Saturday, December 27, 2014

Is Alan Trammell the Most Underrated Player in MLB History?

There is little doubt that the recently retired icon - New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ('95 - '14) - will be a first ballot Hall of Famer; and rightfully so.  Playing his entire career in New York, Jeter was an integral part of five world championship teams; seemingly doing everything right when the national spotlight was shining the brightest.  The media loved him and so did the vast majority of fans - not just in New York - but everywhere.

On the other hand, there is little doubt that former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell ('77 - '96) - who is actually ranked one notch higher (#11 all-time) than Derek Jeter on - will not even come close for induction, for the 14th straight year.  Most people probably don't even know he's still on the ballot.  Then again, most people have no clue about Trammell's Hall of Fame-caliber career; worse yet, most Hall of Fame voters from the BBWAA have no clue.

Last year, Trammell only got 20.8% of the vote; proving that nearly 80% of those voting never really bothered to research the career accomplishments of this unassuming former elite player.  A quick look on would do the trick.

Here's what we would discover:

*There are 21 shortstops currently in the Hall of Fame

*Only 8 of those Hall of Fame shortstops had better Cooperstown credentials than Trammell

*The average career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for Hall of Fame shortstops is 66.7

*Trammell's career WAR is 70.4

*The average 7-year peak WAR for Hall of Fame shortstops is 42.8

*Trammell's 7-year peak WAR is 44.6

*The average JAWS (average of career & 7-year peak WAR) for Hall of Fame shortstops is 54.7

*Trammell's JAWS is 57.5

*Trammell's career slash line: .285 BA/.352 OBP/.415 SLG - (110 OPS+) - This compares favorably with Hall of Fame shortstops (typically a position geared towards defense - not offense)

*Trammell won 4 Gold Glove Awards - deserved 7 - Career dWAR is + 22.0 (that's good)

*Derek Jeter won 5 Gold Glove Awards - deserved 0 - Career dWAR is - 9.7 (that's not good)

*Trammell's postseason career was far more limited than Jeter's (13 total games compared to 158); however, Trammell's performance was outstanding (.333/.404/.588 - 3 HR - 7 R - 9 RBI).  In fact, when Tigers won '84 World Series, Trammell was MVP (.450/.500/.800 - 2 HR - 5 R - 6 RBI).

Playing in New York during the Yankees' reign of terror (to the rest of MLB), Jeter had moments of greatness that will forever be etched into our national consciousness:  The backhand flip to retire a lumbering Jason Giambi at home plate in the 2001 ALCS; and most prominently, his dramatic November 1, 2001 World Series opposite-field walk-off home run to beat the D-backs in Game 5.  "He is Mr November!"  That's some heavy marketing and America was buying the product - a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Prior to the advent of defensive metrics, Jeter was widely regarded as an excellent defensive shortstop (erroneously); hence the five Gold Gloves.  What helped perpetuate that myth was his flashy method of fielding ground balls in the hole; and with his momentum carrying him towards the left field line, he would jump and complete the pass to the first baseman for the out.  Very stylish.  Even more dramatic was a famous catch he made in foul territory; running full speed, when he grabbed the ball, then catapulted into the stands with total disregard for life and limb.  That play alone guaranteed him a Gold Glove for three more years.

Trammell, on the other hand, fielded his position so smoothly, he made difficult plays look routine; but he had terrific range and hardly ever made a mistake.  He was so consistent, it was boring; and his splendid defensive prowess was never fully appreciated.  That's the problem.  The typical fan (or Hall of Fame voter) scrutinizes a player's batting average, home runs, runs scored and RBI's.  Unless they're making sensational diving plays and barehanded grabs, they pay no attention to their defense.  However, we should know that there are two ways to enhance a team's run differential over their competition:  (1) Run production and (2) run prevention.  Of course, run production gets the most attention.  We love those big home runs; alas, we rarely notice the runs saved from great glove work.

However, advanced metrics enables us to specifically measure the "cause and effect" of a player's defensive prowess - or lack thereof.  A good defensive player like Trammell essentially creates runs for his team by shutting down the opposition on a regular basis - by flashing the leather; and over the course of his career, Trammell's defense was worth 81 runs.

Unfortunately for Jeter and the Yankees, that five-time Gold Glove winning shortstop cost his team 182 runs over the course of his career.  For some reason, I don't think very many people know that; or if presented with that information, would acknowledge it.  "Just hogwash; fancy-schmancy saber-metric garbage", they would say.  I would have to do some research, but I'm fairly certain no five-time Gold Glove winning shortstop has ever been so bad defensively to essentially cause 182 runs to disappear - evaporate - over their career.  Poof!  It's a good thing he could hit.

In five years, when Jeter's name first appears on a Hall of Fame ballot, it's a safe bet he'll be voted into Cooperstown; and rightfully so.  Meanwhile, Alan Trammell will no doubt be passed over until his name is removed from the ballot, altogether.

Then, he'll have to wait for the opportunity to appear on a Veteran's Committee ballot ten, fifteen or twenty years down the road.  Maybe by then, more enlightened members of that future committee will judge the player on his true merits; maybe not.

Maybe he'll continue to be major league baseball's most underrated player.  That would be a shame.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

10 (Possibly Controversial) Hall of Fame Selections

I don't have the privilege of casting an official BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, but if I did, I'm pretty sure a couple of my selections would raise the ire of two-thirds of the general population; but so be it.

Also, since the maximum number of candidates eligible to receive votes on a single ballot is ten, I'm forced to leave off a couple of guys who clearly have Hall of Fame credentials ( ranks every player at each position, for comparison); but my hands are tied by Cooperstown.  Sorry.  Maybe next year.

My votes go to the most qualified, not necessarily the most popular.  They are:

Craig Biggio - After coming up just a bit short last year with 74.8% of the vote, I hope he doesn't have to play the waiting game any longer.  His career numbers are compelling, with 3060 hits in his 20-years with the Astros (112 OPS+); not a particularly great defensive player, but good enough overall to be ranked #14 all-time for second basemen (his primary position).

Mike Piazza - Clearly the best hitting catcher in MLB history (.308/.377/.545 - 143 OPS+), with moderate defensive liabilities during his 16-year career; but not enough to justify exclusion from the Hall of Fame; however, with the PED issue still raging among the voting ranks of the BBWAA, I'd be surprised if he gets in this year, despite being ranked #5 all-time for catchers.

Jeff Bagwell - His 15-year career was hampered by injuries, but the slugging first baseman still posted HOF-caliber numbers (.297/.408/.540 - 149 OPS+) and is ranked #6 all-time at his position.  He'll more than likely get in within the next 2-3 years, barring any shocking revelation that he did in fact, juice.  There's still too much suspicion within the voting ranks to be a likely inductee in 2015 - especially with the new competition coming up the ranks.

Tim Raines - So far, being the second-best lead-off hitter in MLB history as well as the eighth-best left fielder hasn't been good enough for induction.  Go figure.  In a career that spanned 23 seasons, Raines posted excellent offensive numbers (.294/.385/.425 - 123 OPS+) plus he stole 808 bases!

Roger Clemens - Of course, he's not getting in any time soon, but the third greatest pitcher in MLB history (354-184 - 3.12 ERA - 143 ERA+) won 7 Cy Young Awards, had a 12-8 postseason record - including a perfect 3-0 in World Series play and was on 2 World Series winners:  '99 & '00 New York Yankees.  His controversial career spanned 24 seasons.

Barry Bonds - Also not getting in the Hall of Fame any time soon, but the greatest left fielder in MLB history (.298/.444/.607 - 182 OPS+) played 22 seasons, retiring with the single season (73) and career 762) home run records.  He's probably the most despised player in MLB history, but his talent was certainly remarkable - a first ballot Hall of Famer if he had refrained from the temptation of hitting the juice in the wake of the McGwire single season home run record (70), set in '98.

Curt Schilling - There are 59 starting pitchers already enshrined at Cooperstown, and Schilling is ranked #27 all-time (216-146 - 3.46 ERA - 127 ERA+); and that's before including his astounding postseason record (11-2 - 2.23 ERA, including 4-1 - 2.06 ERA in World Series play).  Oh yeah, he was co-MVP (with Randy Johnson) in the 2001 World Series as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, leading that franchise to its first championship; then 3 years later, helped the Bambino-cursed Red Sox to their first title since 1918 - bloody sock and all; then did it again for Boston in 2007.

Alan Trammell - This may be the most underrated player in MLB history.  Overlooked by the BBWAA who apparently viewed him as good, but not great as a 20-year fixture at shortstop for the Detroit Tigers.  His offensive numbers (.285/.352/.415 - 110 OPS+) compare favorably to most shortstops already inducted into Cooperstown and his defensive skills were far better than he was given credit for; winning four Gold Gloves, but deserving at least seven. ranks him #11 all-time at his position, one notch higher than the universally heralded Derek Jeter.
Of course, he won't even come close this time around, as usual; but he belongs.

Randy Johnson - Making his appearance on the ballot for the first time, he's certain to get at least 90% of the vote; and rightfully so.  Ranked #9 all-time for starting pitchers (303-166 - 3.29 ERA - 135 ERA+), the Big Unit played 22 seasons, highlighted by his 3-0 - 1.04 ERA in the 2001 World Series win over the Yankees.

Pedro Martinez - The best pitcher in the AL during the height of the Steroids Era (219-100 - 2.93 ERA - 154 ERA+), ranked #21 all-time following his 18 year career.  Like Johnson, he should have no trouble getting in on his first try.

Just missing the cut on my imaginary ballot were first-time candidate John Smoltz (#58 all-time for starting pitchers) and the great and highly underrated Larry Walker (#10 all-time for right fielders).  Smoltz has an excellent chance of getting enough votes on his first try; Walker has zero chance; unfairly downgraded by his tremendous offensive production at hitter-friendly Coors Field during his time with the Colorado Rockies.  Yet, his career numbers were staggering (.313/.400/.565 - 141 OPS+), and he did it for 17 seasons.  Sooner or later, he's got to get in.

For now, it looks like Johnson and Martinez will definitely get in; Biggio has about a 50/50 shot, and Smoltz maybe slightly less than 50/50.  If Cooperstown is really the final destination for the all-time greats of baseball, this ballot currently has the top candidates, based on performance; not hype.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cooperstown's 9 Most Shocking Inductions

What do Jesse Haines, Rick Ferrell, High Pockets Kelly, Rabbit Maranville, Bill Mazeroski, Freddie Lindstrom, Chick Hafey, Lloyd Waner and Tommy McCarthy have in common?

For some reason, they're all members of Baseball's most elite fraternity:  The Hall of Fame.

