Talkin’ Baseball: Wrapping Up the World Series

TIM: Well, John, another baseball season has come to an end and, as is custom, the ritualistic falling of snow in late October in the northeast has commenced the off-season. As we look back on the World Series, I believe you owe me several units of Cassandran kudos.

JOHN S: Yeah, I believe you are due several Cassandra units. After all, I recall a few conversations we had throughout the season:

March 27: “You know, John, I don’t think Lance Berkman is done. He’s going to have a big year in St. Louis.”

May 13: “The Red Sox may have rebounded from that slow start, but you have to question their ability to perform in months with 30 days…”

May 28: “Pay attention to Nelson Cruz”

June 15: “Pay attention to David Freese”

June 25: “Pay attention to Mark Rzepcynski – I know he’s not on a contending team right now, but I think he’ll probably get traded for a player whose manager prematurely gives up on him halfway through the year.”

July 1: “Isn’t it weird that a bullpen phone has never malfunctioned in a crucial situation?”

August 25: “The Braves look a little shaky these days. I don’t see that 10 1/2 game lead holding up…”

September 4: “When was the last time someone hit three home runs in a World Series game? Aren’t we about due for that?”

September 25: “I don’t care what anyone says: There’s no way the Phillies win a postseason series with that rotation.”

October 18: “Forget about Pujols, Berkman, and Holliday: The guy the Rangers really need to worry about it Allen Craig.”

October 27, 11:27 PM: “Cardinals in 7”

A lot of those look weirdly prescient now…

TIM: I believe you forgot my Aug. 14 declaration: “I find it odd that squirrels have so seldom been used as a rallying cause for midwestern sports franchises.”

JOHN S:  Nah, I’m pretty sure you were talking about coastal teams when you said that…

But I want to talk about Game 7. After Game 6 there was a lot of talk about this being the best World Series ever. It’s certainly the best I can remember (you and I both being too young to really recall the 1991 World Series). With all of that hype, wasn’t Game 7 a huge letdown? I mean, 1991 had that game by Jack Morris in Game 7. 2001 had a walkoff win. By comparison, this was a big letdown. Some people seem to want to give Chris Carpenter credit for a great performance, but the Rangers really squandered some early chances. And then they just seemed to give up. This series deserved a better ending than that…

Was Game 7 as disappointing for you as it was for me?

TIM: Yeah. There was never any chance it could live up to Game 6, but this one didn’t really live up to the rest of the series. You could make a good case it was the worst of the seven games, since even Game 3 had Pujols’ three home runs.

The problem, I think, with this Game 7 was that it lacked definition. Carpenter pitched well — but not that well; he was about as good as John Lackey was for the Angels in 2002 (which, I can remind you, was also on three days’ rest). The Rangers really looked asleep after that strong first inning, and the biggest hits in the game — Freese’s double and Craig’s home run — came in the early innings. Plus, you never like to see a team score on a controversial ball four and a hit batsman.

So yeah, it was a disappointing Game 7, certainly not on par with ’91 or ’01. How do you think that affects its legacy?

JOHN S: Well, I don’t think it affect the legacy all that much. I think another great game would have made it possibly the best World Series ever, but, honestly, how much do people remember about Game 7 of 1986? Or 1975? Very little, and yet it doesn’t really hurt the legacies of those great series.

What it does do, though, is solidify the idea of momentum. After Game 6 there was a sense that the Rangers had no chance to come back from such a devastating loss. Generally, I hate this idea: Momentum means very little in baseball, and there’s very little evidence to support the idea that it does. The Red Sox lost after the Carlton Fisk game, and even though the Mets won after the Buckner game, Boston was winning after the first five innings.

With that said, the Rangers DID seem shellshocked after Game 6, and their play in Game 7 seemed to justify the idea that they were doomed from the start: They couldn’t capitalize early, Ian Kinsler made a bonehead baserunning move, and for one half-inning they just couldn’t throw strikes.

So, what do you think this series says, if anything about the concept of momentum in baseball? And, on a different note, who were you rooting for? I have to confess that, though I began by rooting for Texas, St. Louis’ story won me over by the end…

TIM: I think ’75’s consensus status as the best World Series ever is probably safe, if for the simple fact that it’s much easier to remember all the errors in this series now than it is to remember the ones in that one 36 years after the fact. (Upon research, this is a bit disingenuous: The ’75 Series had eight total errors; this year’s had 14.)

I recently looked up the boxscore of Game 7 in ’86. Guess who drove in the eighth and final run for the Mets in the eighth inning. Jesse Orosco!

About momentum, I’m going to go ahead and, umm, disagree with you there. How can you say this series promoted momentum two days after that Game 6? Hamilton’s homer killed all of St. Louis’ ninth-inning momentum, and the Cardinals managed to come back again in the 10th.

Furthermore, I don’t attribute the Game 7 loss as much to momentum as I do to larger things at play. The Cardinals had the better starting pitcher, and they had the home-field. Had Texas tied the series with a Game 6 win, St. Louis probably would have been the favorite in Game 7 anyway. Better yet, had that amazing Game 6 happened Wednesday and Edwin Jackson were starting Game 7 for the Redbirds, Game 7 goes much differently.

So I’m not going to use this series as a statement on momentum in baseball. If it is, it’s a very malleable and perplexing one.

As far as my rooting interest, I wanted Texas to win the series, because of my lingering distaste for the Cardinals from 2006–not just that they beat the Mets, but that they were a bad team that won. I was, however, pulling for St. Louis to force Game 7, and I’m very happy for all-around good guy Lance Berkman to win a World Series. Furthermore, the Rangers’ Buffalo Bills potential intrigues me.

