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A No Hitter a Wild Card Playoff and an exciting End to the 2013 MLB Regular Season

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“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”  ~Walt Whitman

Well I do love baseball and even when my favorite teams don’t make the playoff there is something magical about the game. Baseball is an amazing game and today some six months and 162 games after opening day the drama that is baseball continued to amaze.

Yes I know that the United States is now “football nation” but that doesn’t mean that baseball is not the game that most represents the spirit of the country.

Today Henderson Alvarez of the Miami Marlins, who lost 100 games this year pitched a no-hitter against the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers. Alvarez pitched nine no-hit, no-run innings but was saved from going out to pitch a tenth inning when Tiger’s reliever Luke Putkonen served up a wild pitch with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The wild pitch by Putkonen to pinch hitter Gregg Dobbs scored Giancarlo Stanton giving the Marlins a walk-off win on the final day of the season. It was the first walk-off no-hitter on a wild pitch and only the fourth no-hitter on the final day of the season.

Elsewhere after a long hard fought season all play off-berths except one, the American League 2nd berth were decided. That remains the case tonight as the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays meet tomorrow in a one game sudden-death playoff the winner will move on to take on the Boston Red Sox.

Among the interesting features on the 2013 MLB Playoffs is that the reigning World Series Champion, the San Francisco Giants are not in them, nor are the New York Yankees nor the Anaheim Angels. However the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to the playoffs as a Wild Card team, their first post-season appearance in over 20 years as did the Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. Surprising to some but not to me was the success of the Oakland Athletics, who for the second straight year won the American League West. Though they didn’t make the playoffs the Baltimore Orioles had a very respectable showing in the American League East, arguably the toughest division in baseball.

There were a lot of great moments this season, three no-hitters as well as some amazing performances by young and up and coming players like Chris Davis of the Orioles who led he majors with 53 home runs and 138 RBI.

Baseball remains alive and well and i expect that the 2013 playoffs could be ones for the ages.

After all, with all the foolishness in Washington we need something to “repair these losses and be a blessing to us.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Bad Defense, Bad Call and Bad Behavior: Braves Fall to Cardinals after Bad Infield Fly Call

Plop… the Infield Fly that Wasn’t (Getty Images-TBS Screencap)

“The best umpired game is the game in which the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it.” Bill Klem

The Atlanta Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 6-3 in the National League Wild Card “Play in Game.” It was a game marked by incredibly bad defense on the part of the Braves, an extremely bad “Infield Fly Rule” call by Left Field Line Umpire Sam Holbrook and a 19 minute trash throwing delay by fans that I never thought possible in Atlanta. I thought I that a bunch of Philadelphia Eagles or Flyers fans had been transported to Atlanta for the game.

Braves starter Kris Medlen took the loss giving up just three hits but 5 runs, only 2 of which were earned. The Braves, including legendary Third Baseman Chipper Jones committed 3 errors which contributed to the loss.

In a normal situation this wouldn’t sound like a controversial. However the Braves, trailing 6-3 with runners on first and second with one out Braves Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was called out on a shallow fly ball to left field which fell between Cardinals’ shortstop Pete Kozma and Left Fielder Matt Halliday. It looked like the Braves had the bases loaded with only the one out when Left Field Line Umpire Holbrook made a late call for a “Infield Fly Rule” which caused Simmons to be out. The Braves fans went crazy forcing the players off the field as cans and bottles were thrown with wild abandon.

Turner Field ground Crew picks up the trash in the 8th inning (US Presswire) 

After the delay the Cardinals brought in closer Jason Motte who was able to work his way out of the inning. Motte then put the Braves down in the 9th despite giving up a broken bat infield single to Chipper Jones in his last at career at-bat and a ground rule double to Freddy Freeman to get the save.

The infield fly rule is designed to protect the offense from a fielder that intentionally drops or misses a pop fly in order to get a double play. On the play it is to be called early enough for runners to be able to have the opportunity to advance at their own risk. Likewise the fielder must be reasonably be in a position to make the play without undue effort. That certainly was nit the case. The call came as the ball was almost on the ground when the call was made and it certainly was not in any sense of the word a routine pop fly.  The MLB Rule Book reads:

An infield fly is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare Infield Fly for the benefit of the runners.

Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez put the game under protest but his protest was denied.

