The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 18-24, 2010
Joy in Texas, Torture (and Joy) in San Francisco 1988 Goes on the Auction Block
What Now for the New York Yankees? Bryce Harper's Desert Debut

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You're On, Giants and Rangers
The Texas Rangers secured their first-ever American League pennant on Friday night and ended the longest drought by any team in the four major North American pro sports leagues just reaching a championship series or game for the first time. The Rangers clinched the AL flag by beating the New York Yankees in six games, but it was a more one-sided affair than the win count suggests; they outscored the defending champions, 38-19.

The irony of the Rangers’ conquest over New York is that the world’s richest pro sports corporation was beaten by a team that just three months ago was in bankruptcy. Now if that isn’t parity in baseball, what is?

While the Rangers tromped all over the Yankees in the collective box scores, the San Francisco Giants appeared to earn their reservations at the Fall Classic by attrition. Despite winning the NLCS over Philadelphia (also in six games), they were outscored, 20-19. As the Atlanta Braves discovered in the NLDS and what many during the regular season already knew, get to the Giants early and often—or they’ll get to you, one way or another.

What the Giants Need to Win
First and foremost, keep the speedy and disruptive Elvis Andrus off base; but also get to the inferior starting rotation early enough to go face-to-face with an inferior bullpen. And find a way, somehow, someway, to beat Cliff Lee at least once.

What the Rangers Need to Win
As mentioned earlier, get to the Giants early and often, because San Francisco has lacked the power to produce a major comeback rally all season long. But how to get to the Giants’ vaunted rotation? The key lies with Texas catcher Bengie Molina, who started the year in San Francisco and has three-plus years’ worth of intimate knowledge on the majority of Giant pitchers to share with his teammates. (Of course, Giant reliever Chris Ray, who came to San Francisco in the Molina trade, could provide similar insight on the Rangers to his current mates—but we think Molina’s detailed information will be of more value.)

Either Way, They Win
By being members of both the Giants and Rangers during the season, Molina and Ray are both guaranteed a championship ring regardless of who wins the World Series.

Whose Pain is Greater?
The Rangers have never won a World Series, but the Giants have gone longer without a championship; their last conquest came in 1954 when the team was still in New York, seven years before the birth of the Ranger franchise—and 18 years before the first game played in Arlington after a decade of failure in Washington both on the field and at the gate. So whoever wins the Series will be releasing a major sigh of relief sucked in for roughly half a century.

So while it's well known that the Rangers are making their very first World Series appearance, but the Giants are there for the 18th time—tying the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers for the most in NL history, and second only to the New York Yankees.

Awful August, Sterling Since
For many baseball players, survival is all about adjustments. Exhibit A: San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum and Texas’ Cliff Lee. After the two ace pitchers started the year in great shape, they badly struggled in the month of August, recording a combined 1-9 record and 6.88 ERA. Then came the adjustments: Lincecum changed his pitching stance and Lee, well, he just got some added rest. The turnaround since has been impressive for both; they’re a combined 12-3 with a 1.62 ERA, allowing just 74 hits in 116.2 innings since the beginning of September.

What Were They Thinking?
How does the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins—known to be a fast guy to all except, apparently, Philadelphia third base coach Sam Perlazzo—not score from first base with two out after Ryan Howard pounded a drive off the left-center field wall in the fifth inning of NLCS Game Six? The tally would have given the Phillies a 3-2 lead over the Giants.

Howard's End
Because Rollins was held up by Perlazzo at third on the above-mentioned play, Howard would be robbed of a RBI—and eventually finish the postseason without a single run knocked in over nine games. That’s a bit unorthodox for a guy who’s averaged 136 RBIs in each of his last five years. (Not helping matters: Howard has struck out 47 times in his last 108 postseason at-bats.)

So Close, And Yet...
In Game Four of the NLCS, both the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Phillies’ Joe Blanton were removed from the game with the lead, one out shy of recording the five innings necessary to earn the victory. The respective bullpens blew both leads, and a seesaw battle ensued that ultimately finished in the Giants favor, 6-5.