Yet, for some reason, Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Luis Tiant are not members.  Go figure.  All of these Golden Era candidates were recently rejected by the sixteen-member Veteran's Committee, along with Maury Wills (who really doesn't qualify to begin with) and former executive Bob Howsam (who may be worthy, but not as worthy as these guys).

Of course, along with this latest batch of rejections, the Hall of Fame is still missing the likes of Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker - players who were apparently regarded as merely "good"; not "great".

Yet, undeniably, each position on the diamond is represented by players who were in fact, "good" but not "great"; and they're all Hall of Famers.  Go figure.

Advanced metrics reveal the truth in every player's actual performance over the course of their career.  Some startling examples of Cooperstown's mysterious selection process - position by position - is listed below.  Next to the player's name is their all-time rank for their primary position - based on sabermetric data compiled by

As a point of reference, there are 59 Starting Pitchers in the Hall of Fame - 13 Catchers - 19 First Basemen - 19 Second Basemen - 13 Third Basemen - 21 Shortstops - 19 Left Fielders - 18 Center Fielders - 24 Right Fielders

These are the lowest ranked players to have ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame at their position:

P - Jesse "Pop" Haines (Rank - 298) Won 210 - Lost 158 - 3.64 ERA - 19-year career, mostly with the St Louis Cardinals - appeared in 4 World Series with the Cardinals ('26, '28, '30 & '34) - Won 2 World Championships - Claim to Fame:  Career World Series Record:  3-1 - 1.67 ERA - Won 2 Games in '26 Series vs New York Yankees - including Game 7 - to help Cardinals win first Championship in Franchise History - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1970

C - Rick Ferrell (Rank - 43)  .281 Career BA - .363 SLG - Brother of Pitcher Wes Ferrell who hit .280 with .446 SLG (but he's not in the HOF!) - Claim to Fame:  1884 Games Played as Catcher - Most in MLB History for a Catcher (at the time) - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1984

1B - George "High Pockets" Kelly (Rank - 85)  .297 Career BA - .452 SLG - 16-year career, primarily as a member of the New York Giants during the John McGraw Era - Claim to Fame:  Played in 4 World Series - Notorious for striking out a lot (23 times in 26 games) while maintaining a low batting average (.248) and very little power (.297 SLG) - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1973

2B - Bill Mazeroski (Rank - 50)  .260 Career BA - .367 SLG - 17-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates - Great defensively, but not much of a hitter, except for one swing of the bat which essentially punched his ticket to Cooperstown - Claim to Fame:  1960 World Series Walk-Off Home Run in Game 7 - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 2001

3B - Freddie Lindstrom (Rank - 70) .311 Career BA - .449 SLG - 13-year career primarily with John McGraw's New York Giants - Claim to Fame:  1924 World Series - Game 7 - victimized when a ground ball he was trying to field hit a pebble - good for a double - leading to the winning run of the Series scoring for the Washington Senators - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1976

SS - Rabbit Maranville (Rank - 37)  .258 Career BA - .340 SLG - 23-year career with five different NL teams - beginning and ending with the Boston Braves - Good defensively, but not great - Claim to Fame:  Crazy antics and madcap approach to baseball - Appeared in 2 World Series - Died in January, 1954 - 2 weeks later, received 83% of the vote from the sympathetic BBWAA - Note:  Had Maury Wills received enough votes from the Veteran's Committee, he would have supplanted Rabbit as the least qualified Hall of Fame shortstop (Rank - 46)

LF - Chick Hafey (Rank - 58) .317 Career BA - .526 SLG - 13-year career cut short due to bad health and bad eyesight - wore glasses - Claim to Fame:  4 World Series appearances with the St Louis Cardinals ('26, '28, '30 & '31) - hitting .205 in 23 games - Veteran's Committee Inductee in 1971

CF - Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner (Rank - 113)  .316 Career BA - .393 SLG - 18-year career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates - Claim to Fame:  Played alongside his Hall of Fame brother, Paul ("Big Poison) - Both appeared in futile match-up in the 1927 World Series vs the New York Yankees - who swept the Pirates in 4 straight games.

RF - Tommy McCarthy (Rank - 128)  .292 Career BA - ..378 SLG - 13-year career with 6 different teams in various leagues from 1884 - 1896 - Claim to Fame:  On defense, he used to trap the ball in right field to confuse base runners.  Seriously - Old Timers Committee Inductee in 1946

CONCLUSION:  Catchy nicknames while managing to play in a World Series or two was a winning formula for induction in the past.  These days, it's a whole new ballgame.  

Let's face it; the Hall of Fame is losing its credibility.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kershaw Got What He Deserved

Clayton Kershaw was not only the best pitcher in major league baseball in 2014 - he was also the top overall player - so the voters got it right when they chose him to receive the NL Cy Young Award and  the Most Valuable Player Award.

The notion that a starting pitcher shouldn't win a Most Valuable Player Award is preposterous.  A dominant starting pitcher is often every bit as valuable - or more valuable - as a top position player in any given year - like this year, for example.

The Wins Above Replacement leaders (WAR) in the National League in 2014:

Kershaw - 8.0
Lucroy - 6.7
Stanton & Rendon - 6.5
McCutchen, Wainwright & Cueto - 6.4

The voters also got it right in the American League - as Mike Trout (7.9 WAR) finally got the MVP Award he has actually deserved for the past three seasons - and Corey Kluber (7.4 WAR) won the CYA.

Kershaw is the first National League pitcher to receive both awards since Bob Gibson did it in 1968.  And yes, Gibson's WAR of 11.9 was tops in major league baseball that season - so he certainly got what he deserved.

Quite often, starting pitchers don't get what they deserve when it comes to the Most Valuable Player Award.  Since 1950, starting pitchers with the highest WAR have been snubbed fifty times - twenty-five (NL) & twenty-five (AL) - for MVP Awards.  Obviously, there's a strong bias against pitchers taking home Most Valuable Player Awards, since they already have "their own" (Cy Young) Award.

However, the results show that pitchers are often the top players in each league, year in and year out.  But they've gotten aced out with startling consistency, as we can see below (WAR):

1950 - Garver (8.2) loses AL MVP to Rizzuto (6.7)
1952 - Roberts (8.5) loses NL MVP to Sauer (5.7)
1953 - Roberts (9.8) loses NL MVP to Campanella (7.1)
1959 - Pascual (8.6) loses AL MVP to Fox (6.0)
1962 - Pascual (6.2) loses AL MVP to Mantle (5.9)
1964 - Chance (8.6) loses AL MVP to Robinson (8.1)
1965 - McDowell (7.9) loses AL MVP to Versailles (7.2)
1966 - Koufax & Marichal (both 9.8) lose NL MVP to Clemente (8.2)
1966 - Wilson (7.9) loses AL MVP to Robinson (7.7)
1969 - Gibson (11.3) loses NL MVP to McCovey (8.1)
1970 - Gibson (10.1) loses NL MVP to Bench (7.4)
1971 - Jenkins (11.9) loses NL MVP to Torre (5.9)
1971 - Wood (10.9) loses AL MVP to Blue (8.6)
1972 - Carlton (12.5) loses NL MVP to Bench (8.6)
1972 - Perry (11.2) loses AL MVP to Allen (8.6)
1973 - Seaver (11.0) loses NL MVP to Rose (8.2)
1973 - Blyleven (9.9) loses AL MVP to Jackson (7.8)
1974 - Perry (8.6) loses AL MVP to Burroughs (3.6)
1975 - Palmer (8.5) loses AL MVP to Lynn (7.4)
1976 - Fidrych (9.6) loses AL MVP to Munson (5.3)
1977 - Reuschel (9.6) loses NL MVP to Foster (8.4)
1978 - Niekro (10.4) loses NL MVP to Parker (7.0)
1978 - Guidry (9.6) loses AL MVP to Rice (7.5)
1980 - Carlton (10.2) loses NL MVP to Schmidt (8.8)
1983 - Denny (7.6) loses NL MVP to Murphy (7.1)
1985 - Gooden (13.2) loses NL MVP to McGee (8.1)
1986 - Scott (8.2) loses NL MVP to Schmidt (6.1)
1986 - Higuera (9.4) loses AL MVP to Clemens (8.9)
1987 - Clemens (9.4) loses AL MVP to Bell (5.0)
1988 - Hershiser (7.1) loses NL MVP to Gibson (6.5)
1989 - Saberhagen (9.7) loses AL MVP to Yount (5.8)
1990 - Clemens (10.6) loses AL MVP to Henderson (9.9)
1991 - Glavine (9.3) loses NL MVP to Pendleton (6.1)
1992 - Maddux (9.4) loses NL MVP to Bonds (9.0)
1992 - Clemens (8.9) loses AL MVP to Eckersley (2.9)
1993 - Rijo (10.2) loses NL MVP to Bonds (9.9)
1993 - Appier (9.3) loses AL MVP to Thomas (6.2)
1994 - Maddux (8.7) loses NL MVP to Bagwell (8.2)
1995 - Maddux (9.6) loses NL MVP to Larkin (5.9)
1995 - Johnson (8.7) loses AL MVP to Vaughn (4.3)
1997 - Clemens (12.1) loses AL MVP to Griffey (9.1)
1998 - Brown (9.1) loses NL MVP to Sosa (6.4)
1999 - Johnson (8.8) loses NL MVP to Jones (6.9)
1999 - Martinez (9.7) loses AL MVP to Rodriguez (6.4)
2000 - Martinez (11.7) loses AL MVP to Giambi (7.7)
2006 - Santana (7.5) loses AL MVP to Morneau (4.3)
2009 - Greinke (10.4) loses AL MVP to Mauer (7.8)
2010 - Halladay (8.1) loses NL MVP to Votto (6.9)
2011 - Lee (9.2) loses NL MVP to Braun (7.8)

Of course, some of these "snubs" were of the slimmest of margins, while others were overwhelming.  What's really appalling is when a pitcher leads his league in WAR, then not only gets snubbed for the MVP Award, he also gets snubbed for the Cy Young Award.  Those victims:

Lee, Brown, Appier, Rijo, Higuera, Niekro (twice), Reuschel, Fidrych, Perry, Blyleven, Wood, Jenkins, Gibson, Wilson, Marichal, McDowell, and Pascual (twice).

It's interesting to note, when Kershaw won his first Cy Young Award in 2011, Cliff Lee was actually a bit more deserving.  However, in 2014, there was nobody more deserving than the Dodgers' ace - not only for the Cy Young Award, but the Most Valuable Player Award, as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Third Basemen: Cooperstown Snubs & Flubs

According to, Hall of Fame candidate Ken Boyer - who wore number fourteen as a member of the St Louis Cardinals - currently ranks as the 14th-best third baseman in major league history.  The top four - Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs and George Brett - have already been enshrined at Cooperstown.

