Tigers & Giants defy odds, win pennants
As World Series 2012 gets underway in San Francisco this evening, it's time to get caught up on the stunning turns of events that paved the way for the Tigers and Giants to advance to the pinnacle of baseball competition, in most improbable fashion. For all the background info you'll need on this year's Fall Classic, see MLB.com.
Giants refuse to lose to Cardinals
The Cardinals appeared to have the National League Championship Series all wrapped up last week, with a 3-1 series lead, and initial preparations for another World Series in St. Louis got underway. But the San Francisco Giants made history once again by staging an amazing three-game comeback to win the NL pennant. Marco Scutaro was the most impressive clutch player for the Giants. The pivotal moment was in the fourth inning of Game 5 (see MLB.com), when Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn fielded a ground ball and threw to second on what should have been an inning-ending double play. The ball hit the bag and bounced into center field, however, and Giants took advantage of the throwing error by scoring four runs that inning -- all unearned. The Giants' veteran pitcher Barry Zito allowed six hits but no runs over 7 2/3 innings, and the series went back to San Francisco. In contrast to the NLDS against the Reds, the Giants used home field advantage to the max in the NLCS, piling on runs with no mercy. As the rain came pouring down at AT&T Park in Game 7, the Cardinals' hopes of a repeat World Series title dissolved in most depressing fashion, on a pop fly to second base. In spite of the lousy weather, Giants fans were ecstatic at their team's triumph.
Not only was the Giants' NLCS comeback amazing, but the margin of victory in those three games was positively devastating: 5-0, 6-1, and 9-0. The last time there was such a lopsided margin in the final three games of a postseason series was the 2007 ALCS, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians by scores of 7-1, 12-2, and 11-2. On the National League side that same year, the Colorado Rockies swept the Arizona Diamondbacks four games straight, which is the same thing that happened this year in the ALCS. Guess what happened in the 2007 World Series? Yep, the Red Sox swept the Rockies four games straight, with the first two games at home. An eerie parallel to this year? Hmmm...
Upset: Tigers sweep the Yankees!
In the American League Championship Series, meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers completed an unceremonious rout of the favored New York Yankees, sweeping the Bronx Bombers in four games straight. The way Game 1 ended, with a spectacular four-run comeback in the ninth inning rendered null by the Tigers' extra-inning victory (see October 16 blog post), was an ill omen indeed. Over the next three games, the Yankees only scored two runs total. Tiger ace pitcher Justin Verlander had a superb outing in ALCS Game 3, pitching 8 1/3 shutout innings before Eduardo Nuñez hit a solo home run. Delmon Young was named ALCS Most Valuable Player, with the game-deciding RBI in all four games. It just wasn't the Yankees' year.
The injury to Derek Jeter was a huge blow to the Yankees' hopes for another World Series. But the poor performance by the other "core" players -- [Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and Nick Swisher -- was what hurt the worst.] And of course, Alex Rodriguez gained dubious fame by becoming the highest-paid bench player in baseball history. It makes one wonder whether the team next spring will bear much if any resemblance to the team as it presently stands. Are we witnessing the end of a dynasty?? For some speculation on the hazy future of the Yankee franchise, see the Washington Post.
Johnson: best manager!
Congratulations to Washington Nationals' Davey Johnson for being named The Sporting News Manager of the Year. As the managerial veteran of several ball clubs, including the Baltimore Orioles, Johnson had an especially satisfying return from retirement. Talks are underway to give him a contract for at least another year in Washington, but he may want to take it easy and retire once again -- perhaps after the Nationals win the World Series next year! See MLB.com.
Ozzie Guillen is fired
In Miami, meanwhile, the Marlins have fired manager Ozzie Guillen, after disappointing fans and owners alike by finishing last place in the NL East. It wasn't a happy inaugural year for Marlins Park. Guillen, you may recall, earned the wrath of millions of Cuban-Americans in south Florida by saying he admired Fidel Castro at the beginning of the season. ¡Adios, Ozzie! See MLB.com.
The mail bag
More ballpark news from Mike Zurawski: The San Diego Padres are moving the outfield wall forward by several feet in right field and in the deep corner to the left of center field. In addition, the visiting team bullpen will be moved from the right field corner to the area adjacent to the home team bullpen on the left side of center field. See MLB.com. More diagram work for me during the off-season!
Also, the Minnesota Twins are going to replace the bleacher section in the right field corner of Target Field, putting in a new drink-rail seating area covered by a canopy with radiant heating. The stadium's overall capacity will be reduced by about 400 seats. See MLB.com.