World Series 2006: The Gambler
There’s not much left to say about the Kenny Rogers incident (at least until the Oliver Stone movie comes out). He may have had pine tar on his hand, he may have had dirt, he may have had something else. More importantly, it may or may not have mattered that much. Kenny was just as lights out after washing off his hands as he was during the first inning (and the rest of the post-season for that matter).
What I find most interesting about this situation is seeing how people react on an individual level. To channel Chuck Klosterman for a paragraph, this is an example of why sports matter (get it?), because how people reacted to this, and how they passed judgment on Kenny Rogers tells you a lot about someone’s worldview. Most people reacted in one of two ways. They either expressed some skepticism about the events, but ultimately decided that while it looked suspicious, that the umpires and the Cardinals’ manager probably would have called for further action (or thrown him out) if he was obviously cheating, or people decided that Kenny Rogers cheated and Major League Baseball willingly turned a blind eye. The former group of people tend to be optimists. While they may have a degree of cynicism to their worldview, they ultimately believe (or want to believe) that people are good, unless proven otherwise. The latter group tend to be pessimists, and take a negative view of human nature. At the first hint of suspicion, they decide that Kenny Rogers must have cheated. This same test could apply to people’s opinion about Barry Bonds, who has never failed a drug test that we know of. As for my personal opinion, I think that if Rogers was really cheating, it would have been caught before now. Given the amount of scouting and game-tape viewing that goes on, it’s unfathomable that nobody would have picked up on this until now.
Some people will continue to blame Major League Baseball, or blame Tony La Russa for not pushing this further if the Cardinals lose the series. Not me. I blame Yadier Molina. That’s right, if it weren’t for Yadier Molina, the Kenny Rogers story wouldn’t be anything more than a blip on the media’s radar.
After getting shut down for 8 innings, the Cardinals bats came alive in the 9th inning of Game 2. They staged a two-out rally against Tigers closer Todd Jones, scoring a run and loading the bases before Molina grounded hard to short to end the game. Jones has looked shaky in both games thus far – can you ever remember a closer getting the hook with 2 outs in the 9th and his team trailing by 6? – and came very close to blowing Game 2 and probably the entire series. Had Molina blooped a single, the game would have been tied, and Jones would have been a dead man walking on the mound. If the Cardinals had come back and win, this series would be over. How could the Tigers come back from a crushing loss like that? They would have been done in 4. Now, thanks to Molina’s ground out, they still have life, and could very well win this series without having to come back home.
That being said, Jones’ shakiness has to be a concern for the Tigers. Everything else is in place for them to win. They send Nate Robertson to the hill tonight against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in what should be a closer matchup than people think, since St. Louis has trouble against left-handed pitching, then match up fireballer Jeremy Bonderman (who nearly no-hit the Yankees two weeks ago) against Jeff Suppan. They’re getting enough hitting, and have the personnel and the manager to thrive in National League ball. And if the game gets turned over to Rodney, Zumaya, and Jones, the Tigers should (in theory) win. For the Cardinals to win, they need Carpenter and Suppan to outclass their opponents, their hitters to take advantage of opportunities with men on base, and the bullpen to hold on for dear life. Frankly, I’m not sure they can win it if the series goes back to Detroit.
A few final points:
La Russa’s one managing mistake in Game 2 was not pinch-hitting Chris Duncan for either Preston Wilson (who got beaned) or Yadier Molina (who grounded out to end the game).
Juan Encarnacion is the weak link for the Cards, both in the field and at the plate. I assume he’ll get better in the field at home, since he’s familiar with that park, but he also needs to start hitting the ball if St. Louis is going to win this series.
After the way Jeff Weaver pitched, I’m not so sure that La Russa won’t bring him back on short rest in Game 5. In any case, I have never seen a pitcher struggle with the cold as much as Weaver did in Game 2, so if he does start another game, it should be in St. Louis (unless a heatwave overtakes Detroit in the next five days).
Enjoy the game tonight.