The recently retired Chipper Jones is currently in the fifth spot, followed by a still-active Adrian Beltre at number six - although another couple of good seasons would more than likely push him ahead of Jones.  Both should be shoe-ins for Cooperstown when the time comes.

It's hard to believe how long Ron Santo (#7) had to wait for enshrinement; ignored by the brain-dead voters of the BBWAA for so many years, Santo was finally selected by the Veteran's Committee three years ago - which of course, was one year too late for the late Cub great to even get the chance to enjoy the honor.

After Santo, Brooks Robinson - the greatest fielding third baseman in major league history - and Paul Molitor - who spent quite a bit of time as a DH - are ranked eighth and ninth, respectively - and both had little difficulty in getting the necessary support from the baseball writers to enter through the front door of Cooperstown.  The BBWAA have gotten it right sometimes.

The recently retired Scott Rolen - whose greatest seasons were with the Cardinals (2002 - 2007) in an injury-plagued career, is ranked tenth, followed by Edgar Martinez - primarily known as a DH - and the underrated Craig Nettles - who are ranked eleventh and twelfth, respectively.  The knock on Martinez is that he didn't play enough games, defensively, to warrant induction.  In other words, had he been allowed to play third base badly, he might be deemed worthy for Cooperstown.  That logic simply escapes me.

Nettles was a superb defensive third baseman, but his relatively low career batting average seems to be working against him.  However, what the voters failed to consider was the fact that along with his Gold Glove-caliber defensive prowess, he consistently hit for power - he even led the AL with 32 home runs in 1976.  Of course, he also played on the Yankees during the Reggie Jackson era, which meant he was practically invisible during Mr October's heyday.  Again, that's not a valid reason to snub Nettles - but as we've seen over the years - the voters often have no rhyme or reason behind their selection process.

Just ahead of Boyer is Frank "Home Run" Baker - who led the AL in home runs four consecutive seasons during the Dead Ball Era - with a grand total of 39 home runs during that span.  But in those days, his power was legit - and he wasn't bad with the glove, either.  Or at least what they used as gloves a century ago.

Well back in the pack are Hall of Famers George Kell (#48) and the enormously overrated Pie Traynor (#59) - who was actually the first third baseman enshrined at Cooperstown, in 1948.  The popular myth promulgated by the baseball establishment was that Pie was the greatest third baseman of all-time.  Funny, but the previously mentioned and highly underrated Home Run Baker was far better than the Pie-man - yet he had to wait until 1955 for enshrinement.  Go figure.

It's interesting to note that the oft-injured Washington Nationals' third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, is currently #47 on the list - one notch ahead of lonesome George, who got in via the Veteran's Committee back in '83.  Of course, back in those olden days, the voters knew little or nothing about advanced metrics.  They were impressed by Kell's robust .307 lifetime batting average and his sparkling personality.  Of course, his power was practically non-existent (78 career home runs), and he was just an average defensive player.  However, I've already been in a few debates over the Kell-Boyer comparison - and the other side insists Kell was the superior defensive player.  That's just ludicrous.

It's also interesting to note that the current Milwaukee Brewers third baseman - Aramis Ramirez -  comes in at #58 on the list - one notch ahead of the Greatest Third Baseman of All-Time, who was nicknamed "Pie" simply because he liked to eat pie.  No other reason.  Imagine the course of baseball history if he preferred strawberry shortcake instead.  I wonder if having a stupid nickname like "Strawberry Shortcake" Traynor would have hindered his Hall of Fame chances.  We'll never know.

Actually, having a catchy nickname probably helped a number of colorful personalities achieve baseball immortality.  Some deserved the recognition:  Lewis Robert Wilson sounds a bit stuffy for a rough-and-tumble slugging outfielder - "Hack" sounds more appropriate.  Mordecai Brown suffered a severe injury to his pitching hand - becoming "Three Finger" Brown - and did quite well for himself despite missing that digit - Charles Leo Hartnett became "Gabby" and had a career worth talking about - and how could the Hall of Fame deny Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn - the only pitcher in major league history to win 59 games in a single season?  One of the biggest mysteries is why "Home Run" Baker never got enough support during the early days of his retirement.  Surely the voters had some knowledge of how difficult it was to go yard back when the balls were practically made of mush...

However, a first baseman by the name of George Kelly aka "High Pockets" surely got into Cooperstown solely on the strength of that unusual nickname - because his 25.2 career WAR is simply ridiculous.  Even HOF-Pie has that beat (36.2).

Same goes for Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, whose career WAR is a very un-Cooperstown-like 42.8.  I wonder how much support he would have received from the voters if his nickname had been "Moron"?  Probably not a much, although "Moron" Maranville does have a nice ring to it...

By the way, the great Kenny "No Nickname" Boyer had a career WAR of 62.8, which coincidentally, is exactly what Home Run Baker compiled during his productive, yet largely under-appreciated Hall of Fame career.

Boyer, of course, played a major role in getting his team - the St Louis Cardinals - to the World Series back in '64 - not to mention playing a major role in upsetting the favored New York Yankees.  While many great players never had the opportunity to perform on baseball's grandest stage (Santo, for example) - The World Series - Boyer did have that opportunity.  And he made the most of it.  Even without his postseason credentials, Boyer's career was most definitely Hall of Fame-caliber.  With them, he should have been a slam dunk...

I certainly hope at least 12 of the 16 Veteran's Committee voting members agree.  While they're at it, I hope they also add Minnie Minoso, Luis Tiant and Dick Allen to their ballots.  Their induction into Cooperstown is also long overdue.  Time to rectify this situation this time around, committee members.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The San Francisco Giants Are World Champions Again - But Hardly a Dynasty

With that dramatic Game Seven win over the Kansas City Royals on October 29, 2014, the San Francisco Giants have captured their third World Championship since 2010 - an accomplishment no other National League team has achieved since the St Louis Cardinals did it - coincidentally - in the even-numbered years of 1942, 1944 and 1946.

So, are the Giants now a Dynasty?  Strangely enough, after the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series - to capture their third title since 2004 - many baseball experts thought that made them a Dynasty.  

Well now, that Dynasty has since been interrupted by their second last-place finish in three seasons over there in the American League East.  That's an unprecedented accomplishment, however; no major league team has ever gone from worst-to-first-to-worst before.  Kudos to Boston for that bit of baseball history - but that weird three-season span is hardly what a Dynasty is supposed to do.

What about the Giants' Dynasty?  The Word Champion 2010 Giants missed the postseason in 2011.  The World Champion 2012 Giants not only missed the postseason in 2013, they finished ten games under .500.  Now, here they are in 2014 - World Champions again.  A Dynasty?  In just five years?  I believe dynasties need more time to be classified as such.  And they need to win more consistently.

Take for example, The New York Yankees - from Babe Ruth-to Joe DiMaggio-to Mickey Mantle.  They were The Dynasty.  One that lasted for forty-some odd years.  Now that's a Dynasty.

Of course, nothing lasts forever.  After falling into oblivion for a decade or so, the Yankees won a couple of world championships in the late '70's, then had a remarkable run from 1996 through 2000 - winning of four out of five world championships.  They almost made it five out of six - but a blown save by Mariano Rivera in Game Seven of 2001, ended their supremacy.  Their gradual decline continued with a strange six-game loss to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series, followed by an unprecedented loss to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS - blowing a three games to none series lead.

Of course, the Yankees were still a very good team and they recovered nicely in 2009, for another World Series title.  But age and some questionable free agent signings have turned them into an ordinary team - possibly a playoff contender in 2015 - but probably not - even with that huge payroll.

The recent success of the Giants has been remarkable, but let's look at the big picture - the current millennium - and compare the overall performance of the Giants vs their closest rivals - the St Louis Cardinals.

Postseason Appearances:  St Louis 11 - San Francisco 6

Division Titles:  St Louis 8 - San Francisco 5

NLCS Appearances:  St Louis 9 - San Francisco 4

World Series Appearances:  St Louis 4 - San Francisco 4

World Series Championships:  St Louis 2 - San Francisco 3

Obviously, when the Giants qualify for postseason play, they usually go very deep.  They've been unbeatable every time they play in a National League Championship Series (4 for 4) - and they've victimized the Cardinals 3 out of those 4 times.

Whenever the Cardinals don't have to play the Giants in the NLCS, they've done well - winning 4 out of 6.  Obviously, if this franchise is going to be perceived as better than their rivals, they've got to beat them in head-to-head postseason competition - and sooner or later, the Giants are bound to qualify for postseason play in an odd-numbered year.

Consistency has been the Cardinals' trademark over this fifteen season span.  Not only do they usually qualify for postseason play, they've only had one sub-.500 season over that time (in '07 - as defending World Series Champions).

The Giants, on the other hand, had a miserable four-season sub-.500 stretch ('05 - '08) and even had one as defending World Series Champions, themselves (in 2013).  Right in the middle of their Dynasty.

Will they somehow manage to finish below .500 in 2015 - or will they make it back to the postseason again?  Before they can legitimately be called a Dynasty, they've got to overcome the odd-numbered year obstacle.  Either that, or repeat their three in five trick one more time.  That was quite impressive - we all must admit.

If nothing else, the Giants could be on the verge of becoming a Dynasty, but then again, so could the Cardinals.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 28, 2011 - The St Louis Cardinals are World Champions!

Friday, October 28, 2011 - World Series - Game Seven vs Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium III - Attendance:  47,399 - Starting Pitchers:  Chris Carpenter vs Matt Harrison

After the Game Six miracle finish, the Cardinals could hardly wait to get back in action again - especially with their ace - Chris Carpenter - on the mound again.  Prior to the start of this game, manager Tony LaRussa gave his players a bit of a motivational speech - making sure they were focused on the business at hand:  Winning Game Seven and not dwelling on what transpired the previous night.

In the other clubhouse, Texas manager Ron Washington tried to rally his team, after that devastating Game Six loss, with a humorous, profanity-laced monologue designed to erase the memory of what happened - so they could focus on the business at hand:  Trying to avoid losing Game Seven.

The Rangers got off to a fast start off Carpenter - when Ian Kinsler started the game with a single to left field.  Then, with Elvis Andrus batting, Cards catcher Yadier Molina quickly noticed that Kinsler had strayed too far off the bag for his own good.  A snap throw to Pujols ended Kinsler's brief stint on the bases.  However, Carpenter was still having trouble with his command, as Andrus drew a base on balls - then back-to-back doubles by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young put Carpenter and the Cardinals in a 2-0 hole.

