2006 World Series Champs

October 28, 2006

It was another night for the underdogs as the Cardinals came through to clinch their tenth World Series victory last night in game five. Billy Ray Cyrus started it off with a very accomplished rendition of the National Anthem (despite my scepticism!) and the Cards carried it on with a 4-2 victory.

David Eckstein is really the archetypal baseball underdog: a five foot seven shortstop who has faced questions about his ability on every step of his baseball journey. Eckstein carried on his game four form with two more RBIs and collected the World Series MVP award at the end of the game. When you look at the photos of him collecting his prizes (a trophy and a bright yellow Corvette), he looks like someone who is frankly a bit embarrassed to be singled out. It may be a cliché, but Eckstein is a true team player and it’s good to see people like that come through and be the hero every now and then.

And what can you say about Jeff Weaver? The “hero” of Weaver Watch certainly had the last laugh. Having been dropped by the Angels mid-way through the season to make room for his younger brother (a baseball decision that the Angels cannot be criticised for taking, it has to be said), Weaver could have become another washed-up pitcher who once promised much but never delivered. In the biggest game of his life, Weaver pitched brilliantly: eight strong innings with nine Ks and only four hits. With the World Series there for the taking, Weaver held his nerve and gave his side an excellent chance to win the game. His team mates didn’t let him down.

The World Series is often referred to as the “Fall Classic”, but it’s hard to use the word classic in relation to this year’s event. If anything, the players often gave a good example of how not to do things on the diamond; however that doesn’t mean the series was a flop. The mistakes made during the course of the series revealed the magnitude of the event. Sometimes you see the superstars of the game making it all look ridiculously easy yet this series was coloured by examples of human failure that we all experience. The pressure and tension was there for all to see. The desire of the players to make plays often resulted in them trying too hard and falling short, but that made the series fascinating to me. The imperfections didn’t quite make it a perfect series, but they certainly made it an interesting and exciting one.

While it has been a remarkable season for Detroit, I doubt they will be able to look at it too fondly right now. To get so close the ultimate prize and then to play so poorly will be very difficult to accept. They really did not do themselves justice and Leyland will do well to use that as extra motivation next season. 2007 could be tough for the Tigers because they will be dealing with large expectations and the White Sox showed this year how competitive the American League is.

As for the Cardinals, this is probably a less-talented team than the one that was swept by the Red Sox in 2004. Guys like Pujols, Rolen and Edmunds will find this victory all the more satisfying because of their previous heartbreak. In fact, you can look at guys throughout their roster and think; “they really deserve this moment”. I read a few stories in the build-up to the World Series basically saying how terrible it was that a team who “only” won 83 games in the regular season might be crowned the best team of 2006. These stories really annoyed me and I thought at the time about the things I would write if the Cardinals did emerge victorious. As it happens, Jayson Stark at ESPN.com has already said it all (and much more besides) so go and check out this article if you haven’t read it already.

All that is left to say is congratulations to the St Louis Cardinals (“the improbable champions of America’s most improbable sport”, as Stark lyrically describes them), commiserations to the Tigers, and let’s hope next April gets here quickly. Mind you, I’m sure there will be plenty to write about in the meantime. The baseball off-season may be long, but it is never, never dull!

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2006 World Series Game Four

October 27, 2006

Game four was a cracker; the lead changed on several occasions and there was plenty of drama from great plays, bad plays and crazy plays. The Cards have taken a 3-1 lead which, while not insurmountable, makes them firm favourites to go on and to take the series.

I’ve read all the reports and watched the Condensed Game on MLB.com again to help me sum up what happened. I’ve come to the conclusion that it just seemed like it was destined to be the Cardinals’ night, or more specifically David Eckstein’s.

Luck is a word that often gets thrown around and I think it carries a few too many negative connotations to be used lightly. The Cards did not get lucky last night. There’s no doubt that fortune favoured St Louis, but they put pressure on the Tigers and were able to capitalise when something went their way. Granderson’s slip and Monroe’s “nearly catch” were certainly tough on the Tigers, but if Eckstein hadn’t made good contact on the two pitches then the events couldn’t have happened at all.

What will really annoy the Tigers is that they compounded these unfortunate plays with a couple of errors by Zumaya and Rodney (“you plonker!”). The players themselves will know better than anyone that you cannot keep making mistakes and then hope you get away with them. The Cardinals have not been perfect, but they have minimised their own mistakes and have simply done enough to win. That is all that counts in a World Series.

