Baseball; The Long Season Ends, Not With a Bang But a Whimper

The Boston Red Sox won the sixth and final World Series game of 2013 when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1. It seemed that the Cardinals, who out hit the Red Sox 9-8, just couldn’t win this important game as the key moments all belonged to the Red Sox. The prime moment came in the third inning, when, after Dustin Pedroia singled, Series MVP, David Ortiz was walked intentionally. He batted .688 for the Series. With two on and two out, Michael Wacha hit Jonny Gomes, loading the bases, setting the stage for the big hit. Shane Victorino then cleared the bases with a hit off the wall in left. The key element here was that Wacha hit Gomes. This indicated that his control was off, he didn’t have the command that had allowed him to pitch superbly in post-season games resulting in a 4-0 record. That he was not the master this night was evident earlier as well as he allowed runners in the first two innings. This lack of command then produced the big hit when he fell behind Victorino 2-0. Victorino guessed fast ball and got it and it was up in the zone and inside, but not far enough. His hit off the Green Monster, as the left field fence in known in Fenway Park, was the game. A homerun by slumping Stephen Drew and RBI singles by Mike Napoli and Victorino, again, in the fourth ended Red Sox scoring, but it was enough.

The Cardinals never got it going in this game, or, for that matter, the last three. Their win in game three on the rarely used obstruction call (See explanation here) was their high point. After that, they were flat and lost. There is always hope in Baseball where there is no clock to end the game and a team always has a chance to continue play. Here, the final inning went in few pitches and two fly ball outs and a final strike out of Matt Carpenter on a 2-2 pitch by Koji Uehara, the Red Sox closer, ended it, not with a bang, but a whimper.

The long season that begins in the first week of April and ends the last week of October, is now over. I wrote many posts on this season that are available in the archives and can only wait for 2014. A year ago, the Red Sox finished last and now join the 1991 Minnesota Twins as the two teams who have gone from worst to first in one year. I have little hope that will happen soon. Go Cubs? Maybe not this year.

World Series Games Four and Five: Cardinals Go Flat, Ortiz the Alpha

After the obstruction call decided the third game in their favor, the Cardinals have gone flat. This means that they can’t hit when it counts, and in this case, they aren’t hitting at all getting six hits in the fourth game and only four last night in a quiet 3-1 loss. Thus the last two games have been Red Sox victories without serious Cardinals challenges. 

The Fourth Game did have its moment with Kolten Wong, on first running for Allen Craig, was picked off to end the game. Where game three was the first World Series Game that ended on an obstruction call, this was the first World Series game that ended on a pickoff.  The fifth game ended without drama. Trevor Rosenthal struck out three Red Sox in the top of the inning and Koji Uehara got a called third strike, (the zone was a bit enlarged in this game!!) and ground ball out and a fly ball third out to end the game.

The drama here is the continued batting exploits of the Red Sox David Ortiz. He went 3 for 4 last night and is batting. 733 for the series. He was 3-3 in the fourth game, 1-2   with two walks in the third, 2-3 one walk in the second and 2-3 in the first game,  that is 11 hits in 15 World Series at bats. I am sure the folks at Elias Sports will give us the historical perspective soon. For example, he reached base on nine consecutive at-bats, a World Series and is batting over. 450 for his World Series career of thirteen games. What is  most surprising is that Ortiz came to Major Leagues in 1997 as a Minnesota Twin, and was released by them after the 2002 season. Released!!! The Twins were trying to make him a “slap hitting, go to left with soft line drives like Mauer hitter,” and the man who would be known as Big Papi wanted to just hit it hard. Boston signed him after the Twins released him and allowed him to do just that. Maybe the Twins should have had Mauer hit like Ortiz instead.

David Ortiz is the Red Sox Alpha, that leader who sets the stage for the others, and he will win this World Series, unless, of course, the baseball gods think differently.  Like those on Mount Olympus in ancient days, these gods don’t like perfection which they reserve for themselves and like to prove to heroes that they are mere mortals after all.

