Ask Boswell: Redskins, MLB, Nats, Caps and More

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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, October 22 to take your questions about the MLB playoffs, the Redskins, the Nats, the NFL, the Caps and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

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Boswell Column Archives

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Co-columnist: Bos, I'm not sure what the columnist equivalent is but imagine if your bosses wanted you gone but didn't want to pay off what they owed you in future years under your contract. They came to you and said,"Bos, this isn't working out right now. We want to have a retired columnist who is now writing notes for a retirement community newsletter come to DC to be a consultant for you." A week later they say,"He is now going to decide the topic and main points of every column you write." At what point, if ever, do you say "I don't care about the money and I refuse to be disrespected this way." and resign? I suppose it would help if your kids were through college and you had a few bucks stashed away for retirement...

Tom Boswell: My family doctor asked me yesterday if Zorn had really had so much authority taken away. I said, "If they took away your stethescope (sp?) and your prescription pad, would you still be a doctor?" He laughed. He got it.

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Columbus, Ohio: With all the talk of replacing Jim Zorn, why hasn't the name of Russ Grimm come up? I think he's an assistant head coach, has ties to both Joe Gibbs and the original Hogs, and probably knows how to direct both an offense and defense. I know his name has come up for other openings. Wouldn't he be a good candidate if he could work for Snyder?

Tom Boswell: He would be a good candidate.

But he's not famous enough around the country for Snyder. And Russ is probably too smart and too plugged into the Redskins problems to want to work for Snyder.

But you never know. People want to be NFL head coaches very badly and they can often rationalize that, "It will be different with me."

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Silver Spring, Md.: Apples and oranges, perhaps, but how would you compare Snyder and the Lerners as owners of professional sports teams?

Tom Boswell: There is no comparison whatsoever.

The Lerners have only had 3 1/2 years to learn how to be baseball owners. And they have made progress in the last year with the signings of Z'man, Strasburg, Dunn and the Willingham trade. Hypothetically, if they have two reasonably active off seasons in '09-'10 and '10-'11 and have a .500 team with Strasburg, Z'man, Z'mann, etc in '11, the town will love them and barely remember any of this unpleasantness. Just growing pains, we'll say. Of course, that hasn't happened yet.

Also, there is no comparison between the two owners. They couldn't be more polar opposites in almost every way. For starters, Snyder walks into a room with body guards and acts like he knows everything. Ted Lerner could be standing next to you and you wouldn't know he was there. He's genuinely modest, though stubborn. He's very philanthropic (so is Snyder, by the way). And, according to the latest rich-folks mag story, Ted has three times as much money -- $3.4B to $1.1B.

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Alexandria, Va.: The only way Snyderatto will change their ways is if someone like Shanahan comes in and blows them away during the interview and then adds, "I only take the job if I get complete comtrol, and I'm not signing any cockamamie clauses like Zorn."

Otherwise, the Snyderatto monster will drag the franchise further into the swamp ...

Tom Boswell: I agree with a lot of that.

My biggest concern is that the current Snyder situation reminds me far too much of the way the Orioles were ruined under Angelos. It was a long process. I can't remember the day that Baltimore turned on him and said, "That is the last straw." But it was after he drove away Davey Johnson the day he was Manager of the Year, John Miller, Mike Mussina, etc. Every incident had a Character Problem tied to it. Finally, the city decided they just thought he was a really bad guy and no matter how much money he spent on the O's, he was killing the franchise with his meddling, his inability to judge people accurately, etc. How accurate is that judgment? That would take a lot more words than a chat. But my point is that a very bock-solid consensus was formed that Angelos was a bad boss, a bad owner and sometimes a rotten guy in how he treated/humiliated good people. Very similar to the perception of Snyder. And once that view is in place, it takes many years to change. Nobody (good) wants to work for you. Your fan base -- once 47,000 -- erodes every year until it is 23,000. People can't give their season tickets away to games and can't get anybody to go wioth them to games because it is the place NOT to be seen. That is happening to the Redskins now. A well-known national political columnist told me recently, "I haven't used my Redskins tickets in five years." Of course, he was refering to the Snyder factor. He literally wouldn't want to be seen there. I know I wouldn't, at this point, knowingly spend a nickel that I thought was going to Snyder, just as I finally, and sadly, canceled my Orioles season tickets. (On the way to the last Redskins game, I drove down Central Ave and saw a sign, "Six Flags Is Closed Due to Weather.")

