Baseball Winds Down As U.S. Open Gears Up

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It's Labor Day weekend, when we turn our attention to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows and weary outfields across the country. Host Scott Simon talks with Howard Bryant of ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. I wait for this all week. Time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: It's Labor Day weekend, the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, the weary outfields across the country.

As we head into the final weeks of baseball, we're joined now by our own Howard Bryant from the open fields of New England.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (ESPN.com): How are you, Scott?

SIMON: Im fine, thanks. Week One of the U.S. Open. Venus Williams and Rafael Nadal powered through their matches last night.

Mr. BRYANT: Yes.

SIMON: There were some upsets earlier. Let me ask you. Andy Roddick...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But you know, John McEnroe had a temper but he kind of used it to put himself over. Did Andy Roddick lose this match because he didnt know how to control his temper? And of course was down and didnt know how to come back?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think it was more the latter. Roddick was done in that match and then the controversial foot-fault - was it my right foot, was it my left foot? It's impossible for me to have a foot-fault on my right foot. Find some people who know how to do their jobs.

SIMON: Ooh.

Mr. BRYANT: That actually got him back in the match, believe it or not. He got some fire. He got going. But I think that he was in such trouble early, he couldnt come back, because he did not have a good game. It really is that simple. And if anything, after the foot-fault he began to come back and it just wasnt enough.

SIMON: Serena Williams is out due to injury, but Venus is in.

Mr. BRYANT: And she's great. And it's a question we've always been vexed with about whether Americans need other Americans to make the tournament interesting. And Venus is the only one left. Roddick's gone, Serena is not in it, and youve got the young kid, Sam Querrey. But it's Venus's tournament right now, if you're looking for an American to steal the show, and she looked great last night.

SIMON: I want to get to baseball, cause of course obviously the division races are tightening up, or not in the case like Texas Rangers in the West of the AL, they're kind of on cruise control. And so in the Central Division of the National League, Cincinnati Reds are seven games ahead.

Is Pete Rose betting on them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think the interest - I love it. I love the fact that Dusty Baker was left for dead as a manager, and now he comes back and he he has...

SIMON: Oh, he sure put the Cubs over, didnt he? Yeah. Go ahead.

Mr. BRYANT: Hey, now. Nobody can help your team, Scott. Dont blame...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: They're doomed. No, I think what it is with the Reds is that they haven't been to the playoffs since 1995. I think it's a great story, them and the Padres as well. And, of course, the Reds lost to St. Louis. St. Louis can only beat one team and it's Cincinnati. But I'd dont if it's going to be enough for them.

I really like that. I think youve got three really good races going. The Padres are trying their very, very best to blow this division after owning it for the summer.

SIMON: Yeah, but they're just three games ahead of the Giants.

Mr. BRYANT: Just three games ahead of the Giants. And youve got the lackluster Philadelphia Phillies, two-time defending National League champions, suddenly are only a game out in the National League East against Atlanta. So September is going to be much more fun in the National League. The American League, not so much unless you're just dying to see who wins between the White Sox and the Cubs. Thats the only race going on in the American League.

SIMON: And did the White Sox do the right thing by picking up Manny Ramirez?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, I think you've got if you've got a chance to make the playoffs, you take it. And Manny has always been good with - in short bursts. You saw what he did with the Dodgers two years ago. And youve Ozzie Guillen in there, youve got veterans there, and I think that it's an explosive mix anyway. When Ozzie is there anything can happen anyway, so Manny just kind of adds to the cauldron.

SIMON: You know, the Yanks are in the middle of a seven-game winning streak at the moment. But they are - let me check -they're just a game and a half ahead of Tampa Bay. In many ways it's been the lower money teams that have been...

Mr. BRYANT: Absolutely. And I think thats the fun thing. I love dynasties. I love the big boys going and doing what they're supposed to do. But this year youve got a good mix. Youve got Tampa Bay, who I think may be the best team in baseball. And youve got Texas, and youve got San Diego, and youve got Cincinnati. And youve got Atlanta, which has been down for a few years as well.

So it's nice to see in a sport where they dont have a salary cap, and a sport where money pretty much rules everything - the Red Sox are spending $170 million and it doesnt look they're going to make the playoffs - I think it's fun to actually see some teams that aren't spending as much as they spend getting close to the post-season and making a run in October.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN the pompom. Thanks so much.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

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