Retirement of Tony LaRussa

Photo by Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images

By: Bobby Montano

Tony LaRussa announced his retirement today, deciding to leave the game while on top. LaRussa managed the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Atheletics, and St. Louis Cardinals for 33 seasons. With 2,728 total wins, he trails only Connie Mack and John McGraw. He is also the second manager in the history of baseball to manage 5,000 games. He won 3 World Series and 6 pennants during his 33 years of managing.

LaRussa is perhaps the greatest manager of the last 50 or so years. His record speaks for itself, and his managerial philosophy has transformed the sport. LaRussa is widely credited for the advent of the modern bullpen. Anyone who watched the MLB postseason and World Series this year knows how infuriating he could be with his use of statistical match-ups and frequent pitching changes.  The success that followed his management of the bullpen predictably caught on. The bullpen is now as big of a part of building a championship team as is assembling a shutdown 1-2 punch at the top of a rotation and a solid lineup. This was not the case 35 years ago.

LaRussa enjoyed one of the most successful runs in baseball history. We at SSB wish him well in his retirement, although we will admittedly miss watching him manage games. He was a living legend and he will be missed. Best of luck, Mr. LaRussa.

NFL vs. MLB Parity

By: Bobby Montano

Three of the four major sports in United States have a salary cap, limiting the amount of spending that a team can do. The goal of this is simple: create an equal playing field for all teams, no matter the size of the market. The one league that doesn’t, the MLB, is consistently criticized for its lack of a cap. Critics say that this creates a situation that favors the big market team, theoretically making it impossible for a small-market team to succeed. The MLB needs a system like the NFL’s, where a team has the chance to win “any given Sunday,” according to critics. Is this really true, though? A look at the numbers might reveal this perception to be a myth.

According to USA Today, the Yankees led the MLB this year, with a staggering $202,689,026 payroll. The next closest team, the Philles, had a “mere” $172,976,379 payroll. The bottom team, the Royals, had a $36,126,000 payroll. The gap is undeniably unequal. The table reveals the top seven teams to be all big market teams, predictably: NYY, PHI, BOS, LAA, CWS, CHC, NYM. This is highly logical because of large television markets and the wide sale of merchandise. A small market team such as the Blue Jays can’t possibly compete with the huge market Yankees in this way, clearly. Therefore, according to those who support an MLB cap, only the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, et al. can win because they can buy the best players. The best players win the Fall Classic.

In the NFL, though, there is a cap. The big market team can only spend so much, rendering TV markets and merchandise sales almost irrelevant. This should create a league that has more winners, less dynasties, and more parity. Does it?

Let’s look at the last 10 championships games/rounds for both the MLB and NFL, not counting this year:

World Series                                                  Super Bowl

2001: Diamondbacks over Yankees (4-3)               Patriots over Rams (20-17)

2002: Angels over Giants (4-3)                                   Buccaneers over Raiders (48-21)

2003: Marlins over Yankees (4-2)                             Patriots over Panthers (32-29)

2004: Red Sox over Cardinals (4-0)                         Patriots over Eagles (24-21)

2005: White Sox over Astros (4-0)                           Steelers over Seahawks (21-10)

2006: Cardinals over Tigers (4-1)                              Colts over Bears (29-17)

2007: Red Sox over Rockies (4-0)                             Giants over Patriots (17-14)

2008: Phillies over Rays (4-1)                                     Steelers over Cardinals (27-23)

2009: Yankees over Phillies (4-2)                             Saints over Colts (31-17)

2010: Giants over Rangers (4-1)                                 Packers over Steelers (31-25)

_________________________________________________________________________________

2011: Cardinals over Rangers (4-3)                                           TBD

By the Numbers:

Single Champions: 9/10                                    Single Champions: 7/10

Single Appearances: 15/20                               Single Appearances: 14/20

Highest Appearances: 3 (NYY)                       Highest Appearances: 4 (NE)

Repeat Champions: 1 (BOS-1)                         Repeat Champs: (NE-3; PIT-2)

% of Championships won by repeats: 20   % of Championships won by repeats: 50

What It All Means:

In other words, there is more parity in Major League Baseball than there is in the National Football League. There are fewer repeat champions over the last decade- although the Cardinals, admittedly, did just win- and less championships won by repeats. The Yankees represented their league 3 times in the last decade, which leads the MLB and won once. The Patriots represented their league 4 times and won 3 times.  The Steelers matched the Yankees, representing their league 3 times, winning twice.

7 out of the last 10 AFC champions have been either the Patriots or Steelers, and 9 of the last 10 have either been the Pats, Steelers, or Colts. The last team to win the AFC that wasn’t one of these three teams was the Raiders – in 2002. If you’re not a fan of the Pats, Steelers, or Colts, odds are your team won’t be in the Super Bowl.

The same can’t be said in the MLB. The Marlins and Diamondbacks beat the Yankees. The Astros have been in the World Series, as have the Rockies. The reason teams like the Royals or Orioles haven’t had success isn’t entirely due to their payroll. Moreoften it is due to the draft, scouting, and business strategy. Just ask a Royals fan, after reading Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated on the hypothetical perfect draft. Just ask the Rays, who have beaten the NYY and BOS for a playoff spot 3 of the past 4 years and represented the AL in the WS.

Having a big payroll doesn’t ensure success, either. Of the teams with the 10 highest payrolls for the 2011 MLB season, only 3 made the playoffs. The Mets, Cubs, White Sox, and Twins were, suffice to say, awful.  All of them have been crippled by big contracts, which can be a curse, not a blessing, if used incorrectly.

