Monthly archives: October 2005
Who'll Retire First, Roger Clemens or Ozzie Guillen?
The White Sox swept the Astros tonight and are now World Champions for the first time since 1917. I don't have much say about the game itself except that the feeling that the Sox would eventually score one run to win it started to take over around the fifth inning. I just have some random notes.
First, as I mentioned earlier, this was the closest sweep ever. The Sox won by two runs once and one run three times. Here are the only other series that had that many close games were:
This was one of a handful of one-run clinching games in World Series history and just one of six 1-0 finales ever:
For the second straight year, the team that was number two in terms of World Series drought garnered a championship. The Indians now more into number two. Of course, number onethe Cubshave to be particularly galled by the Sox win. Here are the droughts for all franchises longest to shortest:
One final note: Scott Podsenik recorded his third triple of the postseason tonight. He becomes just the eleventh player to do so. Here are the rest:
A Play in Four Acts (And Timmy and Buck Were Annoying in All Four)
Maybe I Shoulda Said DiMaggio?!?
For a game that started with a roof controversy, there were plenty more interesting moments. Actually, there were four mini-games in one.
First, the Astros dominated with about a run per inning until the forth. Then, the Sox had the monster-sized inning getting a 5-4 lead. Somehow they still left the bases loaded in the fifth. Next was Houston's attempt to tie up the game. And finally, we had the six innings in which it seemed that no one was ever going to score again.
I had to turn the game off at a quarter to two and half expected it still to be going on when I woke up this morning. I probably expected that more than a Geoff Blum home run to win it, but more on Blum later.
The Sox started rusty and the Astros seemed happy to be home. It seemed like this would be one of those sop wins for Houston, one in which a team en route to a victory, usually four games to one, lets up a bit and the other coasts to victory.
Act I in which Guillen Gets His Oats
The Astros started strong, scoring in the first. But they could have gotten more. After Craig B-G-O doubled to the gap on a 3-1 pitch, the great Phil Garner had Willy Taveras bunting. Yes, in the first inning with the runner already in scoring position. Taveras popped out on Garland's first offering.
I know that the Fox crew loves Taveras and his had some big hits in the playoffs. But if his own manager doesn't trust him to swing the bat with none out and a runner in scoring position to start the game, what the frig is he doing in there. As I said to my friend Mike, he's a dime a dozen Omar Moreno derivative, which is fine if he's batting eighth, but then he'd have to dislodge that lineup drag Brad Ausmus.
Anyway, after the pop out, Berkman, who's doing his best Carlos Beltran impersonation, singled Biggio home. The Sox were lucky to double up Ensberg, who's been horrific at the plate for long stretches of the postseason, to end the inning.
After a stalled Sox rally in the next half inning, the Astros seemed to cruise. In the top of the second Konerko again came through with a leadoff double and the renaissance of A.J. Pierzynski continued with a five-pitch walk. However, the Astros got a lucky break with a hard line out by Roward right to Adam Everett, who then doubled off the helpless Konerko.
Jon Garland looked shaky throughout the early going. But things had settled down a bit until the bottom of the third. That's when Garland's shakiness got some help from a Juan Uribe meltdown. First, he lollygagged a ball from Adam Everett into a single. The scene chewing ex-shortstop Ozzie Guillen then emoted disdain for the cameras, obviously the best way to help a young player. It was a bad playI can't understand where Uribe and/or his mind was on the playbut c'mon Ozzie! Calling your closer with the international signal for "big and tall" is one thing, but don't show up your players.
Uribe compounded the situation by hitting Everett in the midsection after they had him picked off of first. Guillen pile-drove Joey Cora in disgust. I don't know if I have ever seen a worse pick off throw in a rundown, at least one that wasn't completely thrown away. Usually those are when a player just loses control of the ball and havoc ensues. This was as if Uribe had intended to "soak" Everett, that is, hit him with the ball to tag him out the way players did in ye olde White Stockings days of yore. It seemed like it was his intention. Maybe he forgot the rules, it happensmostly to umps in the postseason though.
Uribe's paroxysms proved costly, the Astros collected three more singles and two more runs, one of which after there were two outs (meaning the White Sox could have been out of the inning with just one run if Uribe hadn't spassed out twice in trying to get Everett). Whatever, the Astros led 3-0.
After an "excuse me" top of the fourth for the White Sox offense, Jason Lane homered to left on an 0-1 ball. Or did he? Replays showed that the ball hit to the left of a vertical line that defined the home run boundary. Yes, this was the umpteenth time that the umps screwed up on a bad call (actually, umpteen plus one). And yes, they have extra umps specifically for outfield calls in the playoffs. But I have to admit that I could not tell with the naked eye at normal speed whether it was a homer or not. Actually, it wasn't until about the fifth replay at super slomo that anything definitive could be determined. I blame the designers of the stupid ex-Enron for putting vertical lines on the walls for making home run calls more than the umps. If an ump needs a protractor to make a call, I can't blame him for booting the call.
(I do, however, blame Jerry Layne for using a coin toss to determine how to call borderline low and outside pitches the entire game. There was a K-looking to Brad Ausmus late in the game in which two of the called strikes clearly looked like balls. Morgan Ensberg was also called for going around a clear-cut check swing, a call that would have made Jim Edmonds recuse himself from the game. Ensberg was his ever unphased self. They guy just stares off into space. I think he's the animatronic love child of Jeannie Zelasko.)
Whatever, as the Fox pundits pointed out, a bad call finally went against the White Sox. Lane should have gotten a double, and with the next three batters grounding out, one could opine that he would have been stranded there. However, the Astros wer up 4-0 and cruising, and the sop theory I proposed earlier seemed to hold sway.
Phil Garner Is a Stupid, Stupid Man
Then came the fifth. It started with a quiet home run from Joe Crede (or Creed as Chris Berman dubbed, or dumbed, him). What they hey, the Astros were still up 4-1.
Next, Uribe singled, but c'mon, the pitcher was up, a pitcher from DH league remember. Garland failed to get a bunt down on 1-0. Then swung at the next pitch, again missing. Garland eventually stuck out but it took Oswalt seven pitches to do it.
If I were Phil Garner at this point, a little light bulb would have gone off in my head, and I would have gotten my bullpen stirred. This is where Oswalt started to lose it. Remember that the Astros needed the game since no one (besides the Red Sox in the ALCS last year) ever comes back from 3-0. Add to that the uncertainty of Clemens health for game five, and the fact that the bullpen had a day off for travel prior to game three, and maybe a light bulb will go off in your head, too. As for the light bulb in Garner's head, unless he's going to be a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween, he hasn't got one.
Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi both singled, closing the score to 4-2. Then came the Dye at-bat.
Jermaine Dye started 1-2, worked two the count full, and then fouled off two more before singling in Podsednik, closing the gap to one run. Still there was no one up in the bullpen.
This was probably the AB of Dye's life and stood out sharply with the rest of his game. For example, in the top of the ninth with the run scored, he worked a full count and then grounded out at a ball that was around his eyes. That coupled with the Garland at-bat should have signaled something to Garner or at least to his moustache.
Oswalt was able to get Konerko to fly out on an 0-1 pitch. But then the new Piazza, A.J. Pierzynski, was able to double out to the little playground in center, scoring two and taking the lead for the White Sox, 5-4.
And if memory serves (I'll check the video later), the bullpen still was silent. It wasn't until Aaron Rowand walked on six pitches that finally a Houston reliever started to throw. Oswalt faced Crede for the second time in the inning and hit him with a 1-2 pitch. Both benches went a bit nutty over the matter (personally, I blame the roof), and Crede was a bit miffed. Of course, Ozzie Guillen emoted appropriately. But Phil Garner should have been the one man that knew that Oswalt wasn't throwing at Crede. He wasn't capable of hitting the broadside of a barn let alone the broad side of Crede. Oswalt stayed in the game, however. Keep in mind that the bases were just loaded and Oswalt had walked and then hit the last two batters.
Luckily, Oswalt got Uribe to end the inning. But it wasn't until the White Sox scored five and took the lead. Oswalt threw 46 pitches in the inning.
Ozzie Guillen, One Game Closer to his Announced Retirement, Has His Relievers Spooneybarging In and Out
After that big inning both offenses took a siestamust have been the vapors from the sultry Houston night with the roof open. With two out in the bottom of the eighth and reliever Cliff Politte cruising, Ozzie Guillen decided he need to gesticulate more for the TV cameras. So after a six-pitch walk to Ensberg, he pulled Politte in favor of Neal Cotts. After Cotts fell instantly behind Mike Lamb, 3-0, and then walked him on five pitches, Guillen, feeling unfulfilled by the lefty signal he used to introduce Cotts, he gestured for the small, thin guy, Dustin Hermanson. I know Hermanson had a good year (2.04 ERA) and even closed for a bit, but based on a decade of Hermansonian sucking, I'm no handing him the ball with any game above little league on the line. But then again, he had a new gesture show off on TV, so
After getting ahead of Jason Lane, he of the welfare homer earlier in the game, Hermanson served up a double, tying the score and putting runners at second and third. Then came the gift Ausmus strikeout looking that I referred to before, thereby ending the inning.
Not to be outdone by Guillen, Garner had to demonstrate to the world that he could really, really complete a double-switch while Sponneybarging through three relievers in the top of the ninth. Lest you think I will let the eminent Garner off the hook in the sections not calling him stupid, stupid in the title, what the frig is he thinking with some of his late moves?
First, he wasted a body in Eric Bruntlett, one that could be used later in the marathon, by putting him in as the trailing runner in the eighth, pinch-hitting for Mike Lamb. He kept Bruntlett, a shortstop by trade, in the game as his left fielder and he shifted Berkman to first to replace Lamb in the field.
He pulled Bruntlett two plays later so that he could double-switch Chris Burke into left and Brad Lidge onto the mound. The good news was that Lidge did not given a game-losing home run for once. Joe Buck blamed it on his wearing a USC sweatshirt for Morgan Ensbergreally, you just can't get coverage like that anywhere else.
Not to be remise, I must mention that I have no idea what Garner feels a bunt is for. He bunted with the second batter in the game. Trailing 5-4 and Garland walking leadoff hitter Brad Ausmus on five pitches, Garner decided to let Adam Everett bunt with the pitcher's spot due up. They pinch-hit with Jeff Bagwell, but he popped, and Biggio struck out to end the inning.
OK, I'm not crazy about bunting especially when it's helping out a pitcher who might be tiring, but I can understand doing it for the one run late in a ballgame. However, I do not understand why didn't then use it in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied and the winning run at third.
Guillen had brought in El Duque Hernandez, who looked like he wasn't healthy enough to be in the postseason roster. He was crazy wild. After walking Burke on four pitches, none of which looked close, he threw the ball away on a pickoff throw sending Burke to second, and then ignored him into stealing third.
Amid all that, he also walked Biggio on four pitches. The Astros had runners at the corners with one out. The speedy Taveras was up. Garner bunted with him in the first (unsuccessfully), and Timmy Mac seemed to think the small ball play was to bunt the run home. I'm not a big bunt guy in any situation, but if you think that Taveras is such a good bunter, that seemed the place to do it.
Garner demurred. Taveras struck out. The game went into extra innings (with the help of the Ensberg check swing called for a strike that I referred to earlier).
The two teams then settled in for a siege that made Vicksburg seem thrilling. Other than Guillen for some reason keeping El Duque in the game to walk the leadoff batter on four pitches in the tenth, not much transpired. Both teams got men as far as second but then seemed content with that honor and went feebly to end the inning.
The same seemed to hold true in the fourteenth. After a Dye single, Konerko grounded into a double play. Blum who came in as the second baseman a half-inning earlier was up with two out. He then homered on a 2-0 pitch. It seemed that Blum was brought in just so that Guillen could close the gap in double-switches (3-2), but Garner got the last laugh pulled off one more before the Astros went down in flames.
The White Sox scored another run on a bases-full walk to Chris Widger of all people and left the bases full as Scott Podsednik struck out in his eighth at-bat of the game.
Blum could become just the seventh man to have as many home runs as at-bats in a postseason series. Here are the rest:
Of course he does have two ABs for the playoffs, so he would crack the top spots for home runs per at-bats in a postseason:
And then there's the ever popular career home runs per at-bats in the postseason:
I'm left wondering which is more annoying, that Astro Killer Bee buzz sound affect or the Angels' rally monkey. I guess neither tops the sideshow the Red Sox "idiots" had going last season. Next year's champ is going to need a human sacrifice in the seventh-inning stretch to remain edgy.
The Curse of Tom Petty, Part III
Game three of the World Series is still tied 5-5 going into the bottom of the eleventh. There have been 13 World Series games that have gone 12 innings, but just one that went longer, a 2-1 win by the Red Sox over the Dodgers on 10/9/1916.
Here are the longest:
Ozzie Guillen likes his regulars. Not only did he use his starting pitchers for all but two-thirds of an inning in the ALCS, he used just one bench position player the entire series, Pablo Ozuna (solely as a pinch-hitter in two games).
That's 15 players in total in the entire series. Tony LaRussa would be appalled.
That's the least in any postseason series since the 1913 A's used 15 in the World Series. That's the least in any postseason series since the A's used 15 in the 1913 World Series.
Also, there has been only one instance postseason history in which a team used than the ten offensive players that the Sox used in the ALCS. That was in a nineteenth-century World Championship.
