin to have his breakout game and build off his assist on Sykora’s game-winning goal, his first point this series.

More notes

Sergei Gonchar told CBC that he has no limitations tonight, minutes or otherwise.

Brian Rafalski, who was on the 2005 Cup-winning New Jersey Devils that squandered a Game Five clincher on their home ice, said “We need to refocus and come out and play a great game.” He also said the Wings need to have a better start.

Before warm-ups, pucks were arranged in three simple letters on the Wings bench: “W-I-N.”

Former goalie Kelly Rhudey – playing through a similar situation in the 1991 finals – said Marc-Andre Fleury would feel great the first ten minutes but his energy would decline after. “It’s all downhill from there,” he said.

Don Cherry believes the pressure is on Pittsburgh, contrary to popular belief, noting the Penguins didn’t look as loose and calm in warm-ups as in Game Five, similar to Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.

The fans at Mellon Arena are rowdy early, starting the “Os-good!” chants early, right before the national anthem.

First period

Val Filppula wins the opening draw and the Wings start their feel-you-out attack, throwing pucks at the net. Fleury plays the puck twice behind the net – Johan Franzen giving him a nice love tap that puts him on the ice the second time – the physicality so prevalent in the series again visible early in the game.

Osgood records his first big save point-blank on a Sykora wrist shot after a giveaway in the Detroit zone. Andres Lilja looks very slow right now, having turned the puck over once and almost twice, giving Pittsburgh life on the attack.

Darryl Sydor goes off for interference at 4:17 and the Wings are on the power play, primed for the first goal of the game.

Goooooooal!!! Brian Rafalski scores 45 seconds into the power play, beating a screened Fleury top shelf glove side. Henrik Zetterberg, almost losing his footing, kept the play alive, shuffling it to Rafalski who netted the first goal with the help of who else – Tomas Holmstrom – whose big body was in front of Fleury. 1-0, Wings, at the 15-minute mark of the first.

After looking at the replay, Rafalski's shot appeared to have deflected off the right leg of Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill.

Dallas Drake and Kris Draper each get whistled for penalties about a minute apart for charging and roughing. The early energy is good, but as these two penalties dictate, the Wings need to settle down just a tad bit. Pittsburgh on a two-man advantage for a minute and a half …

Detroit kills off the penalties, paying close attention to Malkin and his deadly slap shot at the point, flapping up and down off the ice to block the shot – an embodiment of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Down to the left of Osgood in Detroit’s zone and amidst a semi-scrum, Adam Hall gets his lumber on Nick Lidstrom’s face – not drawing any blood – for the Wings second power play of the game.

Pittsburgh kills the penalty without winning any style points – the Wings nearly taking a two-goal lead after getting a few pucks right around the crease within slapping distance of a second goal.

Datsyuk nearly creates another goal through his wizardry, storming into the Pittsburgh zone, camping out in the corner to the left of Fleury and feeding Zetterberg on a one-timer who sailed it wide left.

The period ends relatively uneventful, the teams trading the puck back-and-forth in the neutral zone with no real scoring chances.

After 20 minutes, shots are 9-8 Detroit, hits 10-8 Pittsburgh, but the score is 1-0. It does seem as if the Wings are playing without the weight of their home crowd on their shoulder, playing more crisp and loose with good execution.

Don Cherry, looking as sharp as ever at halftime, wearing a white suit speckled with purple, green, red and white flowers, gushing over Gary Roberts leadership on the young Penguins.

Second period

After a Pittsburgh’s long stretch pass creates an opportunity, Lilja slashes Ryan Malone on the shot and takes a two-minute penalty.

On the ensuing advantage, Malone nearly deflects a shot from the point in. Malone, who broke his nose for the second time this series in Game Five, is doing work so far.,

Pittsburgh has a good, aggressive power play, but during the man-advantage, Brad Stuart lays a good bodycheck on Sidney Crosby, who keels over and leans on his stick until he makes it to the bench. On the bench, he looks very frustrated, tossing a water bottle backhand over his right shoulder in disgust.

With just under 12 minutes in the second, Samuelsson fires a wrist shot from just outside the right circle. Filppula – for the record, he’s my Wing – overpowers and beats Brooks Orpik to the ill-advised rebound Fleury allows. Filpulla backhands it into the net for a two-goal Red Wing lead, just about half an hour of play away from the Cup.

Going to a television timeout at 6:41, Pittsburgh nearly connects on their best opportunity of the second period, with Crosby feeding a Pittsburgh defenseman from behind the net. Osgood makes the save and the defense clears the rebound. Crosby is still making his presence known even after failing to record a shot thus far.