The MLB is, in truth, more fair than the NFL. Perhaps this is because of the nature of its postseason: a 5 or 7 game series doesn’t necessarily reveal the best team over the course of a 162 game season. A two game slump or a bad pitching start or two can cripple a team. It often does. Baseball, much like its spring start, symbolizes hope. In the NFL, you had better root for one of a select few teams. Otherwise you won’t win.

Verdict:

The MLB should not adopt a system based on that of the NFL. The MLB’s system has already proven that it works. The large payrolls of some teams are misleading; a December shopping spree doesn’t ensure the pennant. It never has, and it never will. Keep the system the way it is. Baseball is better for it.

Statistics via: www.baseball-reference.com; www.nfl.com; and USA Today

The Morning After and Early Season Thoughts

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

By: Justin Olson

Hello hockey fan(s),

You know what it’s like, you go out drinking with some friends and the next day you have God’s gift to humanity: the hangover. The blinding headaches, the sick feelings, the general unpleasantness. It sucks, everyone knows that. The Bruins are playing through this ale fog right now and it’s almost at the point where Boston fans are getting worried. Well, it’s not like Boston fans need something to complain about but here we go again. Some interesting stats to compare the starts of last season to this one:

Record: 2010: 7-3 2011: 3-7

Goals scored: 2010: 32 2011: 22

Goals Against: 2010: 17 2011: 25

Differential 2010: +15 2011: -3

So as you can see there are a world of problems with this year’s Bruins team. The team in the past has been fairly bad about scoring but last year jumped up to 5th in the league in scoring. This year they are 26th. Their offense has struggled mightily, scoring only an average of 2.1 goals a game. Part of this comes from the inept powerplay that is continuing from last years playoffs, where the Bruins had the lowest powerplay percentage of any team to ever win the Cup. The team hoped getting rid of Tomas Kaberle would help regain powerplay form but it has generally been the same. They have a 13.2 percent powerplay right now, good for lowly 25th in the league. Not only has the offense been terrible but the defense has been uncharacteristically bad for a team coached by Claude Julien. They rank 9th in the league in goals against (2.3 per game) and 6th in penalty-killing (88.6%). You might say that 9th in the league isn’t too bad of a mark but it’s like saying that Dick LeBeau is happy with the Steelers having a 9th ranked defense. They should be better. Their biggest problem is being undisciplined. There is a time and a place for penalties in games, and sometimes you just can’t avoid taking them but it’s the stupid penalties that really anger a coach. These kind of penalties have been killing the Bruins all year, and if your penalty-killing unit can’t stop the other team from scoring goals then you’re going to be playing from behind all the time and that’s going to result in a lot of losses.

It’s not all hopeless for the Bruins (yet) but they do need to find their swagger, and they need to find it fast. They need to fight more, because there is always room for hockey fights. I mean let’s be serious, fighting is why 95% of the people in the US watch the NHL. Fighting injects energy into a team, and this team needs energy in the worst way. The need to stop taking stupid penalties and playing better in defense so that their reigning Vezina and Conn-Smythe trophy winning goalie Tim Thomas can do his thing. The one bright spot has been teenager Tyler Seguin, who is basically carrying the team on his back right now. Like I said, us Boston fans shouldn’t be worried now but if they don’t right the ship in the next few weeks then its time to push the panic button. Also, Brad Marchand may literally still be hungover from the parade.

Now here are my quick thoughts on the entire league in this early stage of the season:

So Maple Leafs, you are at it again, giving hope to the city of Toronto, only to let them down drastically in the final months of the season. Phil Kessel does have an NHL-leading 10 goals in 10 games though, so this team may be legit. Beating the Bruins twice in a row is a moral booster and may of dimmed the fire below Jacques Martin’s seat but the Canadiens have a long way to go still. Goaltender Carey Price has been inconsistent at best and if this team doesn’t make the playoffs they will be looking for a new coach in the offseason. Good starts for both the Senators and the Sabres but I expect the Senators to fade before long. Miller will keep the Sabres in the hunt for the division crown.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a scary team. Sure, they have been a little shaky at points but when everyone gets healthy, this will be the team to beat in the East. The Flyers still have goal-tending problems, and I think that they always will. It’s their curse. Both New York teams have been struggling to start the season but the Rangers have too much talent to be kept down for long. The Devils are starting off much better than they did last year but they should still be better.

The Capitals have lost two games in a row after an undefeated start but they will win this division easily. The Lightning are having their own playoff hangover but are on the upswing. The Florida Panthers have  been one of the nice surprises of the year so far but I am skeptical about the depth of their roster for the long haul. The Winnipeg Jets have been terrible but we do have the remember that they are the same team that played just as badly in Atlanta last year. Carolina has been disappointing so far but what else is new.

The Detroit Red Wings are in a slump but they are too good of a team to stay down for long. The Blackhawks have had a good year so far and should make the playoffs. The Predators will be there too. St. Louis is struggling through another mediocre season. I have only one word for the Blue Jackets: wow. That’s all I can say.

The Edmonton Oilers are the biggest surprise of the year so far. It’s good to see this young team finally coming of age. Colorado has been a surprise this year as well along with Minnesota. The Calgary Flames had big ambitions for this season but are once again near the bottom of their division. If the Vancouver Canucks don’t trade embattled goal-tender Roberto Luongo soon then the people will burn down the city (again).

