The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 10-16, 2011
The Texas-St. Louis World Series: Can the Starting Pitchers Get Past the Fifth Inning?
The Mud Flies in Boston Paul Konerko, Player-Manager?

LaRussa's Final Fling?
Once the World Series is over, the question that will most likely be on the minds of St. Louis fans is whether Albert Pujols will return to the Cardinals for 2012 and beyond. But perhaps just as important is this query: Will manager Tony LaRussa come back? That always seems to be the question to varying levels of attention every season, as the 67-year old pilot isn’t getting any younger and some wonder how long he’ll retain the competitive fire. But if the Cardinals win, will LaRussa decide to go out on top? 

Sporting his typically focused façade, LaRussa isn’t saying for now, responding that he’s got more important things to think about for the immediate moment. He has hinted, however, that he’s interested in returning. History may have something to do with it; with just 46 wins next year, he’ll move past John McGraw for second on the all-time win list among major league skippers (and still, he’ll need 1,000 after that to surpass Connie Mack at number one).

Bet the Over
It’s said that pitching and defense wins gets you to the World Series. It must be the defense then for Texas and St. Louis. The Rangers defeated the Tigers in the ALCS despite a 6.59 earned run average from their starting rotation; the Cardinals, who won the NLCS in six games as well, registered an even worse 7.03 mark among its starters. In fact, none of St. Louis’ starting pitchers lasted more than five innings in any one of its six games against Milwaukee.

Exposing the Hot Spot
Umpires might be gnashing their teeth and quietly cursing the strike zone graphic used by various networks televising major league games to determine if pitches are actually strikes or not. But now here comes this: It’s reported that for the World Series, Fox will try out a new gizmo that will determine if a player is hit, a foul tip hits the ground before the catcher gloves it, a line drive is caught or trapped by a outfielder, and other similar situations. How? A technology developed for telecasts of cricket games overseas exaggerates the area of actual contact (if any) by showing off a white mark on screen. Why now? Because the cricketers rebelled against the use of the system in India, where the game is immensely popular. Look for it.

A Happy Night's Rest Followed by a Day Off
The Cardinals have won their last 15 games on “getaway days” in which they get the next day off.

It's Bartman!
The Rangers’ 15-5, AL flag-clinching Game Six win over the Tigers was never in doubt after they pummeled Detroit for nine runs in the third inning, but the one moment that gave Ranger fans some pause came in the Tiger fifth when, with a man on first, Ramon Santiago lofted a fly ball down the left field line that Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton appeared ready to catch against the side wall—only to have it swooped away over the railing by a fan in the first row. The Bartmanesque moment later became a footnote when Santiago grounded out.

The First, Officially
The walk-off grand slam by Texas' Nelson Cruz to win Game Two of the ALCS was widely reported to be the first in major league postseason history. Well, yes—and no. In 1999, Robin Ventura ended Game Five of the NLCS when he drove a bases-loaded shot over the right-center field fence for the New York Mets, but he never made it home; swarmed by ecstatic teammates between first and second, Ventura abandoned his full trot and was credited with what has become known as the “Grand Slam Single.” The Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves in 11 innings, 4-3, but lost the series in six games.

Trivia Question
The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera tied a major league record in Game Six against the Rangers by collecting a hit in his 13th straight LCS game. Who owns the all-time mark for the longest hitting streak in postseason (LDS, LCS and World Series) history? The answer is at the bottom of this column.

Maybe He Just Hates Himself
Texas slugger Adrian Beltre fouled nine pitches off various parts of his body during Game Three of the ALCS. Fortunately, known were hit off his groin; he once made the disabled list a few years ago for doing just that—without wearing a cup.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hideous
We mentioned this a few weeks ago, but we can’t help but bring attention back to the fact that Jose Valverde apparently is a completely different pitcher when he’s given a save situation. When a save is not on the line, Valverde is 2-5 with a 6.83 ERA (playoffs included). When he’s in for the save attempt, he’s 52-for-52 on the year with a 0.52 ERA.

Au Natural
In Game Five of the ALCS at Detroit, the Tigers’ critical four-run rally started with a single, followed by a double, a triple and finally a home run. That’s what’s called a natural cycle, and it’s never happened before in a postseason game. Detroit went on to beat Texas and stay alive in the series, 7-5.

Getting Better, Every Day
There was happy news to report in the ongoing recovery of Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giant fan severely beaten on Opening Day at Los Angeles. He was released from a hospital after six months in the intensive care unit, moving on to a rehabilitation center where he hopefully continues his path towards a full recovery. Stow has actually began to interact and talk with his family, and said upon going outdoors for the first time since his beating, “It’s magical.”

