Carpenter's gem, big spenders sent packing, Gibson's gaffe and more
Okay, now that was a classic. Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter provided not only the long-awaited signature pitching performance of what had been a hitter-friendly LDS, but also one of the greatest postseason performances of all time.
Carpenter joined Ralph Terry of the Yankees (1962 World Series) and Jack Morris of the Twins (1991 World Series) as the only pitchers to win a 1-0 shutout in a postseason sudden death game. Yeah, yeah, we know the Division Series is not exactly steeped in history like the Fall Classic. But this is the modern game, and Carpenter took the ball against Roy Halladay, the best pitcher of his generation, in a win-or-go-home game on the road and refused to go home.
It turns out that the Night of 162, when games involving the Braves, Red Sox and Rays all were decided in the last at-bat and within about an hour of one another to decide the postseason bracket, was just the start to this season of gift-giving from the baseball gods. In a span of 24 hours we watched three sudden death games all decided by one run with the six teams managing to score just 11 runs combined. Throw in Texas' 4-3 ALDS Game 4 win over Tampa Bay, and all four division series clinchers were one-run games. Bring on the next course, please.
Carpenter and Halladay, Cy Young winners and old friends, provided a pitching duel for the ages. Carpenter was masterful in never allowing Philadelphia any comfort in the batter's box. I can't recall a pitching being so dominant while throwing his fastball less than half the time. Carpenter threw only 46 sinkers among his 110 pitches, a 42 percent fastball rate well below his usual rate of 51 percent. He was stubborn with his curves and cutters, making sure the Phillies saw plenty of wrinkles, even when they cut out of the strike zone. He was undeterred.
The 1-0 game can seem as much a relic as wool uniforms. We associate the 1-0 game with guys named Mathewson and Johnson and Koufax. In the 1960s alone, there were five World Series games in which a pitcher threw a shutout with just one run of support. In the 41 years since then -- and including the expanded rounds of playoffs -- only six pitchers have won a postseason shutout by a 1-0 score: Vida Blue, Mike Scott, Jack Morris, Curt Schilling, Tim Lincecum and Carpenter.
It was an old school performance by Carpenter. But the tension of a tautly played game -- with entire seasons on the line -- never gets old. And over the previous two nights we were blessed in triplicate.
So, what were you saying about payroll disparity? With Philadelphia bounced, the nine biggest spenders in baseball are all out of the playoffs: Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Cubs, Mets, Giants and Twins.
The Tigers, Cardinals, Rangers and Brewers all rank between 10 and 17, separated by about $20 million. The baseball middle class rises.
What strikes me is the sense of entitlement that has crept into places such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia. People, it's darn hard not just to get into the playoffs, but especially hard to get through three rounds of playoffs. No NL team, for instance, has led the league in wins and won the World Series since the 1995 Braves.
Did you see Carpenter smirking after Ryan Howard flied out on a 3-and-0 pitch? Howard was booed, and it seemed as if Carpenter caught the bitter irony of these Philadelphia fans, given so much great baseball, heckling one of their star players in a moment when the season was in crisis. When Howard made the last out, the place let loose with boos. It was a Philadelphia's cover version of the angry serenade Yankees fans gave to their team and their highest-paid star, Alex Rodriguez.
The Philadelphia ouster will follow the same path as the ones for Boston and New York: the quick route to assign blame, and to do so in as narrow and focused a manner as possible. Anger and frustration do not recognize subtlety. It can't be that the Yankees lost because they lost three games by a total of four runs -- in other words, simply falling on the wrong side of the beauty of the game. No, somebody has to be fired, traded or demoted. Shakeups, I tell you, are demanded!
What we can appreciate now is that the Yankees from 1996-2003 were even more extraordinary than we thought. Up to the 2003 World Series, they won 16 of 19 postseason series. That, folks, is ridiculous and unlikely to be seen again.
The wild card system was new back then, and we didn't understand how much of a trap door it is for great teams. If you don't know by now, you're not paying attention. The three-round format virtually precludes true greatness -- historically great teams, especially those that can repeat, are becoming extinct.
The Phillies were the best team in baseball this year. They had an historic pitching staff. They spent more money than every team but the Yankees. And last night Carpenter rendered them just another team, just another expensive car wreck on the side of the postseason road.
Kirk Gibson will be the runaway winner of the NL Manager of the Year Award. He made a crafty call on a safety squeeze bunt to tie NLDS Game 5 in the ninth inning. But why, oh, why did he pinch run for his catcher and cleanup hitter, Miguel Montero, in the eighth inning? The Diamondbacks might be home today because of that unnecessary move.
Here was the situation: eighth inning, down 2-1, two outs, bases loaded. Gibson sends in Colin Cowgill to run for Montero. Why? Montero is not the lead runner. He's not the tying run. There are two outs. And with two outs, the Milwaukee outfield playing deep and runners moving on contact, Montero and just about any runner will score on a base hit. The slight upgrade wasn't even close to being worth taking out one of your best hitters -- especially a left-handed hitter with Milwaukee running out nothing but righties from its bullpen -- and starting catcher.
Now you also burn Cowgill for no reason and you put your only other catcher in the game, Henry Blanco, who is a no threat offensively. What if Blanco got hurt? John McDonald goes behind the plate in Game 5?
But here's where it really burned Arizona. The Diamondbacks tied the game in the ninth and had runners at first and second with no outs. The lockdown proper play is to bunt the runners up, putting the go-ahead run on third with less than two outs. But the batter, Aaron Hill, didn't bunt. Why? Because Montero was out of the game.
If Hill bunts, the Brewers can walk Justin Upton to load the bases. But if Montero, who hit behind Upton, is in the game, I don't mind that scenario at all: getting my cleanup batter an at-bat with the bases loaded and one out. But with Blanco in that spot, the bunt becomes a bad play. You don't want to give the game-defining at-bat to Blanco.
Hill struck out -- a huge at-bat -- and Upton and Blanco grounded out. The last chance for Arizona to win the game wound up with Blanco batting and Montero out of the game. It should never have come to that.
Keep this in mind about the Detroit Tigers: they love hitting in The Ballpark in Arlington. The Tigers played three games there this year. They hit .373, with five home runs and 24 runs. And for ALCS Games 1 and 2 there this weekend, we don't have any issues with shadows due to late afternoon start times.
You think there may be some runs scored in this ALCS? The top two hitting teams in majors since the All-Star break were Texas (.297) and Detroit (.293). And the four best hitters in the league since the break are all in this series: Miguel Cabrera of Detroit (.385), Mike Napoli (.383) and Michael Young (.357) of Texas and Victor Martinez (.345) of Detroit.