However, as quickly as Carpenter found himself in trouble, he found a way out - first, by striking out the dangerous Adrian Beltre, then by retiring Nelson Cruz on a ground ball to the legendary David Freese.

Although the Rangers had a couple of runs on the board, they certainly felt like they'd missed a chance for a really big inning - much like what happened the previous night - when they had so many chances to score runs in bunches - but just couldn't get the big hit when they needed it.

Little did they know, those two first-inning runs would be the extent of their offensive production in Game Seven.

The Cardinals evened the score in their half of the first.  After a pair of two-out walks to Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman - David Freese did it again - sending the crowd into an early frenzy with a two-run double to left field - giving him five RBI in his last three trips to the plate - all extra base hits:  Triple, home run and a double.

With the injured Matt Holliday out of the lineup, his replacement - Allen Craig - put the Cardinals on top to stay with a third-inning solo home run to right field:  3-2.

Two innings later, facing reliever Scott Feldman, Craig drew a one-out walk to start a two-run rally.  Next up - Pujols - was hit by a pitch - putting runners on first and second for Berkman - who grounded out to the right side, advancing the runners to second and third.  Feldman wanted no part of Freese, so he was given an intentional walk - to load the bases.  Unfortunately for Feldman, he then issued an unintentional walk to Molina, forcing in Craig from third - scoring the fourth run of the game for St Louis.

In a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable, Washington brought in C.J. Wilson from the bullpen to face Rafael Furcal - but his first pitch was nowhere near the plate - instead,hitting Furcal on the leg - bringing home Wilson's future teammate Pujols with the fifth run of the game for the Redbirds.

It was still a 5-2 Cardinal lead when David Murphy began the seventh-inning with a ground-rule double off a tiring Carpenter.  LaRussa made his first call to the bullpen - bringing in Arthur Rhodes to pitch to Yorvit Torrealba - as Carpenter triumphantly exited to a rousing standing ovation.

Rhodes got his man, giving way to Octavio Dotel, who retired both Kinsler and Andrus to end the threat.

Leading off the bottom of the seventh - facing reliever Mike Adams - was the great Albert Pujols - making his final plate appearance in a Cardinal uniform.  After another standing ovation, an emotional Pujols swung at all five pitches thrown to him - striking out on the last one.  Most of the fans at the ballpark probably expected to see Pujols return - certain their hero would be content to stay loyal to the only franchise he had ever been associated with.  The fact that he left for more money than the Cardinals were willing to pay still bothers many fans - to the point of absurdity.  Get over it.  Just be thankful for the 11 Hall of Fame-caliber seasons he had in St Louis - and for the two World Series championships that never would have happened without his presence in the lineup.  For example:  This one.

After Albert retreated back to the dugout, Berkman reached on an infield hit to the shortstop - bringing Freese to the plate - and naturally, he was given nothing to hit - so he walked again.  Molina then drove in the sixth and final run of the game - scoring Berkman from second on a base hit to center.

Meanwhile, Lance Lynn - who was hit so hard in Game Six - pitched a perfect eighth-inning - setting the stage for Jason Motte to close out this championship season with a flourish.  He too, was perfect - retiring the last Ranger batter to get on base - Murphy - who led-off the seventh-inning with a double.

This time, Murphy's line drive to left was hauled in by a back-peddling Allen Craig - to cap off this improbable championship season for the Cardinals.  As FOX broadcaster Joe Buck proclaimed, "What a team!  What a ride!  The St Louis Cardinals are World Champions!"

To no one's surprise, David Freese was voted World Series Most Valuable Player - but this was truly a team effort.  Offensively, five players had MVP-worthy performances:

Berkman - .423/.516/.577 - 1 HR - 5 RBI
Craig -       .263/.417/.737 - 3 HR - 5 RBI
Freese -      .348/.464/.696 - 1 HR - 7 RBI
Molina -     .333/.414/.417 - 0 HR - 9 RBI
Pujols -       .240/.424/.640 - 3 HR - 6 RBI

Pitching standouts:

Carpenter -     2-0 - 19.0 IP - 2.84 ERA
Garcia -          10.0 IP - 1.80 ERA
Rhodes -         1.0 IP - 0.00 ERA
Rzepczynski - 2.2 IP - 0.00 ERA
Westbrook -    1-0 - 2.0 IP - 0.00 ERA

Had the Rangers managed to win the World Series, Mike Napoli would have surely been MVP with these numbers:  .350/.464/.700 - 2 HR - 10 RBI

Interestingly, in the stolen base department, the Cardinals were 0 for 3 - the Rangers were 1 for 3 (Kinsler's ninth-inning theft of second base in Game Two - which helped Texas win by a 2-1 score).

Otherwise, Freese's Game Six walk-off home run would have been a World Series ending walk-off home run - joining Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter in that elite category.

Finally, this would prove to be LaRussa's last game as manager of the St Louis Cardinals.  He was at the helm for the greatest resurgence in franchise history - which has continued with his successor - the most frequently second-guessed manager in franchise history - Mike Matheny - at the helm.

2015 should be an interesting and challenging season - and since it's an odd-numbered year...

Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27, 2011 - World Series - Game Six: The David Freese Game

Thursday, October 27, 2011 - World Series - Game Six vs Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium III - Attendance:  47,325 - Starting Pitchers:  Jaime Garcia vs Colby Lewis

It was by far, the most thrilling World Series game in franchise history.

On two separate occasions, the Cardinals were down to their last strike - trailing the Texas Rangers by two runs - who were, conversely, one strike away from their first world championship in franchise history - on two separate occasions.

Somehow, on two separate occasions, the Cardinals tied the game.

Finally, in the eleventh-inning, David Freese - who got the big two-out two-run-triple in the ninth-inning to send the game into extra innings - won it on the sixth pitch of the at bat - with a lead-off home run to straight-away center field.

The final score:  St Louis 10 - Texas 9.

Four hours and thirty-three minutes earlier, Cardinal starter Jaime Garcia began the night by walking the first batter of the game - Ian Kinsler - who was in motion when Elvis Andrus singled to left - allowing Kinsler to easily reach third.  Josh Hamilton then scored Kinsler while Andrus took third on his single to right field.

Just like that, it was 1-0, Texas - with runners on the corners and still nobody out.  The Rangers appeared to be on the verge of a big inning, with the heart of their lineup lurking.  However, Garcia struck out both Michael Young and Adrian Beltre - then retired Nelson Cruz on a grounder to third baseman David Freese, who got the force out at second.

No doubt feeling a bit reprieved, the Cardinals responded immediately, in the bottom of the first - facing Texas starter Colby Lewis.  A one-out single by Skip Schumaker preceded Lance Berkman's two-out two-run home run to left center field.  St Louis now held a short-lived 2-1 lead.

In the second-inning, a lead-off walk to Mike Napoli preceded Craig Gentry's single to left field.  However, Lewis, attempting to lay down a sacrifice bunt, hit the ball too hard down the third base line.  Freese grabbed it, stepped on third then threw to shortstop Rafael Furcal - too late to force Gentry at second - but Furcal's relay throw to second baseman Nick Punto, covering first, retired the lumbering Lewis to complete the rare 5-6-4 double play.  I would venture to guess that's the first one of its kind in World Series history (I would also venture to guess nobody's going to research that one).

Just when it appeared the Cardinals might be able to avoid any further trouble, Kinsler's two-out ground-rule double tied the game:  2-2.

After the Cardinals failed to score in their half of the second, Garcia pitched a scoreless third-inning, followed by another scoreless inning by Lewis.

Following that brief intermission, action resumed with a new pitcher on the mound for the Cardinals - Fernando Salas - to begin the fourth-inning.  The first batter - Cruz - hit a little pop fly to short left field, which Matt Holliday dropped - allowing Cruz to reach second.  Napoli then gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with an RBI single to right field.  Salas then pitched out of further trouble - allowing just the one unearned run to score.

Returning the favor, as the Cardinals took their turn at bat in the bottom of the fourth - first baseman Young booted Berkman's grounder - then Holliday drew a base on balls - giving Freese a chance to do some damage with runners on first and second.  His slow roller to second resulted in a force out, as Berkman advanced to third while a frustrated Freese was safe at first.

Berkman then scored the tying run on Yadier Molina's slow roller to third:  3-3.

The low point in the game for David Freese came in the fifth-inning.  Josh Hamilton lifted a very high pop fly which Freese camped under - but apparently wasn't quite sure about actually "catching".  As he stuck his glove high above his head, millions of Cardinal fans watching on television were no doubt screaming, "Use two hands!"  Sure enough, the ball bounced off the heel of his glove as his right hand dangled uselessly to his side - unable to grab the ball as it fell to earth - especially since he had his eyes closed at the moment of ball-to-glove impact.  Freese would later say that was the most embarrassing moment of his life.

Michael Young then promptly scored Hamilton on a double to left field - but once again, the Rangers failed to capitalize on a potentially big inning.  This one ended when Colby Lewis was allowed to hit for himself - with the bases loaded - and struck out to end the inning.

It was still a 4-3 Texas lead as the Cardinals batted in the sixth-inning.  With one out, Berkman reached on an infield hit to third.  Holliday then reached when first baseman Young dropped a throw - his second error of the game.  Freese began his slow resurrection in this incredible game by drawing a base on balls - to load the bases.

At this time, manager Ron Washington - who just an inning earlier, allowed Lewis to hit for himself with the bases loaded - decided to remove his starter - bringing in Alexi Ogando to face Molina - who also waked - forcing in the tying run - Berkman.

What happened next appeared to be a calamity for the Redbirds - but in retrospect, was a blessing.  Catcher Mike Napoli caught Holliday napping at third base - and picked him off.  In his desperate attempt to reach the bag before the tag could be applied, Holliday injured his hand - and would be sidelined for the rest of the game - and Series, for that matter.  Allen Craig would be his replacement.

In the meantime, after the Holliday pick-off, Ogando celebrated by throwing a wild pitch to Nick Punto - advancing the runners - Molina and Freese - to second and third.  Punto walked to load the bases once again - prompting another pitching change.

Entering the game was the goofy but talented Derek Holland - who pitched so brilliantly for the Rangers in his Game Four start - limiting the Cardinals to just two hits for 8.1 innings in the Rangers' 4-0 win.  He ended the threat by getting Jon Jay on an easy ground ball, which Holland snared and carefully tossed to Young to retire the side.

The 4-4 tie didn't last long.  Facing Lance Lynn, the Rangers started the seventh-inning with back-to-back home runs by Beltre and Cruz.  Texas added another run on an Ian Kinsler RBI single - to build an imposing 7-4 lead.