Wild Start
Blanton threw two wild pitches in the first inning of Game Five—equaling his regular season total over 175.2 innings.

How good was Cliff Lee and Company against the Yankees in Game Three of the ALCS? The Yankees reached base only three times, the fewest they’ve ever placed in any of their 360 postseason games.

Getting it Right the Second Time Around
The Rangers were a combined 0-6 on the road at Tampa Bay and New York during the regular season. During the playoffs against those same two teams, they were 5-1.

Comeuppance is a Bitch
Former Ranger, current Yankee Alex Rodriguez took the final out on a called strike three to clinch the AL pennant for Texas.

Living the Songs He Sings
Raindrops were falling on the head of ALCS Game Six national anthem singer B.J. Thomas—who 40 years earlier became famous for the song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

Heavy Mental
The New York Yankees avoided an appearance by the Grim Reaper to kill off their season in Game Five of the ALCS this past Wednesday, but they couldn’t keep Grim LaRogue from storming out on the field in an attempt to take out Alex Rodriguez. LaRogue, who used to go by the name of John Rogan, is a 33-year old aspiring book writer (according to his mom) who was brought down by security short of his goal of tackling Rodriguez because, according to those who later interrogated him, he was infatuated with the Yankee star’s rumored girlfriend, actress Cameron Diaz.

Police found on LaRogue a picture of Rodriguez with an “X” over his face and a drawing of a gun pointed at him accommodated with the wordage, “You gotta go, buddy.” That’s not all: LaRogue also told police that he wants to kill singer Bobby Brown because Osama bin Laden has a crush on Whitney Huston. A source summed it up to the New York Daily News that LaRogue was “absolutely out of his f---ing mind.”

He Said What?
“I don’t even know what (Ryan Howard) did—did he pop out or what?…He struck out? I don’t remember, I was screaming.”—NLCS Most Valuable Player Cody Ross, asked to recall the final out of the decisive Game Six.

They Said What?
Great headline in the New York Post for a Joel Sherman column: “Elvis a Smash Hit; Jeter Just an Oldie.”

For Sale: History
Former star slugger and current Arizona manager Kirk Gibson, whose monumental home run off Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 World Series is certainly one of the most memorable ever hit, announced this past week that he’s putting up almost everything associated with the event—the bat he used, the uniform he wore, his various trophies earned that year—for auction. When asked if he was giving away the relics because he was in need of money, Gibson snapped back: “That’s really not an appropriate question,” before grudgingly confirming that his bank account was actually okay. What Gibson is doing this for is to raise money to establish a scholarship fund for his alma mater at Michigan State; he’s also worried that leaving the memorabilia in his hands is more risky, hoping that the eventual high bidders protect and/or show off the items rather than having them left exposed to the risk of fire or decay from extreme temperatures while sitting in a garage or attic.

The talk of this auction brought up another question: Whatever happened to the ball that Gibson hit? It landed in a sea of ecstatic bleacher fans at Dodger Stadium, but no one has ever claimed ownership and its whereabouts remain one of the biggest mysteries related to a home run ball. Gibson only knows that a female fan once sent a picture of her leg bruised by the impact of the ball, but beyond that, who knows.

Perhaps an Oakland fan caught it and chucked it into the Pacific.

Mound of Chaos
With A.J. Burnett failing, Andy Pettitte aging (he turns 39 next season) and Phil Hughes yet to prove he’s a big-game pitcher, the Yankees will almost certainly be on the prowl for another A-list pitcher to compliment CC Sabathia in the rotation. Don’t be surprised if Cliff Lee makes a move to the Bronx; for now, Lee is saying all the right things in Texas to keep from creating a distraction, but believe us, if Lee is offered $115 million by the Rangers and $120 million by the Yankees, he’s going to New York.

If the Yankees don’t get to Lee, they can also make a bid for Zack Greinke, for whom the Kansas City Royals said they are willing to trade if the deal was right.

