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.
Is there something we’re not hearing here? I was listening to the postgame interviews, and when Buster Posey was asked about Edgar Renteria, he mentioned how Edgar had been sitting on the bench for like four months or so and then he hit these two clutch home runs and he’s going out on top, and I was like, “Wait, did Renteria announce that this would be his last season, or did Posey just break a story? Or did he just misspeak and implied something that wasn’t true?” Edgar had a walkoff hit in Game 7 for the 1997 Marlins, his second season in the majors, and his three-run homer provided the Giants’ only runs in the clincher here. Two seasons, 13 years apart, and two Series-winning hits. In between, he made the final out of the World Series in the Cardinals’ loss in 2004–the second time he had the final at-bat. Renteria was named the World Series MVP. He joins a trio of Yankee greats as the only players with Series-winning RBI in two separate World Series: Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Berra. If this was his last at-bat–and the Giants went down quickly for him, only sending up one batter over the minimum after the two-out home run in the seventh to keep him from getting another at-bat–it’s been a great career. He might have been a disappointment whenever he went over to the AL, but I’m happy for him nonetheless.
(Note: He’s still a bit young to be retiring–only 34 in spite of the length of his career. Renteria debuted at the age of 19.)
Jeffrey Maier actually reached over the fence to help guide a Derek Jeter fly ball out of the reach of Orioles right fielder Tony Tarrasco into the stands for a postseason home run, whereas Steve Bartman was neither seated in fair territory nor reaching over the fence when he interfered with Cubs left fielder Moises Alou on a fly ball off the bat of Luis Castillo. 7 years after Bartman and twice as long since Maier, the Reds–which like those 2003 Cubs are managed by Dusty Baker–were victimized by a hybrid of the two. Like Bartman, the fan that prevented centerfielder Drew Stubbs from potentially making what would admittedly be an amazing play did not reach over the fence at Great American Ballpark to do so–and as you might guess from Stubbs’s position, the result was a Chase Utley home run, just like the Maier incident. Granted, this is probably a moot point since the Phillies’ pitching has been outstanding pretty much all series long aside from a rough first inning or two by Oswalt. But that’s a heartbreaker.
Elsewhere, another pitcher with a regular-season no-hitter on his career resume made a decent bid at providing the seventh official one of 2010. Jonathan Sanchez, who in July 2009 pitched a game in which the only baserunner reached on an eighth-inning error by Juan Uribe, no-hit the Braves through 5.1 before Tim Hudson broke it up with a single. Yes, the opposing pitcher. Amazingly, despite their low hit total for the game, the Braves actually managed to take the lead at one point, courtesy of an eighth-inning pinch-hit homer by modern-day Lonnie Smith Eric Hinske. (You remember Smith, right? Won a World Series ring in his rookie year with the 1980 Phillies, then picked up another with the ’82 Cardinals, a third with the ’85 Royals, then played in two more with the Braves in ’91 and ’92). The Giants struck right back with a pair of two-out runs in the top of the ninth, the latter scoring on Brooks Conrad’s third error of the game (his first error brought in the Giants’ first run). The 3-2 win gives the Giants a 2-1 advantage in the series.
As I write this, the Yankees-Royals game has just gone to rain delay with a 1-0 count on Robinson Canó, batting with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. The Yankees lead 4-0, so it’s an official game. A-Rod bats right ahead of Canó in the lineup, and he struck out looking in his last at-bat, still sitting on 599 home runs. Meanwhile, Canó is 2 for 2 so far tonight and has brought his career hits total to 998, meaning it’s entirely possible that the Yankees could see milestones in back-to-back at-bats. Crazy.
Also crazy were yesterday’s games. In the afternoon, the Phillies 1-hit the Cardinals for 11 innings in St. Louis. The only other time a home team was held to one hit in a game of at least 11 innings? The infamous “greatest game ever pitched”–Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings followed by losing the game in the bottom of the thirteenth. The Cards’ lone hit was in the fifth, though, so it wasn’t the longest no-hit bid in the majors yesterday. That belonged to John Lackey, who no-hit the Mariners for 7.2 innings before Josh Bard broke it up with a single. Lackey then left at the end of the eighth, at which point the Red Sox collapsed, allowing five runs (three earned) in a two-error ninth inning to allow the M’s to tie the score at 6-6, the shutout having disappeared long before the no-hitter did (walk, stolen base, advanced to third on groundout, scored on passed ball). Uh…damn, that’s horrible. Due to the “can’t assume the double play” rule, the first of the two runs that scored on the second error of the ninth would not have been unearned due to the “would’ve been the third out” rule, but the second was because the runner only scored due to the overthrow and the third out was made by the next batter…except the first run was unearned because that was the runner who reached on the first error in the first place. Oh, and the Red Sox? Still won the game, in 13 innings. Wow. Just…wow.
Even retired, Kevin Millar makes the game of baseball more amusing. Last year he was with the Blue Jays, and they brought up a pitcher from the minors named Mark Rzepczynski, one of those great unpronounceable names you see occasionally in sports. (For the record, it’s pronounced zep-CHIN-skee.) Asked on the radio how that name was pronounced, he replied, “We just call him ‘Ski’.” However, with Rzepczynski making his first start of the year, Millar, now working for MLB Network, revealed that he and Bryan Butterfield gave the pitcher a different nickname: Splamitovich. Which Rzepczynski now has on his glove. Kevin, man, I love you. Don’t ever disappear from the spotlight.