Osgood makes a huge save, stoning Gary Roberts as he stared an open left side of the net in the face. Osgood, on the ice, leans over to his right and makes a great stick save.

After Datsyuk is called for interference with about five and a half minutes left, Malkin tallies his first goal of the series, firing a slap shot in from Osgood’s left just inside the circle. The Penguins needed that goal in the worst way, waking not only the Mellon Arena crowd, but also Malkin. Red Wings 2, Penguins 1. 4:30 left in the second.

A slew of penalties follow. First, Roberts goes off for high-sticking and the penalty is killed by Pittsburgh, then Franzen and Orpick go off with matching roughing calls during a post-stoppage scrum.

Very similar to the Wings last game, Pittsburgh scores late in the 2nd period, igniting their crowd and taking the momentum. The goal seemed to have given them a liftoff of sorts to finish the period, showing more speed and finishing more checks.

Both teams are relatively even statistically, but that Pittsburgh goal, allowing them to crawl back in from what looked like a one-goal knockout, was huge.

Kirk Maltby, at intermission, says the Wings don’t need to panic after the goal and keep to the game plan.

Third period

The Wings take the ice in the third 20 minutes away from the Stanley Cup, which, compared to last game’s 35 seconds away, is an eternity.

Pittsburgh is excited about possibly having Malkin back on board, Malone calling the goal, “Huge.” An update on Crosby’s injury: He did an interview with NHL International and said he wasn’t hurt, but “Momentarily winded.” Nice. I like the choice of words. Now do I believe them? Not really.

Red Wings speedster Darren Helm left in the second and was seen riding the bike, no word on if he’ll return or not.

Franzen dances to the goal and pushes a backhand just wide and is promptly greeted with a trip into the right post, knocking the net off, courtesy of Orpik.

Ohhhh! Pavel Datsyuk almost stuffs one home after a long shot deflects off the boards behind Fleury and is misplayed by a Pittsburgh defender.

No real scoring chances here with eight minutes played in the third, Detroit playing more conservatively – and there’s a goal? A goal???

A goal!!! Zetterberg walked in from the right of Fleury, took a wrist shot that traveled between Gonchar’s legs. Fleury appeared to make the stop – I heard a weird cheer from the crowd, which is now confirmed as Detroit fans – but the puck trickled behind him ever so slowly. The puck looked like it was going to stop but Fleury sat on it, giving it enough to get over the line.

Behind the net, a referee emphatically signaled it was a goal, giving the Wings a two-goal lead and Zetterberg a second-wind for the Conn Smythe race, which is now about 10 minutes away.

Cleary whiffs on a 2-on-1, not getting good wood on the puck and missing wide right, an opportunity to seal the Cup’s case back up for a while. Six minutes to go and the nerves are creeping back into my stomach …

Detroit is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the puck – as expected down the stretch – the elder, wily veterans preventing the young Penguins from putting together any semblance of offense. Two and a half left until Detroit hoists her on the Mellen Arena ice …

Two to go and I can’t even muster enough confidence to say this game is over because of what happened yesterday. Hudler just called for hooking Jordan Staal, giving Pittsburgh a power play under two left, and Michel Therrien has to be thinking about pulling Fleury for a two-man advantage.

My god, those pesky Penguins. After Cleary blocks Gonchar’s first shot from the point, Gonchar slaps one that deflects off Hossa’s stick into the back of the net. Thoughts of Game Five have to be circling in the Wings head right now and I’m officially a nervous wreck, feeling as if I’ve seen this script before. 3-2 Wings with a minute and a half left. Come on, clock, keep moving!!!!!

Babcock takes Detroit’s timeout before a draw in the Wings zone and the camera moves upstairs, showing Ken Holland, Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman – all impeccably dressed – sweating this one out. What a great picture right there.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!!!!! What an amazing finish though. Pittsburgh just wouldn’t go away, nearly tying the game with less than a second, a shot off Osgood drawing a rebound that Hossa nearly tipped in with time running out.

With a mob around Osgood and sticks and gloves littering the Wings zone, Malkin – the Penguins young star who disappeared for five games of the six this series – is quietly kneeling in the Pittsburgh zone, wondering perhaps what slipped through his fingers.

