Results tagged ‘ World Series ’

I Shall Be Released

In what looks like a prelude to retirement, Anthony Darrell Womack, 37, was unconditionally released Thursday, by the undermanned Washington Nationals. Womackdusty

For years, the name Tony Womack has functioned on message boards as little more than a punchline, like Jeff Gilooly or Anna Nicole Smith. Today, sabermetric know-it-alls take a moment from their indulgent fantasy draft fretting to snicker over the carcass of baseball’s biggest out machine on forums nationwide.

Since his 2003 departure from the Diamondbacks, however, Tony amazingly played on six other major league clubs. He didnt play well, of course, but one cant deny that a bunch of people wanted him on their roster. A bunch of dumb people, according to conventional wisdom.

Nathanial Showalter was one of those people, back when the Arizona franchise competed for more than this town’s sympathy – and while Buck was many things, baseball dumb he was not. The Womack deal almost fell through more than once – but Showalter kept pressing until he got his little leadoff man from the Pirates.

WomackslideDespite their youth, the 1998 Diamondbacks stole just 73 bases, so Tony came in the next summer and swiped 72 by hisself….in 85 attempts. No player in either league since, not Podsednik, Crawford or Pierre, has swiped as many bags in a season. Pitchers were wee weeing in their pants April thru October, at least every time Womack got on. Buck stuck his shaky second baseman in right field, where his struggles culminated in a memorable dropped fly ball at Shea in the NLDS.   

Then Buck, or I should say, Tony, did something rather remarkable. On the heels of defensive failures at less demanding positions, Womack converted to… shortstop. He was not particularly good there either, but gutted it out with a so so arm and whatever else he could muster. Perhaps most to his credit, he was there so someone else didnt have to be. Playing out of position at the pleasure of his coach, working to be the best he could be, even if that meant just getting by.

In the 2001 NLDS, he hit .294 against the Cardinals , capping it off with the series winning single, the biggest hit in franchise history to date. A couple weeks later, the anemic one delivered the now overshadowed Game 7 dagger against Mariano Rivera, sandwiched between Gracie and Gonzo’s bleeders, that brought Arizona that goofy trophy with all the metallic flags.

If you get your hands on the DVD, watch the at Womackriverabat in it’s entirety; the other highlight splices really dont do it justice. Womack barely fouls off several cutters to stay alive against the greatest closer in history. The crowd actually thinks he’s struck out. It’s not one of those at bats where you sense the batter is gaining any advantage by spoiling pitches. He’s hanging on by a thread. Or a prayer. And then…pop! No bleeder, but a bullet to the corner. Glory and redemption.

My real time reaction to Tony’s hit has gone down in family folklore and is dredged up in these parts at subsequent, garden variety, 9th inning rallies. I wont post the text here – not because it’s profane – but because it’s so long. There were only four words, actually, but according to my family, I repeated those words eleven times, for a total of forty four.

He. Blew. The. Save. 

Up to that moment, Rivera had recorded twenty three consecutive postseason saves. His playoff ERA was not 2.70, or 1.70. Pitching against baseball’s best, on the postseason stage, it was zero point seven oh(0.70). Think Bob Gibson in 1968 – then cut that almost in half. And all the Diamondbacks had really acomplished to that point was first and second with one out – with an overmatched hitter at the plate, followed by   another weakling, Craig Counsell. Down a run, an out from the human out machine likely would’ve turned the series. Womacksanders_1It was a colossal hit under enormous pressure.

The players were individually introduced, early in the 2002 season, at the Diamondbacks ring ceremony. There, Tony got his hardware and, at least to this witness, a rather underwhelming round of applause. Phoenix, it seems, isn’t as kind to it’s African American athletes, unless they can rattle a rim or mug for the cameras, preferably both.

A search today on Tony inundates the Googler with rants from around the baseball world about what he couldn’t or didnt do, but on this side of town at least, he will always be about the biggest hit imaginable.

The Play’s The Thing

Granderson What single play, if any, best defined the 2006 World Series? Certainly a miscue is in order, to capture the true flavor of the most poorly played games in recent memory. Either of Eckstein’s soft flies, one dropping by a fallen Curtis Granderson, pinned to the turf as if in a bad dream, the other eluding the game grasp of directionless Craig Monroe, qualify by redefining the term "Fall Classic".