With the win the Cardinals move on to face the Washington Nationals in the NLDS on Sunday. The Braves and their future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones are now done for the season.

Tough Night for Chipper (Kevin C Cox Getty Images)

The game was not decided on the bad call alone. Jones committed a key error on a double play ball that allowed the Cardinals to rally and take the lead. Likewise the Braves managed to load the bases in the bottom of the 8th after the call but could not plate a runner, nor did they score in the 9th. The Braves had 12 hits to the Cardinals 6 and left 12 men on base. Teams do not commit that many errors or leave that many men on base without paying for it.

The behavior of the Braves fans was something that I never expected out of them. The reaction to the call was shameful and I think unfitting to honor Chipper Jones.

Appropriate credit has to be given to the Cardinals under rookie Manager Mike Matheny who despite the retirement of Manager Tony LaRussa and the loss of Albert Pujols to free agency fought hard to gain the final National League Wild Card berth.

I am a fan of having the Wild Card playoff but I wonder if a one and out format is the best. Maybe a three game series is better.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Baseball News: Awards, CBA, Player and Manager Moves…Why the Off Season Matters

“You win pennants in the off season when you build your teams with trades and free agents.” Earl Weaver

The World Series is in the past but the baseball world is abuzz with awards, trades, free agent offers and the possibility of a reorganization of the Major Leagues and even a new five year Collective Bargaining Agreement deal between the players union and the league.  Baseball it seems has become the model of stability and sensibility in the American sporting world.  Even as I write the Owners and GMs are meeting in Milwaukee and the Winter meetings are just over the horizon.  This is where teams are built and where the seeds of future pennants are planted.

One has to admit that the 2012 baseball season was something to behold. The record comebacks of the Rays and Cardinals and epic collapses of the Braves and Red Sox in the final month of the season that led to one of the most if not the most memorable regular season endings in baseball history.  The storybook season of the Arizona Diamondbacks going from worst to first in the NL West was another amazing story.

Awards for outstanding achievement are being given out; Tigers Pitcher Justin Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award on a unanimous ballot.  Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson won the National League Manager of the Year award for leading his team to a Division Championship and Rays Manager Joe Maddon who brought his team back from the abyss to reach the playoffs on the last day of the regular season won the American League Manager of the Year.  The National League Rookie of the Year award went to the Atlanta Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel and Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson took the American League award.  The National League Cy Young still remains as well as the Most Valuable Player awards.

The Cubs and Red Sox are still shopping for managers while the Cardinals chose former catcher Mike Matheny to fill the shoes left by Tony LaRussa who retired after the miraculous finish that led to a Word Series Championship.  Pitching Coach Dave Duncan, LaRussa’s long time right hand man remains as does Hitting Coach Mark McGwire.  Former Red Sox Manager Terry Francona announced today that he will not manage in 2012 something that most baseball experts agree is a good choice.   I agree considering how exhausted Francona appeared after the end of the season and his firing.  The Orioles have a new General Manager, Dan Duquette who replaced Andy McPhail and Red So GM Theo Epstein went to the Cubs in the hopes of reversing the curse.  There are reports tonight that the Cubs will sign Dale Sveum as their new Manager.

It looks as if the sale of the Houston Astros will go through and with it the team’s move to the American League. This will balance the leagues at 15 teams each and allow for year round inter-league play and is part of the new CBA which reportedly could be signed as early as Friday.  The CBA is actually remarkable considering the great consternation caused by the NFL lockout and the probable loss of an entire NBA season due to failures to resolve collective bargaining agreements.  The baseball negotiation process has been fireworks free and negotiators from the owners and player’s union seem to remember the damage caused by the 1994 strike and what happened in the NFL and NBA seems to have learned the lessons of history.

Some of the big free agents look like they could be on the move and one, Red Sox Closer Jonathan Papelbon signed a contract with the Phillies while the Miami Marlins are making serious bids for St Louis First Baseman Albert Pujols and Met’s Shortstop Jose Reyes.  Brewers First Baseman Cecil Fielder is on the market and the Yankees appear to be looking for pitching support to complement their ace C C Sabathia who the re-signed. Plenty of other big name free agents remain to be signed and it will be interesting to see where they all land.

