The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 8-14, 2012
Going the Distance: The Intense LDS's in Review The Yankees Break Down
Nolan Ryan Chews Out Josh Hamilton Baseball's Ten Highest-Paid Ballplayers

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To the LCS We Go
The conclusion of the four divisional series—all of which went the five-game distance, a major league first—ended dreams of a Bay Bridge World Series on one end of the nation, and a Beltway Series on the other. The four remaining teams—the San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers—are rich in postseason tradition, boasting a combined 93 previous World Series appearances. Only a Giants-Tigers Fall Classic matchup would be the first between the two teams.

The Giants held up their end of the bargain with an unbelievable (and unprecedented) series comeback against NL Central champ Cincinnati, winning three straight games on the road losing their first two at home. They barely stayed alive in Game Three thanks to a Scott Rolen error that gave them a 2-1, ten-inning win; dominated over Reds starter Mike Leake (subbing for injured ace Johnny Cueto), 8-3, in Game Four; then built up a 6-0 lead in the winner-take-all thanks in large part to catcher/MVP candidate Buster Posey’s fifth-inning grand slam. The Reds put all their might into a comeback, chiseling the Giant lead to two and bringing the tying run to the plate in each of their final three innings—but they could not catch up, as Rolen struck out for the final out after Jay Bruce lost an immensely tense 12-pitch duel with closer Sergio Romo.

San Francisco held onto its 6-0, Game Five lead; the Washington Nationals could not. Similarly staked to a big margin by the St. Louis Cardinals, the NL East champs and owners of the majors’ best record watched it get pared down in the late innings—and then it blew up in their faces in the ninth, as the Cardinals blitzed National closer Drew Storen for four runs and proved that the defending champions still have plenty of comeback spirit left in them after last year’s wild run. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the Nationals, making only their second-ever postseason appearance in 44 years—and will certainly leave general manager Mike Rizzo, whether he publicly admits it or not, to second-guess himself for shutting down ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg in early September.

Earlier in the day, the Baltimore Orioles had already scuttled plans for a Beltway Fall Classic, losing in five to New York. As they showed all year, the Orioles didn’t go down without a fight—taking the Yankees to the limit, playing the AL East champs tight with Games Three and Four each going well into extra innings.

The Oakland A’s, the postseason’s true Cinderella story, could not pull off what the Giants did and win their final three games, even if they were all scheduled at home before a full house of rabid, supporting fans so long absent at the Coliseum. But the A’s came close, spiritedly winning Games Three and Four over the Tigers—the latter on a three-run, ninth-inning rally that was their 15th walk-off win of the season; but for the decisive Game Five, they ran into a wall named Justin Verlander. The Detroit ace was exceptional, tossing a four-hit shutout while striking out 11 A’s to advance the Tigers and ruin hopes for a second Bay Bridge Series.

Throw it All Out the Window
Proving that impressive regular season achievements really don’t matter in the postseason, the killer blow in the Orioles’ ALDS loss to the Yankees came in Game Three when Raul Ibanez nailed two home runs—a game-tying shot in the ninth, the winner in the 12th—and handed the O’s with their first loss of the year when they had led after seven innings. It was also Baltimore’s first walk-off loss of the year; no major league team since 1900 had ever gone through an entire regular season without losing one.

A-Rod, from A-List to A-Lost
Ibanez’s clutch homers—making him the first player in postseason history to hit two in the ninth inning and beyond in a game, regardless of the situation—also carried a bit of irony as the 40-year-old slugger came off the bench to pinch-hit for…Alex Rodriguez. Thought to have rid himself of the October demons when he came through for the Yankees in 2009—he had hit .148 in his previous 64 postseason at-bats coming into that year—Rodriguez has been haunted anew, batting .164 over the last three years in the playoffs with no homers in 73 at-bats through the first two games of the ALCS. Manager Joe Girardi has lost so much faith in A-Rod, he didn’t even start him in the decisive Game Five against Baltimore—opting instead for Eric Chavez, who struck out twice in three hitless at-bats.