Our choice, however, is the Game 1 obstruction play, because it showcases Scott Rolen’s professional tenacity as a microcosm of the Cardinal’s late season run, against a backdrop of Detroit’s self destruction. ( You can watch the video here by scrolling down to the October 21st clips and clicking on "Cards score two on two errors").

While most attention to the play harps on whether Rolen intentionally drew contact with Inge ( he didn’t), Diamondhacks was struck by what Rolen did after somersaulting head first, which all but eliminated his chance to reach home before the ball.

He got up.

Real quick, too. Like Ozzie diving on the Astroturf, Rolen almost bounced off the ground in one smooth motion, before proceeding plateward.

Think about that. It’s not like he had no other options. He could’ve sat there, stunned, or thrown up his arms in frustration. Imagine if Hollywood Edmonds had taken that tumble? Good Lord, Platoonelias_1Jimmy’d be on his knees with his hands in the air like Sgt Elias abandoned at the end of Platoon.  Remember Miguel Tejada, after Bill Mueller obstructed him in the 2003 ALDS ? Tejada, who didnt fall down, stopped running, pointed alot, and was called out for his "efforts". 

Contrary to conventional wisdom, obstruction does not end a baserunner’s responsibilities between bases. The runner advances at his own peril even after obstruction. The umpire then decides how material the obstruction was to the play’s outcome. As umpire Tim Welke explained after the 2003 game, Tejada would’ve been awarded home if he had simply run the play out, even if he was tagged out at home. Tejada was ruled out, effectively, because he decided to be an umpire and stop being a baseball player – in the middle of a play.

I dont know if Rolen knows the rule or not, but his lack of wasted motion in regaining his feet after tumbling head over cletes, and then sliding into home as if it might still actually matter, silently speaks volumes about his focus and will, especially nowadays. Rolen took nothing for granted. He had no interest in   advocacy or a handout. The temptation to be an umpire – or a politician – never seemed to cross his mind.

Slaughter_2In a world full of professional athletes increasingly influenced, and defined by, big business reality jockeys, Scott Rolen eschewed the role of  entitled "star" and awakened dormant echoes of Cobb, Slaughter, and those runnin’ Robinsons, Jackie and Frank. Echoes that transcend self conscious celebrity and reverberate the game’s highest compliment.

Player.

Subway Window Cracked

Some people thought we were crazy picking the Cardinals in five, but with Subwaywindow_w October waning, we’re gonna go out on another limb and say the prospect of a Subway Series looks pretty dim at this point. I know. I know it’s crazy, but just hear me out on this.

The Yankees:

I agree that Mariano Rivera is the best closer in baseball, but no pitcher, not even Rivera, is likely to remain sharp with this long a layoff. The man hasnt pitched in three weeks!

A cherished team hallmark is their collective plate patience, methodically outlasting opposing starters. It’s much harder, however, to do this in the playoffs, as various teams, like the Yankees, are eliminated. The fact is they arent seeing nearly enough pitches throughout October to consistently maintain their M.O.

The third pillar of Yankee strength, Jeter’s shovel passes, are, IMHO, overrated. Yes, it’s the greatest play since Hamlet, but the element of surprise is fading. Despite WFAN claims that opposing baserunners are bowing headfirst to Derek, after examining several videos it’s now clear runners are actually sliding in His presence. 

The Mets:

IversonExhibit A: David Wright. I’ve been duressed with enough Mets blogs to confess that Wright is the league’s great thirdbaseman, with a winning smile. Isn’t that mixed up? Wouldn’t the Mets be more formidible if he was a winning third baseman with a great smile instead?

Exhibit B: Shawn Green. Now, I’m not one of those people who think **** dont belong in the postseason, Jason Marquis notwithstanding. Why, every playoff team ought to own one.  But Green is non practicing and I dont need AI to tell me that’ll tear a team apart in no time. Moreover, Green is not nearly fast enough to man right field. The last fast *** I saw* was in Chariots of Fire – and I live in a Jewish neighborhood!   

Diamondhacks has been wrong before(citation needed), but it’s past the time to finally speak truth to entrenched, media fueled, baseball power. We dont like these New York teams’ chances. In fact, we dont like them at all.