Double Duty?
If you thought Robin Ventura, the former third baseman with no managerial experience, was a bold choice by the Chicago White Sox to replace the departed (to Florida) Ozzie Guillen, an even more intriguing move was considered: Making current first baseman Paul Konerko the majors’ first player-manager since Pete Rose in the 1980s. General manager Ken Williams thought seriously about it, then decided against it because it would “drive (Konerko) nuts…playing and managing at the same time.” The 35-year old Konerko has been lauded for his “cerebral” leadership abilities, and Williams thinks he’ll make a good manager—sooner or later.

Back From the Dead
Baseball’s first postseason awards were announced this past week with the naming of each league’s Comeback Player of the Year. The NL honor went to St. Louis slugger Lance Berkman, who appeared headed for a fadeout after vanishing in the New York Yankee lineup late last year; instead, he arguably ended up having the best year at the plate by any Cardinal, Albert Pujols included—hitting .301 with 31 home runs, 94 RBIs and 92 walks in 145 games. In the AL, Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury—whose 2010 season barely got off the ground due to injury and included a .192 average with no homers in 18 games—received the award for his MVP-level performance, easily setting career highs with a .321 average, 212 hits, 32 homers, 105 RBIs, 46 doubles and 119 runs.

So, for the first time, we can compare the actual winners with TGG’s preseason picks. Both Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio thought the easy choice in the AL would be Minnesota closer Joe Nathan, who spent all of 2010 on the shelf—but he never came back as his old reliable self. In the NL, Eric thought that the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval, he of the 40 pounds lost over the winter, would return to form; he did, but not quite as impressively as Berkman. Ed put his hopes on Atlanta’s Chipper Jones, but the aging future Hall-of-Famer showed little vintage.

The Easy Choice
The Pittsburgh Pirates decided it was the right thing not to pick up the 2012 option on pitcher Paul Maholm—convinced that a player with a 23-38 record and 4.43 ERA over the last three years was not worth paying $9.75 million next season. The Pirates can bring back Maholm, now a free agent—and they probably could get him for a lot cheaper.

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!

Trivia Answer
The longest postseason hitting streak is shared by three players: Hank Bauer (1956-58), Derek Jeter (1998-99) and Manny Ramirez (2003-04), all of whom hit safely in 17 straight games.

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week:
Monday, October 10
Game Two of the ALCS—delayed 24 hours after its original Sunday date was postponed by rains that never came—goes to the Texas Rangers over Detroit in 11 innings, 7-3; the winning knock comes from Nelson Cruz, who hits the first official walk-off grand slam in postseason history. It was Cruz’s second homer of the game; his seventh-inning shot set tied the game at 3-3 and helped set up overtime.

The St. Louis Cardinals even up the NLCS at Milwaukee by slamming the Brewers, 12-3; Albert Pujols pounds out four hits—three doubles and a home run—and knocks in five runs to become the first player to have at least three extra-base hits in two postseason games in the same year.

Tuesday, October 11
In Detroit, the Tigers breathe life back into their ALCS chances with a 5-2 win over the Rangers behind seven-plus strong innings from starter Doug Fister and three solo home runs by Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta.

Wednesday, October 12
In a vicious moment of déjà vu for Tiger fans, Cruz delivers again in extra innings for the Rangers. Though his three-run, 11th-inning home run does not unbreak a 3-3 tie—Mike Napolis run-scoring single beforehand does—it’s a deafening blow that is not responded to by the Tigers, who fall at Detroit 7-3 and now trail Texas by a 3-1 margin in the ALCS.

The Cardinals score four first-inning runs off Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo and make it stand up, defeating the Brewers 4-3 to take a 2-1 game lead in the NLCS. St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter is not entirely effective, but his five innings of work is enough to secure him his seventh postseason win—tying Bob Gibson for a Cardinal record.

Thursday, October 13
The Tigers stay alive with a 7-5 win over the Rangers at Detroit in Game Five, thanks to a four-run, sixth-inning rally that breaks a 2-2 tie; the first of those four runs score on a Cabrera double that ricochets off the front of the third-base bag and over the head of Texas’ Adrian Beltre, who otherwise might have been able to turn a double play; just an inning earlier, Beltre missed a three-run homer as his fly ball sailed just a few feet foul of the pole. Justin Verlander goes 7.1 innings for the Tigers and throws a career-high 133 pitches.

Unlike the night before, the Brewers are able to erase an early Cardinal lead and win Game Four at St. Louis to even up the NLCS. Milwaukee starter Randy Wolf throws solidly for seven innings after serving up early solo shots to Matt Holliday and Allen Craig.

Friday, October 14
The Cardinals take advantage of a season-high four errors by the Brewers and score three unearned runs, while their bullpen throws 4.1 flawless innings in relief of starter Jaime Garcia (who finished an out shy of gaining credit for victory) to take a 3-2 NLCS lead with a 7-1 win.