Great start for the Dalls Stars, but then again they did the same thing last year and missed the playoffs so don’t get too hopeful. L.A. needs to win a playoff series this year or Terry Murray will have to worry about his job. The San Jose Sharks are just coming out of their own playoff hangover and should win this division. The Phoenix Coyotes are missing Bryzgalov badly and will miss the playoffs this year. The reigning MVP Corey Perry needs to put the Ducks on his back and get them back up the standings.

Keep enjoying the season fans, it has a look of a roller-coaster ride. For Bruins fans, let’s hope the ride shoots upward.

No Defense in the Derby

Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

By: Kevin Daly

Transition years are standard for almost any American sports team: the old guard, so to speak, shows signs of aging and, unless the player is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer or in the middle of an inescapable contract (Yankee fans start nodding), management give them the toss and bring in new blood, waiting and praying for the new regime to develop (Timberwolves, I’m still waiting).  In Premier League soccer, due to the vast difference in reputation and finances (mostly finances) amongst teams, there is a general pecking order which fans are aware of, but often reluctant to accept.  When finances sink, teams generally do as well.  Leeds went from famed and successful to begging for change by the subway, Newcastle’s cat fights between manager and ownership reached its low point when it was relegated to the Football League Championship in 2009; while not nearly as drastic, the dumbassery of the Hicks family almost completely screwed over Liverpool last year, only to receive partial redemption by a merciful change in ownership.  I say all this just because what happened to Arsenal early this season was nothing like that.  They have stable ownership, even if the board would rather boil Arsene Wenger in hot oil than give him sufficient transfer funds, and there is no Charlie Sheen-CBS level turmoil in the upper echelons of club ownership.  Since Man City has taken over as the fiscally obese overlord of the EPL, Arsenal has become a chief supplier in their talent pool, but the loss of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona was the knock-out punch, despite whatever happened afterwards. Side note to Samir Nasri: Ok fine, we knew that you were gone as soon as no. 4 escaped to Barcelona, but WHY? Was it really only money? Or did you want to win trophies with Manchester City, knowing that your squad already paid for them AND your best contribution would always be warming up along the sidelines and getting garbage time in the 83rd minute.  To quote Obi Wan in Episode III: YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO HELP US AGAINST THE SITH, NOT JOIN THEM.  YOU COULD HAVE TAKEN OVER FOR FABREGAS AND SLOW THE BLEEDING, BUT YOU MADE IT WORSE!  YOU HEAR ME? WORSE!  Ok fine, Obi Wan probably didn’t say the last part but he may as well have.  I will always see Nasri as the Anakin to the Arsenal Jedi, and as what could have been, for both him and Arsenal.

In addition, Thomas Vermaelen, with every “minor” knock and injury sidelining him for weeks at a time, edges closer to Tomas Rosicky/Grant Hill territory.  If Szcznesny, Arsenal’s goalkeeper, ever spoke off the record, he would probably admit that Vermaelen is the only Arsenal defender that gives him any semblent of confidence during games.  Yet, another Achilles injury, and I’ll resign myself to the fact that I will only be seeing Vermaelen healthy when he’s JUST passed his peak, playing sparingly for Arsenal and ultimately ending up as a star for the Seattle Sounders.  Jack Wilshere was Arsenal’s best player for much of last season, as Fabregas suffered from a nagging hamstring injury and crippling apathy.  Naturally, this summer, he became the latest Arsenal player to become a casualty on international duty and an injury which was supposed to keep him out of action for a month will sideline him until at least January.

I’m gonna put the gun down now, and return to real life.  Sorry and thank you to anyone still reading.  I’ll try to curtail my rants, but I can’t promise anything.  All this factored in for a horrific start which at one point landed Arsenal in 17th place in the Premier League table; from that point, however, they had won 6 of their 7 last games entering Saturday.  While such a streak would make a fan of many teams cautiously optimistic when about to play Chelsea, the Arsenal fan knows better: even if a team appears to be heading toward the light (and I don’t mean death), the Gooners NEVER pick up points at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home.  Vermaelen was on the team, but as a substitute; with wing-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs out to injury and illness, respectively, the starting back four for the game was Johan Djourou, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Andre Santos.  When I think of the term “Core Four,” I promise you that I do NOT think of this group.  If anything, this is the Bizarro “Core Four.”  The only hope I found in that lineup was at the striker position: ROBIN van PERSIE.  He had been in stunning form and though the team’s had an alarming dependence on him for offensive firepower, he’s been there to answer the call time and time again.  The results against top teams had not been good for Arsenal so far this season, and I honestly was holding out for a draw.