Let’s see what happens here, I am betting on David Ortiz. 

World Series Game Three: A Rarely Used Rule Decides the Game

Last night’s game in St. Louis ended with an umpire’s ruling that Red Sox third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, obstructed the Cardinal’s Allen Craig’s effort to score on a throw that got past Middlebrooks.   The situation is as follows. The game was in the bottom of the ninth iñning tied at 4-4. After one out, Molina singled off Brandon Workman and Manager Farrell brought in closer Koji Uehara and Allen Craig doubled on the first pitch putting runners on second and third with one out.

(NOTE: This was the third game between these two very good teams and such teams know how to win games. The hitters have seen the pitchers now, and are starting to figure out how to hit them. Koji Uehara likes to throw first pitch strikes and seldom walks hitters, so attacking the first pitch is the smart move. In the top of the eighth inning, the Red Sox had scored when Daniel Nava, facing the remarkable Trevor Rosenthal on a 0-2 pitch, hit it “up the middle” to score the tying run. This is the way many tight games are decided when smart players do the smart thing. Both Craig and Nava did the smart thing against a pitcher with whom they were now familiar.)

Then the fun started.  John Jay hit the ball sharply to second and Justin Pedroia, one the the handfull of players around who make the great play when necessary, made one here by diving to his right, fielding the ball and throwing home to beat Molina. On the play, Craig advanced to third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw just a bit to Middlebrooks’ left and the ball glanced off Craig’s arm. Middlebrooks dove to catch the throw and was lying on the ground, his feet even with the bag and his body between Craig and homeplate. If he remained still, the outcome may have been different, but he raised his lower legs and Craig attempted to step over him on his way home; he tripped. The umpire immediatley ruled obstruction and awarded Craig home even though Nava’s throw from left beat the runner to the plate. It was the correct call. The time from Jay’s swing to Craig’s run took less than 15 seconds.

The rule invoked at this time was Official Playing Rule 7.06 that says “obstructed runners shall be awarded one base. . . ,” and 7.09J says “obstruction. .  . should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases. . .” The definitional section under Rule 2.0 defines Obstruction as the act of a fielder, while not in possesion of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.” “Impede” is a sufficiently
vague term to allow some prosecutorial lattitude. Had Middlebrooks dove in the act of attempting to field the ball and had stayed there, Craig would have had to step over him to advance home. Even if Craig tripped stepping over Craig, no obstruction would have been called, but he made an overt act that materially impeded Craig. Middlebrooks did the smart act; he tried to prevent the run. The umpire exersized his prosecutorial lattitude and ruled it Obstruction and 2013 World Series Game Three became the only such game to be decided on such a call.

When I spent my time studying the rules, I once asked a senior umpire about the play where a batter hits a swinging bunt in front of the plate and the runner and catcher collide while the runner is attempting to run to first and the catcher is attempting to field the ball. It is the collision of the “Interference Rule,” where a runner interfers with the fielder while fielding a ball, and the “Obstruction Rule.” The umpire looked at me and said, “Clark, that would be an act of God.” Such is baseball.

World Series Game Two: Cardinals beat the Red Sox and It Was Easy.

A team wins “easy” when it pitches superbly, and the other team throws the ball away so runs score. That is the story of Game Two of this World Series. The Cardnals used three pitchers in this game, Michael Wacha started and gave up two runs in the sixth by walking Justin Pedroia before David Ortiz homered over the fence to left. Wacha is 4-0 in postseason play and rarely allows this sort of event to happen as his previous 18 1/3 innings had been scoreless. He was followed by Carlos Martinez who got six outs, three by strikeouts in the seventh and eighth innings before Trevor Rosenthal struck out three Red Sox on eleven pitches in the ninth to end the game. It was easy. Wacha and Martinez are twenty-two years old, Rosenthal is twenty-three.

