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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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Cardinals in Seven: Padre Steve’s World Series Pick

Last Year I made picks for both the MLB Playoff series and the World Series that were very accurate. See the 2010 MLB Post Season Page link at the top of this page.  I try to look at all the stats in the regular and post season to make my picks.  This year I did not get around to picking winners for the Division or League Championship Series.  I plan on providing analysis of each game during the World  series.  Of course I could be wrong, but this is my pick.   

 

This is a really interesting World Series that I really believe will go the full seven games. I am picking the Cardinals but not because I think that they are the “better” team in the context of this season.  I think that in a 7 game series that Tony LaRussa will do just enough to beat the Rangers.  The majority of baseball commentators are predicting that the Rangers will win this in 6 or 7 games. If they were playing the Brewers, Diamondbacks or Phillies I would pick them in a New York minute. But they are playing a team that at the end of August was 10.5 games out of the Wild Card race in the National League and handily defeat teams in the NLDS and NLCS that were on paper better than them.

I believe that the Texas Rangers are the better team and I actually kind of want them to win the Series because I like Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington and would like to see the Rangers win their first World Series. Over the course of this year’s 162 game season I don’t think that there was a better team in baseball.  They have decent starting pitching, a great bullpen and hit the hell out of ball.  They have made mincemeat of some of the best pitchers in the league.  Ron Washington is one of my favorite managers, he is smart and really has shaped this team into the machine that they are.  They are at or near the top in almost every offensive category including stolen bases.  They have a better record than the Cardinals and the two teams pitching staffs have similar records and statistics for the season.  The Rangers held off a late season rush by the Los Angeles Angels and took the AL West for the second time in as many years.  They eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games chewing up a very good Rays pitching staff and proceeded take down the Tigers in 6 games to reach the World Series for the second strait year.  Ron Washington is turning into a great manager who has proven that he can manage the game and inspire his players at the same time.

However the Wild Card so to speak is the “Wild Card” in this series. The Cardinals took advantage by the epic collapse of the Atlanta Braves in September and won the NL Wild Card on the last day of the season.  They then had to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS.  The Phillies had the best record in the National League but had fallen victim to the Red Birds 6 of 9 times during the regular season 3 of which came in September.  They dispatched the Phillies in 5 games after being down 2-1 in the series.  Then they went to their division rivals and NL Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers. They took the Brewers with whom they evenly split their 18 regular season games in 6 games.

These are both great teams with a lot of character and talent.  When one looks up and down the roster they are filled with great hitters.  The Rangers have the edge in overall quality but the Cardinals are also very good and had the best team hitting in the Division and League Championship Series.  Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay and Matt Holiday highlight a line up that hit for a .274 batting average, .341 On Base Percentage and .425 Slugging Percentage in the regular season and produced 762 runs. The Rangers roster includes Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz.  The Rangers hit a Major League leading team batting average of .283 On Base Percentage of .341 a .460 Slugging Percentage and which produced a MLB high 855 runs.

However the playoffs have been another story. The Cardinals led all the playoff teams in batting average (.288) and runs (111) while having .345 OBP and .448 SLG percentages.  The Rangers hitters were not as dominant in the playoffs hitting for a .259 team batting average producing 90 runs and achieving a .330 OBP and .434 SLG.  They were still potent especially Nelson Cruz the ALCS MVP who hit .364 with six homers and 13 RBIs.

The pitching performance of the two teams in the regular season was quite similar the Cardinals had a slightly better team ERA of 2.74 versus the Rangers 2.79 but LaRussa is unorthodox in his use of his bullpen when has performed magnificently.  Game one will feature the two teams’ workhorses, Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals and C J Wilson for the Rangers.  The bullpens are both excellent and the Rangers feature Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando.  Ogando has been particularly good and as a former starter can pitch in extended or short relief.  The Cardinals bullpen features Jason Motte and Octavio Dotel who have been excellent in the playoffs.

The hitters will challenge the pitchers of both teams and the starters will need to perform to protect their bullpens.  LaRussa will use his bullpen in ways that cannot be anticipated and the Rangers could face any pitcher in any situation.

