Archive for the ‘ Postseason ’ Category

Alter the box scores?

Reading box scores has always been a hobby for a lot of avid baseball fans. It was for me growing up before TV and the internet made it easier to stay current with your favorite team or players. As a former pitcher I can tell you one of the most satisfying things to see the day after you’ve pitched is to look at the box score and see..Winning Pitcher..with your name after it.My friend, the late Joe Niekro, would hoist an adult beverage after he was credited with a win and say “Another one in the left hand [winning] column.” Conversely, no matter if you pitched well like C.J. Wilson did last night it’s disappointing to see…Losing Pitcher..with your name after it…

I had that feeling 237 times during my career and twice more in World Series play. Last night’s game reminded of  the days when pitcher’s were the decision makers as to who to pitch to and when to walk someone. It didn’t always come from the bench. The situation in the bottom of the 6th inning last night brought back memories of that. Now…..please don’t read into this that I am second guessing Ron Washington or C.J. Wilson, if it was his idea to walk Nick Punto with Chris Carpenter on deck. It happened earlier in the game and Chris struck out to end the inning. It seemed the obvious reason was to get Carpenter out of the game and Ogando into it to face Allen Craig.

From a pitcher’s point of view I always liked to get the #8 hitter out and have the pitcher leading off the next inning…If you can do that a couple times a game it makes it more difficult for the leadoff man to get something started….Reflecting back on the 1982 season for a moment. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that team when we won the World Series. Ozzie Smith was our shortstop and a lot of times was our #8 hitter. One of the many subtle things that aren’t in the box score is how many times the #8 hitter gets a 2 out hit, the pitcher most of the time makes the 3rd out and Voila!  The lead off hitter becomes the lead off hitter you want leading off the next inning.

Ozzie seemed to do that a lot. They probably could dig up a stat on that…This enabled Lonnie Smith or maybe Willie McGee or Tommy Herr to lead off for us instead of the pitcher. Back to last night’s 6th inning. If I were on the mound I would have much preferred to go after Nick Punto in both instances that he came up with 1st base open and the pitcher due up next. Why? First, I would love to have been sitting next to Cardinal great Bob Gibson last night when the situation arose. I can hear Gibby saying…”.if my stuff isn’t good enough to challenge the # 8 hitter and get him out, what am I doing out here.” I would echo his thoughts.

No dispespect to Nick Punto. I have always appreciated him as a good player going back to his days when I saw him play with the Minnesota Twins. I think of him as “Pete Rose Lite”. He plays with that same intensity. known more for his fielding and doing the little things like bunting a man over, hit and run, hit it to the right side to advance a runner..but not driving in a lot of runs…In pitcher’s pregame meetings when the #8 hitter’s name came up we would usually say…’he’s hitting 8th for a reason’…..I could almost see the smile on Mark McGwire’s face last night when Allen Craig got his chance. Mac thinks Craig will be an RBI machine in the near future. Maybe in this series.

So, here’s my point. If Ogando gets Craig out it looks like a good decision. But did C.J. Wilson have any input in whether or not to walk Punto or go after him? I don’t know. I don’t hear that question asked very often after games anymore. It’s an example of a starting pitcher being a pawn in the strategy of getting strong bullpens to match up against opposing hitters and as Tony LaRussa says, and he’s a master at it, ” I want to make it as difficult as I can for the opposing team to score”. I did read where C.J. said, “he didn’t chase” “was I suppose to throw him a fastball down the middle.?” If it were me that answer would have been a resounding YES…maybe not down the middle but trust your stuff that you can get him out and get the pitcher or pitcher’s spot in the batting order leading off the next inning. Maybe that’s why I have 237 losses next to my name.

So , did CJ deserve to be called the losing pitcher. If the decision to walk Punto or “pitch around him” came from the bench , NO….As Tim McCarver said on the FOX telecast, pitcher’s are trained to throw strikes and now you’re asking him to purposely throw balls. near the strike zone, but balls. It’s hard to do and often a pitcher will give up a hit doing that because he doesn’t throw the pitch with conviction. Aims it. doesn’t have crispness to it. When Bill Rigney, one of my former manager’s would come to the mound and hem and haw about pitching around a certain hitter, my response was quickly, “Do you want me to walk him or get him out”.? “Rig’ was the 1st manager I had that didn’t let me decide that myself in most instances. Again, that’s why the box score say’s Winning or Losing pitcher, not Winning or Losing manager. I felt for CJ last night. He may not have had a chance to determine his fate.

