What an unbelievable finish to an unbelievable finish. Just when it seemed that nothing could top the amazing Wild Card finishes that sent the Rays and Cardinals to the playoffs in place of Boston and Atlanta, baseball produced the most games ever in a postseason, many of them one run games, creating for a host of great series, and capped it off with the best World Series game in history and an improbable run to a championship. I learned a few things from this World Series. Not all of them are good.
1. MLB players are professional hitters.
While Tony LaRussa says that Yadier Molina would be in the lineup even if he batted .000, those kind of special defensive specialists are rare. As it turns out Yadier Molina can also hit, but the reason he is a pro baseball player is that he is an exceptional fielder. That is not normal. This World Series made it evident that defense and base-running are secondary in the talents of a professional baseball player. Hitting a baseball is arguably the most difficult thing to do in sports, and these guys make it look easy. They are so good that any sort of mistake thrown by the pitcher gets hit, and hit hard, often for a home run. The Texas pitchers recognized that, too, as they often spent a lot of time (too much if you ask me) dancing around the strike zone trying to avoid throwing a hittable pitch. While most young baseball players, right through high school, will swing and miss at a fastball in the middle of the zone with some frequency, a big leaguer can recognize a curveball that doesn’t quite drop far enough and smash it to the fence. David Murphy, a lower-tier player, did that in Game 7 for a double.
That’s not to say that good defense is not there. You don’t get to be a shortstop in the pros unless you can
make the difficult plays look easy and the easy plays look effortless, as Rafael Furcal especially did. Mike Napoli also made some terrific plays on defense, and Yadier Molina’s defensive campaign goes without saying. But there were plenty of times when the defense just simply didn’t look good. Nelson Cruz has a job in MLB, and his job is professional hitter. Sure, he has a cannon arm, but he misplayed that ball so horribly that could have won the series. Ian Kinsler got picked off first twice in this series, once because he wasn’t paying attention. Matt Holliday failed to take charge and call off Furcal for a simple fly-ball out. David Freese dropped a pop-up and played too close to the base once, not allowing him to reach a sharply hit ball by Kinsler. Michael Young looked terrible. This series made it obvious to me that as long as you can hit the ball, and hit it exceptionally well, you can make it in the big leagues.
2. Chipper Jones was right about the officiating in pro baseball.
Umpires are usually right when it comes to calls at first base (with some obvious exceptions….). Very often we will question the call, but when we see a replay we realize the umpire was right and wonder how on earth they could see that. The same goes for stolen bases at second base and plays at the plate (again with obvious exceptions….). They also know the rules and make the calls we don’t even think of, like when Albert Pujols fielded a bunt but was in foul territory when he did so, so it was a foul ball.
However, I’m beginning to think that the World Series might be in need of some K-Zone technology. The ball/strike calls were absolutely awful. Time and again the same pitch in the same at-bat would be called a ball and then a strike. One inning they gave the corners, the next they didn’t. Scott Feldman threw a pitch that, according to K-Zone, was a strike, on 3-2, to Yadier Molina, who had just showed the umpire up the pitch before by throwing his bat down and starting to walk to first base. With two outs, it would have been the end of the inning and the Rangers would still have only been down by one. Instead, it was called a ball and it walked in a run. Then C.J Wilson came in and plunked Furcal and it was 5-2, and the game was really over after that. The very next inning, Carpenter threw a pitch to Napoli that ended up in the same place as the Feldman pitch, and was called a strike. Napoli made sure to let the umpire know what we all knew: it was the same pitch and the umpire had blown the call last inning.
3. Pitchers ought to learn how to bunt.
I could not believe how unbelievably poor the Rangers pitchers bunted in Games 6 and 7, causing a few double plays in the process. When the first and third basemen are both charging and end up about 15 feet from you when you bunt, push it past them or over them for a hit! Pitchers don’t need the same kind of BP that other players take, so why don’t they bunt for an hour every single day until they perfect it, because isn’t that what they do 80% of the time when they hit?
4. In October, MLB ceases to be a pitchers league.
Like I wrote earlier, professional hitters are very good. Curt Schilling said yesterday that pitching in October is very difficult because all the hitters are locked in at all times. It makes sense when you think about it. Can pro hitters really be locked in on every pitch in all 162 games? No. But the pitchers can be, because they only pitch every few days (every five if you’re a starter). But the Rangers and Cardinals batters both showed that when they were focused, the pitchers didn’t have an answer. Very good pitchers on both teams looked bad at times because they pitched so cautiously to avoid making a mistake. They would be behind in the count and would have to throw a strike, and it would get hit hard somewhere. If batters could always hit like they did in this World Series, we wouldn’t call it a pitchers league.
This makes it all the more strange that the unknown Derek Holland would throw a game like he did….
5. I was right….
For a while after I wrote Baseball in the Fall and the Fall of Baseball, I thought I might have been a little extreme. I wasn’t. While Game 6 was won of the greatest sporting events I have watched in my entire life, most Americans were watching sitcoms. Baseball gave us a great product this postseason, but fewer people were watching the Fall Classic than ever. Baseball doesn’t hold the attention of Americans anymore. While there are still and always will be diehard fans (remember, hockey has those too), I have heard too many people say that they dislike watching baseball on television because they think it’s boring. There are countless people who stopped watching the playoffs, or even caring about them, after their favorite team was eliminated. I can’t understand why everyone wasn’t watching Game 7. Every little kid used to dream about playing in Game 7 of the World Series, now you can’t even trouble them to quit playing the Xbox and watch the game.
This is how bad it is: ESPN’s top story right now is not the World Series; it’s the college football scoreboard.