Here are the teams that used the least offensive players in a playoff series:
So even though the Sox got a lot of press because of the four consecutive complete games by their pitchers, Guillen was even more frugal with his offensive players on the bench. There have been 25 instances in which a team used fewer pitchers in a playoff series:
Here are the teams that used fifteen or fewer players in a postseason series:
By the way, don't worry about the Sox duplicating the feat in the World Series. They came into tonight's game with only 15 players used, but with the game currently in the eleventh, they have made up for it tonight.
Slouching Towards the International League
The Astros and White Sox are currently going into extra innings in a wild 5-5 game. I just realized that the White Sox are attempting to do something that's never been done.
If Chicago sweeps the Series, it will the first time that two separate teams from the same league will have completed a sweep in two consecutive World Series. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals in last year's Series, and the White Sox are trying to do the same to the Astros this year.
There are three instances in baseball history in which the same team has swept two straight World Series. As one would expect, they are all Yankee clubs:
As an NL fan, that's not very encouraging. And I must say that neither does Phil Garner's managerial prowess nor the sartorial spender of the Astro fans (bee hive hairdos?). Since when have face painters, monkey dolls, and "thunder stix" become de rigueur? Oh yeah, when Angel "fans" started doing it when they discovered that they had a team during their playoff run a few years back. I have to think that most fans in Houston are used to dressing more for football (or maybe truck pulls).All I can say is, "B-G-O".
Playoff Momentum—Mo' Money or Moe Howard? Slowly I turn….
With the White Sox up two games to none in the World Series, the series moves to Houston tomorrow with the Atsros' backs almost against the proverbial walls. They are approaching the wall like Chris Burke circuitously tracking a fly ball at the fence in left. A loss in game three would be pretty big given that other then the Red Sox in the ALCS last season, no team has ever come back from 3-0.
One way to look at is that the Astros winning one in Chicago would have put the Sox at a severe disadvantage heading to Houston. So by narrowly winning each game, Chicago has just held their homefield advantage. One could say that the goal for Houston is to win at home and just take one of four in Chicago. They lost in two of those four attempts already but still have two remaining.
So is being down 2-0 a big disadvantage?
Unluckily, that is not readily apparent from the data at hand. Luckily, we had a day off and I was able to load the data. I took a look at every playoff series from the 1903 World Series through the 2005 League Championship Series.
There have been 64 best-of-seven series that started out with one team owning a two games to none lead. Of those 51 were won by the team that led by two games. That's a .797 winning percentage. Of those 51 series wins, 21 were sweeps, 15 were went five games, 8 went six games, and 7 went a full seven games. Of the 13 series loses, four went six games (meaning that the trailing team swept the four last games), and 8 went seven.
But how does homefield factor into those numbers? Of all 2-0 series, 43 of the leading teams were playing those games at home and 21 were on the road. Of the 43 home teams, 33 went on to win the series (77%). Of the 21 road teams, 18 went on to win the series (86%). So three-quarters of the teams in the White Sox's position went on to win the series.
OK, maybe there's nothing earth-shattering there, but then again it was just an excuse to take a look at the postseason game data and, more specifically, at the idea of momentum, which is bandied about whenever a trailing team wins a playoff game.
So I will now pose the question, is there any such thing as momentum in the postseason. Discuss
If a team wins a given playoff game, what are the odds that they will win the next? The answer is that those teams win 52.4% of the time (477-433). That's a bit better than a 50-50 coin toss. Maybe momentum does come into play, eh?
Well, you might see a hole in this logic. What is one team totally dominates the other? If there's a sweep, then momentum has very little to do with what's going on since the momentum never shifts.
So I filtered out all sweeps and re-examined the data. In non-sweeps, the team that won the previous game will win the next only 45.2% of the time (357-433). So much for momentum.
But maybe that's a bit unfair. Teams may trade a game or two at the beginning of the series, but when the series is on the line perhaps that is when good ol' momentum kicks in.
I took a look at all "brink" games, i.e., games that brought the victor to within one game of winning the series. Perhaps when a team wins after one of these "brink" games, like the Cardinals did on the Pujols home run after falling to a 3-1 deficit, perhaps that is when momentum rides in like the cavalry.
First, teams that win a brink game win the series 54.3% of the time (119-100). But we are concerned with the next game, when the trailing team has their collective backs against the collective wall collectively. Those teams won 49 out of 100 times (49%). That seems about as close to a coin toss as one can get. And teams that lost after the brink game still went on to win the series 59% of the time (59-41).
OK, but there are different situations that we are lumping all together here. A team that falls behind 3-2 can much more easily turn around and win in seven games than a team that trails 3-0.
So what happens when a team is trailing by one game in a series and is one game away from being losing the series? That is, they need to win the final two games of the series. If the trailing team wins the game after the brink game, thereby tying the series, how likely are they to then pray at the altar of momentum, that is, win the final game and the series?
Guess what? It's exactly even (24-24). Again, where's the momentum?
Using the Pujols scenarios from before, how likely was it that the Cardinals would be able to win the series. It seemed almost expected that they would, but of course, as we all knew they collapsed a World Series closer.Teams that are trailing a given series by two games and have lost the brink game only to win the following game still lose the series 64.4% of the time (29-16). Momentum is fading faster than a Brad Lidge save opportunity. Lastly, when a team is down by three games and then won the next game, they have won the series just once out of seven tries (the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS).
So what does it all mean? It means that the next time that Tim McCarver prattles on about the momentum shifting from game to game, we will all know that it just aint so. Teams in close series trade wins, but so do heads and tails in coin tosses. There's no evidence that momentum exists except when Lidge is on the mound.
In what seems ready-labeled for instant classic, the White Sox took game two, 7-6, over the Astros on a one-out walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth by Scott Podsednik. Oddities, twists, and controversial plays abounded. There were two lead changes in the ninth alone, both coming off the respective teams' closers.
We should have known by the way the games started. As the game was set to start, the grounds crew brought out the tarp (for the second time) but didn't cover the field with it. They rolled it back up, and a game that seemed to be played in weather that ranged from a steady mist to a downpour was underway.
The in-game oddity started in the bottom of the second, when, with one out and trailing Houston 1-0, Chicago's Aaron Rowand hit a ball to third that took a bad hop and ended up with a single. Next up was A.J. Pierzynski, who hit a ball of the middle of the wall in left that was misplayed by both the baserunner Rowand and the left fielder Chris Burke. Burke, playing out of his natural position, went back to the wall about ten to fifteen feet to the right of where the ball landed. Then he changed course perpendicularly and missed the ball by a good yard. He even timed his jump wrong and the ball was not only to the left of but below his glove.
Meanwhile, Rowand saw the fly ball and automatically ran to first though he was careful not to be passed by the batter. As Tim McCarver rightfully pointed out, with Burke at the fence early, there's no way Rowand should be on first. It's very unlikely he will tag up on the play. Rowand ended up at second instead of third, though with the ensuing wackiness, it mattered little. Though it was cute that Fox picked up Rowand asking manager Ozzie Guillen if he did the right thing on the play, and Guillen agreed with his running.
Joe Crede followed with a bloop single down the right field line, scoring Rowand and moving Pierzynski to third. The score was 1-1.
Next, Juan Uribe hit a fly to shallow right field that bounced off the tips of the fingers on second baseman Craig Biggio's glove. Pierzynski, sharply contrasting the running of Rowand, went half way down the line realizing that he could score if the ball droppedwhich he didor return to third if it was caught since there was no real chance to tag up and score. Crede, the runner at first, through no fault of his own, was forced at second. The score was now 2-1, Chicago leading.
Keep in mind that this is not covered by the infield fly rule by its definition in the rulebook: "An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out." There were runners at first and third. Also, the ump may not consider the play "ordinary effort" for an infielder. Oddly, the play was not an error since the got the runner at second.
The next odd play came in the bottom of the fifth. With the Astros leading 4-2, Juan Uribe lead off with a double. Oddly, down two runs in the fifth with none out, the Sox had Podsednik show bunt on the next pitch. After a Podsednik flyout, on a full count Tadahito Iguchi hit a soft one-hop ground ball back to the pitcher. Uribe broke for third and was tagged out at second after just one throw and very little effort on his part. Andy Pettitte played it perfectly runner directly at Uribe. Uribe thought for a second about third, but headed back to second. He then dove into the Adam Everett tag. Meanwhile, Iguchi was stuck at first. If he goes to third or at least sustains the rundown maybe he can get the trailing runner to second. Iguchi was picked off on the next throw from Andy Pettitte, whose pickoff move was always called a balk on Steve Carlton.
Next, in the bottom of the seventh with Astros still leading by two and Dan Wheeler pitching for Houston, the Sox had men at first and second and two out. On a full count to Jermain Dye, the next pitch looked like an inside pitch that hit off Dye's bat, but the homeplate umpire Jeff Nelson said some part of Dye was hit by the ball and awarded him first, loading the bases. Here again the umps got a play wrong that was apparent as the play transpired to the naked eye at regular speed. Every replay backed up the miscall. Even Dye looked surprised by the call.
Of course, the next batter, Paul Konerko, hit a grand slam (right after a commercial break with the ever-annoying Grand Slam Quiz from State Farm) on the first pitch after a pitching change to put the Sox up, 6-4. Chad Qualls really grooved one in but Konerko did clobber the ball. It was the eighteenth grand slam in World Series history (according to FoxI'll check who they were on the off day). Of course, Phil Garner, pedestrian manager he, would never consider bringing in closer Brad Lidge to get him out of trouble with two and a third left in the game. Then again Lidge would have his own problems later.
The game settled down after that but the best was still yet to come. Rookie closer Bobby Jenks came in to pitch in the top of the ninth with a two-run lead. Jeff Bagwell led off with a line-drive single. After getting Jason Lane to strikeout, Jenks was pinched by Nelson on at least two ball calls and Chris Burke walked on four pitches.
Again, Garner had some highly questionable calls. Brad Ausmus grounded out moving the runners to second and third. I would have considered pinch-hitting for the weak-hitting catcher, but he has had a hot bat of late. Next, Garner went to a pinch-hitter for his shortstop. He had the hot-hitting Mike Lamb and Orlando Palmeiro on the bench, but chose weak-hitting middle infielder Jose Vizcaino, a dubious choice at best. Vizcaino hit a bloop single to left. The lead runner scored easily, but Burke was just rounding third as the ball got to the left fielder Podsednik. A good throw would have had him at the plate, but Podsenik's was too far up the line toward first. Pierzynski dove back to get the runner, but Burke slid around his tag and touched home before an eventual high tag. The score was tied, 6-6.
Vizcaino ended up at second, Jenks was lifted, and the Sox were lucky to end the inning in a tie. Houston, the goat of game five of the NLCS, was brought in to keep the game tied in the bottom of the ninth. With one out Podsednik hit a 2-1 straight-as-an-arrow fastball over the wall in right-center. The new Comiskey erupted as the Sox won.
Podsednik now has two home runs in the postseason, both game winners, though he hit none in the regular season. As I already documented he is just one of 23 players to homer in the playoffs after failing to do so in the regular season. He is the first to hit two in the postseason, however.
The Sox are on a high, but if you consider that a split would have taken away their home field advantage and that either game could very easily have gone either way, the Sox can't get cocky. Of course, game three is big, but aren't they all in the World Series?
Does the Regular Season Matter?
The game one of the Astros and White Sox World Series is just under way. One aspect of this series that I forgot to mention is that there are ten regular season wins that separate these teams.
The Sox had the best record in the American League at 99-63 while the Astros slipped into the postseason on the last day of the season with an 89-73 record. It's the thirtieth time in World Series history that the two opponents are separated by ten or more wins.
One would expect that this matchup is something of a David and Goliath mismatch (as opposed to the claymation "Davey and Goliath" pairing which is even more of mismatch). But is it really? And if it is an advantage to win many more games than one's opponent, how much of an advantage is it?
I ran the numbers for the previous 29 such matchups. The "Goliath" team, the one that won at least ten more regular-season games, won the World Series 17 times. The last Goliath team to win it was the 114-win Yankees in 1998. On average those teams won four games to slightly under one and a half.
Seems like a big advantage, eh?
Well, the "Davey" team won 12 of 29 matchups. The last Davey team was the 91-win 2003 Marlins. The won by an advantage of 4.67 to slightly over two games.
So maybe it is an advantage but if so, it's a slight one. That made me wonder if having more wins than your opponent in the World Series is an advantage at all.
As it turns out, all time the time with more wins in the regular season more the Series a total of 51 times. The teams with fewer wins won the Series 52 times. There were also four seasons in which teams with the same number of wins faced off.
So would does it all mean?
It means watch the Series. Nothing is certain. Just watch it and enjoy.
The Guys Who'll Blow the Calls in the Next Round
The umps for the World Series have been announced, led by Joe West, who had a breather for one round after abysmal play calling in the first round. I expect Joe to top the phantom tagging of Yadier Molina no later than game 2.
As for the Series itself, I'll predict White Sox in six and try to figure out how I picked the Braves and Yankees at the start of the playoffs. Actually, it'll be one time that I'll be hoping for a series ending before going the full complement of gamesI have a wedding on the thirtieth.
This morning I received a little missive in my inbox from the president of the Phillies.
Oh, it's not as if I think my little scribblings drew Dave Montgomery's attention away from his very important job of running the Phils, a team stuck in neutral for the better part of this millennium. Though we share the same alma mater, I don't even run into the guy at homecoming or even Ivy Day. Dave wouldn't know me from Terry Adams. Everyone on the Phils website mailing list got the same letter.
