By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Recent additions to the always-expanding list ...

Reason No. 444: "And it's an eight-to-FOUR ballgame"
I love this scenario ...

Alex Rodriguez
"Alex Rodriguez goes deep, and now it's an eight-to-FOUR ballgame."

Let's say the Angels jump out to an 8-0 lead against the Rangers in the second inning. Even though Ramon Ortiz is cruising along at home and the Angels seemingly have the game in the bag, the Rangers sneak two runs across in the third ... and another run in the fourth ... and then A-Rod goes on a cowhide joyride in the fifth inning. Suddenly, it's an 8-4 ballgame and more than enough time for a Texas comeback.

And as A-Rod rounds the bases, the play-by-play announcer needs to update the score. He doesn't want to overhype a potential comeback, but he needs to pass along the message that something is happening here, so he always raises his voice about 10 octaves for the second number in his updated score:

"And it's an eight-to-FOUR ballgame."

In other words, stay tuned ... this baby just became officially interesting.

Strangely enough, you can incorporate this phrase into everyday life. For instance, let's say you're out with your buddies and one of them starts talking with a seemingly unattainable female. At first you're watching from afar and thinking he's going down in flames like Michael Myers at the end of "Halloween 2," but your buddy keeps working it and working it ... suddenly they're heading over to the jukebox together to pick out a few songs.

And it's an eight-to-FOUR ballgame...

Reason No. 445: Jennifer Capriati
Flipping channels on Sunday night, I stumbled across the beginning of ESPN's "Sports Century and Beyond: Jennifer Capriati" documentary, which immediately reeled me in. Initially, I looked forward to the inevitable section rehashing Capriati's downfall in the mid-90s ... I knew it was looming at some point, the same way you know that the car accident's coming when you're watching "Def Leppard: Behind the Music" for the first time, and they show footage of Rick Allen drumming with two arms.

Jennifer Capriati
Jennifer Capriati didn't "come back." ... She grew up. There's a difference.

And yet the Capriati Collapse failed to entertain in documentary form -- she was simply too young when her life fell apart at the seams. The most painful scene occurred during an awkward press conference after a 1999 U.S. Open loss, when Capriati read a sweet, misguided letter asking the press to stop bringing up her troubled past. After she finished the letter, someone asked her a tough question, prompting her to break down crying in front of everyone. Great video? Absolutely. But it made me feel dirty when I was watching it. I didn't like myself.

Even after watching Capriati turn around her life and capture the 2001 Australian and French Opens, I still felt guilty for lumping her in with that mean-spirited, VH1-driven, "Let's see Celebrity X self-destruct!" mentality that victimizes us all from time to time. I mean, doesn't everyone wish they could travel back in time and rectify a few mistakes in judgment from their formative years?

Imagine you were thrust into the public eye at that age. Imagine a ravenous press hounding your every move. Imagine video existed that chronicled every weight gain and dreadful haircut. Imagine one ultra-moronic mistake from high school or college -- the time you were arrested for a DWI, the time your friends rushed you to the hospital so you could have your stomach pumped, the time you ran up $20,000 in credit card debt, the time you punched some jerk in a bar, etc. -- kept haunting you for the next 10 years.

That's how Capriati must feel. It doesn't matter that she salvaged her career and realized her immense promise. Despite her accomplishments over the past two years, she can't shed her baggage because the media keeps bringing up her past. Hey, it's an easy story, right? She "came back," she "turned her life around," she "exorcised those demons" ... and oh, by the way, would you like to see that picture of her 1995 mugshot again?

I'm not buying it anymore. Capriati didn't "come back" ... she grew up. There's a difference. Give her a break.

And if you think I'm not rooting for her to win the U.S. Open, you're crazy.

Reason No. 446: Kevin Garnett goes to Europe
Kevin Garnett
The always entertaining Kevin Garnett is a sitcom waiting to happen.

This was the subject of last weekend's "The Life" show on ESPN, just 30 minutes about KG's European Vacation.

And all I can tell you is this ...

When I'm in charge of a TV network some day -- and dammit, it's going to happen -- Kevin Garnett immediately gets his own show. I will not argue about this.

Reason No. 447: Celebrity announcing cameos
Don't you love when celebrities make cameo appearances in the radio booth during baseball games? First of all, the ensuing conversation gets repeatedly interrupted by one of the announcers piping in, "Ball outside" or "Strike two on the corner," so any and all flow is basically shot to hell. And since the celebrity is already nervous and trying to anticipate each interruption, they'll stop talking in the middle of a sentence as soon as the pitcher goes into his windup, leading to a sudden, deadly silence.