Within the first 15 minutes of the game, my greatest fears (along with my expectations) were realized.  Djourou was absolutely burned by Chelsea’s new star winger Juan Mata down the left side, Daniel Sturridge flew by Andre Santos, and Frank Lampard effortlessly separated from Mertesacker to convert an open header from a Mata cross for the games’s first goal.  In that sequence, the entire Arsenal defense actually managed to f*ck up in one grand 15 second span.  Anyone who claims that the Arsenal defense has no structure or plan is very misguided: they clearly had a plan.  Their plan was to lose whoever they were marking, and they executed to perfection.  Juan Mata shoved Andre Santos away from him on the wing, crossed the ball to the wide-open Frank Lampard, who guided the ball into the net.  Djourou, Mertesacker, and Santos were all behind and away from their men, while Koscielny was somewhere in Narnia.  After a couple of serious blown chances by van Persie and Gervinho in the first few minutes, a great pass by Aaron Ramsey, run and pass by Gervinho, and finish by van Persie evened the score a few minutes later.  Gervinho has been my pleasant surprise of the season.  Truthfully, I expected him to be a transfer with the same minimal impact as Chamakh, a middling mediocre-to-good skilled player who really adds no new element to the team, a typical Wenger-style guy.  While he has a share of inebriated moments, he’s built a solid rapport with van Persie and Ramsey.  Before half-time, John Terry, one of the league’s top contenders for “Biggest Douchebag,” muscled in front of Mertesacker and put Chelsea up 2-1 to enter the break.  While Gervinho has been the biggest surprise, Mertesacker has been the biggest disappointment.  Minus a few inches of lankiness, he is the Peter Crouch of defense.  There’s no reason why he should get outfought by anyone, he has played over 70 games for the German national team, yet he has been as satisfactory in the center of defense as a movie with David Spade acting in a role written for Daniel Day-Lewis.  IT JUST DOESN”T WORK.

In the second half, in true non-Gunner fashion, Arsenal came out flying in the second half.  It must be said that whatever problems Arsenal dealt with in defense Saturday (and in many games before), Chelsea’s problems were worse.  Within a few minutes, Andre Santos made a run into the acre of space vacated by Chelsea right back Jose Bosingwa, and, taking one touch from a great pass by midfielder Alexander Song, slotted the equalizer past Petr Cech.  In all fairness, Cech looked like he showed up drunk to work.  For one of the best goalies in the world, he was outplayed by Szcznesny and clearly did not wish to interfere with the ball’s movement into the goal.  In the 55th minute, Walcott fell while dribbling, yet thanks to Ashley Cole’s and John Terry’s joint failure to react, he recovered, slipped the ball past the two Blue defenders, and smashed a shot past the standstill Cech to put Arsenal ahead.  Later on in the game, sub Florent Malouda made an errant pass back to John Terry.  His stumble toward the pass allowed van Persie to run past the captain and with a simple evasive move  around Cech, gave Arsenal their fourth goal.  An additional goal from each team, a scorcher by van Persie and a curling 30-yard beauty by Mata, gave the game its final score: Arsenal 5, Chelsea 3.

What to take from the game: the game was great in terms of offensive production and creativity, highlighted by the play of Mata, Walcott, and hat-trick hero van Persie, but awful as a defending tutorial.  Andre Santos and Bosingwa attack from defense with no thought of getting back to cover, and both players cost their teams as a result.  Ashley Cole and Johan Djourou were better in terms of staying back, but were each completely victimized by runs: Cole was repeatedly burned by Walcott, while Djourou was burned by just about everyone else.  Arsenal’s second half resolve shocked Chelsea, its crowd, and probably fans of South and North London alike.  Even going back to the Fabregas days, Arsenal would more often than not be the team that gives up the gun in the second half.  Maybe Wenger was right, that wins such as their dramatic victory against Marseille would help them progress and improve, and maybe this is a different team.  Maybe the players did hear his message, and are playing with a different mentality and firmer resolve.  Maybe I’m just deluded.  Time will tell.  Anyway, I will look back at this game and wonder whether it was more of a Arsenal victory, or a Chelsea loss.  Andres Villas Boas has not worked much of his advertised magic yet, and that was clear in the result on Saturday.  With the loss, they have already given up as many goals this season as they did throughout all of Jose Mourinho’s first season.  While many Chelsea fans may state that this result was all about the players, it was also about the coach.  There is indeed only one Great One, and he is far away from Stamford Bridge.

MVP Baseball 2005 Review

The last installment of the great EA Sports baseball franchise.|Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By: Jack Donnelly

MVP Baseball 2005. A quality video game across all platforms. Currently, it ranks 98th in IGN’s top 100 Video Games of 2006. And who can’t forget Manny Ramirez? The man was not really a myth, but definitely a legend. I don’t know about everyone else, but one of the first things I think of is how he took  human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). A women’s fertility drug. Huh, interesting.

I believe many baseball fans would disagree with this poor ranking given to them by IGN. In my opinion, MVP Baseball 2005 ranks among the top sports video games of all time (along with NBA Street and NFL Blitz 1997 of course). The only thing that EA Sports missed in this fine make was Barry Bonds, who they didn’t create in fear that his size 8 head wouldn’t fit in the screen. But I digress with the review.

Presentation:

Featuring a variety of play modes, MVP Baseball 2005 offered players many ways to keep themselves entertained over the dog days of summer. Both Dynasty and Franchise Mode had everything that die-hard baseball fans sought. For instance, injuries and suspensions occur throughout the season (even though the ability to charge the mound was not offered) . Other teams can offer trades, even though usually all of them were a bunch of crap,  and some of the players’ own players will ask to be traded. You can create a player, and add him to your roster. And I know all of you made a guy that was 4’10” 350 pounds and could run as fast as Usain and drop bombs. Trust me, I did it too. One of the big features of franchise mode is the ability to play 120 full seasons. Thats over 19940 games. Holy santa claus s**t.