The reason that I am picking the Cardinals is the fact that they have done so much that they were not expected to do this season. They overcame a lot to get to this point. The Rangers were expected by many to be here again, especially after the Red Sox collapsed in September and did not make the playoffs.  The key for me is Tony LaRussa and his ability to manage a game inning by inning batter by batter in order to deny the opposing team the opportunity to score runs in any single inning particularly “the last three innings of the game.”  LaRussa manages the details of a game probably better than anyone in baseball and though many criticize his “micromanagement” it certainly has worked.  Provided nothing really unexpected happens LaRussa will pass the great John McGraw on the all time managerial win list sometime during the 2012 season. None of this is to be disrespectful of Ron Washington, he too is an excellent manager and the Rangers would not be where they are without him.  Likewise the Cardinals have home field advantage and Busch Stadium is a pitchers park which plays well with how LaRussa uses his bullpen and bench.

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?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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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+

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Pinning on the Gold Bars: 28 Years Later

On June 19th 1983 I was sworn in as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army at the University of California Los Angeles.  I was a history major in college and had actually completed my degree the year prior and played around with Masters level classes as I took my last year of ROTC. I was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps and would report for active duty 22 days later at Fort Sam Houston Texas where I would complete the Army Medical Department Officer Basic Course for Medical Service Corps officers, go on to Fort Know Kentucky for the Junior Officer’s Maintenance Course and then in January 1984 head to Germany where I was assigned to the 557th Medical Company Ambulance in a little Kasserne on the Nahe River called Neubrücke.  The rest is history.

Looking back at what the world was like in 1983 is rather interesting. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States and George Herbert Walker Bush his Vice President. Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was Speaker of the House.  The internet and the TCP/IP was beginning to take flight as a program of the Department of Defense, Sally Ride had just become the first female Astronaut and the United States sent the Marines into Lebanon as part as a peacekeeping force.  The Soviets were deeply embroiled in Afghanistan while Jedi returned, destroyed the new Death Star, killed the Emperor and Darth Vader while redeeming Anakin Skywalker.

The Cold War was reaching its zenith as the United States using its great economic power built up its military and developed technologies that the Soviets went broke trying to keep up with.

We still wore Olive Green fatigues; the BDUs were just being introduced and the Army still worn Greens sans jaunty Black Beret.

The Billboard Top Singles were led by Michael Jackson who released Billie Jean http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBIfLxi5dLo, Culture Club with Karma Chameleon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmcA9LIIXWw, Irene Cara joined in with Flashdance What a Feeling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILWSp0m9G2U, David Bowie came out with Let’s Dance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyVjdQXNs9sand the Police had Every Breath You Take http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOGaugKpzs.

The Baltimore Orioles won the 1983 World Series taking down the Philadelphia Phillies in 5 games, Rick Dempsey was the MVP hitting .385 in the series and having a .923 slugging percentage. Dempsey who played across 4 decades as a catcher only hit .233 for his career.  Cal Ripken Jr. made the final putout of the series which was the last that the Orioles have won since then.  In the NFL the Washington Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. Larry Nelson edged out Tom Watson in the PGA U.S. Open while Jimmy Conners won the U.S Open Men’s Singles championship.

Terrorism, nuclear crises, political scandals and Tsunami in Japan were all part in the news.  AIDS was rearing its ugly head and by 1987 I was working with AIDS patients and dealing with personnel policy for HIV infected Soldiers.

Since that day I can only quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead that my life and career has been “a long strange trip.” I continue to serve in the military only having switched services to the Navy and going from being in the Medical Service Corps where I was a platoon leader, company XO and company commander as well as Brigade Adjutant to being a Chaplain.

Back in 1983 I had no intention of going into the ministry but somehow the Deity somehow worked that out much to my surprise.

Finally a mere six days after being commissioned I would marry the love of my life Judy Keiser and well somehow she has put up with me 28 years and hasn’t killed me yet, not that she didn’t want to a few times. Now we deal with a geographic separation due to my assignment after missing far more wedding anniversaries and birthdays than we have been together in our 28 year marriage.

Anyway, the future is still to be written and this long strange trip promises to go on. As Captain Kirk said in Star Trek VI “People think the future means the end of history, well, we haven’t run out of history just yet.” I don’t think that I have either.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Spring Training and the Integration of the Major Leagues

Jackie Robinson

In April 1947 Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers had one African-American ballplayer at the Dodgers’ Spring Training site in Daytona Beach Florida. The Dodgers had been coming to Florida for years but had moved from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach in 1947 after Jacksonville had refused to alter its segregation laws to allow an exhibition game between the Dodgers International League affiliate the Montreal Royals.  Dodgers’ Club President and General Manager Branch Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract with the Royals.  When Rickey called up Robinson 6 days prior to the 1947 season Robinson broke the color barrier for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball.  However it would take another 12 years before all Major League teams had a black player on their roster.

