By Eric Neel
Page 2

It's almost playoff time, and players on contending teams are jacked up like a bunch of skate rats on Red Bull.

They can't sit still. They can't wait to throw down.

But it isn't all happy juice flowing through their veins right now. There's some of that black bile of fear and loathing floating around in there, too.

Because if the postseason is the chance to make your mark in front of a super fat television audience and the high council of legendary elders, a la Spike Owen, it's also the chance to go splat under the bright lights of the big time, like our old friend Mitch Williams.

So it's a cocktail, a jigger of desire and a lime wedge of fear. A shot of worry and a sprig of chop-lickin'.

Let's break it down, fears first ... because if you don't name them, you can't confront them.

Come the postseason, you can bet nobody wants to face ...

Johan Santana's slider.

A's fans with beer in their bellies.

Johan Santana's fastball.

Barry Bonds, we call him Barry Bonds, Daddy, with a 2-0 count, an 0-2 count, or a full count; with runners on or with the bases empty; on a sunny day, with overcast skies, or in the dark of night.

Johan Santana's changeup.

Milton Bradley with a bottle of Poland Spring in one hand and an E9 in the other.

The real Mike Mussina (3-1, 1.75 ERA, and 39 strikeouts in September).

The supernatural J.D. Drew (.312/.440/.579? Seriously, is this an anamatronic J.D. Drew we've been watching? Is Bobby Cox running him by remote control? Is Fisher Stevens jumping around in the locker room shouting "Number Five is alive!" even as we speak?)

The first few bars of "Enter Sandman" or the opening scream of "Welcome to the Jungle."

Manny and Pedro doing the Wonder Twins 'fro bump.

Cesar, Alex, and Shawn going 6-4-3.

Rich Harden looking like he's too young to know better.

Roger Clemens
Looks like The Rocket might get to pitch in the postseason again.

Roger Clemens looking like he's got one last thing to prove.

Vlad Guerrero sitting on a pitch in the heart of the zone, or low and away, or up and in, or anywhere near the batter's box, or over in the direction of the on-deck circle, or really anywhere in the vicinity of the locker room or the stadium.

The following announcement, coming over the stadium PA system: "Now batting, _________ (insert name of Cardinal here)."

The following salutation, whispered by a ticket-taker at the stadium front gate: "Good evening, Mr. Bartman."

Curt Schilling with the collective devotion of The Sons of Sam Horn, especially Jose Melendez, behind him.

The Lion of Alameda County waiting on your ground ball down the line with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face.

Robin Ventura with the bases loaded.

The Garbage Bag, the ivy, Tal's Hill, and the infernal Tomahawk Chop.

Gary Sheffield's wiggle, Francisco Rodgriguez's bend, Chipper Jones' chaw, Yhency Brazoban's vowels, or a whiff of Steve Kline's hat (which, sadly, will be soldiering on without Steve, who's out with a groin pull ... talk about things guys don't want to face in the playoffs ... or ever).

Scary stuff.

But like I said, guys aren't just afraid, they're also eager. They see soft spots and windows of opportunity.

So come the postseason, you can bet they'll be lined up around the block for the chance to come up against ...

A-Rod under pressure.

Dusty yelling, "Suck it up, baby!" from the dugout steps while Mark Prior goes into windup number 122.

The ninth inning call to the bullpen in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.

Darin Erstad or David Eckstein at the plate, with the winning run sitting on second.

The inevitable end of Jeff Suppan's run of luck.

Mark Mulder
Mark Mulder has looked lost on the mound of late.

The bottomless pit from which Mark Mulder now pitches.

Jeff "Man, He's Got Great Stuff, If He Could Only Pull It All Together" Weaver toeing the rubber.

Sammy Sosa, version 2004.0 (I know, it's sad, but it has to be said.)

A.J. Pierzynski with runners on first and second and less than two outs.

Billy "My S--t Don't Work in the Playoffs" Beane and his band of Jeremy Giambi All-Stars rolling into town for Game Five.

That third starter for Houston ... I forget his name.

Folks in the Wrigley bleachers with that glazed, something-wicked-this-way-comes look in their eyes and folks crawling under the seats at Fenway, hoping to escape the ghost of Billy B.

The very real chance Tom Gordon's arm refuses to come out of the bullpen one more time. The very real chance the arm just takes the call from Stottlemyre itself and says, "Hell no, Mel. I'm done. You tell Joe I'm done. You tell Joe to get himself another sucker, cause this one is used up!"

Late-arrivers in LA and empty seats in Atlanta.

And last but not least, Jose Guillen in street clothes in Anaheim, anybody other than Burl Ives on the hill in the City By The Bay, and Terry Francona under the microscope in Beantown. (I mean, come on, everybody's looking forward to that, aren't they, and when I say everyone, I really mean Grady Little ... and, of course, Joe Torre.)


.366. That's a good number. That's a very good number. There's no shame in a number like that.

Unless, of course, you're me. Unless, of course, you're me and you made a boastful pledge way back when, because you were sure that the number would be at least 34 points higher.

Barry Bonds
Barry whiffed on .400 -- now Eric will have to pay the price.

In which case, the number is dripping with shame.

Shame, humiliation, discomfort, and a whole bucketful of the pride that goeth before a fall.

So fallen I am, and painted I'll be. Tomorrow night. In Los Angeles.

Not in the comfort of my own living room, not in the black-and-orange sea at SBC, but right smack in the right field pavilion seats at Dodger Stadium.

I'm breaking out in hives just thinking about it.

I'm actually hoping for some sort of allergic reaction to the paint ... nothing life-threatening, you understand, just enough to get me carted away by ballpark emergency medical staff.

And if the paint doesn't get me, I'm seriously considering throwing a plastic water bottle at Michael Tucker, or talking smack about Scott Eyre over the bullpen wall, daring him to be a man and pick up a chair, and such, just to see if I can get myself ejected.

Anyway, if you're at the Stadium tomorrow night, come on by and say hello. We'll take pictures, we'll run them next week, and I'll hang them on my wall at the office as painful reminders that predictions, even predictions about Barry Bonds, We Call Him Barry Bonds, Daddy, are a fool's errand.

And I am just a fool.

Go Dodgers!

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column appears weekly.