If those problems aren't bad enough, there are two little-known baseball rules: 1) all radio announcers have to be as un-hip as possible, and 2) all radio announcers immediately lose their social skills when they're in the presence of a celebrity. And since everyone's uneasy, the ensuing mess unfolds like a bad "Saturday Night Live" skit.

I was reminded of these things two Sundays ago, when I was listening to Red Sox announcers Jerry Trupiano and Joe Castiglione calling a Sox-Rangers game on WEEI and Jerry suddenly announced, "Now we're joined in the booth by WUSA soccer stars Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly."

Giddy up!

The next 10 minutes carried a UCR (Unintentional Comedy Rating) of 9.8. After Mia and Kristine were introduced, Joe clammed up like he had never been in the same room with two women before; you could almost picture him chewing his nails, staring at the floor and self-consciously glancing at Mia every few seconds. Meanwhile, the girls sounded like two hostages in one of those tapes that terrorists release to CNN. And Jerry inexplicably turned into the host of the "Chris Farley Show."

That meant we heard exchanges like this.

Jerry: So how's the new league working out, ladies?

Mia: The league is great ...

(Awkward pause.)

Jerry: Ball one to Manny.

Mia: We enjoy playing in the league very much. The WUSA is treating us very well. Everything is great. We look forward to the season ending so we can come home.

Mia Hamm
High comedy alert: "We're joined in the booth now by WUSA star Mia Hamm."

Joe:

Kristine: We are fed twice a day.

(Painful, awkward pause.)

Jerry: Strike on the inside corner. One-and-one.

Kristine: I sleep on my own mattress. I get a blanket. The blanket is warm. On Tuesdays, I get to sleep with a pillow.

Joe:

Jerry: Remember that time when Brandi Chastain had the final penalty kick in the World Cup, and she scored the winning goal, and she ran toward midfield, and she pulled off her shirt and she had a jogging bra on, and then she fell to her knees? Remember that?

Mia and Kristine: Yeah?

Jerry: That was awesome!

Reason No. 448: Whatifsports.com
I sent the following e-mail to a friend Monday:

    "yo ... i picked up pete rose off the waiver wire and finally dumped ralph kiner ... kiner sucked ... big disappointment at $10 million ... it was a 50-homer season with 1.100 ops for god's sake! hopefully the simulated Rose won't start placing simulated bets against my team. i sent him down to the minors just in case ... that freed up enough cap space so I could pick up little joe morgan ('73 season) and waive knoblauch ... i needed a lefty bat with speed for the 2-spot ... plus al simmons made it back into my starting lineup ... it's always good to have a token simmons in the mix. my team's coming on baby!"

(Good times... good times.)

Reason No. 449: The Legend of Cody Webster
Remember last week at this time, when everyone was practically pulling their hammies leaping on the Daniel Almonte bandwagon? Your buddy Sports Guy wasn't one of them. I had trouble feeling attached to an American Little League pitcher who arrived with his own translator, especially when he had that Ian Ziering-esque, "I'm a little too old to be here" aura about him.

Besides, the Almonte Era paled in comparison to everything that happened in 1982, back when Cody Webster tossed Kirkland, Wash., on his back, throttling the Chinese Taipei for six glorious innings and capturing America's first Little League title in eons. Every kid who grew up around then remembers that game in a "Where was I during O.J.'s Bronco chase?" kinda way -- it was the kiddie version of "USA 4, USSR 3," with a little Roy Hobbs/Jimmy Chitwood touch thrown in for good measure.

Back in those days, American teams couldn't hang with the Far East -- year after year, they had our collective number the same way that Gabe Kaplan owned Bob Conrad in "Battle of the Network Stars." But let the record show that Cody Webster tossed a two-hit, complete game shutout, smacked a tape measure homer and somehow remained upright when his entire team charged the mound following the final strikeout. Nineteen years later and I can still see Cody hopping up and down, the man-child, a Jack Sikma-style afro seeping from his hat, dwarfing his tiny teammates as they jumped around him.

And I don't care if Almonte was throwing harder than Randy Johnson last week ... as Lt. Sam Weinberg would say, "I'd still take a 12-year-old Cody Webster every day of the week and twice on Sunday." That kid was larger than life.

Reason No. 450: The 2001 Cincinnati Bengals
From the Sporting News' website on Monday:

Jon Kitna
Jon Kitna is aiming for Peter Warrick.

"Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said (Jon) Kitna had won the team's quarterback competition and will start in Week 1. Kitna, Scott Mitchell and Akili Smith all struggled in the preseason, and LeBeau said all three likely would play at some point. He also held out the possibility of rotating quarterbacks during games."