Darren McCarty – not dressed but on the ice – oh, the emotions that must be going through his head, leans in and has words with his longtime friend, Osgood, their third cup won together …

After the traditional post-series handshake, the Penguins and their fans exchange classy moves, the team saluting their fans, sticks-up, leaving the ice with a standing ovation. The Red Wings, ready to rock with Lord Stanley, give the Penguins an applause exiting the ice.

Gary Bettman presents Zetterberg -- one of the game’s best two-way players – the Conn Smythe Trophy, for MVP of the playoffs. Congrats, Hank, though for the record, my vote that didn’t count was for Osgood. This team looked possibly dead in the water until he took over the helm in the Nashville series.

Hoisting the Cup

“Nick Lidstrom, come get the Cup,” Bettman says.

A beaming Lidstrom skates over -- the first European-born captain to win the Cup and one of the most underappreciated athletes in Detroit history – and takes the Holy Grail for a lap around enemy ice, the crowd still full, watching one of the greatest spectacles in sports.

Lidstrom – sporting a million-dollar smile – hands it to Dallas Drake, a 16-year old veteran who has played more than 1,000 games and has been dreaming about hoisting the 35-pound silver chalice since boyhood. This time is his.

Drake then gives Lord Stanley to the first Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup, Dan Cleary, who grew up in a such a small town that it makes big things like this seem designated for a storybook. But a storybook ending is the only thing that can sum up his seconds with the Cup.

Cleary – with seemingly his whole town watching from home – hands it to the ageless Chris Chelios, the 46-year-old crossing paths with Lord Stanley for the second time in his Hall of Fame career, both with the Red Wings.

Chelios gives it to your Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Henrik Zetterberg, a young star that joined the Wings a year after their last Cup in 2002, having blossomed into a dominant scorer, defender, and leader – an assistant captain widely regarded as the team’s next captain. Here’s hoping that this is one of many for Hank.

Zetterberg hands it to Kris Draper, his wide smile flanked by thick, bright red facial hair, raising the Cup for the fourth time, a charter member of the famed Grind Line, pumping the Cup like it’s the 1997.

Draper hands it to Chris Osgood, now a three-time Cup winner, his second as a starter. After being shipped out and back into town – all the while holding down the city’s second-toughest job for over a decade – this Cup must feel so good. The childish smile reminding us of how far he’s came since being a youngster with his head buried in his hands, tears flowing in front of his locker.

Osgood’s soft hands give the Cup to the magical Pavel Datsyuk’s lighting-quick hands, a young Russian with broken English who learned just what this organization is all about very early – winning a Stanley Cup his rookie year in 2002 on a Hall of Fame team.

Datsyuk then gives the Cup to Kirk Maltby, another grind-liner that helped break a 42-year old drought, whom the Wings acquired for a dollar from Edmonton early in his career. Just a hunch, but he might be worth a little bit more now, living as a four-time Stanley Cup champion.

Maltby hands it to defenseman Brian Rafalski, a hometown product that netted the Wings first goal of the night. He won a cup with the Devils in 2005, but this one in Detroit must taste so much sweeter.

Rafalski gives it to The Mule, Johan Franzen, who literally was fire on ice this postseason with 13 goals – even after missing five games in the Conference Finals – an emerging star since he stepped into a starting role late in the season.

Franzen then transfers the silver to Valtteri Filpulla, beaming with the trophy high above his shoulders – reminding one of a young Sergei Fedorov.

Filppula hands it to defenseman Brad Stuart, whom the Wings acquired at the deadline from Los Angeles, surely thanking the heavens above, the cross-country move ultimately resulting his first taste of the Stanley Cup.

Lord Stanley then passes through the hands of defensemen Nicklas Kronwall and Brett Lebda, and forward Jiri Hudler, the first time raising the Cup for all three.

With a rousing cheer from his teammates, another ageless veteran, Dominik Hasek, lifts his second Cup – sporting a backwards hat and a priceless smile – making his demotion in the first round seem years ago and miles out of mind at this moment.

Somewhere in the euphoria on the ice, Darren McCarty, a long-time fan favorite in Detroit, raises his fourth Stanley Cup, and oh, what must be going through his mind at the moment. The Red Wings family gave him another shot after bouts with substance abuse problems, and although not dressed for tonight’s game, everyone in the city had to have enjoyed that.

After the remaining reserves take their turns fulfilling a lifelong dream, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock takes the Cup and lifts it high above his head, and along with it, two years of scrutiny, with fans wondering if the Wings regular season prowess would ever translate into a world championship. Finally, he’s justified.