Here’s something else to raise an eyebrow over: In the four years before admitting to steroid use, Rodriguez hit .307 with an annual average of 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. In the four years since, those numbers have declined to, respectively, .276, 24 and 86. Injuries and increased age haven’t helped—but it didn’t seem to matter to Barry Bonds when he rolled on to age 40 playing out of his mind on the PEDs.

And the Yankees still owe Rodriguez $114 million—not to mention the $20-30 million on top of that in luxury tax penalties.

Same Teams, New Ballpark, New Controversy
Sixteen years after being robbed of a critical ALCS win over the Yankees when a 12-year-old fan reached over the outfield wall and grabbed a Derek Jeter deep fly ruled a home run, the Orioles were again on the unfortunate side of another controversial call at the new Yankee Stadium that could have changed momentum in the deciding Game Five of the ALDS.

Trailing 1-0 with two outs and no one on in the top of the sixth inning, the Orioles’ Nate McLouth—who’s regained a good dose of his star play after several years of suddenly losing it—launched a drive down the right-field line that was called foul by the umpires; they huddled around a TV to confirm and came back on the field saying their initial call was right. Or was it? A close-up TBS replay showed the ball slightly changing direction after passing the foul pole, suggesting that it nicked it on its way into the seats—and if that truly was the case, then McLouth should have been rewarded with a round tripper.

Some will say that the blast, even had it counted, wouldn’t have mattered as the Yankees won, 3-1. But as McLouth’s drive changed direction—even slightly—a home run ruling would have changed the momentum and, likely, the semantics of the pitching, defensive and mental strategies of each and every player on the field and in the dugout.

Just Look Away
Buster Posey’s grand slam that served as the defining moment in the Giants’ series-clinching win at Cincinnati was made all the more priceless by the pained reactions of both pitcher Mat Latos and catcher Ryan Hanigan, who all but walked away as if the game was over…which, in a sense, it was. Watch it here.

Was it Me or the Team?
Game Five was the first winner-take-all postseason matchup for the Giants since losing Game Seven of the 2002 World Series to the Anaheim Angels. The skipper that year for San Francisco: Current Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker.

Crashing at Mauch Speed
Baker must be making a bid to become the new century’s Gene Mauch—the beleaguered veteran manager who could never hold a lead, no matter how big. Baker lost a chance to win the 2002 Series in Game Six despite a 5-0 lead in the seventh inning; blew a three-run lead a year later in the eighth inning of a potential NLCS-clinching victory over Florida thanks in part to Steve Bartman; and this year, couldn’t hold a 2-0 NLDS lead over the Giants even with three games at home to win one and move on.

Saving The Biggest Choke for the End
The Reds lost three straight at home to the Giants after not losing more than two in a row during the entire regular season at Great American Ballpark.

It's the Runs that Count
The Giants’ 2-1, ten-inning win over the Reds to stay alive in Game Three made them only the third team in postseason history to score a victory despite notching a single hit through nine innings of play. The other two teams were the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1974 Oakland A’s.

Down and Out in D.C.—Again
The Cardinals’ stunning Game Five revival from six runs down at Washington was the largest comeback in a winner-take-all postseason game. The 2003 Yankees in the ALDS against Boston, and the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game Seven of the 1925 World Series against—wait for it—the Washington Senators, had each come from four runs down, the old standard. The Cardinals are only the fifth team to come from six down in any postseason game.

Paramount When it Counts
With their 9-7, Game Five win at Washington, the Cardinals have now won six straight winner-take-all postseason contests.

It's Never Too Late to Win Your First Game—Especially in October
Chris Carpenter’s 5.2 shutout innings at Washington in Game Three of the NLDS turned into his first victory of the year. Only Virgil Trucks, who missed the bulk of the 1945 season as he was wrapping up military service, is the only other pitcher to win a game in the postseason without winning one in the regular season before it.