Even though there are no games being played in the Major Leagues baseball is making news and in the process showing how important the off season is to the regular season.  This is going to be an exciting off season for baseball and bodes well for the upcoming regular season.  What a great game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Incredible, Improbable, Amazing and Unbelievable: The Epic Saga of the 2011 World Series Champion St Louis Cardinals

Champions  Photo By Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

“I think that in a 7 game series that Tony LaRussa will do just enough to beat the Rangers…The Rangers are an amazing team and I do think that they are the better team and really want to win this, but there is something about this 2011 Cardinals team.  Since the end of August they have played every day with their season on the line and risen to the occasion.  Besides they have the Rally Squirrel…. How can they lose?” Padre Steve on October 19th (Cardinals in Seven: Padre Steve’s World Series Pick)

I hate to say I told you so, no wait that’s a lie; I love to be right and hate to be wrong.  For the third strait year since starting to do so I picked the World Series winner.  Last year I had a dog in the fight, my San Francisco Giants, this year I didn’t and I enjoyed the playoffs and World Series immensely. That being said this is about the incredible, improbable, amazing and unbelievable epic regular season comeback and playoff run of the St Louis Cardinals.  In order to keep this from being the mother of all posts I have included links to the articles that I wrote about their accomplishment as September came to an end and as the 2011 Cardinals became part of baseball history and immortality.

Incredible: The Road to the World Series

Back in August I remember talking with a friend about the pennant race.  At the time the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card Race. They had endured major adversity, their closer Ryan Franklin was released, Albert Pujols had rebuffed a contract offer and refused to negotiate during the season and to make matters worse he had broken a bone in his wrist and was expected to be out at least 4 weeks. Expected lead starting pitcher Adam Wainwright went on the disabled list on March 25th and never pitched a game in the season.  The Cardinals suffered injuries and adversity throughout the season and by all calculations it looked like they were done.

On the morning of August 25th Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals woke up having been swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at home in a series where the Dodgers outscored the Cardinals 24-7. They were so far out of the Wild Card that all the talk was not about the playoffs but finishing well.

Then something changed though it as imperceptible at first.  They took 3 of 4 from the Pirates and traveled to Milwaukee and swept three from the division leading Brewers and were now 8.5 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card.  But then the Cincinnati Reds took 2 of 3 and it looked like the Cardinals might fade. They got their groove back and took 2 of 3 from the Brewers at home and swept three from the Braves. On September 11th the Cardinals were 4.5 out of the Wild Card.  The Giants had fallen back to 7.5 out and like others I started to notice the Cardinals.

The Cardinals then made a road trip throughPennsylvaniaand took 2 of 3 from the Pirates and 3 of 4 from the Phillies before coming home to face the Mets. With just 9 games left the Cardinals were 2.5 games behind the faltering Braves with the Giants clawing at their heels just 4.5 games behind the Braves.

The Cards took two from the Mets on the 20th and 21st but then dropped a game to the Mets and lost 5-1 in Chicago.  On the 24th they were 2 behind the Braves with 5 games left.  They then won two one run games against the Cubs, 2-1 on the 24th and 3-2 on the 25th.  The morning of the 26th of September they were down by 1 game. The Cardinals had to face the lowly Houston Astros in Houston while the Braves had to face the Phillies.  Unbelievably the Cardinals lost to the Astros on the 26th but the Braves also lost so the lead was still one game, had the Braves won the best that the Cardinals could hope for was a one game playoff with the Braves. On the 27th they defeated the Astros 13-6 while the Braves lost yet again and with one game left the Cardinals had caught the Braves.

Down to the Wire: MLB’s Epic Wild Card September Continues to Amaze

September 28th dawned with two epic comebacks and two epic collapses in the making. In the American League the Boston Red Sox had lost a 9 game Wild Card lead and were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in large part due to the lowly Baltimore Orioles who had taken 4 of 6 games from the Red Sox in the previous 9 days asTampa could not seem to lose.  While many experts thought a comeback by the Rays was possible none had thought that the Cardinals would be tied with the Braves on the final day of the regular season.

Two Tied Wild Card Races: Who would have Thunk It?

Braves stunned

On the 28th Chris Carpenter took the hill for the Cardinals and pitched a 2 hit shutout as the Cardinals pounded the Astros 8-0 with the Braves still playing the Phillies.  As the Cardinals waited in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park the Braves had a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 6th against the Phillies.  The Phillies scored 1 in the top of the 7th and with two outs in the bottom of the 9th tied the game.  They would go on to win in 13 as the Braves lost 18 of their last 27 games including the last 5 games of the season. The Cardinals won 23 of 31 games after August 24th.  It was incredible somehow the Cardinals had reached the playoffs.

UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees

Improbable: Cardinals defeat Phillies in NLDS

An Icon is born…the Rally Squirrel

The Cardinals went into the NLDS as decided underdogs but despite that I had a strange feeling about this series. Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the regular season but were just 4-12 from September 11th to the 24th.   The Cardinals had taken 3 of 4 from the Phillies during that period and the Phillies hitters were struggling.

However in game one the Phillies seemed to be everything that they were advertised. The slammed Kyle Lohse and the Cardinals 13-6 but in game two the Cardinals defeated Cliff Lee 5-4 to tie the series.  That game was significant because Tony LaRussa stunned the experts by removing Chris Carpenter who had given up 4 runs from the game after 3 innings. He then used 6 relievers who shut out the Phillies as the Cardinals hitters plated 5 runs.

The series returned to St Louis and the Phillies took a 2 game to 1 lead in the series by defeating the Cardinals 3-2.  The Cardinals who had been living on the edge since August appeared to be looking at an early exit from the playoffs.  But the Cardinals were not dead, they won game four 5-3 powered by the hitting of Lance Berkman and David Freese. Freese drove in 4 runs hammering a two run double and to run home run off of Roy Oswalt.

This sent the teams back to Philadelphia for the decisive game five.  This was a battle of the best Roy Halliday on the hill for the Phillies and Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals.  The Cardinals struck first for the only run of the game when Rafael Furcal tripled to lead off the first and scored when Skip Schumaker doubled.  Halliday then shut down the Cardinals for 8 innings.  But Carpenter who had been battered by the Phillies in game two pitched a 3 hit shutout to win the game.  The Cardinals had done the improbable, they beat Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and they had beaten the best regular season team in baseball, a team built to avenge their 2010 NLCS loss to the Giants and win the World Series.

Amazing: Cardinals defeat the Brewers

The Cardinals had taken out the Phillies but had to face the big bats of their division rival the Milwaukee Brewers to get to the World Series.  Most experts picked the Brewers to win because they had the home field advantage and were billed as the better team. They had Cecil Fielder and led the NL in home runs and slugging percentage and they had home field advantage.  Playing at home this was huge for the Brewers in 2011 they were 57-24 at home win percentage of .703 and their team batting average was 31 points higher at home than on the road.  The Brewers and Cardinals split their 18 regular season games evenly but Milwaukee was 5-4 at home against the Redbirds and had outscored them 48-39 at home. Despite this the Cardinals had a better team batting average and led the NL and Brewers in every major offensive category except home runs and the teams had an identical slugging percentage of .425 while the Brewers pitching was somewhat better than the Cardinals.

Game one went as many expected. Milwaukee won the game 9-6 and took a 1-0 lead in the series.  However the Cardinals turned the tables in a big way in game two shelling the Brew Crew 12-3 as Albert Pujols went 4-5 with a Home Run, three Doubles and 5 RBI while David Freese hit his second home run and 5th RBI of the series.  It was a stunning loss for the Brewers and the series moved back to St Louis tied.

The Cardinals took game 3 by a score of 4-3 as they scored 4 times in the top of the first inning and their LaRussa used Carpenter for 5 innings and then relied on his bullpen to shut the Brewers down and they did allowing no runs and no hits the remainder of the game.  Pujols and Freese each doubled and brought their RBI total to 6 each.  However the Brewers tied the series in game four winning the game behind the pitching of Randy Wolf.   In game five the Brewers defense imploded giving up 4 errors.  Matt Holiday went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and the Cardinals beat Zach Greinke and the Brewers 7-1 taking a 3-2 lead but heading back to Milwaukee where the Brewers were expected to make a strong showing.

In game six it was the Cardinals that turned on the offense and not the Brewers.  The Cardinals scored 12 runs nine of which were earned.  They scored 4 runs in the top of the 1st inning and drove Brewers starter Shaun Marcum from the game, David Freese hit his third home run of the series.  The Brewers brought Chris Narveson into the game in the top of the 2nd inning hoping to stop the Cardinals onslaught.  Narveson faired worse than Marcum giving up 5 earned runs in 1.2 innings work and gave up home runs to Rafael Furcal and Pujols.  The Brewers managed a respectable 6 runs four of which came off Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson who pitched just 2 innings.  The Cardinals bullpen rose to the occasion, in 7 innings 5 relievers gave up just 2 runs on 3 hits.