It's basically a request from the team not to throw in the towel on the 2006 season yet. The Phils brass took the inevitable and coincidentally crowd-pleasing step of letting go of their GM of eight years, Ed Wade, at the end of the season. The Phils inner circle must be kvelling that the Eagles are mere mortals this season, and they must be hoping no one jumps back on the hockey bandwagon by attending Flyer even though no one knows who's left on the team.
It's interesting that Montgomery's email comes a day after the Astros, the team that edged the Phils out of the playoffs on the last day of the season, made it to the World Series. While the Astros are girding their loins for the White Soxand we all know how painful that is, the Phils are looking for a new GM and are busy throwing whatever is not stapled down Billy Wagner's way.
It's encouraging that the prez supports the youth movement in Philly (i.e., Utley and Howard). However, the Phils' actions since their new-ballpark-inspired mini-renaissance started about three years ago belie these statements. The Phils like vets. The wooing of Wagner will bear this out.
On top of all the other hefty contracts that the team has taken on in the last few years (Thome, Bell, Lieberthal, Burrell, Abreu), they are likely to add a three (or so) year contract for something like $30 M to retain the services of a closer, very good closer, but still just a closer.
The Phils go into 2006 without a starting centerfielder, no set rotation behind Brett Myers, barely passable starters at third and behind the plate who are still getting hefty checks, and a huge issue at first. Really, especially what has been going on throughout the game the last few years, does it really matter if they don't have a top-line closer?
The crux of the Phils problem and the issue that will define the new GM's term at least at the onset, is who will play first base and what will be the ramifications of that decision. They would probably like to get rid of Jim Thome, his injury history, his contract, and his age in favor of Howard, who should probably be the NL's Rookie of the Year, but who can or would take a chance on Thome. Maybe the Yankees, but they just had their own high-paid and oft-injured first baseman work through his issues this year.
So Thome will probably have to be appointed the starting first baseman, at least if he's healthy. But Howard is apparently not a good enough defensive player to move to another position. They tried him in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League last year and had to abandon the experiment. Bill Jabba Conlin is promulgating moving Howard to left, Burrell to right, and Abreu to center. That would be a slighter larger gamble than moving Thome back to his original position, third base.
So maybe the Phils should trade Howard, right? Well, aside from what's left of the fanbase being up in arms, if Thome goes down again or demonstrates that he is no longer the same player he was, they won't have a viable alternative.
So they're stuck unless they can get the NL to adopt the DH rule. Maybe they'll just let both come to camp and hope that Thome gets injured. At least they can recoup some insurance money that way.
This team is a Ghordian knot with the first base situation being the tightest tied bow. I pity the next GM. The only thing he will have going for him is a built-in lame duck manager and ready-built scapegoat. Charlie Manuel was Wade's boy and is generally despised by the remaining fanbase. Manuel will be used as a body shield for the new GM, and more importantly, at least for them, the Phils' upper management. But he can be used just once.
The Phils are at a crossroads. They can embrace and expand upon the 2005 youth movement or they can continue throwing money at veterans. The first alternative is harder to predictwho knows how youngsters will perform. The second alternative, in my opinion, consigns the franchise to a downward spiral to the basement until they ride out the big contracts. The two things to watch are the Wagner re-signing and the Thome/Howard wrestling match at first.
Anyway, here's Montgomery's letter. Enjoy:
As I am sure you are aware, a search for a new General Manager is underway. Our intent is to conduct a thorough and intensive search in order to select a General Manager who will get us to the postseason and bring a championship to Philadelphia.
We know that we have work to do this offseason. Getting the right person as the General Manager is step No. 1. From there, we need to make the necessary improvements to get our win total over 90 games, capture the division title, and play in the postseason.
Looking back on the 2005 season, although we didn't achieve our goals, we believe that there were very positive signs for the future. The players played hard to the very last day in Washington. They never gave up and battled to the end for a postseason spot. Some individual performances were outstanding. Jimmy Rollins' 36-game hitting streak during the pressure of a pennant race was a remarkable feat. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- two young players who excelled in clutch situations and fed off the energy of our passionate fans -- provided great excitement. Many other achievements and strengths could be mentioned, but we recognize there is more to do and we intend to do it.
Thank you for your support throughout the 2005 season and past seasons. Our entire organization is very appreciative of the dedication exhibited by Phillies fans. We will not take that for granted and we will work hard each and every day to earn and keep your support.
We look forward to providing you with further updates as we proceed during the offseason.
The baseball world likes Joe Girardi. They really like Joe Girardi.
Girardi, who was always referred to as a future manager when he was a player, finally made those predictions come true. He was hired yesterday as the manager of the Florida Marlins after being wooed by every team in baseball, or at least those in Florida.
Joe becomes the first man in 18 years to go from a major-league player to major-league manager within three years. In 1987 both Larry Bowa and John Wathan became managers just two years after retiring as players. The only other men in the last twenty years to switch roles so quickly are Jeff Newman and Lou Piniella (both in 1986).
Poor Willie Randolph. A former Yankee coach himself, he got a cursory glance by just about every team looking for a new skipper for years until he landed with the Mets this past year. It took him thirteen seasons to go from playerhe retired in 1992to manager. Fellow Yankee ex-pat Lee Mazzilli took 15 years to become O's managerthough less than two seasons to lose the job.
All that made me wonder if the trend in hiring managers was changing. I remember Don Kessinger and Pete Rose being player-managers, something that used to be common in the game. Rose was the last player-manager in 1986, and I doubt we'll see another for quite some time, if ever.
Here are the managers who debuted in the last fifty years and were still active players in their debut year as major-league managers (though not necessarily, technically player-managers):
Fregosi, I remember, was released by the Pirates and then later that season became the Angels' manager, so he never really was a player-manager. And El Tappe was part of the Cubs' managerial rotation in the early Sixties.
OK, so now let's look at the trends. Here are the totals for our so-called player-managers:
Now for the Girardi group. Here are all managers who debuted within three years of retiring as a player:
Both of those groups have dwindled in the last few decades. The next group we'll look into are managers who debuted at least four years after retiring as a player but no more than ten years. They have been doing well of late:
Finally, here is the group to which Mazzilli and Randolph belong, managers who debuted at least a decade after retiring as players:
For the first seventies years of major-league ball, they were a rarity, but now they look like the strongest trend. So while Girardi might cause a splash, he now represents the rare exception rather than the rule.
The Curse of Tom Petty, Part II
Well, that was sort of a waste of time, huh?
After one of the most exciting moments of this, or any other postseason for that matter, we are left with anticlimax. Houston led the whole way. Mark Mulder crumbled in that way that only he can do.
The only news was that Fox found out that Houston is in Texas. Wow! How hard are they going to be shoveling this "T for Texas" horse hockey down our throats? And speaking of shovelingd, what was that little speech-cum-surrealistic montage that Thom Brennamen launched into at the end of the game about Roger Clemens' dying mother accurately predicting the score of his next game and then saying "Shoeless Joe", of course, meaning that the Astros would face off against the White Sox in the World Series. What is he smoking? I want to part with you cowboyyou and me together? Forget it.
Somehow this Texas Nostradamus even knew that her son, leading 10-1 at the time, would somehow give up an unearned run due to an error to match he prediction. It reminded of the episode of the Odd Couple where Oscar cringes as Felix corrupts his radio show into some maudlin melodrama loosely based on the Ruth homer for a sick kid story. Except no one at Fox has any shamethe audience had to cringe a la Oscar.
Anyway, the Astros now head into the World Series with two men who have accumulated at least two thousand career games prior to playing in a championship round. I wondered how rare that was. So I looked it up.
Here are the players who appeared in the most regular-season games prior to reaching the World Series. Biggio edges out Barry Bonds, the previous "leader", by at least 100 games. Bagwell has had the fourth worst wait:
It's nice to round out the list with Ozzie Gullen and Larry Walker.
OK, that's by games, but how about years? There are actually four players, three of whom were pitchers, who waited longer than Biggio though they played fewer games:
So now we that we have a two-day layoff, I hope Fox cracks open their atlas and looks up what state Chicago is in. I'm just thankful that this will (hopefully) be the last we hear from Brennamen and Lyons until next October.
While we have an off day to contemplate just what Albert Pujols did yesterday and what it might mean in this postseason, I was thinking about something much more trivial.
I just realized that this will be the first all-Central Division World Series of all time. I know that the Central Divisions in each league were carved out of the existing East, West, and Clarence C. Campbell Conferences of yesteryear. (How's Conn Smyth doing lately?)
To be precise, it was 1994. So we are not talking about a lot of history.
Besides, some of these teams did face off in their pre-Central personas. The last time was 1987:
Keep in mind that the nineteenth-century St. Louis Browns are the sires of today's Cardinals and that the nineteenth-century Chicago White Stockings have nothing to do with the White Sox, except in an inspirational sense. They are the antecedents to the Cubbies. Oh, and that the pre-expansion Senators are now the Twins.
If the Cardinals come back to win the NLCS, it will be just the 86th time that two of the original 16 teams have faced off in a World Series, the last time being last year (Red Sox-Cards for those who do not have their history books handy). However, it will be the first time since 1991 that two of original 16 that have never faced off before in a Fall Classic meet in the championship round (Twins-Braves).
That made me curious as to how many of the original 16 have faced off. So I made a handy dandy spreadsheet. Guess who's the only team to play every other team in the other league in the Series? Wait for it:
The Yankees have, of course, faced all of the original eight NL franchises in the World Series. The Dodgers and Red Soxsurprise!are just one team short and the Cardinals could tie them for second if the win the NLCS. The Indians and the Phils are the lowestno surpriseat only three.
OK, I know trivia, but at least I didn't regurgitate the Pujols homer again.
Must Be a Slow Newsweek
Baseball Toaster and yours truly got a little mention in a little magazine they call Newsweek. Maybe you've heard of it? And I quote:
CATCH the World Series and read game analysis and
That's Time and Newsweek in one year. I'm still holding out for Rolling Stone though. I guess poking fun at umpires is good for something.
The Curse of Tom Petty
Oh my! What is it with this team? If the Astros had any real fans41 (i..e., the new Kissing Bandit) and Nolan Ryan don't countthey would be losing it. One strike away with the greatest relief pitcher that Thom Brennamen has ever seen (Brad Lidge) on the mound, and we get a game six.
Maybe it's me, but I thought of Mariano Rivera. Fox's "B" team (Lyons, Brennamen, and Brenly) had been touting Brad Lidge as the greatest thing since sliced Eckersley. Rivera, who I consider a future Hall of Famer, has really sealed his case with his great postseason record. Lidge is to quote Elvis Costello, "This year's girl."
Lidge completely lost it after getting within one strike of the World Series. His inability to find the plate on five pitches to Edmonds was pathetic. And then there's what he allowed Albert Pujols to do by telegraphing and then hanging a slider.
Though I don't mean to take anything away from Pujols, who hit one of the most emphatic shots I have ever seen to put the Cards up 5-4. It's great when the best players a) have the opportunity to do great things and b) actually do them. Maybe Brennamen will now stop calling him "Albert Pools".
The fickle Brennamen did at least transfer his affections from Lidge, decent reliever though he may be, to one of the best players in the game (saying 95% of GMs would build a team around Pools, though that doesn't resolve with 30 teams).
So what happened? With two outs in the ninth, a 4-2 lead, and a 1-2 count, David Eckstein hit a seeing-eye single just to the third-base side of short on a slider (remember the slider).
Lidge then tried to nibble the plate with Jim Edmonds and missed badly. On the first pitch, Lidge paid to little attention to Eckstein who took second. I know he's a meaningless runner, but when that leaves a base open at first and pitcher gets erratic, I have to think that it creates some doubt in the pitcher's mind or at least he loses focus on the batter at hand. "I'm not going to let this guy beat me with a base open." And Lidge, to his credit, didn't.
Lidge seemed to collect himself getting a slider past Pujols. Then the remarkably prescient Bob Brenly said, and I quote, "I would expect to see all sliders in this at-bat from Brad Lidge. I wouldn't risk throwing a fast ball up there to one of the best fast ball hitters in the game." The guy should be a negative barometer. Think Bill Macy in "The Cooler".
The next pitch as Brenly predicted was a slider. Pujols must have been listening to Brenly, since he was apparently thinking slider. And unfortunately for Lidge it was a hanger, which Pujols deposited somewhere near Austin.
If the Stros now fade, it will be historic. Lidge will be the new Donnie Moore and Phil Garner the new Mauch. But they should look on the bright side: we don't have to wait until Saturday for a game.
Houston is currently competing with the interleague "natural" rival, Texas Rangers, for the longest wait (thereby justifying the gratuitous Tom Petty reference in the headline) for a team's first World Series appearance. My Phils scuttled them in 1980 and then the Mets did the same in 1986, both epic postseason series.
Here are the franchises ranked by longest wait for a first World Series appearance. The "Original 16" are on the clock starting with the first Series in 1903:
(Note that the Yankees had the third-longest wait among the original teams. Of course, that was before Babe Ruth put the evil eye on the Red Sox.)
And before we get too enthused for the Astros being some sort of giant beaten by the upstart Cardinal's David, remember that this team trailed St. Louis by 11 games this year. That is the more games than any other wild card has trailed by and still made it to the Series since the science experiment started in 1995 (well, '94 but they never had any playoffs that year).
Here are the number of games back for every wild card team who made it to the Series:
Also, we have to remember that the 'Stros meandered their way into the wild card, winning just 89 games. I know the 15-30 start is often cited, but minus a couple of home runs off of Billy Wagner at the start of September, the Astros are home watching the Phils groove sliders to Albert Pujols.