My concern is that, in just the last few weeks, we may have seen a very destructive tipping point for the Redskins future. If they go the way of the Orioles, it may take them another decade to get straightened out. Will you see local TV blackouts in five years because they can't sell out? If seems inconceivable now. But there was a time when you could not get a good seat to an Orioles game -- any game -- and the place was full to the rafters and roaring 81 times a year.

FedEx Field is in danger of becoming the place not to be seen. And not because of the won-lost record so much as because of the perceived bad character of the organization you are supporting. There is No Bigger Problem that a sports franchise can have. And the redskins don't even realize that tehy've got it. It took Angelos years to realize it. Finally, his ticket sales gave him the message. And he started trying to change.

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Long Island, N.Y.: Thomas,

Thanks for the chat.

Any second thoughts on last week's column on the Redskins being in less worse shape than several other NFL teams?

As a Seahawk fan in the New York area, I took particular exception to you saying that they were in worse shape than the Skins - granted they got their hats handed to them at home last week by the Cards, but there's nowhere near the circus-like atmosphere around the team & they haven't played 5 consecutive winless teams that the Skins hve (and yes, I excluding the Giants from the math).

Tom Boswell: Ha!!

Of course, my other main point was that the K.C. game was the litmus test on whether the Redskins actually one of the Real Bad teams. And that we'd find out.

They are.

This is a true lifetime achievement for the Redskins front office. It is incredibly hard to lose to a 1-22 team and a 2-28 team when you have a defense that has not given up more than 28 p;oints in its last 28 games! The Redskins really do have a top-10 defense. Special teams isn't much, but it's not a big problem.

P.S.: I still think it's really interesting that the NFL has so many truly awful teams. The Titans, of all teams, lose 59-0! How fast can you fall?

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El Segundo, Calif.: Tom,

My take on the Redskins is that they are real entertaining all week except for being unwatchable on Sundays. The drama and story lines are great in between -- coaches, consultants, GM or no GM. As a writer, you must love the constant drama, yes?

Tom Boswell: There's no lack of material. It's the human comedy in all its splendor. And they serve it to you every week. You don't even have to look for it. The Skins spokesman walked into the press box at 8:30 last Sunday and said, "We have an announcement." You think, "How can they top themsleves?" But they do. They should just have put out a press release that said: "Coach Won't Quit, Wants His $4M. Owner Mad, Elevates Bingo Caller to Signal Caller."

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Herndon, Va.: What is going on with MLB umpires this postseason? In general, I think MLB officiating is the best in profesional sprts by far, but there have been some unbelievebly bad calls lately. The Yanks/Halos game was especially egregious.

I don't want more instant replay, but something needs to be done. It looked to me like Tim McClelland was in no position to be able to make the right call when he ruled that Nick Swisher left the bag early. Should MLB umpires look into their positioning? Maybe study better techniques? Then again Dale Scott was loking RIGHT AT Swisher when he called him safe on a pickoff when he was clearly out. Ideas?

Tom Boswell: Ever since MLB busted the ump's union (when Richie Phillips overreached), the quality of umpiring has fallen steadily. MLB runs it all now -- just like they wanted. And it's a semi-disaster. Being an ump is now almost like a government job for life. (I say this as the son of two DC government workers.) The umps in the minors are paid almost nothing, so the job doesnt attract good young people. The umps for post-season are not longer picked on a merit basis, just rotated. So you get the worst along with the best. And the worst are really poor. Almost nobody retires. They just keep working. And it is very tough to stay a good ump after 30+ years. Baseball got its wish -- no more unionized umps and the cost savings (chump change) that go along with it. Man, are they pay a huge price for that foolish economy.