Saturday, October 15
The Rangers capture their second straight AL flag thanks to a titanic nine-run outburst in the third inning in which they send 14 men to the plate, knock out six hits (including two doubles by Michael Young) and walk four times. Cruz’s seventh-inning home run gives him a postseason series-record six, along with 13 RBIs—also a record—and helps secure him with the ALCS MVP award.

Sunday, October 16
Inspired by the offensive onslaught of the night before in Arlington, the Cardinals tally nine times in the first three innings and finish off the Brewers at Milwaukee in Game Six, winning the NL pennant with a 12-6 victory. Three Milwaukee errors—all in the fifth inning—give them a NLCS-record nine. It’s the 18th league flag captured by the Cardinals; only the Dodgers and Giants have won more in the NL.

Breakdown in Beantown
In Boston, the postmortem on the Red Sox’ September collapse is being viewed as more of a post-apocalypse, proving that a $163 million payroll not only can’t buy a world title, it certainly won’t buy happiness as well.

The two biggest casualties of the Red Sox’ 2011 season are manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, both of whom have been expunged from the organization. Never mind that together, these guys helped produced Boston’s first baseball championship in nearly a century in 2004—and then won it all again just three years later; with an offseason spending spree that brought in offensive stars Adrian Goznalez and Carl Crawford, a third title was highly anticipated. But the Red Sox, who looked free and clear for a postseason birth in early September, collapsed as the Tampa Bay Rays (payroll: $42 million) bypassed them for the AL wild card on the regular season’s final day.

So now we hear this from the Jeff Pearlman wannabes: That Francona lost control of his clubhouse, distracted by personal issues including a dissolved marriage, pain medication and a son serving in Iraq; that members of the starting rotation, during their off-days, stayed in the clubhouse during games feting away on fried chicken, beer and video games; and that owner John Henry gave his players $300 headphones and a held a party for them on his yacht as an appeasement to complaints of a difficult travel schedule complicated by severe summer weather. And—horror of horrors—Kevin Youkilis was spotted at a New England Patriot game getting cozy with Tom Brady’s sister.

Of course, Boston sports talk—which is about as tense as it can get anywhere in the country—went into overdrive on the issue, and by week’s end Henry himself showed up at The Sports Hub (98.5 in Boston) to smooth things out and deny that his front office was responsible for spreading the allegations.

For a CGI reenactment of all of this, check out what Taiwan’s animation slaves quickly whipped up this past week.

The Curse Whisperer?
While Francona’s status remains fluid, Epstein’s does not. The young ex-Sox general manager—he’s still just 37—quickly signed on to become the new GM of the Chicago Cubs, for whom he’ll reportedly earn $15 million over the next five years; compensation to the Red Sox from the Cubs remains a sticking point. We’ll see if Epstein can turn around a highly underachieving Cub team, but one thing is for certain: If he can put an end to the Billy Goat Curse at Wrigley after helping to end the Curse of the Bambino in Boston, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.

From Ashville, With Apology
Sammy Stewart made news when he first stepped on a major league field—striking out a major league-record seven batters to begin his career—and made news shortly after he left it, getting busted numerous times for crack cocaine possession; it eventually left him broke and homeless, before shacking up at his current residence: The Buncombe Correctional Center (read: prison) in Asheville, North Carolina. During his ten years with the majors, Stewart was a middle reliever for the Baltimore Orioles who racked up enough innings in 1981 to qualify for the ERA title—which he won with a 2.34 mark.

This past week, Stewart sent an open letter to the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly in which he expressed remorse for his post-career actions, and sorrow for the recent loss of ex-teammate and friend Mike Flanagan, who committed suicide. Stewart will be paroled in 2013 and hopes that he can take part in any 30-year anniversary festivities for the 1983 world champion Orioles, for whom he won nine games, saved seven and posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in 9.1 postseason innings.

Nice Try
Earlier this spring, a merchandising company in the San Francisco Bay Area named Gogo Sports discovered that the Giants, astonishingly, had not trademarked the “San Francisco” script used on their game jackets—and decided to trademark it for themselves. When the Giants got word of this, they feverishly attempted to apply for the trademark—but we’re rebuffed, saying that Gogo had beaten them to the punch. So, using legal cojones, Gogo has now sued the Giants—claiming that the team is using “their” trademark without permission. Don’t expect the Giants to have their script forcibly removed, because licensing law protects unregistered trademarks.

Now Playing at TGG
In our latest installment of the They Were There section, TGG's Ed Attanasio chats with the oldest living ex-major leaguer, 100-year old Connie Marrero—currently living in his native Cuba.

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Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
Take the TGG quiz to determine your good baseball knowledge when it comes to the game's all-time hit leaders and the 3,000-hit club. Check it out now!

The 2011 Mid-Season Report Card
Our picks for the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2011 regular season. Check it out now!