On another note, yesterday looked like an anomaly for the Year of The Pitcher II. 47 home runs were hit yesterday, including 3 by Adam Dunn, two each by Casey Kotchman, Martin Prado, and Buster Posey, and an inside-the-park homer by Jose Bautista, whose 22 homers lead the majors. The only game without a home run was the Angels-White Sox game. But back to Bautista: Where’s all of this power coming from? Bautista never had more than 16 home runs in a year prior to this year, and suddenly he’s the biggest bomber in the league. Do you remember what we used to assume when players set new career highs for home runs by the end of May? Yeah, exactly–“Must be juicing.” (Okay, so Bautista was only tied for his career high at the end of May–and, of course, my example had already set a new career high by the end of April. Still valid.) I want to believe that the game is really completely clean now, but…when there are still players putting up anomalous numbers like this, I can’t be sure.
Of course, it could just be that Bautista is having a breakout season. The aforementioned Brian Roberts had only played more than 100 games in a season twice prior to 2005, when he set a new career high for home runs by the end of April, but he tailed off and ended that season with fewer than 20 home runs, and while it’s still a career high, he has reached double digits three more times. The performances you really have to worry about are when players can’t replicate them afterwards–think Brady Anderson, whose only season with at least 25 home runs was 1996, when he hit 50. Only time will tell which is the case for Bautista.
Final note: The Cardinals blew a five-run lead to the Rockies, their first time blowing leads of at least 5 runs in back-to-back games since 1930. Chris Iannetta hit a walkoff home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth off of Evan MacLane, who was making his major league debut and now currently has a career opponent’s slugging percentage of 4.000 (not that they keep track of these things) and an infinite ERA (1 earned run in 0 IP) as well as an 0-1 record. Not the best start.
Well, the race for the final All-Star spots is on, and Joey Votto is most deservedly leading the charge in the NL, while in the AL…Nick Swisher got off to the early lead but has since ceded it to Kevin Youkilis. Now, as a Red Sox fan, you’d think I’d be pulling for Youkilis, right? Nope. Here’s why. Overall, Michael Young has 5 career All-Star game appearances, with a respectable .333 batting average and .891 OPS, and 3 RBI. As those box scores indicated, however, those were not just any RBI–the first two came with two outs in the top of the ninth and the AL trailing by 1 run, resulting in the AL winning again, and the third came in the bottom of the 15th, again providing the winning run.
Anyway, the Rockies had a wild finish last night. 9 runs in the bottom of the ninth, the final three on a home run by Seth Smith, in a 12-9 victory over St. Louis. Smith was 3-for-4 with two walks. The lone out? A liner to first for the first out of the ninth inning. How amazing is that? Making an out and having a hit in the same inning isn’t that rare, but having the game-winning hit in the same inning as your only out…Also interesting to look at from this game: St. Louis closer Ryan Franklin was brought in after the Rockies scored their first run of the inning, cutting the Cards’ lead to 9-4, with runners on first and second. See anything odd about that? Yep, that’s right; it’s a non-save situation. With a 5-run lead, it’s only a save situation if the bases are loaded–La Russa brought in his closer one batter earlier than the custom, evidently trying to nip the rally in the bud. If the Rockies’ rally had come up just a little bit short and Franklin had been denied the save… (Also, the first batter Franklin faced was Chris Iannetta, who was batting just .208 and slugging .403 entering the at-bat. Iannetta had 1 career at-bat against Franklin, a double. Iannetta promptly homered to cut the deficit to 9-7, which is about the point where you’d normally be going to your closer…who was already in the game.)
Meanwhile, props to Johan Santana. After going 1-3 with three no-decisions, all Mets losses, in his previous 7 starts, Santana put together the type of dominant start baseball fans are used to seeing from him, a 3-hit shutout. His last complete game, also a 3-hit shutout, came in his final start of the 2008 season. As for the winning run? That would be a solo homer from none other than Johan Santana, his first career dinger, in the third inning. The Mets would tack on two more for a 3-0 win, but Santana is clearly the story here.
See, this blog is all about when things get weird. And last night’s Mets-Cardinals game was very weird. The winning pitcher was a closer, while the save went to a starter, and the losing pitcher is normally an outfielder, while a starting pitcher made two putouts in left field. But here’s the really weird thing: Mike Pelfrey is currently the Mets’ leader in both wins and saves–and is not merely tied for the lead in either category. This is a rare occurrence in any situation, and furthermore it would be expected to be more likely to happen with a closer than a starter, because relievers picking up decisions is a lot more common than starters being put into relief situations. Heck, two games into the season, Hideki Okajima already had a record of 1-1, same as his team’s record. Even then, though, you’d expect something like that to happen in the first week of the season before things normalize, right? We’re nearly two weeks in. Then again, I guess it isn’t that slow a start…the Mets are 4-7 right now, which is only 3 games below .500, and since someone has to lose in every game, a slightly sub-.500 record is not atrociously bad. The Mets won their opener behind Johan Santana, and then their second win was in Game 4, which was Pelfrey’s first start of the year. They then lost four straight before picking up another win, which would of course be Pelfrey’s second start (it appears that the Mets are sticking with the full five-man rotation even with the heavy number of off-days early in the season), and their fourth win was last night. The scores of the first three wins: 7-1, 8-2, 5-0. Not a save situation to be found. This was the first save the Mets got all year, and it was tallied by the #4 man in their rotation, who also had wins in both of his first two starts.