Gameplay:

The biggest addition to the MVP franchise was Hitter’s Eye. With this feature, players would be able to see a color of the ball as it was released from the pitcher’s hand. Even though players have way more time to react than hitters in an actual game, it’s still a neat feature. Especially when your friend shields the controller from you in order to think he has the upper hand. Except he doesn’t. Ha Ha Classic. This would work even better with pitchers who cover up the ball during the windup. This would reveal less about their next pitch, ergo, strike a batter out. Besides this new addition, MVP kept it simple and didn’t add any new button designs. X to swing, Square to power swing. O to bunt. Unlike its rival 2k5, which made users have to use the joystick to load and unload on the pitch. I wasn’t exactly a fan of this, so again, I like things simple. And no don’t make any jokes about “Simple Jack”.

Overall:

MVP Baseball 2005 was a great overall game that offered fans all the aspects that a baseball video game should. I would definitely put it amongst my Top 5 Video Games of All Time, including Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, and Tak 2: Staff of Dreams. Even though probably no one has heard of any of these games, I’m not going to lie, neither have I. I just went to Google and typed in worst games ever. Anyways, its truly a shame that EA bought the exclusive rights to the NFL license effectively pushing all competitors out of the market. It meant Take Two struck back by purchasing Visual Concepts and the exclusive third party rights to the MLB license. I believe MVP Baseball 2005 is a must buy for all fans across all platforms. Pick up your copy at a local Gamestop for $2.99.

Joe’s Running Diary of Game 7

By: Joe Gallagher

7:52 Here we are. Game 7: there’s nothing like it in all of sports. One game determines the fate of a season that included 175-plus similar contests. There’s a stress on similar, but similar does not mean same. There is nothing like this one game. This one game creates legends, goats, and gives stories for fathers to pass to their children. Yes it’s a game, but it’s also a story. The retelling of these tales provides entertainment, and more importantly a bonding point for people of all ages. From kids playing catch in the back yard with their dads to grown men reminiscing on the glory days, this is THE game. Game 7. The importance of every pitch, every hit, every run, and every outstanding defensive play all culminates to this point. Game 7. For a baseball fan, it’s like a birthday, Christmas, and the Victoria Secret fashion show all wrapped into one. This game makes grown men act like children, and it’s absolutely acceptable. It’s safe to say: baseball’s a beautiful thing.

7:54 A.J. Pierzynski just tried to say that the Rangers had their starting rotation lined up exactly how they wanted…by having Matt Harrison start Game 7. Yes, A.J. because everyone wants their middling 4 starter to start Game 7! I’ll let it slide though because he showed the world that Michael Barrett has the weakest punch in America.

8:01 Thank you, Tim McCarver. Apparently the Rangers actually want to score early tonight. Who would have thunk it?…

8:05 And Chris Carpenter takes the hill. Is there any guy who looks like he  should be pitching a Game 7 of the World Series more than this guy? He’s got the whole elder states-man thing going with the beard and he’s been feeling it. That said, he is on short rest…

8:07 Annnnnnnd Kinsler smacks a single to left. If Carpenter locates like that it’ll be a long night. Might need the defense to pick him up a lot tonight if that’s the case.

8:08 On cue, Molina’s rifle picks off Kinsler at first. Base running gaffes with kill you.

8:10 RBI double for Josh Hamilton. Andrus scores. Hamilton literally is swinging with only arms here. My friend Brian always says, “Hamilton’s a modern day Mickey Mantle.” Sure looks like it, gritting out big hits and really giving a gutsy, unheralded World Series.

8:19 Oh mercy, Joe Buck! Kitchen Nightmares was pre-empted on Fox tonight. Oh whatever shall I do! Thank goodness it will return next Tuesday!

8:21 Pujols walks. Texas pitchers are dancing around him like Baryshnikov in shorts! Yeah, I did just make a ballet reference. What are you gonna do about it?

8:22 Puma walks. Wow. Back to back walks. 8 balls on 9 pitches. In the World Series. Seems like this is going to be a WIIIIILD game.

8:24 Hard to tell if Matt Harrison is struggling because he’s nervous or because HE’S NOT A GAME 7 STARTER!!!

8:26 David Freese 2-Run double. He just set the record for the most RBIs in postseason history. Wow. I talked to Jose Canseco, he said an unidentified clubhouse attendant told him that Freese made a pact with Pat Riley so that he would have continual out of body experiences during the World Series. In exchange, Freese will be slicking his hair back with as much grease as possible for the next 50 years. True story.

8:30 SSB writer Bobby Montano just said that this has the makings of a classic. I can see the drool dripping from his mouth.

8:32 Here’s Mike Napoli. The Rangers candidate for MVP. He follows accordingly with a base hit. That’s becoming a familiar phrase. Bobby’s calling for Carpenter to go. I agree. He looks fried.

8:34 Carpenter makes a TOUGH play to get the force at second. Still does not look good on the hill, though.

8:38 If the Cardinals use him, I feel like Edwin Jackson comes out of the bullpen and pitches lights out. Don’t know why. It defies logic. But I have a feeling and I’m going to document it so that I can later say, “Oh yeah, I knew that was going to happen!”

8:47 Signs Matt Harrison should not be starting Game 7 of the World Series: #1 He just gave the biggest sigh of relief upon striking out Carpenter.

8:51 Furcal does not look quick enough laterally anymore, but boy does he still have a cannon. Meanwhile, Carp is seeming to settle in. He’s not missing spots nearly as frequently.

8:51 Mom texted me to tell me that I need to check my mail soon. Just realized that I never sent her birthday card. Sorry, Mom. First thing tomorrow.

8:54 Carpenter is settling in. He’s hitting the mitt like crazy. Its reminiscent of Roy Halladay (…oh how I miss you, Phillies…)

8:55 SSB writer Neal continues to listen to Techno mashups. He is awarded no points and may God have mercy on his soul.