Mercifully Forgotten Amid a Rout
No one was happier about the Cardinals turning Game Three into an 8-0 runaway than first base umpire Jim Joyce, notoriously remembered for his blown call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010. Joyce made another miscall at first base early in the second inning when the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa appeared to beat out a bunt, but was called out. Had the correct call been made, the Nationals would have placed runners at first and second with nobody out.

Captain Crutch
Mariano Rivera out for the year? Mark Teixeira hobbling? Alex Rodriguez struggling? CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte having to take time away from the rotation to refresh? No big deal, say the New York Yankees; we got that covered.

But when Derek Jeter goes down, that’s when the panic button gets pushed.

Jeter, The Captain, the Yankees’ heart and soul, entered Game One of the ALCS already handicapped with a beat-up left foot when he made an awkward dive and broke his left ankle in the Yankees’ fateful 12th-inning breakdown against Detroit. It was instantly obvious he had seriously hurt himself; after collecting the ball and hitting the infield dirt, Jeter quickly rolled the ball toward teammate Robinson Cano and began writhing in pain.

In nearly 20 years of play, Jeter had suffered only other major injury, separating his shoulder on Opening Day 2003 and missing the next 40 games. But he’s always been there for the postseason; that the Yankees’ offense went completely flat without him in Game Two (a 3-0 loss to the Tigers) doesn’t bode well.

But Not Before the Milestone
Before breaking his ankle, Jeter made history by becoming the first major leaguer to amass 200 hits in the postseason. That gives him 3,504 for his career.

Ajar Closer
Coming into this past week, Detroit closer Jose Valverde had allowed just one hit over 79 previous pitches thrown; in 42 served up between two blown saves at Oakland (on Wednesday) and New York (on Saturday), he gave up eight hits, two of them home runs, and allowed seven runs. In nine postseason outings since going perfect in 49 save opps during the 2011 regular season, Valverde has blown two saves, lost two and produced a 12.10 ERA.

Go-Go Joe
Lead Fox broadcaster Joe Buck showed up just minutes before the first pitch of NLCS Game One at San Francisco between the Giants and Cardinals, as he had just wrapped up the play-by-play for a NFL game between the 49ers and New York football Giants some five miles to the south at Candlestick Park. Long-time partner/analyst Tim McCarver was ready to do the pitch-by-pitch routine in case Buck couldn’t make it on time.

Only the Rich and Bored Need Apply
The Yankees failed to sell out Game One of the ALCS; things got so bad, Yahoo! Sports reported that Yankee Stadium ushers asked people in the nosebleed seats to move into the lower levels to fill them up and make the ballpark look full on national TV. The fans who filled old Yankee Stadium had a more passionate disposition, because they were blue-collar and middle-class types who could afford the tickets; the new ballpark had tickets starting at $110 and zooming up from there, cutting out much of the Yankee faithful. Even the ESPN Radio commentators covering the game couldn’t help but notice how strangely laid back those who did show up were being. By contrast, recall how crazed the fans in Oakland—who filled every available seat at the Coliseum for the ALDS against Detroit—were with substantially lower ticket prices.

Why Me?
Detroit slugger Prince Fielder had a home run stolen from him for the third time this year when Oakland’s Coco Crisp made a remarkable running catch to rob Fielder in Game Three of the ALDS.

Past Performance is an Indicator of Your Portfolio
Forbes Magazine came out with its annual listing of the ten highest-paid major leaguers, combining players’ salaries and endorsement income. Not surprisingly, five of the players are on the New York Yankees’ roster, led by Alex Rodriguez (whose $31 million salary is baseball’s largest), Derek Jeter (second behind A-Rod overall, and far and away the highest endorsement earner at $12 million), Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.