Unbelievable: Cardinals defeat Rangers in 7 games to win the World Series

The expectation before the World Series began was the Cardinals and the Rangers would turn this series into an all out slugging affair.  The expectation was partially met but games one and two were low scoring affairs that featured plenty of great defense and pitching.  In game one it was solid defense and pitching which gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Rangers.  Rangers catcher Mike Napoli hit a 5th inning home run and drove in the only Texas runs of the game and David Freese drove in the winning run with a 6th inning double off of C J Wilson.

 Cardinals take Game One 3-2: Defense and Pitching Key to Win

Game two was a pitching duel that it looked like the Cardinals would win. Starting pitchers Colby Lewis of  Texas and Jaime Garcia pitched extremely well. The Cardinals scored a run when Allen Craig singed off of Alexi Ogando who had come in to relieve Lewis with 2 outs in the 7th.  Craig’s single scored David Freese and gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.  But the Rangers managed a comeback win in the top of the 9th inning.

Comeback: Rangers Win Battle of the Bullpens

The series went to Texas tied and it was expected that scoring would go up but no one expected the carnage that the Cardinals would inflict on the Rangers in game three.  Albert Pujols tied the World Series single game home run record held by Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth with 3 and the most RBI in a World Series game with six.  The Cardinals defeated the Rangers 16-7 and took a 2-1 lead in the series.

Beat Down in Texas: Pujols Sets Record as Cardinals down Rangers 16-7

The Rangers may have been down but they were not out and instead of another slugfest game four as Derek Holland shut out the Cardinals allowing just 2 hits.  Mike Napoli hit a 3 run home run off of Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs to ensure the win in the bottom of the 6th inning.

Shutdown! Derek Holland Silences Cardinals Rangers tie Series

Game five would be memorable for one inning, the eighth when it appeared that Tony LaRussa lost his managerial mojo and the Rangers scored a comeback win despite a strong performance by Chris Carpenter.  This time the St Louisbullpen imploded aided by on field miscues and errors, malfunctioning bullpen phones and perplexing managerial decisions by LaRussa.  The Rangers won the game 4-2 to take a 3-2 series lead into St Louis.

Where has the Managerial Mojo Gone? LaRussa Manages the Worst Inning of his Career as Rangers go up 3 games to 2

It was the most amazing World Series game ever played but the first few innings would not have indicated this.  They were marked a combined 5 errors and poor pitching and it looked like the Rangers were on their way to winning an unremarkable game six on their way to their first World Series championship.  The Rangers led 7-4 with back to back solo home runs by Adriane Beltre and Nelson Cruz in the 7th inning and the Cardinals were down to their last six outs.  But that changed in what became the greatest game in World Series history. The Cardinals came back 5 times in the game, a World Series Record. They were down to their last strike down by two runs twice and they won on a walk off home run in the bottom of the 11th.  They used two pitchers as pinch hitters and somehow they still won 10-9 to set up the deciding game seven.