The four Cardinal’s runs were scored in the fourth on a Matt Holliday triple and a Yadier Molina ground out. Then in the seventh, it was really interesting. After David Freese walked with one out, and Jon Jay singled to right, moving Freese to second and causing the removal of Red Sox Pitcher, John Lackey, for Craig Brelsow. Pete Kozma pinch ran for Freese at second and he and Jay then stole third and second. I was watching this and I noted that Kozma did not have a big lead off of second. When he and Jay ran, I was startled and so was Red Sox catcher Saltalamachia,  who bobbled the pitch and couldn’t make a throw. Breslow then walked Daniel Descalso to load the bases with one out. Matt Carpenther then hit  a sacrifice fly to left that scored Kozma and,  ultimalely, Jay, as the throw from the outfielder was way off line and to the catcher’s right. Instead of getting in front of the throw,(which had no chance of getting Kozma) to keep Jay in place at second, he let it go past as he merely reached across his body to snare the throw. It was fielded by pitcher Breslow, backing up the play. Jay saw this and took off for third. Now experienced baseball people cringe whenever a pitcher has to make a 120 foot throw on level ground. These are people who throw downhill, and only sixty feet, to earn a living. So Breslow, on level ground, threw the ball over the thirdbaseman and into the stands, scoring Jay for the go-ahead third run. Daniel Decalso had been watching this from first base, a great vantage point, by the way, and started running and ended up on third. He scored on Carlos Beltran’s single. 4-2 Cardinals. Then that young fellow Martinez came in to pitch the seventh, and you already know the outcome of that story.

This was the second game of a seven game series. They now play three in St. Louis, and we will either have a champion or a team with a 3-2 lead going back to Fenway Park for the Halloween game. The homefield advantage is real, but the home team must win and the Red Sox split. Now the Cardinals have the advantage of playing in St. Louis against the lesser lights of the Red Sox rotation and there will be no DH. The Cardinals just may win three. We’ll see. As I told a fellow earlier, I like the Red Sox but I have learned not to bet against the Cardinals, the best organization in the game.

World Series Game One: Cardinals Give a Game to the Red Sox

The Red Sox won World Series Game One last night 8-1 on a series of Cardinal mistakes, great Red Sox pitching (or poor Cardinals hitting), and some timely hitting. It was 5-0 after two innings. The Cardinals allowed a pop up to land near the mound, flubbed a potential double play, bounced a pick off attempt, bobbled a  ball in the outfield, and allowed a wild pitch, and those are the events I recalled this morning. The lone St. Louis run came in the ninth as Matt Holliday homered to left center field.
The teams play tonight and remember this is baseball and last night will have no impact on tonight. Baseball players are accustomed to losing as even the best teams lose 40% of the time.  The unavoidable fact here is that home field advantage is a real advantage in the World Series and if that home field is Fenway Park, double the effect. The Cardinals will have to win one in Fenway to win the series, let’s hope tonight’s game is a more skillfully played contest and that the outcome is in doubt until the ninth.
As for my preference, it is for a seven game series as there is only the long, cold winter afterwards, so I like to have winners and losers alternate until game seven. GO Cards!!

Unending Playoffs Continue; Red Sox/Tigers Tied In The AL;Cardinals lead LAD 3-2.

Today is another day in the seemingly endless MLB Playoff Scheme that started with a playoff to see who was the second wild card, that little twist that was added to increase interest in the postseason, but actually will reduce interest in the World Series that starts some time later this month. Nevertheless, the League Championship Series continues with the Red Sox and Tigers tied at 2-2, with one game left at Tiger Stadium, and the Cardinals leading the Dodgers 3-2 as that series moves back to St. Louis.