By the way, here are the teams with the least wins that got into the World Series Note that there have been only four teams who were worse over a 162-game schedule:
Before game five of the NLCS (and perhaps the series) is history, I just wanted to revisit a few of the more salient points in game four, a 2-1 win for Houston. The Cards were in striking distance but due to a few key mental errors by two of their best players, their opportunities dwindled.
First, I have to point out that with number-four Astro starter Brandon Backe getting the starter, he of the 4.76 regular-season ERA and 4.86 career ERA, the Cardinals blew a shot right off the bat by not pouncing on Houston's weakest starting pitcher. Then again, who thought that a Backe-Jeff Suppan matchup would be the best of the series?
That aside, the first of mental error by St. Louis came in the eighth. With the Cards trailing 2-1, a runner at first, and two outs, Jim Edmonds was up. The first pitch to him was closer to hitting him than it was to being a strike. It was high and tight and Edmonds ducked out slightly turning his body. And yet homeplate umpire Phil Cuzzi called it a strike, and not a swinging strikeeven though the bat never left his shoulder as his body turned it was closer to a swinging strike than a called one.
Edmonds was naturally shocked, but instead of muttering his disgust with his head down and keeping his head in the game, he lost it. He walked behind the catcher and confronted the ump. Edmonds did not seem out of control, but in a matter of seconds was thrown out of the game.
Yes, the Cuzzi really had no cause to remove a player, especially a big name one, with the score so tight in such an important game. However, Edmonds should never have given him the opportunity to make another crappy call. There have been too many by umps in the playoffs so far.
The second mental error came in the ninth by the Cards' best player. Albert Pujols was on third after a leadoff single followed by a Larry Walker single. Pujols, representing the tying run, was not in a force situation. However, when Reggie Sanders hit a grounder to third, he went home, instead of retreating to the bag. He was, of course, out at home and the Cards lost on the John Mabry double play that followed.
When two of your best players are performing like this under pressure and you are down to your third- or fourth-string third baseman, being down three games to one is understandable.
Rock 'Em, Sox 'Em
The White Sox clinched their first pennant since 1959 tonight with a 6-3 win of the Angels. I knew that the White Sox had it won after the third controversial (read, miscalled) play of the series, and the first that was not in their favor, was overturned.
With the score tied in the top of the eighth, the Sox first two batters struck out, and then Aaron Rowand walked. The next batter was A.J. Pierzynski, the center of every controversial play in the series, hit a line drive off of pitcher Kelvim Ecscobar. Escobar retrieved the ball and attempted to tag Pierzynski. However, he held the ball in his pitching hand and tagged the runner with his gloved hand. Again the ump got the call wrong.
First base umpire Randy Marsh, apparently obscured on the play, called the runner out. The Angels left the field, and the inning was apparently over. But Ozzie Guillen and Pierzynski immediately protested, and the Marsh acquiesced to a conference. Very quickly, the call was rightly overturned.
The Sox went on to score as the next batter, Joe Crede, hit an infield single deep to second, scoring the lead runner, Rowand, scored. Two more runs scored in the ninth as the Angels went down in order the last four innings (before which they lead 3-2).
There was one other controversial play in the bottom of the fifth with the Angels trailing, 2-1. With Adam Kennedy at first, Chone Figgins had his first decent hit of the series with a drive deep down the line in right field. The ball bounced once and a fan leaned over and grabbed it. Kennedy had initially been held up at third for the automatic double. But when Mike Scioscia protested, the umpires decided to award him home, rightly. The thing that surprised me was that they kept Figgins at second when the ball appeared not to be bounding into the stands but would have rattled around the wall in right. Giving him third was not out of the question.
As it turned out, it made no difference, since Figgins scored on a fielder's choice, moving him to third, and a sacrifice fly, giving the Angels the 3-2 lead.
The ump is within his rights to assign the runners to whichever base they feel is necessary to nullify the interference according to the rules:
INTERFERENCE (d) Spectator interference occurs when a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and touches a live ball. On any interference the ball is dead.
Annyway, since the Sox last the pennant, eleven other teams have represented the AL in the Fall Classic, all but the D-Rays, Rangers, and Mariners. The Brewers, who no longer play in the American League, have even gone:
Finally, the Sox got four complete games out of their last four starters. They came within two outs of five. No team since 1968 has recorded four complete games in one playoff series. That, of course, predates divisional play and the attendant extra rounds of playoffs. Here are the only teams in the last fifty years to amass four or more complete games in any playoff series:
Of course, the 1919 Black Sox has five complete games in ceding the Series to the Reds, so that might not be a good omen. (By the way, the Detroit Wolverines and St. Louis Browns, now Cardinals, registered 15 complete games each in the 1887 NL-AA World Series.)
I wonder who feels worse right now, Cubbie fans or Indian fans. Remember that this team was left for dead a month or so ago when the Miracle Indians were hot on thie tail. The Indians come that close, but didn't even make the playoffs after losing six of their last seven.
Kulpa-Bull—Can't Anybody Umpire Anymore?
In an act of solidarity or perhaps a show of support for Doug Eddings, the two umpiring crews overseeing the League Championship Series have decided to go on strike. The form of that strike is to make at least one miscall a day.
Now, I'm joking of course. Bad calls are part of the game, but these guys are going above and beyond.
In game two of the NLCS, Mark Grudzielanek was called out after he hit a ball off his foot. In game three a pickoff attempt at first was miscalled. Both of these calls were readily apparent at normal speed without the help of instant replay. Then there was the Vald Guerrero strikeout on a play almost identical to the Eddings one in game two, umpire "mechanic" and all. The call, however, went against the batter this time.
However, Ron Kulpa, home plate umpire in the Angel-White Sox game tonight, had the piece d'resistance. In the bottom of the second the Angels were at bat trailing 3-1. The Angels had just scored on a Bengie Molina bloop single. Molina was at first and Casey Kotchman at third, and there was one out. Steve Finley was at bat with an 0-1 count. Finley hit a grounder to the first-base side of second baseman Tadahito Iguchi and sort of slowed and pointed at catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Finley was beat by a step at first as the White Sox completed an inning-ending double play. The next instant, Finley turned and continued to point to Pierzynski.
It turns out that Pierzynski's mitt was hit by Finley's bat as he started to swing at the ball. By the definition of interference in the rule book, the catcher was guilty of defensive interference:
INTERFERENCE (b) Defensive interference is an act by a fielder which hinders or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch.
As the commentators stated the end result should have been bases loaded and one out. However, if Finley had run to first without making his case for interference and interference were called, he would have created option for manager Mike Scioscia. The runner at third would have scored, and Scioscia would have been given the option of letting the play stand with the interference, thereby closing the gap to 3-2. If he opted to accept the interference call, the run would have been taken off the scoreboard and the Angels would have the bases loaded. Even though it would have cost them an out (at second), I doubt they would give up a run.
Here's the rule:
If that wasn't bad enough first-base ump Ed Rapuano missed call when Scott Shields picked Scott Podsednik off first in the fifth (as McCarver and company were discussing how relief pitchers have inferior moves to first). Podsednik stole second and later scored on a two-out Carl Everett single to increase the White Sox lead to 6-2.
The score ended up 8-2, so even without the Podesednik run in the fifth and with an additional Angel run or two in the second, maybe the result would have been the same. But it would have been nice if the umps called it right in the first place so that we wouldn't have to guess the actual result.
Can’t Anybody Hit Anymore?
I know that we have just played two games in each League Championship Series and each will go at lest five, but yet far this is the lowest-scoring LCS round of all time by a long shot.
All this talk of small ball has creating small scoring. Tonight the White Sox bunted after Scott Podsednik led off the game with a single (?!?). The fact that they scored three runs in the inning will surely lead to more of the stultifying so small that it's nearly imperceptible ball.
Here are the ten lowest scoring LCS rounds since baseball went to divisional play in 1969 (the overall average is 8.09 runs per game):
That's in sharp contrast to last year's LCS round, which was the highest scoring of all time. Remember that 19-8 Yankee-Red Sox game? Both LCSs opened with a 10-7 game last year:
Well, you say, maybe these teams just aren't hitting. Why do I blame it on small ball?
Let's take a look at the number of bunts per plate appearance in each LCS:
I know it's only four games, put that's a lot of bunts.
So what's the net affect on the batters? We know the runs are down, but bunts are way down. It's the lowest walk to plate appearance ratio by a mile, the highest strikeout to walk ratio, and the second lowest on-base percentage:
So I beg of you, end the madness. Stop all the small ball. I though the Red Sox winning would be the apotheosis of Bill James yet somehow, a year later, look where we are.
Confederacy of Eddingses
It's almost a full twenty four hours since what was perhaps the worst call by an umpire in a big game ever, and we're still talking about it.
By the way, some would say the Don Derkinger miscall that helped the Royals win the 1985 World Series was worse. I'll agree that this was a closer play, but I think the ramifications are much more far-reaching.
I think it's finally settling in that there were two issues with the call. First was the call itself, of course. The second was Eddings calls his "mechanic" to communicate his judgment in the call.
I was pretty sure when I saw the play with the naked eye that it was a catch, and nothing has convinced me otherwise. But it was close, and if that were the extent of the damage, there are worse calls.
However, the mechanic that Eddings was inexcusable. I, along with everyone watching or participating in the game, am convinced that a punchout mechanic means, "You're out." The only person who was unsure on this point, unfortunately, was the man making the call. He made two gestures. The first was a flat hand straight out to indicate that the batter had swung. The second was the punchout.
After the game, Eddings explained that his rheumaticism was acting up, or words to that effect:
Q: Doug, the replay seemed to clearly show you called swing [arm straight out] and then out [punchout]. What was your interpretation?
Actually, this is not true. On an earlier strikeout on a ball in the dirt, Eddings immediately indicated the "swung" signal. However, he did not do the punchout until the catcher tagged the batter out.
Besides, let's say that Eddings' story were true, what would the punchout indicate? The third strike was already called by the "swung" call. Why would he need the punchout for a third strike as he alleges? (Unless he thinks the players can't count.) Of course, the next thing to call is the out. That tells everyone that the third swing was caught cleanly and the play is over.
I believe that this is what Eddings was indicating when he saw Paul rush off the field. Given his angle, the best he could do was guess as to whether or not it was caught. When Paul was convinced the batter was out, so was Eddings. So he showed the punchout. But when Pierzynski turned around and ran to first, he sold Eddings on the idea that the ball bounced.
Basically, the worst part of the call was not making a call at all ore at least not one he would stand by. Eddings alludes to this in his Michael Brown-esque press conference:
Doug Eddings: I did not say "no catch." If you watch the replay, you do watch me -- as I'm making the mechanic, I'm watching Josh Paul, so I'm seeing what he's going to do. I'm looking directly at him while I'm watching Josh Paul. That's when Pierzynski ran to first base.
He admits that he made no call and just watched the play develop. It's unfortunate for Josh Paul that Pierzynski, oddly enough, was more imaginative than he was.
Yes, Paul should have tagged Pierzynski, and then the play would have been over. If for no other reason there was a waffling moron standing behind him making the call. Had Paul been given any indication that the play was not dead, I'm sure he would have tagged out Pierzynski who was in no hurry to get to firsthe even crossed the plate.
Some have tried to make Paul the scapegoat for the odd play. The umps floated a story that the ball had bounced to undercut him even further:
Q: Do you still stand by your call?
That is like floating a story that the governor of Louisiana never called a federal emergency, when you know it's not true, though that would never happen.
They continued but were kind enough not to call him a buffoon:
Q: I'm not sure who this was directed to but I guess Doug: Isn't it customary if it's borderline that the catcher just routinely tags the guy and gets it over with?
Thanks, Rick. Make sure that you float the story that Eddings never said the word "Out" even if he punched the batter out.
If a punchout does not mean the play is over, how is the defense to know whether or not to tag the batter out? In a particularly loud play even the catcher may not be able to hear the ump if, as the seem to claim, that is their "Mechanic" for calling an out.
If it's a high fastball, that catcher had better still tag the batter out. Tag him out on every play because you never know if it'll be overturned by some idiotic ump. "Yes, it was in the glove five feet above the ground, but we saw a change in direction at the last second so it's a trap."
It's a disgrace. Up is down, dogs and cats sleeping together. There is no reality.
But let's be clear about this: It does not mean that baseball should turn to instant replay. The call itself was not the problem. Frankly, I don't care which way he calls that play. My problem is that the ump took no control of the play. He didn't make a timely call. He let one player (Paul) and then another (Pierzynski) sway his judgment.
Let's say that there was instant replay on the play and it indicated Paul had trapped the ball. Would they just let it stand after the players thought Eddings called the third out. The call itself wasn't the problem; the communication was, and instant replay can't do anything about that.
I tried to research the play via Rich Marazzi's always illuminating book, The Rules and Lore of Baseball. I found some similar plays but nothing that matched this call. However, I'll present a view of the more interesting ones here with the hope that they can shed some light on the play. And what the hey, I love this stuff:
Here's one that's very similar in that the defense started to leave the field, the catcher flipped the ball to the mound, and the runner instigated the odd play:
Tiger pitcher Earl Wilson almost circled the bases when he struck out in a game against the Twins at Minnesota on April 25, 1970.
Here's one again where a coach urged a player to go for first though this one occurred in a in a World Series game:
In the 1931 World Series played between the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Athletics this boner took place in the second game.