Padre Steve’s live Game Six commentary on Facebook 

8:31 PM World Series Game 6 after an inning Cardinals 2 Rangers 1… 9:46 PM It’s a comedy of errors as Texas leads 4-3 in the top of the 5th inning…10:38 PM 4-4 bases loaded for the Cardinals, can’t believe 5 total errors in the game so far…10:36 PM Ogando is now O gone do another walk bases loaded again, Napoli saved the run by picking off Holliday. If the Rangers win the Series I spell MVP “NAPOLI”…10:44 PM The long ball, to solo home runs for Texas, Beltre and Cruz 6-4 Rangers… 10:58 PM 7-4…1100 PM ‎7-4 and the inning is done….Rangers now 9 outs from winning their first World Series….11:08 PM ‎2 outs bottom of the 7th…Pujols last stand as a Cardinal?…11:09 PM and he is out 0-4 tonight….unless the Cardinals get some base runners his St Louis career could end not with a bang but a whimper…11:19 PM 7-5 home run Allen Craig off Derek Holland…not done yet…11:27 PM 2 on 2 out are the Cardinals coming back?…11:28 PM bases loaded top of the order….Jon Jay gets his first hit since game 6 of the NLCS…11:29 PM Furcal bounces out…7-5 going to the 9th Pujols will bat again….11:43 PM Top of the 9th Neftali Feliz on the hill and top of the order up…11:43 PM 1 out…11:44 PM  Pujols steps up and has a stand up double, tying run at the plate…11:46 PM four pitch walk 2 on 1 out winning run at bat…11:50 PM Craig strikes out Rangers one out away from history…11:52 PM one strike away…11:54 PM Freese doubles, tie game, home town boy makes good…11:54 PM make it a triple, winning run at 3rd…11:54 PM extra innings….wow…12:01 AM 1 on 1 out and Josh Hamilton has his first HR of the post season Rangers lead 9-7…12:09 AM Down 2 Cardinals are again down to their last 3 outs with one aboard…12:11 AM ‎2 on with none out, and a pitcher pinch hits because the Cardinals have no position players left…12:12 AM tying run in scoring position with 1 out…12:20 AM 9-8 Rangers, runner on 2nd Pujols coming up and an intentional walk Berkman will come to the plate…12:22 AM down to the last strike again…12:24 AM Tie game Berkman singles, Pujols is winning run on third…can you say amazing?…12:25 AM to the 11th we go…12:30 AM  Napoli up… one out…base hit…Murphy coming to the plate…12:34 Rangers out in the 11th Cardinals coming to bat…12:40 AM Walk off home run David Freese, game 7 tomorrow! Do you believe in miracles? Cardinals win 10-9 Holy Cow!

Holy Cow! Do You believe in Miracles? Padre Steve Does… Cardinals refuse to Lose

When gave six was over I knew that the Rangers were done.  Once again it was a combination of Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals bullpen shutting down the Rangers and the clutch hitting of David Freese and Allen Craig which sealed the Rangers to a second consecutive World Series loss as they went down to a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals. They had come so close.  They were a great team but lost to a team of destiny.  That is little comfort to Rangers players and fans, but some things seem almost destined. The Series MVP was local favorite David Freese who finished the postseason with a record 21 runs batted in and tied the postseason record with 25 hits. Freese is the first position player to be named both League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP since Darrell Porter did so for the Cardinals in 1982.

The Cardinals lived on the edge for two months a time when every game mattered.  Their effort was a true team effort. When starting pitching faltered the bullpen got it done and when needed the starting rotation anchored by Chris Carpenter got the job done.  They overcame adversity to accomplish a feat that very few said they could do. They are Major League Baseball’s 2011 World Series Champions. Their feat was epic and will long be written about and spoken of by anyone that loves the game of Baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon reacts to the Orioles scoring the winning run (Getty Images)

What an amazing and unlikely end to the regular season. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox who appeared to have their respective Wild Card berths cinched on September 1st had their seasons end tonight in the most unexpected and unlikely ways.  Both the Braves and the Sox had what seemed to be insurmountable leads as August drew to a close.

“It’s like living out a bad dream. You never expect this to happen to you.” Chipper Jones

Matt Holiday and Chris Carpenter celebrate the Cardinal’s Wild Card win

The Braves were up by 10 ½ games over the Cardinals on August 26th and had an 8 ½ game lead on September 6th and slipped into a tie on Tuesday against a resurgent Cardinals team.  The Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros 7-0 behind a two hit performance by Chris Carpenter earlier in the evening putting all the pressure on the Braves to try to force a one game playoff to decide the Wild Card.  The Braves looked like they would force the playoff and had a 3-2 lead with one out in the top of the 9th against the Phillies.   With one out and their ace closer Craig Kimbrel saw it slip away as Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Pete Orr to tie the game.  The Braves could not score a go ahead run and in the top of the 13th the Phillies put the final nail in the Braves coffin as with 2 outs in the top of the 13th when Hunter Pence singled to score Brian Schneider to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.  The Braves could not score in the bottom of the 13th completing a most amazing collapse.  Kimbrel said after the game “It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands, and that’s the feeling I have now.”   One has to feel for Kimbrel and other Braves relievers who have endured a punishing season and faltered down the stretch due to a starting rotation which struggled in their performance and due to injuries to young pitchers Jair Jurgens and Tommy Hansen.

A stunned Braves bench after their loss to the Phillies

For the Braves it was an epic collapse but the Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals after having been written off by every expert managed to catch the Braves and steal the Wild Card berth.