Yesterday’s games were just normal baseball games where one team just beats the other. The Tigers, for example, beat the Red Sox 7-3, scoring five in the second inning as the Red Sox blew a possible double play, but the Sox weren’t going to win this one, anyway.  Doug Fister started for the Tigers, and I’ve been a Fister Fan for some time, (he once struck out nine straight batters,) as he pitched six innings giving up one run. He just seems to get it done when it counts.  For the Red Sox, Jake Peavey just got hammered as he gave up seven runs in three innings. He allowed just five hits, but his three walks hurt his chances, as did Dustin Pedroia’s bobbled double play ball that would have gotten him out of the second inning. But that’s baseball and this was not the Red Sox game.

The Dodgers hit four solo homeruns in beating the Cardinals who lead this series 3-2. The Dodgers pitched Zach Greinke in this critical game and he won, while pitching seven innings, giving up two runs. The Dodgers will start Kershaw in game six. When the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead, Dodger Manager Mattingly mentioned that he was confident with Greinke and Kershaw starting the next two games, a sensible position. Mattingly also said that he thought the Cardinal fans would like to see a seventh game! Wrong, Don, the Cardinals will want to beat Kershaw Friday night.  I will be driving back from Milwaukee during that game and will be searching for the game on a variety of Wisconsin stations.

After these games are over, the World Series will start on October 23 (not a typo). I am starting to think we have sacrificed the World Series for the additional wild card that was played over in the first week of month.  More on this later, but the games are great anyway.  

Dodgers Win Game LCS Game Three With A Little Help From The Cardinals

The Dodgers beat the Cardinals 3-0 last night, and it wasn’t that close. The Dodgers scored two in the fourth when Mark Ellis doubled with the help of the Cardinal outfield, and then scored on an Adrian Gonzalez double. Gonzalez then scored on a Yasiel Puig triple.

The third Cardinal run scored in the 8th when Carl Crawford scored from second on a ball hit just over second baseman Kolten Wong’s head. Wong was late throwing the ball home and Crawford was barely safe, but safe non the less. 

Dodger pitcher Ryu gave up three hits in seven innings, as the Cardinals continue their batting woes, but still lead in the best of seven series, 2-1. For highlights of this game look here.

League Championship Series; Three Great Games, Then Last Night in Boston, Wow.

The League Championship Series is well underway and the drama is intense.The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers have played twice in St. Louis and the Cardinals have won both times, They won the first game 3-2 in 13 innings as Carlos Beltran batted in all the runs and threw out one at home. They won the next game 1-0 as Michael Wacha pitches 6 2/3 shutout innings. The Cardinals in this second game, used four pitchers to finish 2 1/3 innings, three for the next 1 1/3 and Trevor Rosenthal struck out the three Dodgers, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe and Andre Ethier, he faced in the 9th. Nothing to it, as they say, and the Cardinals have a two game lead over the Dodgers going to Dodger Stadium.

In the American League, the Tigers and Justin Verlander beat the Red Sox in Fenway 1-0 in a very good game on Saturday, but it was Sunday’s game that will get all the attention for the next century, especially in New England, where the town of Nonantum voted last night to change its name to Ortiz.

In Sunday’s game, the Tigers were cruising behind Max Sherzer’s pitching and were leading 5-1 in the 8th inning when the wheels fell off. First, Scherzer was replaced by Jose Veras who gets one out and then gives up a double to Will Middlebrooks. Then Drew Smyly replaced Jose Veras and walked Jacoby Ellsbury, so he gets replaced by Al Alburquerque, who strikes out Shane Victorino, but then gives up a single to Dustin Pedroia, loading the bases.

At this point, where getting one out is critical and the batter, David Ortiz, is the most dangerous of the Red Sox, I was thinking a left handed pticher would be brought it to face the left hand hitting Ortiz, Phil Coke, maybe, but Manager Leyland brought in Benoit, his closer. He did this after consulting data on Ortiz v. Benoit, and Oritz v. Coke. Benoit was the choice. I have another objection to Benoit at this time. He is a closer and is accustomed to pitching the bottom of the ninth on the road when he has a lead and no baserunners. Here he had three baserunners and Ortiz. His first pitch,  a fast ball that was over the plate and had no sink, was hit into the Red Sox bull pen to tie the game. One pitch by Benoit, and the series is changed.