Sticking out like a sore thumb on the list is Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Vernon Wells, fourth with $24.44 million (a mere $250,000 of which is attributed to endorsements) in spite of hitting .230 with 11 homers in 77 games for the Angels; and New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana, who checks in the sixth spot with $23.8 in total earnings despite a lousy 6-9, 4.85 performance (never mind the no-hitter) in 2012 following a year off recovering from shoulder surgery.

No-No, Nolan!
After an explosive first half to the season that brought up early MVP talk, Texas slugger Josh Hamilton flattened out after the All-Star break with subpar hitting and questionable defense in the outfield; Hamilton blamed it on an attempt to kick a tobacco habit. This didn’t please Texas owner Nolan Ryan, who publicly stated that Hamilton’s timing “couldn’t have been worse”—a phrase which, translated, meant it likely cost the Rangers more postseason action than their one-and-out wild card loss to Baltimore.

Ryan is a smart and highly admirable man who almost always espouses common sense, but in this case, he needs perspective. Hamilton is trying to be a healthier person. The sooner he can kick a poisonous habit, the better he and his body will be for it. Hamilton already proved this by ridding himself of alcohol and drugs. Ryan’s comments were out of bounds and unfortunate, and it doesn’t help the Rangers’ odds in re-signing Hamilton, a free agent—although the murmurs are growing that they’re not interested in bringing him back anyway.

Tail of the Gate
The end of the 2012 regular season brought about some eye-opening attendance figures now that all the tickets have been counted.

Nine teams finished with paid attendance of three million or more, led by the Philadelphia Phillies at 3.565 million. (On a down note, the Phillies' sellout streak came to an end.) The Boston Red Sox continued to officially fill up Fenway Park in spite of the doom and gloom that befell the team; the Chicago Cubs, who lost 101 games, still managed to sell 2.883 million tickets—though it's likely that a good chunk of those never made it through the turnstiles with their holders.

On the disappointing end of the figures, the Miami Marlins drew 2.219 million to their new ballpark—the third highest total in franchise history, but good for only 18th among 30 major league teams, and the lowest figure for a team at a first-year facility since the ballpark boom began in the early 1990s. It was more embarassing upstate in St. Petersburg; despite another outstanding campaign by the Tampa Bay Rays (who barely missed the AL playoffs), the team finished dead last in the majors with a paltry 1.560 million tickets sold. That's right: Houston, Cleveland and Kansas City all outdrew the 90-72 Rays. It's really time for the locals there to you-know-what or get off the pot and let another city welcome the Rays as its own.

The Return of KO-Rod
It’s been learned that Milwaukee reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who expedited his departure from the New York Mets in 2010 after beating up the father of his expectant girlfriend in the team clubhouse, was arrested in September for roughing up his girlfriend (we assume it’s the same one). No charges have been filed yet as authorities in Waukesha County are still reviewing the case. Rodriguez saved a record 62 games for Los Angeles of Anaheim in 2008 but has since slipped, traded from the Mets and serving as a set-up man in the Brewers’ bullpen this past season.

Is that Forehead Sweat From the Vegas Heat?
In an online interview, Pete Rose doesn’t think Derek Jeter will catch up to him and break the all-time hit record. “What does he have now? What, 3,303 hits?” Rose queried before making his judgment. Rose must be panicking a little; he’s counting.

He Said What?
“Now I know how a chick feels like.”—Tim Lincecum, after taking both champagne and its cork in the face during the Giants’ postgame celebration that followed their Game Five NLDS win at Cincinnati.

TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!

Now Playing at TGG
In Ed Attanasio's newest addition to TGG's They Were There section, Chuck Stevens talks about being the first major leaguer to get a hit off of Satchel Paige, his life and times living in Hollywood as a Pacific Coast League player, and his role in establishing the Professional Baseball Players' Association, which helps former ballplayers in need.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.

The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look
at the best, worst and most unexpected through the first 81 games of the 2012 major league season.