After Babcock, the Cup is in the hands of a man who can practically claim co-ownership of the trophy, Scotty Bowman, now a Red Wings consultant. Bowman has aged since his 2002 swan song, evident by the struggle to lift it like he could six years back.

And finally, Ken Holland – the best general manager in all of the land – raises his fourth cup, this one much of a statement to the work he has done with this organization, turning the Dead Wings of the early 1990’s into a modern-day dynasty.

As the ceremonial victory laps wind down, Lidstrom takes the Cup for yet another Detroit Red Wings championship photo, Chelios sitting directly beside Lord Stanley, with owner Mike Illitch displaying four fingers for four championships.

And with that goes the Red Wings 11th Stanley Cup, a victory sure to set off a night of celebrating in Downtown Detroit, culminating with a parade down Woodward into Hart Plaza later in the week.

This was a team many thought too soft to make it through the grueling journey of the playoffs, with too many skilled Europeans and not enough bruising players. They sure proved that theory wrong, hanging on until the final second to win sport’s greatest trophy.

It was a display of perseverance, matched almost toe-to-toe by their younger opponent from Pittsburgh, and in the end the series turned from a potential blowout to the high-flying, fast-paced matchup we all expected, peaking with Game Five’s three-overtime classic at the Joe. And on to a champagne shower I go. After all, as we’ve learned around here, championships don’t come every day. Party on!!!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Game Five live blog


June 2, 2008. Not that you couldn’t cursor over the date and time on your computer, but that’s today’s date – one that could be etched in Detroit sports history as the sun sets on Joe Louis Arena, joining June 7 of 1997, June 16 of 1998, and more recently, June 13 of 2002, as the Red Wings try to hoist their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years.

It’s been a beautiful day in Downtown Detroit, sun-drenched and 80 degrees, almost as if to foreshadow the night ahead. You always remember where you were and what you were doing when these championship moments hit. The euphoric feeling you get when time runs out stays with you for a lifetime. It’s why, as fans, we live and die with our teams, to reach that pinnacle where you can say, “My team is the best in the world.”

I might sound jaded, but four years without a championship in this city has felt like an eternity – especially when victory has felt within an arms reach so many times. Since the Pistons championship run in 2004, our teams have reached the finals and conference finals numerous times, only to crash and burn, making us wonder “What if?” but all the while making us more thirsty for the next sweet champagne taste of victory.

Since the Wings jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead in dominating fashion, this has been the game circled on the schedule, the possibilities of clinching the Cup at home, celebrating downtown and hosting a parade looming large. After all, there’s no place like home.

But with the anticipation of what-could-be tonight clouding our heads, we innocently forget that a hockey game still needs to be won against a young team that doesn’t want their magical run to end.

Pittsburgh easily could have won Game Four, knotting the series at two and giving tonight’s game a more nerve-racking feeling than festive. They have shown their capability of playing with their backs against the wall – see Game Three – albeit in front of their home fans.

“We know we can play with them,” Pittsburgh defenseman Darryl Sydor said.

The Red Wings are a veteran team, they know they are in a very fortunate position to have a two-game lead with a chance to clinch at home, but they also know they need to stay even-keel and take care of business.

Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock stressed the importance of keeping their emotions under control, playing with a clear head, and understanding their job. We saw first-hand in the conference finals against Dallas what can happen when you let a team linger around.

The opening ten minutes will be key as always in the playoffs. The Wings can shut the door early with a quick goal or two, forcing Pittsburgh to muster some kind of offense in what has been a graveyard for them the first series.

The mischievous Tomas Holmstrom is back in the lineup tonight, sure to create havoc in front of Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Emotions will be running high, with one team sixty minutes away from the sport’s holy grail, and one team facing a long summer ahead without a victory.

One thing we do know: The Penguins are going back to Pittsburgh after the game. But not for a Game Six. Wings win, 3-1, and Hockeytown is rocking tonight.

More notes

Babcock, on Holmstrom playing tonight: “I don’t think a broken leg would keep him out.”

For the fourth straight game, Chris Chelios is not dressing tonight.

Over the last couple of days, the Penguins have tried to boost Evgeni Malkin’s confidence by showing him a personal video highlight reel. Malkin has been invisible in the series and hasn’t been the same Hart Trophy-caliber player as he was during the regular season and playoffs.

Dave King, who coached Malkin in Russia, said when he’s under too much pressure, Malkin tries to do too much and sometimes forgets about his teammates.

A good omen or wishful thinking? The Pennsylvania Big 4 lottery numbers today were “7171.” 71 is Malkin’s jersey number.