Is there any way back for the Tigers? “Not if they lose tonight” would be the smart answer. In truth, every World Series game is approached by both sides as being a “must win” so I don’t necessarily think it puts extra pressure on them. If they can crash the St Louis party tonight (weather permitting) then they will not only keep the series alive, they will deal a big blow to the Cards while giving themselves a massive boost. Although they wouldn’t choose this scenario, I’m sure Detroit fans would fancy their chances of beating St Louis twice at Comerica, especially with Kenny Rogers on the mound in game six.

The Tigers game plan is simple: win tonight to ruin the St Louis party, ride Kenny Rogers to tie the series, then go into the decider with the momentum well and truly on their side. Sean Casey continued his productive World Series last night and Pudge finally bagged a few hits so they have some hope to cling to.

Sometimes it can look all too simple from the neutral fan’s perspective: all the Cardinals have to do is win one more game; however every baseball fan will be tuning in tonight knowing that “one more game” is the biggest hurdle these St Louis Cardinals will ever face.


Game Four – Take two

October 26, 2006

Having talked-up Joel Zumaya only for him to have a nightmare in game three, raising the prospect of a rain-out last night was probably not a good idea. Fortunately for all concerned I don’t think Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter stood out in the rain and kept the crowds “happy” by singing a few numbers before the game was officially postponed.

Was that the only bit of good fortune on the night? Possibly not. The delay will give Detroit a bit of time to regroup after a poor performance in game three. Of course, if we get another rain-out tonight then the schedule for the rest of the series will change, something that will probably favour the Cards as it will allow Carpenter to pitch in game six. That is all a bit difficult to predict at the moment though; St Louis will be happy if that situation doesn’t arise if it means they have already been crowned champs.

The latest weather reports suggest that they may be able to get game four in tonight, albeit in less than ideal conditions. Albert Pujols summed up the right attitude though on MLB.com:

“I’d rather be out there playing than sitting home and watching someone else. There are no excuses. You have to go out and perform. There is no advantage to either team. This is the World series. You have to go out and play.”

I’m sure the players of the other twenty-eight teams would agree with those sentiments.

Let’s hope the predicted drizzle doesn’t turn into heavy rain and we can watch the next instalment of this year’s World Series tonight. One thing that the weather reports have highlighted is that tonight’s game is officially scheduled to start at 8.27 ET (01.27 our time). Football fans have to put up with Sky Sports (and the police) messing their kick-off times about, but at least they start at a rounded figure. Where do they get 27 minutes past from? I guess there is a reason somewhere and it’s probably tied to money. The White Sox announced earlier this month that midweek evening games next season at the Cell will start at 7.11 as they have signed a sponsorship deal with a company called 7 -Eleven (a franchise of “neighbourhood convenience stores”). Very tasteful behaviour from the soon to be former World Series champs!

Oh, and the other positive to come out of last night’s rain-out is that it gave Jonny and Josh the chance to read out a few more e-mails, including one from myself. Thanks for that guys and keep up the great work.


Game Four (National Anthem) preview

October 25, 2006

As if game four of the World Series isn’t exciting enough on its own, the pre-game “entertainment” tonight should be a real treat.

Tonight, for your listening pleasure, we get to hear a father-daughter duet of the U.S. National Anthem. It’s not Frank and Nancy Sinatra (although I’m sure with today’s technology they could overcome the slight problem of Frank’s “deadness”). It’s not Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones (they are father and daughter aren’t they?).

No, this is the World Series for crying out loud. We need the big-hitters for this job. I give you:

Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley Cyrus.

Oh yes, that’s Mister “Achy Breaky Heart” to you and I. The one man soundtrack to a line-dancing nightmare. Let’s hope he’s still got that mullet.

As for his daughter, she is the star of the Disney Channel’s hit TV show “Hannah Montana” apparently. According to MLB’s press release:

“[the show] features Miley, who plays a regular girl named Miley Stewart, who leads a secret double life as an international rock star. Billy Ray Cyrus plays Miley Stewart’s dad and manager”.

I can’t imagine why they don’t show that on prime time terrestrial TV over here. It sounds brilliant.

I’m sure when Billy and Miley walk on to the field they will have to pinch each other to check it is really happening. I mean, how lucky can two people get? Never mind singing at the World Series. Miley just happens to get a role in a TV show for a character called Miley. Then Billy just happens to get the role of “Miley’s dad” in the same show.

As Harry Hill would say: “what are the chances of that happening?” It’s almost as if they created the programme with Billy and Miley in mind, but no one would be so bereft of ideas that they would stoop to the level of building a show around Billy Ray Cyrus and his kid, would they?! That’s Disney for you, I guess.

Anyway, enough of my negativity. I can’t wait to see how this rendition pans out and what marks Jonny and Josh give them (although to be fair there hasn’t been much competition so far – I would love to see Jonny’s face if Josh gives them a higher rating than Bob Seeger!).

Just picture the scene: hyped-up for the big game, the Stars and Stripes flying, everyone standing to attention while Billy and Miley sing their (“Achy breaky”) hearts out.

Then think of a group of pensioners down your local community centre, dressed in Stetsons and cowboy boots singing along to old Billy boy (while Reg sits in the corner sulking because they won’t play “Cotton Eyed Joe” for the twentieth time that night). I’m sure it will bring a lump to your throat.

Let’s just hope there isn’t a bloody rainout and Billy and Miley decide to do a “Cliff Richard” (i.e. lead a singalong like Cliff did at Wimbledon one year, not spending fifty-plus years releasing atrocious records – although I’m sure they could do that as well if given the chance).

 

 


2006 World Series Game Three

October 25, 2006

Advantage Cardinals. St Louis took a 2-1 series lead over the Detroit Tigers through a combination of a great starting outing by Chris Carpenter and several Detroit mistakes.

Perhaps focusing on Detroit is doing a disservice to Carpenter, but I feel their failings in game three could have a bigger impact on the rest of the series. Several members of the Tigers line-up (Granderson, Rodriguez and Polanco in particular) are struggling to contribute offensively. In a relatively short series, there is no warm-up period. You have to be firing on all cylinders from the first game, otherwise you can find yourself out of the series before you have really started (as happened to the Cards themselves in 2004). The Tigers are going to have to find a way to get their bats hot quickly and they will have to attempt this against Jeff Suppan who pitched extremely well in the NLCS. Suppan took the loss in game three of the 2004 World Series against Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox. No doubt he has been hoping for another chance to win a World Series game, never mind a ring, ever since. It will be tough for Detroit, but no one said winning a World Series would be easy.

Detroit’s bullpen has been a real strength during 2006 so to see two of the key components, Zumaya and Rodney, both suffer bad outings last night doesn’t bode well. In my World Series preview I made a note that this talented Tigers team was a bit short on post-season experience. Zumaya is a rookie and this is Rodney’s first taste of the post-season; therefore the possibility of nerves getting the better of them was always there. That said, anyone can have a bad outing and maybe they were just unfortunate to have one on such an important night. Whether the experience makes them more determined to show their talents later in the series, or if the bad memories linger, could prove crucial to Detroit’s chances of fighting back.

Zumaya in particular had a forgettable night (apologies to all Tigers fans for praising him in my previous post!). You could sense he was getting frustrated: he didn’t like a couple of the home plate umpire’s calls and his frightening velocity was down a notch or two. Whether this played a part in his seventh inning error is hard to say. Throwing to third base was obviously the wrong decision and his poor throw (well-explained by Josh, who has had plenty of practice so far this series in talking about pointing your front shoulder where you want to throw the ball) just made it worse. The fact that those extra two runs did not prove decisive in the final outcome will be of little consolation to Zumaya. He knows he messed up and will be looking for a chance to make amends.

For all of this, the Tigers are far from out of it. Game three was a bad night for them, but a good performance tonight will draw the series level again. Jim Leyland will be telling his team that last night is gone, that they should concentrate on the game ahead. It is easier said than done though and St Louis will do their utmost to capitalize on any self-doubt that may now exist. The Cardinals will be confident that they have dealt a crucial blow by blanking the Tigers and taking the series advantage. Will they go in for the kill tonight, or will Jeremy Bonderman shift the momentum back into Detroit’s favour?

There is a massive difference between 3-1 and 2-2. If the Tigers go down 3-1 they will find it hard to turn things around, particularly if they contribute to their own downfall tonight with more mistakes. If they put game three behind them and take the win they will be favourites in the remaining best of three game series, with the final two being played at Comerica Park. Neither team can actually win the series tonight, but I have a feeling that the team celebrating after the game will also take the ultimate prize in the end.

More good news

I’m sure you will have seen that MLB and the Players Union announced a new five year labour agreement before yesterday’s game. The terms of the new agreement don’t appear at first glance to contain many surprises. The real story of course is the way the agreement was reached: no threats of player strikes, no bitter arguments played out in public, just constructive private discussions that have produced a relatively quick resolution.


2006 World Series Game Two

October 23, 2006

Even this early in the series, it was a must-win game for the Tigers and they did just that. Behind a masterful performance from veteran Kenny Rogers, the Tigers tied up the series 1-1 before heading out to St Louis for the next three games. It’s still possible that the city of Detroit has seen its last game of baseball for 2006, but few would bet against a game six or seven decider in Motor City.

