The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 22-28, 2012
The World Champion Giants and Total Baseball How to Protect the Pitchers' Heads?
Petco Park Gets Small Opening Day Down Under?

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How Sweep it Is!
This is how baseball is played, folks. Timely hitting. Staunch pitching. Remarkable defense. Adept managing. Contributions from everyone in the lineup. For the second time in three years, the San Francisco Giants declared themselves champions of baseball with a four-game sweep over the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, showing themselves to be the model franchise for the times.

Nationwide, the prescript to the Series had the Giants all but buried. Detroit, with five days off, had its pitching rotation handsomely set with ace Justin Verlander starting off in Game One while the Giants, with just one day of rest between the NLCS and Game One, had to go with the flow and start Barry Zito—something Giant fans once considered unimaginable—for the first game against the Tigers. Zito would be followed by Madison Bumgarner, who looked completely gassed following several postseason outings. So what do these two guys do? Zito allows a run in 5.2 innings, while Bumgarner—reportedly fixing a mechanical problem with his delivery—was brilliant for seven shutout innings in Game Two. From there, the Giants took an unshakeable momentum to Detroit and never lost it—winning two close games over a competitive yet fundamentally outmatched Tiger team to finish the sweep.

But the Giants’ triumph comes back to the concept of team baseball. Everyone gave at the office for this sweep. Pablo Sandoval won the Series MVP, but it could have gone to any one of ten different Giants. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers can bulk up on all the stardom they want, but the way to win is the Giants’ way; you simply can’t put a price tag on it.

Finally Feeling Like They Belong
The Giants’ World Series sweep was especially satisfying for Sandoval and Zito, two Giants who were all but absent during the team’s championship run two years ago (Zito wasn’t even included on the postseason roster then). The contributions of Sandoval, who in 2010 struggled and went hitless in his only three World Series at-bats against Texas, were obvious as reflected in his Series MVP award—but Zito also gets major credit for partnering with Sandoval to get the Series off to the right start—all after jumpstarting the Giants in the NLCS with a tremendous Game Five effort at St. Louis to begin the victorious turnaround against the Cardinals.

Zito will finish up his voluminous seven-year contract next season which has been largely disparaged by Giant fans, but he’s due for a big roar on Opening Day after a 15-8 record during the 2012 regular season—followed by a 2-0 mark and 1.69 ERA in three postseason starts.

The Giants got a powerful lift in Game One from Sandoval, the free swinger who became only the fourth player to hit three home runs in a World Series game. Sandoval hit his first two off Detroit ace Justin Verlander on 95 MPH fastballs; the third came off Tiger reliever Al Albuquerque. Sandoval added a single and knocked in four runs overall in the Giants’ 8-3 win; the other players to go deep three times in a Series game are Babe Ruth (who did it twice, in 1926 and 1928), Reggie Jackson in 1977, and Albert Pujols just last year.

Got Melk? No, And We Don't Need Him
The hyperlink to Jeff Passan’s Yahoo! Sports op-ed said: “Hard to defend Cabrera exile”, in reference to Melky Cabrera’s PED-fueled banishment from the San Francisco Giants that Passan labeled as “sheathed in hypocrisy and selective morality.” So can we defend the Giants’ shunning of Cabrera? Sure. The Giants were 64-53 with Cabrera and 42-18 (postseason included) since his suspension; Marco Scutaro has filled in by hitting .355 in 77 games for the Giants; and although Gregor Blanco hasn’t hit like Cabrera as his left-field replacement, how many of his numerous great catches during the World Series could Cabrera have copied?

Rest Sucks
Four times, one World Series opponent who swept its LCS opponent matched up against a team that took seven games to win its LCS. All four times, the team that labored the seven games won the World Series, including the Giants this season. (The other three were the 1988 Dodgers and the Red Sox of 2004 and 2007.)

Zeroing in on the Record Book
The Giants became the first team since the 1966 Baltimore Orioles to hurl two straight shutouts in the World Series. The two blankings match the total number of times the Tigers were shut out during the entire regular season.

Keeping Ahead of Things
Until Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer put the Tigers ahead early in Game Four, the Giants had not trailed for 56 straight innings—four frames shy of the postseason mark set by the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

So Much for Torture
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Giants became only the second team in postseason history to win four straight games by a margin of at least five runs, equaling a run by the 2007 Boston Red Sox. In each of those games, they’ve had at least one RBI from a pitcher—establishing another postseason mark.