While the National League decision was exciting it paled in comparison to what happened in the American League East on Wednesday night. The Rays appeared to be done early as starter avid Price was hit hard by the Yankees especially by Mark Teixeira who hammed a grand slam home run in the top of the 2nd off Price inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead and a solo shot against Price in the top of the 4th. When the Yankees finished their at bat in the top of the 8th they had a 7-0 lead.  It looked like the Rays were done unless the Orioles could come from behind to defeat the Red Sox and force a playoff.  As their fans began to leave Tropicana Field the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th and then tied the game with a two out home run by Dan Johnson in the bottom of the 9th.  The game went into extra innings and as the Rays battled the Yankees an even more remarkable story was developing in Baltimore.

Evan Longoria raises his arms in triumph after his walk off home run against the Yankees (Getty Images)

The Red Sox had led the Orioles for most of the game and had not lost a game all season when leading in the 9th inning.  They were 76-0 in this situation.  A rain delay pushed the game toward themidnight hour and when it resumed the Red Sox seemed to be ready to put the Orioles away.

Robert Andino hits a walk off single to score Nolan Reimold against Jonathan Papelbon

With a 3-2 lead the Sox sent their vaunted closer Jonathan Papelbon into the game. After retiring Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds on strikes Chris Davis doubled and the O’s sent in Kyle Hudson to run for Davis.  Papelbon worked a 2-2 count against Nolan Reimold who hit a ground rule double to scoreHudson.  This brought up Red Sox nemesis Robert Andino who hit a walk off single to score Reimold stunning the Red Sox Nation in an unbelievable finish, but the Red Sox had life if the Yankees could put away the Rays in Tampa, but that hope would be dashed three minutes later.

As the Orioles drove the stake into the heart of the Red Sox Nation Yankees reliever Scott Proctor retired B. J. Upton on strikes.  This brought Evan Longoria to the plate. Longoria had hit a 3 run homer in the Rays 6 run 8th inning and took Proctor’s pitch and hammered it down the left field line where it ended up in the stands.  It was only the second time that a walk off home run put a team into the playoffs, the last was Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard around the world” in 1951.

Orioles celebrate. After a rough season they turned into winners in September and ended the Red Sox playoff hopes

It was an amazing finish that was unimaginable and thrilling to behold.  For the Orioles it was their World Series. They have been dominated by the Red Sox for years and going into September had won just 3 games against the Sox all season.  Then in September the Orioles began to win.  They split 4 games with the Yankees, took 2 of 3 from the Rays, 3 of 4 from the Red Sox at Fenway, 2 of 3 from the Angles and split a four game series against the Tigers.  After the 4 games in Boston the Orioles hosted 3 games against the Red Sox at Camden Yards.  They won the first, lost the second and stunned the Red Sox on Wednesday night.

As the bell tolled midnight on the east coast the unthinkable had happened.  Two epic collapses, two remarkable comebacks and an underdog Orioles team that rose to the occasion to beat the Red Sox 5 of 7 games in September.  No one could have scripted the end to this regular season and one can expect that the playoffs will be equally exciting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles

Two Tied Wild Card Races: Who would have Thunk It?

Carpenter (Sports Illustrated Photo) or Hudson (AP Photo) 

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

What a night for baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals came back to defeat the Astros after falling behind 5-0 and the Boston Red Sox narrowly held off the Baltimore Orioles 8-7 after leading by scores of 5-1 and 7-3.  The Atlanta Braves fell again to the Philadelphia Phillies to allow the Cardinals to tie them for the Wild Card lead.  With the Tampa Bay Rays coming from behind to defeat the Yankees and turning a triple pay in the process the Rays and the Sox remain knotted for the AL Wild Card.  The hopes of four teams are on the shoulders of four men. John Lester, David Price, Chris Carpenter and Tim Hudson.

Price (Getty Images) or Lester (AP Photo)?

The cool thing about this is that the races have come down to the last day of the season and these is the real possibility that both could remain tied and force not one but two one game playoffs to make the post season.  This has never happened.  There have been one-game playoffs to enter the post season before but never two of them in the same season.  If by some chance the Brave and Cardinals end up tied they will have to face each other in a playoff and the same is true for the Rays and Red Sox.  Does it get any better than that?  As a baseball fan I think not.