And please, it’s not to 2nd guess Ron Washington’s decision. If I were to see “Wash’ today, I’d give him a hug and tell him what a great job he has done and is doing with the Rangers. It’s just an example of how little decisions in baseball games can affect the outcome and they’re magnified in post season play. And when you see who the Winning and Losing pitchers are they’re often affected by decisions from the bench and not their own. As we see everyday during the regular season and more so in the post season, it’s a more specialized game and controlled from the bench as much as from the mound.

HMMM..THIS COULD BE INTERESTING

This World Series might be the most difficult to get an idea of who you would say is favored to win or how it could play out. The players on these teams have not competed against each other very often, some never; nor have the teams. Many Texas Rangers will get their 1st look at Busch Stadium, many Cardinals their 1st look at The Ballpark in Arlington. Advantage: Pitchers in their own park.

Why? Hitters like to feel comfortable at the plate and some of that comfort is the hitters background in center field and how the ball looks to them coming out of the pitchers hand. They’ll get some swings in practice today to get a feel for it. Also, the hitters will be seeing pitchers they haven’t faced very often if ever. Again, advantage pitchers.

A pitcher always has an edge facing a hitter for the 1st few times at bat. [I think we noticed how comfortable the hitters in the NLCS were facing pitchers they had faced a lot this season, what to look for and where to look for it. The starters had to be ‘spot on’ to be effective.]  They haven’t seen how the ball looks coming at them, how their breaking pitches look, judging the speed. A good reason for Pitchers to ‘trust their stuff’ and throw a lot of ‘strike one’s’..get ahead and stay ahead. always a good approach no matter the hitter or the importance of the game.

My best example of experiencing that was the 1965 World Series when I was pitching for the Minnesota Twins and facing the LA Dodgers and hooking up against the greatest pitcher of my baseball lifetime, Sandy Koufax. The scout that signed me, Dick Weincek, was our advance scout. He had some detailed information. I said,”Dick, no disrespect for what you’ve given me but they have never faced me and I’m going with my strengths and not be overly concerned with their weaknesses.”

It worked fine the 1st time I faced them. We won 5-1, I pitched a complete game and my theory worked. A couple of side stories about that series. According to my baseball trivia experts the 1965 series was the last one where every win was a complete game performance by the winning pitcher. Mudcat Grant, myself, Claude Osteen, Don Drysdale, Koufax, Mudcat again and then Koufax again shutting us out on 2 days rest. he also shut us out in game 5. And, to give you an idea of how little national TV exposure baseball had during the regular season and before interleague play began, these games were the 1st time I had ever seen Sandy Koufax pitch in person and only in the 1963 series did I see him on television.

After 3 innings of watching him in game 2, I said to our pitching coach, Johnny Sain, “If I give up a run, this game’s over”. That’s how good he was and I was right. We were fortunate enough to score 1st in game 2 and win but in games 5 & 7, no chance. Both 9 inning complete game shutouts.

Contrast that to my 1982 World Series experience where Mike Caldwell of the Brewers pitched a complete game in game 1 and my teammate, John Stuper pitched a gutsy complete game win in game 6 through a few rain delays. Bruce Sutter was our closer that year and the Hall of Famer did what great closers do and saved game 7 to give us the series win.

Bill Lee, former lefty for the RedSox, quoted Buckminster Fuller during one of our visit years ago when I had mentioned that the complete game was becoming more and more the exception than the rule. The quote, ” Specialization breeds extinction”. And the complete game in world series play has become close to extinct.

So…..this brings us to the 2011 World Series. It seems like the winner will be determined by whose relief pitchers are most effective. The Cardinal relief corps has made an amazing turnaround when you consider all the leads they gave up during the season. Tony La Russa and his pitching coach, Dave Duncan, have been masters at matching up relievers vs. hitters since the 80’s in Oakland when they had Dennis Eckersley to save games and Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt, Todd Burns all getting key outs in the last 3 innings to set things up for “Eck”. Ron Washington has moved Ogando into the bullpen where he was last year and he is a great asset for Texas. He can pitch a few innings and be effective against righty’s and lefty’s.

How about these lineups where the LCS MVPs hit at the bottom of the batting order. Deep and powerful lineups with Texas having a little edge when you compare the season stats of both lineups. If one of the starting pitchers figures out how to work through these lineups a couple of times and hold them to a couple runs they could be the series mvp and be responsible for their team winning. If CJ Wilson finds a pattern and some holes in the Cardinal  hitters he can exploit that could be helpful to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison…They’re all lefties. Chris Carpenter is who he is. Tough,seasoned veteran, not intimidated by any hitter. If he’s sharp and wins games 1 and 5, he’s your mvp. So many possibilities. The beauty of post season baseball is it’s so unpredictable. Nolan Ryan, that wily ‘ol fox, has said his Rangers will win in 6. Why would he say that? Because it diverts the attention and pressure from the players to him. He knows what he’s doing.

