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Scott Pianowski

Closing Time: Zambrano's hidden gem

Scott Pianowski
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A busy mind accompanies a busy sports day, and these were some of my thoughts from Sunday afternoon into Sunday evening:

Is it possible to drive 10 minutes in Michigan without hitting construction? . . . Man does Mike Shanahan have a pair of cojones . . . Why did I like Tony Scheffler for most of the summer and then back away? . . . $2 pints and wi-fi, tasty buffalo tenders, this is a good place to catch the games . . . Should I watch Entourage live or tape it? . . . How long ago did I actually like Dick Enberg? . . . The 49ers could be the carnival of the NFL . . . Does that pizza place close at 10? . . . Is this a redshirt year for the Michigan Wolverines? . . . Why does Mike Tomlin look so much smarter and more confident than Romeo Crennel? . . . I wonder if anything happened in baseball today.

Oh, hello there.

There's nothing more exciting than watching a no-hitter unfold, but I was tuned into the NFL Experience for most of the day and I missed Carlos Zambrano's signature moment. It didn't really affect my fantasy experience that much - most of my leagues are based on stat-pools and rotisserie scoring, and my only head-to-head team was eliminated in the first round last week.

I can't help but feel sorry for the Astros in all this. Cecil Cooper's streaking club was supposed to be home all weekend, but Hurricane Ike had different ideas (I hope our Houston peeps are hanging tough). Billy Walsh couldn't write a script this wacky. The "neutral site" MLB came up with basically turned Sunday's game into a home date for the Cubs; even with a nasty day of rain in the Midwest, a horde of Chicago fans found their way to Miller Park (by all accounts, the vast majority of the 23,441 fans were pulling for the Cubs). The no-no came from a stud pitcher who hadn't pitched in 12 days (shoulder tendinitis). The result means just one game in the standings, but I know a stomach-punch result when I see it. And all this comes in addition to the personal strife the Astros are dealing with courtesy of how Hurricane Ike has chewed up the Greater Houston area.

Here's where you come in. How did Big Z's gem affect your playoff run? Did it put the finishing touches on a historic rally? Were you sniped at the end like the 2007 Mets? If you've got color or a good story to add, I'm all ears. In the meantime, let's see what else is happening in the world of sandlots:

Chad Qualls finally got the closing post in Arizona Saturday, a move we speculated on. It's a position well earned; Qualls hasn't allowed a run in 18 of his last 19 appearances, while Brandon Lyon and Jon Rauch have both fallen apart. All three relievers worked in Sunday's game; Rauch took the loss in the tenth after Lyon and Qualls worked scoreless frames. If the Snakes miss the playoffs, Bob Melvin will regret not making this change sooner.

Adrian Beltre played his final game of the year Sunday, going 0-for-4. He's decided to scrub the last two weeks and will have surgery on his thumb Thursday; he's also been dealing with a bad shoulder for much of the year. He lost about 10 percent of his stats from the solid 2007 line, but given the issues at play, Beltre did well to hang in for 142 games and post usable (if not outstanding) numbers. Matt Tuiasosopo figures to get the run at third base for Seattle over the final two weeks, but his ordinary profile from Triple-A (.281/.364/.453, 13 homers) doesn't make him mixed-league worthy on spec.

David Price was impressive in his major-league debut, working a long-relief stint at Yankee Stadium. He gave up three hits and two runs, with four strikeouts and no walks. "Everyone is well aware of how well he's pitched throughout the course of this season," said Derek Jeter, who homered off Price. "He throws 97, 98 with a good slider. You're interested, obviously, because you hear so much about him." Price figures to stay in the bullpen for now, though it's widely speculated that he'll get a start when the Rays play a doubleheader a week from Tuesday.

Max Scherzer wowed us for the second straight Sunday, working six electric innings against the Reds (2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 9 K). The pitches added up quickly (102), of course, and he had to accept a no-decision, but in 5x5 leagues, how can you say no to the punchouts?

Rain came and went in a few places, but the weather overall was cooperative Sunday, as all 17 games got played. The White Sox and Phillies doubled their pleasure with a pair of wins, sweeping the Tigers and Brewers, respectively. It was nice to not have to chase the make-up schedule, for once (it's a good thing they weren't playing in Detroit because it poured there all day).

Alex Gordon (hip) came off the DL Sunday and stroked a couple of hits. Both of the knocks came against lefties, an encouraging sign because southpaws have absolutely owned him this year (.215/.295/.289). He'll be a very interesting guy to track next spring, because the post-hype discount should definitely apply after his step backwards in 2008.

The short days are always important ones for roto players, especially in the final few weeks. We've got 10 games to work with Monday, one day tilt (the Milwaukee stand-in for the Cubs and Astros) and nine at night. Thursday's partial slate still puts 24 teams on our plate, so you should have plenty of streaming choices for whatever categories and positions you want to attack.

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It's fitting that Chipper Jones got one more game in at Shea Stadium: he named one of his sons after the old ballyard, and he's always hit well in Queens. He went 3-for-5 on the way out Sunday, lifting the average to .365; the nicked-up Jones didn't play in Saturday's doubleheader. Chipper remains a risky roto option for the final two weeks, as we can't be sure how much he'll play.

Whatever Brett Myers worked on in the minors, it sure worked. He grabbed another win Sunday (complete-game two hitter, one run), making him 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA since he rejoined the club in July. The rest of the numbers line up nicely: 69 strikeouts, 17 walks, just three homers allowed.

Injury Lap: Conor Jackson has a sore shoulder and took a cortisone shot Saturday. Nonetheless, he should be back in the lineup soon, perhaps Tuesday . . . Yunel Escobar (hamstring) remains day-to-day, though he was able to pinch hit Sunday . . . Felix Hernandez admits he's been pitching through a sore groin for a while. He allowed three runs over seven innings Sunday . . . George Sherrill (shoulder) struggled in his first appearance off the DL Sunday . . . Casey Blake has a sore back and left Sunday's game early. He's not sure if he'll be able to go Monday.

Speed Round: Robinson Cano was benched in the middle of Sunday's game after loafing in the field (per Joe Girardi anyway). Cano's in an 8-for-54 skid over the last couple of weeks . . . Matt Lindstrom needed a day off and Joe Nelson came up with a leg cramp, so Arthur Rhodes would up with the save against Washington . . . After going 24 games without a homer, Prince Fielder now has two in his last four games . . . Jon Lester outpitched Roy Halladay Sunday, and that should put an end to Toronto's wild-card hopes (8.5 games back) . . . Brian Bannister worth six decent innings Sunday and recorded his first win since late June . . . Cameron Maybin is back with the Marlins and might get some run as the Fish play out the stretch . . . Stephen Drew is tending to a family matter and will rejoin the Diamondbacks Tuesday . . . Andre Ethier (stork duty) missed the last two games but might rejoin the Dodgers in Pittsburgh Monday. Start him in weekly leagues, no questions asked.

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