It was still 7-4 when Allen Craig - batting in place of the injured Holliday - homered with one out and nobody on in the eighth.  However, the Cards could score no more - eventually leaving the bases loaded after Holland got Furcal on an infield ground out to preserve the two-run lead.

After Texas failed to add to their two-run lead in the top of the ninth-inning, manager Washington brought Neftali Feliz in to close it out.  He struck out Ryan Theriot - but Pujols refused to go quietly - doubling, deep to center field.  Berkman patiently drew a walk - giving Allen Craig - who homered in the eighth-inning, the chance to end it with a walk-off home run.  Instead, he looked at a called third strike.

That brought David Freese to the plate - representing the last chance for the Cardinals to salvage - not only the game - but the entire Series.  He quickly found himself in a one-ball-two-strike hole - but then launched an outside-corner fastball deep to right field, where Nelson Cruz was positioned poorly - not respecting the opposite-field power of Freese and not positioned deep enough to avoid the ball sailing over his head - bouncing off the base of the wall, allowing both runners to score, as an exuberant Freese slid safely into third.

With a chance to win it, Molina lined the ball hard to right field - but this time Cruz was able to catch it - to retire the side.

Freese's heroics seemed likely to be a brief footnote in Cardinal baseball lore, however - after Josh Hamilton's two-run tenth-inning home run off Jason Motte gave Texas a two-run lead again:  9-7.

With lefty reliever Darren Oliver now on the mound for Texas, both Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay singled to begin the tenth-inning for St Louis.  Then, Kyle Lohse - pinch hitting for Edwin Jackson, who was pinch hitting for Motte - advanced the runners to second and third with a good sacrifice bunt.

Scott Feldman was then summoned from the Rangers' bullpen to face Theriot - and he retired him on a ground out to third - as Descalso scored the first run of the inning.  After an intentional walk to Pujols - Berkman - down to his last strike - tied the game yet again with a line drive single to center:  9-9.

After Jake Westbrook pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the Redbirds, the eighth pitcher of the game for Texas - Mark Lowe - was brought in to face David Freese, leading-off the bottom of the eleventh.

On a full-count - the sixth pitch of the at bat - Freese hit one deep to center field, giving FOX broadcaster Joe Buck the opportunity to borrow his dad's famous World Series call of Kirby Puckett's walk-off Game Six home run from '91:  "We will...see you tomorrow night!"

On the five year anniversary of the Cardinals' World Series Game Five win over the Detroit Tigers, which gave the franchise it first world championship since 1982 - Freese's heroics ensured a Game Seven would be played in 2011.  And of course, the Rangers never had a chance.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

October 26, 2006 - Come-From-Behind Game 4 World Series Win Over Tigers

Thursday, October 26, 2006 - World Series - Game Four vs Detroit Tigers at Busch Stadium III - Starting Pitchers:  Jeff Suppan vs Jeremy Bonderman - Attendance:  46,470

Game Four had been scheduled to be played on Wednesday, but was postponed, due to rain.

The Cardinals used timely hitting, good defense and capitalized on another inexplicably wild throw by Tigers' pitching to earn a pivotal come-from-behind World Series Game Four win - by a final score of 5-4.  This win gives the Redbirds a formidable three games to one advantage over the bumbling Tigers, who - thanks to one enormous throwing error - managed to cough up two more unearned runs en route to blowing an early 3-0 lead.

After a rocky start - giving up three runs after three-innings - Jeff Suppan kept the Tigers off the board over his final three innings of work to give his teammates a chance to get back in the game.

Trailing 3-0 in the third-inning, the Cardinals broke through off Detroit starter Jeremy Bonderman - on a one-out single by Aaron Miles, a stolen base, and a two-out RBI double by David Eckstein - one of three doubles the World Series MVP would collect on the night.

The Cardinals used a pair of doubles in the fourth-inning by Scott Rolen and Yadier Molina to pull within one run - down 3-2.

However, in the sixth-inning Rolen's lead-off double - his second of the game - was wasted when reliever Fernando Rodney entered the game to strike out both Miles and pinch hitter John Rodriguez -  stranding Rolen at third.

Rodney's only problem seemed to be what to do with any balls hit back to the mound - as we would see once again in the seventh-inning.

Still trailing 3-2, Eckstein led-off with another double, prompting manager Tony LaRussa to have pinch hitter So Taguchi - batting for Chris Duncan - lay down a sacrifice bunt - preferably one the pitcher would have to field.  Sure enough, after fielding the bunt, Rodney somehow managed to throw the ball over the first baseman's head - allowing Eckstein to score the tying (unearned) run, as Taguchi advanced to second - representing the go-ahead (unearned) run.

After an intentional walk to Pujols, Rodney struck out both Edmonds and Rolen - but Preston Wilson came up with the big hit - a run-scoring single to left field.  Left fielder Craig Monroe had no shot at nailing Taguchi at home, but Pujols was an easy out trying to take third.  However, the Cardinals had finally taken a 4-3 lead - although it would be a short-lived lead.

With Braden Looper now pitching for the Cardinals to start the eighth-inning, Ivan Rodriguez greeted him with a lead-off double - then advanced to third on Placido Polanco's ground-out to the second baseman.  That prompted LaRussa to bring in his rookie closer - Adam Wainwright - to get out of the jam.  However, the first batter he faced - Brandon Inge - tied the game with a double to center field.

Suddenly, the game was very much in jeopardy.   Detroit could take the lead again with another base hit, however, Wainwright struck out pinch hitter Alexis Gomez as well as Curtis Granderson, to end the threat.

With Joel Zumaya now pitching for the Tigers, Molina drew a lead-off walk to start the home half of the eighth.  Miles then forced Yadi at second on a grounder to third base.  Then, in a bizarre play, Zumaya struck out Encarnacion on a wild pitch, advancing Miles to second - although catcher Rodriguez was able to retrieve the ball in time to retire the batter at first base.

Next up - Eckstein - hit a line drive to left center field which probably should have been caught by Granderson - but the Tigers' center fielder slipped on the wet outfield grass, as the ball sailed over his head - good for another double, and good for his second RBI of the game.  That was the only run in the inning, but it proved to be all that was necessary to take Game Four by a  5-4 final score.

Despite blowing the save, Wainwright pitched a perfect ninth to preserve his first career postseason win - and put the Redbirds on the cusp of what seemed like an impossible World Series championship just one short month ago.

In baseball, one month can bring about great change.  A little rain can go a long way, too.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

October 25, 1987 - A Game 7 Disappointment at the Metrodome

Sunday, October 25, 1987 - World Series - Game 7 vs Minnesota Twins at the Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome - Attendance:  55,376 - Starting Pitchers:  Joe Magrane vs Frank Viola 

It was a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise exemplary 1987 season for Whitey Herzog's Cardinals - succumbing to the Minnesota Twins at their hostile, high-decibel home ballpark, by a score of 4-2.

It was a predictable outcome to this best-of-seven series - when home-field advantage was never more prominently on display:  Minnesota had it - and won all four games played at home.  It was no coincidence when they also won the World Series four years later by taking all four games played in this noisy hell-hole over the Atlanta Braves.

The Cardinals were able to muster up enough offense early in this relatively quiet game to take a short-lived 2-0 lead.

Back-to-back-to-back second-inning singles by Jim Lindeman (playing in place of the injured Jack Clark), Willie McGee and Tony Pena staked the Cards to a 1-0 lead.  Two outs later, with Pena and McGee still occupying first and second, ninth-place hitter Steve Lake - a pretty good first pitch fastball hitter - grounded Frank Viola's first pitch fastball into left field for a run-scoring single.  And just like that, the St Louis offense had been shut off.

Trying to protect a 2-0 lead, the rookie Joe Magrane pitched admirably through the first four-innings - allowing one run on four hits.  He got some defensive help in the second-inning from left fielder Vince Coleman - who cut down Don Baylor at the plate, trying to score from second on a base hit off the bat of Tim Laudner.  At the time, it preserved the shutout, but later in the inning, the Twins scored a two-out run on an RBI single from Steve Lombardozzi.

Still nursing a 2-1 lead, Magrane yielded a one-out fifth-inning single by Greg Gagne - prompting Herzog to bring Danny Cox in from the bullpen to face Kirby Puckett.  However, the strategy backfired when Puckett's RBI double tied the game at two runs apiece.

With the crowd's decibel level rising, a distracted Cox walked Gary Gaetti - then, with Don Baylor batting, manager Tom Kelly put the runners in motion - but the lead runner - Puckett - was thrown out trying to steal third, as Gaetti advanced to second.

When Baylor delivered with a clean single to left field, Vince Coleman once again played the ball well and made yet another strong throw home - this time, to nail Gaetti at the plate.  Two outfield assists in one World Series game.  Vince Coleman was the last player to accomplish that feat in World Series play.  Had the Cardinals managed to win Game Seven, chances are Vince Coleman would have won World Series MVP honors.

The game was still tied, but it was the Cardinal defense that got Cox out of that jam.  Danny apparently had nothing left in the tank at this point - further evidenced by the back-to-back walks he issued to Brunansky and Hrbeck to start the home half of the sixth-inning.

Herzog then brought in his closer - Todd Worrell - in an attempt to preserve this precarious tie.  He retired the first batter - Laudner - on a foul popup to first baseman Lindeman - however, he walked pinch hitter Roy Smalley to load the bases.  After striking out Dan Gladden, the irrepressible Greg Gagne scored Brunansky on an infield hit which utility infielder Tom Lawless - playing in place of the injured Terry Pendleton - couldn't handle at third base.

Minnesota had taken the lead on three walks and a scratch hit.  Worrell struck out Puckett to end the threat, but the damage had been done.

With the decibel levels reaching new highs as the game progressed, Viola regained his mastery over the patch-work Cardinal lineup.  After the Twins tacked on an eighth-inning insurance run on a two-out RBI double by Dan Gladden, closer Jeff Reardon finished 'em off in the ninth.

The Twins had their first-ever World Series championship - ironically, two years after the Kansas City Royals won their first title - also at the expense of Herzog's Cardinals.

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24, 2006 - Carpenter Tames Tigers - Cards Take 2 Games to 1 World Series Lead

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - World Series - Game 3 at Busch Stadium III vs Detroit Tigers - Starting Pitchers:  Chris Carpenter vs Nate Robertson - Attendance:  46,513

Chris Carpenter blanked the Tigers on three hits through eight-innings, as the Cardinals brought home a crucial 5-0 Game Three win - to take a two games to one World Series lead.

Jim Edmonds' fourth-inning bases loaded double scored Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen to give Carpenter all the run support he would need.  However, thanks to the continued defensive ineptitude from the Tigers' pitching staff, the Cards got a few late-inning gift runs to win this one going away.

