October 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Do-or-die time for the Yankees
The MLB league championship series this year have yielded some big surprises. On the American League side, the Yankees managed to recover from the initial shock of the Texas Rangers taking a 5-0 lead against Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 of the ALCS, with a remarkable comeback win, 6-5. But then the Rangers bounced right back from this dispiriting turn of events in Game 2, using aggressive base-running and hot batting to run up the score. This time their bullpen held on to a five-run lead, and the Rangers won it, 7-2.
With the series even at 1-1 heading back home to New York, and esteemed veteran Andy Pettitte as the starting pitcher for Game 3, the Yankees had every reason to think they were in fine shape. But a home run by Josh Hamilton put the Rangers on top 2-0 in the first inning, and their ace pitcher Cliff Lee went eight flawless innings, hurling 13 strikeouts and only giving up two hits and a walk. In the top of the ninth inning, everything came apart, as a succession of Rangers Final score: 8-1. And if that wasn't enough of a nightmare for Yankee fans, last night the Rangers piled on eight runs over the last four innings, winning 10-3. Bengie Molina's three-run homer in the sixth cracked the game wide open, and Josh Hamilton hit two more dingers after.
I noticed that the attendances at Games 1 and 2 in humble Arlington, Texas (50,930 and 50,362) were actually higher than at Games 3 and 4 in New York City (49, 840 and 49,977). Capacity at New Yankee Stadium* is only 50,287, about 7,000 less than its glorious predecessor. What a disgrace that they couldn't build more seats for fans in the Big Apple! In contrast, capacity at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is 49,170, evidently with plenty of standing room.
* Thanks to Brian Vangor for the aerial photo he recently took. It shows a pedestrian walkway through the vacant lot where The House That Ruth Built once stood.
So with the Rangers ahead three games to one, what's next? Not once since the inception of the three-round playoff format in 1995 have the Yankees lost three straight postseason games at home. (See the table below, as well as the Postseason scores page, which will soon include the years 1995-2001, in addition to 2002-2010.) At 4:00 this afternoon, the Rangers will try to finish off the Yankees, but I don't think C.C. Sabathia is going to make the same mistake on the mound this time around. The question is whether A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixera will start getting a decent number of hits. Among the Yankees thus far in October, only Robinson Cano has been doing consistently well at the plate. Anyway, I predict the ALCS will return to Texas and go a full seven games!
|Year||Wins at home||Total home games|
Giants lead the Phillies
Likewise, the National League Championship Series has yielded a surprising 2-1 lead for the underdog San Francisco Giants. In Game 1, the visiting team prevailed over Roy Halladay, who recently made postseason history with his no-hit win over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS. This time he pitched very well, but the Giants' Tim Lincecum (a.k.a. "the Freak") pitched even better, as the Giants prevailed, 4-3. So Halladay's human, after all. That was one of the biggest, highest-profile pitching confrontations in recent baseball history.
Just like the Rangers, the Phillies recovered from their initial setback in Game 2, winning by a score of 6-1. Indeed, the first two games of the ALCS and the NLCS were mirror images of each other, with narrow one-run victories for the visiting teams in Game 1, and lopsided victories for the home teams in Game 2. The run totals were higher than one might expect when such top-ranked pitchers are on the mound, but everyone knows how friendly Citizens Bank Park is to sluggers. As usual, thousands of Phillies fans overflowed the official seating capacity. But upon returning to San Francisco in Game 3 yesterday afternoon, the Giants shut down the Phillies, as Matt Cain outdueled Cole Hamels, who was the Phillies' ace in their last two superb postseasons. Offensively, the Giants' secret weapon has been Cody Ross, who hit three home runs in the first two games, and batted in the first run in Game 3. It turned out that was all the Giants needed. Final score: 3-0, a run total that is about what you'd expect in AT&T Park.
So, even though the Phillies aren't as desperate as the Yankees, behind by only one game in the NLCS, they too are under heavy pressure to perform in the clutch. They have decided to give Roy Halladay another day of rest (holiday?), sending Joe Blanton to the mound for Game 4 this evening. The Giants are poised to win the next two games at home, which would earn them their first trip to the World Series since 2002. Wouldn't a Rangers-Giants matchup be interesting? It's certainly unexpected.
D.C. historical footnote
The 2010 MLB playoffs mark the first time that both former Washington Senators franchises advanced to the postseason in the same year. The original Senators (1901-1960) became the Minnesota Twins in 1961, and the second Senators team (1961-1971) became the Texas Rangers in 1972. It is also interesting to note that the Rangers' manager is Ron Washington.
Nationals promote Rizzo
To fill in the void left by departing president Stan Kasten (see Sept. 25), the Washington Nationals have promoted General Manager Mike Rizzo to the position of "executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager." He gets a five-year contract extension as part of the deal. See MLB.com and/or the Washington Post, which says this means Rizzon will have "total control" of the Nationals. Kasten had served as a sort of "bridge" between Rizzo and the Lerner family, which owns the franchise. As far as his expanded range of duties, Rizzo said, "I will have to learn to delegate a little bit better." If the Nats are to acquire top-dollar free agents such as Cliff Lee during the off-season, he has a lot of work ahead of him.