Don't Blame the Closer
Although the Yankees failed to reach the World Series, closer Mariano Rivera—who turns 41 next month—continued his lengthy and utterly amazing postseason dominance. Rivera finished all five of the Yankee playoff wins, earning three saves without allowing a run in 6.1 innings; in 94 postseason appearances, he has now saved 42 games with an 8-1 record, a 0.71 ERA and a WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) of 0.77. Rivera’s career October work alone is enough to get him in the Hall of Fame.

A Pinstriped Paradigm Shift?
Rivera, along with fellow Yankee vets Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, become free agents this offseason. Pettitte had a brief tour of duty in Houston, so his departure from Yankeeland wouldn't be startling for fans in the Bronx, but it's awfully hard to see Rivera and Jeter in anything other than Yankee pinstripes. Rivera seems to be aging like fine wine and the Yankees should likely bring him back; as for Jeter, it would seem blasphemous for the Yankees to not re-sign him, but there could be some differences between the two parties on money and/or length of contract, given that Jeter is entering his late 30s and just endured prolonged season funk—he consistently hit below .250 this past summer—that offers a suggestion that his efficiency may be starting to deteriorate.

Brain Matters
Baseball is looking into a seven-day disabled list stay for players recovering from concussions, a type of injury that has reached epidemic proportions—that is, as far as media attention goes, replacing last year’s rage (mental anxiety disorder). Our thought is, wh

A Dazzling Desert Debut
Bryce Harper, Washington’s second much-ballyhooed prospect (after Stephen Strasburg) in as many years, had a solid debut in the Arizona Fall League this past Wednesday when he bounced a bases-loaded, ground rule double at the deepest end of the ballpark in Scottsdale.

The AFL is an offseason prep step for many young prospects en route to the minor leagues, and many current-day stars have made the autumn trip to the desert. For Harper, it’s clearly not a question of whether he’ll get to the major league level, but when. Given the Nationals’ almost indefinite poor state of affairs, the answer is probably sooner than later.

From Heavyweight Hitter to Lightweight Pocketbook
Some fighters get paid to do battle against others. But a summer brawl involving Francisco Rodriguez will cost the New York Mets’ closer $3.14 million, the end result of an agreement between himself and the team that was finalized this past week. Rodriguez was suspended from the Mets without pay for the rest of the year; he wasn’t going to play anymore in 2010 anyway, after tearing a ligament in the thumb of his pitching hand following an ill-advised boxing match with the father of his girlfriend at Citi Field on August 11.

The Mets had threatened to cancel the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract, which expires after next season, raising the hackles of the players’ union—but Rodriguez told the union not to file a grievance as he followed with a public apology to the Mets. In return, Rodriguez will be paid the $11.5 million owed to him in 2011, and has a $17.5 million option for 2012—which the Mets could lower to $3.5 million if they let him go as a free agent at that point.

Impatient With the Doctor
If you can’t blame the disappointment of a season on your players, managers or even coaches, blame the medical staff. That’s what’s happening in Oakland, where they cleared out the proverbial medical wing this past week. Head trainer Steve Sayles was fired by the A’s after three years in which the team recorded the two highest totals of disabled list visits since the team moved to California in 1968.

The A’s have also terminated the services of the Webster Orthopedic Group, which is being sued by Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden—who claims he has permanent nerve damage in his foot as the result of a procedure to remove a cyst from his left foot last year.

More is Less
The Boston Red Sox want to enlarge the Fenway Park bullpen behind right-center field for 2011, which would reduce the asymmetrical, relative bandbox field dimensions by about ten feet in front of the bullpen. That’ll be good news for relievers who have complained of the Fenway bullpens being too cramped, but the bad news for those same pitchers is that they’ll have to keep left-handed hitters with gap power from reaching for a closer fence once they’re in the game.

Before the move can be made, the Red Sox have to get permission not from MLB but, instead, from the Boston Landmarks Commission and the Massachusetts Historical Commission—because Fenway Park is designated as a local landmark.

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