* Marty Glickman could flat out fly, but we never saw him run

Five Easy Pieces

Before we make a case that Arizona cant possibly remain the Union’s dumbest Fiveeasypieces_1 state, based solely on us here Pheonicks-ites glorious Cards in Five prediction, a couple words for long suffering Detroit Tiger fans.

We know.

We know your boys are better than this.

We know.

We know how much this hurts. To wait so long,  to perform so magically well on the FOX floorboards, and to turn into a pumpkin so a week early. It happens. Mostly frequently to young teams, just like you, that have never been here before.

But take stock in the fact that you beat a truly great offensive team from New York. Dont ever let bitter Bronx buffoons, absorbed in their own team’s flaws, convince you otherwise. You shut them up, and for that you have this nation’s – and the free world’s – gratitude. So, chin up, Michigan. This one wasnt meant to be, but you’ll be back soon. Dont assume I’m saying that just to be nice – I’m never nice.

                             *                        *                       *

No problem here with David Eckstein as MVP. He and Rolen played excellent two way ball, three ways if you count baserunning, which one probably should. In addition to an MVP, however, every successful underdog needs something else. A player who seizes a critical moment to utter a sound that sets the Series on an irreversible course of victory.

Reyes The sound is "No" and that player was Anthony Reyes. A half hour after Game 5, his name went unspoken on FOX, but it was Reyes the unlikely rook who set the entire tone of the Series. His Game 1 win not only transferred home field advantage, critically enabled St Louis to clinch at home, and switched the balance of pitching matchups to his team’s advantage, but in doing so, unleashed something in his teammates and fans more powerful than any opponent, or consensus of front running pundits. By winning, he rewarded faith and hope and fostered imagination.  The rest, with precious little help from Pujols, Edmonds, Encarnacion or LaRussa, was essentially clean up duty. 

Much like Bob Brenly in the Dbacks 2001 WS victory, the Cardinals won despite Tony LaRussa – not because of him – at least in terms of game management. We’ll itemize TLR’s counterproductive idiocy in a later post, as time and bandwidth permit. LaRussa’s veteran team certainly didnt play great, but they were obviously more resolved and focused than their inexperienced opponents, and TLR deserves some credit for that.

On the Cards in Five Prediction, the first thing we were, of course, was abundantly lucky. Countless events occured that we didnt see coming, simply too numerous to mention. But just in case anyone out there still thinks Arizona ranks 50th in smartitude, we reprint our concluding paragraph from back on October 21st, with the author’s permisssion, and indeed at his shrill insistence:

CONCLUSIONS:

We generally expect the Tigers to throw hard but lack their characteristic command. We think the Cardinals should find a way to win all three games in St Louis, with the heart of their staff facing Detroit’s rusty back end. The difficult call is whether St Louis, who averaged four RPG against a depleted Mets staff, can steal one in Detroit against a superior team. Rolen’s starting to come around. We suspect that they can. Cardinals in five.

Finding a way.

Separated At Birth?

   

Suppannlcs Hampleballs

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Standing Still

Down the street from Shea Stadium, at Flushing’s 1964 World’s Fair, a little boy enthusiastically zigzagged back and forth across the main mall, from one freshly painted garbage can to another, sticking his head deep inside each receptacle to explore it’s sensory wonders, oblivious to the Splendors of Civilization painstakingly exhibited nearby. This went on, if my parents are to believed each of the past forty years at holiday time, for the better part of a morning.     Unisphere_1

Treat a little kid to the ballpark and they may hardly even notice the game, but two years later they’ll vividly recall a drunk parking lot attendant or broken toilet like it was yesterday.

My first major league memory, of the 1968 World Series, is kinda like that.  History would like to record that I was mesmerized by Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich, but the truth was I didn’t give a hoot. Neither Kaline nor Brock captured my attention quite the way Willie Horton did.

It wasn’t Horton’s hitting that I remember, though he did plenty of that (.993 OPS v. Cards, incl. Gibson 3 times). It was when he decided not to hit, in Game 4, that’s indelible.

Williehorton Weather delayed play in the third inning, with St Louis up 4-0, a seemingly insurmountable lead against Bob Gibson. When the battle resumed in a light but steady rain, the managerial strategies were clear. The Cardinals desperately wanted to speed the game up to make it an official contest and Mayo Smith’s Tigers would give the unstable skies every conceivable chance to prevent the completion of five full innings.

In the top of the fourth, Orlando Cepeda walked, much to the chagrin of his manager Red Schoendienst, who ordered the lumbering Cepeda to then unsuccessfully "steal" second base. Cepeda did, forcing the Tigers to bat.

Well, sort of.   

Long before the human rain delay, Willie Horton approached the plate with Smith’s marching orders. He methodically wiped the droplets from the barrel of his bat and knocked some mud off his cleats. He gingerly entered the box, only to retreat and repeat the above routine, like an obsessive compulsive, drawing an even bigger glare than usual from Gibson. Normally, Hoot would’ve drilled Horton between the shoulder blades for such gamesmanship, but a game delaying HBP might shut the Cardinals’ narrow meteorological window of victory. Outs were of the essence. The rain began to beat harder.

Horton called for, and was granted, time. He strolled over to the on deck circle and laboriously searched for the pine tar rag, like a blind man feeling for a facecloth. Eventually, he located the one in plain sight, on top of the other equipment.  After every drop of gunk was lovingly transferred to the barrel from the depleted rag, the umpire clapped his hands and exorted Willie to return to the box. It was then that Willie announced he had a pebble in his shoe. Horton slowly untied the shoe, removed it from his foot and, after dumping out what appeared to be a grain of sand, deliberately retied the shoe like, excepting the triple knots, a child first learning how. Five minutes elapsed during the entire charade. It could have been six were it not for my favorite bit in the act, Horton’s halfhearted, ostensibly sporting jog back to the batter’s box.

It’s often said that baseball, of all the sports, is timeless, because it’s unfettered by a clock. Yet like raindrops on a diamond, time ticks on sacred soil. It is baseball’s memories, not the absence of a clock, that makes time stand still.

Unispeherenew   

Liquid Gold

Even before that small patch of brown liquid oozed from Kenny Rogers’ south paw, his dogged postseason run of 23 consecutive scoreless innings reeked foul. Johncleeseblkongold

( No. Not that small patch of brown liquid. This small patch of brown liquid. )

I was set to froth about how a journeyman finesser like Rogers can suddenly morph, at the most fortuitous time, into precisely the kind of dominant pitcher his eighteen year career has established he is not. About how incomprehensible it is for an above board 41 year old to be snapping off sharp unhittable curves in windy 35 degree weather – against a stacked lineup that has had past success against him – and to one hit that club through seven innings – like some top banana.

But the truth is, Rogers has had an excellent career, winning 207 games with a .598 career winning %, which ranks between Curt Schilling and Chris Carpenter,and ahead of John Smoltz and Jason Schmidt.  If Rogers’ first four years hadn’t been spent in the Arlington bullpen, his numbers might approach those of Hall of Fame shoo-in, Tom Glavine. Not quite, but not as far removed as some might assume.  At any rate, he’s no journeyman.

Game 2’s mysterious brown goo has also been rendered insignificant as a cause of Rogers’ postgame mastery.

What about the vacant, glassy-eyed postgame interviews, and being "all emotional", much like that other fortyish firebrand of questionable repute, Roger Clemens? Kenny’s first big season, 1993, when he went 16-10 with the Rangers, Witcheswas also his first full season as a teammate of Jose Canseco. This doesnt necessarily indicate usage, but might help explain how such an old guy can appear to be channeling Ron Guidry from 1978 out on the mound, both in terms of performance and as the embodiment of supple, youthful vitality.

Be it pure blood or goblin’s brew, the liquid coursing through Kenny Rogers’ veins yesterday, two weeks ago at Yankee Stadium, and on Friday the 13th versus the A’s, was likely there all along.

Whichever it is – only the potency appears to have recently changed.

Frozen Bananas

Kennyrogers In the second half of the regular season, comprising sixteen starts after the All Star break, Kenny Rogers never struck out more than three batters in a game. For the year, Rogers K’d 99 batters in 204 IP, ranking the Gambler 73rd out of 80 qualifying starters in K/IP. A veritable Randy Jones.

Yet in the ALDS, facing baseball’s most formidible lineup, the veteran lefty resembled Steve Carlton, whiffing eight Yankees, and followed up by kayoing six A’s in the ALCS. Nine days later, he will try to continue his improbabale run against a Cardinals lineup featuring eight righties in Game 2 of the World Series.