Here's one that deals with a miscall by the ump. However, it's the opposite of yesterday's play:
The West Haven Yankees and Three Rivers Eagles met on July 25, 1973 at West Haven. It was the top of the fourth inning and Eagle right fielder Toro DeFreitas was at bat. Yank pitcher Ron Klimbowski bounced a good curve in the dirt a foot outside at home plate. DeFreitas, a free-swinging power hitter, lunged at the ball and missed.
Finally, this one is not all that relevant to last night's game, but it's just too interesting to pass up:
Another play involving a catcher holding a third strike happened to Nick Bremigan when umpiring a Florida State league game in 1969. The bases were loaded, with two outs and a 3-2 count on the batter. The next pitch was swung at and missed, but muffed by the catcher and wound up laying [sic] on the ground beside home plate. In this situation, the batter is allowed to try for first base, since there are two outs. The catcher retrieved the ball and as he was making his throw to first, he inadvertently stepped on home plate with his front foot while he still had possession of the ball. Although the ball wound up in right field, I had to nullify all "runs," since the catcher legally recorded the third out by stepping on home plate and forcing the runner from third, even though he had no idea what he was doing. But there is no rule that says he has to know what he's doing to execute a force playand he didn't! The offensive team didn't buy it right away, but the ruling stood.
You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole damn courtroom is out of order!
"Owen's Dropped Ball"
"The Mookie Ball Goes Through Buckner's Legs"
And now I give you, "Eddings' Execrable Call"
Move over Joe West. There's a new boneheaded umpire in town, and his name is Reggie Hammond, er, Doug Eddings.
As I'm sure you've heard by now, but in game two of the ALCS tonight, the score was tied with two out and none on in the bottom of the ninth. Kelvim Escobar was mowing down the hometown White Sox. A.J. Pierzynski worked a full count but then apparently struck out swinging on a mean sinker. Catcher Josh Paul, who entered the game an inning earlier, caught the ball and flipped it toward the mound, and the Angels departed the field to prepare for extra innings.
Pierzynski took one step toward the dugout as Eddings appeared to punch him out on the strikeout. OK, everything is normal yet far, but weirdness ensued.
Pierzynski for some unknown reason seemed to jerk himself around and run to first, apparently on the off chance that the ump would call it a trapped ball. In an instant, Pierzynski's delusion became reality. The confused Angel players were desultorily leaving the field. When Escobar raise his arms in a confused shrug. When Pierzynski reached first, we were informed that yes, he was safe (for some reason) and the inning would continue.
After a brief argument from a perplexed Mike Scioscia, the White Sox won on a nice piece of hitting by Joe Crede, doubling in the winning run on a slicer to the left field corner after allowed the runner to steal second by taking two strikes.
The game was over and the White Sox had won. But they were the only ones celebrating. To the Angels and the fans watching (or at least me), it was surreal.
Clearly, the replays showed that the ball did not catch the ground but was caught. The flip to the mound and Paul's general body language, though that can be faked, confirmed that. Eddings' callonce on the final strike and then the punchout when the ball was rolling to the moundseemed to confirm it. And if Eddings' signals were not definitive, the catch was apparent to the naked eye and should have been confirmed by third base ump Ed Rapuano, but when Eddings belated conferred with the other ump, he appeared to demure, not wanting overall the original call.
What is not codified in the rules is the signal to signify a clean strikeout as opposed to a strikeout with the out conditional on tagging the runner. I have never seen the "punchout" signal for anything besides a vanilla strikeout. I think the call itself was not as bad as the umps' inability to convey the meaning of the call. The Angels were left stunned, not knowing what was going on or how to react.
I know that a team cannot protest an opinion call, but I wonder if they can use the errant signal as a basis for a protest. It is after all what caused the problem in the first place.
As for Eddings himself, maybe he and Joe West can ride off into the sunset and they complete the LCSs with one fewer outfield ump in each league. Then again, that just increases the odds that another one of the men in blue screws up the next call.
I don't know how a strikeout that wasn't a strikeout can be topped. Maybe they'll just let a guy call "Mulligan" and start his at-bat all over. Nothing would surprise me now.
Reggie! Reggie! Re—Um, You Get The Idea
With two RBI in game one of the NLCS and 12 in total so far in the postseason, Reggie Sanders has a great shot of breaking the all-time postseason RBI record.
Not that there are such a great feat given that the playoffs were expanded to three rounds a decade ago, but what the hey, you gotta have something of interest in an otherwise snorefest of a game.
Here are the all-time leaders:
We've Got The Smallest Ball of Them All!
Tonight the White Sox and Angels locked up in an old fashioned pitchers duel. Both starters, Paul Byrd for the Angels and Jose Contreras for the Sox, pitched well. The game came down to a handful of plays and to a little term that has become baseball's version of Intelligent Design, Small Ball, or as Ozzie Guillen, Chris Myers reminds us, terms it "Smart Ball".
You are going to hear mentioned oftentimes by Tim McCarver that the Sox lost this game because they didn't "execute", but I contend that their failure was in omission not commission (or words to that effect). The White Sox had five small ball mishaps in the game. They failed to get a bunt down three times and had two men caught stealing (one on an apparently busted hit-and-run play), and leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik was involved in one of each type of play. All of them came with the Sox trailing by a run, 3-2.
In the Fifth with one out Podsednik was caught stealing with one out and the Sox down by a run.
To lead off the sixth, Jermaine Dye, the number three hitter who hit 31 home runs in the regular season, bunted to lead off the inning. The number three hitter bunted for a hit!?! He popped up to the pitcher instead.
In the seventh, A.J. Pierzynski was on first with one out. Scott Shields had just relieved Paul Byrd (prior to Pierzynski reaching on a fielder's choice). With Joe Crede up, the slow-footed catcher, who was 0-for-2 in steal attempts this year and hasn't successfully stolen a base since 2003, two franchises ago for him, took off for second on an apparently busted hit-and-run play (or "run-and-hit" as McCarver will constantly remind you or "hump-or-death" as Mel Brooks termed it in "The History of the World, Part I"). He was way out.
The piece d'resistance was Scott Podsednik's failed bunt attempt in the eighth. Number nine hitter Juan Uribe, who had singled, was at first, and none were out. The top of the order in Podsednik was at the plate. Podsednik flailingly failed to get the bunt down in fair territory twice. He then was called out on a back-door change on the outside corner. Iguchi flied out to second before Dye singled to right, and Uribe lollygagged his way back to second after rounding the base and came very close to getting himself tagged out. The inning ended with cleanup hitter Paul Konerko flying out to center.
Finally, in the ninth, after Carl Everett reached on a Chone Figgins misplay, Aaron Rowand bunted way too blatantly, and Figgins redeemed himself by getting the lead runner at second. The White Sox failed to score, and the game was done.
Let's use Baseball Prospectus's tool, run expectancy, which they create based on the actual results for a given year, to determine how well conceived these small ball plays were given the real results for all similar situations for the 2005 season.
For the Podsednik caught stealing: One out and a man on first has a run expectancy of 0.5487. One out and a man on second has a 0.6911 run expectancy. It's nice to set up the runner in scoring position, but given that Podesnik was successful just 72% of the time this year on stolen base attempts, I think the risk is too great and the payoff too little.
For the Dye leadoff bunt in the sixth, had he succeeded, he would have increased the runs expected from 0.5165 to 0.8968 or 0.3803. However, given that Dye hit 21 homers in 309 at-bats with the bases empty, batted .298/.352/.576/.928 with none on, and has not had a successful bunt attempt for a sacrificeI know this was for a hitsince 2001 in Kansas City, I would say the bunt was a bad bargain.
Next, the busted hit-and-run in the seventh: the goal is to get the slow moving runner to third on a hit, the result being first and third, one out, or at least to get them out of the double play. They got bases empty, two outs. The run expectancy before the play was 0.5487 (one out, man on first). Of course, had it been successful, the payoff was biga 1.1830 run expectancy on a hit (first and third one out). However, the payoff for a ground ball isn't so hot: 0.3502 (man at second two outs). And the end result was equally crippling (0.1075two out, none on).
Let's break it down two ways: 1) Crede gets a single or 2) he grounds out. If he flies out, likely the results are the same (or maybe the runner is doubled off). If he strikes out, the hit-and-run is the worse call because of a potential doubleplay. OK, let's say Crede gets a hit, the hit-and-run improves the results from first and second one out to first and third one out (plus it may clear a hole by diverting a fielder increasing the likelihood of a hit). The end result isn't really so great when you look at the run expectancy1.1830 for first and third as opposed to 0.9143 for first and second. Basically it sets up the sacrifice fly. Next, on a ground ball, let's say the hit-and-run results in a man at second two out as opposed to a fielder's choice getting the lead runner at second or worse yet, a double play. The run expectancy for each of those scenarios is 0.3502 for a man at second two out, 0.2370 for a man on first two out, an of course, zero for an inning-ending double play. So really, the big payoff is in avoiding the double play grounder but at the same time, it may set up the strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play. It is nice to have a man on second as opposed to first on a two-out single, but it doesn't significantly increase your likelihood of scoring.
Basically, Crede homered earlier in the game and 22 times in the regular season. Why take the bat out of his hands or at least force him into a contact-hitter role?
Next, the Podsednik bunt attempts: With none out and a man on first, the run expectancy is 0.8968. Had Podsednik been successful, the result would have been one out and a man on second, which has a run expectancy of 0.6911. That would be lower. I know we are told to get our men into scoring position, but when you are down to six outs to score at least one run, why throw one away especially when the top of the order is up?
Finally, the ninth inning bunt: Run expectancy for none out and a man on first? 0.8968. For a man on second and one out? 0.6911, which would be lower. And that's assuming that Rowand can get a successful bunt down, something that seemed highly unlikely with the way he was telegraphing the bunt and the way the fielder's were creeping in. And the run expectancy for the resultone out and a man on first0.5487, is not significantly worse than if the bunt were successful. The big issue is the way that the offense freely gives up the out.
If you want to play "smart ball" as Guillen apparently terms it, why not take the bunt off at the last minute and poke a ball over Figgins' head? That would result in at least first and second none our (or possibly first and third), which has a run expectancy of 1.4693 (and 1.8228). Basically, the White Sox were rusty and impatient at the plate from the time off, and the issue was compounded by their manager giving away outs to the opposition from the fifth inning on. This hampered their chances of bunching a couple of hits and actually scoring runs. How's that smart?
You'll also hear that Chone Figgins' successful small-balling bunt in the third helped push the Angels over the top. At the time the Angels led, 1-0. The first two batters singled. Figgins came up with runners at first and second none out. He laid down a successful bunt and an infield single and fielder's choice later, and the Angels led, 3-0.
Well, those were the last runs that the Angels would score on the night. I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned with none out, runners on base, and the top of my order up, I don't want them bunting.
Come to think of it, I don't even know if I want any of may batters giving themselves up so easily unless they are the pitcher or Christian Guzman. Looking at BP's run expectancy matrix for 2005, one would expect that a team with runners at first and second and none out would produce 1.4693 runs. After the bunt, the Angels had men at second and third with one out. They run expectancy for that situation was slightly lower at 1.4144.
OK, you say what's the big difference? Five one-hundredths of a run?!? Big deal. The Angels did exceed expectationsthey scored two runs.
Well, the one thing the run matrix does not speak to is the success rate of the bunt itself. Figgins did successfully bunt, but that's not a given. Ask the White Sox.
If Figgins didn't get the bunt down or the Sox got the lead runner on the bunt, that would leave the Angels at one out and men on first and second. The run expectancy for that situation is under one run (0.9143), and of course, the Angels won by just one run. If you respond that it's very unlikely, given the third baseman is playing in for the bunt, that the lead runner is thrown out at third, OK, let's say the runner at second is thrown out. That leaves first and third with one out, which has a run expectancy of just over one (1.1830). So the expected result is about the same.
Basically, even if bunting were an automatic like an intentional walk, a trade of an out for an extra base for any baserunner, bunting does not buy you anything.
So while the Timmy Macs of the world will bloviateam I overusing that word?that the Figgins bunt won the game for the Angels, I submit that the Angels had a chance to break the game open and the bunt helped keep the game close. Yes, they did "execute" and were able to score enough runs to win, but the bunt helped change the complexion of the game.
The League Championship Series, baseball's answer to a Kelly Monaco-John O'Hurley dance-off mercifully sans Tom Bergeron, start tonight with the Joe West Angels facing the Chicago White Sox.
The National League which has been idle since Sunday waits until tomorrow night so that the cast of That Seventies Show can luxuriate on a slow boat to St. Lou for their impromptu cameo in the fifth inning. Meanwhile the Angels are hightailing it from Los Angeles of Anaheim to the South Side of Chicago after edging the Yanks, 5-3, last night.
Ace Fox baseball analyst Jeannie Zelasko already clearly delineated what the Angel-White Sox series is all about. After the Yank-Angel finale, the plasticized Zelasko took command of the teleprompter and over an overlay of the Final Four bracketwhere's Kentucky?, the new momshe was pregnant at the All-Star game, right? Or does she reproduce by meiosisdrew a "1917" over the White Sox and a "2002" over the Angels. Clearly, this indicates the collective IQs of the teams involved. Unbeknownst to the shellacked Jeannie, this is also the last time that the respective franchises won the World Series. Kevin Kennedy just exuded smarmy, pockmarkedness.
So there you have it, Fox has four teams that no one knows in the last two rounds, and the quick sell through the animatronic Zelasko will be a repeat of last year's Series, in which, you'll recall from your history books, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since Moses parted the Red Sea or at least prior to Babe Ruth taking steroids.