The Slumber Company
Cabrera and Prince Fielder formed a formidable one-two punch at the plate during the regular season for the Tigers, but they were easily tamed by Giant pitching; they hit a combined .148 (4-for-27) with one homer and three RBIs. The Tigers as a team fared only a little better; Detroit hit .159, the third lowest in Series history.

Ouch, Twice
Losing the World Series in sweeping fashion was insult to injury for Detroit second baseman Omar Infante, who had his hand broken in the ninth inning on a Santiago Casilla pitch.

One Tiger Out?
Verlander became the second AL pitcher ever to lose his first three World Series career starts; the other was Lefty Williams for the 1919 Chicago White Sox. We’re assuming that Verlander, unlike Williams—a participant in the Black Sox Scandal—was trying to win.

The Germans Did This Too at the End of World War II
Here’s a good idea for a team’s marketing department when you’re down two games to none in the World Series: Don’t have your fans waive white hankies at the ballpark.

Super Slo-Cool
We must say, Fox’ super-super-slo-mo camera used to watch the effects of a batted bat and pitching motions has been a winner in the postseason. It’s certainly better than the network’s strange charcoal x-ray cam used last year to better detect whether a ball made contact with a batter or the ground.

And the Meek Nearly Inherited October
Had the Cardinals prevailed and met the Tigers in the World Series, it would have been a matchup pairing the teams with the worst regular season records among the ten postseason participants.

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.

Is Pitching a Hard-Hat Profession?
Some people may think that the game has passed long-time TV analyst (and once-upon-a-time catcher) Tim McCarver, but give the 71-year old credit for creating a good debate moments after watching the replays of Detroit pitcher Doug Fister getting conked on the head from a Angel Pagan line drive in Game Two. McCarver brought to the national audience the suggestion that pitchers should begin wearing helmets before someone gets killed (or very seriously injured, as happened to Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy earlier this summer). Fister was lucky; he survived the impact with little pain and no memory loss. 

The first vision to come to our mind as McCarver ranted was of a frustrated pitcher trying to do his job while a batting helmet shoved on his head kept falling off with his follow-through. So there must be a different idea out there, perhaps something less obtrusive yet just as safe. MLB has been on top of it since the McCarthy incident (which resulted in a skull fracture and brain contusion) and, in the aftermath of the Fister knock, is speeding up research in hopes of finding a solution sooner than later. The leader in the developmental clubhouse, reportedly, is the creation of a cap insulated with Kevlar, a form of sturdy protection used in the military and law enforcement.

Fortunately, incidents like those that occur to McCarthy and Fister don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re nasty. But while special head protection should obviously fall under the heading of “safety first,” it shouldn’t impede a pitcher’s ability to do his job. That’s the trick.

Ssshhh! Don't Tell Anyone!
The star treatment for beleaguered New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez extended to the public address booth. Manager Joe Girardi, well aware that the vulture culture at Yankee Stadium was aiming its talons at the badly slumping star, pinch-hit Raul Ibanez for him in Game Three of the ALDS against Baltimore—and personally called to the PA booth, asking the folks at the mic to name Ibanez as the batter, but not to name Rodriguez as the man being taken out. Ibanez went on to tie the game with a two-run home run, then won it three innings later with another blast.

We Hardly Knew Ya', Ozzie
News that Ozzie Guillen was dumped as the Miami Marlins’ manager after just one season didn’t exactly lead to much tear-shedding in South Florida—there may have been a few tears of joy in Little Havana, where Guillen was vilified after he gave wayward praise to Fidel Castro earlier in the year—but his firing pretty much cemented an outright disappointment of a baseball season in Miami, where a new ballpark and a juiced-up payroll was supposed to catapult the Marlins to contention; instead, they finished in the NL East basement with the majors’ sixth-worst record at 69-93. Early interviewees for Guillen’s post include former Philadelphia/San Diego manager Larry Bowa and current Cincinnati pitching coach Bryan Price. As for Guillen, he posted often on his infamous Twitter account but was genteel in his responses to his departure, proving that he knows to stay nice in order to up his chances for the next gig.

The Dingoes Ate My Baseball!
It was reported this past week that MLB is talking with officials in Australia to possibly open the 2014 regular season in Sydney, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks most mentioned as the teams set to play. While the Aussies say yes, we’re talking, MLB officially declined to state that anything was being discussed. The Los Angeles Times noted that the players’ union might ultimately say no to whole thing because of the long 14-hour flight between Los Angeles and Sydney, one of the world’s longest nonstops as memorably pointed out in Inception.