8:57 Debate among the guys: Is that J. Edgar movie ONLY looking good because Leo is the star? DJ says yes. Jack says, “Doesn’t matter, Leo’s the man.” Case in point. He’s basically the Blake Griffin of movies. Leo can star in a mediocre, maybe below average looking movie, but he makes it totally watchable JUST because he’s in it. That said, I hope it’s good.

9:02 Allen Craig parks one, 3-2 Cards. “Forget Matt Holiday! Allen Craig HAS to be a starter next year. He’s so good.”  SSB writer Kevin. Well said. Holiday has quietly declined. He’s rough in the field and just doesn’t bring enough to the plate. That said, he still puts up some good numbers and is still capable of occasionally looking like a superstar. It seems like he’s bordering on Pat Burrell territory in that sense.

9:10 Bobby: “I would not be surprised if Harrison goes deep here” Us:”Really?” Bobby: “No, I’d be stunned. I’m just looking for an Edwin Jackson moment.”

9:11 Harrison strikes out. Bad omen for the Edwin Jackson prediction. Besides, Carpenter is hitting stride.

9:16 Marrelle, who was at the Pierzynski-Barrett game and represents the female population of our wonderful community, says in reference to the punch: “Yeah, it was a pretty girly punch.” Thanks, Marrelle.

9:19 Bobby just said for the 6000th time how much he loves Game 7. More drool.

9:20 Furcal finally gets a hit. He was due. Two on, one out. Guidry’s out to talk to Harrison, but he’s leaving him in. Sign #2 that Matt Harrison should not be starting your Game 7: Rafael Furcal is roping line drives.

9:23 DJ is now listening to “Sexy and I Know It,” which, contrary to popular belief, was actually written in reference to me.

9:37 Michael Young at the plate. 1-2, runner on second, 2 out, top 5. Bobby just said, “Huge pitch in this one”…annnnnnd struck him out. BIG TIME. Carpenter is in control and he’s feeling it. Hard to bet against anybody who out duels Roy Halladay in a playoff game.

9:42 Scott Feldman is in the game now. Adios Matt Harrison. Honestly though, as much crap I’ve been giving him, Harrison gave a gutsy outing without his best stuff and should be proud of how he kept the Rangers in the game.

9:43 Feldman’s beard has me wondering, “What happened to his Lucky Charms?”

9:46 Feldman walks Craig. I can just see my Dad groaning and saying, “You just CAN’T walk guys.”

9:48 Pujols is hit by a pitch. More base runners.

9:51 Berkman does a nice job by tapping the ball to the right side in order to get the runners over to second and third with two outs. Productive out. A single now scores two. They’re walking Freese. CAN YOU BLAME THEM?!?!?!?

9:52 HUGE spot for Yadier. Let’s see how he protects Freese. A hit here rips this game wide open.

9:54 The Cardinals rally towels stink compared to our’s in Philly. We completely unraveled CC Sabathia in the 2008 NLDS. Sorry Cards fans, but Philly is baseball HEAVEN.

9:55 Feldman walks in a run. Dad probably has now retreated to bed, saying, “This game’s over.”

9:58 See you later Scott Feldman; hello CJ Wilson…

9:59 ANNNNNND hello hit by pitch! Another give away run. Wow. 5-2 and they’re still loaded.

10:01 But no fear Skip Schumaker’s here! Luckily for the Rangers, Schumaker swings and misses at a pitch in the dirt for strike three…RIGHT after the previous two batters were handed bases. Awful.

10:06 Allen Craig robs Nelson Cruz of the record for most home runs in a single postseason. Kevin now looks like a school girl at a Justin Beiber concert.

10:11 Carpenter’s neard (neck beard) is gross.

10:16 Everyone seems to be giving up on this game. Let last night be a lesson. Baseball has no clock. It’s never over until the last out is recorded.

10:20 Ground rule double by David Murphy. Carpenter’s done. He receives a huge ovation and deservedly so. That was such a great outing. He pitched on short rest, in Game 7, bearded, and gutted it out sans his best stuff. Now it’s in the bullpen’s hands.

10:23  And the beginning of the end begins. Arthur Rhodes is in. I thought he was over the hill when he pitched for the Phillies six years ago…

10:24 Rhodes gets him. Torrealba hit it hard, but an out’s an out.

10:25 Apparently LaRussa thought Rhodes wasn’t past his prime enough so he decided to go get Dotel to face the righty. It had absolutely nothing to do with the pending lefty/righty matchup. That’s for sure.

10:28 LaRussa just made his 73rd pitching change of this year’s playoffs. The previous record was 62.

10:32 Big out for Dotel. Stretch time.

10:37 Could this be Albert’s last at-bat as a Cardinal? Why isn’t the crowd going berserk in appreciation? This guy deserves a ceremony, let alone a twenty second standing ovation.

10:40 Albert just fouled off a pitch that had eyes from Mike Adams.

10:41 Adams strikes out Pujols. He’s got awesome stuff.

10:41 Puma beats out an infield single. He’s had ice in his veins all playoffs and he’s been a huge reason that the Cards are where they are. Maybe not the WS MVP but I would say he’s been the MVP of the playoffs.

10:46 Freese walks. That looked like a strike though and it robbed Napoli of 7 for 9 in nabbing runners. Regardless, what a showcase of catchers in this World Series!