JOHN S: Well, as far as the momentum goes, I was mainly thinking about game-to-game momentum, as opposed to in-game momentum, but I see your point that St. Louis’ edge in Game 7 came more from being at home and having Carpenter on the mound.

And yeah, I started out rooting for Texas for similar reasons. Not being a Mets fan, I don’t resent the Cardinals for the ’06 NLCS, but I do generally dislike mediocre winners, which that team certainly was. Even this year’s iteration wasn’t an especially imposing World Series team, with only 90 wins. Plus, I generally root against Tony La Russa and his overmanaging ways.

With all of that said, I was rooting for them to come back in Game 6 (since I generally root for more baseball), and I was swung by their story: David Freese as the hometown hero, the ovations Albert Pujols kept getting, the repeated comebacks, etc. It melted my heart… Plus, Ron Washington matched La Russa’s bad managing every step of the way.

And the Rangers definitely have some serious Buffalo Bills potential. The AL West is a weak division and, depending on how they deal with CJ Wilson’s free agency, the Rangers figure to be good for a long time. At the very least, they have Atlanta Braves potential.

TIM: I’ll admit it was a good story. One thing that surprised me was the number of St. Louis writers and fans–fine, I basically mean Bernie Miklasz and Will Leitch as representatives of both–who talked about how out-of-character this Cardinals team was. But to me, it really seemed a lot like that ’06 team, which underperformed for a while, always fought back (that was the theme of the NLCS win over the Mets), and eventually beat a team supposedly better than them in an error-filled World Series.

Of course, I understand that the scope of everything was different this year. But doesn’t inexperienced closer Jason Motte now feel like inexperienced closer Adam Wainwright then? Or am I just seeing visions of ’06 everywhere because I’m bitter?

JOHN S: I think you’re just bitter, as usual… I mean, there definitely are some similarities, but I think the main difference was that this team actually seemed to earn the win. I think it was Leitch who admitted, in the wake of this victory, that the ’06 team just seemed like the last team standing after a bunch of better teams collapsed. This year’s team actually knocked off very good teams in each round.

Plus, this year’s team was legitimately good. I mean, look at that 2006 lineup! There’s a reason David Eckstein was the World Series MVP – he was one of the team’s best hitters. But this year’s team had, besides Pujols, a reinvigorated Berkman and Matt Holliday, not to mention the great postseasons of Craig and Freese.

And your comparison of Motte and Wainwright is a bit off: I do not see Jason Motte finishing in the top three in Cy Young voting even once in the next four years, let alone twice.

Speaking of your ill-conceived relief pitching comparisons, how betrayed did you feel by Alexi Ogando in this series?

TIM: It’s just like you to gloss over my points. I said Motte “now” feels like Wainwright “then” (I doubt you foresaw those Cy Young votes then), just like I said Ogando “right now” was like Rivera. I didn’t forecast future performance.

One of the things that plagued Ron Washington in this series was his inability to adjust to his team’s struggles. He should have been batting Hamilton lower, he should have been batting Napoli higher, he shouldn’t have been going to Ogando as much as he did. And he certainly shouldn’t have gone to Mark Lowe in the 11th inning on Thursday. Speaking of Game 6, what did you think about Wash’s decision to let Colby Lewis hit with the bases loaded in the fifth?

I’m cool with it, which doesn’t seem to be the popular opinion. (My basic justification is this: Lewis hadn’t given up much since the first, and the bat coming off the bench would have been Yorvit Torrealba.)

JOHN S: Well, I think your comparisons are a little disingenuous: I didn’t foresee Wainwright’s Cy Young votes or Rivera’s HoF career, but there was definitely a sense of possibility surrounding those guys as they broke on the scene that hasn’t surrounded Ogando or Motte this season.

But yeah, I think, for all the criticism La Russa got for Game 5, Washington clearly had the worse series. His moves didn’t even seem to have a guiding philosophy. You could say he didn’t want to shakeup the lineup he’d gone with all season, but then why was his use of the bullpen so  erratic? Sticking with Colby Lewis in Game 6 makes some sense if you point out that Ogando, the first guy out of the bullpen, hadn’t been pitching all that well. But then Washington went to Ogando an inning later in a big spot.

I probably would have pinch hit for Lewis, since Salas seemed to be losing command, and even Torrealba represents someone a pitcher can’t just lay it in the strike zone for. Nevertheless, I agree with you that it wasn’t as egregious as people made it out to be after the fact. If Feliz simply throws one more strike to Freese, everyone praises Washington’s confidence in his starter.

But, basically, I don’t think Texas blew it as much as St. Louis won it. And I’m happy for Cardinals fans, because it’s going to be rough for them to watch Pujols in a Yankee uniform next year…

TIM: At this point, if you’re the Cardinals, why even bother resigning Pujols? You have Allen Craig to fit in seamlessly for him. (In all honesty, they have no place for that guy to play next year.)

I am happy with how the series ended up. Had Texas simply held on to win Game 6–and beyond Feliz throwing one more strike, the Rangers just needed Nelson Cruz to be positioned in no-doubles defense or possess the ability to go back on the ball–the series would have been remembered mainly for its managerial blunders (and some poor defense). As much as I dislike Tony LaRussa, I didn’t want to see this series go down as “The One Where the Bullpen Phone Didn’t Work (Allegedly).”

It was awesome to see a World Series go seven for the first time in nine years (even just to have a 2-2 Series after four for the first time in eight years), and Game 6 is something I’ll never forget. It was a remarkable game, and the sport of baseball at its finest. It even brought out the best in Joe Buck.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by doc on October 30, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    I saw a bullpen phone malfunction for the first time this year. I can’t recall the game, but they had to use cell phones. I guess in the past, they just yelled as loud as they could.

    Reply

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