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!!

Red Sox Triumphant as Tigers Fail, Move to World Series Against Cardinals

Today I will discuss last night’s Tigers’ failure against the triumphant Red Sox who they used the grandslam to punctuate the Tigers failure. Last Sunday, Tiger closer Benoit, threw a nothing-get-it-over-fastball-first-pitch to David Ortiz who hit a grand slam in Fenway to win that critical game that kept the series at 1-1 and not 2-0 Tigers. Last night, reliever Veras, on an 0-2 pitch to Red Sox outfielder Victorino, threw the ball high and inside so that VIctorino could hit it over the Green Monster for a winning grandslam. That a pitcher threw such a pitch at that time indicates a serious lack of intelligence, in fact, it is just plain dumb. Just as Benoit’s pitch to Ortiz was just plain dumb.  These were, “here, beat me” pitches.

During the final week of the season, I was sitting with a Cubs scout at Target Field, We were discussing the coming playoffs and I said,”I don’t think the Tigers relievers can hold the Red Sox.” This was based on instinct and turned out to be dead on. I wonder at Manager Leyland’s decision to remove Max Scherzer, who is better than Tiger relievers under any circumstance. However, the Tigers made errors as well. Prince Fielder ran into a double play in the sixth inning, when, with runners on first and third, (Fielder was on third), the ball was hit to second and Fielder, instead of running hard to score, or returning to third, went half way. This allowed Pedroia, the second baseman to tag the runner and throw home to trap Fielder. This gaffe cost the Tigers a run, or, at least ended the rally. Then in the seventh, Iglesias, the shortstop, after catching the ball in his glove, dropped it and blew a double play that would have ended that inning, preserved the lead and possibly allowed the Tigers to win. This gafffe set the stage for Victorino’s grandslam. As has been written on this blog for sometime, “it is hard to play with one hand on your throat,(choke).”

We are off to the World Series, Torii Hunter won’t be there and will spend his life dreaming of catching David Ortiz’s Grandslam, but the Red Sox earned it in direct contrast to the way the Tigers failed at it. Baseball is a hard game, what a team wishes is that when they lose, they get beat by a better team, not that they lose or give it away. Here, the Red Sox were given victories by the Tigers who just couldn’t get it done.

Cardinals WIn The Pennant

The St. Louis Cardinals won its 19th National League Pennant last night with a resounding defeat of the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0. This was a story of rookies beating the veteran, very expensive, Dodgers. The Cardinal rookies, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal,  are pitchers who throw very hard. Wacha beat Dodger star Clayton Kershaw twice in the League Championship Series and Rosenthal, a closer, just beat everyone. They are off to the World Series in their first Major League season.  Wacha has given up one run in 21 innings of Postseason play. Magnificent.

The Cardinals are lead by Carlos Beltran a thirty-six year old outfielder who went three for four, drove in two runs, including the first one which was the only one the Cardinals needed, and made a leaping catch to douse Dodger hopes. Beltran is going to the World Series for the first time in his 16 year career.

The Cardinals are the second winningest baseball franchise, second to the Yankees. The Cardinals lead in the combination of modern player analysis and ancient baseball culture. For Cardinals people, it is all baseball, all the time.  I keep thinking of a time in Atlanta when I was sitting with a bunch of baseball scouts and mentioned that I wanted to drive out to see the Kennesaw Mountain  battlefield. A Cardinal scout offered me his truck; I took it. The truck came with a rifle, a can for tobacco juice, a box of maps so he could find every baseball field in the southeast, a box of batting practice balls, just in case you wanted to work-out some prospect, and a collection of bats in the back. There was a worn baseball golve on the right front seart.  This was a baseball scouts truck, a Cardinals’ scouts truck.

These are the Cardinals of the Gashouse Gang, Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. A magnificent baseball team off again to a well deserved World Series. They just missed last year, and make up for it now. No mattter who they play against, Red Sox or Tigers, there will be history there and a wonderful World Series.

So, now we have to pay attention to the Red Sox v. Tigers games this weekend, I just hope that series goes to seven games. 

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.  

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.
  

Playoff War Continued, Late Inning Victories

There were two games yesterday in the MLB Playoffs. Boston beat the Rays 3-1 to advance to the League Championship Series and Detroit beat the A’s 8-6 to force a final game in Oakland on Thursday.

Red Sox scored all of their runs in the final three innings and Detroit scored five and the A’s three in the final three innings. This points to the reality of championship baseball where teams have learned the three stages of team success. First, they learn to play, then they learn to win, then they learn to win when they have to. These teams are the demonstrated masters of this art. They know how to win when they have to.

The next rule is that a baseball game is really two games in one. The first game is a six inning game to gain an advantage in the short, three inning game that determines the winner. The short game is played by specialists, relief pitchers, pinch hitters and runners, and defensive replacements. It is the true test of a team as it involves the entire roster.

The Rays entered the short game yesterday with a lead and the Red Sox scored two in the seventh and one in the ninth to win, using three relief pitchers, Craig Breslow, who sruck out three Rays in the seventh, Junichi Tazawa, who struck out the one batter he faced, and Koji Uehara, who struck out the first batter he face in the 8th inning, and the three batters he faced in the ninth went out quietly with a fly ball, a ground ball to the pitcher, and a strike out to end the game.

During this same period, the Rays made wholesale pitching changes and they simply did not work. The game came down to three Red Sox relievers who were perfect. The Rays’ relievers faltered.  In this game, thirty-eight players participated, eleven of them relief pitchers and seven pinch hitters and defensive replacements.  It does take a team! 

In Detoit, with a 8-4 lead in the ninth, Joaquin Benoit, the closer, replaced Max Scherzer, and allowed two runs in the ninth but won. Scherzer, a stating pitcher acting in relief, had faced a baseloaded, no out, situation in the 8th and struck out the next two batters, and got the third, a pinch hitter, to line out to centerfielder Austin Jackson to end the inning. It was a magnificent display after he loaded the bases. Maybe he just likes drama. There were thirty players involved in this game, six relief pitchers, and four pinch hitters, runners and defensive replacements.

The lesson from these games is that teams win and a complete roster of talented players is needed to win pennants. For those teams that finished poorly this year, the road to success is not through free agent signings, but through improvement of the roster overall.  It takes a team to win and all players must be talented as they are for these teams playing for World Series glory.