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Press Row: Off to a rousing start

Off to a rousing start

The playoffs began with three interesting games Tuesday, which means there's plenty of interesting sportswriting to read on Wednesday. Whether you missed the early game or just want a review, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is poised to tell you exactly what happened in three paragraphs or less.

"Chris Carpenter offered an I-told-you-so performance before cramping fingers forced him to surrender the ball. Jake Peavy left with a broken rib after 13 unlucky outs.

"If the starting pitchers in Tuesday's opener of the Division Series created the week's watermark, the Cardinals left Busch Stadium with more than an 8-5 decision over the San Diego Padres. They carried the imprint of a 100-win season built atop starting pitching, fail-safe defense and a veteran, dial-it-up lineup.

"Carpenter offered six eventful but shutout innings and left fielder Reggie Sanders provided a single-game Division Series record six RBIs -- with a two-run double and fifth-inning grand slam against the star-crossed Peavy, who left the game in the fifth inning and the stadium in the eighth."

That last thought -- the star-crossed Peavy -- was the first and foremost concern in San Diego. The right-hander may have come into the game with an injury and aggravated it along the way. San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Tim Sullivan examines the starter's situation in-depth.

"In trying to take one for the team yesterday, Peavy might have taken one from his team. He compromised the Padres' playoff chances by pitching at least part of yesterday's 8-5 Division Series loss with a fractured rib -- notably, the pitch that produced Sanders' fifth-inning grand slam.

"'Obviously, I ended up hurting my team and feel bad for that,' Peavy said. 'But I wasn't going to be thought of as somebody who was soft.'

"Instead, Peavy revealed a hard-headed hubris yesterday at Busch Stadium. He allowed his competitive instincts to cloud his judgment. He did what macho-minded pitchers customarily do when asked to choose between valor and discretion.

"He failed to tell the whole truth until it was too late, until after he had already dug his teammates an eight-run deficit.

"'He was throwing well and we had no information that anything was bothering him,' Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. 'I don't think he was smart about it. I think he should have said something.'"

The Padres, without Peavy, will play Game 2 against St. Louis on Thursday night. The next series brought another blowout and some more good sportswriting. Leave it to Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe to describe the first Battle of the Sox, where Chicago's White Sox play host to Boston's Red Sox.

"There's a special feature on the monstrous scoreboard that looms behind the deepest outfield walls at U.S. Cellular Field. Fireworks crackle and soar toward the heavens every time a White Sox player hits a home run.

"The defending world champions from Boston must have felt as if they were at the Esplanade on the Fourth of July yesterday when the White Sox crushed five homers in an embarrassingly easy 14-2 rout of the Red Sox in the first game of their best-of-five Division Series.

"'We're a little shellshocked,' said Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. 'There were a lot of home runs and a lot of fireworks. But we just have to shower this game off and be ready tomorrow.'

"So there. October baseball is back, and the Sox title defense is off to a rocky start as a Nation turns its lonely eyes to David Wells, a 42-year-old lefthander with a history of peak performance in the big games."

If they were shellshocked by the nature of the game in the Boston clubhouse, they were equally surprised on the other side. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune picked up the story from the Chicago perspective.

"Third baseman Joe Crede had a one-word description of the stunning manner in which the White Sox blew out the Red Sox.

"'Wow,' Crede said.

"The White Sox won their first postseason home game since Game 1 of the 1959 World Series with relentless hitting. They doubled their entire run total from their last postseason appearance, a three-game sweep by Seattle in the 2000 Division Series.

"They also outslugged the AL's top hitting team with five home runs, ranging from [Paul] Konerko's solo shot in the third inning to Scott Podsednik's three-run shot in the sixth that capped a four-run inning and was Podsednik's first homer since Sept. 30, 2004, at St. Louis.

"The five home runs, including two from A.J. Pierzynski and a two-run shot by Juan Uribe in the fourth, tied a division series record set last year by St. Louis.

"That was more than enough support for Jose Contreras, who extended his impressive post-All-Star run by limiting Boston's formidable lineup to two runs over 7 2/3 innings.

"'Everyone is focusing on 14 runs," Konerko said. "I'm focusing on two runs. That's the difference.'"

Then again, that 14 is awfully compelling. Jeff Horrigan of the Boston Globe underlines why the rout will be a distant memory when Boston takes the field for Game 2, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday night.

"If the Red Sox are looking for a positive to take from the 14-2 drubbing they were handed by the Chicago White Sox yesterday at U.S. Cellular Field, all they have to do is look at recent history.

"The last two Octobers have shown that the Red Sox have the ability to rebound from losing the first game of a playoff series or getting pounded by an opponent. Last year, the Red Sox were battered by the New York Yankees, 19-8, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series but made an unlikely recovery and became the first team in baseball history to overcome an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

"In 2003, the Red Sox lost the first two games of the best-of-five Division Series in Oakland, only to rebound and win the next three to advance to the ALCS.

"'We have experience,' Jason Varitek said. 'We're not going to quit, no matter what happens.'"

And what about Boston's archnemesis, the other AL East team still alive in the postseason? Sam Borden and the New York Daily News pick up the story from Anaheim.

"There was supposed to be evil waiting for the Yankees here. When a confluence of events over the weekend led to the Bombers losing home-field advantage in the first round, it was supposed to be the difference-maker.

"And maybe, ultimately, it will. But last night the Yanks looked plenty comfortable on the road, scoring a 4-2 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of their division series at Angel Stadium. Regardless of what happens tonight, the Yanks will have a chance to close out the best-of-five series at the Stadium this weekend.

"Mike Mussina tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings and Robinson Cano smashed a three-run double in the first inning to lead the Yanks, who also won the first game when they faced the Angels in their 2002 division series. They then lost the next three and Anaheim went on to win the World Series."

Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register broke the entire game down to a single play.

"The question of the night was, should the ball, hit in the gap by Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano for a three-run double, have been caught?

"Your first inclination was to say yes. It seemed like a routine, catchable fly ball when it left Cano's bat. And [Garret] Anderson, who was playing at slightly shorter than medium depth, appeared to get less than a good jump on the ball that landed in front of the warning track.

"In an ordinary, regular-season game, it probably wouldn't have been an issue. But these are playoff games, where everything becomes magnified.

"And when the Angels' Bartolo Colon recovered from that three-run burst to pitch effectively for the next six innings and Mike Scioscia's offense reverted to its old, punchless ways, that first-inning play stood out like ... well, like Derek Jeter at a New York singles bar."

In truth, the game may have been won by a pre-game decision. Joel Sherman of the New York Post describes how New York's manager picked his pitcher for the opening game.

"Joe Torre shunned the second guess in exchange for a first playoff victory. He consulted his favorite guide, his baseball gut, and determined he would rather have Mike Mussina pitch a Game 1 than a Game 162.

"The Yankees lost Sunday at Fenway and, in that predestined world that has become so prevalent in the age of sports talk radio, the instant analysis was that they would have won if Torre had just started Mussina rather than Jaret Wright. No one really knows.

"But what Torre did know is that he wanted Mussina making his 19th career postseason start in the opener rather than asking Shawn Chacon or Chien-Ming Wang to make a playoff debut to begin the Division Series. So Torre potentially sacrificed the final game of the regular season and, as it turns out, the home-field advantage because he believes he can read his players better than anyone.

"His read was that his team is so tough-minded right now that it does not matter even if a game is played 3,000 miles from home in a sea of red. And he discerned that Mussina had enough stuff in his heart and his arm to be trusted with this vital role."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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