Baseball is a curius game in that one game is seldom critical, unless it is the last game. So the Tigers will come steaming back and probably, with Verlander on Tuesday against Lackey, then Fister aganst Peavey and then back to Sanchez and Scherzer, will win this series. However, that will not happen if it plays in the field like it did Sunday. In the ninth inning alone three plays gave away the game. Jonny Gomes hit the ball in the hole to short. Jose Iglesias fielded the ball moving away from first, threw awkwardly towards first eventhough he had little chance to getting the runner, and the ball went past Prince Fielder, who, as a first baseman, had to stop the ball. He simply waved at it as it almost hit him.  This puts the winning run on second, scoring position! Fielder wasn’t finished yet. Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped the ball up foul and Fielder tried to catch it while standing against the low fence. The ball went off his glove. He just blew that one too. He claimed he was interferred with by a fan, but he was not. The ball hit his glove on the back side. Then Tiger pitcher Porcello wild pitched Gomes to third. Where it should have been one on, one out, it was none out, runner on third. Saltalamacchia, batting with the infield drawn in, singled to left scoring Gomes. Game over.

Baseball is a wonderful game and we have the Dodgers and Cardinals tonight. Wainright 19-9 for the Cards aganist Ryu 14-9 for the Dodgers. I can’t wait to see what they have in order for us. It will be interesting.
  

St. Louis Beats Pittsburgh as the Baseball Gods Toy With Us

Baseball people all recognize that game you are just not going to win. That happened to the Pirate faithful on Wednesday night as they lost 6-1. Although the faithful held hope until the final out, it seems to have been preordained. It was like the baseball gods were saying, “OK, Pittsburgh, you had a good run, but it’s over for now.”  This devine intervention is best shown by the two line drive double plays that the Pirates hit into last night. in both cases, with a runner on first, line drives were caught by the second baseman who threw behind the runner to double them off. This occurs as the runner has to look over his shoulder to see the second baseman and the runners first instinct on seeing the line drive is to advance to second or to third so there is that slight move to second that dooms them as the second baseman has a short throw to make the out. On other caught line drive plays, the play is in front of the runner, easily seen and reponded to, or the ball is hit to the first baseman who is already standing between the runner and the base for an easy out. These two rare double plays stopped innings and cost the Pirates four critical outs, and baseball keeps time with outs. It was also a sign that it was the Cardinals night.

The next indication that it was the Cardinals night was in the second inning when David Freese hit a two run homerun on a slider that just happened to wander over the middle of the plate. The pitcher, Garrit Cole, had his “good stuff,”  and it is very good, but he made one mistake and the Cardinals took advantage of it. The next run scored on a grounder up the middle to make it 3-0. The Pirates scored their run on a bizarre series of two out hits. Justin Moreau singled to the second baseman, who moving to his right to field the ball, slipped, and that slip allowed Morneau to be safe at first. Marlon Byrd then singled to the shortstop, who instead of making the easier third out at second forcing Morneau, tried to make the out at first and Byrd was safe there. Two on, two out, NL homerun champ Pedro Alvarez at bat. Alvarez hit a ground ball to first that hit the bag and bounced over the first baseman where it was fielded by the second baseman who threw wildly to first. The errant throw, by the way, was toward home where it almost allowed the catcher to make a play on the scoring Morneau.  The next batter grounded out to short. For followers of Fifth Game theory, that was the batter who held the key to the game. A hit there makes it 3-2 and the game is on, but this was only an example of how the baseball gods toy with us during the season. This exciting inning, where an infielder slipped, a shortstop hesitated, and a ball that hit first base  bounced over a fielder’s head to allow a run to score, is the stuff of baseball’s best drama.  Alas, it was only the baseball gods toying with us. The Cardinals scored twice in the bottom of the inning to ice it.