It is hard to imagine now that even after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier that other teams did not immediately sign black players. However Rickey and Robinson broke the color barrier a year before Harry Truman had integrated the Armed Forces and seven years before the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of public schools illegal.

Larry Doby

The Cleveland Indians under the legendary owner Bill Veeck were not far behind the Dodgers signing Larry Doby on July 5th 1947.  Doby would go on to the Hall of Fame and was a key player on the 1948 Indian team which won the 1948 World Series. The St. Louis Browns signed Third Baseman Hank Thompson 12 days later. Robinson and Doby would be joined by others in 1948 including Roy Campenella and Satchel Paige.

Irvin,  Mays and Thompson

It was not until 1949 when the New York Giants became the next team to integrate bringing up Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson who they had acquired from the Browns.  In 1951 they would be joined by rookie Willie Mays to become the first all African-American outfield in the Major Leagues. Both Mays and Irvin would enter the Hall of Fame and both are still a key part of the Giants’ story and despite their age have continued to be active in with the Giants and Major League Baseball.

The Boston Braves were the next to desegregate calling up Samuel “the Jet” Jethroe to play Center Field. Jethroe was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1950.

In 1951 the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban born Minnie Minoso who had played for Cleveland in 1949 and 1951 before signing with the White Sox. Minoso would be elected to 9 All-Star teams and win 3 Golden Gloves.

Ernie Banks

The Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics integrated at the end of the 1953 season. The Cubs signed Shortstop Ernie Banks who would go on to be a 14 time All-Star, 2 time National League MVP and be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977 on the first ballot. The Athletics called up pitcher Bob Trice from their Ottawa Farm team where he had won 21 games. Trice only pitched in 27 Major League games over the course of three seasons with the Athletics.

Four teams integrated in 1954. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Second Baseman Curt Roberts from Denver of the Western League as part of a minor league deal. He would play 171 games in the Majors.  He was sent to the Columbus Jets of the International League in 1956 and though he played in both the Athletics and Yankees farm systems but never again reached the Majors. The St. Louis Cardinals who had threatened to not play against the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson in 1947 traded for First Baseman Tom Alston of the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres. Alston would only play in 91 Major League games with his career hindered by depression and anxiety.  The Cincinnati Reds brought up Puerto Rican born First Baseman Nino Escalera and Third Baseman Chuck Harmon who had played in the Negro Leagues and had been a Professional Basketball player in the American Basketball League. Harmon who was almost 30 when called up played just 4 years in the Majors. Both he and Escalera would go on to be Major League scouts, Escalera is considered one of the best First Baseman from Puerto Rico and was elected to the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame. Harmon’s first game was recognized by the Reds in 2004 and a plaque hangs in his honor. The Washington Senators called up Cuban born Center Fielder Carlos Paula from their Charlotte Hornets’ farm team in September 1954.  He played through the 1956 season with the Senators and his contract was sold to the Sacramento Salons of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .271 in 157 plate appearances with 9 home runs and 60 RBIs. He died at the age of 55 in Miami.

Elston Howard

In April 1955 the New York Yankees finally integrated 8 years after the Dodgers and 6 years after the Giants. They signed Catcher/Left Fielder Elston Howard from their International League affiliate where he had been the League MVP in 1954. Howard would play 13 years in the Majors with the Yankees and later the Red Sox retiring in 1968. He would be a 12-time All Star and 6-time World Series Champion as a player and later as a coach for the Yankees. He died of heart disease in 1980.  His number #32 was retired by the Yankees in 1984.

The Philadelphia Phillies purchased the contract of Shortstop John Kennedy from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League at the end of the 1956 season. Kennedy played in just 5 games in April and May of 1957.

In 1958 the Detroit Tigers obtained Dominican born Utility Player Ozzie Virgil Sr. who had played with the Giants in 1955 and 1956. Virgil would play 9 seasons in the Majors with the Giants, Tigers, Athletics and Pirates and retire from the Giants in 1969. He later coached for 19 years in the Majors with the Giants, Expos, Padres and Mariners.

The last team to integrate was the Boston Red Sox who signed Infielder Pumpsie Green. Green made his debut on 21 July 1959 during his three years with the Red Sox was primarily used as a pinch runner. He played his final season with the New York Mets in 1963. He was honored by the Red Sox in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of breaking the Red Sox color barrier.

It took 12 years for all the teams of the Major Leagues to integrate, part of the long struggle of African Americans to achieve equality not just in baseball but in all areas of public life.  These men, few in number paved the way for African Americans in baseball and were part of the inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement itself.  They should be remembered by baseball fans everywhere.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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