Rogers was the main focus of attention after the game, both for his pitching and for his dirty left hand. In some ways I was surprised at the restraint shown by Dave O’Brien and Rick Sutcliffe (an English name, as Rick helpfully explained pre-game!) on the matter. They accepted it had been dealt with and moved on once they had established what had happened. Some commentators would have referred to it constantly throughout the rest of the broadcast to turn it into a big story, but they just let the baseball tell the story instead. Good for them. That being said, there’s an interesting article at Baseball Prospectus that examines the conspiracy theory of Rogers scuffing his pitches at Comerica Park.

What can’t be argued is that, even after the first inning, Rogers was dominating. Not in the flame-throwing sense, but in the way he smothered the Cardinals lineup. None of the Cards looked comfortable in the batters box as Rogers did a great job of keeping them off balance. Credit should go to Jim Leyland and his staff for the way they have helped Rogers channel his aggression and passion in a positive way. Now he is destroying opponents rather than water coolers, cameramen and his own reputation. It’s good to see someone learn from his previous mistakes and to perform so well on the biggest stage of all (muddy controversies aside).

Todd Jones did his best to make a game of it by loading the bases in the top of the ninth. I’m not entirely convinced about Jones and it seems crazy to use him when you have a guy like Joel Zumaya to turn to instead. It didn’t cost Jim Leyland last night, but if he keeps pushing his luck with Jones he may regret it later in this series.

These opening two games have really set up the rest of the series. St Louis will be happy heading back to their home town with the series level and with their top two pitchers starting games three and four. The Tigers quickly recovered from their game one rust and will be confident that they can bring the series back to Detroit where they will really fancy their chances. Like every neutral, I just want a competitive series with two teams battling hard right until the end. It looks as though we won’t be disappointed.

Random thoughts

  • I wonder who Dave will interview in St Louis?!
  • Following on from the above, will Dave and Erik have time to interview anybody with all that St Louis cuisine to sample?
  • Finally, various sources (MLB.com for one) are reporting that a new labour agreement has allegedly been tentatively agreed. After years of acrimony it looks like there is a positive working relationship between the Owners and the Players Union. That can only be good news for everyone who has the best interests of baseball at heart.

2006 World Series Game One

October 22, 2006

Well there you go. Write off the Cardinals at your peril. Detroit may have the better all round team on paper, but some so-called experts have been writing about this series as though St Louis are a group of scrubs. Far from it.

Two factors loom large over the result of game one, one big difference between the two teams heading into the game and one similarity.

I mentioned in my previous two posts that the Tigers’ long lay-off may leave them undercooked and there seemed to be signs of this last night. Guillen and Monroe were the only two Tigers to get a hit off Anthony Reyes (two apiece) while the rest of the lineup struggled. Verlander and Brandon Inge made crucial errors in the sixth. They may have just been unfortunate mistakes, but they provide further ammo for people to claim that the Tigers are suffering from some rust. The Cardinals meanwhile looked like a well-drilled team.

The game can also be looked at as a battle between two rookie starting pitchers and it was the Cardinals who came out on top. It’s hard to overstate how impressive Anthony Reyes’ start was. He hasn’t had the easiest of rookie seasons and starting game one of the World Series at Comerica Park is a tall task to face. He started slowly, giving up two hits, one walk and a run in the opening frame, and it would have been easy to panic; however he regained his composure and pitched brilliantly. It was a textbook example of how to pitch without overpowering stuff; first pitch strikes to get ahead of the hitter and not giving up free bases with walks. Just like Josh on Five, I think Rick Sutcliffe was a bit harsh on Justin Verlander. He made a few mistakes but certainly didn’t pitch badly. The problem for Detroit was their inability to provide much run support.

Combining those two factors is important when looking ahead to the rest of this series. Tony La Russa didn’t have many other choices for his game one starter due to the way the NLCS panned out; however the Tigers were virtually able to set-up their starters in whatever fashion they liked. This makes game two even more crucial for the Tigers. Losing the opening two games of the series would put them in a massive hole heading out to St Louis in any case; yet Detroit will also have to face the Cardinals’ two best pitchers in games three and four. Before last night’s game no one would have seriously considered a St Louis sweep, but if they win game two it would certainly be a distinct possibility.

Kenny Rogers will be looking to continue his excellent post-season form tonight as he tries to level the series against Jeff Weaver.  It’s a match-up that undoubtedly favours Detroit, but the Cardinals won’t care about that.  It should be another exciting night of baseball action.

Finally, I cannot let the moment pass without expressing my disappointment with Jonny Gould!  Six out of ten for Bob Seeger’s woeful warbling is indefensible; whatever the poor excuses he came up with.  Even Josh’s three was a bit kind in my opinion.  Great coverage as always though (no doubt Erik and Dave are having a good time despite the weather!).  You can’t beat those World Series tuxedos and it was nice to know that Jonny learned something at drama school apart from how to be a tree.