Already leading 2-0, the Cardinals scored a pair of seventh-inning runs without even putting a ball in play past the pitcher's mound.  Both David Eskstein and Preston Wilson walked to start the inning off the wild Joel Zumaya - who then coaxed Albert Pujols into hitting a nice little ground ball right back to the mound.

However, Zumaya's mind went blank.  Suddenly, he was standing on the pitcher's mound with a live ball in his hand and he didn't know what to do with it.  What he should have done - but apparently forgot - is turn around and fire a strike to second, where shortstop Carlos Guillen would be turning an easy double play.  Eckstein would be on third, but with two outs, that wouldn't be a problem, as long as he could retire the next guy.

In reality, what Zumaya did after fielding the ball, was panic - causing an ill-advised and very wild throw in the general direction of third base.  As the ball careened down the left field line into foul territory, both Eckstein and Wilson scored, as Pujols rambled into second with his little league "double".

Manager Jim Leyland thought this might be a good time to make a pitching change - and he made a wise choice - bringing in Jason Grilli - who actually got the necessary three outs without another run crossing the plate.

Unfortunately for Leyland and company, he brought in the wild Fernando Rodney to pitch the eighth-inning.  His first order of business was to walk So Taguchi.  After a successful sacrifice bunt by Carpenter, Fernando found the strike zone against Eckstein - but maybe too much of the strike zone - as the suddenly hot Cardinal shortstop singled to left - advancing Taguchi to third.

This time up, Pujols didn't even have to swing the bat in order to score a run.  All he had to do was stand there, then get out of the way of a wild pitch, before taking a couple of steps back to allow Taguchi to score.  With Eckstein now on second base, Rodney then plunked Pujols with a pitch - as a time-saving measure, since intentional walks require four time-consuming lobs out of the strike zone.

Fernando then induced Scott Rolen into hitting a grounder to third baseman Inge - who had been having quite an adventurous Fall Classic in the fielding department, himself - but this time, he knew what to do - stepping on the third base bag, then throwing a strike to first base to complete the double play.  Afterwards, an amazed Detroit pitching staff was asking Inge how he was able to make such a nice throw under such extreme pressure.

Apparently, scoring that fifth run changed LaRussa's mind-set regarding the need for Carpenter to pitch a complete game shutout.  After all, Carpenter was allowed to hit for himself - or rather, bunt for himself - but, he was removed from the game at the conclusion of that eighth-inning - before getting the opportunity join legends such as Gibson and Dean - among others - to throw complete game shutouts in a World Series.

It would've been nice, but LaRussa brought in Braden Looper to finish up, and he did his job - retiring all three batters to preserve the 5-0 win.

Most importantly, the Cardinals were winning - simply by playing good, sound fundamental baseball.  Of course, the Tigers were losing - by playing bad, unsound fundamental baseball.  This trend would continue for another two games.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23. 1985 - Tudor Blanks Royals, 3-0 - Cards Take 3 Games to 1 World Series Lead

Wednesday, October 23, 1985 - World Series - Game 4 vs Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium II - Attendance:  53,634 - Starting Pitchers:  John Tudor vs  Bud Black

John Tudor blanked the Royals on five hits - while the Cardinal offense played a long-ball/Whitey Ball parlay - en route to a 3-0 Game Four World Series victory.  With a three games to one lead over Kansas City in the Fall Classic, the Cardinals were on the cusp of their second world championship in four years.

With methodical efficiency, Tudor had this game under control from start to finish - issuing just one base on balls while striking out eight.

Meanwhile, Kansas City starter Bud Black made few mistakes in his five innings of work, but when he did, the Cardinals were able to capitalize.  With one out in the second-inning, Tito Landrum's opposite-field solo home run down the right field line gave Tudor the only run he would need.

The unexpected power surge continued - when 1982 World Series hero Willie McGee launched another solo home run off Black - this one coming with two out in the third-inning.

In the fifth-inning, the Redbirds scored their final run of the night in a more conventional manner - at least for Whitey Herzog's '85 Cardinals.  With one out, Terry Pendleton lined a triple in the right center field gap - then scored when catcher Tom Nieto laid down a perfect squeeze-play bunt.  In fielding the ball, a distracted Black threw wildly past first base, allowing Nieto to reach second, but that was inconsequential.  Nieto didn't score, but three runs were plenty tonight.

Those three runs would've come in handy in Game Six - the devastating 2-1 loss when Cardinal fans are still blaming a blown call at first base for costing the team a world championship.  What really cost the Cardinals was their inability to hit - and score runs.  Credit the Royals' pitching staff for doing their job against a once-potent Cardinals' offense.

With this Game Four win, manager Whitey Herzog still had his trump card available for a possible seventh game showdown - John Tudor - who had been so flawless for the Cardinals in his first two World Series starts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 2011 - The Albert Pujols 3-HR Show

Saturday, October 22, 2011 - World Series - Game Three - at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington vs Texas Rangers - Attendance:  51,462 - Starting Pitchers:  Kyle Lohse vs Matt Harrison  

Albert Pujols had grown weary of the relentless media criticism regarding his poor performance in the first two games of the World Series - especially after Game Two's loss to the Rangers, which was greatly facilitated by Pujols' ninth-inning error - resulting in the game-winning (unearned) run crossing the plate.

And oh, by the way, "Why aren't you getting any hits, Albert?"

To the casual observer - which includes the vast majority of media covering this Fall Classic - Pujols was clearly in a slump.  Well, after going 0 for 4 in Game Two, Albert's postseason slash line had dropped all the way down to .367/.456/.633.  That's quite a slump.

Truth is, the Cardinals were well aware that letting Game Two get away from them could have dire consequences - especially, if they also happened to lose Game Three in Arlington, Texas.

Fortunately, Game Three got off to a nice start, with a one-out first-inning solo home run off the bat of Allen Craig - earning a spot in the starting lineup after delivering two run-scoring pinch hit singles in each of the two previous games.  He now had three hits and three RBI in his first three World Series AB's.  Meanwhile, after Albert Pujols came up empty again in his first plate appearance, he was now 0 for 7.  But that would change after his next trip to the plate.

The Cardinals were still clinging to that precarious 1-0 lead when Pujols got his first World Series hit - leading-off the fourth-inning with a line drive single to left field.  The Cardinals then got a huge break when Matt Holliday's double-play grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus was lackadaisically turned by second baseman Ian Kinsler.  His throw to first baseman Mike Napoli pulled him off the bag, forcing him to tag Holliday on the shoulder to complete the double play.  Napoli did just that, but first base umpire Ron Kulpa blew the call.

Instant replay hadn't been implemented back in those days, so there was nothing anyone could do except maybe argue, kick some dirt, shout profanities, carry the first base bag back to the dugout, shout some more profanities, kick some more dirt, and get two or three players tossed out of the game.  But that didn't happen, either.

Now, instead of two out and nobody on, the Cardinals had a sheepish Holliday (who obviously knew he was out) on first with just one out.  That's the kind of situation good teams capitalize on.

Next up - Lance Berkman lined a single to right, advancing Holliday to second.  Next up - the hottest hitter on the planet at this time - David Freese - poked an outside fastball down the right field line for a double - scoring Holliday with a gift run, as Berkman stopped at third.

With first base open, Harrison walked Yadier Molina intentionally, to set up the double play.  Jon Jay appeared to oblige with a routine grounder to Napoli at first, but his throw to home sailed past catcher Yorvit Torrealba - allowing both Berkman and Freese to score two (official) unearned runs.  On the play, Molina raced to third and Jay found himself standing on second base.

Another unearned run scored on Ryan Theriot's base hit to left - but that would conclude the scoring for now.  Harrison would be removed from the game after getting another out, as Scott Feldman took over for a while.  When the fourth-inning was in the books, the Cardinals had a comfortable 5-0 lead.

However, Kyle Lohse suddenly ran afoul in the Rangers' half of the fourth-inning.  Michael Young got Texas on the board with a lead-off home run.  Adrian Beltre followed with a single to left, which was followed by a Nelson Cruz home run, which was followed by a Mike Napoli single to center.

Following all that, Lohse was relieved of his duties by Fernando Salas who retired David Murphy on a tap just in front of home which Molina grabbed and fired to Pujols for out number one.

However, Torrealba singled to right field, advancing Napoli to third.  At this point in the game, it seemed the Cardinals were in danger of blowing the lead - which was now just a two-run advantage.

However, when Ian Kinsler lifted a fly ball to Matt Holliday in medium left, near the line, Napoli gambled, tagged up from third, but was nailed at the plate on a strong throw by Holliday.  Just like that, the inning was over, as St Louis was still clinging to a 5-3 lead.

With Feldman still on the mound for Texas to begin the fifth-inning, Pujols greeted him with a lead-off single to center.  After both Holliday and Berkman walked to load the bases, Freese moved all runners up a notch with an RBI ground out to third.  Molina then raked a two-run double to left to regain that original five-run lead they had just an inning before.  It was now 8-3 - but not for long.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Rangers knocked Salas out of the game with consecutive singles by Andrus and Hamilton, and an RBI double by Young.

Lance Lynn was the next reliever out of the Cards bullpen, and he was greeted with a run-scoring single by Beltre, cutting the deficit to 8-5 - still nobody out, with runners on first and third.  Lynn then struck out the menacing Cruz - representing the tying run - on some high heat, for the first out of the inning.  Napoli's sacrifice fly to right scored Young - then back-to-back walks to Murphy and Torrealba loaded the bases for Ian Kinsler in what was now a tight 8-6 game.

With the partisan Texas crowd raising all kinds of commotion, Lynn got Kinsler out on a pop fly to shortstop Furcal to end the nerve-wracking inning.

With the flame-throwing Alexi Ogando now pitching for the Rangers to start the sixth-inning, Theriot drew a lead-off walk, then advanced to second on Rafael Furcal's single to right.  Next up - Allen Craig - who had burned Ogando with run-scoring pinch hits on successive nights, to give the Cardinals the lead each time - didn't fare so well this time around - striking out on a high fastball.

Pujols was now batting - and he was ready for the fastball - crushing it deep to left field for a three-run home run.  FOX broadcaster Joe Buck commented, "That ball was absolutely murdered!"

After St Louis added another unearned run (error, single, walk to load the bases) on Molina's sacrifice fly, they were finally in control of this wild game - leading, 12-6.

Pujols was just getting warmed up.  With Mike Gonzalez now mopping up for Texas in the seventh-inning, he managed to walk Craig with two out and nobody on.  By this time, the crowd was fascinated with the show Pujols was staging.  As if on cue, he launched one out to left center field - a two-run home run:  14-6.

After Texas pushed across their final run in the bottom of the seventh, St Louis added one more in the eighth - on a run-scoring double by Molina - his fourth RBI on the night:  15-7.

The stage was set for Act III.  With two out in the top of the ninth, veteran lefty Darren Oliver served one up to Pujols - which was deposited in the left center field bleachers, for his third straight home run - his fifth straight hit.  Joe Buck acknowledged that Pujols had tied Reggie Jackson with that third home run, but he failed to mention the first guy to do it:  Babe Ruth (1926 vs the Cardinals).

Meanwhile, Buck's loquacious broadcast partner, Tim McCarver gushed, "Wow!  That's a wow!"

After Mitchell Boggs' anti-climactic 1-2-3 ninth-inning of work, the Cardinals had won the pivotal Game Three to take a two games to one lead in this amazing World Series.  Final score:  16-7.

Only the 1936 New York Yankees - Game Two vs New York Giants - scored more than the Cardinals did tonight - with 18 runs.

The combined two-team total of 23 runs scored is the third highest in World Series history.  '93 World Series - Game 4:  Toronto 15 - Philadelphia 14 (29 runs), followed by '97 World Series - Game 3:  Florida 14 - Cleveland 11 (25 runs).

Lance Lynn (2.1 IP - 3 H - 1 R - 2 BB - 2 SO) recorded his second postseason win in '11.

Pujols was out of his slump:  6 AB - 5 H (3 HR) - 4 R - 6 RBI.

The Cardinals would return home to Busch Stadium after dropping the next two games in Texas - trailing three games to two in the series.  Game Six would be played on October 27...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2006 - Cards Pound Verlander in Game One World Series Shocker

Saturday, October 21, 2006 - World Series - Game One vs Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park - Attendance:  42,479 - Starting Pitchers:  Anthony Reyes vs Justin Verlander

The Cardinals - just two days after shocking the Mets at Shea Stadium in Game Seven of the NLCS - stun the baseball world again in Game One of the World Series, with a decisive 7-2 drubbing of Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.

This wasn't supposed to happen.  Detroit had already won seven of eight postseason games against the best competition in the American League (Not to mention, they had already swept a three-game series over the visiting Cards back in June).

By contrast, St Louis stumbled and bumbled their way into the postseason with a stretch run so wretched, they seemed destined for doom - at least eventually.  Fortunately, that destiny at least waited until 2007 - after becoming World Champions.

Game One began as planned.  Initially.  After Verlander easily dispatched the Cardinals in their first at bat, the Tigers immediately pounced on rookie Anthony Reyes.  A one-out double by Craig Monroe and a two-out walk to Magglio Ordonez preceded a Carlos Guillen run-scoring single to right field.  When Juan Encarnacion booted the ball, the runners - Guillen and Ordonez - moved up to second and third for hot-hitting Ivan Rodriguez - who hit the ball hard - but right at third baseman Scott Rolen to end the threat.

Instead of being in at least a 3-0 hole, the Cardinals trailed by a mere run when Scott Rolen - who speared that Rodriguez liner - hit a one-out home run deep to left field.  Just like that, this game was tied.  It was all downhill for the Tigers after that.

The Cardinals continued their assault in the third inning.  Game Seven NLCS hero Yadier Molina stroked a lead-off single to right - then, after advancing to second on an infield out - Verlander caught David Eckstein looking at a called third strike.

However, DH Chris Duncan got the two-out RBI - a double to right field - to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

Next up - Albert Pujols, who struck out his first time up - got some revenge this time off Verlander - with an opposite field two-run blast over the right field wall - to suddenly give the Cards a 4-1 lead.

Meanwhile, after that shaky first-inning, Reyes was nearly perfect over his next seven-innings of work, protecting that lead - which grew to 7-1 by the time the Cardinals were done in the sixth.

In that fateful sixth-inning, after Pujols drew a lead-off walk, Verlander had him picked off, but threw the ball away - the first of five throwing errors Tiger pitchers would accumulate in the five game series.  They had some help from their third baseman, Brandon Inge - especially a bit later in this inning.

At the moment, with Pujols standing on third base, the next hitter - Jim Edmonds - drove him in with a single to right field.  After Scott Rolen's opposite field ground rule double into the right field seats put runners on second and third, manager Jim Leyland brought in a relative unknown reliever - Jason Grilli - who induced Encarnacion into hitting a routine ground ball to third baseman Inge.

However, Inge - apparently auditioning for a spot on the pitching staff - threw it away trying to nail Edmonds at home - allowing both Edmonds and Rolen to score - then, on the same play Inge threw it away again, but Encarnacion could only make it as far as third - just missing a rare Little League home run in a World Series game.

After Reyes gave up a lead-off home run to Craig Monroe in the bottom of the ninth, manager Tony LaRussa took no chances - bringing in a new arm to finish the job.  Braden Looper retired the side to preserve this surprisingly easy 7-2 Game One winner for St Louis.

Meanwhile, distraught FOX Network television executives are ruefully anticipating the downward spike in ratings this supremely boring World Series will create.  Another Subway Series vanished when the Yankees disappeared in the ALDS, followed by the big market Bay Area ousting of Oakland in the ALCS.  Then the Cardinals had the audacity to bounce the other New York team out of the picture, while Detroit was on a five day vacation.

Sure enough, this would become the lowest rated World Series in television history.  Much to the delight of the greater St Louis area and other remote points throughout Cardinal Nation.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20, 1982 - "That's a World Series Winner!"

Wednesday, October 20, 1982 - World Series - Game 7 at Busch Stadium II vs Milwaukee Brewers -  Starting Pitchers:  Joaquin Andujar vs Pete Vuckovich - Attendance:  53,723

For the first time since 1968, the Cardinals were playing host to a seventh and deciding game of the World Series - but this time, the home team won - coming from behind for a 6-3 World Series winner - the ninth in franchise history.

It was a rematch of Game Three starters - Joaquin Andujar and Pete Vuckovich - and once again, Andujar came away with a victory - allowing three runs (two earned runs) in seven innings of work.  Bruce Sutter pitched two perfect innings of relief for his third postseason save - striking out Gorman Thomas on a full-count ten-pitch at bat to finally end it.

After a scoreless first three innings of play, Game Three hero Willie McGee started a fourth-inning rally with a base hit to center off Brewers ace Pete Vuckovich, who was probably relieved Willie didn't hit another home run this time around.  Tommy Herr followed with a single to right, as McGee easily advanced to third.

Vuckovich then retired Ozzie Smith on a pop fly to second baseman Ganter, as the runners remained on the corners.  However, Lonnie Smith drove in McGee with an infield single to shortstop Yount, as Herr took second.

Vuckovich managed to avoid further damage by retiring Ken Oberkfell on an infield grounder and getting a frustrated Keith Hernandez to chase strike three - stranding Herr at third base.

It didn't take the Brewers long to answer back, as Ben Oglivie hit a fifth-inning lead-off home run to tie the game at one run apiece.  Andujar was able to regroup after that blast to retire the next three batters in  order.

However, he ran into serious trouble in the sixth, which was only exasperated by his own fielding miscue which led to an unearned run crossing the plate.  Jim Gantner started the inning with a lead-off double in the right center field gap.  Next up - Paul Molitor - may have caught Andujar off guard with a bunt down the third base line, designed to move the runner up to third.  However, after fielding it, Andujar threw wildly past first base, allowing Gantner to score as Molitor took second.

Robin Yount followed that up with an infield hit which second baseman Herr had no play on.  Runners were now on first and third - still nobody out.  This appeared on the verge of getting out of hand.  However, Andujar escaped total disaster, although Yount did score the second run of the inning on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Cecil Cooper.   Next up - Ted Simmons - who smacked a line drive off Andujar's knee in Game Three, grounded one to Hernandez, resulting in a force out at second this time around.  Likewise, Oglivie, who homered in his last at bat, grounded into a force out to end the threat - and keep it a 3-1 Milwaukee lead.

With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Ozzie Smith singled - then Lonnie Smith doubled him over to third base.  With that, Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn went to the bullpen - bringing in lefty reliever Bob McClure to pitch to Oberkfell with two runners in scoring position.  Whitey Herzog then countered with pinch hitter Gene Tenace - a World Series hero a decade earlier with Oakland.  With first base open, McClure didn't give Tenace anything good to hit - and Tenace patiently drew a base on balls - bringing Keith Hernandez to the plate, with redemption on his mind.

With pinch runner Mike Ramsey replacing Tenace at first base, the stage was set for a classic Fall Classic bit of drama.  Two San Francisco Bay Area high school rivals - McClure and Hernandez - were meeting once again in the Main Event - with the world championship on the line - and for the first time in World Series history, two "Smiths" scored on the same base hit - a single to center, as this game was now tied, 3-3.

With pinch runner Mike Ramsey perched on third, George Hendrick brought him in with a base hit in the hole between first and second - to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead.

An inspired Andujar protected that lead with a scoreless seventh-inning, with Bruce Sutter waiting in the wings to finish this one up.  After Milwaukee failed to score in the eighth, St Louis tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the bottom half, to put this one on ice.

Facing reliever Moose Haas, Lonnie Smith led-off the eighth-inning with a ground rule double down the right field line - but Mike Ramsey's sacrifice bunt attempt failed - fouling off strike three.  After Hernandez was intentionally walked, Hendrick was retired on a fly ball to center.

Lefty Mike Caldwell - who dominated the Cardinals in Game One's 10-0 blowout - was then brought in to face Darrell Porter - but the strategy backfired - as Porter got the RBI single to right field, which in all likelihood was the deciding factor in the World Series MVP voting.  Steve Braun followed that up with a base hit to center - scoring Hernandez with the sixth and final run of the game.

With Sutter looking to close this one out quickly, Ted Simmons obliged with a ground ball right back to the mound - for out number one.  Next up - Oglivie - grounded out to second for out number two.

Out number three wouldn't be so easy.  Gorman Thomas worked the count full - fouling off pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch - but finally, on the tenth pitch of the at bat, Thomas took a home run cut on non-split-fingered fastball - and came up empty.

That was a World Series winner - ironically, the only one the Cardinals managed to come away with during Herzog's tenure as manager.

The next time St Louis made it to the World Series - in 1985 - a couple of former teammates - Lonnie Smith and Dane Iorg - would be playing for the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.  Twenty-nine years later, KC has returned - but a second I-70 Fall Classic will have to wait awhile.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19, 2006 - Against All Odds: Molina's 9th-Inning Blast Sends Cards to World Series

Thursday, October 19, 2006 - Game 7 - NLCS vs New York Mets at Shea Stadium - Attendance:  56,357 - Starting Pitchers:  Jeff Suppan vs Oliver Perez

The fact that the Cardinals were still playing this deep into the postseason baffled the vast majority of baseball experts who thought the San Diego Padres would send 'em home after three or four games of the NLDS.  Instead, it would be the Pads losing a third straight postseason showdown with the Cards - three games to one.  In '96 and again in '05, St Louis took care of San Diego in three straight games to advance to a NLCS which they would ultimately lose - first to Atlanta and then Houston.

This time around, San Diego managed to win one game, improving their lifetime postseason record to 1-9 vs the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, the heavily favored New York Mets had eliminated the Redbirds in just five NLCS games back in 2000 - as a wild card team, no less.  This time around, the experts generally anticipated a four game sweep.

But here they were, playing a seventh and deciding game in this season's NLCS - both teams unwittingly conspiring to ice down a red-hot Detroit Tigers team that had eliminated the Oakland Athletics far too quickly in their championship series.  The team that plays the waiting game usually has a tough time in the Fall Classic - as the Tigers would eventually find out.

If the Cardinals were going to advance to the World Series, they would have to win this game on the road - against a team that had already swept a three-game series from St Louis - right here at Shea Stadium, back in August.

Actually, winning road games anywhere was a challenge for the Cardinals in '06,  as their 34-47 record away from home would attest.  When  the Mets scored a first-inning run on a two-out double by Carlos Beltran and a bloop RBI single by David Wright, the challenge got a bit more intense.  However, Cards starter Jeff Suppan dodged a bullet when Shawn Green hit a bullet right at Scott Rolen at third base to minimize the damage.

The Cardinals tied the game in the second-inning off Mets starter Oliver Perez.  A lead-off single by Jim Edmonds and a one-out bloop hit by Yadier Molina put runners on the corners for Ronnie Belliard.  Manager Tony LaRussa - anticipating difficulty scoring runs - called for the squeeze play - and it worked.  Belliard's bunt towards second base scored Edmonds to make it a 1-1 game.

In the third-inning, a lead-off double by David Eckstein went to waste, as Preston Wilson (nephew of Mets icon Mookie Wilson) struck out - then after an intentional walk to Albert Pujols, Juan Encarnacion grounded one to third baseman Wright who started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

What happened in the sixth-inning is almost beyond belief.

Still tied at one run apiece, Jim Edmonds drew a one-out walk off a tiring Oliver Perez.  Next up - Scott Rolen hit one deep to left field which seemed to be gone.  But left fielder Endy Chavez somehow caught the ball at the absolute apex of his well-timed leap - not only bringing the ball back, but firing a strike to second baseman Jose Valentin who quickly relayed the ball to first baseman Carlos Delgado - to double up a very shocked Edmonds - while sending the fans into an absolute frenzy.

With all that momentum going for them, the Mets seemed almost certain to take the lead in the bottom half of the sixth.  After a one-out walk to Delgado, Wright hit a ground ball to a distraught Scott Rolen, who hastily threw one into right field - trying to start a double play.  Suddenly, New York had both runners in scoring position.  With first base open, Suppan intentionally walked Green, then got perhaps the biggest strikeout of his career when he fanned Valentin on a nasty slider.  Up next - the heroic Chavez - with a chance to add to his legend with a potential game-winning base hit - instead flew out to center to end the threat.

Mets reliever Chad Bradford (career postseason 0.39 ERA in 23.1 IP) worked a perfect seventh-inning - then Suppan finished up his terrific performance with another scoreless inning in the bottom half.

However, at this point in the game, the prospects for a Cardinal victory seemed remote - to say the least.  During the regular season, the Redbirds only managed to win one game on the road when they were tied after seven innings of play.  Strangely enough, that happened in the second game of the season - when they managed to score a ninth-inning run in Philadelphia, and held on for a 4-3 win.

On the other hand, the Cardinals lost nine times on the road when they were tied up after seven-innings.  Even when they had the lead after seven-innings on the road, the Cardinals still managed to lose five games.  To their credit, they did manage to win two games on the road when they were trailing after seven innings.  Go figure.

So here they were, playing the biggest game of the year - in a 1-1 tie at Shea Stadium after seven-innings of play.  Not exactly their blueprint for success in recent history.

A new Mets reliever - Aaron Heilman - pitched a scoreless eighth-inning - first retiring Eckstein on a ground ball to the first baseman - unassisted - then getting Scott Spiezio on a called third strike.  Heilman wanted no part of Pujols, however - walking him intentionally with two-out and nobody on.  He then struck out Encarnacion to retire the side.  Whether or not that strategy had any impact on what would transpire in the ninth-inning is pure conjecture.

After Suppan walked Beltran to open the bottom of the eighth for the Mets, LaRussa brought in Randy Flores to face the heart of the New York lineup - and he was equal to the task - striking out both Delgado and Wright before inducing Green to ground out to Pujols - unassisted.

On to the ninth-inning.  Heilman struck out Edmonds for out number one.  Rolen then grounded a single to left field, bringing Yadier Molina up to the plate.  Perhaps Heilman thought Yadi would take a pitch or two, to get ahead in the count - but that wasn't what Yadi had in mind.  On a first pitch fastball, Molina lined one deep - and high enough - to clear the wall in left.  Chavez would have needed a trampoline to have a shot at catching this one.

The Cards had a shocking 3-1 lead now - but this game was far from over.

Rookie Adam Wainwright came in for the save - but it wouldn't be easy.  Both Valentin and Chavez singled to start the last of the ninth.  With runners on first and second, pinch hitter Cliff Floyd couldn't pull the trigger on a called strike three.  Jose Reyes then lined out to Edmonds in center for out number two.  Next up - Paul LoDuca - walked to load the bases.

With the season on the line for both teams, the most dangerous postseason hitter the Cardinals have ever encountered - Carlos Beltran - stepped up to the plate.  Three pitches later, he was out on strikes.  The final pitch was a baffling curve ball on the outside corner which completely fooled Carlos - dropping about two feet to finish knee-high.

The Cardinals had survived this crazy game.  On the road.  With a National League championship on the line.  On a home run from what was - at the time - the least likely candidate to go yard.  They were on their way to their second World Series appearance in three years - quite naturally, as huge underdogs.

Of course, this team knew better - and they were about to shock the experts one more time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18, 2013 - NLCS MVP Wacha Leads Cards to World Series

Friday, October 18, 2013 - Game 6 - NLCS vs LA Dodgers at Busch Stadium III - Attendance:  46,899 - Starting Pitchers:  Michael Wacha vs Clayton Kershaw

It was one of the most highly anticipated pitching match-ups in postseason history.  The best left-handed pitcher in major league baseball vs the twenty-two year old rookie phenom.  In the end, the Dodgers' ace southpaw - Clayton Kershaw - would be knocked out of the game after four innings -  allowing seven runs on ten hits.

Meanwhile, Michael Wacha would continue his amazing postseason dominance - allowing just two hits, one walk and nary a run in seven innings pitched - striking out five - as the Cardinals advanced to the World Series in a 9-0 cake-walk over the Dodgers.

It wasn't supposed to be this easy.  But the combination of great pitching and a relentless offensive attack on an arm-weary opponent created the perfect storm:  the Cardinals' fourth trip to the Fall Classic in the last ten seasons.

Not surprisingly, Michael Wacha, with his third straight postseason win and impeccable 0.43 ERA in league championship play was voted NLCS MVP for 2013.  Almost overnight, this unassuming but highly talented young feller from Texas - with a blazing fastball and baffling change-up - had become a national celebrity.  In an age where player's nicknames are often chopped-up-hip-hop versions of their first and last names - A-Rod, A-Gon or Mad-Bum - Michael Wacha is now whimsically referred to as "Wacha-Wacha-Wacha".   Much better than Mich-Wach or Wach-Three, don't you think?

With the Dodgers already trailing three games to one in this best-of-seven showdown, manager Don Mattingly really had no choice but to gamble on using his best pitcher on short rest.  For the first two innings, the strategy had at least kept his team in the game - a scoreless tie.

However, things unraveled for Kershaw and the Dodgers in the home half of the third.  The inning began harmlessly enough when Wacha grounded out.  However, a tenacious Matt Carpenter fouled off a half-dozen pitches before finally ripping a two-ball-two-strike pitch down the right field line for a fist-pumping double.

With that, the Cardinals were on their way to a five-hit-four-run inning which essentially sealed the deal.  Carlos Beltran followed Carpenter's double with an RBI single - advancing to second on the throw home.  After Matt Holliday looked at a called third strike, it appeared Kershaw might be able to keep the damage at a minimum.  Not tonight.  Yadier Molina scored Beltran with a base hit to right - then advanced to second on a David Freese single to center.

Next up - 2014's NLDS hero, Matt Adams - walked, to load the bases.  Shane Robinson drove in Molina and Freese with another base hit to right, to give St Louis a 4-0 lead.  The last batter in the inning - Michael Wacha - in his second plate appearance in the third - struck out.

After Wacha carved up the Dodgers' lineup in the fourth, a weary and ineffective Kershaw tried his luck again in the bottom half - to no avail.  Molina ripped a single to right, then advanced to second on right fielder Yasiel Puig's lackadaisical error.  Freese moved Molina to third with a single to left field - then Adams delivered the knock-out punch to Kershaw with an opposite-field double to left - scoring Molina, as Freese held up at third.

At that point, Kershaw was relieved of his duties, with the Dodgers in a 5-0 hole.  The two runners on base were his responsibility - and both would later come in to score as well.  The Redbirds pecked away for a couple more runs - stopping at nine.

After Wacha's brilliant seven-inning outing concluded, Carlos Martinez (two strikeouts) and Trevor Rosenthal (one strikeout) combined for two perfect innings to send the Cardinals to another World Series showdown with the Boston Red Sox.

Unfortunately, the postseason magic wore off for Wacha and the Cardinals in Game Six of the World Series.  Arm troubles added to Wacha's misery in 2014.  Although he had recovered in time to pitch some moderately effective innings at the end of the regular season, he was clearly far from where he was a year ago.

Still, manager Mike Matheny called on Wacha to pitch in a no-win ninth-inning situation against the Giants in Game Five of the NLCS.  He hadn't pitched in nearly three weeks.  Even then, he struggled with his command early in the game - allowing two first-inning runs to a weak Arizona Diamondbacks team.  Could anyone really expect Wacha to survive one inning against a team that knew how to win?  Aside from manager Mike Matheny?

Fortunately, Wacha is still quite young, and with good health, can be a dominant major league pitcher again.  Fundamentally, the Cardinals are still a very good team, and should be good enough to reach the postseason again next year.

Time will tell.  Obviously, one year - or 363 days - can bring about much change in the fate of any player - or team - in the game.