Today, we get Justin Verlander pitching against the remarkable rookie, Sonny Gray, as the Tigers play the Athletics in Oakland. I wonder what the baseball gods have in store for us today!

Playoffs Mean War, Baseball at Its Best

Yesterday I lamented the one sided games that had dominated the playoffs to that point. Last night saw a flurry of heated, competitive, last gasp wins that showed baseball at its best. The best is where games are determined by a hit, pitch or catch that wins or saves a game in the last innings. These games are the Fifth Games that determine championships. See “Fifth Game Theory” here.
The first of these games was St. Louis 2-1 win at Pittsburgh. Rookie pitcher Michael Wacha took a no hitter into the eighth inning where the Pirates scored their lone run on their only hit, a homerun by Pedro Alvarez.. St. Louis had scored two on a Matt Holiday homer in the sixth. The Cardinals made the pitches and plays in the field, scored enough and the Pirates failed to do so. The last out was on a fly ball to center by Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates best player, who said “I wish it got more of the barrel (of the bat).” Such is the way Fifth Games are decided. He took his swing and just missed, and his team lost

The next such game was in Tampa Bay where the Rays beat the Red Sox 5-4 on a walk-off homerun, and this one had an incredible twist involving the DH rule.  The game was tied through seven innings at 3-3, when the Rays scored their fourth run, setting up the incredible ninth. The eighth had its incredible moments as well. It started with a walk to James Loney who was replaced by Sam Fuld, the fellow who stole a run against Cleveland this week. Desmond Morriss then bunted the ball (not a sacrifice as he was bunting for a hit) that was fielded by the pitcher Morales. As the first baseman had also tried to field the ball, no one was covering first and Morriss beat Morales to the bag. Two on, no outs.  Matt Joyce then popped up his attempted sacrifice bunt in foul territory and Red Sox catcher Matt Saltalamachia made a sliding catch behind homeplate. Two on, one out.  Yunel Escobar then singled up the middle on a ball fielded by Stephen Drew who could not make a play on it. Bases loaded, one out, and the ball has not yet left the infield!! Delmon Young then hit a ground ball to short and was thrown out as the runner on third scored. That runner had reached base on a lead off walk. The next batter flied out. 4-3 Rays, ninth innning.

The Red Sox lead off hitter was walked by close Fernando Rodney. Walking the lead off hitter is a cardinal sin in baseball and it happened twice here and both runners scored.  Jacoby Ellsbury then blooped the ball over third. Two on, no outs. The next batter, sacrificed the runners to second and third. Dustin Pedroia then drove in the tying run on a grounder to short. One on, two out, game tied. Then Jacoby Ellsbury stole third but Mike Carp was called out on strikes.

In the bottom of the ninth the first two batters made outs so up comes Jose Lobaton. He was in the game because of a subtley in the Designated Hitter rule. Will Myer had injured himself striking out in the seventh. The rule says that if a DH enters the game in a defensive position, the DH is lost for the rest of the game. This prevents managers from substituting players in and out of the DH slot during a game. The best substitute was DH Matt Joyce who entered the game in right field, eliminated the DH. There was the a double switch and Lobaton entered the game as catcher batting fifth, Myers’ slot. He hit a homerun on a 0-1 pitch to win the game. Such is the stuff of Fifth Game baseball. The Rays and Red Sox play tonight in St. Petersburgh. The Red Sox lead 2-1.

The third incredible game of the night was in Los Angeles where the Dodgers won the series on an eighth inning, two run homerun by Juan Uribe.
The Braves had taken the lead in the seventh on a triple by Elliott Johnson and a single  by Jose Constanza. Again, a magical Fifth Game.

The other game was an A’s 6-3 victory over the Tigers to take a 2-1 lead in the series that continues in Detroit today. 

The three games described above were played in the best baseball tradition, Fifth Game victories.  Those games came down to a hit made, a ball missed, and the other small events that determine baseball games that are bitterly contested. There will be more such games in this playoff season, stay tuned and pay attention.