Tonight may be ten degrees colder than last night, which doesnt sound like much, but expect this kind of cold to challenge pitcher’s touch on the ball, especially curve balls. Bananas

Given the weather and Roger’s established history of being bananas, I dont anticipate his dominant streak to continue tonight. Even if it does, thanks to Reyes’ win, Game 2 isnt a must game for the Cardinals to still control the series.

The Teams. The Time.

This is a surprisingly tough set to call for Diamondhacks, either due to our encompassing grasp of the infinite web of Series variables in delicate contrajuxtaposition, or because we hail from the nation’s dumbest state. You be the judge.

WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT THE CARDINALS: Rolen

Curtis Granderson. Meet Yadier Molina.

St Louis acheived success without stealing bases themselves, which effectively negates Detroit’s biggest defensive weapon – Pudge’s arm. Who’s he gonna throw out or prevent from running when they dont run to begin with?

They’ve been here before. The Cardinals know what it’s like to get to the Series and fall short. In the NBA, it’s fairly unusual for a team to win the title until they reach the championship round first – and lose. The progression isnt nearly as striking in baseball, but we still think this aspect of the Card’s experience will serve them well. St Louis, steady as she goes, painfully knows that there’s still much to accomplish. Detroit might say that, but do they feel it in their bones amidst the champagne and premature crowns bestowed by the western world?

Pujols. The Tigers pitched aggressively to everyone this postseason, including Frank Thomas, whose A’s role is not unlike Albert’s. When he’s on, however, Pujols is like no other hitter in the game, and can drive anyone’s heater into the seats.  Anyone.

The underdog has taken four of the first six series: Twins were favored over the A’s, Yanks heavily over the Tigers, Padres over Cards and Mets heavily over the Cards. One reason is pressure felt by favorites, especially those from New York. The Tigers have had little to lose this postseason – until now – when they are heavily favored for the first time.

WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT THE TIGERS:

ComericacelebrationThe best pitching staff in baseball – and well managed. 

Better outfield defense.

They’re more familiar with playing in very cold weather.

Leyland negates any managerial advantage LaRussa might otherwise enjoy.

WILD CARD:

Everyone’s talking about Detroit’s long layoff. Most pundits think the extra rest and rotation flexibility help Jim Leyland’s squad, while others warn Tiger flamethrowers may be rusty.  Certainly LaRussa cant be thrilled having Suppan pushed back to the middle of the Series and opening with Reyes, but whoever starts for the Cards will be pitching on more or less normal rest. Detroit hasnt played a game in a week. That’s halfway between an All-Star break and being on the disabled list.  The regulars should shake off the cobwebs tonight, but what of the pitchers? Tonight’s starter, Verlander, hasnt pitched since October 11th. All four Detroit starters will be pitching with 9 to 11 day layoffs, chronologically akin to skipping an entire turn in a normal rotation.

CONCLUSIONS:

We generally expect the Tigers to throw hard but lack their characteristic command. We think the Cardinals should find a way to win all three games in St Louis, with the heart of their staff facing Detroit’s rusty back end. The difficult call is whether St Louis, who averaged four RPG against a depleted Mets staff, can steal one in Detroit against a superior team. Rolen’s starting to come around. We suspect that they can. Cardinals in five.

Outrageous Fortune

To be or not to be, that is the question —
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them.
Wm. Shakespeare

Coldrainyfan Two ‘seas of trouble’ are shaping up in the midwest this Sunday evening. The first is a cold front, expected to bring rain and thirtyish temps to Detroit during Game 2. The second is a related clash between television money and baseball’s respect for their most loyal fans.   

Sunday is a big TV watchin’, revenue generatin’ night. Regardless of drizzly winds that could whip the wind chill into the twenties, there will be considerable financial incentive for FOX to broadcast Game 2 on Sunday, rather than play a makeup game on Monday, when fewer homes generally watch television. Monday is also expected to be cold, but not as windy or rainy as Sunday.

Detroit denizens are used to the cold. But how noble is it to make 40,000 fans – children, the elderly and season ticket holders who’ve helped finance the Tiger’s resurgence – sit through cold, windy late night rain so FOX wont suffer the slings and arrows of a head to head TV battle with Monday Night Football?   

Outrageous fortune, indeed.

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