Pujols' "bigger bang" saves Cards
Totally unbelievable! After Lance Berkman's dramatic go-ahead home run in the seventh inning, it looked like the Astros had a lock on the National League pennant, which would have meant that no more games would ever be played at Busch Stadium (the current one). Houston fans were delirious at the prospect of a World Series in Texas for the first time. Instead, with two outs in the top of the ninth, David Eckstein singled, Jim Edmunds walked, and then the amazing Albert Pujols launched that horsehide sphere into earth orbit, striking the glass pane above the railroad track in left field. (Estimated distance pending.) There was no doubt about it, and Minute Maid Park fell deathly silent as Pujols calmly jogged around the bases. Talk about an emotional let-down! As if Sunday afternoon's game didn't end on a dramatic enough basis (an amazing double play ended a Cardinals rally in the top of the ninth), what happened tonight was the stuff of baseball legend. Back to St. Louis!
White Sox win pennant
After a clumsy start in Game 1, the White Sox went on to beat the Angels in the next four games (including three games on the road), thus winning the series in five games, not six, as I had predicted. Who would have thought that the White Sox pitching would be so superlative? Well, they did tie with the Indians for the third-lowest team ERA in 2005, even though Buehrle, Garica, Garland, and Contreras are not exactly household names -- yet. The last time four consecutive postseason complete games were pitched was by the Yankees in 1956. (Remember Don Larsen?) Shouldn't someone tell manager Ozzie Guillen that there's no crying or kissing of players in baseball? Even though Latin culture is more fixated on traditional gender roles than is the case in North America, most of those macho men from south of the border are less hung up about not being called a sissy than us gringos. Interestingly, the White Sox manager last time they were in the World Series (Al Lopez, in 1959) was also of Hispanic origin. Back then it was still a rarity. Just a thought: As Chicagoans prepare for their first World Series since Dwight Eisenhower was president, I wonder if the White Sox regret trimming the size of the upper deck in U.S. Cellular Field?
D.C. stadium? More confusion...
Even though the D.C. Council has decided to reexamine the terms of the stadium construction financial arrangement with Deutsch Bank, in part to ensure that the project earns an "investment quality" bond rating, Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp now says she favors building the stadium on the Anacostia site. Ten months ago she was pushing for the new stadium to be build next to RFK Stadium, in order to save construction costs. For more than a year now, MLB and D.C. officials have been manuevering and posturing to get the best possible terms, and neither side trusted the other enough to make a 100-percent commitment. When will this farce ever end? See Washington Post.
Random notes on the Nationals
Since the regular season ended, or perhaps since the Nationals fell out of postaseason contention on September 21, the zombie-like "spell" of fan zealotry has been lifted from my consciousness, and I've been able to pay attention to the rest of the major leagues (and even the real non-baseball world) with a bit more fairness and balance. There will be plenty of time to speculate on Washington's 2006 prospects after the World Series is over.
As the process of finalizing stadium construction plans and selling the Nationals franchise drag on, it is good to remember a telling comment made by Commissioner Bud Selig, as published in the inaugural edition of the Nationals' souvenir program. When asked by the interviewer why he finally relented and allowed the Expos to move, he said, "There weren't any alternatives. This was a last resort." Remember those words well. Washington was not at the top of the list of possible new cities for the Expos franchise, as any reasonable analysis would have concluded, it was at the bottom.
Washington Nationals Tony Tavares was interviewed about his team's performance this year, and its prospects for the future. To my delight, he brushed aside complaints of certain sluggers that the outfield at RFK Stadium is too big. Notably, he put the blame on the lack of leadership by players and coaches. To me, that just goes to show the ultimate result of the absence of any strong direction at the top -- There's no owner, for crying out loud! Until that changes, squabbling and lack of focus are bound to continue. See MLB.com. With regard to front office personnel moves, Tavares says, "Nobody has made any promises. If you get a job opportunity, you should pursue it, because I can't guarantee anything." Ouch. Tavares said if he is rehired, he would offer a job to General Manager Jim Bowden (whose contract expires at the end of the month), but he demurred about Frank Robinson's job. Tavares, Bowden, and Robinson all deserve another year in Washington, working in a normal situation under a real owner, where they just might have a chance at a championship bid.
I had meant to make note of the fact that the Washington Post (print edition only) had a list of "top ten" Washington Nationals inaugural year games on October 5, one day later than I did. Theirs was quite different than mine, however, coinciding only on April 14 (obviously), June 14, and September 17. They omitted April 6, May 30, July 4, July 15, July 26, September 15, and September 21, and included May 7, June 6, July 3, July 5, July 26, September 15, and September 25. Also, it is worthwhile to call attention to Barry Svrluga's prescient words about the Nationals' prospects in the "Baseball '05" special section last March 30:
But look at the rest of the [NL East] division, probably the deepest and most competitive in baseball, and it's easy to see how the Nationals could scratch their way to .500 -- and still finish last.
Well, the Nationals didn't exactly "scratch their way to .500," but it's still a pretty astute forecast of the final outcome.