For me, this is a win-win, happy either way series. I love what the Rangers and Ron Washington and pitching coach, Mike Maddux have done. Mike is on his way to being to “Wash” what Dave Duncan is to LaRussa. I like the way Nolan Ryan has made a decision to take the dreaded pitch count out of play and allow the Texas starters to work out of jams late in the game. I love what the Cardinals have done because from playing there in the early 80’s and being on the 1982 team that won the World Series, I know what a great baseball town St. Louis is, I think of it as more a town than a city;  with classy, passionate fans. Both have ownership groups that carry themselves with dignity.

I hope we get to see great competition which is a trademark of Tony LaRussa’s teams. He preaches competing, every pitch, every at bat, every inning. That’s how they came back from the baseball dead. Texas manager Ron Washington is a guy you can’t help but root for, passionate, openly excited for his players when they do well in a controlled, tasteful manner. I couldn’t root for either of these teams to not win.

The deciding factor could turn out to be the big flaw in determining home field advantage. The NL winning the All Star game. That means more than winning your division and having the best record of the 2 teams? That’s wrong. Hope good baseball men address and change that in the off-season. But, despite that flaw, I’m going to sit back and watch two teams that are there because they deserve to be and watch for those subtle little things that I like to look for that can determine who wins. A pitch here, a play there, a timely hit, a key stolen base. Let the games begin.

Great Sunday Sports day

Beautiful day yesterday for the sports fan….Here in New England we got to watch Tom Brady do what he has been doing for a decade. Lead the Patriots to victory with an efficient exhibition of accurate passing and intelligent play calling. I watched Ben Crane come from 8 shots back with 11 holes left to play and comeback to win a PGA event in a playoff. And then, to top it off, the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Milwaukee Brewers to complete the most improbable comeback in my lifetime of baseball history to win the National League pennant.

I look forward to comparing the Cardinals and Texas Rangers before Wednesday night’s World Series opener but today I’d like to pay homage to the way these individuals and teams conducted themselves when they won and as they performed.

A sportscaster and excellent play by play hockey announcer , Al Shaver, did a sports wrap up show on WCCO radio in Minneapolis in the late 60’s. I have never forgotten his closing tag line and I always kept in fresh in my mind during my playing career. He said, ” This is Al Shaver saying “When you lose say little, when you win…say less.” Beautiful! When will athletes get that attitude? Nyjer Morgan and Zack Grienke of the Brewers and the over the top “look at me” NFL players doing their personal sack or touchdown dances like Cam Newton yesterday. He’s doing great but is his team winning?

I got a chance up close to see how the NY Yankees in the 60’s with Roger and Mickey and Whitey acted when they won and the Orioles in the late 60’s. Brooks and Frank Robinson and company…pure class. they carried themselves with dignity and humility. Those seem to be forgotten qualities today for athletes. Now I understand spontaneous  joy and celebration. That’s normal in today’s games versus years ago when it wasn’t accepted. You were tabbed as a “Showboat” or in baseball, a “Hot Dog” if you showed emotion when you did something  special.

Of course, now it doesn’t have to be special. just an ordinary tackle or hit or strikeout seems to merit a big celebration. I watched Alan Page of the Vikings and Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers and Harmon Killebrew, my teammate for 16 years with the Minnesota Twins do great things and act like it was just something they were supposed to do not celebrate like they helped achieve world peace or found a cure for cancer.

So…here’s to Tom Brady, who was shown on the bench after leading his team to victory, sitting almost expressionless, acting like he just did something that was very routine and didn’t need props to massage his ego. And to Ben Crane, who gave his fellow competitor, Webb Simpson, a hug and a pat after Simpson missed a putt to give Ben the victory in the McGladrey’s classic. And most of all to the St. Louis Cardinals players and their manager, Tony La Russa, who talked about their heart and character and praised their opponent.

Maybe I’m too old fashioned to accept today’s showboats and hotdogs and occasionally arrogant athletes, but I’ll never waver from my agreeing with Al Shaver. When you lose say little, when you win…say less.

Reflections and musings from the first few Postseason games

Wow! What great baseball we’re getting a chance to see and enjoy. Not perfect, but exciting and enjoyable. As I watch the games and read the articles before and after the games filled with quotes from managers and players it triggers many thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I wish that I could relent and give in to the present day philosophies. Science over Art. But, I can’t.