From CBS SportsLine, also on Monday:

"LeBeau had a tough decision because all three quarterbacks had a tough time during their preseason starts. Kitna produced only one field goal in a half, Smith got battered and knocked out of the competition, and Mitchell threw two interceptions and was sacked for a safety in a 20-10 loss to Buffalo on Saturday. 'I don't think there's a great deal of difference in the three,' LeBeau said."

From the Associated Press on Monday:

"'If one of them had lit it up and we scored 35 points, it would have been easy,' coach Dick LeBeau said of his decision. 'But it didn't happen that way.' "

(I mean ... has a team ever been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before the season started?)

Reason No. 451: The Extra-Inning Marathon
Along with the Multiple OT Playoff Hockey Game, it's the most perversely enjoyable experience you can have as a sports fan. I suffered through one of these marathons Saturday night, when the Red Sox battled the Rangers in Texas for 18 innings and nearly seven hours before blowing the game at 2:40 a.m. ET. Of couse, I was still awake. I even enjoyed myself. Slightly.

The marathon usually unfolds like this ...

11th inning
You start wondering if the game will potentially drag into the wee hours, so you make a snap decision right then and there: "What's my cutoff point? The 15th? The 16th? 1:30? 2:00?"

(On Saturday, I decided that my cutoff point was the moment that floundering Sox reliever Derek B. Lowe entered the game. Unless the Sox had the lead during a Lowe sighting, I was heading to bed. Period.)

12th inning
Both offenses officially drop dead; this is the point when people like Rod Beck start tossing 1-2-3 innings and looking like Sidd Finch. Apparently major-league hitters only have concentration spans of four hours or less.

Derek Lowe
When you see Derek Lowe come into an extra-inning game, it might be time to hit the hay.

Also in the 12th: the first shots of little kids sprawled across two seats in the stands as the announcers say things like, "What are his parents thinking?" and "Why isn't she in bed right now?" That's always fun.

13th inning
You start glancing self-consciously at the living room clock and feeling like a worthless idiot. Also, if you have a spouse (or you live with your significant other), this is usually the point where they emerge from the bedroom, bleary-eyed and bitching that you haven't come to bed yet. Not good times. Bad times.

14th inning
The announcers officially start to sound drunk. Alternately giggly, whiny and just plain loopy, they just want to go home and they're openly rooting for somebody to score at this point. One of the strangest running phenomenons in sports. All rules of professionalism get completely tossed out the window. It's beyond bizarre.

(One added bonus here: if one of your announcers is a chain-smoker, this is usually the inning where they start sounding jumpy and ready to start smoking the microphone.)

15th inning
The 15th inning usually means new catchers. That's always exciting. And the guys in the dugouts are starting to act goofy -- players wearing their caps sideways, players with their arms around one another and so on. The first Rally Cap might even make an appearance here. You know it's an Extra-Inning Marathon when somebody breaks out the Rally Cap.

16th inning
The announcers start having exchanges like this:

    Announcer 1: "Did I ever tell you about the time I killed someone with my bare hands?

    Announcer 2: "Really?"

    Announcer 1: "Yeah. I was in Vegas -- I was in the parking lot outside the Spearmint Rhino. I don't really remember much about it. I blacked out. I can still see his face sometimes when I close my eyes though. (pause) There's a strike to Jose Offerman ...

17th inning
Both bullpens are totally depleted at this point. Now the game becomes just plain surreal. What happens once a team uses everyone in its bullpen? Do they bring in tomorrow night's starter? Do they pitch the starter from three nights ago on two days rest? Do they -- gasp!!! -- use a position player? It's like this Great Unknown ... you don't know what could happen. Frankly, it's titillating.

18th-20th innings
Sometime in the range, just as you're reaching the Great Unknown, something transpires and you suddenly realize: "That's it. The game's gonna end soon." And within the next 10 minutes, it usually does.

(During Saturday's game, my Epiphany occurred the moment Sean McDonough said the words, "Derek Lowe is coming on for the Sox" in the 18th inning. I knew the Sox were cooked. I'm telling you, I knew it. Sean should have just tossed a black cat onto the field.)

Anyway, you watch the game abruptly end, and you slink up to bed and take one last glance at the clock, and it shows some horrifying time -- something like "2:53" -- and you just feel like hanging yourself. And you try to fall asleep, but your body's so tired that it won't shut down, and you find yourself repeating, "Never again, never again" until you finally zone out.

But then something strange happens ....

An inexplicable sense of pride engulfs you the following morning, even as your girlfriend gives you the silent treatment all morning, even as your boss expresses his disenchantment because you showed up an hour late for work. Hey, you were busy. You were watching the game, dammit! And when a friend or co-worker asks, "Did you stay up for the game last night?" you get to say, "Of course, I did!" and suddenly it feels like the whole night was worth it.

And then it feels like just another reason why you like sports.

Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.



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