Single page view By Eric Neel
Page 2

Don't tell my lifelong Methodist grandmother I said so, but I've always admired the Baptists. It's the full-body immersion thing. Complete surrender; not just sprinkled, but surrounded. That's the way to do it.

Don't tell my lifelong Methodist grandmother who, despite whatever Annie Savoy might say in my defense, would call me a blasphemer if she heard me say it, but I feel like a Baptist when it comes to baseball in September. I want to be washed in it.

So last night, with the Angels and Red Sox previewing a possible division series matchup, Pedro Martinez going heads up with John Smoltz in Atlanta, the Astros and Phils battling for control of the NL wild card, and Los Angeles and San Francisco playing yet another grudge match, I settled in, and bathed in the light of the television.

It was a good night for baseball, and a good night for a notebook:

• First things first, you have to make a call: What is the toggle game in the 4 p.m. Pacific slot? The Angels-Red Sox game is the base; two first-place teams, a replay of last year's playoffs, the possibility of John Lackey, who comes in with a 10-something ERA, making a mess all over himself on the hill in Fenway, etc. So is it the Marlins-Nats or Astros-Phillies for the toggle game? I go with Astros-Phils because of Roy Oswalt.

Roy Oswalt
Roy Oswalt deserves a lot more credit than he gets for the Astros' success.

• Oswalt is all elbows and angles, whipping through his delivery like a young tree bent over in a stiff wind. He finishes his curveball with a wide, comic step to the right of the hill, the way a sumo wrestler might enter a ring. And when he throws gas, the end of it is a post-pitch crouch to the left side of the mound that reminds you of Spiderman crawling up a skyscraper window. He doesn't look like much just standing there at 6 feet, 180, but he's full of drama and he makes guys buckle at the knees.

And by the way, are we watching this guy often or closely enough? Under the shadow of Clemens' historic stuff, have we noticed Oswalt putting together another quietly terrific season? Have we paid attention to the 2.84 ERA and 1.17 WHIP? Do we have to say this guy is maybe the least-talked-about great pitcher in baseball? I think we do. I think we need to take it upon ourselves to mention him more often, to work him into casual conversation, to come up with fresh, potent terms to describe his efforts, to say to the next person who asks how we're doing: "I'm fine, thanks, but not as fine as Mr. Roy Oswalt, whose work down in Houston is positively pointillist." Things like that.

• Check the Marlins-Nationals game, see some guy named Rasner is making his big-league debut. Astros-Phillies is definitely the call.

• Johnny Damon, whose every move at the plate is kind of a loose-limbed Zen testimonial, quietly scorches a grounder to short in the first inning. Orlando Cabrera Mr. Bojangles it, easy as you please, with a crossover move, left-to-right, and backhands the ball on a one-hop that should have eaten him up, then rises, throws Jesus out at first, and shuffles back to his position like he's just going out for a walk. Cabrera's been a disappointment for the Angels at the plate, but he's not short on moxie and flow, and he's committed just five errors all year. The Angels are a very good defensive club (second in the league in errors at this point). And while it's Vlad's swashbuckling arm we think of first, at the end of the day we ought to be thinking about Cabrera's been-there swagger and style as the tone-setter for Anaheim, kind of the way he was for Boston against the Yankees last fall.



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