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.
October is an exciting time of year for baseball fans and I am a fan as well as a former player and now, a member of the MLB Network announcing team. So I thought I would revive Kaat’s Korner and blog some of my thoughts. I started Kaat’s Korner in the late ’80s as a pregame segment on the Minnesota Twins Cable Network when I was announcing their games. I also did some blogging for YES while a member of the Yankees’ announcing team. Of course, the original K-Korner will and always should be credited to my friend Ralph Kiner, who had his show called “Kiner’s Korner” since the early 1960s on Mets telecasts. That title itself was based on his old “Kiner’s Korner” section of home run seats in left field at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field in the 1940s, replacing Hank Greenberg’s “Greenberg’s Gardens” there.
Those slugging roots notwithstanding, I am going to start with my favorite topic: pitching. The real “money” ball players, as I have often good-naturedly chided “Moneyball” central figure Billy Beane, are pitchers. No disrepect to the likes of Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols, but it is still about which team pitches best usually wins. Oakland had Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder as their starters when “Moneyball” became a term that some experts glommed onto as the reason for a team’s success. They were hard to find in the movie. I guess Yogi Berra and Kirby Puckett could not have played for a team that operated on the “Moneyball” theory. They seldom walked or struck out or took a lot of pitches!
OK, back to pitching. I think the classic duel between Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the National League Division Series should be required watching for every pitcher — amateur, Minor or Major Leaguer. Watch the videos on MLB.com and study how Carpenter and Halladay went about their business. Pay attention to the pace with which they worked, the methodical, rhythmic, consistent time between pitches. There was not much hesitation. They never seemed to have any doubt about what they wanted to do with the next pitch. They pitched like the hitter was just someone standing in their way. They seemed to say: “I challenge you to hit this pitch, I’m not afraid you’re going to hit it.” They had no apparent fear of contact and pitched their pitches with conviction. I refuse to say “threw their pitches” because these two are not “brain-dead heavers.” That’s a term pitchers in the past 10 to 15 years have coined for those who are infatuated with how fast their fastballs are clocked. They are throwers, not pitchers. Justin Verlander was a thrower as were most of us in our early days in the Majors, but he has become a “pitcher.” Look at the results this year.
Listen carefully to what Carpenter said after the game when asked how he produced so many groundball outs in a ballpark that rewards flyballs. He made it sound so simple and other pitchers should take note: “Yeah, keeping the ball down in the strike zone, sinking the ball down with my fastball, keeping my breaking ball down, staying ahead in the count. And when you do that, you get those guys who obviously are a fabulous hitting ballclub, you get them in swing mode. If you’re aggressive and they know that, if they don’t swing, you’re going to be 1-2, 0-2, whatever it is early in the count or behind in the count, they’re going to start swinging and that’s when you can start expanding the strike zone and getting the ball down and getting them to swing at stuff you want them to swing at and producing good results.”
Those Game 5 results took me back to the World Series games between the Yankees and Braves in the 1950s when Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford and Bob Turley were hooking up in similar pitching duels. I didn’t miss a pitch. That was pitching at its highest level, like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. I smiled as I read comments about how some players on other teams do not like Carpenter. He seems to be mean or brusque or unfriendly. Good on ya’, Chris. That’s the way it should be! Not many liked Gibson, either. I wish more hitters would have hated me. My problem was the opposite. They sent a limo for me on the day I pitched so I’d get to the park safely and they could run up to the plate and swing. I wish I’d have known Chris Carpenter back then.
For me, other pitchers this postseason who are enjoyable to watch, whether they won or not, have been Cliff Lee, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, most of the Texas staff. They give you the impression they are in control of the game and are going to dictate the pace. I wish there were more of them. I announced some Red Sox games in September and, living in Vermont in the summer, I watched a lot of them as well. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are high-quality pitchers, but — and I mentioned this to my friend Terry Francona on more than one occasion — they began to pitch like they were stuck in quicksand in September. No energy, no pace. They appeared to have scouting-reportitis. That’s a disease pitchers suffer when they have studied hitters’ weaknesses to the point where they do not “trust their stuff” and worry about the hitter making contact.
I look forward to seeing more performances like I saw from Chris and Roy. There are too few of them these days.