They have Houston without the big drawing (or drawling) card from last year, Carlos Beltran, but with the greatest pitcher of his era, Roger Clemens, at best a player that America loves to hate or at least is "in like" with hating (or shares petting with "I'm indifferent to that guy"). If they advance to the World Series, Bud Selig has already ordered Rocket to bean Mike Piazza to create some interest. Piazza would be signed to a 10-day contract from the CBA to catch for the AL team that would oppose the 'Stros. Also, Phil Garner will be required to remove his starting nine from the field in the eighth as he did in the clincher against the Braves. Rudi Stein, Timmy Lupus, and the Aguilar brothers will replace them, while Garner enjoys a brewski in the dugout, with the new lineup pulling out a dramatic, Wagnerian wictory.
The Cardinals do have the "Best Fans in America" going for themthey are the best fans: just ask the fans, and they will tell you. The Cards also have baseball's version of Phil Jacksonexcept he hasn't won a ring since 1989in manager Tony "Super Genius" LaRussa. And Fox, or more specifically, their announcers, would love the so underrated-they-are-overrated pairing of the pocket-sized David Eckstein and, potentially, Vlad "Best Russian Player in Baseball" Guerrero in the World Series (Dmitri Young comes in second). Unfortunately, the Astros, as the final wild card team, are court-mandated to win it all.
Chicago has the 1917, "See, we're more of an underdog than the Red Sox" thing going for them along with mascot cum manager Ozzie Guillenthink of a Latin version of Gary Coleman in "The Kid From Left Field". But they lack any curse, even the Fregosi Curse. Fox is currently on the fence as to whether they should play up or play down the Black Sox scandal. Test groups are being plumbed. They will require that one White Sock go barefoot for one inning per game, contradiction though that may be, so that they can attract the Shoeless Joe contingent.
Finally, the Anaheim of San Bernardinoes will propose that the Rally Monkey supplant contentious Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers to give new meaning to the term "Monkey Trial". Gene Autry will be sainted and "Happy Trails" will replace Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Pt. 2" as the inspirational music of choice throughout the playoffs ("Happy trai-a-ails HEY!"). Oh, and Mike Scioscia will look ticked off and slightly constipated throughout.
One thing is certain in the ALCS, whether it's Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan, we'll be told that the two teams involved "play an NL style of game," and whether overt or not, mentions of small ball will permeate throughout. And Fox will do its best to make America despise the mere mention of the superior "House" due to copious commercial placements as they did a couple of years ago with the short-lived "Skin" ("Her father's the DA!" Or was it his father?).
As for the games themselves, the Angels will be forced into exhuming Donnie Moore or into having Ervin "Shocker" Santana relieve (amid flourishes of "Black Magic Woman" on Fox) the beleaguered staff for middle five innings regularly (or worse yet, they might have to activate Esteben Yan).
I think that the Angels will belie expectation and start strong. I just don't think that they have the healthy starters or enough good hitters, and the wear and tear will become more evident as the series goes on. I'll pick Chicago in six. (I had the Yankees coming out of this bracket before the postseason startedoopha!) The Angels won the season series, 6-4, by the way, if that has any bearing.
Back in the Senior Circuit, everyone is ready to jump on the Astro bandwagon. I just don't buy it. Any team that gives Brad Ausmus that many at-bats is not without its problems. I was picking Bobby Coxgreat manager with incredibly poor in-game decisions in the postseason. Maybe I got the vibe wrong, and I should have gone with LaRussa. The Cardinals killed the Astros in the regular season (11-5) but Houston evolved all season. Still, I'll take the Cards in five.
I just hope that Fox does not play the Wiggles' rendition of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" again when Vlad Guerrero comes to bat. It makes my heart yearn for the obnoxious Scooter demonstrating different pitches (However, I did enjoy seeing him beaned). Though any break in McCarver's bloviations are welcome.
Joe West Advances to ALCS
Joe West, in a daring display of umpiring, wrested control of the Yankees-Angels deciding game five tonight away from the players and, in unprecedented fashion, become the first ump to single-handedly win a postseason series. He will met the White Sox in Chicago tomorrow with Joe West getting the start. Actually, Joe West will play every position a la Bugs Bunny and will also call balls and strikes.
West appeared drained as he left the field, saying, "Well, I left it all out on the field. It's hard work keeping the strike zone constantly shifting. A few hitters locked in up there. It was great Having McCarver and Buck up in the booth agreeing with every ridiculous call though. Those guys were great. And guys like Matsuiwhat did he strand 8 baserunnersand A-Rod. They really helped. I couldn't do it alone."
West's best and most controversial play of the night was in the fifth. With the Yankees trailing, 5-2, Alex Rodriguez lead off by getting hit by a pitch and Jason Giambi singled to right. After Sheffield softly flied out to left and Matsui popped up. Robinson Cano swung at strike three but the ball got away from catcher Bengie Molina, and Cano ran down the line apparently reaching first safely while Molina's throw got away from first baseman Darrin Erstad.
"I really had to step in there. Cano was running slightly inside of the line, but that really had no bearing on the play. Besides that was on the first half of the distance to first when the rule doesn't apply. He ran more on the line or slightly to the right of the line for the second half. Besides when the ball came in when Cano was a few feet from first, and of course, the runner does have to run outside of the basepath when he touches the base, but doggone it, that's what's great about having judgment calls on your side.
"I mean, when the runner is cringing trying to avoid the throw and the ball is nowhere near the fielder, it's tough to go for the interference call, but god willing, it was there and I jumped at it.
"I thought I might be pushing it after calling Cano for leaving the bag too early in game two when a slow-motion replay was inconclusive and a middle infielder typically is in the vicinity of second without necessarily touching it on a good percentage of calls. You know, going to the Cano well to many times. But it's a good thing that us umps are bigger than the game itself."
The rule in question is 6.05 k which reads:
In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.
When asked what kind of game his game one opponent Jose Contreras would have Tuesday night, West was overcome with peals of laughter, but he contained himself to say, "I'll take my chances. Right now, I'm just enjoying this one."
If I Could Walk That Way, I Wouldn't Need To See The Doctor
Anaheim just went up 3-2 after Crosby and Sheffield collided on a ball on the warning track. Adam Kennedy, the batter, got a triple. It looked like the ball hit off Sheffield's glove before the collision, however.
The batter before Kennedy, Steve Finley recorded just the fourth Angels walk of the series, and as Timmy McCarver will tell youhe'll drone on about it actuallythose walks always seem to come around and score (except when they don't).
Anyway, the Yankees have out-walked the Angels, 23-4, in this series. That's a 19-walk differential. The greatest difference in any series is 22. It doesn't always mean victory though. Three of the five teams that have outwalked their opponents by at least 19 have lost the series:
Free At Last! Free At Last!
Ed Wade was let go today as the GM of the Phils. After eight years of incompetence and excessive trades for superfluous middle relievers, maybe we can get someone who can entangle this ghordian knot of a mess. The Phils have more question marks than answers heading into the offseason.
Next step, get rid of Dave Montgomery--like that would ever happen. At least the Phils brass made the right move right away, which is very much out of character. At least now Wade's replacement will get a full offseason in which to work.
I'll have a full analysis of the Wade era after the World Series. Too busy right now.
Rules of Disorder
Yesterday there were two plays in otherwise forgettable games that both dealt with the rulebook. I thought it would be fun to revisit them before looking at today's action
First, in Atlanta Roy Oswalt appeared to be cited for a balk and then wasn't or at least not technically Hey, Lady! Pandemonium ensured.
Oddly, I agree with the ruling or rather the more controversial half of it.
Adam LaRoche was at the plate. Andruw Jones was at first. Houston led 2-0 with none out in the top of the second. LaRoche worked a 3-1 count, and then on the next pitch, the umpire pointed at the mound as Oswalt completed the pitch.
The ball was called a ball, and both Braves took a base as what passes for Psycho Lyons' brain started to melt like something from "Scanners". Lyons couldn't understand, even as it was explained to him later that inning, that a balk isn't necessarily a balk.
Homeplate ump Jeff Nelson, apparently, signaled a balk, but according to the rules, the ball is not dead if the batter walks, among other things. MLB explained the call, somewhat misleadingly, thusly:
Nelson immediately made a signal that had many in the press box thinking a balk was called. Instead, what actually happened was since the pitch was ruled a ball, LaRoche technically walked, advancing Jones to second.
Well, yeah, that was the ruling, but it definitely looked like Nelson called for the conditional balk, which MLB may or may not be conceding. Ask their lawyers.
I think they are trying to skit the issue of the crappy balk call in the first place. Oswalt did appear to come to a set position before coming home though he did it with his hands above his waist which appeared to elicit the call from Nelson.
Let's take a look at the rules to determine what the frig happened here. Let's start with the definition of a balk:
A BALK is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base, entitling all runners to advance one base.
OK, that's clear as mud. Let's on to the more detailed rules
Look, it states the issue very clearly in the PENALTY section. The idea is not to disadvantage a batter because a pitcher does something illegal. The penalty was applied correctly.
However, it is clear that Oswalt did nothing wrong in the first place. What should have been an uneventful walk became an interesting one. Maybe Nelson was bored.
Rich Marazzi elaborates on this in "The Rules and Lore of Baseball":
Nick Bremigan discusses the thinking behind the rule (8.05m). "back in 1971, the Rules Committee felt pitchers weren't coming to a complete stop before delivering the pitch to the batter. So they amended the rule for the 1972 season to read that a pitcher had to stop for one full second before delivering. This led to so many balks being called during the first month of the season, that they amended the rule to read as it does now.
Marazzi goes on to explain that all runners including the batter must advance to nullify the balk. He illustrates the point with the example of a double in 1977 by Lou Piniella that was nullified when the runner at third, Jim Wynn, failed to advance. Piniella was forced to bat again, but Wynn was awarded home (4/19/1977).
As for the second call, it involved Robert Fick, no stranger to postseason controversy he. Yesterday, with the Padres trailing 5-0 in the bottom of the second, the first two men (Klesko and Hernandez) walked. The next batter, Robert Fick, attempted to bunt them over.
Fick made a running start and appeared to foul the ball off, but when he went to return to the batter's box, the ump (Bruce Dreckman) called him out for making contact with the ball outside of the batter's box.
The call was out on batter's interference and catcher "It's" Yadier Molina was credited wit the putout. The Padres failed to score that inning and didn't score at all until they were down 7-0 in the fifth.
Let's dissect that one:
The BATTER'S BOX is the area within which the batter shall stand during his time at bat.
OK, that ones straight enough, that is until the lines are completely obliterated by the second or third inning. But the concept's there.
Got it? The lines are in the batter's box. Stepping on the lines means that you are still in the batter's box.
The part that troubles me is "one or both feet on the ground " The camera crew initially blew this play. The had about three angles, including the original one, and none of them showed anything about his feet or the batter's box that was helpful. Then about five minutes later they pulled a replay out of an unmentionable orifice. They showed that Fick did indeed step out of the batter's box but it was after he hit the ball. They froze the replay and allowed Joe Morgan to doodle all over the screen, but it clearly showed that he stepped out after he hit the ball.
By the wording of the rule, he should not have been called out.
It would be interesting to hear what Marazzi has to say about the play, but unfortunately he has no examples or insights into the rule. Perhaps it was too rarely invoked to make the book.
In any case, without a ruling that contradicts the wording of the rule as it is written, I'm saying the ump got it wrong. So what's the net effect? The balk play mattered not one iota in the first game and the bunt looked like it would have been fielded in fair territory and the lead runner at third would have been out. So, it's much ado about not so much. However, in the box score of life, the umps got the initial balk call wrong and the batter's box call wrong. They did get the secondary balk call right (that the ball was not dead). So they're batting .333.
Reggie! Reggie! Reggie! Part Deux
Reggie Sanders has another two runs batted in in tonight's game as the Cards are at the cusp of sweeping the Padres out of the postseason.
The record for RBI in a postseason series is 12, last done by John Valentin in the 1999 division series that the Red Sox won in five games against the Indians. Two nineteenth-century players did it in the interleague world championship between the National League and old American Association.
Here's everyone who's driven in at least 10 in a postseason series:
A Short Wait Between Trains
You've probably heard that the White Sox have won their first playoff series since 1917, sweeping the erstwhile champs, the Red Sox, in the division series. This comes a year after the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Suddenly, the world is realizing that the narcissistic Red Sox never did have the longest postseason drought, and the White Sox don't even own the longest championship drought in their own city.
Well, even though the Chisox had gone 88 years since winning a series, they also play second fiddle to the Cubbies for that dubious distinction. The Cubs once waited 95 years between playoff series wins. In 2003 (the year of Bartman), they beat the Braves in five games in the division series. It was the first time they won a postseason series since Teddy Roosevelt was president and Julio Franco was a rookie shortstop for the Phils. In 1908 behind the pitching of Orval Overall, they took the Series in five games over the Ty Cobb and the Tigers.
What makes that even more impressive is that they had waited 22 years between playoff series wins when they won the Series in 1908. They are the Joe Dimaggios of futility.
Here are all the "streaks" of 30 or more years:
Five of those teams switched cities waiting for a playoff win.
In game one the White Sox broke a five-game postseason losing streak. They got swept in three games by the Mariners in 2000. Their last postseason win had been October 9, 1993, when they beat the Blue Jays 7-4 to tie the ALCS behind Tim Belcher's pitching (he entered the game in the third after Jason Bere faltered) and homers by Frank Thomas and Lance Johnson. They lost the next two and the series.
However, a twelve year wait between postseason victories is nowhere near the longest streaks. My Phils waited 62 years between postseason wins from 1915 to 1977. I'm not talking about playoff series winsI mean just playoff games won. It took them 62 years to win one playoff game. I remember some of that streak, witnessing their being swept at the hands of the Reds in 1976 in the NLCS. Of course, the Whiz Kids were swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series.
The Phils won game one of the 1915 Series, 3-1, on October 8 in the Baker Bowl behind Pete Alexander. The Red Sox swept the next four, each by one run. Games two through four were all won by a 2-1 score.
On October 4, 1977, the Phils beat the Dodgers in LA, 7-5, in game one of the NLCS. It was a game started by Steve Carlton and Tommy John, but neither figured in the decision with Gene Garber getting the win and Elias Sosa the loss. The Dodgers took the next three and the series. This included a 6-5 loss in game three after leading 5-3 to start the ninth. (I was at that game and helped boo four straight walks out of Burt Hooton.)
That means the Phils lost eleven straight games between postseason wins. They lost another five straight as their next win came in game three of the 1978 NLCS, which they again lost three games to one to the Dodgers.
Here are the longest stretches between postseason wins. The White Sox do crack the top 15 twice:
If the Red Sox lose today, they will not only be just the sixth World Series champ to get swept in their first postseason series the next season, which I've already mentioned. If they lose by six or more, runs it will go down as the most lopsided playoff in history.
There are three series that ended in a sweep and had a run differential of 18 runs (1884 World Championship series Providence over the old NY Mets, 3-0; 1932 World Series Yankees over Cubs, 4-0; 1989 World Series Oakland over San Fran, 4-0).
Also, Chicago has outscored Boston 19-6 yet far. That's a 6.5 run differential per game, higher than any other series that ended in a sweep.
Here are the most lopsided sweeps in playoff history:
Here's to a 7-0 shutout by Freddy Garcia at Fenway.
But wait, what light through yonder suckage breaks? It is the East and Clement is the sun. The Red Sox team ERA of 9.00 in the division series is in range of the highest for a team in a postseason. In the 1999 ALDS, Cleveland had a 9.63 team ERA, and in the 1932 World Series the Cubs had a 9.26 ERA.
Make that a 12-0 shutout.
One for the Aged
Tonight Roger Clemens and John Smoltz were supposed to be locked in an epic picthers' duel.
Hmm not so much
Rocket gave up a five runs in five innings including the big blast, a three-run homer to rookie catcher Brian McCann in the second that put the Braves up to stay. Smoltz at least held up his end of the deal pitching seven innings and allowing seven hits and one run.
Clemens came into the game with 341 career wins to 177 for Smoltz. Thom Brenneman at one point pontificated on why we should credit Smoltz with 250 wins, 15 for every season he was in the pen. By that logic, Doug Bair was a 300-game winner. As an aside, the Psycho Lyons-Thom Brenneman broadcast was its usual, execrable best. At one point, Brenneman actually injected the Crash Davis classic cliché "God willing" to underscore his analysis of Houston closer Brad Lidge.
Anyway, I was wondering how epochal was seeing two pitchers who embody 500+ wins between them, face off in a postseason game. So I checked
This was just the eighth time that two men with a combined career total of 500 wins or more have faced off in the postseason (min. 150 W per pitcher). It's the first time since Jim Palmer came in in the 5th inning to defeat Lefty Carlton, 3-2, on October 14, 1983 in game three of the World Series. (as a Phillies fan, every historic event has a painful memory associated with it). It's also the first time that it's happened in any other round than the Series. Here are all of them:
(Note that in the 1911 Series, Mathewson and Plank, 514 combined wins, were on opposing teams but never pitched against each other. The same goes for Mathewson and Chief Bender, 513 wins, in the 1913 fall classic.)
Also, McCann who hit the home run off Clemens is just 21 years old. Clemens is in his 22 season.
I wondered if a pitcher has ever faced a batter who had fewer years on the planet than the pitcher had logged in a major-league dugout. I found a handful but without scouring the Retrosheet play-by-play archives, it's impossible to say:
I'm declaring the Phils co-NL East champs. What the hey?
The Boston Red Sox are apparently preparing to dub themselves co-champions of the AL East.
Never mind that the Yankees clinched the division a day before the season's end. Never mind that the Red Sox gained a virtual, though not actual, tie with the Yankees due to a season finale that meant the world to the Red Sox but no more than homefield in the first round to the Yanks.
For decades the winner of a league or division was established by the teams' record of games won and lost. When two teams remained tied at the end of the regular season, they would play a tiebreaker to declare the champion.
However, the introduction of the wild card and an extra round of playoffs necessitated that baseball establish an intricate set of tiebreaker rules to avoid an actual tie-breaking game whenever possible.
Of course, if the Sox unveil a banner that contradicts the final standings as established by the MLB rules, baseball will be up in arms, right? If it cannot determine its champions, its record holders, etc., then there's really not much point in having an organization like Major League Baseball.
Bud Selig must be ticked off at his old buddy John Henry, right? Ah, no. Selig rubberstamped it, "If I were running the Red Sox, I would declare myself cochamps one could make that case."
Well, thanks for chiming in, Alan.
By the rules of MLB the Yankees won the division. If those rules are meaningless, then why not have a World Series next week between the Phillies and A's, for example? OK, so those teams didn't qualify for the playoffs and as the commissioner's office considers the tiebreaker rules grist for playoff seedings.
I guess it boils down to an academic exercise, but if the Sox are already talking about the co-champs banner, they have resigned themselves to doing nothing further this postseason. "We forego any claim to a second straight World Series ring, just call us AL East co-champs!"
At this point, the Yanks should use it as incentive to make the banner meaningless. If the Yankees win the AL pennant or the Series, who cares if the Red Sox want to call themselves co-champs of the measly AL East.
As a baseball fan, I can't think of a better way to sum up this miserable period by one of the more obnoxious teams in recent memory. I hope that soon the recrimination and finger-pointing phase of this team's story arc will commence. Let's hope it's Friday.
Brave Old World
What was I thinking?!?
I picked the Braves to take the whole enchilada. But after game one, a 10-5 loss to the Astros, it looks like the Braves will be lucky to not be swept, let alone win this and two more series.
Maybe it was because I was eschewing the popular choice, Houston, onto whose bandwagon baseball's pseudo-intellegensia was lustily hopping. The road less traveled, you know.
Or maybe I wasn't convinced that a team that narrowly defeated my moribund Phils for the (not so) wild card was all of a sudden a world beater. Absent a Jason Lane and a Craig Biggio home run against Bill Wagner back at the beginning of September, these Astros may not have even made the playoffs.
I was told to forget the lack of offense, the lack of depth in the bullpen, and the lack of tail-end starters. Just believe that Houston's Big Three (Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte) would bring them the golden ring come World Series time.
I thought that these Braves were different. They had rid themselves of the baggage of the past, and were finally going to get over their first round jitters. Besides Francoeur, LaRoche, Langerhans, Sosa, and McCann had nothing to do with their past.
I did overlook the disappearance of center fielder Andruw Jones's bat in September even as he set the franchise record for home runs (and perhaps won an MVP award).
Tonight is likely to be a pitchers' duel with Roger Clemens facing John Smoltz, though things are rarely that straightforward in the playoffs. You never know what will happen in one of those, but if Clemens is lights out the Braves will be in a deep hole when they travel to Houston for two games.
I can almost see the uncomfortable Kevin Kennedy concession interview with a tearful Bobby Cox come Saturday. If that happens we NL fans can look forward to another Cardinal drubbing when the Series rolls around.
Art Howe, Jr.
What is Ken Macha thinking? Didn't he realize when he was hired that Billy Beane and the A's don't really care who runs the club in the field so long as he follows orders.
Why does he think he was hired in the first place? Why did he think the A's were indifferent to their previous manager, Art Howe, signing a megadeal to pilot the Mets (however briefly that lasted)?
Like Howe, Macha seems to think that he had a large part in the A's sustained success. Billy Beane knows different. That's why no-name Macha was hired in the first place. Beane seemed to be saying, "Just shut up and fill out the lineup card, make an occasional pitching change. But don't think that you run the show. Don't be like Howe."
Apparently, Macha let it all go to his head, and when negotiations began with the A's they realized that the manager and the team were worlds apart in terms of the money involved. This is a particularly dubious strategy for Macha when Beane is still in the midst of his mini-rebuild of the team.
So while the Tigers lock up veteran manager Jim Leyland and other veterans like Jim Tracy and Lou Piniella troll for work, don't expect the A's to waste more than league-minimum on a new manager. Beane puts every cent in the personnel on the field. So expect another no-name former coach or minor-league manager in the organization to be named the team manager by next spring. Current Triple-A affiliate Sacramento River Cats' manager Tony DeFrancesco and former Sacramento manager and current A's bullpen coach Bob Geren come to mind. (Bench coach Rene Lachmann fits the veteran manager mold to well.)
Macha was 275-211 with a .566 winning percentage in three seasons, which made me wonder if any previous manager had been let go after three years with that degree of success.
As it turns out, I found 54 managerial stints in which a team was run by one man for three years or less and the record exceeded Macha's in Oakland. Of course, there were a number for franchises that became defunct and managers who were still active with the respective club. There still are 43, many Red Sox (Grady Little, anyone?) and Yankee firings of bygone days. There are two from the early Seventies A's dynasties. So Macha's departure from Oakland is hardly historic, but I still find it more than a bit odd.
The Biggest Loser
As the regular season came to a close, the Tigers fired former good luck charm Alan Trammell and hired veteran manager Jim Leyland. Or to be more accurate, Jim Leyland came down from on high and deigned to manage the lowly Tigers next season.
When last heard from, Leyland was campaigning for the Phillies job last season when everyone in the land of hoagies knew that Ed Wade was hiring his own version of Harriet E. Miers, the portly obtuse Charlie Manuel. Leyland seemed scorned the Mets to join the Phils' hunt late in the process even though Wade and Manuel had already been seen holding hands in public. He played the Jennifer to Wade and Manuel's Brad and Angelina. In the fallout somehow the press sided with Leyland, perhaps because he was at least a credible managerial candidate.
Now, suddenly the Tigers have to kiss his ring to get him to debase himself into actually managing their club. What papal bull! Meanwhile Dave Johnson can't get a jingle.
I know that Leyland had a great run with the Bonds & Bonilla Pirates, and he helmed the Marlins to the first, free agent-laden Series championship. But when did he become the second coming of John McGraw. Let's not forget his last managerial stint was a stellar one-year, 70-92 run with the Rockies.
Overall, Leyland is a losing manager. In fact, he is one of a handful of managers to win a thousand games and still lose more than he won. He is the only active one:
That made wonder how many times a team had hired a manager who had already lost a thousand times as the Tigers did in hiring Leyland. So I looked it up
It's the fourteenth time that a team has turned to a thousand-time loser. The last time when the D-Rays hired Lou Piniella, and we all know how well that turned out. Here's the complete list ranked by most losses at the time of hiring. I also list how the team performed in the manager's first season:
On average the new team had a ,488 winning percentage, which translates into 79 wins in a 162-game schedule, only eight more than the Tigers won this year. Of course, this is in no way definitive, but it demonstrates that hiring a veteran manager who hasn't had nonpareil success previous is unlikely to have a one-year turnaround with his new club.
How Sweep It Is
Tony Graffanino did his best Bill Buckner impersonation tonight.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Chicago had Joe Crede at first. The Red Sox led 4-2 although the White Sox already scored both their runs in the inning. Juan Uribe hit a soft grounder to second that Graffanino overthought from a potential double play ball into a complete miss. He picked up his glove too quickly and the ball scooted right under. One batter later second baseman Tadahito Iguchi hit a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left, and that was the difference in the ballgame.
Now, the Red Sox season rests on the mercurial arm of Tim Wakefield. Wakefield's last three starts consisted of no decision with 8.2 innings pitched and 4 earned runs in an eventual 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay, a 7-inning win with three hits and one unearned run in a 3-1 win against Toronto, and an 8-4 loss to the Yankees with only five innings pitched, seven earned runs, and three home runs, which eliminated Boston from the division title hunt. So which Wakefield will show up Friday?
Should the Red Sox get swept, they would be just the sixth World Series champion to get swept in their next postseason series. Here are the previous teams that have achieved this dubious distinction (Note the 1990 A's got swept by Cincinnati in the World Series but did win the ALCS first):
Here's to the Red Sox as I lustily cheer them on to utter defeat in pursuit of making this list.
Well, I am a happy camper. Everything went according to my predictions today.
The Red Sox pitching fell apart completely, allowing 14 runs and 5 homers. A.J. Pierzynski had two, and Paul Konerko, Juan Uribe, and Scott Podsednik had one each.
What's even odder is that Podsednik had a sum total of zero home runs in 507 at-bats this year, one year after recording a career high of 12 with Milwaukee last year.
Only 23 players have hit a home run in a postseason series after recording none in the regular season. Podsednik's 507 are the most at-bats for anyone on the list. Podsednik is second:
The Red Sox now appear one bad outing by David Wells away from being swept.
The Yankees won 4-2 with the help of a great, albeit short, outing by Mike Mussina, who crept up to a tie for 16th place on the all-time postseason win list. Mariano Rivera, despite a bit of trouble in the ninth, recorded his record 33rd postseason save. He has more than double the next pitcher:
Speaking of the all-time postseason win leaders, the Astros-Braves has the two pitchers on the list in Andy Pettitte (13 wins) and John Smoltz (14). It also includes Roger Clemens who's tied with many for fifth (10 wins). Pettitte is pitching game one, and Clemens and Smoltz f gamce off in game two.
Here's the all-time list:
Oh, and as for Rivera, that earned run drove his postseason ERA up from 0.75 to 0.82. He still is second in career postseason ERA among pitchers with 25 innings pitched, however:
Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!
The Cards just went up 8-0 on a grand slam by Reggie Sanders of all people. Sanders now has 6 RBI in the game and has driven in the Cards' last six.
Peavy had just batted in the top of the fifth down 4-0, which I thought might have required more than a passing mention. After a one-out dink off the pitcher that ended up a single for Edmonds (again), a Pujols single and Walker five-pitch base on base, the bases were loaded. Peavy lost it all at once and went to 3-0 on Sanders. The next pitch was grooved and Sanders hit a high fly ball that went into the seats in left. 8-0.
The Pods seemingly are in a deep, dark hole. The were huge underdogs coming in. But if their ace could out-pitch the Cards' ace, then they seemingly had a decent shot. That's why the stuck with Peavy down 4-0 in the fifth. They expected him to pitch like an ace. Oddly, overall he didn't do that badly. It was the little bloops and nibblers that killed him, along with the walks.
I thought that the Padres would play the Cards tough, but it looks unlikely now. It looks like the waters of the NL are prepared to divide for St. Louis to offer themselves as the lamb for slaughter against the AL champ come World Series time. How's that for mixed metaphors? One parting note: Carpenter left with cramps in his hand. It may be nothing but should be kept in mind.
It's a new record!
It took less than an inning for Joe Morgan to annoy the bejeezus out of me. Joe is at his infuriating best so far in the Padres-Cards series opener.
He spotted how the Padres used speed to get themselves out of a potential big inning in the third. With the Pods trailing 1-0, Dave Roberts at second and Ryan Klesko at second, the Padres continually tried to use Roberts' speed at second to set up the hit-and-run. Morgan rightly pointed out that the Cards smartly weren't covering third because of Roberts' speed in case of the strike'm out-tag'm out double play. Because of that, they were able to get a 5-3 double play grounder from Loretta. Of course, Joe would never phrase it that waythat speed hurt the Padres.
But in the bottom of the inning, with one out Eckstein and Edmonds had back-to-back bloopers, a single and then a double. Joe agreed when the Padres intentionally walked Pujols to load the bases. The next pitch bounced about a yard from the plate when Peavy slipped in his deliver, scoring Eckstein.
The Padres feigned pitching to Larry Walker, who struck out his first time up, but then gave him a pass on 3-1. Joe liked this call as well. Keep in mind that neither hit was hit hard at all off of Peavy, and the Padres are willing to put not one, but two men on base. How is that a good play?
Sanders hit a shot down the first base line that Mark Sweeney got some glove on but could not handle. Two runs scored and Walker went to third. Now, you have one of the men you walked coming around to score, and the other 90' away from home. They luckily got Grudzy to ground into a double play. It was bad enough (3 runs), but could very well have been worse. And those walks were a big part of it.
Fearless Predictions… That Are invariably Wrong
Well, here we are at that time of the year again. It's time to pontificate on who will win and who will lose and be completely off base in the process. But what the hey? It's all good clean fun until someone loses an eye.
Red Sox-White Sox Divisional Series
The Red Sox won season series, 4-3.
My first prediction is that the Sox we will. You can take that to the bank and smoke it.
OK, now which Sox? I'll take the White Sox in four. The Red Sox rotation is in disarray, and for all the talk of collapse, Chicago had a record that was identical to Boston's in September.
Here's an oddity: the White Sox's RBI leader was Paul Konerko at 99. There has been only one team that has won a postseason series without a 100-RBI player since 1995. Here are the ones since 1990:
And while I'm at it, Tim Wakefield lead all Red Sox pitchers with a 4.15 (among those qualifying for the ERA title). Here are the only teams in the last 25 seasons who qualified for the postseason with an ERA leader with a higher ERA:
Yankees-Angels Divisional Series
The Angels won the season series, 6-4.
In my opinion, whoever wins this series represents the AL in the World Series. Unfortunately, the Angels have home field in Los Angeles of Anaheim. Jeannie Zelasko is going to be soooo confused.
The Yankees will repay the Angels for 2002, and fans will be rid of this franchise d'Anaheim. They may be the one team out there that are more annoying than the Red Sox what with the ridiculous name this time and the rally monkey in 2002.
Other fun facts: The Yankees used 14 pitchers as starters this season. Here are the only other teams to make the playoffs with as many starting pitchers.
And as of the Angels, they are now just two name changes behind the Braves and the Dodgers in number of different names used while appearing in a postseason. All they need is to try California Angels of Anaheim, Orange County Angels, and California Golden Seals on for size and they'll own the "record". I predict that it'll happen by 2010.
League Championship Series
New York and Chicago split the season series, 3-3.
El Duque and Contreras against the Boss's team? Yankee offense over White Sox pitching. Yanks in six.
Braves-Astros Divisional Series
The Braves led the season series, 5-1.
I know that the Astros are the popular choice with three big starters, but I like the Braves' youth. Besides, I don't see anyone Beltraning their offense, and middle relief, their Achilles heel last postseason, is still an issue behind Lidge, Wheeler, and Qualls. Braves in four.
Cards-Padres Divisional Series
The Padres won the season series, 4-3.
I think the Padres might surprise, but the Cardinals are just a better team. Cards in five.
League Championship Series
Braves and Cards split the season series, 3-3
I don't know if the world is ready for a playoff between Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa. Tony Spooneybarger against Jose Oquendo. In 2000, the LaRussas swept the Coxes, 3-0. I'm pulling for Bobby Cox this year. Like Spinal Tap drummers, I think the odds are finally in his favor.
Braves in six.
I'll just say Braves in six over the Yankees, and then wait for the Astros-Angels series to begin.
I feel disappointed, but I don't remember just what I expected.
I trekked down to Washington with a couple of friends to take in the Nationals' inaugural season finale. Just by happenstance the game we picked was against my Phils, and I remember saying something half-jokingly when we got the tickets 3-4 weeks ago that maybe the game will have some postseason significance.
Well, the game had a playoff feel to it from the word go albeit a tad bit one-sided. We pulled off the highwayI295 to be preciseand looming right in front of us was RFK a few miles down East Capitol Street. The stadium was in a nearly barren residential neighborhood that I found very odd. We arrived about an hour before game time so after parking we checked out the street vendors on Capitol and then the stadium itself, which had a stately, monolithic, enclosed feel.
It seemed to be a missing link between the cookie cutter stadiums of my youth and the old time stadiums of yester-yester year. I was reminded of the old Comiskey Park with the steel construction and precipitously rising seating. We were in the rightfield section sheltered by the upper deck. We could see the undulating roof to the upper deck which my friend Mike explained allows the fans on the third base side of home to view the Capitol by looking over the depressed roof on the first base side. Odd.
Anyway, I seemed to find nearly as many Phillie (and Eagle) paraphernalia as National (and regrettably, Redskin). There Astros and Red Sox "statements" though they were largely lost on me given the circumstances (who exactly were they rooting for?).
As the game progressed, the fans began to whenever the out-of-town scoreboard showed that the Astros had surged past the Cubs. Now, I can understand why the fans of a team would relish the role of the spoiler, but I cannot understand how someone can cheer the score of game which has no bearing on their team. The Phils were beating the Nats, and their fans were partaking of sour grapes.
I thought that they might be more interested in the score of the Marlins-Braves game, which was won by Florida 7-6 in extra innings. The Nationals trailed the Marlins by one game at the start of the day. At the end of the day, and the season, the Nationals found themselves in last place. The Florida game at least had some direct bearing on Washington's fate.
On the field, the Nats fans had little to cheer aside from a Ryan Church three-run homer in the sixth. Aside from that and the vicissitudes of the Astros-Cubs game, the fans got most excited by perambulations of their mascot Screech the Eagle (though "owl" would have been more apropos), the random television camera that came their way, and a brief but laughably inappropriately timed appearance by close Chad Cordero. Cordero came in in the top of the ninth amid thunderous applause with the Phils ahead 7-3, the bases loaded, and two out, hardly a save situation. Cordero faced two men, hit one, and gave up an infield single to the other. He left with the bases still loaded, two men still out, and his team trailing 9-3, the eventual score but was given almost as big a hand as he received when he entered the game. And I thought it was odd when Met fans cheered for every fly ball that became a homer only in their minds.
Watching the odd-of-town scores, we saw the Indians again get overmatched against Chicago, obviating the result of the Yankee-Red Sox game. I watched as Jimmy Rollins extended his hitting streak to 36 games, and the Phils pummeled seven different National pitchers (including four in the ninth). As we left the stadium, the PA announcer informed us that Astros had won and the Phils were out of the playoffs. Thanks DC!
Sure, I was disappointed, but I found solace in the fact that the Phils did play their best when their backs were against the wall. The parallel between how the Phils and the Indians played in the final day of the season was encouraging.
However, I had to remind myself that the Indians are a young team that should continue to improve next year. The Phils head into offseason we plenty of question marks and even more misspent payroll and they are piloted by a troubling assortment of misfits from their manager through the GM on through the front office.
But at least they did not lose six of their last seven ballgames against last-place teams and a team that already had nothing to prove as the Indians did. They did end up being part of one of the worst stretch run collapses in history, their own.
Even so, the Indians and Phils are within the top twenty teams to miss the playoffs since the start of new playoff system. Actually, aside from the 1999 Reds, who lost a one-game playoff to the Mets for the wild card, the Indians have the best record of any team that missed the playoffs:
By the way, of all the teams to end the season at 1-6 or worse in their last seven games, only eight made the playoffs: 2000 Yankees (World Series champs), 1935 Tigers (WS champs), 1919 White Sox, 1976 Royals, 1913 A's (WS Champs), 1998 Indians, 1903 Pirates, and 1988 Red Sox.
So after nearly a season in which parity was trumped out, we are left with six of the eight teams from last season again making the playoffs. The two new ones are a team barely over .500 (the Padres) and one that nearly suffered one of the worst collapses in baseball history (the White Sox). In the NL, we have the Braves and Houston facing off and the Cards and the NL West champ going at it, the same as last year.
The two teams that made September interesting, the Phils and Indians, are gone. But, hey, the eight teams in the postseason seem as evenly matched, especially in the AL, as possible. And I just found out that I get the postseason games on MLB.TV for free with my package. It would have been nice if I could have skipped out of work early for a 4PM playoff tomorrow, but at this point I'm not complaining.
…But the Devil Must Be A Schedule Maker
It's like finding out the solution to "Lost", and finding out that it was all a dream. Or finding out that there is no resolution, that it was just a nice premise that the writers never thought they would have to ultimately explain before the show got canceled.
This afternoon the Yankees rode the arm of future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson to an 8-4 victory over the Red Sox. That gives them a one-game lead with one game left to play.
Clearly, this just serves to ratchet up the drama for tomorrow. If the Red Sox win, then the two teams meet up a 20th and final time for the division title, right?
Just like at the start of the White Sox-Indians series, the two teams facing off are separated by the same number of games that they are scheduled to play. And just like in the White Sox-Indians series, it doesn't matter worth a damn.
Because of a series of events and our confounded deductive reasoning, we know that tomorrow's game will have no bearing whatsoever on AL East title,
You didn't get the memo? The Yankees won. The Yankees won.
Let's follow the logic, shall we? If the Yankees win, then they own the division outright, the Red Sox are two behind, and depending on the result of the Indians-White Sox game are either the wild card or play the Indians on Monday for the honor of being the wild card.
But we knew that. What about if the Red Sox win? Then the division is again up for grabs, right?
Again, nohow silly of you! The Yankees would win the title because a) both teams would have a better record than the Indians, b) therefore, would both go to the playoffs, and c) in those scenarios, baseball doesn't bother to decide the title on the field. The title would come down to a set of tiebreakers, the first of which is record against the other team. The Yankees are 10-8 against the Red Sox so far. They would be 10-9 if they lost. This is the same scenario as the non-division-deciding White Sox-Indians series.
So we are left with the dregs of wild card-determining finales in both leagues. The Phils trail the Astros by one game, and the Indians trail the Red Sox by one game.
As for myself, a Phillies fan traveling down to DC for the season finale, this makes the season finale quite a climax. But if I were an Indian of Red Sox fan, I would be highly itate as the two scorned suitors now face offthough not directly: thank you, satan, er, the schedule maker.
Should a playoff be necessary to determine the wild card in both leagues it would be the first time ever that that would have happened. Here are all the participants in previous playoffs to determine, well, who are the actual playoff teams:
One last thing, who were the chokers in the AL Central? The Chisox, who hung on to win the division and have taken two straight from Cleveland or the Indians, who have lost five of six against the two worst teams in the American league (Tampa Bay and Kansas City) and a Chicago team that was playing for, at best, homefield advantage in the playoffs?
Keep in mind that on September 24, the Indians were just a game and one-half behind the White Sox, and they lead both the Yankees and Red Sox by two games in the wild card. If they had played .500 ball against dubious opponents in the last six games, they would be a game up on the Red Sox and could have put the wild card away tomorrow. If they had won four out of the six including both White Sox games, they would be a game ahead in the AL Central. Whatever happens to the Indians, this is one wacky way to end a season.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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