I can’t lie, the nerves inside of me are jumping up and down, up and down. If CBC’s opening montage of Wings playoff highlights with Detroit Rock City in the background can’t get you up jumping, screaming “Let’s go!” at the top of your lungs, nothing can. Let’s drop the puck!

First period

Tempers are already flaring before the opening faceoff, with players on both sides pushing and shoving. Pittsburgh starts off strong, controlling the play in the Wings zone but failing to get a shot on net.

About two minutes in, Pittsburgh starts shooting themselves in the foot. First, Brooks Orpic goes off for hooking – two Nick Lidstrom shots that deflected wide were the big chances on the man-advantage – and right after, the Penguins are whistled for too many men on the ice.

About a minute into the power play, Pavel Datsyuk is called for tripping Jordan Staal in the corner, a marginal call that looked like both players got tangled up. The Wings kill the remaining minute of that power play off very efficiently.

Eight minutes into the game, the play is fast-paced, physical, and both teams are playing with a purpose – to get the all-important first goal. Not too many scoring chances yet, Detroit with only two shots to Pittsburgh’s zero.

And the all-important first goal goes to Pittsburgh. Marian Hossa gets a favorable bounce off Crosby’s skate and flicks one top-shelf over Chris Osgood’s blocker to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead 8:37 into the first. Before and after the goal, Pittsburgh is forechecking harder than they have in the previous three games.

Shortly after, Val Filpulla walks in uncontested and his backhand is stoned by Fleury, the Wings first true scoring chance of the game. Play is still very physical and chippy. Holmstrom and Hal Gill need to be separated before a faceoff in the Pittsburgh zone, followed by the oh-so-loveable Kirk Maltby causing a scrum in front of the crease.

In the scrum, a helmet-less Maltby gets his money’s worth, delivering a nice cross-check to Fleury’s chest. Fleury responds by scooping his helmet out of the net and doing his best Malkin impersonation by shooting it against the boards behind the net. Maltby and Max Talbot each leave the ice with matching roughing penalties.

The Joe is shell-shocked as Niklas Kronwall inadvertently puts the puck in his own net for a Penguins goal with about five minutes remaining. Pittsburgh’s improved forechecking has again paid dividends. Adam Hall wrestled the puck away in the corner to Osgoods left, took the puck to the net, and as Kronwall was trying to get the puck out of harm’s way, floated one over his left shoulder. 2-0, Penguins.

Pittsburgh nearly makes the game 3-0 on a Hossa and Crosby 2-on-1 that Osgood saves, and the crowd erupts as Darren Helm has a breakaway from the blue line in. Helm misses the shot wide off the glass as a Pittsburgh defender gets lumber on lumber, altering the shot and squashing a golden opportunity to cut the lead in half.

The first period ends with a couple more Penguins scoring chances, the most dangerous a Sidney Crosby takeaway right in front of Osgood, but Osgood makes the save.

First period play was very intense – indicative of the situation both teams are in – but Pittsburgh capitalized on their time in the Wings zone and took advantage of a huge break on Kronwall’s mistake. Pittsburgh’s forecheck has really improved, they are fighting for the puck after the initial dump-in and over the course of the period, you expected them to come up with the puck.

Shots are 8-7 Detroit, hits 11-4 Detroit. But Pittsburgh leads 2-0 in the only category that matters: goals.

Dan Cleary at the intermission: “We have a team that’s capable of coming back, no sweat.”

Second period

The Wings dodge two very early bullets in the second period. First Talbot sails one wide of the net and after a Detroit giveaway, Osgood makes a save on a Jordan Staal slap shot between the circles. Well, make that three. As I was typing, Crosby snuck loose and drove to the net, pushing the puck wide of the net to Osgoods right as he went to the left.

Pittsburgh is coming scary close to making this a three-goal game. Early in the second, the Wings look worse than in the first. The Penguins are letting valuable opportunities to stretch the lead and close the door on Detroit stand by the wayside.

And just as I dog their early second period play, Darren Helm floats a harmless-looking wrist shot to the net that hits off a diving Pittsburgh defender and sneaks through Fleury’s five-hole, who was caught off guard because he was cheating, expecting a pass. Wings cut the lead in half a few minutes in and the alarm has finally went off at the Joe, the goal awakening the crowd.