The Cardinals will start Chris Carpenter who is 3-2 with a 2.67 ERA in September against the Astros.  The Astos will start veteran Brett Myers who is 7-13 with a 4.31 ERA for the season but has been great in September with a 4-0 record and an ERA of 1.58.  The question is will the Cardinals be able to take this all the way home? The stumbling Braves will send Tim Hudson up against the Phillies. Hudsonis 3-2 with a 4.02 ERA in September and lost in his last outing against the Phillies.  Philadelphiawill start Joe Blanton 1-2 5.03 ERA who spend most May and all of June July and August on the DL.

The American League race has Boston’s John Lester who is 1-3 in September with a 6.07 ERA facing Baltimore’s Alfredo Simon who has had a miserable September.  The question in this contest is whose bats will show up big?  Down inTampathe Rays will start their ace David Price 12-13 3.35 ERA who has a 0-2 record in 5 starts with a 3.08 ERA in September.  The Yankees have not announced a starter for Wednesday’s finale.  The question here is can the Rays nail down one last game?

In the end it comes down to four starters for the four teams vying for the Wild Card. John Lester, David Price, Tim Hudson and Chris Carpenter.  Four men, four teams, two playoff berths.

This will be an amazing finish to the regular season.  Who would have bet on this on September 1st? Not me, but I am not unhappy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball

Down to the Wire: MLB’s Epic Wild Card September Continues to Amaze

B.J Upton and Evan Longoria greet Johnny Damon after a home run against the Blue Jays

What seemed like an impossible season finale less than a month ago is now reality. Four teams, two playoff spots and two games left.  The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox have spent the month of September in a free fall.  Boston is 5 and 17 this month and the Braves are 9-16 their worst September since 1989.  This helped breathe life into the Wild Card races.  As the Braves and Red Sox collapsed the insurgent St. Louis Cardinals having been written off by everyone have pulled within a game of the Braves and would be in a tie if not for an extra inning loss to the woebegone Houston Astros last night. While the Braves collapse is bad the Red Sox collapse is bordering on epic.  The Tampa Bay Rays who were 9 games out at the beginning of the month moved even with the Sox last night when they defeated the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles continued their September dominance of a team that has over the past decade made their life a living hell.

Justin Pedroia after Monday’s loss in Baltimore

The Red Sox look like a defeated team; their words and body language only reinforce the image of defeat.  The Rays on the other hand appear confident and ready to win under the relaxed leadership of Manager Joe Maddon.  Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria reflected that confidence after the Rays defeated the Yankees Monday night saying “We’re in the driver’s seat in our opinion. It’s our job just to go out there and win.”  To get in the playoffs Boston must win both of its final two games and pray that their arch rivals, the New York Yankees beat the Rays.  Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said “We’ve backed ourselves about as far as we can go,” after last night’s loss to the Orioles.   That loss was devastating as their best pitcher Josh Beckett lost and now the Red Sox must depend on the struggling Erik Bedard 5-9 3.50 ERA who lost his last outing against the Orioles tonight and possibly John Lester pitching on three days rest Wednesday. Lester 15-9 3.49 ERA has embodied the collapse of the Sox going just 1-5 with a 5.71 ERA in September.

Chris Carpenter and Darth Vader: Will the Cardinal Empire Strike Back? 

The Braves are up by one game but still face a daunting task.  They must win against the Philadelphia Phillies and hope that the Astros can defeat the Cardinals at least once in the next two games.  The Braves task is made harder because they face Phillies starter Roy Oswalt who is 1-0 in four starts with a 1.71 ERA against the Braves this season. Meanwhile the decimated starting rotation of the Braves must pitch the slumping Derek Lowe who has a 4.59 ERA and has lost 6 of his last 8 starts against the Phillies.  Lowe has had a miserable September has lost his last four starts and has an 8.24 ERA.  The Braves hitting has also failed them of late and to beat the Phillies their pitching staff and hitters must perform better than they have in September.  Braves legend Chipper Jones simply said “We have nobody to blame but ourselves for being in this present situation.”

Chipper Jones at the end of the 6th inning against the Phillies Monday Night

This certainly will be interesting to watch. As someone that follows the game and looks at statistics, records and history the month of September appears to be an epic month with not just one but possibly two teams losing what appeared to be insurmountable leads.  As a baseball fan I like to see the improbable happen. As an Orioles fan just hope that the Birds continue to beat the Sox.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles