The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 17-23, 2011
Albert Pujols' World Series Highs and Lows Did Ron Kulpa Seek Revenge for 1985?
Doc Gooden's World Series "Highs" and Lows Time to Ban Chew in MLB?

Bad Albert...
After his subtle but critical ninth-inning defensive gaffe allowed the Texas Rangers’ Elvis Andrus to reach second and later score the ultimate game-winning run, St. Louis Cardinal star Albert Pujols quickly cleared himself out of the St. Louis clubhouse before he could face the press. And Yahoo SportsJeff Passan let him have it. “Part of stardom—perhaps the hardest part—is accountability…Pujols, more than anything, must be accountable to his teammates, those he ostensibly leads. He needs to stand up after losses so Jason Motte and Jon Jay and Allen Craig and David Freese don’t have to.”

It’s understandable that Pujols didn’t want to speak to the media; it was a lousy first two games for the free agent to be, going 0-for-6 with an intentional walk and a hit-by-pitch.

...Good Albert
Pujols was certain to be available after his Game Three performance—a 180-degree swing from his first two games and, arguably, the most dominant ever put forth by a hitter in a World Series game. King Albert became the third player—and the first by someone not wearing a New York Yankee uniform—to hit three home runs in a Series game, collecting all three of his shots in the last four innings of the Cardinals’ 16-7 runaway rout of the Rangers in Arlington. He also set the all-time Fall Classic record with 14 total bases, became the second player (after Milwaukee’s Paul Molitor in 1982) to record five hits in a Series game, tied a Series game record with six RBIs and became the first player ever to have three four-hit games in one postseason.

Team-wise, the Cardinals’ 16 runs tied the World Series mark for the second-most scored in a game. The Yankees piled up 18 runs in Game Two of the 1936 Series against the New York Giants.

From Bop to Flop
A night after scoring their 16 runs, the Cardinals tallied exactly zero in Game Four's 4-0 loss to the Rangers.

Second to One
The Cardinals’ Game Three romp gave St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa sole possession of second place on the all-time managerial postseason win list with 68. Only Joe Torre has more with 84. If the 67-year old LaRussa continues to manage next season—and all indications are that he probably will—he’ll likely become second on the all-time regular season list as well.

This Time, You Can't Blame the Ump
If the Cardinals’ 2-1 Game Two loss to the Rangers sounded familiar to long-time St. Louis baseball fans, here’s why: The last time a World Series team lost a game after going into the ninth leading 1-0 came in Game Six of the 1985 Fall Classic, when the Cardinals appeared to have the game in the bag in the bottom of the ninth at Kansas City. But Don Denkinger’s blown call at first base spoiled the party.

Does He Bleed Cardinal Red?
Speaking of Denkinger, here’s a conspiratorial angle to Ron Kulpa’s blown call in the fourth inning of Game Three, when Matt Holliday was declared safe at first base despite being firmly tagged on the shoulder a half-step before by Texas’ Mike Napoli; Kulpa grew up in the St. Louis area as a big Cardinal fan and was 17 when Denkinger made his fateful errant call at Kansas City. The Cardinals, leading 1-0 at the time, overcame what should have been a two-out, nobody-on situation and proceeded to rally for four runs. Asked about his St. Louis past after the game, Kulpa fired back, “It has nothing to do with it.”

Too Hot to Handle?
Last week we forewarned of a new technology Fox was ready to use called the Hot Spot, in which a low-contrast, black-and-white image of a play would reveal a “white hot” spot showing contact to indicate whether a ball hit a player, the ground, etc. It came into good use in Game One at St. Louis and proved Texas’ Adrian Beltre right when he (yet again) appeared to foul a pitch off himself—in this case, the tip of his foot—but the ball was ruled in play by umpires, as the resulting grounder to third base was turned into an out. It turned out to be a pivotal play; instead of two outs and no one on, Beltre could have been the tying run at first with one out in the ninth inning for Nelson Cruz.

And why didn’t Beltre ask to see if the ball has shoe polish on it to help prove his point, a la Nippy Jones in 1957 and Cleon Jones in 1969? Because his cleat was made of canvas and was not going to leave any indelible marks on the ball.

Rehashing the Script?
Maybe one reason TV ratings for the World Series have been slipping over the years is, maybe, because viewers think the games are reruns. Want proof? In Game One, the Cardinals’ Allen Craig comes up as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh against Texas reliever Alexi Ogando and slaps a single to right field, scoring David Freese and breaking a tie in the Cardinals’ favor. In Game Two, the same exact thing happened in the same exact inning with the same exact cast.

Always Getting the First Say
By not scoring first in Game Four, the Cardinals ended a postseason streak of ten straight games in which they had tallied first.

Baseball Does Matter
Employees for the City of St. Louis have the Cardinals to thank for not having to endure unpaid furlough days over the next year. Because the team is expected to bring in as much as $4 million in unexpected city revenue as a result of their postseason run, local politicians now say that anticipated furloughs will not have to take place.

The Guy Who Went for Broke
On September 12, when the Cardinals had cut their wild card deficit down to 4.5 games, a guy checked out the boards at the MGM Grand sportsbook in Las Vegas and noted that the odds on St. Louis to win the NL pennant were at 500-1—and 999-1 to win the World Series. Apparently that guy was either loaded on money or alcohol—or both. He plunked down $250 on each bet. A profit is already ensured; with the Cardinals winning the NL pennant over Milwaukee, he’s $125,000 richer. He’ll triple that total if St. Louis prevails over Texas.

Either Way, He Wins (2011 Edition)
Last year, catcher Bengie Molina—who began the year with San Francisco and finished it with Texas—was guaranteed a World Series ring regardless of who won the World Series between the Giants and Rangers. A similar situation exists this season for reliever Arthur Rhodes, who began the year for the Rangers but was traded to the Cardinals in midseason. This is the first World Series for Rhodes, who turns 42 this week; he’d been on the losing end of four LCSs before, two each with Baltimore and Seattle. (Orioles and Mariners? Hey, that is a long time ago.)

Beware The Union Sympathizer
The biggest controversy the DFW media could whip up as the World Series returned to Arlington this past weekend was whether Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA star for the Dallas Mavericks, would be allowed to throw out the first pitch at one of the three Rangers’ home games. At first, Major League Baseball said no to the request for Nowitzki, apparently wary that some brotherly union love might be exhibited on the field between him and Cardinal/Ranger players (an ongoing lockout is threatening the entire 2011-12 NBA season, while MLB is beginning talks with the players’ union on a new CBA). But after a huge outcry from Metroplex fans, MLB relented. Nowitzki threw out the first pitch on Saturday before the start of Game Three.

Bitter Championship Coke
A quarter-century ago, the New York Mets celebrated one of the wildest World Series triumphs with their come-from-behind, seven-game win over the beleaguered Boston Red Sox. And as the team paraded down New York City under a glorious rain of ticker tape, star pitcher Dwight Gooden watched it all while high on cocaine at a shady Long Island home of a local drug dealer. “Here I am in the projects in a drug dealer’s apartment with guys I don't even know, with drugs in the house, watching it,” Gooden recalled to ESPN. “It’s a horrible feeling.” Gooden was 22 at the time and had just finished his third season in the majors, going 17-6 to run his career mark to an astonishing 58-19. But he admitted that he began diving into drugs in 1986—at first neutering, then destroying, what should have been a Hall-of-Fame career.

Time to Get Smokelessless?
If you thought getting rid of steroids and amphetamines in baseball was a tough deal, now comes an even tougher challenge from Congress: Four Democrats in Washington are urging Major League Baseball to ban chewing tobacco on the field. Good luck.

The message is certainly noble; tobacco in any form is still tobacco and dangerous to your health. In a joint statement, the Congressmen (led by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin) wrote: “Unfortunately, as…young fans root for their favorite team and players, they also will watch their on-field heroes use smokeless tobacco products.”

Any attempt to ban chew during baseball games will likely lead to a fight—albeit it a very unpopular one—from the union, as it would assert their players’ right to use something that’s not illegal. (So would that make beer okay? Let’s ask some Red Sox players...) Commissioner Bud Selig apparently is on board with Congress’ wishes; he’s included a ban of tobacco as part of the new CBA talks with the union.

Putting Fenway Currency to Good Use
The Red Sox are a bit giddy over the fact they may be receiving $80 million in tax breaks to repair Fenway Park, per the ballpark’s status as a historic landmark. But Greg Turner of the Boston Herald has five suggestions of how the Red Sox can use that money: One, buy out the contract of pitcher John Lackey (6.41 ERA in 2011); two, have owner John Henry purchase two more yachts for more “morale-boosting parties”; three, pregame meals including fried chicken; four, ten million beers at Fenway to help drown fans’ sorrows (“but steer clear of the clubhouse”); and five, hand out checks of $2,000 each to the 39,000 who show up on Opening Day 2012 as a monetary apology for their collapse in 2011.

Blame it on Eve
Most people don’t feel either way over which McCourtFrank or Jamie—was responsible for the mess the Los Angeles Dodgers are in; they’ll tell you that they’re both to blame. But for all the abusive press ink Frank has received for being at the forefront of the team bankruptcy, the Los Angeles TimesBill Plaschke has it in more for Jamie, penning that she was the bright, educated (MIT) one of the two who came into the front office and forged an intolerable existence for her staff in the name of ego. “She tried to rebuild the organization in her image because, as it turns out, she was only concerned with that image,” says Plaschke. “She preached community but only practiced Jamie. She talked about teamwork but only huddled with Jamie.” And when the going got tough, Jamie hid, “failing to be accountable to the city that she claimed to embrace.”

This past week, the McCourts finally reached a settlement in their long, painfully expensive divorce; Jamie gets $130 million from Frank, who gets total control of the Dodgers—and now has to fight commissioner Bud Selig in bankruptcy court to keep it.

Ultra-Lounging Along the Left Field Line
The Florida Marlins announced this past week that their new ballpark, scheduled to open next season, will include a nightclub-like section near the Marlins’ bullpen courtesy of the Clevelander, one of the more chic spots along South Beach. It will include a pool, DJs and dancers; let’s hope for the sake of the kids (not to mention the Marlin relievers) seated nearby that the latter group won’t be attaching themselves to poles. The area will be open to the public before and after games and while the Marlins are on the road, those with game tickets can enter as well during a game, but it’ll likely cost them.

Minor League Gone Bad
In case you thought running a minor league baseball team was a blast, we give you the Lake County Fielders as a warning. Here’s what happened in Zion, Illinois, the home of the independent Fielders, this summer: The manager quit via an email; 11 players refused to take the field at one point; the team’s play-by-play man quit in the middle of the game over not being paid; the team played in a decrepit ballpark featuring aluminum rows of seats and a locker room with no lockers; paychecks bounced and advertisers backed away from pre-arranged deals. Worse, because of their independent status, the Fielders were forced to pay big travel bucks to find competition as far away as Canada, California, and even Hawaii. (Hey guys, you might not be getting paid, but Aloha!)

The team is partially owned by actor Kevin Costner—hence the name Fielders, derived from his classic movie Field of Dreams—but he’s been a no-show for the one or two appearances he had promised to make to the ballpark, according to team officials. Costner is smart enough to realize that when a ship is sinking, there’s no use jumping on it.

Legal war has begun with just about everyone involved, including a spat between the team and Zion—the team suing Zion over failure to build a new ballpark, Zion suing the Fielders over back rent exceeding $340,000.

Last week we incorrectly identified former Boston general manager Theo Epstein as the new GM of the Chicago Cubs. He’s actually their new president. Jed Hoyer, Epstein’s assistant in Boston before he took on the San Diego Padres’ GM job in 2009, will rejoin Epstein in Chicago as his new GM.

At Least Sit and Look Interested
Give Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCraver credit for not letting the cast of Fox new TV series "New Girl" off so easily as it got the shameless, obligatory (and tiring) job of being used as plants in prime seats near home plate for Game Four. Buck in particular noted how, late in a tight game, every invited cast member had suddenly left their seats—likely never to come back.

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 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
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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!