The Longest Seventh-Inning Stretch
By winning only their second championship in their 126-year history, the Philadelphia Phillies took, from start to finish, two days, one hour and 21 minutes to win the rain-delayed Game Five and wrap up the World Series.
The House Sleeps Well Tonight
That massive sound you may have heard out of Nevada at the end of the World Series was the collective sighs of casino sportsbooks who won’t have to pay off thousands on the tens put down on the longshot Tampa Ray Rays before the season.
Reign of the Rain
There has never been a rain-shortened result in World Series history, but Game Five this past week nearly ended that 100-year droughtand in the process nearly gave the series an anticlimactic and downright embarrassing conclusion. A cold, windy rain neutered the typically passionate Phillie fans to a disruptive calm, driving many of them away from their seats to the point that the atmosphere at the ballpark took on something akin to a common mid-summer game soon to be forgotten, while the playing field resembled something very likely not seen in a World Series since Game Seven of 1925, when a similar mud bowl trudged through to completion between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senatorscapped by a disputed, series-winning ground-rule double by the Pirates’ Kiki Cuyler that some believed was foul.
Adding to the suspense of Game Five was the confusion over how the game was to be resolved. The Phillies led after five innings, 2-1, and conditions had deteriorated to the point that, had it been any regular season game, it likely would have been stopped with the Phillies declared the winner. But this was the World Series, and Commissioner Bud Selig, to his credit, wasn’t going to let the Phillies win the series that easily. He had, in fact, conferred with officials for both the Phillies and Rays before the series moved to rainy Philadelphia and them to agree that no game was going to be completed without a ninth inning. Apparently most players from both teams didn’t receive that memo, so while Selig’s message was sharp, communicating the message was not.
This is hardly the first time that rain has played havoc with the World Series. In 1911, the Philadelphia A’s and New York Giants had to wait out wet weather for an entire week before Game Four could get started. The 1962 Series was blindsided by an unusually powerful early-season storm that hit San Francisco and kept the Giants and New York Yankees idle for three days, all while helicopters desperately hovered over the Candlestick Park grass in an attempt to dry it out with greater expediency. The final two, memorable games of the 1975 Boston-Cincinnati Series at Fenway Park also had to wait three additional days because of rain, and the wet stuff held off Game Seven of the 1986 Series in New York by one day, giving Bill Buckner, Calvin Schilardi and the rest of the beleaguered Red Sox one more day to think about their infamous Game Six collapse to the Mets.
Upton is Down, Longoria is Short
In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria combined to hit .286 in 91 at-bats with an astounding 13 home runs, an additional five extra base hits, 26 RBIs and 23 runs scored. In the World Series, the two players suffered a power outage, among other things; they hit .150 (6-for-40) with no extra base hits of any kind and struck out 13 times.
Bad Citizens Bank Park
Friends and family of Tampa Bay players, managers and executives were introduced to infamously hostile Philadelphia sports fans, complaining of being harassed as the World Series moved from Florida to Pennsylvania. Verbal and profane abuse historically common within the Phillie fan base certainly was prevalent around the Ray contingent, but the topper amongst the complaints was that of a 7-year old boy, a relative of Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, being struck by a packet of mustard. The situation was so bad that even Tampa Bay owner Stu Sternberg was brought into the discussion by Phillie management in an effort to smooth things out.
No, Bud, They're Actually Saying "Dude"
Commissioner Selig was booed when he gave the World Series MVP award to Phillie pitcher Cole Hamels. Forget it Bud…it’s Philadelphia.
America's National Past-Bedtime
A less-than-marquee matchup, late starting times made even later by rain delays and the lack of a close series dove TV ratings for the World Series down to an all-time low in 2008. According to those “Nielsens,” the Fall Classic drew an average viewership of 13 million per gameor, roughly the same amount of viewers that tuned in for the 2008 NBA Finals. In comparison, Super Bowl XLII was watched by nearly 100 million people, while hockey’s Stanley Cup drew in an average audience of five million.
Who Is Your MVP?