I don’t care for the word “purist,” I can accept traditionalist and I’m all for progress if it benefits the game and makes it better. But, as I see it, it doesn’t always make it better. I guess I’d call myself a fan that enjoys the simlplicity of the game. throw it, field it, hit it and see who wins. I like the KISS theory. Printed those 4 letters in my glove in the 60’s. [KeepItSimpleStupid]. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy seeing the things that affect winning or losing a baseball game whether it is in May, July, or on the national stage in October

Whether it’s 1945 or 2011, lttle things mean a lot. I have followed this great game since 1945. Tigers beat the Cubs in 7. Last time the Cubs were in the Fall classic. I was 7 years old and I remember it like it was yesterday. Tigers had a big first inning and won game 7 and the series. Greenberg, Newhouser, Caverretta were some of the player’s names. Eventually I had their baseball cards in the spokes of my bicycle wheels.

I give you that background because not a lot has changed in terms of what determines who wins or loses. Throw strikes, catch it when they hit it to you, make accurate throws, try to make solid contact and put the ball in play. As some of my minor league managers and big league pitching coaches told me,” Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary fashion” and you’ll be fine. In simple terms, do the basic fundamental things consistently well. The game was more of a player’s game until the late 80’s. it was art. Pitchers and hitters had distinctive motions and stances and  the game was played by feel and instinct and what was in your heart and stomach meant more than a printout of what happened in the past and influenced manager’s decisions on who to play and pitch and where to position players in the field.

Why did it change? computers? detailed scouting reports? Better educated executives, managers and players? I don’t know. Like the crafty lefthander of the 50’s and 60’s, Curt Simmons,  said. ‘ play’em a step to pull or a step the other way’. Abner Doubleday put’em where they are for a reason. Or, as Branch Rickey, the innovator of the farm system, said to pitchers, “Throw strikes for 5 innings and lower strikes for 4 more” You’ll win a lot of games.

Now…..I know it’s not that simple but when  I look at the results of the 1st few games of this post season I see examples of science taking over for art and feel and not always for the better. Example, Rick Porcello pitched a terrific game game for the Tigers Wednesday in game 4. He deserved a win but repeatedly throwing to 1st base with Elvis Andrus posing a threat to steal 2nd may have cost him and his team the win. Was he throwing to 1st base a gazillion times because the bench signaled for him to do it? I hope not.

That seems to be what pitchers deal with in today’s game of science over art. all kinds of signs from the bench, countless trips to the mound to scramble a pitcher’s brain that’s already moving at warp speed because of the pressure of the situation. Who knows better than the guy with the ball that’s closer to the action than the bench whether the runner on 1st has taken too big of a lead?  As Woody Hayes, the late football coach at The Ohio State University said about the forward pass. 3 things can happen and 2 of them are bad. same thing with throwing to 1st for a pitcher. a balk or a wild throw happen more often than a pickoff. Vary your time that you pause in the set position, step off the rubber if you’re not comfortable , don’t give the runner the satifaction of thinking he’s important. If he steals what are the percentages that he’ll score??. There’s a number I never see on the tv screen. only what % a catcher has of throwing out runners which are most of the time because the pitcher didn’t get him the ball in time to make a decent throw.

Whew! I’m venting a little more than I thought but I just wish they would let the players play and put the fielders in normal positions, [maybe Mark Kotsay and Corey Hart would have caught those 2 fly balls in the 1st inning of the Cards/Brewers game 3].   I am so thankful I played in an era where you looked in the box score the day after a game and saw that you were a winning pitcher or a losing pitcher because of what you did not because people who weren’t on the field of play made decisions that determined your success or failure. If you wanted your right fielder to play a little shallow, you looked out and waved him in a little. It was your game on the day you pitched. you pitched with your gut and your heart and your instincts. Pitching and playing was an art not a science.

And when it was over you and your teammates had the satisfaction of  saying, ‘we laid it all on the line for better or worse’, “We’re not going to blame it on the manager, the coaches or any computer printout that gave us a notebook full of information about what happened in the past but couldn’t predict the future”. Like Ozzie’s homerun in 1985 from the left side of the plate….look up those percentages. First time in how many thousand lefthand AB’s? Or when Nolan had a lead in the 7th against the Phillies in 1980 and the Phillies won the game. he had never given up the lead when he led in the 7th up to that game. It’s about what’s going to happen today not what happened in the past and I sure wish today’s players could have more to say about the outcome.

Oh, and one more thing. Commissioner Bud, I call him Bud because we have known each other for a long time going back to when I was privileged to be a rather insignificant member of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals that defeated his Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series; could you demand that clubs put a moratorium on announcements of hirings and firings until the World Series is over so we don’t have to hear during or between innings or read about who is going where and why and we can watch and read about the players who make it possible for us to enjoy fall baseball..