October 20, 2014
As they say, "Anything can happen in October, and probably will!" But a team full of young unknowns sweeping the two teams with the best regular-season records in consecutive postseason series? It's never been done before, at least not since the advent of the three-stage playoff format in 1995. Yet somehow, the Kansas City Royals edged the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in both Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS last week, thereby winning the American League pennant for the first time since 1985. How does an underdog team like them keep winning? Ah, such are the mysteries of baseball.
In Game 4, played on Wednesday afternoon, the Royals scored two runs in the first inning, and that was all they would need. It was a bizarre play. With runners on second and third, and just one out, Eric Hosmer grounded to first baseman Steve Pearce, who threw it to catcher Caleb Joseph, but the ball got past him, and both runners scored. The Orioles got a run in the third inning, but wasted a precious run-scoring opportunities in the sixth inning, and that was that. They were caught flat-footed once again, reminding me of the Nationals playing the Giants in the NLDS, I'm sorry to say. The Royals' pitcher Jason Vargas, a veteran with a career ERA of 4.20, somehow kept his team ahead by giving up just one run in five-plus innings.
And so, without much slugging but with plenty of grit, the Royals brought an American League pennant to Kansas City for the first time since 1985. Kauffman Stadium, jam-packed with blue-clad fans, was delirious with joy. The Royals may be underdogs in the upcoming World Series, but they have thrived in that role thus far in the postseason, and as we know, "Anything can happen in October!"
That evening in San Francisco, meanwhile, the Cardinals and Giants traded blows in a tense NLCS Game 4. Neither of the starting pitchers, Shelby Miller and Ryan Vogelsong, made it to the fifth inning. The visiting team had a 4-3 lead going into the sixth inning, and had high hopes for evening the series. The Cards were handicapped, however, by the absence of slugging catcher Yadier Molina, who had strained a back muscle while swinging in Game 2. He was replaced by A. J. Pierzynski, formerly of the Chicago White Sox. The Giants got three runs in the sixth inning, with smart, efficient "small ball," and held on to win the game, 6-4.
Game 5 on Thursday night developed in a somewhat similar manner. The Cardinals took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning, thanks to solo home runs by Matt Adams and Tony Cruz. It seemed like a decisive momentum-shifter that might just send the NLCS back to St. Louis for Game 6. But the Giants had other plans. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Michael Morse stepped up to the plate as a pinch hitter. The popular former Washington National then got a hold of a ball that landed just beyond the fence in the left field corner. That tied the game 3-3, and re-energized the Giants and their fans. Sure enough, with two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth, Travis Ishikawa hit a home run into the right field seats, ending the game in triumphant fashion. WOW! Final score: Giants 6, Cardinals 3.
So tomorrow night the World Series begins in Kansas City, as the Royals host the Giants. It's fresh, eager spunk versus battle-tested experience. Not the most likely matchup, but unique in one key way: Neither team is a division champion! The other potential World Series pairings this year offered some intriguing possibilities:
* [CORRECTED. In the 2002 World Series, the Giants and Angels were both wild card teams.]
It might also be noted that the Giants and Royals are also noted for residing in the best stadiums of their respective class. It will be a very "photogenic" World Series!
I'm all for exciting underdog champioship games, but I think the current playoff format may paradoxically favor the wild card teams, who can sustain momentum in the wild card "play-in" game while the division champs rest and lose their edge. (Nationals?) Also, knowing that securing a wild card spot is good enough takes the pressure off teams trying to catch up to the division leader late in the season. Prior to this year, wild card teams played in nine of the 19 World Series since the expanded three-division structure began. What's more, they won in five of those World Series, including three years in a row: 2002, 2003, 2004. Meanwhile, non-wild card teams (three fourths of the total, roughly) had a lower probability of winning a league pennant, as if the system was tilted against them. I know this is an old gripe of teams like the Braves who won many division titles but few league pennants or World Series, and more recently the Washington Nationals are in the same spot. I hope the MLB bosses at least consider restructuring the playoffs. I think there should be only one wild card team, and a seven-game divisional series, prerferably in a 2-2-3 format rather than the traditional 2-3-2 format. That would really give more of an advantage to the top-seeded teams!
One thing I learned during this postseason is the remarkable batting of Giants' ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner: This year alone he has hit two grand slams, which is more than Derek Jeter hit in his entire 20-year MLB career (one). How weird is that?