With the conclusion of the World Series, baseball turns its attention to the honors of the season past. If we had a vote, here’s who we would pick for the various awards:
NL MVP: Brad Lidge, Philadelphia. Albert Pujols had the best numbers and the Silver Slugger will be his, but his presence didn’t help bring the St. Louis Cardinals to the postseason. Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia should earn a few votes for single-handedly elevating their respective teams, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, into the postseason with highly impressive short stints. And the MVP talk in Philadelphia is all for Ryan Howard, who packed a destructive wallop late to help put the Phillies over the top. But Lidge was perfect from start to finish, converting all 41 of his save opportunities and made for the ultimate difference between the Phillies and the New York Mets, whose bullpen was a disaster.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, Texas. For us, this was a virtual toss-up; Boston’s Dustin Pedroia was the everyman in the Red Sox lineup, hitting, stealing, scoringand without him, the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs. But we have to give the nod to Hamilton, and while that contradicts our case against Pujols above as the Rangers went nowhere in the pennant race, we think the whole package of his numbers, attitude and, most importantly, inspiration tips the scale in his favor. Hamilton was valuable to his team on a wholly human level, and for that we feel he should be honored.
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, New York Mets. We love Tim Lincecum, who looks likely to win anyway, and even though Brandon Webb won 22 games, he wasn’t the NL’s sharpest guy on the hill. And we’ve already given Lidge the MVP. So we go with Santana, who dominated quietly and with a vengeance towards the end, earning baseball’s best ERA (2.53), went undefeated after June and would have nailed down 20 wins had the Mets’ bullpen been anything but atrocious.
AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Cleveland. With a 22-3 record, 2.54 ERA and just 34 walks allowed in 223 innings, there isn’t much debate here. The only viable alternative would be Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez, who closed a record 62 games but also was given a record 69 save opportuinities.
NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Chicago. Good arguments for this honor could be made on behalf of Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (.297, 24 HRs, 84 RBIs) and Atlanta pitcher Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68 ERA), but Soto not only put up solid numbers (.285, 23 HRs, 85 RBIs), but also showed a quickly matured mettle as most young catchers are asked to do.
AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay. This is one of the easier picks to be made, in spite of some upstart promise shown from candidates such as Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, Chicago’s Alexi Ramirez and Kansas City’s Mike Aviles. Longoria’s 27 homers and 95 RBIs, in just 448 at-bats, shows that superstardom may not be far behind.
NL Manager of the Year: Tony LaRussa, St. Louis. We made this argument a few weeks back; LaRussa took a team on the brink of utter collapse and forged an 86-76 record out of it. Perhaps he should split the award with pitching coach Dave Duncan, who once again took a bunch of career drifters (Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer) and made solid throwers out of them.
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay. This is probably the slam-dunk selection of all the honors; no one comes close to the magic Maddon pulled off with a young and inexperienced Rays team.
Our Free Agent All-Star Team
The end of the World Series means downtime for the players and open season for general managers and player agents as free agency takes center stage. So we present our picks for the All-Star free agent teama pretty good one this year, we must saywith starters followed in parentheses by reserves (or second choices).
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez (Jason Varitek)
A weak batch; if finding a new catcher is top priority, this is not your year. Varitek will give you leadership but his bat is gone. Rodriguez, although he’s well past his prime, can still give you just a little bit of both.
First Base: Mark Teixeira (Jason Giambi)
Because he’s a young slugger with a terrific glove, Teixeira may very well command as much attention as Manny Ramirez. After that, the pickings drop off dramatically at this position, unless the New York Yankees are crazy enough to pick up a $22 million option on Giambi.
Second Base: Orlando Hudson (Felipe Lopez)
Hudson is the obvious choice, as the market at this position is also quite slim. Lopez, a one-time star on the rise who got hot at the end of the year with St. Louis, might be a steal of a deal if he can take that momentum into 2009.
Shortstop: Rafael Furcal (Orlando Cabrera)
His defensive butchery in the NLCS notwithstanding, Furcal is easily the best package available at short. Cabrera is dependable if not awe-inspiring, but he’s also going to be 34 in 2009. A dark horse bargain may be found in Edgar Renteria, released by Detroit.
Third Base: Casey Blake (Joe Crede)
People have a tendency to fawn over Crede, but Blake has shown more reliability than we’ve seen from Crede, especially over the past few years. At this writing, Chipper Jones and Hank Blalock were also potential free agents, but both are likely to have options picked up by their teams.
