You Can't Script October (Cough-Cough)
By Shawn Badgley, 11:26AM, Sat. Oct. 21, 2006
St. Louis and Detroit – two honest-to-god sports towns, for the simple reason that without sports they would still be unsurveyed forestland with Native Americans and westward settlers doing battle atop bluffs and amid inlets, all quivers and gunpowder instead of beer and cars, preindustrial jerks instead of postmodern ones whose skirmishes would serve as sport themselves for the privileged few and their "aeroplanes" – will be watching baseball for the next week. No one but Fox, and, by extension, Bud Selig, gives a shit if anybody else joins them.
The official Austin Chronicle preview below the fold ...
So your team(s) didn't make the World Series, New York. You're still a baseball fan, right? Right? Wrong? Thought that might be the case. Fine. You live in the greatest city on Earth. Go on your way and enjoy the day.
St. Louis and Detroit are of course more than sports, but not by much. Midwestern American cities past their prime, they rank not among our greatest destinations, but remain people's homes, ones they take great pride in. In terms of recreation, arts & entertainment, you could do worse, certainly, but sports do amount to their more attractive offerings.
For Detroit, it has recently been the Pistons, but is shifting strongly back to the Tigers; for St. Louis, it has always been the Cardinals. In 1934, the Deans, Dizzy and Paul, led the Redbirds over the great Charlie Gehringer's Tigers in seven games. Thirty-four years later, Mickey Lolich returned the favor against El Birdos and Bob Gibson in one of the greatest World Series of all time.
For better or worse, baseball is a game that has coasted by on reputation for almost 20 years; scandal off the field and dilution on have alienated longtime fans and turned off those who might become such. Still, it is a game that hinges on history, tradition, and stability of the rules of play, and, so, one could look at the 2006 World Series as a Cardinals-Tigers rubber match spanning decades. The franchises themselves are among Major League Baseball's most storied. The personnel has changed, but the uniforms – two of the classiest and coolest in all of sports, I might add – have not.
And the ghosts of matchups past will be around, numbers retired in each team's state-of-the-art new park, while old-timers like Gibson and Lou Brock, Al Kaline and Lolich, might very well be around in person.
Meanwhile, so, too, will be Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell and colleague Mike "the Moonman" Shannon. The latter was KMOX color man for both Bucks at one time or another (the team's games are now aired by KTRS, and Shannon is still in the booth) and is the legendary purveyor of such inebriated claims as "This game started as a tiny worm and has blossomed into a big cobra." He also played third base for that 1968 Cardinals team, and tells St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel that he's "still ticked off about" losing the series after being up 3-1.
At first glance, it doesn't look like the 06 World Series will measure up to its Cards-Tigers ancestors, but I have a feeling it will. Nearly everyone is picking the Tigers – not surprisingly, it has become laughably fashionable to do so, even among nonverbal and subhuman species – which can only be good for the underdog Cardinals. In years past, the Cardinals have been the favorites: Their success was special but eventually expected; their failures sour and built on complacence.
Perhaps this is how playoff baseball works now. Tiered weirdly and providing no real advantage for teams who have excelled over 162 games, the postseason really is a crapshoot, and your club's fate rests more on mood than standing. Although they are the National League Central Division champs, the Cardinals are considered a Wild Card by many. In reality, the Tigers are the Wild Card. Regardless, we started in early April with 30 teams. We now have two. And they are both solid. Great teams matter not – it's the games that bring us back.
This series could well go seven, and here's why:
1) The Tigers' collective on-base percentage is atrocious, and the Cardinals don't walk people. The Tigers put the ball in play while hitting for a high average in doing so, and the Cardinals' staff pitches to contact. What does this mean? Everything will depend on the Cardinals' defense, especially in the cavernous Comerica Park. In the National League Division Series, big plays meant everything for them. If the Tigers batter the Birds' pitching and string together hits – of which they are quite capable – then, yes, it will get ugly; if, for example, Yadier Molina can keep the Tigers from running, thus increasing the odds of double plays, it could get interesting. Crucial to this are the bullpens: By reputation, the Tigers' is superior; on the actual mound this postseason, the Cardinal kiddos are matching Zumaya, Rodney, & Jones LLC every inherited runner, every big pitch, every hold, every save, but for one blow-up in game 4 of the NLCS. If Josh Kinney, Randy Flores, and Adam Wainwright can forget the magnitude of what is happening around them for another handful of games, we could be in for an epic.
2) The series will get to St. Louis for at least two games. As Larry Borowsky points out at Viva El Birdos, "games 3 and 4 will match strength against strength; that's where the series may turn." Chris Carpenter and NLCS MVP Jeff Suppan will go against Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman, respectively. I say the Cards get a split in Detroit – the rookie Anthony Reyes will get the win over likely Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander tonight, and Kenny Rogers will stymie St. Louis in game 2 like just about every soft-tossing lefthander has this season. (The spazmatic Oliver Perez being the most recent example.) Going into game 5, though, the Cards will be up 3-1 behind Carp and Soop at home in 3 and 4, and anyone actually paying attention will let out an audible gasp. As distinct from a yawn.
3) Now is when the Tigers will wake up and the Cardinals will realize they are tired and it is time to go to sleep. Back in game shape after a weeklong layoff and in a 3-1 hole, Detroit will snap to and send the series back to advantage by beating Reyes or a short-rested Jeff Weaver in the last game of Busch III's inaugural season. At Comerica, Carpenter on three days' rest will probably again draw Robertson (only because he's lefthanded), while Bonderman – who has clinched both the Yankees and A's series for Jim Leyland – will wait for Suppan in game 7. This will look very familiar to Cardinals and Tigers fans, but let me put it this way: Bonderman might be better than Lolich, but Suppan, god love him, is no Gibson.
4) Tony La Russa and Leyland don't want this ride to end, and neither do we. As a Cardinals fan, I would have been happy had their season ended after game 2 of the NLCS. Devastated by injuries every bit as much as, say, the Mets were, they nonetheless held on during this tumultuous campaign. I appreciated that, and knew they could do some damage in the playoffs if only because of Albert Pujols. Well, they've done that and more – because they are more than Pujols' stats: they are Pujols' team – and I'm grateful. The rest is gravy, which I would have never said in the 105- and 100-win seasons of 2004 and 05. Having said so, keep it coming: The managers will make this one of the more fascinating matchups in recent history, provided the players play along.
As of this writing, Game 1 sees its first pitch in fewer than five hours, barring excessive rain. I can't wait. As this is Austin, I'm going to go outside and enjoy the sunshine until things get under way. Kinda wish I was in my hometown of St. Louis (and I will be before this series ends, if it's the last thing I do), though, or, more to the point, Detroit. If you're indoors for the day and want constant coverage to pass the time, here are some recommended links:
Viva El Birdos
Detroit Tigers Weblog
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Detroit News
Mickey Tettleton Memorial Overpass
We look forward to your comments and to maybe liveblogging at least one game along the way. Enjoy, baseball fans of every stripe.