Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29: 1954, The Catch; 2011, The Choke

On September 29, 1954, in Game 1 of the World Series, Willie Mays made the most famous defensive play in the history of sports.

It preserved a 2-2 tie, and the New York Giants went on to win 5-2 in the bottom of the 10th, when, with Willie on 1st, Dusty Rhodes pinch-hit and hit a home run down the right-field line.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ayrzg8RFHe4&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLD52C280271DCACA4

I had to include the official highlight film for all of Game 1, as the only YouTube stuff under the name "Dusty Rhodes" are of some idiot who calls himself a "professional wrestler."

Some game: Vic Wertz hits the ball 440 feet (that wall was 450 from home plate, not 460 like it's often been said), and it's a long out; Dusty Rhodes hits the ball 260 feet, and it's a home run.

Anyway, the Giants went on to sweep the Indians. It took until 2010 for the Giants, now in San Francisco, to win another. The Indians still haven't won one since 1948.

Mays, left fielder Monte Irvin, shortstop Alvin Dark, and right fielder Don Mueller (a.k.a. "Mandrake the Magician") are the only Giants players from this game who are still alive; third baseman Al Rosen, right fielder Dave Philley (who, in case you're wondering, did play for the Philadelphia Phillies), first baseman Bill Glynn and pinch-runner Rudy Regalado survive from the Indians.

Willie has said that even before the ball got to him, he was thinking about the throw. This was a 23-year-old guy... although not in his first World Series.

The best ones never look like they're working hard, even though they are. A pair of later San Francisco sports legends, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, were the same way.

*

So... on this September 29, 2011, what's the big news in baseball?

Well, it ain't the World Series, that's for damn sure. But it does involve eligibility for this season's World Series, as the full 162 games have been played.

The New York Yankees will play the Detroit Tigers in one of the American League Division Series; the Texas Rangers will play the Tampa Bay Rays in the other.

The Philadelphia Phillies will play the St. Louis Cardinals in one of the National League Division Series; the Milwaukee Brewers will play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the other.

The Atlanta Braves were supposed to get the NL Wild Card, but they choked. Do I care? Yeah, a little. Dumb rednecks and their annoying Tomahawk Chop.

But the Boston Red Sox...

In my next post, I'm going to rank the biggest baseball collapses of all time. That this Red Sox collapse has just happened, and hasn't had the time to sink in, may not rank it all that high (or low, depending on how you look at it).

But it was one hell of a choke.

*

In order for the choke to be completed, one of three things had to happen: Either both the Red Sox and the Rays had to win last night, thus forcing a one-game Playoff that the Rays could win; both the Red Sox and the Rays had to lose last night, thus forcing a Playoff; or the Rays had to win and the Red Sox had to lose, making a Playoff unnecessary.

The Yankees did their part to screw over their old enemies by tanking the last 3 games of the regular season.

How do I know Yankee manager Joe Girardi tanked this one? Here's the lineup he started with:

1. SS Derek Jeter
2. CF Curtis Granderson
3. 1B Mark Teixeira
4. DH Robinson Cano
5. RF Nick Swisher
6. LF Andruw Jones
7. C Jesus Montero
8. 2B Eduardo Nunez
9. 3B Brandon Laird

And here's the lineup Girardi ended the game with:

1. 2B Ramiro Pena
2. LF Greg Golson
3. 3B Eric Chavez
4. DH Jorge Posada
5. RF Chris Dickerson
6. CF Brett Gardner
7. C Austin Romine
8. SS Eduardo Nunez
9. 1B Brandon Laird

A team that's trying to win does not have Eduardo Nunez or Brandon Laird in the lineup. Does not pinch-hit Ramiro Pena for Derek Jeter. Does not pinch-hit Greg Golson for Curtis Granderson. Does not pinch-hit Chris Dickerson for Nick Swisher. Doesnot pinch-hit Austin Romine for, well, anybody. Not in 2011, anyway.

A team that's trying to win might use 11 pitchers. But Dustin Betances, making his major league debut, only went 2 innings -- both scoreless -- before Girardi pulled him. Why? Was he not pitching well? He was.

George Kontos got the first 2 outs in the 3rd. Aaron Laffey finished it and the 4th. Phil Hughes pitched the 5th. Raul Valdes the 6th. A.J. Burnett, Andrew Brackman, and Boone Logan each got an out in the 7th.

It didn't seem to matter: It was 7-0 Yankees going into the bottom of the 8th, thanks in part to Teixeira hitting his 38th and 39th home runs of the season, and Jones hitting his 13th.