Since all my San Francisco stadium diagrams are more or less up to my highest standards, I decided to focus on the other team in the NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals. As a start, I updated the Busch Stadium II diagrams, which now include an upper-deck version and a lower-deck version, both of which show the entry portals and lateral aisles. The profiles have been tweaked a little, as well. Those diagrams now reveal the distinctive arched roof that gave Busch Stadium II more character than most other "cookie-cutter" stadiums of that era. That's not just for aesthetic effect, however. As part of maximizing diagram accuracy, I have been concentrating on the sections in each stadium, usually manifested in the entry portals or (for older stadiums) the structural beams supporting the upper decks.
Last month I acknowledged a broken link on the Busch Stadium II page, and now you can see what I had been working on. Believe me, getting the details just right was agonizingly frustrating, with multiple false starts. The same goes for other diagrams I have been working on during the past few days. Among other things, I am close to finishing updates to the other two Busch Stadiums, the one originally known as Sportsman's Park (1910-1966), and the third incarnation, built in 2006. In the former case, there are a few uncertainties that may have to remain unsettled...
It has been several months since I last made a serious attempt to deal with my (figurative) e-mail "bag," which is now overflowing. Mike Zurawski recently brought some important items to my attention, and I also checked out a few of his reports from several months previous. Here goes:
In Cleveland, renovation work has begun on Progressive Field. They will reduce capacity to between 37,000 to 38,000 by next season. The seats in the upper deck in right field will be replaced with broad platforms for group parties, etc. Also, elevated walkways over the Gate C entrance (center field) will be torn down and replaced with a new plaza with open views of the downtown skyline. In addition, the bullpens will be rebuilt, parallel to the right-center field wall, in tandem, no longer separated. See cleveland.com. Ten luxury suites were removed prior to the 2013 season,
In Chicago, they are moving ahead with another (final?) phase of renovations on Wrigley Field, a project whose total cost will be $575 million. I knew about the additional electronic signage, but didn't realize they are going to further expand the bleachers. Also, they will fill the narrow triangular space on the southeast side with a "Friendly Confines" restaurant/pub. Contrary to earlier plans, they are not going to build a new clubhouse/parking garage on the west side of the stadium. However, "Eight nearby rooftop owners are suing the city claiming the project violates their profit-sharing agreement with the team." See the TV report at nbcchicago.com
In Toronto, they are preparing to replace the current ersatz surface with natural grass, but it won't happen until 2018. It's partly a matter of technical difficulties, and partly because of the desire to accommodate the Toronto Argonauts, who have a lease that will expire after 2017. (Those terms were agreed to in October 2013.) Prior to the 2014 season, as a stopgap measure, they renovated the fake turf with new rubber beads so that balls will bounce the way they are supposed to. See thestar.com. That's a commendable change, and long overdue. As shown on the Turf page, previous MLB stadiums in which fake turf was replaced by grass include:
L.A. Angels owner Arte Moreno has been negotiating with local government officials in Anaheim and nearby Tustin in hopes of acquiring cheap land on which to build a new stadium, but so far he isn't getting what he wanted. See fieldofschemes.com.
For hockey fans, plans were announced to build a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings, as part of a downtown entertainment district near Comerica Park and Ford Field. That means Joe Louis Arena will eventually be replaced. See mlive.com. The Red Wings' current home is one of the biggest 20,066) and oldest (1979) arenas in the NHL. (At least I think so. )
Finally, the Tampa Bay Rays have renovated Tropicana Field once again, with a new 360-degree walkway around the lower bowl, an open air meeting spot in centerfield and smoother access from the rotunda entrance to the seats. ... The renovation includes the removal of about 3,000 seats. See tampabay.com and/or tbo.com. I was vaguely aware of that, and will need to come up with a 2014 version diagram depicting the reduced seating areas.
Also, I should have mentioned the completion of the "ballpark village" across the street (north side) from Busch Stadium (III). That project was delayed for years because of the bad economy.
Finally, Ian Cypes informs me that RFK Stadium played a key part in the recent movie X-Men: Days of Future Past. See a clip at: youtube.com. However, "There is one continuity error. The 'past' scenes in this movie are in 1973, 2 years after the senators moved to Texas; yet the stadium is in baseball configuration."
More stadium news from other fans, as well as more diagram updates to come later this week!