In a move more expected out of the inexperienced Penguins, Maltby is called for obstruction after retaliating from a hit earlier in the shift. The refs miss a Pittsburgh trip in the Wings zone, but the Wings escape the penalty kill unscathed. After the missed trip, Datsyuk gets roughed up – for the record, it wasn’t a penalty – but the Joe Louis crowd is starting to get on the officials. It was a very good kill, with Detroit pressing the puck more than Pittsburgh.

At the midpoint of the period, the Wings have turned up the offensive heat on the Penguins, out-shooting the visitors 7-2 early on. Crosby is called for a high-stick on Lidstrom – he tries to remind referee Dan O’Halloran that he’s Sidney Crosby but to no avail – and the captains exchange words as Crosby heads to the box.

The power play is unsuccessful with only one scoring chance – a Zetterberg shot that created a big rebound – as the physical play continues. Maltby puts Gary Roberts on his back with a big hit that ignites the crowd with a handful of minutes to go in the middle frame.

A Wing and a Penguin take sprawling trips into the boards back-to-back and the Wings oh-so-nearly tie the game as Cleary – from the boards to the left of Fleury – throws the puck at the net and Zetterberg almost bangs it home, but it’s wide.

Another unbelievable save by Fleury – reminiscent of his stick save in Game Three – as Filpulla and Samuelsson break out on a 2-on-1. Samuelsson flips it to Filpulla, who flips back – that’s kind of a tongue twister – and puts a shot on goal, only to be robbed by Fleury’s left toe. Amazing save.

Late in the period, Ryan Malone – who already broke his nose once in the series – takes a slap shot off the nose and immediately leaves the ice as blood drips. One of the officials puts his hand up to Malone’s face, as if to stop the bleeding, which was pretty gross.

Anyways, two periods are in the books and the Wings appear to have more life heading into the third, clearing a huge obstacle in getting that first goal.

Pittsburgh is still having their periodic spurts attacking the net and creating scoring chances – like pushing a turbo button. The Wings are still turning the puck over in their own zone, and one of these times it’s going to catch up with them.

Detroit is out-shooting Pittsburgh by six, 20-14, out-hitting them by nine, 23-12, but has turned the puck over five more times, which is a concern heading into the third.

Third period

The third period begins, the Wings needing two more goals to avoid a return trip to the Steel City.

“Ohhhhh!!!” I think I just lost my breath. Datsyuk – along the right boards – makes a dandy move to get to the net but lifts the puck just a smidgen too high and it clanks off the crossbar. The fans and Wings on the ice all believe it’s a goal, but replays confirm the no goal call. It was a beautiful move though, capping a Detroit attack to start the period. Datsyuk has this uncanny ability to make something out of nothing and it almost turned into a game-tying goal.

Hossa responds on the other end moments later with a clank off the post of his own, just missing a slap shot to the right of Osgood, off the iron.

The final period has opened with another trademark Wings-Penguins wicked stretch of hockey: scoring chance here, scoring chance there … big hit here, big hit there … crossbar here, post there. It’s heart-pounding seat-of-the-pants action, the kind of hockey we expected coming into the series.

Tyler Kennedy goes to the box with just over six minutes played in the third for hooking Brad Stuart’s midsection and right on cue after the CBC announcers agree that Pittsburgh won’t be able to keep Datsyuk and Zetterberg off the board the whole series, Datsyuk deflects a Zetterberg shot through Fleury’s five-hole to tie the game and ignite the Joe.

Moments later Pittsburgh is called for offsides – unbeknownst to Sidney Crosby, who is walking in on Osgood and delivers a late wrist shot that Osgood gloves – and this fuels the crowd more, chanting “Ozzie! Ozzie!” as Crosby gets hammered by Samuelsson after the whistle.

The Wings follow with a slew of shots headed Fleury’s way. The momentum has shifted, the crowd is into it, and the Wings are yet again playing on the tilted ice of Joe Louis Arena. The fans are starting to smell silver …

GOOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!! Rafalski snaps one past Fleury to give the Wings the lead from 38 feet out at the top of the right circle, drawing “We want the cup!” chants from the Joe Louis crowd. The Wings have completely taken over this game the first 10 minutes of the third, out-shooting Pittsburgh 12-0, claiming the lead and counting down the minutes and seconds until Lord Stanley makes an appearance at center ice.

And there he is. My favorite part of every potential Cup-winning game: When the guy with the shaggy hair pulls sport’s greatest trophy out of that navy-blue suitcase. The Cup is out, somewhere in Joe Louis Arena. The only question now is whether the Wings will hang on so it can come out and play.