But, as John Sterling is always reminding us, "You can't predict baseball." (He didn't preface it last night with, "You know, Suzyn... " Because Suzyn Waldman, who is Jewish, was not working last night, due to it being Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Instead, Tampa native Tino Martinez was in the WCBS booth with Sterling.) And what happened next made me wonder if Sterling was having flashbacks to a game he did for the Atlanta Braves' station WSB on July 4, 1985, when the Braves and the Mets went 19 innings, enduring 2 rain delays, and ended at 3:55 AM, following multiple ejections and a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 18th by the last man the Braves had on their roster, relief pitcher Rick Camp, who came into the game batting .067 for his career.

Sterling told his broadcast partner, the late Ernie Johnson Sr., "I'll tell you, Ernie, if he hits one out, that certifies this game as the nuttiest in the history of baseball." Camp hit it out, and Sterling said, "That certifies this game as the wildest, the wackiest, most improbable in history!"

Last night's Yanks-Rays game might be another contender. This game meant absolutely nothing to the Yankees -- unless they truly wanted to screw over the Red Sox, which I would understand completely and even encourage. It meant everything to the Rays.

It seemed to mean everything to the Rays' fans, too. And they got a bigger crowd for this game than they did for the 1st 2 games of this series: 29,518. Only about 10,000 empty seats. (In the next few days, I'm going to have to do a piece on baseball attendance, including each team's per-game home attendance, and also that figure divided by wins, so we can see if the way they played was sufficiently supported.)

Logan, as he has done so many times this season, imploded in the 8th, and Luis Ayala struggled to stop the bleeding. When it was over, it had gone from 7-0 Yanks to 7-6 Yanks.

In the bottom of the 9th, Girardi had just 4 pitchers remaining. One was Mariano Rivera. Another was David Robertson. No reason at all to use either one, because, as has been said a jillion times, this game meant absolutely nothing to the Yankees, so why risk your 2 most valuable relievers -- maybe your 2 most valuable players, period?

That left Cory Wade and Scott Proctor. Wade got the first 2 outs, but allowed a game-tying home run, juuuust inside the foul pole, to Dan Johnson, only his 2nd homer of the season.

Girardi brought in the execrable Proctor, who, somehow, got the last out in the 9th. The 10th, the 11th, and the top half of the 12th passed without incident.

In the bottom of the 12th, Proctor faced Evan Longoria, who had already homered in the 8th. Boom. Screamer down the left-field line. Like Johnson's, it was just barely over the fence, and just barely fair. But, in baseball, there's no style points. This ain't figure skating, and this ain't gymnastics. There's no penalty for "just barely." There's no credit for "almost." As Yoda would say, "There is only do, or do not."

Final score: Rays 8, Yankees 7. WP: Jake McGee (5-2). LP: Proctor (2-6).

The Rays still had a chance at the Playoffs.

*

The Rays still had a chance at the Playoffs because the Red Sox' game, in Baltimore against the Orioles, was as yet unresolved, in a rain delay, with the Sox leading 3-2 in the 7th.

Play was resumed -- under the circumstances, with this game having a direct effect on the Playoff race, there was no way they were simply going to call it and make it official -- and the Sox held their 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th. On the mound was their closer, their big-mouthed fireballer, Jonathan Papelbon.

He struck out Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. One more out, and the Sox would be guaranteed a Game 163 -- if not, as yet, a Game 164.

But Papelbum gave up a double to Chris Davis, who was then replaced by pinch-runner Kyle Hudson. Tying run on 2nd. Winning run at the plate.

He gave up another double, to Nolan Reimold. Game tied. Winning run on 2nd.

Robert Andino up. Base hit, single to left. Reimold scored.

Final score: Orioles 4, Red Sox 3.

The Orioles, who had just won their 69th game of the season against 93 losses, in a season in which they had expected to make a serious run at the Playoffs, celebrated as if they had clinched.

The Red Sox slunk off the field like the losers and bums that they are.

*

So the Playoffs will begin tomorrow night, with the Yankees, but not with the Boston Red Scum.

And any Red Sox fan who still mentions 2004 can kiss my Pinstriped ass. You cheated. You lied about it. It was proven. And we've won a World Series since the new rules came into effect, you haven't.

Again, the Yankees are the title contenders, the Sox are the chokers.

As God intended it.

Or, as Hank Steinbrenner might say, the universe has been restored to order.

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