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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: All Right, Hamilton!

Scott Pianowski
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Francisco Rodriguez hadn't allowed multiple runs in an appearance since the first week of April, so when he took the mound with a two-run lead at Texas Wednesday, you had to assume the game was over. Not so fast. A Ramon Vazquez walk and a Michael Young hit plated one run, then Josh Hamilton ended the game with a clout into the right field seats, his 20th homer of the year (you can almost hear Spicoli now, can't you?).

Okay, this really isn't "news you can use" from a fantasy perspective - one universally owned player homers off another - but it's the biggest buzz moment of the night, and anytime you can get Fast Times at Ridgemont High back into everyone's mind for a day or so, you've done a good thing. Did Damone steal Rat's stereo? Is it dangerous to drive on ludes? Why wasn't Charles Jefferson used on offense? Linda Barrett or Stacy Hamilton? We need to discuss these things.

Of course they played 14 other games on the sandlots Wednesday, so before we work on those five-point plans, let's shoot up some bullets:

Another day, another one-run win for the White Sox, who used Matt Thornton for the eighth and Octavio Dotel for the ninth at Kansas City. Dotel brought his nastiest stuff to the table, striking out the side on just 10 pitches (his third strike to David DeJesus was a dreadful call, but there's no denying it, Dotel was filthy). Scott Linebrink hasn't been sharp in his last four appearances (4 IP, 8 H, 4 R), so it looks like closer roulette in Chicago while Bobby Jenks rehabs his back.

Adam Jones is still learning the strike zone and his sleepy profile pic is the easiest punchline going, but there's no complaining about his numbers of late. He had just one hit Wednesday in Toronto but it was a three-run homer, and he's been a productive player from June 1 on (.333 average, 19 runs, three homers, 23 RBIs, three steals). Hop on board.

Kaz Matsui had a snappy return off the DL Wednesday, banging out a couple of doubles and driving in a run. It will be interesting to see how quickly he starts stealing bases again. Our fearless leader in the Y! Friends and Family League certainly believes in Matsui - or maybe he's reminiscing about the guy who used to clear paths for Walter Payton. Michael Bourn also returned to action Wednesday, but in the seventh spot in the order. He finished the night with two singles, three strikeouts, and no stolen-base attempts.

If there was ever a buy-low window on Miguel Cabrera (and I'm not sure there was), it's officially gone now. His walk-off homer in the ninth sent Cleveland to its tenth straight defeat, and it also made a winner out of Todd (Johnnycakes) Jones, who got the "tie game/home team/ninth inning" assignment like most closers do. Jones didn't bring anything special to the table, as usual ("here it is, hit it, I hope they catch it"), but a couple of nifty plays from Carlos Guillen bailed him out.

Derek Lowe continues to get paltry support from the LA offense, but it didn't matter Wednesday as he mowed down the Braves (7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K) and made two runs stand up. He took a perfect game into the seventh inning, and his only real mistake on the night was a non-sinking sinker that Jeff Francoeur deposited into the left-field bleachers. Tim Hudson wasn't shabby on the other side (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K), but when you allow a run-scoring hit to Andruw Jones, you deserve to lose.

I know he's hit a rough patch of late, but I'm really rooting for Brian Bannister to make it big. He's probably the most intelligent and honest interview in the game right now (I wish I had a clip to what he said tonight, on-air; in the meantime, this excellent winter piece will have to do). He's quietly nudging his strikeout rate up a little bit, which is a key for future success - he'll admit to you that he needs to miss more bats, and he's working on it, tooling with some extra pitches. None of this added up to a winning turn Wednesday (6.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 HR), but keep him on your extended radar.

Don't you love it when four-category stars morph into five-category studs? Lance Berkman has that doughy look to him these days but nonetheless he grabbed a pair of bases Wednesday (giving him 14 on the year), and Matt Holliday swiped bag No. 12 at Milwaukee.

It's been a mixed bag for speed merchant Brett Gardner since he joined the Yankees. He's not hitting a lick - 4-for-28, nine strikeouts, just two walks - but he's making the most of his time on the bases (four steals, including one Wednesday). His profile at Triple-A (.287/.412/.429, 34 steals) will probably keep him in the leadoff spot for a while as Johnny Damon's stand-in.

Okay, I can't blame this loss on Ron Gardenhire. It's going to be a long time before I believe in Boof Bonser again.

Scott Olsen worked a tidy eight innings at San Diego (4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 3 K), grabbing his fifth win and lowering his ERA to 3.77. Still, where's that biting slider we all fell in love with a couple of years ago, not to mention the consistent 90s heater? A mere 64 strikeouts over 119.1 innings, it makes you wonder when the other shoe will drop. Olsen's been working in the 80s most of the year, and you have to worry about a correction coming.

I'll admit I don't know what to do about Washington's John Lannan, who scattered five baserunners and worked six scoreless innings against Arizona, trimming the ERA to 3.40. Mixed-league worthy, or is this merely Mark Redman 2.0? I see a six-inning pitcher who doesn't miss enough bats.

Carlos Delgado may never be a star again, but he's been downright ownable since June 1 (.279/.354/.542, eight homers). He was available in about one-third of Y! leagues entering the week.

Mark Mulder made just 16 pitches Wednesday before shoulder discomfort forced him from the game. Not that any of us expected fantasy value to come from Mulder's left arm anytime soon, but you have to feel for the guy.

John Buck homered for the second time in three nights, which means my backstop-challenged hometown squad might be wasting $20. A pox on you, Kenji Johjima (at least Ryan Doumit is pulling his weight, and part of Johjima's). Where have all the hitting catchers gone?

For the first time since June 1, the Mets won a game started by Johan Santana. A rain delay limited Santana to five innings (3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K), and the Giants didn't get anyone on base against the New York bullpen.

Ryan Franklin has been able to cobble together 12 saves in 14 chances as the fill-in closer for Tony LaRussa, but Jason Isringhausen is throwing well again and might be back in the mix shortly.

I'd listen to Vin Scully read the phone book. What a gem he is.

For the fifth straight appearance Kevin Gregg didn't strike anyone out, though he otherwise got two outs without incident and recorded save No. 17. Here are some other handshake-worthy relievers from Wednesday: Brad Lidge (20); Jose Valverde (23); Mariano Rivera (two-inning win, four strikeouts); B.J. Ryan (17, though the surging Nick Markakis took him deep); Kerry Wood (23, a one-outer after Carlos Marmol struggled); Brandon Morrow (8, hasn't allowed a run since May 12); Takashi Saito (17).

Shake my hand, or charge the mound? Let's have some comments.

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