I never thought I would be in favor of more instant relay for baseball, especially in the post-season. But I never thought the level of umpiring could get this bad.

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Tom Boswell: Ashland, Va.: Snyder and Cerrato have finally killed off my love of the team. I can't root for the Eagles, either, since they signed Michael Vick, but watching the Bingo caller, 5 years removed from the game, calling plays he is not familiar with for players he is not familiar with after only two weeks with the team should be a riot.

Jim Zorn is not a very good coach, but he was appointed to a position he was not qualified for and given a lousy team. He seems to be the only class act in the whole operation. Since it seems to be a given that he will be fired, I hope he takes all the money to which he is entitled and uses part of it to buy an enormous TV, on which to watch the Redskins' continuing miseries, which will continue as long as Snider owns the team.

Tom Boswell: Ashland: Yes, I think this is degenerating into farce pretty fast. Or maybe, considering how ugly so much of the Snyder era has been, maybe it is finally being elevated to comedy __which is probably the treatment that this would deserve if it were, for example, a movie adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel.

Wouldn't Danny and Vinny fit right into "Get Shorty." Inept arrogant billionaire and thicker-than-mud sidekick. Snyder always tries to be vindictive -- a tough guy -- when he dumps people. But they always walk away laughing at him counting the millions he gave them. Now, Zorn's going to stick around and, I hope, get his $4-million. Nice to see Largent speaking up for him. What a hoot. Whatever the Redskins say, you always know that the opposite is probably closer to the the truth. If the Skins say, "Mr. X was intimately involved in the decision," you know that Mr. X had nothing to do with it." And visa versa. So, Zorn is just playing the same game: Oh, Steve Largent, the guy I talk to almost every day, no, he doesn't speak for me. Then Largent says that Jim never says anything bad about Snyder. Right!!

What is the over-under on how many games Haynesworth plays for the $41-M guaranteeed? I'm guessing $1-million-a-game. That's optimistic. Means he stays upright for more than two more years. I remember Bruce Smith in his ankle-length fur coat counting his final few career sacks, couldn't care less about the team. Deion -- $8-million for one year when everybody said, "Deion? Don't they know he's washed up." Jeff George, the whole league says: Great arm, bad head, coach killer. The Redskins can't wait to get him to undermine Brad Johnson. So, George is out of FB in a blink, Johnson takes Tamba Bay to the Super Bowl. On and on.

There have been three key moments in the whole town getting the current picture of the Redskins. You just don't want to believe that it is this bad, this dopey, this bad B-movie. 1) When they sued the season-ticket holders. What kind of organization does that? 2) When they hired the Bingo Caller. So, if Sherman Lewis doesn't want to take the flack for being Snyderatto's designated back stabber he shouldn't have signed on. He had a fine career. Is this the way to end it? 3) When Vinny gave Zorn the emasculating ultimatum -- a Snyder/Cerrato trademark -- then said it wasn't an ultimatum.

Don't get me going. I have to laugh to keep from crying.

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Funniest moment of last week's game: Those of us watching on TV did get to see a touchdown. That's because the network lost the feed of the Redskins game and cut away briefly to the Vikings-Ravens game, just in time for Ray Rice to take one into the end zone. So in about three minutes, the Ravens were able to do what the Chiefs and Redskins couldn't do all day long ...

Tom Boswell: Nice.

When I was watching the tape of Skins-KC, I thought, "Thank God I don't have to watch it all."

The Cjiefs are absolutely terrible. Coach and QB fighting and fussing with each other on the sideline all day. KC passed up a FG early in the game in what was obviously going to be a low-scoring game. Ugh.

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Snyder v. Lerner: Plus, Lerner still has his real estate business to run. And he's got Kasten and Rizzo. Snyder is full time on the Redskins, and he has Vinnie. Nats are the clear long term bet.

Tom Boswell: Yes, I agree. Kasten and Rizzo are both really good baseman men. Given a normal budget for a market this size -- $70M-to-$75M now and more as time goes on and you have top resign your own players -- they will build an interesting team.