The Ex That Wouldn't Leave
Fired Boston manager Bobby Valentine needs a reporter the way a new divorcee needs a quick fling. After throwing his assistant coaches under the bus last week for saying that they undermined him in the dugout, Valentine found a new target this past week when he told Bob Costas in a NBC Sports interview that star Red Sox slugger David Ortiz quit on the team by taking the rest of the year off in midsummer to heal from heel injuries. It was a curious barb considering that Ortiz was publicly one of Valentine’s few defenders among Red Sox players. As for those assistant coaches, Tim Bogar, for one, wasn’t going to let Valentine’s remarks go unanswered. “The coaching staff was prepared to do everything that we were supposed to do to help Bobby succeed,” he told ESPN, “but not once did he portray what he wanted us to do to help him and eventually he shut some of us out completely.”

Neutering the Petco
The trend toward smaller field dimensions continue. First it was New York’s Citi Field, then Seattle’s Safeco Field; now the mother of all pitcher’s ballyards, San Diego’s Petco Park, is having its fences moved in. The gaps will be most affected, with distances from home plate reduced by ten feet with shorter fences. The Padres’ offense have long suffered since Petco’s 2004 opening, and although the team’s pitching was consequently helped because of the spacious dimensions, it never translated into much of an advantage—especially given that the Padres have suffered four losing campaigns over the last five seasons.

Will This Lead to Another Tariff War?
Japan has understandably been very protective of its star players as they salivate performing with the best of the best in America, but they have given relative lip service to standout high school performers who have the same thought. That may change now that Shohei Otani, an 18-year-old, 6’4” pitcher with a fastball reportedly topping out at 100 MPH, has made it clear he wants to go straight to the U.S. rather than emerge through the Japanese leagues. A current rule forbids Japanese amateurs from playing in their native land for three years should they return after a stint outside the country; in the wake of Otani’s decision, Japan is considering toughening the restrictions further.

A Warped Comebacker
Last week, MLB gave their Comeback Player of the Year awards to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey and Tampa Bay reliever Fernando Rodney. This past week, The Sporting News chimed in with their own comeback honors—agreeing with MLB on the NL side with Posey, but giving the AL nod instead to Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. Yes, Dunn had an absolutely miserable year in 2011—one of the worst ever by any player, in fact—and we’ll give TSN the fact that Dunn’s 41 homers suggested a return to form. But throw in a lousy .204 average and 222 strikeouts (one shy of the all-time record), and this is considered a comeback effort? We’ll take Rodney.

A Premature Star
The Houston Astros can’t win these days—even on the publicity front. The team was readying to unveil its new logo this coming week, but a sporting goods shop accidentally beat it to the punch by placing T-shirts with the new design on the rack. A customer’s photo of the shirt went viral and the Astros were less than thrilled. That new logo, by the way, isn’t all that new: It’s a reworking of the 1970s mark with a white “H” overlapping an orange star.

Les Mueller, 1919-2012
On July 21, 1945, Detroit pitcher Les Mueller—who first came up with the Detroit Tigers four years earlier but shortly afterward enlisted into World War II—was given a start at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park against the A’s. Mueller was effective as he pitched and pitched and pitched…until he was finally removed with two outs in the 20th inning of a 1-1 tie. (According to an interview with SABR, Mueller “estimates” that he threw 370 pitches.) Dizzy Trout would take it from there and the deadlocked game would continue and finally be called after 24 frames, but Mueller’s 19.2 innings of work, although not a record, has not been surpassed since by any major leaguer. The 1945 season would serve as the big league coda for Mueller, who died this past week at age 93; he tried through 1949, but could not break back through to the majors. After baseball, he worked in his family’s furniture store.

That's Miller Electric, Right?
The Milwaukee Brewers are publicly considering signing free agent Josh Hamilton, whose chances of being resigned by the incumbent Texas Rangers are on thin ice. But do you think the former alcoholic would be comfortable playing in a ballpark (Miller Park) named after a beer?

One Angry Man
Washington outfielder Michael Morse would love to be in the World Series—but instead, he spent this past week doing jury duty and being picked to watch over a trial. Here’s a tip to the defendant in the trial Morse will be seated at: Don’t wear any St. Louis Cardinal apparel.

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.