10:48 And on cue…Yadier Molina provides a HUGE RBI single to knock Berkman in. 6-2 Cards. That Berkman infield single was HUGE. That was an ultimate game changer and a great example of how to play the game the right way.

11:03 Lance Lynn, who looks like he should be on My Name is Earl, retires the side. The Cards are three outs away now. But hey, who’s counting?

11:07 Just realized I haven’t yet commented on Tony LaRussa’s need to accept the truth and stop dying his hair.

11:14 Ogando rings up Craig for out number three. Jason Motte time.

11:16 This is the beauty of baseball. No clock. There’s no set time to come back. The Rangers have three outs to spread out over four runs to tie. Will they do it? It’s unlikely, but never impossible.

11:18 Motte comes out firing. 98 MPH…but out of the zone. Interesting stat: the fastest pitch hit yard all season was 98.1 MPH off of Justin Verlander.

11:19 Cruz pops out. Two more for St. Louis. You can feel it now.

11:21 Descalvo throws across the diamond to nab Napoli. One more.

11:22 Lined deep to left, Craig’s under it and it’s over. Jason Motte freaks out. Congratulations, Cardinals! What a crazy year! Your 2011 baseball season, folks. Thanks for ending it with me.

Musings on Entertaining Baseball

October Baseball at its Finest

By: Bobby Montano

Albert Pujols grounded out weakly to Elvis Andrus in the 7th inning of last night’s World Series game. In a season of strikeouts, groundouts, and flyouts, such an at-bat can easily be overlooked. For millions of Cardinals’ fans, though, it was much more. At the time, it seemed that a weak groundout could be the final at-bat in a Cardinals’ uniform. The season was over. Pujols may go join Theo in Chicago. Winter was ahead.

And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

A broken rally in the 8th ensured Pujols one more at-bat in the 9th. He doubled. Berkman walked. Freese tripled. Game tied. Extra innings.

Hamilton looked to ensure winter’s long months back on all of us non-Cardinals fans. His homer sucked the life out of Busch Stadium. But the Cardinals saved summer for us all again. An inning later, Freese ensured us Game Seven. Baseball’s Super Bowl.

It was one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever seen. Baseball is a game of nostaliga and of history. I have been therefore inspired to rank this game in my list of best  games that I’ve ever seen- that I can remember. On a conservative estimate, I have watched 200 baseball games per season for the past 10 years. Any game that makes this list- and many more that miss it- are both memorable and awesome. These are just the first 1o that come to mind.

Game 10

2001 ALDS Game 3: Yankees at Atheletics (OAK led series 2-0)

Season Saving. Career Defining.

The Yankees, the mighty Yankees, were on the brink of elimination for the first time in three years. They were on the road. They had just been shut out- at home. Things didn’t look good for the Bombers. Their season rested on the arm of Mike Mussina. Leading 1-0 on a Jorge Posada home run, the Yankees entered the bottom of the 7th needing just three more outs to ensure a Game 4. Mariano Rivera, the greatest of all-time, was getting loose. Terence Long, though, came up with two outs in the inning and a runner on first. He laced a double down the line. Shane Spencer’s throw was errant. The game was about to be tied.

Insert Derek Jeter. His flip play needs no more words. Everything that can be said about it has been said previously. Jeter saved the game, and the Yankees’ season. They won the game 1-0 and the series 3-2. This isn’t the last we’ll see of this team in this list.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK200110130.shtml

Game 9

2006 NLCS Game 7: Cardinals at Mets (Series tied 3-3)

Heartbreaking. The Mets were never the same.

The Mets were dubbed the up-and-coming team of New York City. Wright and Reyes were younger and cheaper than A-Rod and Jeter. Fred Wilpon had yet to display his true idiocy. Omar Minaya hadn’t become the most hated GM in New York just yet. The Miracle Mets had won the sixth game the night before, and they were at Shea. The Cardinals were an 83 win team; the Mets won 14 more games.

Game Seven didn’t go as planned. Oliver Perez pitched valiantly, though he ceded the lead that the Mets in the top of the 2nd. Endy Chavez lifted me out of my seat with one of the most breathtaking catches in the history of baseball. Yet in the top of the 9th, the score tied at 1, Yadier Molina sent a dagger into the heart of the Mets, crushing a two-run bomb off of Aaron Heilman. After two singles in the bottom of the 9th off of Adam Wrainwright, Beltran came to the plate with two outs. Runners were on 2nd and 3rd. A base hit would have tied the game.

In one of the most dramatic and simultaneously anti-climatic at-bats I’ve ever seen, Beltran went down looking on three straight pitches. The season was over. The Cardinals celebrated and went on to win the World Series.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN200610190.shtml 

Game 8

2011 World Series Game 6: Rangers at Cardinals (TEX leads 3-2)

Game described above. Not the best game I’ve ever seen- too many errors. But it was certainly one of the most entertaining.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN201110270.shtml

Game 7

2009 Game 163: Tigers at Twins

Onward! To the Bronx!

It’s always one of the most bizarre situations in the sports world. Game 163. Are 162 games not sufficient to separate teams? In 2009 it wasn’t; the Tigers and Twins battled it out in one last regular season game at the Metrodome for the right (?) to play the 103 win Yankees.

Trailing by a run in the 8th inning, Magglio Ordonez tied the game with a shot that silenced the faithful at Dome. This was not the end of scoring. The game went into extras- extras!! in game 163! how can anyone not love this sport?- and the two teams traded runs in the tenth inning. It felt like the game was never going to end.