The Skins are really opening the door in this town for the Caps (who have already kicked that door down by themselvesd), the Wiz, the Nats and soccer. Major college sports, too. There are only so many dollars to go around, especially these days. But people love sports. So those dollars will move to another part of the DC sports market. Any local team that doesn't sense the sea change and try to capitalize on it is crazy.

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Steve Spurrier: Hey, it's not all that bad for Zorn... at least HE still gets to choose his quarterback!

Tom Boswell: Does he?

What if he walks into the locker room at halftime and Vinny is there with a note from Dan?

Monday night is my 25th wedding anniversary so I won't be at the Redskins game, obviously. But I can't wait to watch it the next day. At this point, with the season gone, don't you have to root for 10 delay-of-game penalties on the Skins? Whnat will Gruden say on MNF? What would you give to have a tape of the three-way-conversation -- all in 35 seconds -- between Lewis, Zorn and Campbell.

"No, Sherm, that was what you called the lead draw in Green Bay."

"Jason, Jason, I'm getting a lot of static on the line from Sherm. It's fourth-and-goal at the one, so I guess we'll just have to call this one opurselves."

I'd love it if Zorn put the team in the hurry-up offense the whole game and told Lewis, "Sorry, Sherm, the hurry-up is working so well that I guerss neither one of us will get to call the plays tonight. We'll just have to leave it uip to Jason."

I have to say that if I were Campbell, I'd call every damn audible I felt like calling.

I guess you've see this news on the Internet: "D.C. police are cracking down on speeders. For a first offense, you get two tickets -- to the Redskins game. For a second offense, you get two more tickets -- to a Nats game."

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Columbia, S.C.: You've hit on the umpiring situation spot on. I'm so glad you did that. I can't watch baseball regularly but I've noticed some better calls on little league and American Legion ballfields.

Noting the present climate, why bother having umpires at all? You can stick three camera angles on each base, and have 12 cameras trained on the plate and the pitcher simultaneously. The balls and strikes would show up on the scoreboard, with a small digital board posted somewhere along the backstop for the pitcher. For baserunning calls, the JumboTron next to the scoreboard would let everybody know.

Why not?

Tom Boswell: Maybe MLB hopes the umps get so bad that the game ends up there. I doubt it but...

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Silver Spring, Maryland: I am glad that Bobby Valentine is being considered for the Nats job. Why isn't he at the top of the list? He has won a pennant and managed several competitive teams. What has Don Mattingly done as a manager/coach to merit being at the top of the list?

Tom Boswell: Rizzo really likes Mattingly. If they don't hire Riggleman back, still the highest probability, it will probably be Don.

Valentine will be interviewed but there is little chance he will be hired, though Kasten likes im well enough personally. But Bobby V has 100-pounds of Bowden-like baggage -- enemies left behind everywhere he's been. Do the Nats want to go down that road? No, they don't. They need to develope young talent not bring in a win-now high-pressure guy like BV. There must be a factory somewhere that grinds out Bobby V rumors. It is not going to happen. It is not even on the board.

Doug Melvin, whom I've known since he caught for the O's, will also get a look. There will also be various other people interviewed -- just to get "other sets of eyes" to give an opinion of the team, its personal and What Should We Do? You always use the interview process to steal the candidates' best ideas about your team. Dumb not to. That's another reason you interview Bobby V.

I'm a big Mattingly fan, have known him much longer than Riggleman, whom everybody likes. The DC connection hits home with me. Mattingly is a combination of charisma and grunt worker. Fans here would love him. But I think he may get a quicker and better offer than the Nats. Riggleman deserves the job. He took a team that was .299 under Acta and played 33-42 (.440). And after the 0-5 losing streak to start, he was .471. How do you overlook the possibility (even if it is overly optimistic) that even before you make off-season improvements, the Nats might play .440-to-.471 ball for Riggleman?

But, believe me, you'd love Donny Ballgame.

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Joe Gibbs: Tom, do you think Snyder drove Joe to retiring early, regardless of what he gave as his reasons for leaving? I believe Snyder did. And if he drove Joe Gibbs crazy, whom he adored, then no one else has a chance as long as he owns the team. I don't Snyder can ever change his MO, even if he wanted to.

Tom Boswell: Joe called me several days after he re-retired to let me know some of the factors back home that went into his decision.

However, it would be impossible for anybody as decent as Gibbs to work for four years for Snyder and not have days when he wanted to scream. Dan just doesn't know how to give proper respect to others.

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Anonymous: Did you see the article on Jack Kent Cooke's son-- John of RalJohn fame? He seems to forget that his family gave Redskins fans Norv Turner, Heath Shuler and FedEX Field. Three things that probably have as much to do with the Skins current problems as anything Snyder has ever done.

Tom Boswell: JKC didn't give the team to his son. He could have. That was his evaluation. But JKC was one mean old bird. A good owner. But otherwise, wow, what a piece of work.

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Denial: We all know Snyder has done a horrible job. Additionally, he sounds like a real donkey with the way he treats people.

There's no reason to worry about this. What I'm worried about is he won't take a step back and reflect on what's going on.

Is he capable of rationally looking at how he, and no one else, has ruined things? Is he willing to personally admit defeat (lord knows he's incapable of doing so to the public) and change the way he operates?

Tom Boswell: I've been waiting for 10 years and hoping. Every time I wrote about Snyder I tried to balance plenty of criticism with thoughts on how his ownership could be more constructive. I think the whole city, in its way, took the same patient give-him-time approach.

Well, TIME'S UP.

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Happy Anniversary: So if the Nationals and/or Orioles ever play a World Series game on your anniversary, would that be the only time you get an dispensation? (Obviously you don't for the Redskins, at least not this year.)

Tom Boswell: I think my wife would ever go to that one!

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Marty Schottenheimer : Alexandra wrote: "The only way Snyderatto will change their ways is if someone like Shanahan comes in and blows them away during the interview and then adds, "I only take the job if I get complete comtrol, and I'm not signing any cockamamie clauses like Zorn." "

Well... been there, done that. I finished 8-3 to end the season, but the man really wants to play fantasy football in real life.

Tom Boswell: Good point, Marty.

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Washington, D.C.: So, what if this crazy arrangement works? What if the Redskins win big, and go on a streak. What if they start scoring, and the rookies catch a pass or two, and they score a couple touchdowns a game.

Wouldn't that be great? Snyder would have to keep the dream team in place for another season -- that'd torture him to have to retain Zorn, wouldn't it. I mean in the music industry, bands that are totally dysfunctional produce great works of harmony. Why not in sports?

A Hindi friend explained to me that arranged marriage is learning to love the one you live with, rather than learning to live with the the one you love. So, maybe this coaching thing could work out happily ever after.

Tom Boswell: Can't wait to cover the Super Bowl run.

Always willing to learn.

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Sec 114, Row E: Just a comment...

I couldn't imagine having $3.4 Billion. I'm pretty sure that after the first... say.... $250 Million in the bank, it would be all golf and sandy beaches by day, and ball games by night.

Tom Boswell: The rich are not like you and me. (They are crazier.)

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Washington, DC. Eyestreet: Now that the Dodgers are done, the Nats can talk to Mattingly. But won't it only be so that he can tell them, Thanks but no thanks, I'm Joe Torre's heir apparent and I'm staying right here while I wait for my dream job to come up, probably within the next 24 months?

The names being tossed around -- Melvin, Valentine -- don't seem to reflect very original thinking. Can you toss around one or two creative names of your own?

Tom Boswell: No. Mattingly has told me that he is interested in managing now. "It's time to get started."

I mentioned this in a previous chat.

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Washington, D.C.: I think the biggest question for Mr. Snyder is whether he will fire Cerrato at season's end. Cerrato's replacement could be in any number of directions and we fans will positively spin it- combined big name coach/GM; established GM and separate coach; an up and coming assitant GM from elsewhere- anyone other than Cerrato will go very far to squelch the uprising.

