Saturday, October 21, 2006

World Series 2006: Let's Party Like It's 1968

Before we get on to the World Series, a few comments about Game 7 of the NLCS:

• It was a legitimately exciting game that featured a few memorable moments. While it might not be on par with Game 7 of the 2001 World Series (D-Backs over Yanks) or Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS (sigh, the Yanks over the BoSox), but it was one of the better ones that I’ve seen. It’s rare that a Game 7 lives up to the hype and anticipation that naturally comes along with it, but this one did.

• I can’t say this enough - the Endy Chavez catch is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. One thing that I didn’t fully appreciate until the 10th viewing or so is how he immediately fires a bullet to Jose Reyes who then relays to first to double-up Rolen. It was a perfectly timed catch followed up immediately by a perfect throw. Also, I thought the Cards were done after that play (which was the 4th or 5th time that I’d written them off in the NLCS. It’s not very often that teams can come back after a huge play like that goes against them).

• The catch reminded me of one of the all-time great moments in baseball. In Game 7 of the 1955 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees, Dodgers left fielder Sandy Amoros made a diving catch on what seemed like a sure extra base in the bottom of the 6th. He recovered and doubled-up the Yankee runner at first, and the Dodgers held on for a 2-0 win. I’m probably the only person under 60 who immediately thought of this (except for maybe Bob Costas), but it’s true.

• I don’t want to jump on the anti-Bill Simmons bandwagon, since I still largely enjoy his writing, but I didn’t enjoy the constant NL bashing in his Game 7 diary. This is an angle he’s beat into the ground over the past few years. Sure the NL is in a down-cycle, but in every sport the different leagues/conferences have imbalances of power at different times. In the NBA, the West has been considered the far deeper and more talented conference ever since MJ’s retirement following the 1998 championship win. From the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s, the NFC won 13 consecutive Super Bowls. Since then, the AFC has won 7 of 9, and in one of those losses, the AFC champ (Tennessee in 1999) was half a yard away from winning the game when time ran out.

It’s worth noting that Simmons constantly mentions the AFC’s inter-conference superiority, but he never resorts to calling the NFC a Quadruple-A conference. Here’s an interesting stat: in the same period that the AFC has won 7 of 9 Super Bowls, the AL has won 6 of 9 World Series. Not much difference. Going a step further, if you take away the matchups that involved the Yankees dynasty (who won 4 times in 5 tries), it’s an even 3 wins for the AL and 3 for the NL in World Series matchups since the 1994 strike, and in one of the AL wins (the Angels in 2002), it went to 7 games.

Here’s my issue – even if this isn’t as epic as the Yankees/Red Sox LCS battles, it’s still two teams fighting to be the best in their league, and for the right to play for the World Series. And they played a hell of a game. Anyone who dismisses that because the NL is the weaker overall league might as well say that this game never mattered because the winner of the AFC that year was doomed to lose to the budding Dallas Cowboys dynasty in any case.

A great game is a great game, and a great series is a great series, even if the teams involved don’t look to have much of a chance beyond that round.

Oh, and if Simmons wants to belittle the NL, he should spend less time making fun of Jeff Suppan and more time pointing out how even this year’s mediocre Red Sox team managed to go 16-2 in interleague play.

Now, on to the World Series.

Detroit Tigers vs. St. Louis Cardinals
It’s the long awaited rematch of the 1934 and 1968 Series. The Cardinals took the first matchup, and the Tigers took the second round, setting up a rubber match that is 38 years in the making.

Interestingly, these teams seem to meet only in times of great social upheaval. The Great Depression was near its peak in 1934, and opposition to the Vietnam War crested in 1968. Now, these teams meet again as cynicism and frustration with the War in Iraq continues to swell, and the Republican coalition that has dominated American politics for the past 12 years shows signs of fracturing and losing its grip on power in next month’s election. So let this be a lesson – in times of change, you can be sure that the Tigers and the Cardinals will be playing each other in the World Series. If you ask me, this should be the subject of David Halberstam's next book.

Anyway, on to the series itself.

Everyone is conceding this series to the Tigers, and there are compelling reasons to do so:

• The Tigers have a pitching advantage both in the starting rotations and the bullpen. This advantage is increased due to the amount of rest that the Tigers have had.

• The Tigers have shown uncharacteristic plate discipline through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

• The one area where you could give St. Louis an advantage is at the plate, but several of their key players (Pujols, Eckstein, Edmonds, Rolen) all have lingering injuries that are affecting their productivity.

However, St. Louis has proven that they have guts, and that they can find ways to win. I’ve written them off several times down the stretch and through the playoffs, and they’ve proven me wrong each time.

The Tigers look too strong, too deep, too….everything. The only thing the Cardinals are too much of is banged up.

I don’t care who wins this, but I am rooting for the following things to happen:

• The games be exciting, regardless of how long the series lasts.
• Joel Zumaya and his 100 mph fastball treat Scott Spiezio’s dyed-red soulpatch as a bulls-eye.
• Jim Leyland takes a queue from the Mexican national soccer team’s coach and begins smoking in the dugout.

As former Sports Matters contributor Kevin Kimmis gleefully pointed out in an email, I am now 1 for 6 with my predictions in this playoff round. Given that I’ve proven that I’m not terribly adept at predicting the winners, it stands to reason that I should pick the Cardinals for two reasons:

1. To spite Kevin, since I seem to have pretty decent jinxing abilities.
2. Nobody else is picking them, so I’ll look smart if I pick them and they somehow pull out a win.

However, I can’t envision a scenario where the Redbirds win that doesn’t involve injuries requiring Tommy John surgery to multiple Tigers pitchers or a three-way infield collision between Pudge, Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen that knocks each of them out for at least a few games. St. Louis has had a good run, but it’s going to come to a screeching halt in a hurry.

Tigers in 5.

MVP: Justin Verlander


At 2:17 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Nice preview. Agreed that all signs point the Tigers' way, but you never know, do you?

Josh Levin has some good words about Endy's catch, and calls up Arnold Hano to talk it over. I've never read A Day in the Bleachers, Hano's book about Game 1 of the '54 series, but now it's on the list thanks to writing like this:

"I wrenched my eyes from Mays and took another look at the ball, winging its way along, undipping, unbreaking, forty feet higher than Mays' head, rushing along like a locomotive, nearing Mays, and I thought then: it will beat him to the wall.
"...He had turned so quickly, and run so fast and truly that he made this impossible catch look—to us in the bleachers—quite ordinary. To those reporters in the press box, nearly six hundred feet from the bleacher wall, it must have appeared far more astonishing, watching Mays run and run until he had become the size of a pigmy and then he had run some more, while the ball diminished to a mote of white dust and finally disappeared in the dark blob that was Mays' mitt."

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

The NL has been an inferior league for the past seventy years.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Interestingly, through 2005, the NL held a slight lead over the AL in regular season interleague games.


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