So all of a sudden, they’re talking about the 2011 World Series as potentially being the greatest of all-time. Is that accurate? Well, maybe. Now, the two series that normally take up the top two spots on any list of greatest World Series ever are 1975 and 1991. 1975 was before I was born, though I have seen an abbreviated replay of Game 6 on ESPN Classic, and although I was alive in 1991, I have no memories of that Series; I was only two years old at the time. I do have some vague memories of 2001, one of the many that sometimes got put at the #3 position in the past, although I wasn’t quite the overall baseball fan that I am today and as such didn’t really watch a Series featuring the hated Yankees. Is this better than 2001? I’d say so. Now, I’ve got a book that covered the first 100 years of the World Series (not the first hundred series; it was only 98 of them, 1903-2002), and it had a top ten and bottom ten. Invariably, all ten members of the top ten went 7 games (except, of course, for 1912, which due to a Game 2 tie ended up going 8 games). Well, check. They mentioned a number of close games being an important factor—look at 1975; while Game 6 is the most famous, there were something like 4 or 5 one-run games. Game 7 was a one-run game, the winning run being driven in in the top of the 9th. Game 3 was an extra-inning walkoff win. 1991, the final two games were extra-inning affairs, walkoffs; high drama all around. Well, look at this series. Game 1, Allen Craig comes up as a pinch-hitter in the 6th inning and breaks a 2-2 tie. Game 2, he does the same thing in a scoreless tie in the seventh, but the Rangers come back with two runs in the top of the ninth and win it 2-1. Game Three, the requisite lone blowout, but Albert Pujols makes it worthwhile with a historic performance, 5-for-6 with 3 home runs. Game 4 was probably the least dramatic, final score 4-0 Rangers. Still a good performance by Holland, but it’s the weak link for now. Game 5 was another one that was tied at 2-2 late, and then Texas scored a couple to win it 4-2. And then, Game 6. An instant classic. Rangers score one in the top of the first; Cardinals take the lead with a pair in the bottom of the frame. Rangers tie it up in the top of the second, and thanks to some shoddy defense, they retake the lead, 3-2 in the top of the fourth. Then they make an error and St. Louis ties it in the bottom of the fourth. For the third straight half-inning, the leadoff runner reaches on an error in the top of the fifth, and Texas takes the lead a third time, 4-3. Then things fall apart in the bottom of the sixth, and Alexi Ogando walks Yadier Molina with the bases loaded to tie up the score. Matt Holliday then continues to make his case for 2011 World Series goat by getting picked off of third, and the Rangers escape with the score tied, 4-4. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz go back to back to start the top of the seventh, the latter tying the record for home runs in a single postseason, and the Rangers push another run across to make it 7-4. Allen Craig, into the game after Holliday injured himself on the play where he was picked off, continues to carve his place in postseason history by hitting a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth. There’s enough turnover that in the ninth inning, Pujols came up and gets his only hit outside of that five-hit game, doubling with one out and none on, and Lance Berkman walks behind him to bring up Craig again. He strikes out. One out away. Two strikes. David Freese, NLCS MVP, dropper of an easy pop-up in the fifth inning, that ball is back-back-back and off the wall! Pujols will score! Here comes Berkman! Freese going to third! Would this have been an instant classic if Freese had hit a 3-run walkoff home run there in the ninth? Maybe—they were still one strike away from elimination, and would’ve been going to Game 7 in dramatic fashion. But instead, it’s a two-run triple, tying the score at 7-7. 1975 had Games 3 and 6; 1991 had Games 6 and 7. 2011 had plenty of drama, but lacked extra-inning games. So this is better. The game goes to the tenth. Josh Hamilton, the Rangers’ slugging star, playing hurt and held without a home run through the first 15 games of the Rangers’ postseason and the first nine innings of their 16th, and there he goes. Two-run homer, 9-7 Rangers. But the Cardinals don’t quit, and the struggling John Jay and Daniel Descalso work their way on, first and second with none out. Lacking position players, LaRussa sends up his best bunting pitcher to pinch-hit, and Lohse lays down a perfect bunt. Second and third, one out. A run-scoring groundout makes the Cards the first team in World Series history to score in the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings of a World Series game, but they still trail 9-8. Pujols is intentionally walked, and Berkman gets into a 1-2 count, and base hit into centerfield! One strike away again, and the Rangers let it slip away! But Craig can’t deliver Pujols from third, and the Rangers’ Mr. Clutch, Nelson Cruz, is coming to bat in the top of the eleventh, and…something’s wrong…he’s injured! What is going on?! The Rangers don’t score, and leading off the bottom of the eleventh is David Freese, and again he gets a hold of one, deep to centerfield and GONE!!!!!!!! David Freese with a walkoff home run! I have to admit, at first I wasn’t sure what I had just seen, seeing something white in the dogpile at home plate, and then I saw the postgame interview and what the heck Freese’s jersey has been ripped off. Seriously, that’s just crazy. That’s strength, to just rip it apart like that. Who did that? Does it even matter? There’s a Game 7 coming up, and Game 6 was one of the greatest World Series games of all time. That cannot be debated. But will the Series as a whole be considered an all-time greatest? It’s definitely in the conversation, but…like I said before, 1975 had multiple extra-inning games. So did 1991. We’ve had three one-run games and a two-run game so far, and the one true blowout has a historic individual performance mitigating its lack of drama (and it actually was dramatic for awhile before the Cards just started pouring it on), but if tonight’s game is lopsided? It can’t make the number one spot. It’s definitely top ten regardless of what happens tonight, and if tonight’s game is tied after 9 innings? Then yeah, it should be in the conversation. And the teams involved help its case. St. Louis, wild card team, trailed by double-digits in late August and stormed back to steal the Wild Card on the final day of the season. Texas, first-wave expansion team, won a grand total of one postseason game in their first 49 years of existence, reached the World Series last year and making an encore performance. Fourteen of the original sixteen have won championships in the expansion era, so the Rangers have the third-longest drought. October: When legends are made.
Interesting start we’ve had to the season. A couple of ninth-inning rallies by home teams, a couple of 11-inning games won by road teams…I caught the end of Diamondbacks-Rockies, because I can’t resist an extra-inning game. Heard the Rockies announcers refer to Ian Kennedy as having a “Vulcan changeup”, which actually makes perfect sense but still sounded hilarious. As usual, I kept a scorecard for the Sox’ opener, ugly as it was. Let’s rate the debuts of their newcomers, huh?
Adrian Gonzalez (2-for-4, 3 RBI): A. Drove in three of the first four runs, played good defense at first, and even his outs weren’t horrible.
Matt Albers (1.0 IP, 0 H, 1 BB): B+: First man out of the pen when Lester couldn’t get through the sixth, he came in with two on and one out and managed to strand all the inherited runners, then got the first out of the seventh. Don and Jerry were saying that he’s a guy who can go multiple innings if needed. Better still, all three outs came on ground balls. I like a guy who can come into a tight spot and induce a double play as well as eat up innings.
Dan Wheeler (0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB): C: Long outs are not inspiring. Wheeler faced only two batters and retired them both, but doesn’t exactly get much confidence.
Dennys Reyes (0.0 IP, 0 H, 1 BB): F: Apparently he’s the new lefty specialist, brought into today’s game to neutralize Josh Hamilton. And neutralize him Reyes did: Hamilton walked on four pitches. S***, I could do that.
Carl Crawford: (0-for-4, 3 K): F-: Apparently, Crawford is horrible against lefties. Have the Red Sox really been without a decent lefty for so many years? Because it seems like he always killed us. Four plate appearances, and no results. A single in any one of them would have gotten him his first RBI in a Sox uniform as Jacoby Ellsbury was in scoring position all four times–even a long fly ball would have done it on the first two, with Jacoby at third with only one out. Nothing. Anyway, Streak for the Cash decided to do a prop on the result of Crawford’s first at-bat–the usual “Hit, Walk, or Strikeout” vs. “Any Other Result”. Not realizing that Crawford was in a bad situation with the matchup with Wilson, I went the optimistic route and chose the former. It was the only at-bat in which Crawford didn’t strike out, instead hitting a weak liner to short. Crawford, you even fail at failing.
I’ve been doing fairly well in SftC recently, and when I went to look at the play-by-play of last night’s Rangers-Angels game to see how Josh Hamilton did overall (already knowing that he’d failed to get a hit or a walk in his third plate appearance), I noticed that each of those first three ABs were immediately followed by “A Jones homered to left” (or left center, in one case), and I was thinking, “Wait, is that that ‘A Jones’?” Yeah, it is. Was his Dodgers contract up already? Nah, couldn’t have been. They must have released him. That’s the only explanation that makes sense, since there’s no way the Rangers would take on that kind of salary (and he’s not making nearly that much)…okay, maybe they would. It doesn’t say anything about him being released, but it’s quite obvious that that’s what happened. Anyway, he’s obviously been there this whole time, since those three home runs last night give him 14 on the year. How did I not know about this until now? (Or did I find out earlier in the season and just forget about it already?) One article written in the wake of last night’s game mentions how badly this must have stung fans on both sides of the LA divide, since the Dodgers only managed to get three home runs out of his bat all year in 2008. All I can say is, wow. Wait… Texas has always been one of the “red flag” teams, and I had my suspicions about him near the end of his time with the Braves after members of the ESPN show then known as Cold Pizza made note of how he’d gone from a speed guy to this huge slugger that shatters bats…You don’t think he’d be going back to an old habit, do you? …Eh, nothing’s ever been proven in the first place. Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie on this one.
Paul Lukas must be going ballistic. In the tradition of hockey games and Penn State football, the White Sox have asked their fans to dress in one color, and for a team called the White Sox, it’s only natural that they should all be dressed in…black! Here’s hoping they don’t get burned… The Twins have so much intrigue on this game. The pennant race isn’t the only race still alive. A flashback to last year: After 162 games, Ryan Howard led the National League in RBIs with 136. Right behind him with 135 was Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies, who had an extra game. Holliday tied Howard with an RBI single in the fifth inning of Game 163 and took the crown with an RBI triple in the 13th. Back to the present: Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers leads the AL with 130 RBIs. Justin Morneau has 129. Deja vu? Holliday, incidentally, also won the NL batting title last year. Currently, the AL batting lead belongs to Joe Mauer of the Twins. It would take 7 hitless at-bats, plus two hitless at-bats for every hit (1 for 10, 2 for 13, etc.) for him to lose it, at which point my glowing prediction about Dustin Pedroia will come to pass sooner than I expected.
The Seattle Mariners put on a brilliant rally last night, coming from a 7-0 deficit after seven innings to…create a save situation for Francisco Rodriguez, who picked up his record-tying fifty-seventh save of the season. In the wake of the Angels’ AL West clinch, manager Mike Scioscia says they’ll still be playing for home field advantage, but I don’t know if they’ll really be going all out. Making sure everyone’s ready for the playoffs is what’s important, and besides, the Angels are still far and away the best road team in the majors, so no home field advantage isn’t a huge deal to them. The manager also said that his usage of K-Rod wouldn’t change after the record was set and the playoff spot clinched, and this I believe. To be effective, a closer has to be in a good rhythm. Assuming that the rate of overall Angels wins to K-Rod’s saves stays constant, even a conservative 7-9 estimate for the Angels’ last 16 games would produce 61 or 62 saves. As for other hotly contested races, Chipper Jones has retaken the NL batting lead, .362 to Albert Pujols’s .360. Josh Hamilton’s once-dominant lead in RBIs has vanished, now just four ahead of Justin Morneau for the AL lead and trailing NL leader Ryan Howard by 5. Jacoby Ellsbury still leads the American League in stolen bases, 45-42 over B.J. Upton, although it would take a remarkable run for him to break the Red Sox’ team record, something that seemed a sure thing midway through the season. (He picked up number 35 on July 1). Still, it’s a sign of how unusual it is for Boston to have such a player that a player still considered a rookie is tied for 41st on the Red Sox’ all-time career stolen bases list. At this rate, he’ll likely be the team’s all-time leader by the time he’d first be eligible for free agency (if the Sox don’t sign him to an extension before he’s eligible, which they probably will.) On to the elimination scenarios… Detroit from AL Wild Card with loss and Boston win, that’s all for one-day. Two-day: Texas from AL Wild Card with two losses and a Boston win or a loss and two Boston wins; Cleveland from AL Wild Card with two losses and two Boston wins. Yeah, boring.
Final note: The first two games of this weekend’s Cubs-Astros series have been preemptively postponed due to Hurricane Ike. No word on when they’ll be made up–and trust me, with the way the NL Central/Wild Card race has been going, they will be made up.
A sawbuck is slang for a ten-dollar bill, aka…a Hamilton.
Okay, yeah, that was a horrible pun; the point is, Josh Hamilton was amazing
last night! At one point, he had thirteen straight home runs without an out.
His 28 home runs in the first round broke the record set by Bobby Abreu, who
had 24 in 2005. I missed most of the first round, doing homework, but I saw
almost all of Hamilton’s performance. My father called me downstairs early on
after mistakenly thinking that Hamilton had done the impossible–drive a fair
ball clear out of Yankee Stadium. (Mickey Mantle once hit one off of the iconic
frieze, the closest anyone has ever come to hitting one all the way out.) The
ball that had fooled my father’s eyes? Only the third longest that
Hamilton hit, estimated at 502 feet. The announcers made a joke about Milton
Bradley actually doing something nice when he came out to towel off Hamilton’s
tired pitcher, who, by the way, adds yet another interesting scene to The
Josh Hamilton Story. Apparently, back when Josh played American Legion
ball, he promised his coach that if he ever reached the big leagues and was in
the Home Run Derby, he’d bring the coach along as his pitcher. True to his
word, in the long tradition of obscure or otherwise odd Home Run Derby pitchers
(David Wright put on a great first-round show in Pittsburgh in 2006 with Mets
catcher Paul Lo Duca throwing to him), 71-year-old high school coach Claybon
(Clay) Counsil was behind the screen for Hamilton’s at-bats, throwing 54 pitches
in the first round alone. (A second mention of the Star-Ledger in as
many days: this morning’s paper mistakenly identified him as “Clay Council”.
BOOOOOO!!!) By the way, does anyone know what was in the case that Edinson
Volquez set on home plate after Hamilton’s twelfth home run? It added a bit of
intrigue to it all, Volquez of course the other primary in the deal that sent
Hamilton from Cincy to Texas. Hamilton was the last of the eight contestants to
go in the first round, and with the rule change that makes all home runs from
the first round carry over to the second, he had already out-homered everyone
else before he’d even come up for the second round, securing a spot in the
finals; they allowed him to take a few swings anyway, and he hit four home runs
and made four outs in a shortened second round. The “Call Your Shot” contest
was a bust, as even with two left-handed hitters in the finalist taking aim at
Yankee Stadium’s short right-field fence, neither could win a car for the
contest winner, Hamilton’s shot hitting in fair territory in right and then
landing on the foul side of the pole on one bounce, Morneau’s landing in left
field. Oh, that’s right: lost in all of this kerfuffle was the fact that Justin
Morneau won the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby, with five final-round bombs to
Hamilton’s three. (Wright’s first-round heroics in 2006 likewise didn’t
translate into a win, but that was no big surprise as Ryan Howard had already
taken the stage with a late charge in the second round–five or six gold-ball
home runs, I think–to surge into the finals on the brink of elimination. Howard
also punctuated his amazing run by hitting his Derby-winning home run right at
one of those “Hit it here, win $1,000,000” MasterCard® signs, making one lucky
fan a millionaire. As if all of those gold-ball home runs weren’t enough
charity.) Tonight, the 79th Annual All-Star Game, live from New York
City! And remember…”This One Counts!”
Correction: It was actually the first round in which Howard
made his late charge, with four of his eight home runs coming with the gold
balls. Furthermore, while the MasterCard® signs last night said “Win
$1,000,000”, in 2006 the prize was 500 flights–a slightly lesser prize,
considering that not even first-class tickets should cost $2,000. Of course,
the gold balls were more valuable then–$21,000, for the sponsor at the time,
Century 21, as opposed to the $17,000 that they were this year. He had six of
those, all totaled. Not to mention, while the fact that the donation goes to
the local Boys and Girls Club instead of to a single lucky fan makes it more
charitable, the $50,000 that Justin Morneau earned for charity with his win
last night pales in comparison to the quarter-million that Howard got for his
paired fan. I made a big comment about how charitable Howard was at the Derby
in my ’06 journal–blog-like in nature but not a true blog in that it exists
only on my hard drive.
Addendum: Listening to XM 175 on my afternoon commute, they
brought up a good point about closer salaries skyrocketing and how there’s
going to be that type of situation this year with K-Rod, who hasn’t yet
re-upped with the Angels, and I got to thinking, is this one of the best “walk
year” salary campaigns ever? After 95 games, the Angels are 57-38 and K-Rod has
38 saves. Prorated to a 162-game campaign, that’s somewhere around 97 wins for
the Angels and 65 saves for their closer. I did say in an early entry that I
thought the single-season save record would fall, and I even did say it would
be a West Coast team whose closer would set it…but, like most of my
predictions, something was a little bit off. In this case, the league of
the team was off. The NL West was touted as the “most competitive division in
baseball”, and it seemed to be a division rich in pitching and, well, not so
much so in hitting, so it seemed natural that there’d be a lot of low-scoring
games. What I didn’t take into account would be the quintet’s near-inability to
win outside of their division. While it would be ludicrous to believe that
K-Rod really is on pace for 65 saves, 60 sounds like a reasonable enough
number–and that would still best the old record by three. So while I’m changing
the name of the new record holder, I stand by my former statement: Enjoy the
record while it lasts, Mr. Thigpen.
“As announcers, we use the word unbelievable far too often. This is unbelievable.”–John Sterling, November 1, 2001
Yep, another early morning, another classic game. What I found
unbelievable about that game was that a fan had a sign with the words
“Mr. November” at that game…which didn’t reach midnight until the
tenth inning. Premonition that it would go late?
Nothing last night was truly unbelievable, just highly unlikely. For
example, two 13-1 scores, neither of which were the biggest blowout of
the night (that would be the Cubs’ 19-5 pasting of the Brewers). The
Dodgers pounded the Marlins for that score, and the Pirates crushed the
Mets. In slightly closer affairs, the Diamondbacks closed out April
with their 20th win of the season, beating Houston 8-7, while the Red
Sox (for the second night in a row) and the Nationals walked off with
wins, the latter in 12 innings. 1-run games appear to be somewhat of a
trend this year. The average number of games played to date is 27.8
(BOS, NYY, LAA, OAK, STL, HOU, CIN, SF 29; CWS and NYM 26; other 20
teams evenly split between 27 and 28). In these approximately 27.8
games, the average team has played 8.4 one-run games. In addition, only
Kansas City (3-2 in 1-run games) and Detroit (1-3) have fewer than six
1-run games. In the National League, 74 of the 222 games played thus
far (remember to divide by two when counting the total number of games
played, because each game has two teams). That is precisely one out of
every three games! The worst record in one-run games belongs to
Atlanta, 0-9. Baltimore and Boston have the best such records, 7-2 thus
far. The team with the most 1-run games to date is San Francisco, with
7 wins and 6 losses. I predicted at the beginning of the year that
there would be a number of save opportunities for NL West closers. Sure
enough, while every other division has at least one team with just six
one-run games (or fewer, in the case of the AL Central), no NL West
team has played fewer than eight, and it hosts the only two teams that
exceed ten! (Colorado is 4-7.)
Now, I don’t know if the official monthly awards have been given out yet, but it’s time to name my Monthly award winners for April.
AL Rookie of the Month: A number of promising candidates, as Evan
Longoria has been a revelation for the Rays and Carlos Gomez of the
Twins and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox are 1-2 in the AL in steals.
However, with a league-leading 11 doubles and an OPS north of .800, my
pick is David Murphy of the Texas Rangers. (I was a little
unsure about this, having heard somewhere that he was a rookie but
having gotten the feeling that he ought to have used up his eligibility
already, so I checked. Combined between Boston in ’06 and ’07 and Texas
at the end of ’07, he had 127 at-bats, just few enough to still be
considered a rookie. Wait, shouldn’t it be based on plate appearances?
NL Rookie of the Month: I’ve previously expressed that I’m a big fan of
Johnny Cueto, but while still good (only his first bad outing on
Tuesday) he hasn’t quite held up to the blazing start he got off to,
and since he is technically eligible and has re-energized the Cubs and their fan base (read this week’s article in Sports Illustrated), I’m going with Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
AL Pitcher of the Month: An easy choice here: Cleveland Indians starter Cliff Lee.
Last night, he gave up three earned runs in six innings, which were it
his first appearance of the year, would make his ERA 4.50. It wasn’t,
and his ERA is 0.96. Um, whoa. 5-0 record also good.
NL Pitcher of the Month: Another easy pick, as only one starter is 6-0: the always dominant Brandon Webb
of the Arizona Diamondbacks. B-Webb’s 1.98 ERA is sixth-best in the
majors, trailing the aforementioned Lee, Edinson Volquez of Cincinnati,
KC’s Zack Greinke, Ben Sheets of the Brewers and San Francisco’s Tim
AL Player of the Month: How does a team get two of the three awards for
the first month of the year and end up with the worst record?
Outfielder Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers is the pick here,
with 32 RBIs (at least 10 RBIs more than all but one other American
Leaguer, Emil Brown of the Oakland Athletics, who has 25), 6 HRs
(behind only Joe Crede and Carlos Quentin of the White Sox, who have
seven apiece) and a .330 average (fourth in the league, trailing Victor
Martinez, Casey Kotchman and Manny Ramirez). So, what’s wrong with
Texas? Oh, right, the same thing that’s always wrong with Texas:
pitching. They became the last team to hit double-digits in victories
with their tenth last night, an 11-9 slugfest.
NL Player of the Month: At first, I was going to give it to Chipper
Jones, who is not only leading the league with a cosmic .410 batting
average, but also is second in home runs with 8. Then I took another
look at the league leader in that category. Chase Utley of the
Philadelphia Phillies has a league-leading 11 home runs, 85 total bases
and .766 slugging percentage, and his 10 doubles are second only to
Nate McClouth’s twelve. In addition, despite the 50-point difference in
their batting averages, Chipper only has one hit more than Utley–the
difference is that Chipper missed a few games and therefore has 11
fewer at-bats. I definitely like my new choice better. If Utley stays
healthy this year, the Phillies could have three different players win
the MVP in three consecutive years.