The over-capacity crowd has not disappointed here the final 20 minutes, the decibel levels enough to scare the little experience out of the Penguins. The lower-level facing center ice hasn’t sat down since the tying goal, obstructing the television view slightly in an oh-so-gratifying way.

Three minutes to play, waiting for the icing-on-the-cake goal as the Wings continue to make themselves comfortable in the Pittsburgh zone, pelting Fleury with shots. The Wings have more than double the shots than the Penguins at this point.

You’d think this was a tie game in triple overtime the way my heart is beating right now. The anticipation is killing me and the clock can’t run fast enough …

What a buzz kill right there. With the net empty, Pittsburgh keeps plugging away in the Red Wings zone – not getting many legit scoring chances – but Max Talbot silences the roaring, Cup-hungry crowd with 35 seconds left. Talbot took two whacks at the puck, lying in the crease, and finally put it home to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Oh, the polar opposite of feelings we’ve went through the last minute. From absolute euphoria and confetti fluttering from the rafters in half a minute to a sick feeling of disappointment. The air at the Joe has been let out of the balloon, but overtime is lurking, as is every little kid’s dream playing hockey in the driveway late at night: Scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime.

Hats off to the Penguins, who kept at it – even with the seconds ticking on their fate – to score a clutch goal and prolong their season for the moment. Here’s to hoping that Joe Louis Crowd is just as rowdy as they were for a good part of the third, in overtime.

Totals after regulation: Detroit leads in shots, 34-18, and hits, 29-18. Win or lose, Cup or no Cup tonight, this has been one heck of a game.

For you casual hockey fans out there, playoff overtime is pretty simple: He who scores first, wins. Don’t plan on any bathroom or snack breaks with no television timeouts in the extra periods, but plan on some high-flying hockey.

The first five minutes of overtime is crucial. It’s there where the storyline of the game lies. Both teams will come out intense and energized, bodies-on-the-line for that goal. Generally after that, the play quiets down just a touch, but who knows with these two teams.

First overtime

Game Five. Overtime. Prepare for takeoff, people ….

Three minutes in, the play hasn’t been as high-paced as expected, with no real scoring chances but everyone knows that many a time scoring chances don’t produce game-winning goals, lucky bounces do. The Wings have thrown the puck on net a few times, trying to create something.

Detroit is putting the pressure on, chasing and taking control of the puck and getting clean looks at the net. One of these will beat Fleury.

A big chance for the Wings. Holmstrom, point-blank, spins and backhands one off Fleury’s left pad. “That looked like the Cup for Detroit,” the announcer says.

Nearing the halfway point of the first overtime, the Wings are in control, camping out in the Penguins zone and relentlessly firing shots at the net.

Pittsburgh has an aggressive two-minute stretch of hockey in the Wings zone between the nine and seven minute marks.

Both teams look on the same level right now, with the Penguins finally matching the intensity and speed of the Wings that wasn’t there at the beginning of the period.

Fleury once again stands on his head, Zetterberg rushing in with the shot creating a rebound, the puck sliding around in the crease before it’s finally covered.

Zetterberg inadvertently makes contact with Fleury, drawing a very borderline goalie interference call. Zetterberg was just going after the rebound, but made contact. Historically, the refs have swallowed their whistles in overtime and I think that would have been a good idea right there. Penguins on the power play under two minutes in overtime …

The horn sounds after Datsyuk misses wide on a shot between the circles with seconds left and we’re headed to a second overtime. I don’t mean to switch sports on you guys, but in the words of former Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks, “Let’s play two!”

I’ve come to realize I’m not cut out for his Game Five-overtime-about to win the Stanley Cup-blog thing. My heart hasn’t been beating at a proper rate since midway through the third period and I’m looking at this intermission the way I look at the finish line when running: Breathe … water … breathe …

Detroit won that first overtime period – whatever that means – creating more scoring chances, outshooting the Penguins 13-2.

One thing to look for: Pittsburgh lost defenseman Sergei Gonchar earlier in the game to injury – his return is doubtful – putting more stress on the Penguins defense. Minus one defenseman could wear out the rest of the squad. I don’t know how much longer Fleury can keep stopping the flurry – clever – of shots his way from the Red Wings.

Second overtime

And here we go again, Round Two …

Early on, the Penguins look a tad bit more fresh than the Wings, but still have no answer for their offensive pressure.

Cleary heads to the box for the Wings second overtime penalty – another goalie interference call. This call is a lot softer than the earlier Zetterberg call, which was borderline at best. Cleary was crashing the net and made contact with Fleury, but definitely not enough to make a call.