All good things must come to an end, though. In the bottom of the 11th, Alexei Casilla channeled his inner Edgar Rentaria and won an elimination game on a base hit.  The Twins celebrated. The Tigers went home, infuriated by shoddy defense from Curtis Granderson, who would be traded weeks later. A week and change later and the Twins were sent packing.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MIN/MIN200910060.shtml

Game 6

2011 Season Finale

What a season.

Baseball is supposed to be fun, no? Look at Johnny Damon. Isn’t he having a blast? They look like kids out there, which is exactly what you want to see out of professional atheletes. We can all relate to the joy that the Rays showed here.

Anyway, the season for four teams came down to four games. The Cardinals needed to win and needed the Braves to lose. The Braves needed the opposite. The Cardinals and Chris Carpenter took care of business against the hapless Houston Astros. Craig Kimbrel, once a rookie sensation, blew a save against the Phillies. Hunter Pence won the game in the 13th inning, and the Cardinals were back in October.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ATL/ATL201109280.shtml

The Red Sox, favorites of NESN’s extraordinary writer Eric Ortiz, were favorited to win more games than any team ever. By the last game of the year, they needed a win, or a loss from Tampa Bay just to stay alive. The Rays came back from a 7-0 8th inning deficit to send their game, against the Yankees, nonetheless, into extras.

The Red Sox failed to capitalize on a one-out bases loaded situation in the top of the ninth. Papelbon warmed. He entered the game in the bottom of the 9th, quickly getting the first two outs. Then all hell broke loose. Papelbon blew the game to Robert F’n Andino. Moments later, Evan Longoria sent Tampa into euphoria with a home run off of Scott Proctor.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BAL/BAL201109280.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TBA/TBA201109280.shtml

Game 5

2004 ALCS Game 4: Yankees at Red Sox (NYY leads 3-0)

Believe.

This is one that hurts. Even looking at the box score makes my heart sink. The Yankees were up 3-0 in the series and up 4-3 in the game. Mariano was on the bump in Fenway. The Yankees were about to go to their 7th World Series in 9 years. The curse was to be continued. There was one problem: the Yankees simply were not that good. Their pythagorean record had them at 89 wins, and they actually won 101.

Rivera collapsed, which is normally an oxymoron. He walked Millar, and Roberts stole second. Bill Mueller hit him home. Three innings later, Ortiz sparked the most unbelievable comeback in baseball history.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200410170.shtml

Game 4

2003 NLCS Game 6: Marlins at Cubs (CHC leads 3-2)

The Error Everyone Forgets

This game needs no more words. The Curse of the Billy Goat- a billy goat? really?- lived on. That unfortunate Cubs fan caught the blame for this collapse. This error was undeniably more important. Alex Gonzalez, a surehanded fielder, booted the groundball that would have made it all irrelevant. 8 runs later, the Marlins had won Game 6 and would later win Game 7 and the World Series.

The futility of the Cubs is most exemplified by this game. They were fated for the Fall Classic. It didn’t happen, and it’s never been as close as that game for the Cubbies since. They were perhaps the best in the NL in 2008, but were ousted in the NLDS. I generally feel badly for the Cubs and their fans.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN200310140.shtmlGame 3

Game 3

2002 World Series Game 6: Giants at Angels (SF leads 3-2)

A Monumental Collapse

For whatever reason, this World Series is seemingly forgotten. I remember vehemently rooting against the Giants, mainly because of my (then) hatred of Barry Bonds. Villians go a long way in this sport.

The Giants were leading 5-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning. They were 9 outs from their first title since moving to San Fransisco. They collapsed, giving up 6 runs in two innings to the Angels. The next night, San Fransisco lost again, and the Angels celebrated their World Championship.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ANA/ANA200210260.shtml

Game 2

2003 ALCS Game 7: Red Sox at Yankees (Series tied 3-3)

Purely Awesome.

The game had expectations that couldn’t be met. Pedro v. Clemens. Yanks v. Sox. Game 7. Yankee Stadium. Rematches. Rivalry. Fights. It had EVERYTHING. It couldn’t possibly be met. They weren’t. They were exceeded.

Pedro had dominated, save two Jason Giambi home runs. Mike Mussina saved the game, relieving a fatigued Clemens. However, Grady Little left Pedro in the game. Two batters later, Posada doubled and the game was tied at 5.  Mariano threw three shutout innings. Boone came up to lead of the 11th, and promptly murdered a Wakefield knuckler into the Bronx night. The curse lived, at least for one more year.

Game 1

2001 World Series Game 7: Yankees at Diamondbacks (Series tied at 3)

Luis Gonzalez: Living a Dream

The single greatest game that I’ve ever watched. 1-1 in the top of the 8th, Clemens and Schilling had given the performance of their lives. Alfonso Soriano unleashed a bomb into the November night that put the Yanks up 2-1. The Series looked to be over. Mariano would save the game, as always.

The Mighty Rivera struck out the side in the 8th. His fatal error, an odd Brosious no-double play, and a Luis Gonzalez bloop sent the Yanks home empty handed. The Diamondbacks not only won their first World Series, but also topped my prestigious list. So props to them, I guess.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Photo Credit:

Sports Illustrated: Cardinals, Angels, Red Sox

New York Daily News: Aaron Boone

Bleacher Report: Cubs, Jeter Flip

International Business Times: Longoria

MLB Network: Twins

The Jersey Metropolitan: Beltran

Boston.com: Gonzalez