What are the chances that happens? 0 percent? 50 percent?

Tom Boswell: To change the subject, I'd say the chances are pretty good that if the Eagles win big, Zorn is fired on Tuesday a.m.

Why? Because that would be the way to make yourself look worst. Ergo...

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Springfield, Va.: I hope Dan Snyder doesn't get a false sense of security on Monday when thousands of Eagles fans chant "Keep The Team!"

Tom Boswell: I have to steal the chat material from all you folks. Thanks.

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Sec 114, Row E: That satisfied laughter that you hear in the distance is Nats fans who are watching the smug Redskins fans get their due for piling on the Nats all season.

How does 4-12 feel? Probably feels a lot like 59-103.

Tom Boswell: Nats won 59 the previous year, too.

The Skins problem isn't 4-12 this year. It's 4-12 followed by 4-12 and...

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Section 205, Row K: Bos,

Life-long Phillie fan here (the Nats are my No. 2 team). The Phils are winning with lots of home-grown talent (Howard, Utley, and Rollins), some astute pick-ups of cast-aways (Victorino and Werth) and "has-beens" (Pedro), one mid-priced free agent (Ibanez), and one go-for-broke trade (Lee) -- NOT with $100m+ mercenaries.

Looking at the Nats, it seems they are following a similar strategy and that the pieces are slowly falling into place -- provided

(1) the young pitchers (Stras, Zimm, Storen) become healthy and effective big-leaguers and

(2) they can pick up one or two pieces in the market (a Randy Wolf-type No. 2 or No. 3 starter, maybe a middle infielder). That doesn't require them to blow $150m on a top free agent.

What do you think? Are the Nats able to follow the Phillies' recipe for success? And when will the parade route detour from South Broad Street to South Capitol Street?

Tom Boswell: The Nats see Washington as a similar market to Philly. In their dreams things work out something like this.

However, the Phils are bujild for their home run ballpark. The Nats have, statistically, one of the fairest -- most neutral -- parks in baseball. They'll put a lot more emphasis on pitching and defense over the years.

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Baltimore: "There must be a factory somewhere that grinds out Bobby V rumors." Yes, it's called "Bobby's mouth."

Tom Boswell: Exactly.

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22202, Washington, D.C.: Any chance the Angels make a comeback? I'm not a die-hard Angels fan, but I like many others want to see them win in the year of the Adenhart tragedy.

Tom Boswell: They had their chance in Game Two. The Yanks are really really good. And the Angels don't look mentally tough enough to stand up to them. Pretty close. But not close enough. We'll see. I love Game 7's. Don't think I'm going to get to see the one I hoped for in this series.

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Alexandria, Va.: You had a column last week where you said that no team until the Angels has managed to master the Yankees in post season play. How about the St. Louis Cardinals, who compiled a 3-2 record against the Yankees between 1926 and 1964?

Tom Boswell: Okay, I was refering to a rival in their own league that they played all the time -- the way the Angels have edged the Yanks consistently since '96.

NBut good point on the Cards. Thanks.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Boz--Great column today! As a Phillies fan and Yankees hater, I'm looking forward to a New York vs. Philly series. Lots of similarities between each team. Who do you like?

washingtonpost.com: Boswell: Phillies thrive on quirk wisdom of Manuel (Washington Post, Oct. 22)

Tom Boswell: Thanks. I've really enjoyed the Phils (and Charlie) the last few years. The Yanks, assuming they make it, will be favorites and deserve it. But I think it'll be a long close series. If the Phils bullpen is even adeqaute, they can battle them. But that's asking a lot. The Phils will need an X factor. A-Rod and/or Tex go cold. Hamels finds his form. Mariano throws another bunt past 3rd, but tis time throws away a pivotal game. Pedro has a magic October game. Something semi-unexpected. Otherwise, the chalk holds.

Thanks again. See you next week. With a lot MORE baseball.

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