Outfielders: Manny Ramirez, Raul Ibanez, Bobby Abreu (Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell)
Thanks to his monster stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ramirez is considered the grand prize among hitters this offseason. Abreu, despite turning 35 in 2009, will likely continue to provide great productivity on offense. Ibanez is horribly streaky and will also turn 35 in 2009, but he, too, has shown no signs of overall decline. Burrell and Dunn are attractive choices on the market but are also one of a kind in another respect; they’re both overrated, with an abundance of home runs and walksand almost nothing else to offer. If either one gets over $15 million a year, a lot of eyes will be rolling back within baseball’s corridors.
Starting Pitchers: CC Sabathia, Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets, A.J. Burnett
Sabathia is, very obviously, the big fish in the free agent pitcher pond, but there’s plenty of talent at this position to go around. But buyer beware. Lowe has shown strong consistency but turns 36 in 2009. Sheets maintains a sense of wonder but has yet to really prove he’s injury-free and, in reality, has thus far been a career .500 pitcher. Dempster was marvelous in 2008, but it was one good year after a string of mediocre ones, mostly out of the bullpen; GMs may evoke Gary Matthews Jr. before thinking long-term deal. And like Sheets, Burnettwho at this writing was rumored to be leaning towards an opt-out of his contract with Torontoneeds to prove he can stay healthy. Not to be forgotten are some big names whose best years are well behind them but may bring marquee value and more gas reserves than expected: Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (Brian Fuentes)
After shattering the single-season saves record, Rodriguez is undoubtedly the closer of choice among free agents. But for those who fail in the K-Rod sweepstakes, a nice consolation prize could be Fuentes, who’s shown consistent immunity to the mile-high atmosphere in Colorado with a career 3.39 ERA at Coors Field. And for any team willing to take a chance, one beacon among the sea of forget-me-nots at this spot could very well be Rafael Soriano, who has shone bright when not hurt in Atlanta.
I'll Pick You Up, You Pick Me Up
One player who won’t be looking at free agency this coming offseason is Carlos Delgado, for whom the New York Mets picked up a $12 million option for 2009. Such a move didn’t appear likely early in the year, when the 36-year old continued what appeared to be a three-year depreciation since joining the Mets, but a terrific second half (.303, 21 homers and 63 RBIs after the All-Star break) ensured Delgado one more year at Flushing Meadows.
You Can At Least Try and Go Home Again
Now that it’s likely that Ken Griffey Jr. will not become the home run king, there is a possibility that the 39-year old future Hall of Famer, exiled this past week by the Chicago White Sox, will return to the scene of his best years, in Seattlea place he left in 1999, in part, because he didn’t think he could break the home run record at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, which had just then replaced the bandboxed Kingdome. Reports out of the Emerald City this past week say that Griffey, now a free agent, is interested in returning to the Mariners.
A superstar returning to the roots of his greatness during the twilight of his playing days is nothing new to baseball, especially for those whose careers may have not worked out as well when they took their act elsewhere, as Griffey did in Cincinnati. Chuck Klein was a monster hitter in Philadelphia during the late 1920s and early 1930s, then was traded to Chicago where he bombed, then came back to Philly. Willie McCovey lost the magic when the San Francisco Giants let him go in 1973, then found it back four years later when new Giant ownership re-embraced him.
Or, maybe things did work out well but the players still felt the emotional tug to come “home” as a way of saying thanks to the organization and/or fans who first welcomed them in the door. Reggie Jackson (Oakland), Eddie Collins (Philadelphia), Don Sutton (Los Angeles), Goose Goslin (Washington), Joe Medwick (St. Louis), Ferguson Jenkins (Chicago) and both Pete Rose and Tony Perez (Cincinnati) came back to finish their careers with the teams with whom they had earlier flourished; Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, both of whom had played for one team throughout their careers, returned in their early 40s to the cities (New York and Milwaukee, respectively) that their teams had long since abandoned.
Now Playing on TGG
Check out Ed Attanasio’s entertaining chat with one-game-wonder Stefan Wever in TGG's latest installment of the They Were There section. Also new this week, in our Opinion section, is Eric Gouldsberry's look at baseball's infatuation with bronze statues. Coming Soon: Ed chats with former player and manager Herman Franks.
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