World Series Redux
by James Deaux(MLB)
Posted on October 30, 2006, 3:39 AM
Okay, everyone who chose David Eckstein in your "2006 World Series MVP" pool back on October 3rd, please raise your hand.
Now, how many of you looked at Jeff Weaver back in July and thought, "You know, I think he'll be the winning pitcher in the final game of the World Series this year."?
Then, on top of that, how many of you reading this thought that the Cardinals would almost blow an 8-game lead in the last two weeks of the season, subsequently win only 83 games, and still go on to beat three pitching-rich teams in the Padres, Mets and Tigers en route to a world championship?
Finally, just for the record, how many people honestly gave any National League team other than the Mets a snowball's prayer in hell of beating an American League team in the World Series?
By your lack of anything that could be construed as motion, I'll gather that almost no one saw any of that coming. Which is fine because that is how you can describe this World Series—pretty darn unbelievable. I, myself, fully admit that I was dead wrong in predicting who would make it to the big show. In fact, I was about as wrong as is metaphysically possible. I had the Cardinals losing 3-1 to the Padres and the Tigers being swept by the Yankees in my postseason preview. So, of course, each team handily dispatches of my predicted LDS winners and goes on to win their respective LCS' and make it to the World Series. Fantastic, isn't it?
Detroit didn't exactly overwhelm us with their play during the last week of the season. After all, they were swept by the Royals to end the season (which capped a disintegration of an at one point 10-game lead) to flush their would-have-been AL Central title down the drain. But they still managed to beat that fairly imposing team from the Bronx (rather handily, I might add) and sweep the A's in the ALCS. But despite winning nearly two weeks worth of games more than St. Louis did during the season, the Tigers practically gave away game after game due to their appallingly sloppy defense—most notably from their pitching staff. No other team in World Series history had a series where, in the first four games, they had a pitcher commit at least one error per game. So, what happened in Game 5? Well, Justin Verlander took it upon himself to commit the fifth Detroit pitcher error—his second of the series, which helped St. Louis win the final game. (The Cardinals fan holding that "HIT IT TO THE PITCHER" sign in the stands was almost prophetic.) I can only imagine how disappointed that entire city is right now, knowing that they clearly had the superior pitching rotation and bullpen, but that in the end, it was those very things that, by and large, led to their demise. To make matters worse, their only truly effective starter in the World Series, Kenny Rogers, will be remembered more for his apparent cheating than his masterful performance in Game 2. He changed his story so many times I thought I was watching a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode.
St. Louis, on the other hand, became the team with the least regular season wins to ever win a world championship with 83—a mere 4 games over .500. That mediocre-at-best record was a product of two second-half losing streaks of 7 and 8 games—the latter being the one that happened during the last two weeks in September and almost cost them their NL Central pennant. This was a team that limped into the playoffs like no team since the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, who coincidentally enough, also won that World Series. If the 81-win San Diego Padres of 2005 had won last year's World Series, then this wouldn't seem nearly as unbelievable. But what might be the most amazing thing of all is who the offensive heroes were for the Cardinals in the World Series—the biggest two that jump to mind being MVP David Eckstein and catcher Yadier Molina, whose .216 regular season batting average probably put him somewhere between a Rockies' pitcher and a cantaloupe in terms of hitting effectiveness. Albert Pujols was basically a whisper in the wind for most of the World Series, though he did play spectacular defense. But hey, the postseason is all about unlikely heroes. Look at Anthony Reyes and Jeff Weaver, who both pitched more effectively in the World Series than Jeff Suppan, the NLCS MVP, did.
Many people I have talked to hated this World Series, describing it as, and I'm quoting, "boring", "sloppy", and "sleep-inducing". Not surprisingly, the television ratings for this World Series were the worst in history, beating out, you guessed it, last year's Houston/Chicago series. You know what I say?
I'm sick and tired of ratings "gurus" constantly whining about low ratings. Let those of us who love the game of baseball enjoy it while we can. If nothing else, this World Series us showed just how unpredictable baseball is—especially in the postseason. The way the American League manhandled and destroyed the National League this year was staggering. They won their eighth consecutive All-Star Game clinching home-field advantage yet again in one of the goofiest stipulations in professional sports history. However, be that as it may, the American League deserved home-field advantage anyway. Only three NL teams had .500 or better records in interleague play in 2006. Three. THREE. But after all of the interleague dominance, the Yankees trotting to an easy AL East crown, the brilliant pitching of the Twins, the overall solid play of the Athletics, and a remarkable Detroit team coming out of nowhere to win the AL pennant this year, none of it would matter. And after all of the talk of how the Mets were going to run roughshod over the rest of the noticeably weak NL, the 83-win Cardinals were the ones who went all the way to the World Series trophy.
Sloppy play or not, it's still baseball, and I still appreciate the game-of-inches aspect to each inning. Being the National League loyalist that I am, I particularly like the little things like stealing a base, dropping a bunt, hitting and running, and so on. I love this sport and I wouldn't care if it had been a Washington/Kansas City World Series. I'd still watch every game I could, because guess what? After it's over, there's no more baseball for six long, agonizing months. That's as torturous as it gets for me. Sure, I have NFL football to entertain me, but that is only one day a week until February. And even at that point, it's still two more months until MLB Opening Day. Being as rabid a fan of baseball as I am, is it any wonder that I am one of those guys who watches the calendar and goes, "It's [insert number here] days until pitchers and catchers report!"? (Tangent over.)
What I'm saying is that there was nothing wrong with this year's World Series (other than Kenny Rogers' incident, of course). I'm sure many Boston and New York fans (alright, maybe just fans of American League teams in general) will disagree with me, but hey, much to their chagrin, they can't win them all. No amount of interleague wins will automatically assure you a world championship. No insane streak of All-Star Game victories will guarantee the trophy for your league's team. Simply put—if you make it to the postseason in Major League Baseball, you can win the World Series. Period. St. Louis proved that this year. Detroit almost did, as well. Who will win it all next year? How can you possibly predict the answer given the last seven years of a different team winning it each year? Simple answer:
You can't. And that's what makes this sport so wonderful.