Not fazed by another fraudulent penalty, Detroit easily kills another penalty, drawing an ovation from the home crowd. Late in the kill, Zetterberg hits the left crossbar with a slap shot that nearly ended it.

Moments later, Pittsburgh responds with pressure of their own, Osgood allowing a rebound that’s ripped off the right post. The metal is getting some work tonight.

Fleury makes another game-saving stop, gloving a rebound off a Cleary shot right in front of the net. With nine minutes to play, the Wings look stronger, still creating offense seemingly at will.

The last few minutes have belonged to Pittsburgh, the Wings playing more conservative, just keeping the puck out of the zone.

With 2:16 to go, Peter Sykora is whistled for hooking, giving the Wings a power play virtually until the end of the period, giving the Wings their best chance to tally a title.

Nothing doing on that power play besides a lot of Lidstrom snipes from the point, and the clock runs out on the Wings man-advantage and the second overtime. Another great period of hockey between these two teams.

Could the third overtime be the charm? Thoughts of Slava Kozlov’s triple-overtime winner against Anaheim in 1997 and Igor Larionov’s brilliant professor-like move in the 2002 Cup finals fill my head right now. Oh yeah, and both those teams won the Cup.

Pittsburgh has shown a lot of poise, bending but not breaking to the Wings pressure. This team is gaining more experience with every shift, pushing their bodies to the limit under the fatigue of triple-overtime hockey. If they push one past, they will suddenly make this very interesting, heading back to their place.

So much for June 2nd as the day. Around 12:30 in the morning on the east coast, if a Cup’s to be won, it will be won on the 3rd.

The Penguins drink coconut water between intermissions in overtime. Nice.

Third overtime

The Wings open up the period with two quick chances in less than half a minute. First, Samuelsson fires a wrister high, then with a juicy rebound in front of the net, it’s knocked off.

Right now, Pittsburgh is a boxer – beaten up after ten hard rounds of fighting – being told to walk the plank on a sinking ship. They are getting thoroughly outplayed but the pessimist in me is saying this is going to be some messed up script where the lucky break could trump that.

Fleury is keeping pace with the Wings offense, stride-for-stride. With 13 minutes to play, he has 54 saves, 20 in overtime. A handful of those saves being absolutely huge now.

Or the third time could be a bad thing. Jiri Hudler gets a four-minute high-sticking call for drawing blood on – and oh man, the game’s over.

With the Wings a man short for four minutes, Peter Sykora ends it seconds in – right after a slap shot bounced off a referee’s back side nonetheless – beating Osgood’s glove top-shelf.


I’m at a loss for words right now, now desperately clinging to a Tigers victory to bandage up the bleeding for now – which probably isn’t going to happen either, they’ll walk the winning run home or something. And they just aired a Stanley Cup-themed commercial on CBC, showing like every winner ever raising the Cup, which didn’t pour salt into the wounds or anything …

There we go. Just what the doctor ordered. 10 minutes after the Red Wings lose, you turn to FSN to watch them lose on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. Great.

Alright, besides the fact that I feel like I just wasted five hours of my life and I want to find the nearest restroom, let’s finish this …

First off, that was an amazing hockey game. It was a five-hour adrenaline rush, a ride up, down and around this unbelievable roller coaster that they couldn’t even build at Cedar Point. From hit posts to big saves to big hits to fluke goals to a team scoring with half a minute left to keep their season alive, only to take punch after punch for two more rounds and win it in the end.

That’s what makes hockey overtime unlike anything else. A team can outplay another team, catch a break that team doesn’t and steal a game. There’s nothing you can do but tip your hat to an effort like that. They simply weathered the storm and persevered until the finish.

And don’t look now folks, but this team is officially scary. They’re going to be the team that wakes up in the morning happy that they’re sore and can barely walk. The Wings are the team, facing what I would have to imagine would be a very quiet plane ride to Pittsburgh, knowing what a golden – or silver – opportunity passed them by.

Oh, and they’re going home. Remember that crowd in games three and four? Multiply that by 10 and that’s what you’re going to get Wednesday night.

But on the same hand, you can’t overlook the fact that the Wings were the better team on the ice, they just didn’t catch and take advantage of the break. Obviously, if you’re Mike Babcock, you have to look at the positives. And the positive is you’re still up a game in the series with Game Seven at home.

The Penguins looked more loose and confident to the Wings tight and nervous look the first half of the game until they turned it on.

So as Don Cherry said before and after the game, “Beware of the Wounded Penguin.”